How to Build a Validated Sales Process

Acquia Logo

I’m going to give you some real world tactics that we use to move deals through the funnel faster, on how to manage the funnel, and how to build a validated sales process.

Here’s some background: Acquia was one of the fastest growing private companies in the United States from 2009 to 2013, and I had the pleasure of joining when we were 20 people back in 2009.

At Acquia we have SDRs, and our ISR & SDR team globally is about 45 people. SDRs are responsible for outbound pipeline generation and ISR are responsible for all of our inbound leads, which is somewhere between 18-25K inbound leads per quarter. Too, our business is seasonal so we find that in the Web Dev business that Q1 & Q3 are our slower quarters while Q2 & Q4 tend to be the quarters where customers spend money.

Our AE team, from a prospecting perspective are focused on target accounts. We had the same situation with marketing that InsightSquared had where they were saying – “The leads are green, the leads are green, the leads are green” but we’re coming back and saying “The pipeline is red, the pipeline is red, the pipeline is red”

Again, similar to InsightSquared, our marketing team is measured on MQLs, raw pipeline, sales qualified pipeline and bottom-line bookings. So we are absolutely joined at the hip and that our ISR and BDR teams are goal on the same things. Our teams have a shared responsibility to make sure that we get to our pipeline goals.

We know based upon pipeline metrics that we track where we need to be stepping into a quarter in order to meet our number.

Sales Accountability: Set SLAs

Once we sat down with marketing and decided that we all would be measured on the same metrics, everyone “put their money where their mouth is.” We have SLAs that we’ve agreed to between Sales and Marketing, so when we get an MQL we know to call them back within an hour and as you move through our funnel we agreed to SLAs between Sales and Marketing.

Sales Execution

We know that over the last 12 quarters, based upon the pipeline that we’ve generated, the results have been within 5% of our pipeline metric. So when we walk into a quarter, unless a miracle happens, that is we were 20% off on our pipeline goal we know that we have a risk for that particular quarter.

So the first thing we do before the opportunity even goes into Salesforce, we have to do what is called a discovery letter. We do deep discovery over the phone and then we send the prospect a discovery letter, and that letter then has to actually be validated by the prospect.

It’s not a situation where we had a conversation and I sent you something and then I put the opportunity in Salesforce. Instead, the prospect has to respond back and say – “Yup. You’ve heard me correctly” or “Oops. You have this part wrong” – this way you have an interaction with the prospect.

The first thing we did to prevent reps from jamming up the pipeline is to put the discovery letter process in place. Prospects have to be validated.

The second thing we do is before you can move an opportunity from the prospect stage into one of our forecast categories is that they have to pass the Qualifying Test.

The next step is that before you move an opportunity from the best case (deals that are qualified) you have to do a Pursuit Drill which has to be validated with a Sales Manager.

These are “The 15 Things You Have To Know About a Deal” in order to discover where the holes are in the deal. Once the deal moves into a “Likely” forecast category, and with someone in sales management you have to do “A Vision to Close” and that is what you think every step that needs to happen from today until the day they will close.

Again, that process is validated with the customer. It covers everything from –  “Here’s the legal stuff that needs to happen, Here’s who has to be involved with the decision-making process, etc.”

The Discovery Letter

A “Discovery Letter” should be sent within 24 hours of a possible opportunity interaction. It typically contains the essence of the conversation that occurred during the sales call along with a proposed set of next steps. A common structure is:

  • A detailed description of the sales person’s understanding of the need and what is driving the need
  • A description of the timetable, budget, and approval process
  • Re-cap of any recommendation you made
  • A list of open questions that were not answered (and may have been tabled for offline discussion during the meeting)
  • A list of agreed-upon next steps and owners. This list is one of the best ways to push things forward, especially if there are due dates attached to each next step.
  • A discovery letter MUST BE VALIDATED / ACKNOWLEDGED by the prospect

Example of a Discovery Letter


Thank you for your time today. I now have a much better understanding of your data needs.
I have summarized my notes from our conversation. Please let me know if you have any comments / clarifications.


