An interview with Manuel Hartmann, Founder & CEO of SalesPlaybook

An interview with Manuel Hartmann, Founder & CEO of SalesPlaybook

This is an edited transcript of an interview with Manuel Hartmann, Founder & CEO of SalesPlaybook

How did you get into the world of tech and startups?

I've been interested in technology for 20 years and have been in startups and scale ups for twelve years. I started at Tesla in 2012 selling roadsters and then progressed to leading large Salesforce transformations at Accenture for companies like ABB and the World Economic Forum. I then built sales for an AI startup from 2017 to 2019. During that time, I realised that there's not really sales enablement out there for early-stage companies going from zero to 10 million ARR. That realisation and the drive to found my own company was the trigger to launch SalesPlaybook five years ago.


When you look back on those five years, what are the things that you're most proud of?

Yes, it's nice to scale a business in four years from zero to seven figures. Yes, it's nice to work with 280 clients but I’m most proud of having integrity, being honest, not screwing over any customers and staying true to not working in industries like defence or tobacco that I don't want to contribute to.

It's also been insightful to learn from mistakes such as changing revenue model multiple times, changing the offering multiple times, hiring the team for one revenue model, changing the revenue model, and then changing the team again. I feel well prepared for the second half of the decade.


What advice would you have given your younger self early on in your tech sales career?

Focus relentlessly on value and really understanding your ideal customer profile. Have the mindset that if you want to make a million in revenue for yourself, you need to create ten million for somebody else. Many salespeople don't have this mindset. Instead, they have a product and give you a demo, then pitch and then send you a quote based on how many licenses they want without having this urgent curiosity to understand and help people.


Have you had the opportunity to be mentored or have mentors that have guided you throughout your career?

Yes, at all points in my career, and it was essential. Accenture have a counselling model where you have monthly conversations about how you want to drive your career. I also had very good team leads to help me understand how to manage multiple stakeholders, how to manage projects and how to collaborate with clients.

As a single founder at SalesPlaybook, I got myself a mentor and coach who has helped me when I’m asking myself if I am going off course or heading in the right direction. That said, you can only learn through your own experience.


Is there one piece of advice that really changed your perspective or unlocked your career?

As in sports, there's not this one thing which makes you a world champion or sets you on a path. In entrepreneurship, if you want to build a company, start with the end in mind. First design how that looks when you make ten million annual revenue or 500k, then design the target organization for that and then hire for that target organization. So many founders, including myself, think they are just one person or just five people and they need to hire who they can get access to. That may be a friend or that one person that applied. So,they hire them and try to make them successful. They try to build a company around people rather than having people fit the company.


So, structure and strategy first?

Yes. It’s like in soccer, you need to design the system first. There will always be a goalkeeper, there will always be somebody in offense, defence, and midfield. The rules are given. You don't go to play soccer with only three people against a team of eleven and think that’s all you need. Business is the same.


What key mistakes do you see people make when they want to boost their sales career?

As with sport, people try to jump the basics. People want to be the person closing big deals but if you can generate enough pipeline for yourself,you will always have a happy sales life. But people try to skip that skill. It’s like a chef that's unable to go to the market to get their own food-there's nothing to cook.


Do you feel there are other fundamentals you need to get right to grow your sales career?

Being able to leverage technology and rhythm. Create your five pieces of LinkedIn content a week. Create your follow up email with a template. Create your outbound via sequencing tools and measure what works and what doesn't.

 With regards to skill set, discovery qualification is still the most important part. So many people just focus on the demo, but they don't go deep enough to really understand how they help the person, what the true value is for them and how committed the person is to accept help. They don’t get to a point where they can disqualify those who are not going to buy. They don’t get the chance to invest more time with the people who can invest 100K with the company than the person ready to spend 10K.

How does this ability manifest itself? What’s the difference in results for people that do this and those that don’t?

They’re typically a lot more focused but also more relaxed. I know sales rep that work 20-30 hours, but spend those hours on doing the right things well without any noise getting in the way. Then there are those that are furiously busy, working 10-12 hours days and always doing more. If it doesn't work, they do even more and it doesn't help. Like in a gym if you do the wrong sets in the wrong form, it doesn't help you do more sets.


You’ve mentioned qualifying and generating pipeline as key skills, are there any other skills that you feel are worth investing in?

For people that are trying to break into a sales career, I would advise learning how to write well and find a rhythm that works for you. It's tremendously underestimated. Many salespeople expect to demo the product. In that moment, they’re a gatekeeper between the buyer and the solution. With self-service and people doing their own research, you don't need a salesperson to do a demo anymore. Instead,you need a salesperson to create value and create trust. If you can create your own blog articles, or regularly post on LinkedIn, or write your own newsletter,that's tremendously helpful. The sales rock stars of tomorrow will be like today's YouTube video creators because they're able to tell compelling stories and get them across in a visual, authentic, emotional, human way. They will be the ones in the position to sell seven figures.


What is the role of cold calling in 2024?

It's back big time because the other channels are getting so crowded. You need to pick up the phone and start dialling to book meetings. Cold calling or warm calling is a very direct, low effort, low tech way to get meetings.


What is the biggest myth about salespeople you hear most often?

That salespeople are just coin operated. That may have worked in non-subscription-based times when you could sell a five-year agreement or a product for a million and then run away. Now it’s about recurring impact that generates recurring revenue. If you sell the wrong thing or you're just there to make a quick buck, then someone will just cancel your twelve-month agreement. It's transitioning from always be closing to always be qualifying and collaborating and creating value.

Often people assume salespeople are very aggressive with generic offerings, giving discounts, selling on price, and only caring about your money. There’s also this perception that salespeople need to be really extrovert. It's not true. Some of the most successful salespeople I know are very introverted, very calm people.

As long as people have this misconception that you need to be loud, aggressive,and only care about money to be successful in sales, we miss a tremendous talent pool. We need people in sales that are great listeners, great consultants and have intrinsic motivation to help people.

 There’s a section in my book called, "The 25 biggest myths about working in sales” that’s worth a read.


Any other resources you recommend for someone trying to break into, or accelerate their sales career?

LinkedIn is becoming this open-source knowledge network where you can learn from the best salespeople out there. Just click and follow! Listen to the SalesPlaybook podcast I did with Patrick Trümpi. It’s 148 episodes with the people we respect the most in sales sharing their insights.


Any things that I haven't asked you today that you feel are worthwhile sharing?

One component which is always underestimated is time and timing. For example, between 2018/19 and 2022, there was tremendous demand for more salespeople. You just needed people who would jump on calls and order take because there was just so much demand and money was cheap. This changed fast in the downturn.

Also, ask yourself if sales is something you really want to do. In my eyes, it’s the most valuable skill you can acquire, especially if you want to become an entrepreneur at some point because you always need to sell- to investors, talent, partners, customers, or an idea to the market. But it's not for the faint of heart. There will be more no's than yes in your sales career, but you're only one more no away from the yes that you need to be successful.