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How to Scale #Sales, with Gaëtan Gachet (Algolia)

This article includes key takeaways from Gaëtan Gachet’s talk on how to scale sales. You can view the full video on Youtube or check out the latest from our Scale series.

Gaëtan is VP of Sales at Algolia, where he started 4 years ago as one of their very first employees. In that time, he grew the sales team through their seed round, series A and series B. From bootstrapping their first outbound sales campaigns to building a sales team, Gaëtan explains how sales teams can scale their efforts to make a product #1 on its vertical.

5 key best practices

Best practice #1: Go up or stay down

For Gaëtan, your first priority should always be to figure out early if your product has the potential to be upmarket (4 figure monthly deals and above) or if it should remain downmarket. The way he tested this was by negotiating high, closing, and then trying higher to see where the price limit was.

Note: This is important to determine early as it has a huge impact on how you structure your sales team. An upmarket product will require more senior sales staff capable of closing four or five figure deals, whereas a lower price point will call for a more junior sales team.

Best practice #2: Hiring your first rep

The most important thing to look for is someone who likes to learn. The first years are ruthless: there are a lot of refusals, a lot of failures, a lot of wasted effort. So it’s key that the person be able to take it as a learning experience. And take satisfaction in the small indicators that things are on the right track.

Best practice #3: Build your atomic go-to-market team

Between $5 and $10 million ARR, the team started to get more structured. Sales ops, CSM, and SDRs will need to be hired. And it will take longer than you think because you most likely haven’t had to hire profiles like those before.

Note: To fine tune your growth engine, think about what your target revenue is for the year and break it down in terms of how many reps you need to close that much, how many SDRs and SEs (solution engineers) do you need per rep, and how many CSMs do you need per extra unit of revenue.

Best practice #4: Leverage partnerships

Share the pie. If your model is focused on recurring revenue (which is the case for Algolia, for example), you should leave implementation fees and other resale revenue streams to your partners to keep them invested in your — shared — success.

Best practice #5: Engage your team

It’s key to keep alinement at all levels of your organization. Gaëtan recommends for example limiting friction between sales teams and CSM by giving both targets that are complementary, or incentivizing SEs with a bonus for sales closed that they participated in. Furthermore, Gaëtan also instituted a team-based bonus for junior sales teams to further encourage exchange and cooperation between reps.

4 key mindsets

Mindset #1: Think revenue, think fast

Algolia’s participation in the Y-Combinator program (W14 batch) was determinant in instilling a culture that still exists in the company today. The incubator is structured around a 10 week phase during which selected startups need to pick one metric and focus on increasing it by 10% each week. For Algolia, that metric was revenue — a mindset that still drives the team today — and the way to increase it was by quick decisions based on multiple tests to fit the tight schedule of YC — a trait that has very much remained part of the company DNA.

Mindset #2: Go big or go home

In the first year at Algolia, Gaëtan focused exclusively on the US. The reason is simple: US logos are known around the world, whereas local brands are unknown to the rest of the world. Given that the time (and difficulty) to close a client of roughly the same size is the same (actually a bit shorter in the US in Gaëtan’s experience), that time is better spent closing US clients.

Note: Big sales in the US routinely happen over the phone, so having a physical presence there isn’t mandatory. However, it’s best to keep your office location unspecified unless it comes up in conversation: you can easily create a US phone number easily through a service like Aircall, and adapt your schedule to US business hours.

Mindset #3: Be enterprise ready

Your inbound flow is not necessarily where you want your business to go. When you cross the “chasm” from early adopter to early or late majority, your “earliness” will lose its appeal. In fact, it’ll become an obstacle that you need to overcome. So, if your strategy involves landing larger accounts, limit the scope (Gaëtan’s team target 30 accounts per quarter) and get up close and personal: custom videos, documented case studies, testimonials from similar companies.

Note: Keep in mind at all times your new persona’s rationale — “I don’t want to lose my job by suggesting a risky solution to a traditionally risk-averse top-management.”

Mindset #4: Build your own sales culture

One thing that is noticeable when building a sales team in the US is how different sales cultures are from one company to the next. Be aware of it, and cautious of who you pick to create the right mix in your team: incorporating elements from complementary cultures that new hires will bring to your organization.

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References:

Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore

Predictable Revenue, by Aaron Ross

To Sell is Human, by Daniel H. Pink

Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton

The Challenger Sale, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson

The Sales Accelerator Formula, by Marc Roberge

Top Grading for Sales, by Bradford D. Smart and Greg Alexander

Creativity Inc., by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull

Good to Great, by Jim Collins

The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz

About Gaëtan Gachet:

Gaëtan is VP of Sales at Algolia, where he started 4 years ago as one of their very first employees. In that time, he grew the sales team through their seed round, series A and series B. Follow Gaëtan on Twitter.

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