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, 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 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 – 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, 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.


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!

How to conduct weekly 1:1 meetings that everyone can look forward to

April 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Weekly winsThe focus of this article is how to execute weekly sales 1:1s* that motivate salespeople whilst improving their execution through advice and knowledge transfer.

As a bonus and to set the scene, here is a filter you can use to avoid hiring a sales manager who says all the right words, but is in fact wasting everyone’s time.  It’s as simple as speaking with a few of their former direct reports and asking the following two questions:

1)      Did you look forward to your 1:1 meetings with you manager?  Why?

‘A Player’:  “Yes!  I looked forward to the meetings because I always learned something and learned whether I was giving myself the greatest chance of success and making the best use of my time.”
‘C Player’: “No, they made me nervous.  I felt interrogated and didn’t feel like I got anything out of it except a grilling on process and CRM usage.”

2)      What was the focus of your 1:1’s?

‘A Player’:  “What I am doing in the future.”
‘C Player’: “What I have been doing in the past week.”

So, as a salesperson who wants great 1:1s or as a sales leader, here is my recipe for getting ‘A player’ outcomes:

Set the expectation that your 1:1s are designed to make a salesperson more successful, not to review performance.

As a sales leader you should explain that the only reason you are having a weekly 1:1 is to use your experience and insight to help your team member to reach their goals.  In order to achieve this, both parties need to make some commitments to set the stage:

Salesperson’s commitments:

1)      I will ensure CRM data is up to date and that mutual close plans, opportunity history, contact roles, forecast dates, categories and amounts are all correct.

2)      I will come to meetings prepared with questions on deals I need help with and my assessment of results for the past week.

3)      I will have completed the follow-up actions from our last meeting.

Manager’s commitments:

1)      I will have reviewed all relevant opportunity and critical success factors in advance of the meeting so I will never ask you what you have been doing in the prior week – I will already know.

2)      I will come to meetings prepared with specific clarification questions and during the meeting we will focus on how to progress deals or maximize the value that can be extracted from your territory.

3)      I will have completed the follow-up actions from our last meeting.

The 1:1 agenda and notes should be stored in a shared online document

It is very important that you have running documents, preserving a situation snapshot (KPIs or CSFs) each week and a record of what was said.  I have found that OneNote from Microsoft or similar services are ideal.  This means that both manager and salesperson can put notes against the agenda in advance and update them during the meeting.

Here is an example agenda for a 30 minute 1:1 weekly:

Sample 1:1 agenda for B2B sales

  • Review actions from last week
  • Forecast review (Amounts/history/timing/confidence/Close plan/Opportunity Process Management)
  • Deal downgrades (Slipped/lost/stage downgrade)
  • Focus for this week and key objectives
  • Matters arising
  • What is broken that needs fixing?
  • Actions for this week and items to clean up

Every agenda I have created has had nuances, but the above core will get you going.  The key is that all of these headings have notes added by both manager and account executive before the meeting.

P.S.  If you are a sales executive and your manager routinely asks you, “So, tell me about what you have been up to.”  Fire them…  Now.  They are not helping you and you deserve a manager who can help you grow, not one who focus’ on getting the data they need to report up to their Director/VP

* This article has focused on standard 1:1s and hasn’t made reference to periodic assessments such as territory management, which is beyond the scope of a standard 1:1.

Categories: B2B sales Tags: ,

Sales Managers – The most valuable success behavior for salespeople

April 11, 2013 3 comments

After accumulating the experience of literally hundreds of 1:1 meetings and deal reviews with Account Executives over the past 13 years as a sales leader, I think I have finally figured out the single most important predictor of success – Knowing exactly what is going to be done in order to close a deal.  I know this sounds like a trite truism, but what I am talking about is the quality of the close plan (often recorded as ‘next steps’) for a given opportunity.

There is a tonne we can focus on in terms of opportunity qualification and strategy, but the biggest thing to move the needle I have found is the existence of a clearly defined close plan.

I have found 3 consistent behaviors during deal reviews:

Sales types

The detail of what to look for is below and my call to action is as follows:

  1. Focus on the time-bound, specific next steps for the key opportunities in your pipe (Close plan)
  2. Review close plans in your weekly 1:1’s religiously and challenge progress to plan and provide your experience where things are not where they should be
  3. Accept no excuses for not having a mutually agreed close plan that looks like the model provided below.

