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Birds of a feather flock together: How to get hired to the next start-up rocket-ship

rocket manEnough has been written about being in the bay area for tech entrepreneurs, so what about those of you who are not founders, but want to be part of the next Salesforce.com, Box, Yammer or Marketo?  For many of us, the time to join a firm is during the exciting ‘Build and scale’ phase, when an organization has found product market fit and cracked the $1m-$2m revenue.  It is also true that you see the same names turning up time and again at a consecutive series of blow-out start-ups – How does this happen?

A-players like to keep the team together

The first way to get access to the best opportunities is to work with A-Players in the ‘start-up club’.    My lucky break was at Salesforce.com when I was in enterprise sales for Australia/NZ and was invited to the 20 person ‘Global Sales Council’ in New York, when I was able to meet the very best and brightest sales minds in the company.

A person I will never forget is ‘Dave’.  He is an executive that went from Oracle, to Netscape, to Ariba and then Salesforce.com – An absolutely stunning run that places him in the very top fraction of a percentile of high achievers.

A key to Dave’s success is that he had worked with people that trusted him to execute, therefore his name was at the top of the list for every new opportunity.  He repeated this practice himself, by bringing his star sales performer from Ariba to Salesforce.com, a gentleman who cleared a multiple seven figure W2 during my tenure at Salesforce.  Dave had the following hiring policy for A-players:

1) Hire the best people you have worked with before
2) He has to be able to background you through an independent contact, and if he can’t, then he won’t hire you
3) He always asks a sales executive for his prior year’s W2 and if it is less than stellar, they don’t get the job.

Action:  Join a start-up with a young, but proven executive team that has at least one more follow-on start-up ahead of them, so that you can be part of the executive vacuum when it is time to move on.

Do you need to be in the valley?  No, but you need to find a role that gives you a close working relationship with the executive team in the U.S., otherwise you will not get the benefit of being in the inner-circle, ready for the next leap.  This was acute for me when I was based in Sydney, so I made a point of being known to a variety of Salesforce executives beyond my immediate reporting lines.

The valley affords you the opportunity to build much stronger relationships with the ‘start-up club’, so if you can spend a few years here, then you will be in a far stronger position.

Be known to the ecosystem

There are three key groups that are sources of talent for start-up CEOs looking to round out their team:
1) Venture Capitalists – The people that have invested in the start-up
2) VC focused search firms – There is a niche of recruiters that primarily serve venture backed start-ups
3) Start-up founders – As a founder myself, I found that most introductions come from other founders

If you wish to take this route, then you just have to be where the ecosystem is, and arguably today that means the Bay Area, LA or New York.

Case in point:  This week I had the pleasure of attending a SaaS Sales Leaders Summit, hosted at Emergence Capital – The room was filled with a stellar line-up of sales executives from early stage, to more developed such as: Box, Yammer, Intacct, EchoSign, Zenpayroll, InsideView and Marketo.  This just can’t happen outside of the valley and I take my hat off to Emergence and Sean Jacobsohn for bringing together such heavy hitters.

Action:  If you can, get yourself to San Francisco or another hub so that you can get connected to the ecosystem.

Key take-aways

– Always independently background check your boss and the team you are joining.  If they are not considered A-Players, then don’t join.  Perception of you in the market will automatically fall to their level.
– Joining like-minded winning teams is a great way to keep winning – It is the beginning of a virtuous cycle.
– Woody Allen’s “80 percent of success is showing up” couldn’t be more true for landing the best roles.  Venture Capitalists and executive search firms have to get to know you in order for you to get early access to the best roles.  Just living in San Francisco isn’t enough – You have to get out and meet the people that are making it happen.

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8 characteristics of parents that new sales leaders should emulate

First time sales managers all face the same dilemma – How do I relate to a group of salespeople that I am used to calling peers?  This is magnified when an account executive is promoted from his/her peer group to be the new leader.

