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Sales Team & Culture


Sales Team Structure & Culture

Everybody thinks high tech companies are all about product.  And they are not wrong.  Without a kick-ass product, and the engineers and PMs to build it you are toast.

But the team that doesn’t get enough credit is the commercial folks.  Because without a winning business division there would be no greenbacks.  And no money means nothing to pay for filling-up the free drinks coolers that power the engineers through the night.  Show me a successful high-growth company, and I will show you a successful sales and marketing team.

So what makes a successful business team?  Of course you need a competitive product and pricing.  Beyond that, what’s the secret sauce?  How do you shorten sales cycles, improve conversions, optimize sales processes and marketing capabilities.

A key factor of their success is the structure of the team itself, which has to match the organization’s unique profile, stage and goals.   A few different options exist that you should be familiar with – pods, assembly lines, islands, clusters.   

Then there is the whole sales process that has to fit your market and stage goals.   Entering a market with a disruptive but largely unproven product is not like shooting fish in a barrel.  You need organized hustle.  And that needs to be repeatable.

Finally we get to the question of culture and incentives.  Yes in sales those two go hand-in-hand.  It’s a different mindset and approach to motivating engineers, so your cuddly values culture needs tightening up a bit.   Just don’t go too overboard with things.

We haven’t even got to the hard stuff yet as your sales scale.  Wait until you have to manage sales channel conflicts.  Internationalization and the complexity and cultural challenges that brings.  Centralization and decentralization.  Who speaks to product and guides the roadmap.  Then we have pricing, discounting and quotas.  Fun, fun, fun.

Now you might think, no problem we will just hire a senior sales person and all our problems are solved.  Yeah… nah, not until you are just pre-IPO is that likely.  Before that the senior sales lead you can afford is likely to be a hustler.  Probably should be a hustler.  A rain-maker.  Because that’s what you need to prioritize.  Somebody to bring in customers first and foremost, not scale an org.  Sure they will do some of it, but likely is they aren’t the full package.

The other challenge is you have hired the biggest baddest sales shark you can afford.  That’s awesome, except you also have to manage them.  And they by definition are tricky to manage and very good at managing up.  That falls on the CEO, or possibly the COO, CFO or a super-smart CoS in combination with the CEO.  Again what happens here is having a blueprint for the commercial organization so you can manage that sales lead.  Otherwise they will design something entirely around them.  And you don’t necessarily want your biggest “hunter” also responsible for “farming”.  Or the more creative parts of marketing.

I have spent two decades helping to design, build, scale and run commercial functions.  To this day Google’s international geographic structure, channels and service functions are more or less the same design I drew-up.  The model of course changes for different industries, and slightly also for the scale of business (but not as much as you would think).  As part of this topic we go through all these fundamentals and then workshop the right design for you.  i.e. do you need CBO, CCO, CRO, etc and how to structure your GTM organization, processes and approach.

Who knows you might just in the end respect the sales guys as much as the cool kids in engineering.

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