For a guitarist like myself, nothing screams awesome like a stack of Marshall amps from floor to ceiling, all turned to 11. But that is not the type of stack I am talking about today. I am talking about true sales hustlers.
A lot has been mentioned about the “full stack engineer”. You see it in job postings, developers list it on their professional profiles, and there are courses for technically minded folks to become a full stack engineer. What exactly does it mean though? It’s basically a software programmer that can build all parts of an application, from front-end user design to the back end business logic and API’s.
You are probably thinking that these types must be as rare as spotting unicorns. But the reality is that software has never been easier to develop given the tools available and simpler architectures. While developers will always favor and specialize in one aspect of the stack, they can cover the entire spectrum of an application development project with a good amount of confidence and ease.
When I talk about a full stack sales rep then, it refers to a sales person that can handle the entire sales process from lead to close to customer success. These are the folks that I refer to as sales hustlers. Now you may be thinking that I have gone mad. How can one sales person possibly tackle all of that stuff and have time to close deals?
Nothing could be further from the truth. For decades, every sales rep was in fact full stack without anyone giving it a name. It was just expected that someone taking a sales position would open up the Yellow Pages or start canvassing the neighborhood knocking on doors. When they got an opening, maybe because of some slick technique or the buyer had an immediate need, it was time to close right there on the phone or in the living room. It was only with the rise of direct marketing that the idea of a separate group that handles leads became more commonplace.
Now it is simply expected that a company will have clearly delineated roles across the sales cycle. There is one group that manages and closes deals. Marketing works to generate leads. There are different groups to follow up on leads, one for inbound, and another for outbound. Then there are deeper areas of specialization, such as customer success teams to transition from sale to solution delivery or different groups to handle various market segments like mid-market or industry verticals. In a modern sales organization, specialization simply works better.
With the rise of sales specialization then, why does it matter if someone is a full stake sales rep? It is because there is little chance of having a long term, successful career in sales without having experience and depth across all areas of specialization. This is especially true of future sales leaders, who have to manage across the entire spectrum of sales and revenue generation activities. The full stack model is also very much the norm in industries like financial planning and insurance sales that are built on “build the book”, high risk/high reward business models. This is not to say that one has to be an expert across every area of specialization. It’s just that when push comes to shove, they understand how to do things and can still do the job, whether it is closing deals or finding leads or building a demo or onboard a customer.
The another point about full stack sales reps is that they are the ones most effective in startups. The sweet spot is in the early stages when startups are still pre-product/market fit or just at the beginning stages of scaling. Most B2B startups usually do not have the means or cash for enabling specialization, so they need sales reps willing and able to be hustlers to create marketing content, find prospects, manage sales cycles, close deals, and help customers get up and running. The last one is critical and often neglected, because without solid references willing to speak about their experiences, it becomes really hard to sell other customers on the startup’s ability to deliver.
The good news though is that it has never been easier to be a full stack rep. In the same way technology and architecture has made the life of developers much easier, the same is true for sales. The number and variety of tools available is simply astonishing and ever growing. Many of these tools can also be interconnected on the backend without much cost, effort, and technical expertise from a sales rep. This means you can enable an end-to-end flow from prospecting all the way to close without resorting to a big, clunky, and expensive CRM suite. The result is a much better grasp of what is going on with sales in order to refine the sales process, learn where things are getting “stuck in the cycle”, and establish a consistent system for scaling up and evaluating a sales team.
We are also seeing a change in the “architecture of sales”. By that, the way we sell and the resources available have changed immensely. For example, nearly everyone you would ever need to contact is on LinkedIn, which is simply put one of the best sales resources out there. Social selling is still in its infancy when it comes to B2B complex sales, but it will only continue to grow in importance. For sales reps, this means there are even more ways to reach influencers and decision makers in companies. On the education side, the content and workshops available for learning different aspects of the sales stack are openly available to all, much of it low cost or free of charge.
The full stack sales rep may not be something your organization needs today. It would be a mistake however to think that this hustling do-it-all types are only for startups or “book of business” type roles. A sales rep that understands the full spectrum can be more effective and has a deep understanding of each lever in the sales cycle that leads to a greater propensity for closing a deal. Even with the rise of sales specialization, I believe we will start seeing more and more full stack sales reps out in the wild.
Image credit: CC by hedvigs