How we scaled our sales organisation using data

28 February 2020


With revenues that have more than doubled in 2019 and a headcount multiplied by over 2.5, iBanFirst is growing fast. As a BI Lead working closely with the sales team, last quarter was probably the most intense in terms of data to crunch and analysis to perform.

Growing fast requires constant adjustments and adaptations. Our VP Sales Grégoire re-engineered our entire sales organisation and operations and I was lucky to give him a hand. Our goal was to scale our sales organisation and operations to get ready for 2020. We aimed to make our organisation more efficient, to avoid any blow-up for what is going to be the most decisive year for iBanFirst.

First: getting things right

As a B2B fintech, our go-to-market is very tech-driven. This means that to rise above our competitors, our core business had to build on a strong tech & banking infrastructure. We chose, for instance, to develop internally in our lab an IA solution to assist our sales executives with sourcing leads.

Getting our sales organisation and operations right is thus of utmost importance. A good sales organisation starts with targets that respect the SMART framework and are specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-framed.

  • Getting definitions right before getting targets right

The number of new clients is among our sales executives’ targets. And our first challenge lied in defining what a client is rather than setting the actual target is where.

Different companies have different client definitions. At iBanFirst, until recently different teams had different definitions of the term. It could be anything from a contract sent, a contract signed, a KYC passed, a first payment executed to a first fee billed. You could be surprised by the number of different answers you could get within your company. There is no right or wrong, what matters is that everybody is aligned on a single definition. We chose to define a new client as a company that executed their first payment with iBanFirst. Indeed, it helps everyone commit to accompanying a client until its first use of the platform. This prevents salespeople from signing contracts with clients that never make a transaction.

Other key definitions that we had to agree on before setting targets included active clients, inactive clients, and churn.

  • Getting economics right before getting targets right

At iBanFirst, we have always been very cautious about building a profitable business model. This means that every single new client and every single new sales executive must have a positive economic contribution within a reasonable timeframe.

A key metric is the sales executive break-even point, calculated as the time it takes for a sales executive to generate more cumulated gross revenue than their fully charged cumulated compensation and turn a positive net revenue.

We come to something like this:

This is a metric that we now constantly work on improving, with initiatives aimed at accelerating and optimising our sales cycle duration: creation of a lab to develop and train our IA that assist on sourcing, sales executive ramp-up through better training, targeting higher-value clients with better sales materials, etc.

  • Expected revenue vs. actual revenue

At iBanFirst, we have several revenue streams. First, as a SaaS company, one part of our business model is a recurring fee to access a specific service, but we also have a volume-based transactional business model. Both combined, this means that we generate revenue, through fees or markup, on every transaction, payment, FX conversion, or loan. Although as in a pure SaaS business, our revenue is predictable. We estimate client volumes during onboarding and triangulate volumes with pricing grids, coupled with our recurring fees and then are able to calculate expected revenue. 

Therefore, if your business is suitable with such an estimation, you should be able to draw something like this at your company:

In a perfect world, the green line follows the orange one straight. In reality it doesn’t. We constantly look at our expected-revenue-to-actual-revenue ratio target and try to keep it as close as possible from 1:1 or above with cross-sell and up-sell components. Missed revenue estimates can have multiple root causes, including volumes lower than expected due to a business slowdown, volumes lost to competitors, product mix with a less favourable revenue profile, or over-optimistic sales executives.

  • Drawing and optimising our sales cycle, one step at a time

Now that we have defined what a client and revenue are, we can backtrack to define the sales cycle milestones and owners.

At iBanFirst our – simplified – sales cycle would look like this:

Our sales cycle includes multiple steps and involves multiple stakeholders. Each of these steps and handovers            from one stakeholder to another can be optimised to accelerate the entire process and accelerate the sales cycle. Initiatives can range from improving existing product features (such as making it easier and faster to sign a contract electronically), launching new product features (such as automating ID checks), clarifying KYC rules, or building new teams from scratch (such as a new Customer Success team dedicated to client onboarding).

We designed a happy flow and defined turnaround targets for each step of the sales cycle, like a well-oiled machine. We constantly look at actual turnarounds and make iterative adjustments that compound into big improvements.

