The importance of sales in business: Interview with Nikola Neskovic, the VP of Sales at CAKE.com
Regardless of the industry a business operates in, most companies’ key objectives boil down to three elements — ensuring customer retention, building trust, and increasing growth and revenue.
However, those would be far from achievable if it weren’t for the sales team.
A sales team acts as a bridge between the customers and the product or service a company offers, and as such, their importance is indisputable.
Whether your company sells a product or provides a service, having a dedicated sales team will streamline your sales processes.
That’s why we sat down with Nikola Neskovic, the VP of Sales Team at CAKE.com, to hear the story behind the beginnings and success of his sales team firsthand.
Nikola was more than willing to share more details on how he gained vast experience in sales, and reveal the process behind building a sales team that helped evolve CAKE.com to what it is today — a unicorn, product-based software company that counts three products so far.
Starting out in sales, IT sales, and CAKE.com
We started our interview by talking about Nikola’s beginnings in sales, how he switched his sales career path to the IT industry, and how he began to build the CAKE.com’s sales team.
How did you start your career as a salesperson? Tell us about your beginnings.
I got my first relevant sales experience in a student organization. Even though it was more fundraising than actual sales, I learned a lot about sales from people who had more experience than me — I got the gist of different sales strategies and learned how to behave, react, dress, etc.
Soon after, I got hired by a food delivery company. I worked as a sales field representative, and my job was to meet new restaurants’ owners and managers in person to convince them to join our platform.
You started your CAKE.com journey in 2020 — but, as you pointed out earlier, you were not always in IT. What led you towards the IT industry? And, what brought you to where you are now?
I remember I was looking for a job since I needed a change of course in my career. I used to work alone a lot, and I wanted to become a part of a team. Soon after, a close friend of mine recommended CAKE.com to me. I spoke directly to Nenad Milanovic, the CEO, passed the selection process, and started working right away.
The thing is, it was a great fit right from the start — CAKE.com needed someone with my skill set, sales experience, and my ability to manage a sales team.
At the time, the popularity of our first product — the time tracker tool Clockify — was on the rise, and so was the need for a sales team.
After only two months, I assembled a team of 6 or 7 people and became the VP of CAKE.com’s sales team.
It started really well, right from the start.
We were able to see an increased sales conversion rate.
And, we proved that the sales team was crucial for demos, negotiation, and successfully closed deals. The human touch in SaaS business turned out to be of great importance.
Are there any differences between being a salesperson in IT and other industries?
Certain differences do exist, but I think the sales foundation is the same, no matter the industry. The sales principles in IT are mostly based on building relationships, gaining customer trust, and showing empathy. Those are the principles I always remind my team of.
At CAKE.com, we give close attention to live demos and making sure we meet customer needs and build customer trust and loyalty.
However, what sets salespeople working in IT apart from salespeople working in other industries is having to gain — and, in a way, transfer — extensive technical knowledge. When it comes to Clockify, that usually means presenting advanced features to administrators (such as reporting, API, etc.). But, it also means being able to present the use and value of individual features to our end users in a straightforward manner.
Salespeople at CAKE.com get their technical knowledge by going through many training sessions, by learning alone, watching demo materials, and learning hands-on from their colleagues.
The strategies, challenges, and roles of CAKE.com’s sales team
The success of Nikola’s team can be connected to the effective and proven sales strategies they’ve introduced together.
Still, it’s not always all roses in his sales department.
Nikola also shared some of the challenges he faced with on a regular basis, and touched upon how he views the role of the sales team in the successes of CAKE.com.
Which sales strategies do you use at CAKE.com?
One of the most commonly used strategies is inbound sales strategy. It’s an approach where we give special attention to the people who’ve previously shown interest in our products.
Still, even though inbound sales simplifies work for the salespeople, it also includes hard work, and not many companies can reap benefits from it.
For a company to have interested buyers (so-called “warm leads”), the ground must be well prepared in advance. That may include website optimization and relying on keywords to increase the ranking of our pages, to have them reach as many of our potential customers as possible. As a matter of fact, CAKE.com has done an amazing job with SEO — the combination of the right keywords and quality written content helps us climb to the top of search engines. That’s the initial step of the process that ends with booking a demo with the sales team.
Thanks to inbound sales strategy, our sales team meets a significant number of new customers on a weekly basis — but, also keeps up with conversations with previously undecided customers. It happens that some companies book a demo and buy the product right away, while others may take up to 6 months to consider everything, and make an informed decision — this depends on the size of their company and its needs. Either way, the sales team in CAKE.com is constantly absorbed in conversations — sometimes up to 100 at the same time — and ongoing meetings.
Another strategy we use is the outbound sales strategy — mostly focused on converting newly registered users into paying customers. This strategy, however, largely depends on the human touch. Apart from relying on different tools and techniques, the success of the sales process mainly depends on our ability to accurately predict which customers might benefit from additional possibilities our products offer. Precisely because of that, outbound sales strategy requires motivated and persistent salespeople.
