28 February 2023 |

Assessing Opportunity: Building a team 

By Alex Alleyne

When considering an opportunity at a SaaS organisation, making sure you truly understand the assignment ahead of you is critical. That includes expectations for growth – because, as we’ve seen in the current market, the consequences of “scaling at all costs” can be dire.

Let’s say you’re exploring a build job. What do you need to consider before saying “Yes”? Here are three questions to ask yourself (and the hiring team) to understand whether you’re staring down the barrel of a record-breaking SaaS sales team or a team with capped potential.

1. Is it really a “build?”

By definition, a build job consists of you taking on a role where you inherit 1 – 3 sellers, with the specific task of growing and scaling the team.

I was in this exact position in a previous role with a clear remit to implement my playbook whilst focusing on aggressive headcount growth.

This is not to be confused with a linear move that entails you taking on a team without the budget, planning or intent to scale that team. 

More than anything else, you need to understand the current average productivity per head of the few sellers already in place. 

If you are being hired specifically for scale whilst taking on sellers that are trending well below attainment to quota, that is an immediate red flag.

You should be looking to scale from a solid and consistent foundation, not from shaky ground. If you are in a scenario where core performance indicators are poor, you should ensure you have buy-in from the executive team to first fix the performance gaps before scaling is even on the agenda.

You want to scale from a place of strong average productivity, if you do the opposite, eventually your sales function will crumble over time.

2. Is the expansion geographic or demographic?

Once you have identified that you have a build job on your hands, the next step is to unpack what scaling specifically means to the company in question.

You will either be walking into a company that already has set expectations for what they expect you to do. That may mean expanding into set geographies or moving into new industries.

The flip side to this, is the company may be expecting you to conduct a SWOT analysis, where you unpack their current state whilst taking an informed view around where they should go next.

If you are a SaaS Sales Leader with experience and a proven playbook, you are likely to be more heavily considered for a company that lacks clarity around their next steps.

This will give you more autonomy around driving your own agenda whilst growing your team in line with your specific plan.

If you are earlier into your leadership journey, walking into a company and role that already has clarity around your mandate may be helpful.

In this case, your role will primarily focused on execution whilst being an operator for a specific purpose.

3. Will you be able to “scale responsibly?”

In the first edition of On Target here, we walked through how to thrive through an uncertain economy. The premise of scaling responsibly is more important than ever with tech layoffs continuing to run rife.

You need to spend time truly understanding the company’s broader growth plans whilst scrutinising how realistic they are.

Does this organisation have enough cash in the bank to give them runway for the next 2 years or if you fail to hit your plan in month 1, does that immediately make them cash flow negative?

These types of questions and considerations are important when exploring a build role, as you need to be in a company that is well-positioned to endure a level of risk.

You need to also ensure that the company’s expectations of you are realistic. Are they expecting you to take the team from 3 to 30 in 90 days or are they comfortable with a modest growth plan?

Insist on an extended amount of time with the executive team to make sure you are aligned around the tasks and growth expectations of the role.

Don’t ignore the red flags

If you take on an ambitious growth mandate, you must ensure the balance sheet is healthy and there are strong market indicators to justify the pace of growth.

Don’t allow yourself to have “happy ears” during these conversations, ask thoughtful questions and dive deep to ensure you understand the full picture.

Having explored both turnaround and build roles, it is of critical importance to get off to an impactful start in both scenarios.

No time is more important than the first 30 days, so in next week’s edition, we will expand on how to have a strong start, agnostic of the type of leadership role you are taking on.