How Sumo grew to an 8-figure business with a lean sales team
While there is no silver bullet for success in sales, there are tried and tested sales strategies so you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. Secret Sauce to Sales by Freshsales features top sales leaders across industries and gives you inside access to their sales methodologies.
Anton Sepetov is the VP of Sales at Sumo.com. Sumo provides strategies and tools to help E-commerce companies get more customers. Businesses like Huckberry, Shopify, Tony Robbins, and BulletProof Coffee use Sumo. Sumo’s sister business, AppSumo, is a daily deals website for digitally distributed goods and online services and has over 700,000 active subscribers.
Anton started his career in AppSumo six years ago as a junior sales rep to now leading the entire Sales Team for Sumo.com. Anton was responsible for AppSumo’s revenue growth which involved running promotions, acquiring deals, etc. In 2015, AppSumo launched Sumo.com, and since then he’s been involved with Sumo in different capacities.
Before joining Sumo, you were working in a marketing role at your previous company. In the “OkDork” Podcast with Noah Kagan, you mentioned that you weren’t sure of a shift to sales. How was the transition from marketing to sales?
The reason why I jumped over is that I firmly believed in what AppSumo does, which is helping entrepreneurs and small businesses acquire new customers. That’s immensely important to me. Having been an entrepreneur myself, I wanted to help in any capacity I could. And I found sales for AppSumo was more about partnering with companies, not “selling” per se.
It’s about working with fantastic software companies like Dropbox, Evernote, Freshsales, etc. to promote them to an audience of entrepreneurs, which is a win-win for everyone involved. I saw that it was a fulfilling and exciting role so I wanted to help in any way I could.
And about the part where you were not sure about sales.
When a lot of people think of sales, they think about cold calling—talking to people who may say no to your face. It happens a lot, and there’s no denying that.
What you may not realize is that everyone does a little bit of sales in their lives. When you’re applying for college admission or looking for a job, you’re selling something: YOURSELF. So I disassociated the negative terms of sales and realized that what I actually would be doing is bringing in revenue for the company. And that’s realistically how businesses grow.
When did you realize you were truly a salesman? Have you had any “aha!” moments in your sales career so far, Anton?
Seeing results that are directly caused by a “sale” I closed has always been my driving factor in sales. This is true for most sales folks. Witnessing the direct impact in dollars/results/happiness by the work you do is the “aha!” moment in sales.
In fact, there’s one story that comes to my mind. In 2011, Piktochart, a web-based infographic application company based in Malaysia, was launched. I used the tool myself and really loved it. We wanted to promote it to the AppSumo audience so that more people could use it, and we reached out to the Piktochart team.
They were a small team then and were looking for ways to grow the business. We reached out to them and offered to promote their product to an audience of 700,000 entrepreneurs on AppSumo. What happened? Piktochart gained thousands of new customers, even referring to the AppSumo deal as the biggest deal-maker in Piktochart history.
The promotion was an absolute win-win where our audience and Piktochart were delighted with the campaign. It was not B2B; it was human to human. I approached Piktochart because I liked and respected them, and I wanted to work with them. We developed a good relationship and then we were able to turn that into a win-win for them, for us, and for our customers.
That’s fantastic. The kind of value that Piktochart saw is probably not what they would have envisioned when you first approached them.
At times, it’s difficult to show value for the price at the beginning of a discussion. What is your advice to sales folks on how to sell on value rather than price?
You need to be able to show customers tangible results that you will drive them. This is the most meaningful realization we’ve had at Sumo. For example, E-commerce companies make a significant amount of money through promotional email marketing and are dependent on growing their email lists. We at Sumo know that we can create real value for their business because we can help them build their email list and get more customers.
We approach E-commerce companies and learn about what they’re currently doing to get new customers from their existing traffic. Then, we show them 1-2 places where they are losing customers and the exact strategies and tools they need to implement to fix it. For a growing E-commerce company, every new customer matters. I work with my team day in and out to make sure we are doing this on every single call. You need to show every customer the ROI you can offer.
