2021 will be the year SaaS sales evolves the most since the Appexchange ecosystem started to take off ~15 years ago, which spawned the entire notion of a true sales app stack.

What’s the change?

The permanent move to distributed sales teams.  Led not by Covid — but by VPs of Sales and CROs.

Almost every SaaS VP of Sales and CRO I’ve talked to in the past few months isn’t going back.  Doesn’t want to go back.  Won’t go back. At first, they missed the “pit”, the floors of sales reps in San Francisco, in Atlanta, in Phoenix, in Portland, etc.  The boiler room is real in SaaS sales.

Yes, almost every SaaS company has had multiple sales offices at scale — but still, distinct, regional offices.  Training was still done, in large part, by osmosis, by teams being together.  New AEs would learn from others next to them.  SDRs would be paired to an AE that sat in the next desk.  VPs would discuss deals with Directors and AES in the hallways, and over lunch and drinks and coffee.

That all went away when Covid hit.

VPs of Sales and sales teams adapted.  They finally got better at training and onboarding.  They now do daily stands ups, not just informal weekly reviews.  They do daily check-ins.  Tools like Gong, Chorus, and other tools that enhance sales teams working remotely have become mandatory.

And now that finally, sales teams have been forced to be more organized in their training and management because of Covid … no one wants to go back.

VPs of Sales cherish the flexibility of being able to recruit anywhere — and most don’t want to go back to floors of reps in San Francisco.  They want the benefits of better tracking their teams they have now, of being metrics-driven on a daily basis, not just a monthly or quarterly basis.  The benefits of having more up-to-date analytics, because everyone has to report much more often.  The benefits of it being much more clear which folks on the team are struggling.

I wouldn’t have fully predicted it.  It was clear most engineering teams would prefer to stay distributed.  It was a change for devs, but not as big of a one as for sales.

But sales isn’t going back to office-only, or even office-first.  That means:

  • First, you can work for a great SaaS company from anywhere now, especially if you have at least 1-2 years of experience already.
  • Second, the mediocre now fail faster.  With better data, communication, and pipeline visibility, it becomes clearly faster who isn’t going to make it.
  • Third, you have to be even more “tech savvy” now to be a successful AE.  You have to self-manage more in this distributed world, so AEs that struggle to do their own demos, or to manage Salesforce, or log data … will struggle.  They’ll get left behind.
  • Fourth, compensation will become less flat, and there will be some comp deflation for mediocre reps.  Top reps are working faster and better and making more now, but mediocre reps aren’t being kept on anymore “just because we need more folks in SF.”  This doesn’t lead to lower OTEs, but it will lead to less realized comp for the mediocre.  Because now, you’re competing with everyone.  Not just the same small pool in SF, or whatever geography.

It’s a new world in sales.  VPs don’t want to go back to the office rows and rows of desks.  They’ve gotten good at managing distributed teams.

This will benefit the more agile and self-sufficient reps, and the ones that understand the product and technology better.  And probably be tougher on all the rest.


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