The fastest path to success is to refer to your good parenting guide and just change the language.  Great parents are by definition great leaders and we can apply specific practices to sales management.  Here is what people hope for in a parent and a sales leader:

–          They are a guide that I have confidence will show me the way

–          I can lean on them for emotional support

–          I feel safe to make mistakes around them

–          I know they will defend my interests

–          When I am unsure how to proceed, I know they will have the answer

–          They set clear and reasonable boundaries

–          They are helping me improve every day

–          Our relationship is “Do as I do” – Leading by example

A core tenant is that there must be a high degree of respect and trust – I advise all new managers that you can be friendly, but doubts or insecurities should be shared with YOUR manager, not your team.  Any dependent, be it a child or subordinate must be able to have confidence in their leader, so over sharing is never a best practice.

You may not be a parent, but you have certainly met good ones, so take a leaf from their book.

The 6 step process for securing the right product/service for your organization at the best price

April 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Deal doneThis article is to help business budget holders extract the very best value from suppliers and to avoid using the commonly accepted procurement practices that are actually destroying value for you.  The approach below is generic and makes assumptions about the size and complexity of the purchase, so please allow for the fact that you may have a consultant doing this work for you and it is not a one-size fits-all approach.  Notwithstanding, if the principles below are followed for every major purchase, you will experience a far greater degree of delight with the outcomes you receive:

Buyer process

1) Summary document: Provide comprehensive explanations of the business objective you are trying to reach with this purchase.

A recurring theme of this post is information sharing and transparency.  The biggest issue I have seen in a procurement process is  a buying group/buyer who presents the vendors with a laundry list of feature requirements or problems to solve, without explaining the context of this need.   The first step in a best practice procurement process is to have a clearly documented and broadly agreed situation assessment and the challenge/opportunity that the purchase is to address.

2) Solution discovery: Share your assessment with potential vendors to determine the best possible solution approaches.

Too often buyers assume the burden of trying to diagnose their own problems, when they can work with specialist vendors who will freely give of their expertise to craft a solution direction/overview that can form the basis of a requirements document and business case.

3) Document requirements: Use the expertise of vendors to determine what it is you actually need.

Here is a nugget for you – Vendors will willingly give you access to the brightest and best at this stage because they want to influence your buying criteria toward their solution.  This is actually a very good thing for you if you invite 2 or 3 vendors to do exactly the same thing.  In this fashion you don’t have to somehow become the expert in the solution area, rather an arbiter of expert opinion.  Why pay a consultant thousands of dollars when you can leverage the best minds in the business for free?

Pro-tip: Craft your evaluation criteria in collaboration with the vendors.  They will help you figure out what is important and why.  The risk of you being misled is mitigated by doing the exercise with multiple vendors.

4) Multi-party proposals: Never, ever accept a vendor’s suggestion that you sole source

At this stage you should issue your well crafted requirements document to multiple parties, ensuring that it is introduced with the original ‘Summary Document’ content so that competing vendors understand what you are aiming to do.  It is important that your evaluation criteria is included (with weighting) so that vendors know how best to present their offering (If you don’t they may not highlight something that is very important to you, thereby increasing the chance you select the wrong vendor).

Pro-tip:  Tell every vendor who you have issued the document to.  Why?  Because it ensures that they will highlight all the weaknesses in competing products that you may not draw out during your assessment.  Contrary to popular belief, you get far better outcomes by informing all competitors who is in the game because they will help you uncover skeletons.

5) Coach short-listed vendors: Make sure your vendors put their best foot forward

When you have cut the list to 2 or 3, you should have a proposal debrief where you clearly articulate concerns you have or clarifications required.  In addition, you should explain to them where you think they are weak compared to the competition.  This is important because the vendor may be able to offer more or present an alternative to the weak offer.  You should also use this time to set psychological anchors around price/contract terms.

