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Driving The Top Line
Entrepreneurs Discuss How to Sell the Vision and Close the Deals
Sugar & Spice & Everything Nice. Not.

“What are the attributes of the best sales people you've had?” asked one audience member at this morning’s Coffee & DoughNets. “Greed” was the unanimous answer, offered only half jokingly.  “Someone who is motivated by personal wealth,” was how John Ticer put it more positively. What else do successful tech CEOs look for in a salesperson?

  • a dedicated champion for the success of their customers’ businesses
  • rigorous about examining the honest characteristics of their pipeline
  • risk takers, from the willingness to work on commission to the drive to find better ways and new tactics
  • aggressive and confident, but likable
  • a desire to learn from the customer rather than to act like the expert
  • a track record of earnings
  • hunger and tenacity

That said, Kay summed it up this way: “People like to do business with people they like.”

(Rockville, MD -- September 20, 2001)  Not long ago, BioNetrix, a growing security technology company, reorganized into just two divisions: Sales and Sales Support.  The engineers at the company weren’t too happy about it at first, but the move reflected an important belief of the executive team: that to be successful in business today, everybody has to be totally focused on customers and their needs, all of the time.  Today, that message i10.0pt;mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho"">s “fully embedded in the company culture,” said CEO John Ticer.

Ticer spoke this morning at Morino Institute Netpreneur’s Coffee & DoughNets meeting entitled “Driving the Top Line: Selling the Vision and Closing the Deals.”  He was joined by two other high-tech CEOs--Elliott Frutkin of Doceus and Richard Kay of OTG Software--as well as Gina Dubbe, Managing Partner of venture capital firm Walker Ventures.  Their purpose was to share with the audience of entrepreneurs some of the lessons they’ve learned.

The most important lesson, as all of the panelists agreed, was that a successful entrepreneur has to be selling all of the time.  Obviously, you have to sell to customers in order to get revenue, but an entrepreneurial executive must also be selling the company vision to nearly everyone he or she meets-- to possible investors, to partners, to potential employees, and more.  Even executives at a publicly traded company should always be selling, as Kay pointed out in describing a secondary stock offering from OTG, “W e took off to the road show, which is really all about selling and about closing investors.  These investors don't know what you really have; they just look at you from across the table like a prospect and say ‘I believe you’ or ‘I don't believe you.’”

According to panelists, the secret of sales is largely a matter of putting yourself into your customer’s shoes, understanding their needs, and delivering upon what you promise.  As Dubbe put it, “There is always some mystique about sales.  Actually, you're investing in sound principles of probability, the number of people in the pipeline, the bottom line and sound judgment.  It's not life on the golf course or buying somebody two drinks over dinner; it's what your product or service is going to do to further the customer's mission.”


And sales is all about relationships, which is why Frutkin stressed the importance of building recurring revenues into all of Doceus’s service contracts.  From a practical and financial perspective, ongoing maintenance agreements and other recurring revenue deals mean both income and predictability, but it’s even more than that -- recurring revenue means that your customer is satisfied.

Once you’re beyond the stage of two partners in the garage, building a strong, effective sales organization becomes essential.  For bootstrappers like Kay, who self-financed OTG in its early days, revenue generated through sales may be the only thing keeping you in business.  Even if you plan on going after VC money, investors today want to see some kind of sensible revenue generation plan (if not actual revenues) before they’ll make a deal.  As Ticer noted, investors today ask, “What have you done?” not “What are you going to do?”

The panelists provided advice on a variety of particular sales issues.  Frutkin, for example, discussed how he inculcates a sales and customer service attitude in Doceus’s non-sales employees, and Ticer discussed how BioNetrix created a compensation plan that rewards employees based on overall corporate revenues rather than individual performance (salespeople still get commissions, too).  Kay explained how OTG has built a powerful network of distributors, OEMs, VARs and other channels to sell its products, rather than a large, expensive inhouse sales force.  Other topics included departmental versus enterprise sales strategies, commission structures, and knowing when to say “When!” on a deal that’s going south.

One piece of advice that the panelists stressed is the importance of keeping company executives, especially the CEO, involved in the sales process at the right time and place.  BioNetrix believes this so strongly that all executives have accounts they manage so that they stay intimately involved in the market and customer needs.

One of the now discredited precept s of the earlier days of dot-com mania was that eCommerce would disintermediate sales people in many industries.  Not so, of course.  In fact, as Dubbe sees it, “Nothing, no matter what the press says, will replace nose-to-nose, belly-to-belly, toe-to-toe selling.  We still need people out there in the trenches with our prospects because, in the end, what sells is individuals talking to other individuals about meeting their goals.  When you go out to find funding or when you go out to build your business, never lose sight of the fact that sales is the underpinning of your success.”

Copyright 2001, Morino Institute. All rights reserved.




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