Becoming a Unicorn Company: What Top Tech Startups do Differently
If you’re a leader in a high-growth tech sector, you’ve probably heard the phrase “unicorn company.” It’s the dream of any tech startup – to reach a valuation of $1 billion without an IPO. But what do companies in this coveted spot have that puts them so far ahead of the competition? Conventional wisdom points to a great product, but we know that’s not the whole story. A great product sets the stage, but sales runs the show – so what can sales leaders in the tech world and beyond learn from the sales process of these standout firms?
We’ve identified three areas where unicorn companies excel: a customer-focused message, scalable sales process and sales agility. Read on for key strategies to elevate your sales organization in these areas to maximize revenue and growth.
At one time, a great customer-led product development process was considered the biggest factor to startup success, and customer discovery was largely led by R&D teams. In today’s competitive environment, though, customer discovery as part of the sales process is equally as vital. Without the proper means to communicate value in the language of the customer, a great product can be overlooked. Companies who thrive in this climate have cross-functional alignment on a holistic customer-first mindset.
For any company to successfully monetize a customer-centric strategy, they must first have a strong value message. This means they can attach their solution to revenue-producing outcomes for the customer. When sellers are fluent in this skill, the sales organization is able to consistently validate a premium price, increasing the average deal size and boosting revenue for a higher valuation.
The commercial teams of these companies are also aligned on a customer-focused discovery and sales process. We all know the importance of product differentiation, but this strategy creates a whole new level of competition: here, sales organizations can begin to offer differentiation of the buying experience. When companies create a framework for enforcing this value and differentiation at scale, they demonstrate a fundamental understanding of their customer’s needs, which substantially impacts their revenue and valuation.
At Force Management, we refer to this level of competency as having Command of your Message, and we’ve seen it transform not just the sales process, but the customer experience post-sale. Take a look at how Sysdig CRO, Keegan Riley, described the impact of their engagement:
Command of the Message helped Sysdig increase conversion rates, multiply retention revenue, and decrease time to productivity for new hires. In 2021, Sysdig reached Unicorn valuation after undergoing Command of the Message training.
Scalable sales process
Alignment on a powerful value message is a great start, but to reach a billion-dollar valuation, you have to be able to scale that message. To successfully scale, your organization needs a repeatable and teachable process for executing on that customer-centric strategy. This means getting the whole organization on the same page with a standard sales and qualification process.
If you’ve ever wondered how the most successful tech startups seem to grow so quickly, it’s by building a repeatable framework for success. Here are a few critical actions that leaders of high-growth organizations prioritize:
- Clearly defining what success looks like and early indicators of success in the sales process
- Providing front-line managers with the skills to coach and guide the sales process
- Establishing a standard of qualification to drive predictability in revenue, freeing up resources and time for expansion
Keeping an accurate real-time view of the pipeline is key to delivering on promises made to shareholders and supporting growth. Leaders of unicorn-level sales orgs implement custom qualification frameworks like MEDDICC to ensure that sellers know the strength, timeline and needs of their deals at all times. This knowledge is paramount in the age of the “not right now” decision driven by economic uncertainty. With the ability to identify key stakeholders and their criteria early in the sales cycle, sellers can now communicate key outcomes that influence those decision makers who otherwise would have appeared much later in the process, potentially stalling the deal.
By enabling a high level of visibility into the quarter ahead, leaders are able to make strategic, calculated bets on growth measures. One such leader is Mike Troiano, former CMO of Actifio, which completed Command of the Message and Command of the Sale with Force Management. Here’s what Troiano shared about the impact of these sales methodologies:
Following their training engagement with FM, Actifio achieved higher gross margins, increased profitability and drove growth through high customer satisfaction. In subsequent funding rounds their valuation increased by $3 million to $1.3 billion, bolstering their unicorn company status.
One more critical component to creating lasting sales success is flexibility. In today’s fast-changing and unpredictable economic landscape, a sales organization must be able to adapt to the environment around it in real time. Agility is especially important for tech and startup companies who face tight competition and uphill challenges for growth.
So how do Unicorn companies remain on the leading edge of their industry? Organizations with sales agility have three important elements:
- They consistently practice elite execution of sales fundamentals
- They have a clear definition of their value that can be translated to many customer needs and problems
- They maintain an active awareness of their customer’s evolving needs
Sales teams that master what we’ve already covered - sales messaging and process - have two out of the three. The key to unlocking flexibility - the ability to follow customer needs as they change - is alignment. High-growth companies thrive in a rapidly evolving sales environment because they create a synergy between sales, marketing, product and customer success teams that allows them to react to buyer needs in real time.
If you’re practicing a customer-centric strategy, then your client-facing teams are constantly fielding data about what is happening in the customer’s world. Create an intentional feedback loop between these teams and the rest of your organization so that consistent updates to product, proof points and the sales process clearly reflect the customer experience and buying criteria based on what is important to them right now.
That’s exactly how Intercom was able to increase their average deal size by 261%. Valued at $1.26B, this Unicorn used Command of the Message and MEDPICC training to reinvigorate growth and gain forward sales momentum. But it was how they continued to implement these standards after the engagement that made the greatest impact. Intercom’s Former Global Director of Sales and Support Enablement, Rich Wing, shared this about their strategy:
In a shifting sales environment, value negotiation needs to happen from the moment of first contact. Enable marketing and sales to lead the conversation from a place of urgency and necessity according to the moment your buyer is in, utilizing learning from your existing customer relationships. By orchestrating this ongoing conversation and applying an elite sales process to real-time market positioning, leaders can make sales agility part of their organization’s DNA. This resource explores how sales agility can benefit your organization and shares some strategies to get started.
Get Your Sales Team Selling at Unicorn Level
The designation of “unicorn” may be rare, but their results don’t have to be. Force Management has helped sales organizations of all sizes and industries attain and maintain unicorn-level productivity. Start scaling your revenue today by defining a unique value message that empowers your sales force to be agile and address buyers’ shifting priorities.
Download this eBook to learn about the specific strategies that delivered ROI for Unicorn companies like Intercom and Sysdig.