The first network built for sales professionals: Our investment in Bravado
It might be argued that in recent decades, the reputation of sales as a profession has taken a hit: salespeople are mercenaries, focused on quotas — or so the thinking goes. Yet if we look back to the sales profession’s roots, sales was embedded in the fabric of every local economy. Barter basically required it: In any transaction, every person was a salesperson, and every person had to trust that the other was representing his or her product or service fairly. Trust was the currency.
The world looks very different today, but as buyers have more complex decisions to make across more options than ever, trust is once again becoming the critical currency. Because buyers have more options, they are empowered to demand trust and authenticity before they commit to transact. Yet building and earning that trust — and scaling it — especially in today’s distributed, global economy, is easier said than done.
Those are the very dynamics that Bravado, the first network built expressly for sales professionals, will make easier.
Bravado, founded by Sahil Mansuri, has been operating in stealth since 2017, and now has more than 1,000 companies’ sales teams as members on the platform, including the likes of Salesforce, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Slack, WeWork, Uber, Oracle, and IBM. The platform helps sales professionals build their reputation as trusted advisors to their customers via testimonials from clients. It’s a huge opportunity to not only influence how B2B products are bought and sold, but also how sales professionals — the current profession of more than four percent of the U.S. population — develop their skills and achieve better industry visibility and career mobility.
That’s what drew both Alex and me to lead the Series A investment in Bravado. One of our values at Redpoint is “Move as One, Have Fun,” so it was exciting when we were both drawn to the company, especially given that it has attributes of both an enterprise SaaS business and a consumer network. We thought it’d be fun to try a new format so the following is a snapshot from our recent discussion about Sahil, Bravado, and the future of sales.
Bravado’s CEO and founder, Sahil Mansuri, was an early employee at Glassdoor. After spending his entire professional career in sales, he realized that sales professionals needed a way to build their digital reputation and take control of their personal brand. How did his experience relate to the appeal of making this investment?
Alex: At Redpoint, we tend to be industry-agnostic and really focus on the founder and founder-market fit. Sahil had witnessed firsthand the power of digital reviews and online reputation, which gives him great insights for the opportunity at Bravado. Additionally, I loved his authenticity and background — he’s the son of immigrant parents who sacrificed a lot to give him an opportunity to build a great life. His parents hoped he would become a doctor or lawyer — which is not dissimilar to what my parents wanted for me — so that was something we connected on. Instead, he was attracted to sales; sales done right and with high integrity. His passion is really about upleveling the notion of what sales means.
Annie: Exactly. Sahil was initially just building this for himself as an individual salesperson and manager. It quickly became clear that the pain point he had was really universal across B2B sales. He has an earned perspective on the nuanced needs of their users which I respect tremendously.
So what makes sales a special vertical that needs its own verticalized platform?
Annie: Great networks democratize access to information for members of the community; in this case, it’s finding the best product solution, the best-informed seller, or the best next customer.
Just like Craigslist where large sub-categories have been carved off and replaced by companies purpose-built for their specific needs, LinkedIn too will be unbundled as better products are built to serve specific groups. You might consider Bravado as “GitHub for Sales,” where sellers can create their own personal brand by contributing content. Companies can also use it as a place to recruit and customers can utilize it to learn about and compare options. Sales is high frequency, relationship-based, and has a built-in growth motion given the nature of a salesperson’s job.
Alex: By focusing on sales, Bravado is actually building a community. Through its mentorship program, they’ll not only get a new flow of candidates, but they’ll also make the market less opaque.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about how to hire sales professionals?
Annie: Before my first meeting with Sahil, he sent me an email with links to five sales professionals on LinkedIn whom he knew personally. He then asked me to tell him which of these five was the best salesperson he’d ever hired. Such a fun challenge! I scoured their profiles (and the Internet generally to see what else I could dig up) and made my pick. I was totally wrong. Nothing about the LinkedIn profiles actually told me anything about who was the best salesperson.
LinkedIn can’t show if someone left a job after two years because they knocked their quota out of the park and were recruited away — or because they simply weren’t very good.
Yet this is how so many of us recruit today — perusing LinkedIn and trying to extrapolate from a handful of bullet points if this person has been previously great and if they would be what we need in our company. Instead, people are diluted to simplified credentials which makes it more difficult for amazing people with more diverse or un-branded experience to rise up. It’s a shame. Bravado can show a complete story which has the additional benefit of resetting the playing field for all to have equal access to building success.
Alex: Agreed. A salesperson’s value is in the relationships they’ve been able to build with their customers. It’s not about your resume and where you’ve been, but about the very specific success you’ve had with your customers. Before Bravado, there was no way to unearth that information you actually need to make a decision. I’ve recruited hundreds of sales professionals, especially when I was at Salesforce. Like Annie mentioned, you start by looking at their profile on LinkedIn. But you can’t tell anything about their performance. Or the NPS of the company with their experience. Bravado helps you understand the person’s success much better — it puts the experience into context. It’s the salesperson’s portfolio of work as told through the lens of their customers.
What are the ramifications of that and what does Bravado change?
Annie: Bravado is also unlocking a new level of transparency when it comes to recruiting. That’s going to help companies understand who can really walk the walk and who they ought to hire.
Alex: I think the second dynamic that Bravado is going to help reshape is the importance of trust in the sales process. B2B products are getting more and more complicated. The sales process is getting more complicated. Customers want to buy from someone they can trust. In some respect, that matters even more than the reputation of the company, because at the end of the day, sales is just a human connection, and the salesperson is a proxy for the product and the company. Trust is more important than ever, and the ones that can build that, are the ones that will succeed.
Annie: People demand transparency of information. Forms of user-generated content like ratings and reviews are often the fastest way to build a defensive data moat around a network. It doubles as a trust proxy. It’s no longer a stranger behind a Zoom; the reviews can give more context around and confidence in the person you’re meeting.
Playing that forward a bit, what does the future of sales look like?
Alex: There are a few trends we’re keeping an eye on. First, comp for sales professionals is changing, driven in part by the ubiquity of SaaS. Renewals come at much earlier phases. Atlassian, for example, claims it has no sales professionals. Instead, thousands of people perform pre-sales. They’re not compensated on closing the account. What they get compensated on is the NPS of the customer/buying journey. Again, it goes back to building trust.
Annie: And in the consumer space, you have influencers who sell a portfolio of products. It’s like multi-level marketing 2.0, where one seller won’t just sell software or skincare — instead, they’ll stack products to sell in non-competitive lanes. Software today isn’t sold as a suite of product options, but in the future, it could be. I think it’s also important to recognize that the option set for a buyer is more complex, which demands that the seller evolves into more of a consultative seller. They don’t want a transaction; they want a relationship.
That, too, is what we are excited to build with Sahil and the broader team.
To learn more about Bravado, visit https://bravado.co