Hiring & Retention

From Marketo to Engagio: 7 Things That I’ve Learned Building Sales at an Early-stage Startup

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temp82By Ray Carroll, VP Sales at Engagio

Building a great sales organization is a journey. You can’t let the highs and lows get to you. We’ve had some success and done things right as we’ve grown Engagio from a zero to 12 person sales department over the last 8 months but we’ll undoubtedly make mistakes and come away with some great learnings as we scale.

This is Part 1 of a two part post that I’ll follow up on at this same time next year. Part I is a rainbows and unicorns post, Part II (coming in 2017) will be the lessons and key takeaways learned as the mountain gets even steeper. It only gets harder from here…

Lesson #1: Your first 4-6 salespeople should come from “the space”

I joined Engagio as employee #17 in July. We’ve got 39 now as I write this on Dec 1. There is so much stuff you need to create that you take for granted coming from a big company (Marketo). Need to do a “cross-sell”? You need an order form for that. Does your startup have one? No. You want some snacks? Yeah, those aren’t anywhere to be found either so you or someone needs to pick them up. These are just two examples, but the list goes on and on.

The reality is just you don’t have time to train people that have never sold to your ideal buying profile. You need AEs that already have a general understanding of your market, they just have to “learn” your product and unique value proposition. We created a sales team of “specialists” at Engagio that we’re extremely proud of. Each AE brings experience related to the general “Account Based Everthing” category with our early AEs coming from Marketo (Marketing Automation), D&B (Data), On24 (Field Marketing), ToutApp (SDR workflow), LinkedIn (Advertising) etc. Like any buyer, people want to feel like they are dealing with experts, and we’ve got them.

Lesson #2: Go Round Robin

OK, I’ll admit it. As an AE, I DESPISED the concept of Round Robin. Like Theodore Roosevelt said, “all I really want is my unfair advantage” and I’m the first to admit that I might not have been the greatest team player during my 7 years as an AE. But, equality and an even distribution of accounts, qualified meetings and opportunities cannot be understated.

Territory creation at a startup is hard with one rep usually getting “California” which all but cements that particular AE as top performer before the race even starts. If a sales team senses that the distribution is off, you won’t get maximum effort and performance.

Lesson #3: Know the first two reps you hire really well

When you’re first building a sales team, everything is new from the discovery questions, to the demo motion to the close. You need people that have your back and trust you. You need people that will fight through the fact both you and your company are trying things out, whether it’s quotas, pricing, positioning or culture. To attract these people, you’ve got to build relationships with people and maintain them as you go through your career, even when they aren’t on your current team. When recruiting, don’t try and force your company onto anyone, treat it like a sales cycle and match what your company is able to offer with what the candidate wants from a career perspective.

Lesson #4: Hire Outbound ADRs that could be SMB AEs at 90% of the SaaS companies out there

OK, so to clarify, what some people call SDRs or BDRs we call ADRs. Since we’re Account Based Everything, we think it makes sense since these resources are working target accounts and you don’t call your Account Executives “Sales Executives”. I’m not an ADR expert so I went out and recruited 2 happily employed ADRs that could have been AEs if they stayed at their prior company before coming to Engagio. I needed expertise as I’ve never been a pure 100% ADR leader and aren’t as privy to the day to day front-line manager tactics.

Why did they join you ask? Because we gave them equity. We gave them a chip in the big game and although they may have temporarily put their AE aspirations on hold, they are now an early employee at a rocketship in a hot space. They also believed in the mission and wanted to sell software to marketing and sales leaders. If you haven’t done it, it’s one of the most powerful places to live. What you sell directly affects the top-line.

Lesson #5: Hire an ADR right smack out of school

It’s good for the culture. One of our ADRs is our “rookie” on the sales floor and there isn’t a day that goes by where she doesn’t make someone on the team smile.. Cher once said, “if I can turn back time,” and she reminds us all to attack our jobs with the hunger we did when we sat down at our first job. We’ve got a ton of experience inside the walls of Engagio, but having someone that’s so green and eager to make an impact makes everyone happy.

Lesson #6: Trust the people you hire until they prove you otherwise

Trust makes or breaks the culture of a sales floor and comes from the top. Hire great people and trust them to do their job. In our 2nd month as a team, I hosted the entire sales team at my house for an off-site. In this meeting, we defined and set the early foundation for our sales culture, together. Too many cultures are artificially created in a vacuum. Culture comes naturally, and if you have to “force” it, it means you don’t have it. We offer unlimited vacation, and, although we prefer our employees to be in the office everyday, things happen and if you have a meeting in SF or need to work from home every once in awhile, the beat goes on. They’re not chained to their desk, and have the freedom to do what is necessary to do their jobs and balance both work and personal commitments.

Lesson #7: Roll out great SPIFFs and deliver on them the next day

Bill Binch, (the original VP Sales at Marketo that took us IPO) was the master of spiffs. Having worked for him, it’s become ingrained in my style as a sales leader. In August, Engagio hit a key milestone and beat our stretch goal which got us a day in Napa with transportation via party bus and helicopter. The day after we hit the goal, we booked and reserved the festivities. In talking to the team, all of them made the comment that “we appreciate you following through,” as I didn’t realize it, but it seems like spiffs get rolled out and then forgotten. If you don’t stay true to your rewards they won’t drive the behavior you are looking for as the team will file them away under the “Yeah, right” category.

I’ll be back around the same time next year with a continuation of this post around the mistakes that we made scaling our team in 2017, but it’s important to note that we wouldn’t have had a chance to learn any of these lessons without our amazing customers. We’re still a newborn (having been founded in 2015), but having a crew of users and friends helping us along the way as we continue to mature has been an unbelievable feeling. With our e-staff having been a part of the two prior generations of marketing technology, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sales and marketing better for everyone. Thanks to everyone for your support and let us know how we can help you.

If you’d like to talk more on or offline, feel free to engage on social or drop me a line.

See you at SaaStr!

Published on January 5, 2017
  • Jay

    Should have just started with the Part 2. This is so basic, it’s almost discrediting… what’s next, are you going to tell us we need to properly pay our employees? haha

    • Ro

      Actually, this article was really helpful. I run a business that’s pivoted to a more traditional enterprise SaaS model, but so far mostly handled sales myself and with a co-founder. Now with product-market fit and good case studies, we’re ready to scale our sales efforts. This post (and this blog in general) is how I’m learning the lingo and the basics. Don’t dismiss the basics!

    • Ray Carroll

      Hi Jay – sounds like you’ve got the startup game figured out and you’ve built some great companies. That’s great. I’m still trying to learn around every corner and am focused on helping others do the same. Would love to hear some of your war stories someday. Maybe I’ll see you at SaaStr.

    • Matt Amundson

      This is a great article, and although you might think this is “basic”, most people get this wrong. Nice list Ray!

  • JoAnn Hartley

    Great blog. – You make the comment “if a sales team senses that the distribution is off, you won’t get maximum effort and performance.” How are you mitigating this challenge? How are you dividing up territories/assigning accounts to get the most out of your team?

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