Setting up Sales in 3 steps

by Mark Shalinsky (PhD) in March 10th, 2021
man writing

Before starting my own fractional sales operations company, I was hired a few times to kick off and stand up an inside sales department. Each time, I would start by building out what I called ‘shadow sales operations.’ Shadow sales operations are necessary before bringing on your BDR and AEs to ensure they will be successful.

Shadow sales operations are the minimal viable sales operations requirement that lays the foundation for a full-scale sales operations department. While a full scale sales operations group typically comprises many facets such as; compensation planning, enablement, territory building, recruitment, prospect targeting, and finally, sales stack identification, deployment, and management, shadow ops, being a minimal and lean structure, should only focus on driving revenue as quickly and easily as possible.

What do you need to drive revenue?

To drive revenue quickly and efficiently, the shadow sales operations, or rather initial sales operations, should focus on only three things;

  • Who are the prospective customers
  • How does your product help them
  • Where can you reach them?

Who are the prospective customers

Any company starting out has two ways of figuring out who their prospective customers are: prospects that are buying or people that they want to have to buy from them. 

When I started at Duo Security, we had a massive funnel that would have made anyone jealous. The issue was that for the type of prospect we wanted to sell to, it was more of a martini glass than a funnel (thick on top with a thin stem). 

How did we turn that funnel into a beer stein?

First, we looked at those companies that were coming through and started to thin slice them. The first thin slice was the ideal customer type (ICP), which is the company. The question was, what are the factors that make a company ideal? 

As Duo Security sold a two-factor identification product designed to secure end-users, the more employees a company had, the better target it would be.

The second factor was the industry. The less technical the industry, the better it was for us. Our platform could be deployed and managed easily with a minimal IT staff (common for law firms, architecture firms, and many medical facilities). 

The third and final factor that helped up triangulate on ideal customers was how regulated the industry was. When we were getting started, two-factor authentication was not as ubiquitous as today; thus, some regulated industries like banks, financial institutions, or others that felt they were on the cusp of requiring more security were prime targets. 

Once dialed into the ICP, we needed to look into the personas within those ICPs. Identifying a persona was a crucial part of the process. Consider the example of a law firm, were calling on one of the partners; they would think we were talking gibberish if we tried to convince them they needed any IT security software and rush us off the phone. 

However, the haggard IT manager would relish the opportunity to learn more about they could quickly and easily secure their luddite end-users. Then they would no longer fear the dreaded two AM phone call from the partner in a panic being locked out of their documents. 

Now, remember once you have a persona, it is not identical for each ICP. Each ICP has its own persona. Not only that, ICPs of different sizes may also have different personas. Going back to the law firm example, a smaller firm may use an outsourced IT management firm. Thus one IT firm could manage several law firms, so calling any tiny law firm would be pointless. A mid-sized firm may have an IT manager, whereas a large multinational firm could have a full-fledged CTO.

In short, once dialed into to you different ICPs, segment them as much as you can, then identify the individual personas for each ICP segment. Once you’ve done that, you are ready for the next step. 

How does your product help them?

The next step is determining how your product helps your prospective customer. While you can do much guessing and hypothesizing about how you help them, there is a far more direct method to quickly getting to the heart of the matter. 

The first start-up I joined, the Journal of Visualized Experiments ( was primarily a science journal. Still, we knew that our offering would be of great value to the science tool manufacturers. We also learned that our offering was a powerful marketing tool. So with these two data points, we investigated how we could make our marketing partners look like rockstars.

Being a company full of PhDs, none of us having had any real-world business experience, we put our heads together and tried to figure out what the conversation between the persona and their boss would be during their monthly, quarterly, and/or annual review.

After several long hours, we realized the answers we were looking for were abundantly and freely available to anyone. 

In short, look at job postings for those personas.

Job postings clearly itemize the role and responsibilities of each someone at a company. 

Want to know the responsibilities of a VP of Marketing at a Fortune 500 company? Look at a job posting for a fortune 500 company.

Want to know what you need to do to be considered a top AE candidate at a mid-sized SaaS company? Look at several AE job postings for fast-growing SaaS companies, and you will soon see what you need to do to get there.

From a prospecting perspective, if your product can tie into one of your persona’s key responsibilities, then you KNOW their boss (or board member) will be talking with them about that every month or quarter. 

Now that you can focus your messaging to inquire how a specific person in a distinct ICP is going about achieving their goals. You can now move to the last step in developing your minimal viable sales operations function, where to drop that message.

Where can you reach them?

Being able to reach your prospect for a proper yes or no response is the hardest part of the sales process. The current the mostly agreed upon effective number of touches before recycling a lead is twenty-one.

While twenty-one touches seem like a lot, it isn’t when you consider the number of different ways a sales rep can reach a prospect.

  • Phone call
  • Email
  • Text
  • Image
  • Video
  • Physical mail
  • LinkedIn

Think of those seven methods listed above about reaching out to a prospect is only three attempts for each. 

Most reps don’t do a single physical mailer.

Most reps do a dozen emails.

Most reps only do a handful of phone calls. 

How does a rep select which way they reach out to a prospect?

The worst way to make that decision, whatever that rep is comfortable with.

A better way to build your sequence is for sales operations to measure which channel works best and lean more heavily on that one.

Remember, each ICP and each persona may have a different channel they are tuned into, so you may need different sequences for different ICPs and personas.

Consider this, a company selling HVAC equipment to facilities. The sales rep needs to reach facility managers, the best way? Phone. 

These folks are in the facility managing big pieces of equipment dealing with physical problems. They likely have their cell phones on them and will answer because their job is putting out fires (sometimes actual fires). 

A lot of them may never read their email but always answer the phone.

On the opposite side of the spectrum could be an IT security manager. 

This persona will likely never answer the phone, however, always check their email. In those cases, dropping one or two voicemails referring to a phone call could be a great sequence. Also, ask your marketing folks to drop some Reddit ads as this is a place where they are likely to source information when they have some downtime.


Shadow operations need to put themselves in their prospect shoes and spend a day walking around in them. In that way, shadow operations will know who those prospects are, their daily pains, and how they look for solutions. Once that information has been gathered and garnered, shadow sales operations can turn around, hire, train, and release a team of BDRs on to an addressable market in a manner that should result in some significant dividends. 

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