No matter the stage, sector, or size of a company, many struggle with their GTM strategy due to the same fundamental mistake: trying to do too much at the same time.

“When you try to do everything at once, what ends up happening is you actually drive standards down over time.” says veteran GTM advisor and strategist Tom Levey.

Levey, who led GTM and sales strategy roles at companies such as AppDynamics and DataRobot and currently advises enterprise startups at Greylock, says companies often lose focus during critical growth moments: when raising new financing, significantly increasing headcount, releasing new products, making acquisitions, or countless other company-scaling efforts. As a result, they may have poorly trained sales teams, lack standards of execution, and have misalignment in product marketing and sales objectives.

To avoid these common pitfalls, Levey says companies need to have systems in place to keep their attention on the best-practices, processes, and metrics that can truly make a difference.

Levey sat down with us to share his top tips for designing and sticking to a cohesive GTM strategy at critical growth stages. This first part delves into the foundational part of building successful GTM teams. Next week, we’ll dive into best practices when executing sales tactics and strategies.

Starting at the high level, company-building is like spinning plates – you have to keep a lot of things going at the same time, especially during periods of growth. If everything is important, how do companies figure out the one or two things to focus on at a time?

Tom Levey:
Growth can be fun and exciting, but there are an infinite number of challenges to overcome. Most companies don’t believe they can afford to focus on just one or two things because every aspect seems important when you’re growing.  It requires heavy amounts of discipline to narrow focus while there are numerous tasks simultaneously demanding attention.

To determine the top priorities, companies must identify what is urgent, what is important, and what falls into both urgent and important. Different companies have different priorities, and even within a company, people often disagree on what should be the top concern.

To align decision-making with data, it’s necessary to understand where the most impactful gains can be made. A solid data foundation is vital for identifying gaps and prioritizing issues. However, it’s equally important for everyone in the company to have belief in the data. The key is to establish known, quantifiable, and unambiguous measures that can be relied upon to determine future outcomes.

By establishing a foundation of these leading indicators, companies can easily pinpoint critical areas of weakness. By taking corrective action well in advance, they can prevent problems from impacting the business down the line, even several quarters ahead.

While traditional data reports focus on lagging measurements like win/loss ratios, closed revenue, and pipeline multiples, identifying improvement opportunities requires a relentless focus on future-looking leading indicators of success. Adopting a leading indicator framework is the catalyst for consistent and intentional growth, influencing various aspects of company-building such as recruitment, training, messaging, pricing, and much more.

How do you build a leading indicator framework?

Tom Levey:
You need metrics that have clearly defined outcomes. Many people have a basic idea that if you are busy, good things will happen, so I have met lots of leaders who are maniacally focussed on the volume of their activities (e.g. number of leads, calls, emails or meetings). But these types of volume based measures are incomplete unless quality of execution is also a primary consideration.

Consider the number of customer meetings as an example. To establish an effective and unambiguous measurement for your data foundation, aligning on the key details is crucial. Specifically, there must be a clear understanding or definition of the elements within a “customer meeting” that consistently and effectively advance an opportunity.

Let’s take a moment to visualize this. Imagine making a 10-minute “catchup” call to a friendly customer on their cell phone. While undoubtedly a positive activity, it’s hard to quantify how many 10-minute catch-ups can repeatedly provide any assurance that a deal is going to close.

Now, compare this with a meeting that has a predetermined agenda, participants, format, content, and expected outcome. This type of meeting is repeatable and, more importantly, can be trained and improved. Companies have the opportunity to examine each aspect of the process and fine-tune the most effective format for developing their teams.

By establishing a common definition and understanding, everyone is aligned on what to prioritize at any given time. Sharing the details of successful practices and how they are achieved holds a powerful multiplying effect. When people can clearly see a believable path to success, they are more motivated to strive for it, regardless of the challenges they may face. This definition serves as the core driver that propels everyone towards excellence in repeatable and scalable execution.

Tell me about a time in your career when your data foundation helped your team prioritize the actions needed to get through a challenging moment.

Tom Levey:
In the early days of AppDynamics, we faced a challenging quarter ahead. We realized early on that we didn’t have enough opportunities to meet our goal, which was alarming considering our track record of never missing a quarter. However, we took immediate action and devised a simple plan: if each person could find just $50k, we would succeed.

During this time, our team was small, there were only a handful of sellers. Nevertheless, everyone came together to tackle the situation. Marketing became laser-focused, sales engineers reached out to their supporters to uncover pain points and offer assistance. It truly became a united team effort. Week after week, we discovered new problems our customers faced and identified new ways to help them. The entire team was on board, driven by hard data that highlighted areas for improvement. This created a sense of duty and urgency for everyone to contribute in bridging the gap. Each person was determined to find $50k. We persistently pursued these contributions until the very last day of the quarter, ultimately achieving our goal in the final hours of the quarter. I often wonder what trajectory the company would have taken if we hadn’t identified the problem early and implemented a simple plan to solve it!

