war stories from the startup frontlines
building a sales organization
“You have to be an entrepreneur if you're a salesperson,”
according to Bob Skinner, EVP of Worldwide Sales at Icode, but that
doesn’t mean all entrepreneurs know how to be salespeople. At
this Netpreneur Coffee & DoughNets
event held February 25, 2003, a
panel of veteran sales executives explored issues in building a
sales organization, offering practical advice ranging from what
kind of salesperson to hire first to how to evaluate and
compensate them. This event
marked the return of the popular series for entrepreneurs, produced through
the cooperation of the
Technology Council of Maryland,
the Northern Virginia
Technology Council, the Washington
DC Technology Council, and Virginia's Center
for Innovative Technology, and sponsored by Comerica,
Ernst & Young, and Fenwick
SVP of Worldwide Sales & Marketing, SERSolutions
Director of Public Sector Business Development, Akamai
EVP of Worldwide Sales, Icode
Dubbé, Managing Partner at Walker
Copyright 2003 Morino Institute. All rights reserved.
Edited for length and clarity.
Disclaimer: Statements made
at Netpreneur events and recorded here reflect solely the views of
the speakers and have not been reviewed or researched for accuracy
or truthfulness. These statements in no way reflect the opinions
or beliefs of the Morino Institute, Netpreneur.org or any of their
affiliates, agents, officers, or directors. The transcript is
provided “as is” and your use is at your own risk.
morning. I'm Dyan Brasington, President of the Technology
Council of Maryland. I'm
very pleased to welcome you here today to the University of
Maryland at Shady Grove. Many
of you are familiar with the facility, and the Technology Council
of Maryland takes great pride in this facility and the whole campus.
The reason we started it was to offer higher education
facilities to the I-270 Technology Corridor, so every time we have
a function here it reminds us of the success we have had over the
years and the great marketplace we have been able to serve.
It's our pleasure to host the future of an old program,
Netpreneur Coffee & DoughNets.
We're very pleased to co-host it with the Northern
Virginia Technology Council, the Washington
DC Technology Council, and Virginia's Center
for Innovative Technology.
When we heard
Netpreneur was sunsetting—I'm
going to give all the credit to Mary MacPherson, who came to us
and said," We've got a program that really deserves to continue
and I want to make sure that it does. Can you get together and
help us out?” And
so we have. This is actually the first of a pilot of three
programs to see if we can keep that entrepreneurial spirit alive.
We know it's out there, and we want to see what we can do to continue it.
I'd like to briefly mention two awards programs coming up. First, every year the Technology Council of Maryland
recognizes its community with the Tech Awards, where we look at
products of the year in IT and biotech, company of the year, executive of
the year, and entrepreneur of the year.
We have information
on our website where you can make nominations, and I encourage
you to do that. Second,
Ernst & Young, one of your sponsors today, has its Entrepreneur of
the Year program coming up, and they are accepting
recommendations for that award.
It is a very, very big event.
I would very much like to mention our sponsors. Without
their help, we could not continue this program.
Our thanks to Comerica,
Ernst& Young, and Fenwick
& West. We also have our volunteer entrepreneurs who
helped us with registration: Harish Bhatt of Advantify,
Fred Kelly of HiTek Solutions,
and John McKinnon of Teligent.
Thank you all very much for your time and energy.
And, now, on with our program.
Today's panelists are very experienced sales executives,
and they certainly bring a lot of germane experience to the
discussion this morning. In
today's financing world, many of the venture firms expect sales
before funding, so this is a very timely and important subject.
To get us started, I would like to introduce Gina Dubbé,
Managing Partner at Walker Ventures.
I know Gina through the Technology Council of Maryland, and
Walker Ventures Group is the managing partner for the Maryland
Angels Council, which is tied to the Technology Council.
Gina has great sales experience, and I am turning the
program over to her. Thank
morning. How is everybody this morning? Good. The goal this
morning is to be totally interactive, so we don't want you leaving
here without your questions answered on the mystical topic of sales.
I opened one of our portfolio company's websites this
morning. They're advertising for a salesperson and here is what
they want: "You're probably wondering by now how you can be
one of us, how you can have that spring in your step, the look of
steely-eyed confidence, the naturally curly hair, how you, too,
can become a cog in the machinery of gods, a courier lost in the endless corridors
of divine truth, clutching a message in a tongue no longer grasped
Now, this is their Web posting for a salesperson.