What are the obstacles you encounter within CAKE.com’s sales team? How do you deal with them?
I would say that the biggest obstacle I encounter has to do with the team management. Salespeople are usually extroverts with dominant personalities — they are not reserved or quiet. You need a strong character to lead such a team and stand out as an authority figure.
Another challenge has to do with establishing a fair internal team system, and making it work.
I would describe my team’s culture as open, friendly, and, most importantly — fair.
Being fair is crucial in sales since the biggest incentive for every salesperson is to get a good lead which later results in a good bonus. So, if the team doesn’t function well, if there’s no respect or equity, some team members might not get an equal chance to gain larger deals and bigger incentives. That’s something you can’t see in other teams, and my job is to find the right balance and assign the leads fairly — so that everybody remains motivated to work. Sometimes, they get “better” leads, sometimes not. That’s fair, as everybody should get equal treatment.
Now, when people “compete” with each other for leads, so to speak, another potential challenge arises — rivalry.
And, sure, there’s team rivalry — but that’s perfectly normal. I believe it affects the team in a positive way. We always congratulate the person who closed the most deals for a particular period or the one who exceeded sales targets. However, rivalry also needs to be fair and friendly, and I think we succeed in that — all thanks to the team culture we created together as a team.
The final challenge we come across daily is working in shifts.
Our team at CAKE.com now counts 10 members, and they are available 16 hours a day in rotating shifts. To me, it’s quite challenging to be around 16 hours a day and to be able to assist people in both shifts. But, everyone helps out — whether to change shifts, find a replacement, or help with something else. They willingly help each other, and I don’t have to worry about it when I’m not around.
What role does the sales team play in building the success of CAKE.com?
I can confidently say that we play a huge role. We are the “visible team” — one of the front faces of CAKE.com. As such, our company depends on our competence, efficacy, and knowledge to sell a product. After all, our prospective buyers contact us to get the information they are missing. That’s why we are always as professional as we can be — in how we sound, dress, and assist the customers — to make the best impression possible.
Another significant contribution my team makes has to do with the company’s revenue. Logically, if we represent our company well, it reflects on the profit, too. With our excellent performance, we prove that we are a trusted partner who can provide our customers with quality demos and all the information they need to make informed decisions.
Now, in terms of numbers, out of all active workspaces with 100+ users, 77% of them are deals closed thanks to the sales team.
Providing assistance, giving information, supporting other teams, creating revenue — all those processes run through the sales team.
Building and maintaining a successful sales team
Now, the big question — how to build a high-performing sales team?
Nikola told us how he motivates his team to do better, how they work remotely, how he improves team bonding — but also, what his requirements are when selecting a perfect candidate for his team.
What qualities do you look for in a candidate when interviewing someone for CAKE.com?
As I said before, our team is predominantly made of extroverts. Therefore, when I go through CVs, I look for signs that the person whose resume I’m reviewing is an extrovert. I would even take a chance on a candidate without a sales degree if I believe that person has what it takes to be a salesperson.
I might look for certain hobbies, interests, public speeches, group memberships — basically, any signs that may tell an outgoing, socially confident person.
Another particularly important requirement for our business specifically, is that a candidate be computer fluent.
So, extroverts with sharp technical skills are my top picks!
How did you build your winning sales team? What are some other factors to consider when putting together a sales team?
For our team to be a “winning” one, apart from good management, there must be financial incentives that would ensure drive, productivity, and loyalty to the company.
Salespeople usually get lower base pay — so the main part of their income comes from sales commissions.
Effective team management and financial incentives shape motivated workers who are always ready to make an effort, even in the toughest of times.
At the end of the day, both the team and the company reap the benefits of such hard work.
Moreover, as I said before, being fair, friendly, having transparent communication, and showing respect to team members is also crucial for success.
When I create a team, I try to put together different personas that will have different roles. Just think of it as a sports team — you can’t have five centers in a basketball team or five strikers in soccer. Similarly, a sales team has to be made of people with different roles and personality types.
There’s always the “star” in the team who leads and has the best results compared to the others. However, there also needs to be an experienced team member with 10+ years of experience who gives advice, along with a busy bee who’s always around and willing to jump in no matter what. You also need an empathetic teammate — one who understands other people’s perspectives.
I know I would have a problem if I had five “stars” or five workaholics in a team. There would be a lack of team balance. That’s why everyone should have a specific role in the team.
Therefore, efficient team management and financial incentives are the key to a sales team’s success.
How do you measure success in your team?
It’s quite simple — we look at the profit we make each month. That’s the only measure of success, as far as the sales team is concerned.
We keep detailed spreadsheets of our earnings by using different criteria — how many paid accounts are converted through demos, the number of trial extensions, overall conversion rates, and many other elements we measure.
