“We have filled our sales pipeline dramatically”

Stefan Kyora

06.05.2015 09:10

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Sophia Genetics is one of the fastest growing Swiss start-ups and a key factor in its success is sales. Sophia Genetics’ CEO Jurgi Camblong explains how he improved the sales process, where he found sales people and why a founder should be able to sell.

In a talk you gave at EPFL recently, you said that you underestimated sales. When and how did you realise this?

Jurgi Camblong: Sophia Genetics was founded in 2011 and sales was a focus from inception. All our developments are based on market demand using the simple principles of MVP (minimal viable product). However, it was only in Q3 of 2014, when we had grown from four to 10 sales people, that we saw our true market potential. The demand was much bigger than expected and not having sufficient sales people covering the field prevented us from understanding the real potential and thus accelerating sales. We now have a sales team of 18, but even this number may not be enough to capture our original market, which is still Europe – as it was in 2011.

What have you changed in the company?

We have improved marketing to focus our communication on the benefits we bring to customers. We have also recruited a pre-sales team, which in our case is a very technical team, and set up processes to help our customers move into production faster. This is critical for our activity, as the business model is a pay-per-use model. In addition, the more our customers use our product, the better the product becomes. So helping them to set up production with a fast and robust programme is essential.

What has been the result of those changes?

We have increased the number of qualified opportunities in our sales pipeline dramatically – from 80 to 200 in only four months. We are now concluding contracts with five new customers every month, and we close the equivalent number of farming opportunities with existing customers.

How do you find good sales people?

Mainly through LinkedIn. The most important factor is the interview process. Not all our sales people have sales experience before joining us, so we assess their ambition, communication abilities, conviction and match with the company’s vision and values. From that, anyone can improve and learn internally and I think we have a good training programme. I am also very much involved in sales and I like to go with sales people to customers. If a sales person gives their best, then it works.

What role should a CEO play in sales?

Show by example in the field. Face sales-specific issues as a member of the sales team. Address more complex sales situation where only the CEO can make the decision to adapt the existing business model. In addition, I also oversee requests made by the sales people to focus technical developments on what pays off first or will pay off the most.

If you started another company, what would you do differently regarding sales?

I would recruit more sales people much earlier.

Do you think that all founders can learn to sell?

I think every founder must know how to sell. For instance, raising funds or persuading partners/colleagues to join a start-up is a sales exercise. If a founder manages to do that, they should be able to sell the product. The sales cycle comprises different steps and one might be better at generating leads or closing deals; signing new clients, up-selling or farming are also slightly different. From my little experience, sales people are rarely good in all areas. But we can all improve based on failure and success, in so far as we try to practise perfection in each sales situation.

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