6) Negotiate with 3 parties: Keep everyone guessing until the very end

At this point you should not normally negotiate the actual language in contracts (keep the lawyers out of it for now), and instead be negotiating the principles that can later be translated into legalese.  EG Service level agreements, warranties, etc.  After this exercise is concluded you can down-select your preferred vendor, to whom you will award the business subject to successful contract negotiations.

Happy buying!

B2B salespeople need to act like doctors and not accept the patient’s diagnosis

September 5, 2012 1 comment

Ben Kepes wrote a thought provoking article on “IT readiness” recently and in the midst of the discussion he made a point that compelled me to write about a shortcoming in the majority of B2B sales organizations.  He said, “Enterprises Don’t Know What They Don’t Know – Vendors Are Happy to Take Advantage of That“.

Well, that  may be the case, but my interpretation is that he is observing the ‘Solution Sales’ organisation in action – Whereby a salesperson provides the answer to the question a prospect poses, without deciding whether the correct question is being asked.

To illustrate my point, consider my sister, who is a General Practice Doctor – Today she often receives the ‘informed’ patient who has already been to ‘Dr Google’ and figured out that their inflamed knee requires a course of 25mg Ibuprofen and wants a prescription.

It would be ludicrous to expect her to accept the patient’s diagnosis and prescribe the requested drugs without checking for broader issues.  So why is this the prevailing practice in the B2B sales world?  Most sales people are trained to ask probing questions about ‘the problem’ to which they can attach a ‘solution’ that their organization provides.  This of course also implies that the customer realizes that they have a problem/opportunity, which is often not the case and dramatically reduces the available opportunity for sales.

The elite of sales people are not providing solutions to problems, but rather are consultants that identify opportunities for their customers.  These rare individuals are welcome in the C-suite, deliver immense value to their customers and are disproportionately rewarded relative to their peers.

In the world of commercial sales, the consultative salesperson educates themselves on the customer’s industry, market forces, organization, department and the individual concerned.  Armed with this knowledge, the consultative salesperson can proactively approach any organisation with a proposal (unsolicited), that completely outflanks the problem solving ‘solution’ salesperson.

So, if you are looking for enterprise sales people, don’t focus on solution expertise, but rather those with relevant domain expertise.

Categories: B2B sales, Corporate life

A players need the A-league, not just a big pay check

October 14, 2011 1 comment

Today I received a poignant reminder about managing top talent from an unexpected source.  I live near a very fancy dessert restaurant, where for $13 you can buy a 250g thin slice of the most heavenly handcrafted chocolate, or a marquise slice for $7.  Before I continue, I need to explain – This Marquise cake (pictured) is not a mere dessert; no, this is an orally delivered nirvana teleportation device, cleverly disguised as a cake.

You will therefore understand that a small part of me died when the head chef pâtissier told me that he was leaving in 2 weeks.  I inquired as to where he was heading and he replied, “I don’t know, but I have decided that I must move on.”

Given the current rates of unemployment I was somewhat taken aback.   I am a student of what motivates people, so I further inquired as to how he had arrived at this decision.  He went on to explain that he was previously the head chef for a Sheraton Hotel.  He loved this role because his creations were always appreciated and devoured by wide-eyed patrons, who would queue to ensure a table for his Sunday afternoon tea and cake extravaganzas.

It turns out that my favourite dessert restaurant is suffering from the current economic situation, whereby people are voting with their dollar – The patronage has declined and it is only when they discount his world-class creations that they fly off the shelves.  He explained that he is embarrassed that his work is not valued and that the clientele won’t pay what it is worth, therefore he has to leave and find a business that has customers in the premium market that appreciates and pays for the creations of a chef pâtissier of his standard.

It reminded me of an important hiring principle:

Hiring too ambitiously is like paying a national league player to run with the C team.  Paying them above the odds may secure them in the short term, but in the end you will lose them because personal growth through meaning and appreciation are critical elements of professional satisfaction.  This chef pâtissier is leaving because he knows that a far lesser player could fulfil his role and achieve the same outcome.

