HubSpot’s top sales rep explains how to succeed working in sales at a SaaS company

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Jun 10, 2016 · 5 min read

Ali Powell is principal sales rep at HubSpot. She shares her expertise on what it takes to succeed working in sales for SaaS companies. Follow her reading list on Quibb.

Ten years ago, Ali’s career started out on a traditional sales path at Bank of America in private wealth management. But then four years later, in 2010, she landed at HubSpot. Ali worked her way up to the top sales position and has seen HubSpot grow from SaaS startup to publicly traded company. And because of her success at the company, she’s contributed her atypical approach to sales and helped shape how HubSpot approaches building a successful sales team.

In the most recent episode of the What I Know Best podcast, we talked to Ali about the evolution of sales and what she looks for when hiring a salesperson.

Beyond the stigma of sales and why being genuinely helpful impacts success

Ali has built a successful career in sales, but she wasn’t always sure that’s what she should pursue.

“I studied business and when I was graduating, I just started thinking, ‘What the heck am I going to do with my life? What am I good at? What do I want to do?’ I always knew I wanted to be in business but part of me thought maybe I’d want to be a teacher because I wanted to help people — or maybe I should work on a nonprofit.”

Ali discovered that her interest in helping people is a perfect match for her work in sales.

“I care about improving my company and bringing on revenue; but at the end of day, it’s about helping customers that are very, very, very good fits. It just all comes back to helping and then a plus of that is making money.”

Her perspective about the importance of being helpful doesn’t match the stigma often associated with sales. And if you asked a random group of people “What is sales” chances are one of the first things they’d mention is “car salesman.”

Ali has noticed during her career that the definition of a good sales rep has changed and the world is starting to see that, too.

“Customers can get all this information online. They read the content that marketing puts out. They’re more educated now than they used to be. It’s not a matter of picking up the phone and just selling to anyone. You need to be really good at doing research and finding reasons to reach out to people at the right times. I think if you’re that kind of person who enjoys finding those things, doing research on companies and figuring out maybe why you could help them, that you could potentially be a good fit for sales.”

So what is sales? Ali explained that while there are many different kinds of salespeople and approaches to sales, she focuses on the types that she likes and that she herself embodies:

  • Inquisitive
  • Curious
  • Always learning
  • Open to change

When you take Ali’s approach to sales you focus on the best possible fit and not just ‘getting the deal.’ She believes that the you should be the person who always wants to find the best possible fit and not get a deal to just get a deal. The latter often results in only short-term success.

“A lot of traditional minded sales people don’t like change, right? They don’t like to grow. I think that I am a perfect example of how sales has changed and what now defines what makes a good sales rep is not what it used to be and that’s what I really care about.”

Sales is undergoing a paradigm shift. It’s no longer a matter of ‘anybody take my stuff.’ Ali believes it’s important to truly qualify a customer and make sure that it’s a right fit for both the customer and company together.

Characteristics of a modern, successful salesperson

As the top sales person at HubSpot, Ali is involved with hiring new salespeople to join the company. The number one attribute she looks for is whether or not someone is naturally motivated to do work. Because of Ali’s success at HubSpot, she has a lot of influence regarding who the company hires for sales roles. She’s in a great place to bring in individuals who, like her, are atypical to all the sales stereotypes.

At many companies, it’s common to hire athletes out of college for sales roles. But Ali takes a different approach — she strongly believes that you shouldn’t hire based on how ‘competitive’ someone is.That’s just one stereotype, after all.

“I can think of people that I know that played sports and stuff that are really good at sales and there’s nothing wrong with that but I think that’s one stereotype. One of my missions I’ve realized over the years is that I think it’s important to expose people who might not think they’re good at sales to what it would be like to be in sales and what it really is. Not what it might have been 20 years ago. It’s important to me to make sure that people understand how I got into sales and like why … I didn’t play sports. I was a dancer. I don’t think that really matters.”

Ali also looks for a sales rep who conveys an affinity to being naturally inquisitive and that translates into being able to hear what the customer is really saying. When you know how to really listen to your customer you’ll ask the right questions to understand how a product or service can solve someone’s pain points.

“When you’re having meetings with people about the potential of buying something, and being a fit for something and solving a problem, you need to be able to listen to that person and not talk a lot. Sometimes people think sales is all about talking. At some point it is but for the most part you’re listening and trying to decipher, ‘What does all that mean? How does that impact how I could potentially help with what I sell?’”


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