We show them that they’re losing $10,000 in new customers every month. And the cost for Sumo? Only a small percentage of that amount. When the customer sees this type of an ROI, they don’t care about the pricing. This is value-based selling. It’s about showing the value you can provide for their business, and it’s a lot easier selling when that value is quantifiable. It could be anything—improving employee productivity by 50%, increasing sales by X amount of $ a month, etc. This type of value should get them up and running.
Earlier, sales teams used to look for aggression as an essential characteristic among salespeople.
But I feel it is changing to where now empathy is the important characteristic to look for in salespeople. How important is empathy among sales professionals at Sumo?
Empathy is incredibly important because you put yourself in the shoes of who you’re talking to. And that’s the reason why I’ve enjoyed “sales.” It’s not about winning or losing a sale. If you learn that what you’re selling to a customer isn’t essential to their business and will not have a significant impact, you should walk away accepting that they’re not a good fit.
I think that empathy is essential because you want to make sure you’re helping them. Maybe in the past salespeople were just trying to be persuasive; I don’t think that’s ever the case anymore. It’s about making sure it’s a good fit on both sides.
Anton, adding on to that, what skills do you look for in sales reps to join your team?
For me, by far, the most important trait I look for is ‘coachability.’ We have a specific way of working with our customers. We’re consultative, we have empathy, but coachability is incredibly important to me. If my teammates are coachable and they can adapt, they can become the best Account Executives/SDR’s/etc. in the world. I look for people that can take feedback very well. People always have their own ways of doing things. But if you’re coachable and adapt to the changing world and the way we talk to customers, then you can always be a top performer.
The second thing I look for is ‘hustle,’ and I know that word is highly overused and abused nowadays. But when I say I look for hustle, I don’t mean I just want them to work long hours and slave away. The ‘hustle’ I look for in people is the trait in people who are always striving to do better. It’s the people who always want to learn, always want to improve, always want to be the best at what they are doing.
The third is ‘do I enjoy talking to them?’. I look for the kind of people who can make me smile over the phone. A friendly conversation helps you connect with people. Some sales reps turn into robots when they use a script, which I’m not a big fan of. Every person is different, so every conversation should be different too.
So, Anton, we like how you and Noah keep the company culture at Sumo part goofy part fun.
How do you ensure the sales team and new hires adopt this? And, how do you retain this culture?
One of our core values at Sumo is to “Work Hard and Have Fun Together”, and this culture is vital to us. How I make sure that we follow this culture is by inculcating this philosophy into every person at Sumo.
Certain people treat their workplace with a very serious and professional attitude, which is perfectly fine for certain industries. But for us, we work with entrepreneurs and small businesses where passion and grit are insanely important. And I want the same from people in my team.
If they enjoy their job, then they’re going to have fun. I always tell my team that I want them to have their own personality. Every person on our team has a unique personality. I WANT them to be themselves. For example, a joke that might seem silly to some people might seem hilarious to the person who said it. By encouraging them to be themselves, we allow their personalities to shine.
I’ve listened to many calls where I can tell that the salesperson is stressed out and they’re trying hard to close the sale. To me, it’s more important to be relaxed and to enjoy the conversation without worrying about the outcome of the call even if you don’t happen to bring in that deal.
I guarantee you that being yourself with a customer will bear some result. Either you’ll sign a deal, or they may refer you to someone else in need. Or, who knows, you may end up becoming best friends with them or even marry them! So, it’s essential to have fun.
We use Sumo at Freshworks, and I don’t remember speaking to a salesperson at Sumo. So, what’s the sales process at Sumo?
Sumo has a free plan, so we have a lot of customers who sign-up on the Free Forever plan. We use a variety of technology to then enrich data on these customers, using Clearbit, SimilarWeb, SEMRush and other tools. We shortlist ideal targets based on our qualification criteria before we approach these contacts.
Our ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) that we target is an E-commerce company of a certain size and employee count. We have a team of VAs (virtual assistants) and SDRs who go through the sign-up list and qualify each contact accordingly.
Then, we set up meetings or phone calls with them. Our motive for a call or meeting is never to push a sale on the customer but to help optimize and grow their E-commerce business. Our Account Executives get them set up with Sumo and help fix the issues that cause them to lose customers. After that, our success team takes care of ongoing development and nurturing them to make sure they’re happy with the product.