Here are some sample close plans for the same opportunity and if you find that you have anything other than the ‘Rainmaker’ you need to provide strong coaching on the success behavior relating to deal control:

Trust me:
– Discover business issues
– Present our solution
– Proof of concept/Reference calls
– Negotiate legals
– Sign paperwork

What I have learned about the ‘Trust me’ sales person:

  • Results are unpredictable
  • They often don’t know exactly what to do next
  • If they are successful/unsuccessful they don’t know why
  • Often the sale is made on luck/charisma, which is neither consistent or scalable to large opportunities

Wizard of Oz:
Week 1:
– Meetings with key executive to determine business issues
Week 2:
– Presentation to stakeholders
Week 3-5:
– Proof of concept
Week 6:
– Negotiate contract
Week 7:
Paperwork signed.

What I have learned about the ‘Wizard of Oz’ sales person:

  • They say all the right words, but there is no substance
  • Deals slip – Notice the lack of dates against the timeline
  • There are more holes in their opportunity plan than swiss cheese

Week beginning April 1:
– Discovery meeting with CIO, CMO and directs.
– Send stakeholders proposed evaluation framework and timelines
   Output: Powerbase discovery, Timeframes, Budget, Business impact of issues, agreed mutual plan
Week Beginning April 8:
– Confirm internal pre-sales resources
– Presentation drafted and vetted internally and tested with John Smith at prospect.
Output: Bid team confirmed, opportunity strategy and messaging confirmed
Week Beginning April 15:
– Presentation to CIO, CMO, direct and additional stakeholders(TBC)
– Send business case summary to attendees
– Schedule meeting to plan POC
Output: Confirmation of business case justification
…. and so on.

I have learned that by having ‘Rainmaker’ close plans, the following is true:

  • As a manager you can test and improve the plan
  • Gaps in a plan are easily identified
  • Successful practices are repeated
  • Salespeople grow in confidence because they learn the patterns for success
  • Deals that are slipping are quickly identified
Categories: B2B sales Tags: , ,

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

Getting the most from your startup advisors

March 12, 2012 Leave a comment

You know that you need to get advisors to fill the gaps and you have a vague idea that the more prestigious the names you have, then the more impressed your funding partners will be.  Two things to get straight here:

1) Sophisticated investors know that entrepreneurs have started collecting ‘advisors’ like baseball cards in an attempt to get credibility from having the highest value assortment.  They are also not stupid – Listing someone as an advisor because they agreed to take a call from you occasionally does not provide value in either social proof or contribution.

2) If you want to get some validation from the social proof of a valuable advisor, then you must demonstrate their engagement and how they are helping you chart your course.

3) You actually DO need real advisors, so engage  them and  take their counsel in a structured fashion.

If you are happy with the above assertions, then read on and I will tell you how.

Advisory Boards with a capital ‘B’

You should form and operate an advisory board with a discipline and process of a normal board of directors.  This means that as CEO you play the role of company secretary and schedule monthly board meetings and distribute a formal agenda in advance (at least 2 days).  There has been enough written on the topic of board agendas so you can google them, but it is worth repeating the role of the board.

Job #1 of a normal board is to hire and fire the CEO… The good news for you is that this doesn’t apply for advisory boards 🙂

Job#2 is to challenge, improve and approve strategy.  You should look for advisors that deeply understand your business model and market and most certainly your stage of company (in particualr for first time entrepreneurs).

The informal role of the board includes CEO counseling, introductions (biz dev, funding, key hires).  All of which you should look for in an advisory board also.

One big departure from the standard board is that you should have a constant stream of feedback from your advisors in between meetings.  The best way I have found to achieve this is to use a tool like othat allows you to track your customer development process and to provide advisors with operational metrics in real-time.  This encourages adhoc feedback and advice every week.

Getting them engaged

If you are thinking that I expect a lot from my advisors, then you are correct.  The reason I receive it is because all my advisors have equity in the business through direct investment or vested grants.  The mistake I see made often is that people either don’t give meaningful slices of equity, or they dole it out haphazardly and don’t get the value back.

My firm opinion is that if someone is going to be a committed advisor, then they must believe in your vision and therefore should be prepared to invest (even a token amount) to be a part of the team.

The characteristics of a good advisory team

You know that you have got it right when the following is true:

  • You can get the advice you need from you board (directly or through an introduction)
  • Advisors risk their social capital by providing introductions to high value connections
  • Your advisors proactively suggest introductions due to gaps they see you have’
  • Your advisors are asking informed questions because they are staying across your business

A final note – Remember that this is a two way street.  You should seek to help your advisors with their personal and professional objectives at every turn.  These are key relationships and deserve nourishment.

I wish you luck in finding your consigliere’s – I feel very fortunate to be working with mine.

%d bloggers like this: