Several of our portfolio companies at Vertex US sell products for developers, data scientists, engineers, or SRE/DevOps specialists, but often, it’s higher-ranking executives or department heads that write the check.
There’s a balance to be found when marketing directly to technical audiences while developing a strong sales strategy. Jason Eubanks, Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) at CI/CD platform Harness, sat down to share some valuable sales advice for tech founders looking to find this balance.
Jason has decades of experience scaling companies including Twilio, Meraki, BMC and more. Prior to sales, he started out as a software engineer, before becoming a solutions architect that transitioned him into his revenue and sales roles at Twilio, Markforged, and now Harness.
His experience selling through different motions — from high velocity inside sales at Meraki, to consultative sales at BMC and developer-led bottoms up motion at Twilio and Harness has afforded him a wealth of knowledge and experience on how to run and build high-functioning sales teams.
Here are a few highlights from Jason’s top sales insights for tech startup founders.
1. A good sales team ensures you’re invited to the decision-making process
While it seems “viral” in nature, a bottom-up strategy ensures that a single customer who uses the product becomes a champion for it. They’ll be asked why they chose your product and are instrumental in leveraging their user experience to land your product as a standard across the company.
Jason insists that if you’re building an enterprise SaaS company, investing in a go-to-market (GTM) model is important. When someone transitions from using your product off the clock to implementing it into their work projects, your bottom-up motion begins to resemble customer acquisition. If the product is being used at work for work, it’s either to build something that drives revenue, to fend off a competitor, or to solve a cost problem that impacts their customers. These goals get funding and a budget, and there’s a managerial decision process around them. Jason asks, “Are you going to be invited to that decision or find out about it later?” Having a salesperson involved could make all the difference.
Rather than relying on cold outbound calls, you can train your GTM team to find a natural point in the user-journey flow to help the developer or engineer get the most out of your product so they’re optimized in that self-service journey. Use the product to recognize patterns of what someone is building. Then suggest what the use case might be, train your sales team on the context of those use cases, and share best practices so that they’re helpful and want to engage. When your salespeople make this exchange with a customer, through a give-get model, they’ll learn more about what that person’s building, why they’re building it, what they want to do with it in the future, etc. This leads you to a value-based discussion and you wind up in a sales conversation.
2. Naturally Converting Interested Leads Through Community Engineers
For building natural relationships with interested leads without the fear of coming across as “too pushy,” Jason recommends creating a technical role called “community engineer.” Community engineers are not salespeople and their compensation isn’t tied to sales. Instead, it’s linked to the conversion rate of self-service account sign-ups to product usage.
Don’t have them push for a sale or for revenue, (or be pushy at all), which is why you remove that from the job component and the compensation plan. Their job is to help people and create a good product experience. Once a lead converts to an active user, they’ll automatically become a hand-raiser which will lead to a conversation with your sales team.
Twilio created such a role and kept it long-term. When the company was pre-IPO and unsure if sales should be involved in the self-service journey, they ran an A/B test and found over 90% positive correlation rate of better success when someone touched the interaction (less churn early on, faster growth, quicker time to value, and less churn later on).
3. Multithreading touchpoints across the prospects improves conversion by 19x
If you started with a top-down strategy and are adding a self-service, bottom-up motion, expect some tradeoffs in trying to maximize both motions. For companies with lots of positive engagement throughout a top-down sales strategy, know that a self-service motion inherently has fewer touchpoints. Be intentional and plan around this.
Community engineers can help, and can create assisted trials. Have your team touch base with the lead a few times a week, profile their usage, and then try to help by sharing best practices. You can create an interaction they’ll respond to with something as simple as, “I’m here to help. Here’s something new, etc.” And get more than one sales rep or community engineer involved in the account. When you’re engaging with four or more contacts in the account, which he calls “multithreading,” they are more likely to convert that prospect to a customer.
Jason has found that any time his team has had multithreaded interactions in an account, they are 19 times more likely to convert from the first touchpoint to closing a sale.
4. The Three Name Game
If you have one point of contact that you’ve met with, one way to open up additional threads is to use the “three name game.” If you’ve had a meeting with a lead, say a product demo, for example, where you’ve both had a positive and meaningful experience and gained some learnings through the interaction. Thank them and ask: “Are there three people that come to mind that would benefit from the product or the value proposition like the one we talked about?” If it’s authentic and the interactions have been valuable, it’s likely that the person will give you at least 3 names. Then ask for sponsorship, and potentially offer a freebie if the person can make an introduction. If you make that time investment with someone, often they feel obligated to do a “give, get” motion and if you execute it well they may even sponsor a meeting for you.
5. What to Look For in a Sales Rep Hire
When looking to build a strong sales team to sell to technical audiences, finding individuals with a technical background doesn’t hurt. These individuals may arrive with a greater understanding of what your customers are building and the challenges they face, which can help them more efficiently understand the “why” of the customer’s situation — why are they looking for a new product? Why are they evaluating your product and why do they need to make a change now versus next quarter or next year?
When you understand the why, you can better understand the problem.
That said, some of Jason’s best reps didn’t have a technical background. “I think you solve for character traits more than you solve for a technical background,” Jason said. Technically proficient reps that lack empathy can drive away early prospects, which can give you incorrect product signals. For non-technical reps, look for candidates with intellectual curiosity and grit — mental toughness, innate drive, and a strong work ethic. Then consider forming your early sales teams in pairs. Match an experienced SE with a high-intellect, hardworking non-technical sales rep with strong emotional intelligence; together they can balance each other’s strengths.
A big thank you to Jason for sharing his time and expertise! We’ve included a resource list of his top recommended products, tools, and reading below.
Here’s a list of the products and tools that Jason recommends:
- Hero — Field teams (sales, SEs and CSMs) log the company’s product feedback by account into Hero, which assigns it an account value/opportunity value. Hero plugs into your CRM and Jira and allows teams to aggregate requests from the field (pre- or post-sales) by product functionality request type, platform support type, and competitor type. Hero then gives it a monetary value and opportunity value. This helps align product and engineering with sales.
- Planhat — For customer success, Jason recommends Planhat, which connects to Salesforce and usage dashboards and is a one-stop-shop for reporting.
- Sales Navigator — One of the most-used sales tools, Jason trains his sales teams on Sales Nav and uses it to create these Boolean searches for insights and to create a list of what companies are hiring for the skills they added to that search. Then, in combination with other technology, they can discern who the hiring manager is.
- OgmaGod — If a rep has a bias for an account as a high-value target, or if there’s an account they thought might be high value, they’ll look at the OgmaGod score to see if that’s really true or not. This tool is helpful for territory squaring.
A selection of fundamental leadership books useful for making decisions building culture.