The lesson – It is usually better to grow a person into a big role, than take a big person and hope that the role grows to fit them.

How to have an ‘Up’ day every day, even when you are in a funk

August 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Today I want to share a tool with you that is used by professional athletes and high performing individuals from all walks of life – A tip that will make sure you can have a great day every day and be a magnet to people around you.

Think back to a moment when you had just accomplished something awesome – Something that swelled your chest and put a big cheshire grin on your chops for the whole day.  There are plenty of situations like this – You completed your first marathon, graduated from University, won an award, won a competition, secured that killer job that you thought was a stretch….

Now, imagine you were back there right now – Remember how good you felt?  The looks of admiration and congratulations from your friends and family?  Feels good right?

So now it is time to switch it up.  You are on to bigger and better things…  So, looking forward and upwards, what it the big hairy audacious goal that you have set for yourself?  Is it something material like buying a house by the beach?  Is it being the founder of a wildly successful start-up? Perhaps being the country manager for your employer…

What would that feel like?  Take a deep breath and imagine that you have already achieved that … How would people interact with you?  What would your day be like?  How would you feel about yourself?

When an athlete doesn’t want to get out of bed at 5am for morning training this simple technique is what drives them to leap up and dive into it.  Be the champion now!  The amazing thing is that we can trick our minds such that our entire demeanour and feeling of well-being changes.

So if you catch yourself having a day of low motivation or you are in a funk, stop and imagine you have achieved your biggest goal and stick with that thought for as long as you can – For me, it changes my whole day.

How to fire your new boss and other great relationship building ideas

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

In 2008 I got fired by a new employee…. Ok, maybe not me, maybe my employer, I dunno, but the facts are that I had a new hire with a signed contract in his hand starting in 6 weeks, who pulled the pin and walked away. The interesting thing is that at the end of this interaction I would still recommend the guy and would take the opportunity to work with him in the future. The lessons from this episode can be applied to any situation where you have to serve up a poop sandwich but get away with it because you successfully covered it in tasty sprinkles.

Here is how it went down:

I met a sales guy in his late twenties who was an ideal fit for an open headcount I had. He was working for a company that was being acquired by a very large software multinational (a competitor of mine) and he was ready to make a move. He expressed a desire to take on a leadership role in coming years, which was certainly a possibility and one that we would work toward together. We agreed the terms and after receiving his signed contract I sent him a gift basket to welcome him and his wife to the family.

The wrinkle happened shortly thereafter when the acquiring company made him the offer to take on a Regional Sales Director’s role with immediate effect. This offer really was too good to refuse and herein lies the lesson to us:

His actions: He could have waited till the last minute, hid behind a letter of withdrawal and scurried off into the distance. But instead he did this:

Called me personally and covered the following:

  • Acknowledged his responsibility to me and my organisation
  • Explained the opportunity at his new employer and how it met his goals
  • Asked me for my advice as a mentor. He appealed to me as an individual and used this technique to give him permission to take the new role because if I had any integrity at all I would recommend he take it.
  • He followed the call by sending my team an oversized gift basket of tasty treats as a thank you for the investment in time

My actions: I could have been justifiably angry with this situation – We had to start the headhunting again after losing 4 weeks waiting for him.
What I did was:

  • Realise that acting with integrity is the most important thing you can do in business.
  • By treating this situation with dignity I sent a message to my team and to potential future employees that our culture is one of trust and sincerity
  • Business is a game of musical chairs and I know that I would want to employ this guy in the future. I also know that this potential hire will be telling his friends about his experience.

The takeaways:

– You can derive a positive outcome in many difficult professional situations if you act with integrity and sincerity.
– Being open and speaking from the heart is a great way to defuse situations
– If you are hiring someone, NEVER give them more than the minimum notice period in which to join your firm 🙂

Categories: Corporate life
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