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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 & West. 


Carolyn Hyde, SVP of Worldwide Sales & Marketing, SERSolutions

Walt Rogers, Director of Public Sector Business Development, Akamai Technologies

Robert Skinner, EVP of Worldwide Sales, Icode


Gina Dubbé, Managing Partner at Walker Ventures

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, or any of their affiliates, agents, officers, or directors. The transcript is provided “as is” and your use is at your own risk.

dyan brasington: welcome

Good 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 you, Gina.

gina dubbé: introductions

Good 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 by men."

          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.

carolyn hyde: have a plan

I'm Carolyn Hyde 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.

walt rogers: select the right people

Hi, 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 individual.

          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.

robert skinner: assemble a team

Thank 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 individuals.

          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. 


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