How to rely less on sales unicorns and get more rigour into your sales processes

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Peter Griffin

Techweek 21: While traditional marketing channels are reopening, Kiwi tech companies’ over-reliance on star salespeople needs to give way to a more systematic approach.

As the world went into lockdown last year, many companies had to re-engineer their sales process and the marketing that supports it, to take a digital-first approach that didn’t come naturally.

Survey results from Auckland-based digital marketing and sales specialist Concentrate, suggest that prior to the pandemic, 20% of New Zealand tech companies spent 27% of their marketing budget on events like trade shows.

With the usual slate of physical trade events and in-person visits put on ice, our approach to sales was put to the test. According to Concentrate Managing Director, Owen Scott, customers of our companies have embraced the new way of buying software.

“They’re just a lot more comfortable with going through quite complex, long sales cycles, completely remote and completely digital,” he says.

New Zealand tech companies have relied heavily on a small number of “sales unicorns” to generate and convert sales leads, adds Scott.

Our direct approach works, but it’s hard to scale it up

Our sales productivity problem

The personal touch has been very effective – research shows that the average lead-to-customer conversion rate for New Zealand software companies is 38%. That compares to 2 – 10% for US companies.

“It’s exceptionally high,” Scott said on a webinar yesterday held as part of Techweek 21

“But these US sales teams are much more productive, they are getting through a lot more volume,” he explains.

US companies are generating more leads and creating a larger pipeline of prospective customers because they have taken a more systematic approach to their sales processes, he argues.

Typically, says Scott, Kiwi companies hire “exceptionally good” salespeople, or founders drive sales themselves. That works well initially but can fall apart as the business grows, without the proper structure and support in place for an expanding sales team.

“We see the cycle where the founder starts the company and does all the selling. Then they hire a sales unicorn and set them up to fail because there’s little structure and little lead generation,” says Scott.

Concentrate, which has been in business for 17 years and helps tech-orientated software companies including PT Minder, Plexure and Tradify improve their digital sales and marketing processes, is on a push to encourage tech companies to get more structure into their processes and to take a more data-driven approach.

People and technology

Concentrate’s Owen Scott

Part of that is down to people, the rest is technology-related, says Scott.

Instead of concentrating on the sales unicorns to prop up the flow of deals, Concentrate advocates introducing more junior “business development representatives” at the start of the sales process. 

“Their role is a finder, to reach out to people, check they’re a good fit for your company, and sell the next stage of the process, which is typically what we call a discovery call,” says Scott.

That discovery call can be up to an hour-long and is hosted by a senior member of the sales team, who can work their magic on the pre-vetted sales leads. For digital-based companies dealing with leads coming via more digital channels as a result of the pandemic, getting systems in place to support that lower-level sales process is essential, says Scott.

Concentrate is a consulting company, but its services wrap around Hubspot, the inbound marketing, sales and customer service platform that’s been around since 2006. Concentrate helps companies put in place the links in the chain that see a new lead eventually convert into a customer. They include building an effective website and digital marketing channels, to automating key marketing processes and tracking sales leads and customer details in a customer relationship management (CRM) system.

Scott’s colleague at Concentrate, Greg Williams, told Techweek that a surprising number of Kiwi tech companies still don’t have a CRM system. 

“You need a CRM to manage company and contact information and manage the sales pipeline,” he says.

How Hubspot facilitates the lead generation process

Getting more out of marketing

While productivity is an issue for New Zealand companies when it comes to sales, so too is making the most of marketing activity, says Williamson.

For US companies up to 80% of sales leads come from indirect marketing efforts. In New Zealand it is more like 40%, a hangover once again of us relying heavily on the sales unicorns.

“New Zealand’s really underperforming the US,” says Williamson. 

“So we need to hold marketing’s feet to the fire. Their number one role has got to become generating leads through digital channels so that we can scale and we can go global, without having to have people all over the place.”

Monitoring key performance indicators (KPI) from website lead generation through to actual versus budgeted revenue from deals, is crucial adds Williamson, and is something that a decent platform for managing sales leads and deals will offer. 

“To actually make it happen, you really need the right technology, both to make things more efficient because you can automate a bunch of stuff, but also make it more visible. 

“That’s really key with that technology.”

Concentrate’s advice to take a more systematic approach to sales.

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Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform,

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