How do you establish standards and build a team that is able to execute and is built for long-term growth?

Tom Levey:
A strong data foundation such as that which we discussed earlier can not only help you see where to focus your GTM activities, but is equally important to identify and set standards for how to execute. The expected level of performance. And those standards should be set high. If a data foundation is able to illuminate an area where people can improve, you can then identify where to focus efforts on people development that will have the most impact.

By measuring basic details of the steps people are taking, you can objectively measure what the top performers are doing and how those actions are leading to their success. You have an active log of the best practices that you can offer as tangible steps to the entire organization.

Imagine you have a company with 10 salespeople and despite having a huge inbound lead funnel, the data shows that the first meetings you are having with your prospects (New Business Meetings) are not resulting in many actual opportunities. This is an urgent and important problem that needs to be addressed. So you focus obsessively on improving the sales team’s ability to prepare for and run extremely high quality New Business Meetings (NBMs) with prospects. You set the standard for excellence by rolling out training, providing tools and templates, giving feedback after every meeting, and more. Ultimately, you hold people accountable to this standard. By the end of the first quarter, the level of execution improves and, ideally, conversion rates increase.

These 10 individuals have embraced excellence and strive to achieve it consistently. Once someone reaches a level of excellence, they are unlikely to lower their standards. As a result, the next five hires who are taught the same standards, provided with the same tools and processes, and share the same expectations, are surrounded by a team of individuals who excel in their respective roles. This creates a high-performing environment where everyone observes and learns from the best, inspiring them to reach that same level of excellence. By implementing gradual improvements, focusing on one or two areas at a time, and continuously raising the bar, long-term scalability is achieved.

On the other hand, a more traditional approach would involve attempting to improve multiple aspects simultaneously, making small and scattered improvements. However, only a few individuals will truly understand the details required to achieve excellence, and their knowledge won’t be shared among the team due to divided attention. Consequently, standards won’t be elevated and after a few quarters, the standards may actually decline. Then you’re back to square one, needing to solve the same problem(s) again.

Early stage companies that are growing quickly often feel like the best way to level up their sales abilities is by hiring a team of experienced leaders from well established companies. What are your thoughts on this?

Tom Levey:
In the past, I placed a greater emphasis on a person’s previous experience when hiring senior leaders. However, I have come to realize that someone’s past accomplishments may not be ideal for the current requirements of a different company. While their achievements may be impressive, they do not guarantee success in this specific company.

In a GTM leadership role, it is crucial to have a deep understanding of the product and its value proposition. For individuals joining the company from the outside, this may pose a challenge, but it is certainly achievable. However, there are aspects of leadership that prove more challenging for newcomers to quickly align with. A successful GTM leader must inspire their team and gain their trust in the direction being taken. Therefore, a new leader must win both hearts and minds. This is where promoting someone from within the company holds a significant advantage, as their success is witnessed by everyone. Their steps, problem-solving approach, work ethic, and communication style have already been observed by the broader team. While promoting someone internally may mean they lack the same level of leadership experience as an external candidate, they already possess credibility, rapport, and the trust of the team. In this scenario, others are more likely to believe in them and seek growth under their new leadership. At the same time, this paves the way for future leaders within the company.

Usually, this individual is your top performer, so promoting them to a leadership role can be daunting due to the potential loss of their excellent sales performance. This is the inherent risk involved. Additionally, first-time leadership is often challenging. This is why it is crucial to establish a robust development culture from the outset. You need a support system in place to assist, mentor, and guide them throughout this transition. This process should begin well in advance of their official promotion to a leadership position. It is essential to invest in the development of this individual. Creating a culture and structure that consistently nurtures people for future leadership positions is vital for long term health and continued growth.

Is there a go-to sales process framework you recommend?

Tom Levey:
I’m known as “the process guy,” but the truth is, the specifics of the process are less important than ensuring its existence. Moreover, when it does exist, it must have clear definitions and aligned expectations internally.

Anyone who has worked with me will likely have heard me refer to my “arrows theory.” Essentially, if we can get everyone on the same page and directionally following a standardized process with a shared definition and execution standards, it becomes significantly easier to identify areas for improvement. There are many variables in a sales cycle: the duration, the size, who is involved, etc. etc. Due to this factor there is never a perfect methodology for how to run a sales cycle. Each customer engagement is different. However, when as many details as possible of how the sales cycle is executed are aligned between a team of sales professionals, incremental improvements can be identified and adjusted easily.

The individual defined steps of a sales process are never complex or difficult to understand. Achieving the true benefit of the defined steps relies on everyone being aligned and executing them at a consistently high standard of excellence. I liken this to an Olympic swimmer’s task of swimming. While the concept is easy for anyone to understand (jump in the pool and swim to the other end). it is the details and discipline of training and executing with excellence that distinguishes Michael Phelps from his competitors and makes him the GOAT.




This is part one of a two-part series. The next installment will cover the specifics of executing best practices during the sales process.