We keep thorough sales record sheets with the names of each salesperson and earning statistics for each month.
The bottom line is how much money each salesperson brings to the table.
How do you help your team stay motivated? Do you organize any special training as a team leader or…?
Here at CAKE.com, we value each team member and foster team spirit and cooperation.
Apart from the financial incentives we offer to our employees, I make every effort to ensure each team member feels included and content. It’s not easy, as it takes a lot of hard work and time — but it pays off in the end.
Considering that we are a bunch of extroverts, we give special attention to informal gatherings. Whether that’s attending special events such as weddings or birthdays, or organizing informal lunches — we make sure we organize informal gatherings at least once a month.
Moreover, fostering teamwork boosts the team’s motivation and creates a sense of unity. We solve problems together during daily meetings. We bring attention to the problem and brainstorm possible solutions together. Also, we outlined some ground rules as a team and now we have them pinned in our group chat as a reminder.
As for training, sure, we regularly have internal training whenever a new product feature is released. It’s usually organized together with the success and support team — to make sure we are in the loop with all the technical matters.
For an insight into CAKE.com’s technical teams, check out the interview with Ljubomir Simin, Nikola Bosic, and Milos Jovanovic, the people in charge of building and maintaining our products:
How do you and your team work remotely?
We really got used to working remotely.
I personally think that teams attending so many meetings — the sales team at CAKE.com has as many as 300 to 400 meetings a month — should have home-based offices.
We’ve all agreed that’s the best practice for our job.
After all, considering that we have 1-on-1 meetings with customers, it’s important to have a distraction-free environment. That would be impossible in open-plan offices.
Furthermore, we’ve embraced asynchronous communication as a regular practice for our remote-based work — and everything runs like a well-oiled machine.
Closing sales, collaborating with other CAKE.com teams, and plans for the future
Moving forward towards the end of our interview, CAKE.com’s VP of Sales had some interesting insights to share on the topic of AI and its influence on the future of sales.
We also touched upon some tidbits about closing sales and some future plans of the CAKE.com’s sales team.
Now, we are curious — what factors have the biggest impact when closing a sale? Is it the price, your attitude and tone throughout the process, or something else?
It’s a combination of all said factors.
Surely the price is the most influential factor, especially when we close larger deals.
Overall, we give our best to address our prospect’s concerns, understand their budget, and accommodate their needs.
We constantly get feedback on how well our product works and how satisfied people are with our service — this helps us understand our prospect’s needs and engage in effective negotiations that benefit all sides.
Do you collaborate with other teams in CAKE.com? Who are the teams you collaborate with?
The first team we cooperate with is the customer support team. Apart from providing customers with assistance and support, the support team plays a major role in generating new leads. To be more specific, 20% of leads at CAKE.com come from the support team.
Another team we directly collaborate with is the customer success team. They continue the work we previously started with the customer. The customer success team handles post-sales activities and fosters lasting relationships with the client. We let them take care of a client so that we can respond to new prospects.
Sure, we are in touch with other teams — such as the product team when a new feature appears and technical teams when we need clarification on some technical matters.
But, overall, we most frequently work together with the support and success team.
It’s of great importance that we are in sync — because, together, we improve sales processes and customer satisfaction.
To learn more about how CAKE.com achieves customer satisfaction, read the interview with our VP of Customer Experience, Jovana Kandic, on the topic of:
What are your future plans for CAKE.com? Can you predict how the sales department will change in 5 or 10 years from now? Will AI have any influence on your department — or do you think nothing can change human interaction in sales?
The plans of the sales team will align with our products’ development.
Currently, we are centered around selling Clockify — and now and then, we shift our focus to Pumble, our business messaging app.
And, as of July 2023, we are proud to announce that our project management tool, Plaky, is ready to be purchased, too — with the Pro and Enterprise Plaky’s pricing plans. In line with that, we will probably employ more people to make sure we cover Pumble and Plaky, too.
My assessment is that we will (hopefully) count 50 sales people devoted to all three products in the future.
As for the controversy around AI, I must admit I was testing out a few AI-powered tools for sales. My conclusion, for now, was that they are mainly support tools that can speed-up the sales processes. However, unless the industry creates a human face that will be able to actively communicate and understand a customer with empathy and logic, traditional sales teams are out of trouble.
All jokes aside, I don’t think we need AI tools in CAKE.com for now. I know for a fact that some companies do use such tools to boost their sales — such as for writing perfect emails, handling mass contacting, or creating customized videos. However, we at CAKE.com are getting on pretty well so far without it. In fact, I think the more AI continues to rise, the more valued the human touch will be — at least for the sales industry.
This is the latest installment in our CAKE.com interview series on our Empowered Team blog. You can also read an interview with our CEO, Nenad Milanovic, on the Future of work from a leader’s perspective, and an interview with our VP of Human Capital, Biljana Rakic, on the Challenges and benefits of the remote-first model.