The Sales Acceleration Formula

By: Mark Roberge



Mark Roberge joined the marketing automation company Hubspot as it’s third employee. He had met the two co-founders while they were all students at MIT, and they all shared the same mission - to help companies transform their marketing from outbound to inbound.

The night he joined the company, he wrote down four words: scalable, predictable revenue growth. That was his job.

It only took him 7 years to take Hubspot from $0 to well over $100 million in annual revenue.

He did it with four specific strategies, based on words he wrote on a notepad the very same night he joined the company:

  • Hire the same successful salesperson every time
  • Train every salesperson in the same way
  • Hold our salespeople accountable to the same sales process
  • Provide our salespeople with the same quality and quantity of leads every month

These are the elements that Roberge now calls The Sales Hiring Formula, The Sales Training Formula, The Sales Management Formula, and The Demand Generation Formula.

Let’s take a look at each of them in turn.

The Sales Hiring Formula

As Roberge points out, world-class sales hiring is the most important driver of sales success. Even if you are a rockstar at sales training, managing and coaching, it’s never enough to make up for a team of mediocre sales people.

Every sales person has their strengths and weaknesses. And every company has its own unique sales context. One lesson that Roberge learned early was that the strengths of the sales person needed to match the context of the sale. A sales rep that was great in one industry might not be great in another.

The first step here is to establish a theory of the ideal sales characteristics. You’ll want to take some time to test your theory out with real data, like Roberge did. What he found was that there were 5 characteristics that identified and predicted sales success at Hubspot: (1) coachability, (2) curiosity, (3) prior success, (4) intelligence, and (5) work ethic.

Next, you’ll want to set up an interview process that helps you understand whether or not your sales candidate has the ideal characteristics you’ve identified. One of the best ways to do this is to do role-playing exercises that model your buyer context. There’s no substitute for seeing your potential sales hire in action.

Lastly, you’ll need to figure out how to find a steady stream of these candidates so you can scale your growth. Roberge suggests that you skip the outside recruiting agency and build one inside your company instead. Roberge leverages LinkedIn to do something he calls the “forced referral”

. Basically, after his latest rep has settled into their role for a couple of months, he sets a 20 minute meeting with the them, telling them that he’s going to show up having gone through their entire LinkedIn connections looking for salespeople in the area that they are connected with.

Then, at the meeting, they review each of the potential candidates that Roberge found, and finds out which of the potential candidates are worth bringing in for an interview. Of course, they have a hiring incentive (at Hubspot it is $2,500) paid for each person an existing rep refers into the company.

The Sales Training Formula

When you are scaling a sales team, you can’t afford to give every new rep a custom training program based on their specific needs.

The three elements you need in order to create a well-designed sales methodology are (1) the buyer journey, (2) the sales process, and (3) the qualifying matrix.

In the buyer journey, it’s important to identify the steps your buyer will take from identifying a pain point all the way through to purchase.

Then, the sales process should be aligned with the buyer journey so that the steps are in sync. Each of these stages should be “inspectable” - so you can determine whether or not the step has been taken.

Then, the qualifying matrix can be established which defines the information you need to get from your prospect to determine whether or not you have a lead worth pursuing. An old-school way of doing this would be to use BANT - Budget, Authority, Need and Timing.

Ensuring that your salespeople understand those three elements inside and out is critical to your success.

However, equally important is that your salespeople have experienced the day-to-day job of your customers. They should truly understand the challenges they face, the opportunities they hope to take advantage of, and what keeps them up at night. When your salespeople do this, they can relate to the buyer and then actually help them make smart purchase decisions.

The last thing you should be considering when training your salespeople is to help them use social media to build a personal brand with your potential customers. When your sales people become thought leaders in your industry, they will get cold calls from prospective customers requesting their assistance on a regular basis. It literally turns the tables on the sales process when it’s done right.

Again, having your salespeople walk a mile in your prospects shoes really helps. Tell them to find out what people your prospects follow on Twitter. Have them follow them. Find out what LinkedIn groups your prospects spend time in - have your salespeople participate there. Find the blogs your prospects read - have your salespeople subscribe to them and participate in the comments section.

