Why a CTO should team up with sales
This article was not intended to become an article. It is a list of my current experiences. Nothing more, nothing less. I thought it would be a good idea to share my thoughts and get feedback, new views, etc. So here it is: Why I think CTOs and sales should be best buddies in (B2B) SaaS companies when trying to reach the magical €10M revenue point (and beyond).
inSided, a B2B SaaS company I co-founded 5 years ago, is a growth company. We are bootstrapped but are now working on our first round so we can scale up the business as we are starting to move into our hockey stick growth. Our revenue is in the €4–5M range with a great ARR and we are working hard to get to that magical €10M (with an even higher ARR) of which a lot of folks would say it might be proof that you did the right things right and you kept the main thing the main thing. InSided is mainly focused on enterprise-level companies with 100K+ end users. Some examples of our customer base include: TomTom, Sonos, Eircom, Albert Heijn.
I have been through some of the known stages for a CTO in a startup: from developing the first version of the platform without a lot of sleep for days/weeks/months (are you even allowed to call yourself a CTO in this phase?), building a scalable development team, learning to ‘manage’ people while acting as an architect up until talking to market analysts. However, I have not yet encountered a lot of emphasizing on startups/growth companies in which the CTO is heavily involved in sales.
I believe this is the phase I am currently in. And I can tell you: I am loving every minute of it. The amount of insights I am getting by attending (international) sales meeting is incredible. Let me pin-point some of the insights I get out of these sales meetings:
- Future customers are willing to tell me about their roadmaps and how they want to their customer engagement to evolve over the next 2 to 5 years. I can clearly see patterns in (possible) future customer roadmaps arise from the different sales meetings I attend to and I am able to define our product and technology roadmap with much more certainty based on these patterns.
- During the demos, discussions and pitches/presentations of our sales people in those meetings I can clearly see what they are struggling with. It might be that a certain feature is not clear enough for them or that something is simply not demo-able enough although it’s a great feature. By being there I can see where we can improve. Usually these are minor changes that can make a huge difference in the perception of future customers during sales meetings.
- I can get incredibly excited when I am able to play around with a new piece of technology to discover it’s potential (Kinesis Firehose anyone?). However, I am now more realistic and balanced in the decisions we as a product development team make in regards to that technology and how it will contribute to the overall goals of both the sales team and the roadmap of our customers. There is no point in building something we can’t sell.
- I take the knowledge and inspiration that I get during those sales meetings back to the office (“Hey, you see a lot of people genuinely interested in -and amazed by- what your team has built and that is awesome”) and inform our product development team about my experiences. They hear all of the insights directly from me and since I am able to mix those insights with the technology we (plan to) use, it makes much more sense to them.
How would you as a CTO (or any product related executive in a growth company for that matter) know what to build that can actually directly contribute to that €10M ARR your company so desperately needs? You won’t get that knowledge by only watching the full 1.5 hours of Werner Vogels keynote during AWS Re:Invent (by the way, I urge you to watch it.. awesome stuff). You don’t get that knowledge by only talking to your existing customers (although it is quite important to do so and as a result of that being able to balance out your roadmap so you built features or modules for upsell). You need to get out there and listen!
“I can clearly see patterns in (possible) future customer roadmaps arise from the different sales meetings I attend to and I am able to define our product and technology roadmap with much more certainty based on these patterns.”
What better possibility do you have other than joining your sales colleagues in meetings with possible future customers to extract information for product development? Since the meetings have already been setup all you need to do is make time and listen in. Hell, you might even be able to say a thing or two once you are there! In the sales meetings I attend there are usually people from IT departments present and it is always good to show them that a technical counterpart is present to get them informed on your company and product from a technical perspective. You can tell your sales people that having the CTO present is an added bonus for the sales meeting.
So I urge all startup/growth enterprise SaaS CTO’s: go out there. Talk to your future customers and use their input to detect patterns so you can balance out your roadmap and build the things that are actually selling.