Imagine, if you will, what they're going to get from this.
Their final point is: "Don't call or wander in without an
appointment. Write a nice cover email that tells us about you.
You have to trust in the system, baby."
If you have that steely glint in your eye and the natural
spring and the curl in your hair and want to be a salesperson—or
just want to manage one—there are several questions that are
common to us all. The
folks who are going to help you by sharing their experiences in
the industry this morning are Carolyn Hyde of SER Solutions, Walt
Rogers of Akamai Technologies, and Robert Skinner of Icode
It is my absolute pleasure to be herewith this august
panel. I'm going to ask each panelist to introduce themselves and
to tell you some of the best and worst things they've experienced
in the sales culture. Carolyn,
we'll start with you.
with Ser Solutions. I started
out in sales back in 1981 when Data General was selling
mini-computers, if you remember that, and I did stints at Oracle
and EMC. I have, I believe, seen it all—except when I talk to
other folks like those sitting on this panel and we find that we
all have crazy stories.
Relative to what I've learned over the years, I think a
very key thing that you need to do when you're going to look for a
salesperson—when that light goes off that says, “You know
what? I have this great offering, this great solution. I need to
have a sales type. I don't really know what the heck they're all
about, but I need to go out and get myself one.” When that
happens, first make sure that you understand your messaging, that
you understand your target market, that you understand why someone
would buy your product or your solution. What's the return on investment?
The days of, “It's cool, it's neat, it's really jazzy,
and that's why people made the purchase!”—does that sound like
the mid to late '90s to some of you? Those days are gone. You have
to have a plan in place prior to even thinking about bringing that
salesperson on board.
It's also good to know who your competitors are. For some
of you who have nurtured this baby—your product—from
conception to birth and readiness for the marketplace, you may
believe that you don't have any competitors. Maybe it's time to look at an outside source and get some
feedback as to how they see your fit in the market space.
When you do go out to look, remember that all salespeople
are not the same. They
may all seem kind of similar to you, but they’re not.
Also remember that their job is selling, so they will be
selling you when they come in to talk with you. That's one of the
easier sales that they can make.
Think about your sales cycle.
Do you have a long sales cycle?
Is your product such that you're going to need a couple of
months in order to sell it? If so, you need someone who
understands a very complex strategy. Or do you have a less expensive offering so you need someone
who can do transaction after transaction?
The personality type and the skill set are not the same for
both those types of people. Also, look for someone who has really
made it on their own. There
are a lot of folks who are tagalongs, if you will. Someone won a
big government project and they were the second or the third or
the fourth sales rep that came on afterwards, so they did really
well and blew their quota out, but they didn't really make the sale. They
were really more of an account manager. These are some of the
dangers to watch out for.
I'm Walt Rogers
with a company called Akamai Technologies
I want to congratulate Gina for correctly pronouncing the
name. That doesn't
happen very often.
I won't lean forward so that my bald head doesn't blind
anybody. As you can tell from my physical appearance, I've been at
this for quite awhile. I started out in finance—I'm a graduate
of Georgetown University—and I was an auditor for a large
outfit, General Dynamics, on their financial management training program. Early
on, however, I noticed that the money was being made by the salespeople, and
I decided that's what I wanted to do. I dove in completely.
Carolyn did an outstanding job of framing things, so I will
hit on a couple of other points that get down to some of the
basics you look for in a salesperson.
One thing to watch out for is if they say in an interview,
“I want to try sales.” That
person is not going to be successful. You cannot try it.
It is in your blood or it isn't in your blood, and you have
to figure that out.
One of the things I’ve noticed about technology
companies, and I figured this out very early in my career, is that
very, very smart people start technology companies. The first
thing they think they're going to have to do once they get their
product completed is to buy locks for the doors because everybody is going
to want their product.
I worked for a company called Four Phase Systems in Silicon
Valley—this was many years into working for them—and I was
listening to the President tell me that when they first got the
product ready for market they had a big decision to make.
They were going to put an ad in the Sunday issue of the San
Francisco paper and he said, “The very first thing we need to do
is get extra telephone lines, because, come Monday morning, we are
going to be deluged with inquiries.”