The Sales Management Formula

Now that you’ve found your salespeople and you’ve trained them properly, you need to manage them rigourously. One of the most important things you’ll do as a sales leader is to implement a coaching culture. A regular meeting cadence is key. Here are the three questions that Roberge asks each of his sales managers on a monthly basis, for each and every sales rep in the company:

  • What skill will you work on this month with this salesperson?
  • How did you decide on that skill?
  • What is the customised coaching plan you will use to develop the skill?

When deciding which skill that the reps should be working on, Roberge demands that they use metrics to define which area needs focus. He calls this “metrics-driven sales coaching.”

Now let's move on how to motivate the right behaviours in your salespeople. The single most important tool you have in your arsenal here is the sales compensation plan. Keep in mind that there is no “right” compensation plan across the board, and the “right” plan for you will depend greatly on the type of business you are in and the stage of growth you are at.

However, there are three factors which should always be your yardstick in generating your plan.

First, the plan should be simple. If your salespeople need to look at a spreadsheet to determine their commission, it’s too complicated. You never want a salesperson confused about what behaviours will drive their largest commissions.

Second, it should be aligned with your most important company goals. If your salespeople are generating large commission cheques, your company should be hitting its overall goals.

Third, the plan should be immediate. Whenever a salesperson succeeds, they should see it in their pay immediately. This is psychology 101 - any delay between the result and the reward (or lack of it) will decrease the impact of the plan.

One final thing that Roberge suggests you consider when managing your employees is to run a contest. They are an effective tool to drive the right short-term behaviours and build a team culture. Here are a few tips to doing them well:

  • Align the contest with the short-term behaviour change you want to see
  • Make the contest and the prize team based
  • Send updated standings every single night
  • Choose the proper time frame - monthly contests are ideal
  • Run one contest at a time

The Demand Generation Formula

Quick - what will make you more likely to buy a product or service. If you (a) get a cold call or get sent a direct mail piece, or (b) you do a Google search and find trusted information online or get a recommendation from your social network?

As Roberge points out, the answer is obviously (b), which highlights the importance of inbound marketing versus outbound marketing in today’s world. Successful inbound marketing comes from two tactics: (1) continual content production, and (2) frequent online participation in social media where your target buyers are already conversing.

Continual content production is tough - especially after the excitement of beginning a new journey has worn off. That’s why you shouldn’t try to do it all on your own. The key in this process is to give somebody the role of “journalist” in your company.

One option is to actually hire a full-time journalist. With the newspaper and magazine industries on life-support, many very talented journalists are looking for work. Another option you have is to hire an intern. A third option is to free somebody in your company up to work a day per week on content production.

The next step is to form a thought leadership committee, whose role is to provide the raw material for your new “journalist” to work with. A single hour for an interview between the journalist and a thought leadership committee member can produce a ton of content. It’s probably enough to produce a 5 page ebook, which can be turned into 3 short blog posts, and dozens of messages to post on your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

Now that you’ve got your content machine up and running, it’s time to turn that traffic into revenue. The most common mistake made by companies who first start this journey is to pass all of the leads to sales.

Rather than using lead scoring, which is what some might consider to be a “best practice”, you should use a buyer matrix to determine when to pass the leads from marketing to sales. On the vertical axis you’ll have the different buyer personas your company targets, like size of company or industry, etc. On the horizontal axis you’ll list the different stages of the buyer journey.

As an example, if you generate a lead for a very large company, you might want to put more sales effort into the front end and reach out to them immediately. If it’s a much smaller business, you might want to wait until it’s clear that they are ready to make a purchase.

The key here is to pay attention to your results over time, and fine tune the process to maximise the amount of revenue you are generating from each buyer persona.


Growing a business from $0 to $100 million is tough, and only possible if you know how to properly scale a sales team. Making sure you master the four elements of the Sales Acceleration Formula (hiring, training, managing and generating demand) will ensure that you have the best chance to get there.