You should be able to draw something like this and get key timestamps by client at company level:

I would personally recommend that you create client cohorts by first transaction/order date, then run your analysis by client segment (such as size/industry) and analyse your timestamps that way over time. You might find different optimisation depending on client typology.

Second: dig into historical data and dream big to set the right targets

After reorganising our sales organisation, agreeing on common definitions, and identifying the relevant targets, we had to set targets – and get them right. The first step to do it is to dig into historical, drill down, slice and dice, exclude outliers, etc.

We first identified three main KPIs that were relevant to our business; those three KPIs are: number of client opportunities won by relative months, amount of revenue generated by relative month, cumulative pipeline value by end of relative month.

We were able (Hallo! Pieter) to compare each salesperson on their past performances, based on the metrics we identified and came to something like this:


As an example, above, we looked at historical performances between relative months, 7th to 12th, based on revenue generated and cumulative pipeline value. It has several benefits: it gives you a quick snapshot of the historical sales performance distribution, it allows you to exclude outliers, etc., and set the right targets for each period of time.

The second step is to dream big and to be confident in your organisation and people. Just like past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, we believe that we can do much better than we did in the past, with better organisation, processes, focus, etc.

Like many start-ups at the beginning, our salespeople were doing all jobs from client qualification, to closing and then account management. It works well when you are a small structure. As soon as you get to thousands of clients and 100+ sales, it becomes a mess.

Therefore, we decided to base our organisation’s redesign on a more efficient customer approach called ‘Customer-Centric Selling’ aka CCS. Long story short, it aims to identify what customers want, need and what their pain points are, at all stages of our sales cycle.

Breaking down our sales cycle also helped us identify our sales executives’ strengths and weaknesses. Some are pickers (they like to call and qualify leads), others are hunters (they like to turn leads into clients), and others still are farmers (they like to build relationships with clients). It is very rare to find a sales executive who excels at all three aspects of the role. A sales executive would overachieve on a given metric (e.g. number of clients onboarded) and fall short on another metric (e.g. portfolio revenue), making it complicated to assess their overall performance. What worked when we had a couple dozen sales executives did not work when we passed the 100-person mark. Instead of working on each sales executive’s weaknesses, we have decided to leverage their strengths and make them focus on a single step of the sales cycle as well as a single metric and target.

That led us to create new roles with one single focus in the whole sales organisation: a Sales Development Representative team in charge of client qualification, an FX Sales team in charge of closing clients – with several levels of seniority that address different client tiers, a Customer Success team that assists our FX Sales representatives and finally, an Account Manager team that handle clients, day to day after closing.

For each team we defined – still based on the CCS approach – precise requirements and one single KPI to manage: number of meetings booked with clients (for 'Sales Development Representative'), number of clients activated ('FX-Sales'), average. NPS score ('Customer Success') & revenue realised ('Account Managers').

By splitting our sales cycle, we get everyone specialised on a specific part of the process. There is no more arbitration between one KPI or another for your sales staff.

The third and final step is to get the buy-in from your CFO. If we oversimplify things, our business plan and budget are a function of our sales headcount, x productivity / number of new clients per sales executive, + Client retention / churn, x volume per client, x margin per client.

 As a venture-backed company (Hi! Kima, Serena, Breega), we have a responsibility towards our investors and board of directors to get our budget right. No matter how good our thinking was and how strong our convictions were, we had to convince our CFO first, then our board of directors, then our prospective investors, etc.

Finally: deploy and get things done

People are everything. That would be my number one takeaway tip based on my start-up experiences.

Invest in people, and this can take several forms. The most obvious would be sales training (one-to-one, Q&A session, etc.), giving clarity to sales staff (kick-off, town halls, etc.), building in-house tools to help them plan and measure their performance. This will help show what you are expecting, how you are going to measure it and will avoid any misunderstanding.

Finally, constantly be on alert to attract good salespeople. That’s why we have plenty of sales positions open: check out our careers website or reach-out to Jennifer and Alison.

That’s all for now, we’re going to make some noise in the coming months, stay tuned!

Article written by Florent Sroka, Business Intelligence Lead at iBanFirst

Topics: Fintech Growth Data