Our outbound sales process is also, very similar. Our team of VAs and SDRs go through customer lists from Shopify and other channels and determine potential customers. The team then reaches out to them, gets them on the phone and helps get them set up.
What are the things that helped you grow your business at Sumo? Any principles or secrets you can share?
One of the things we did before was trying to sell our services to too many people—which yielded poor results for us. It’s been hard to go ‘niche’ vs. broad, but we’ve gotten much better over time. Now we only target E-commerce companies.
In the past, we tried to sell Sumo to media publications. We approached large media companies in New York, and even closed some of them as customers. The problem? They barely got any tangible results/value out of using Sumo. That’s when we decided to double down on E-commerce companies because the saw ridiculous ROI from using Sumo. We learned it’s important to focus on core customers and not get carried away trying to sell to every market out there.
Another thing that’s working well for us is identifying where our target market is. Thousands of E-commerce companies use Shopify to run their E-commerce store, so we’ve laser-focused on finding companies that are using Shopify. Making our presence felt where our customers lie is the second thing that’s been working well for us.
What are three metrics which you look at every day?
- Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
- Call tracking – number of calls my SDR team has set up. Because if you don’t have calls set up, then we’re not going to close deals. So, I look at how many calls we’ve set up in the current month and if they’re on track or not.
- How many Sales Qualified Leads we have? How many leads is marketing driving?
What is a typical sales objection you keep hearing and how do you go about handling it?
The most common sales objections are “I need to think about it” or “I need to talk to my team about this.” I hear them all the time. These responses result in setting up a lot of follow-up calls after that first phone call. When someone says that they need to think about going with your services, there’s a hidden objection in there that you need to get to.
Ask yourself—“Why do they need to think about it?” or “Why do they need to talk to their team about it?”. One of the best ways my team and I have learned to handle this is by being honest and upfront so we don’t waste their time and ours. We get to the bottom of it by saying “Look, let’s not waste each of our time. I can tell that there’s something that’s making you hesitate. What is it?”. We push to uncover the true objection, which we can then handle.
The best way to avoid misunderstanding a hidden objection in sales is to tackle it with the customer. This will save you a lot of time.
What’s one misguided practice in sales today?
The biggest misguided practice is the concept of sales demos or calling conversations with potential customers “sales demos”. It’s not a demo, it’s a conversation. A conversation with your prospect shouldn’t be about pitching your product or service nor demoing your product feature by feature. This may/may not be applicable to every business. For us, it’s about identifying 2-3 things on our customer’s website that they could improve by using your product, and that would allow them to focus on their business growth.
It’s not a demo, it’s a conversation.
What would you say the sales industry needs more of?
Going back to what I said earlier, the sales industry, in general, should have more fun, real conversations. If you have engagingly funny and productive conversations with customers, it will build more relationships versus transactions. And, we all ought to be building strong relationships with customers.
What’s your favorite productivity hack, Anton?
This sounds like a no-brainer, but please: have a to-do list.
I use Todoist. In the past, I used a Moleskine notebook, but now I’ve moved to managing it online. Every morning I sit down and make a list of things that I want to do for the day. At the end of the day, I make sure that every single thing is checked off.
Three things that you have on your desk?
A Sumo branded water bottle. I drink a lot of water, you should too!
A note from my fiancè that she wrote me when we hit one of the hardest goals we had at AppSumo. It keeps me inspired to do what I’m doing.
A computer that has a Zoom Conference Room setup with our team in Austin. So, that I can see them all the time and talk to them.
What are your recommended sales read?
“From Impossible To Inevitable: How Hyper-Growth Companies Create Predictable Revenue ” by Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin. It’s a book I just had my whole team read. Amazing book that every SaaS company should read.
Freshsales is a sales CRM built to help you stop juggling multiple tools. It’s ideal for small businesses and refreshing for enterprises.
While there is no silver bullet for success in sales, there are tried and tested sales strategies so you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. Secret Sauce to Sales by Freshsales features top sales leaders across industries and gives you inside access to their sales methodologies. Drop us a line in the comments or shoot an email to email@example.com with your suggestions.
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