Obviously, it didn't happen and he figured out he had to hire
a sales organization. He hired
a very experienced person to start this sales organization, and that really
is the key: hire that senior person who has a breadth of
experience and knows how to build an organization.
When I prepare to interview a salesperson, and I've been on
quite a few on the other side myself, I prepare just like a sales
call. I get the résumé. I review the résumé in detail. If they
have experience at a company where I know somebody, I will call and
get the opinion of a person that I know and trust prior to interviewing that
The first thing you have is physical contact. They have a
personal appearance. They are making a sales call, and the first
physical contact you have is a handshake.
Is that handshake firm?
Looking at the person, do they make a positive impression on you?
You're evaluating and selecting somebody who is going to be
in your food chain. They
are going to be between your family and your livelihood, and that
is a very, very serious decision.
you. I’m Bob Skinner,
EVP of Worldwide Sales for Icode.
I see a very diverse group out here, so I know you're all
looking for different things.
I've had the benefit of selling at the high end, the
Fortune1000, and probably spent the majority of my time in the
mid-market where it's very complex.
Right now, for instance, Icode has outside salespeople.
We're going through the traditional value-added reseller (VAR)
channels and we're also doing inside sales, so I've got to hire
people for different positions.
I use an analogy a lot, that it's a lot like a sport. I'm a big baseball fan myself, and I've got to hire pitchers
and I've got to hire third basemen, depending on exactly what
their role is.
Let me give you a couple of examples. When I look for an
outside salesperson—and I agree 100% with what Walt said—I
have a bad habit sometimes of making up my mind very quickly.
When somebody comes in, if it's a weak handshake or they're
not impressing me, I've got to struggle to get through the rest of
that interview because that first impression is so important in every sales
call. There are a number of other things that I look at in the outside sales
individual, as well. It
is a key role because usually they're not under your nose every
day. You don't really know what their activity is, so you have to
trust them. You have to know that they're hard workers, and you
have to understand how they're going to be productive.
There are a couple of ways that I do that.
The first thing is, when I'm interviewing someone, I ask
them for some of the biggest sales they ever made.
When they talk about those big sales, I ask them to give me
the decision-makers. I
want to talk to them to see how that sale went and would they ever
buy from that person again. If these are the ones they're claiming the biggest victory
on, they should be able to go back and resell to those
The second thing I like to do is make sure that they
understand what this process is.
I have them go through some of their losses.
Everybody talks about their wins, tell me about some of the
big losses. Why did you lose?
Was it the product? Were you late to the game? Was it that
you didn't get to the right level? The second biggest thing that I've seen with salespeople is
that account navigation is very tough.
They get in a comfort level and they work in that comfort
level. They never really get to the decision-maker until the end
of the sales process, then you find out there's “a new person”
in the decision. When
you ask who the new person is, it turns out to be the owner who's
been there for 10 years. That's
not a new person, it's a new person in that process. Lastly, I
never hire anybody for an outside rep that didn't grow up in that
geography. Somebody says, “Hey, we have a great sales rep in
Boston; let's move them to New York.”
It's the Rolodex they have, the contacts they have, the
network that you're buying into, and they've got to have that in
order to be successful.
Inside sales is a completely different role. It's a numbers
game where they've got to be focused.
It's a personality on the phone that is very different from
an outside rep. Never take an outside rep and try to bring them
inside. They've been
too liberal with their schedule.
They'll never get back down to a situation where they'll
make those 20 or 50 or 80 outbound calls per day.
Always look for attitude.
Attitude is the key thing for inside sales.
My line has always been that if one of them sneezes, they
all catch a cold. If
one of them has a bad attitude, you're going to have an attitude
on the entire team, so select for a very positive attitude.
I'll touch very briefly on reps and channel sales, because
they're unique positions. Channel
sales, especially in the mid-market, is a very complex thing.
If you don't get somebody who has spent several years in
that channel, it's going to take them two to three years to
understand who the players are and how the game is played.
Personal relationships in the channel, as you would
imagine, are everything, and you've got to find somebody who can
bring that type of Rolodex to your company.
Lastly, there’s sales management. Again, just like in
sports, sometimes your greatest players are not your greatest
managers. Remember that this is a management position, not a
playing position. Michael
Jordan is the best basketball player ever, but I'm not sure he'd
be the best coach ever. We
see this time and time again where sales stars get promoted into
management but don't manage well.