  • ABC company is currently hosting their Drupal site at RackSpace
  • Significant user growth has crashed the site five times in the past two months
  • The site outages are tarnishing ABC’s brand and the CEO has mandated a fix ASAP
  • RackSpace nor ABC have the Drupal expertise to troubleshoot / manage this environment. There is a concern that the site has security flaws
  • ABC is looking for a company to provide hosting and application support 7/24
  • The annual budget for hosting and support is $75k. James and his boss will make the vendor decision.


  • James will complete the hosting questionnaire by …..
  • James and his boss will participate in a 60 minute requirements gathering / validation call with Acquia on ______
  • After this call, Joe will turn a proposal around in 24 hours
  • Joe and James walk through the proposal on ______

James, I look forward to working with you on this project.


Joe Salesperson

If you put an opportunity in and it doesn’t have a discovery letter, Sales Ops will go in and zero out the dollar value on that opportunity, they email you and CC your Sales Manager and say “You created this opportunity but don’t have a discovery letter. Once you’ve gone back and validated the opportunity you can go back and enter in a dollar amount.”

The Qualifying Test

This is something that someone on the Sales Management team sits down with each rep before they move an opportunity into one of the forecast categories and they answer these particular questions:

  • Do they have a problem?
    • Be able to identify the pain
    • Be able to identify the business impact of the pain
  • Can we provide a solution that solves this problem?
    • Be able to identify the solution
  • Is the problem compelling and are they planning to take action?
    • Be able to determine the timeframe for a decision
  • Do we have access to key decision-makers?
    • Identify key decision-makers
  • Do they have a realistic budget? (is it big enough for Acquia?)

The Pursuit Drill

When we first started out, we did these in an ad-hoc fashion but now they’re religion in the company. Every deal that gets into the “Best Case” forecast category and above has to have a pursuit drill done.

The template should be completed by a sales rep and VALIDATED by a sales manager/deal team for any deal that makes it into QUALIFIED/BEST. It should also be used as a “gut check” before investing in a formal proposal.

The pursuit drill ensures we answer these kinds of questions:

  • Does the customer have a need?
  • Do we have the right solution?
Is this a closable opportunity?
Where do we have red flags?
  • What pro-active strategies should we deploy?

Vision to Close

A vision to close MUST be done AND Validated by a manager prior to moving a deal into Likely/ Commit. Answering these 3 quick questions can create a roadmap on how to get a deal to closure

  • How do we get business buy-in?
Person / what they care about / how we will get them bought in
  • How do we get technical buy-in?
Person / what they care about / how we will get them bought in
  • What is the procurement / legal process and how do we navigate?

Other Key Tricks to Closing Deals Faster

“Dear John”

  • You MUST act with an edge to understand which deals to focus on
  • A “Dear John” will force the customer to confirm that can execute by your target date OR tell you no
  • Should be sent
  • Beginning of each Q
  • At the end of week 7
  • You all should have an example on google docs (Dear John example) “Yes is great, No is ok, maybe is unacceptable”

Internal Selling Documents

Many times, your contact will need to get approval for your proposal from the decision-makers that you cannot get access to. In these situations, you need to help your champion sell your proposal internally. Never assume, however, that your customer can “sell” this initiative with any degree of competence.

Customers who have to go in front of the Executive Committee to get the decision will typically need to put a document together (one or two pages) for the committee. If necessary, volunteer to help your champion create an internal selling document for the decision-makers that briefly outlines:

  • The need
  • Why this need should be addressed now
  • The options we evaluated
  • The solution we recommend, and why
  • The details of the initiative (cost, time frame, etc.)
  • How this initiative will support the company goals (save money, improve control and visibility, etc.)

If your customers are willing to sit down and create the document with you, they have really brought you in!

*Editors Note: Recap post of the Deck presented at Sales Hacker Series in Boston by Tim Bertrand, SVP of Worldwide Sales at Acquia.

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