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Oiling The Enterprise IT Sales Engine

Earlier this year Sapphire Ventures brought together industry leaders to talk about the future of enterprise selling. We connected the best from every field to share knowledge from everyone all the way from startup gurus to enterprise veterans.

When considering enterprise sales specifically, we spoke to an all-star panel that included Lars Nilsson, VP of global inside sales at Cloudera, Richard Campione chief product officer at Splunk, and John McGee, managing director, west at SAP.

The panel tackled how companies can scale into enterprise sales rocket ships. Today, enterprise sales models at places like Splunk and Cloudera have pioneered a different model. Via inside sales, it’s easier to “land” in large enterprise sales companies. The conversation we had surrounding enterprise sales looked to clarify some of the most important parts of building a truly modern pipeline.

Here are some of my key takeaways:

Reach Organizational Alignment Around Revenue

Scaling enterprise sales isn’t simply a matter of hiring an experienced chief revenue officer or a new VP of sales. It’s about uniting a company around driving revenue. In the growth stage, companies need to share a common language around clear revenue objectives. This can be challenging for companies that begin as engineering and product-focused companies.

It’s about uniting a company around driving revenue.

As Lars Nilsson, VP of global inside sales at Cloudera, pointed out, this starts with upper management. Lars is a sales veteran, with executive experience over the past 20 years at companies like Xerox, ArcSight and HP. In his experience, engineering-led companies all face “an inflection point where the leadership team helped the entire company,” across sales, marketing, product and HR, reach an understanding of how to become a “revenue-driven company.”

The key to this isn’t just looking and bookings and revenue. It’s maintaining product discipline across the organization and aligning everyone in a company around helping customers be successful.

Without an understanding of the product and the winning story, sales reps can’t successfully sell because they don’t understand how they’re delivering value to your customers. But you can’t just unleash engineers directly upon customers either. There has to be a go-between in the form of a product manager, who can take customer inputs and translate that into an action plan both for engineering and sales.

The key to this isn’t just looking and bookings and revenue. It’s maintaining product discipline across the organization and aligning everyone in a company around helping customers be successful.

When you align teams around the customer and your organization’s business goals, you’re able to develop synergies across teams. Engineers understand what sales reps are working with and can begin to prioritize features around what sales reps are going to demo, and what the marketing team is lining up. As Richard Campione, chief product officer at Splunk says, that’s how to ensure an “organization is helping not just sales, but customers.”

Structure Your Sales Team To Win

Applying science and rigor enterprise sales also means experimenting and iterating around your pipeline and team structure. In 2017, most companies understand the need to split sales teams up between prospectors (SDRs) and closers (AEs). But leading enterprise sales organizations today are going much further.

In one approach, companies use a dedicated sales enablement team that’s responsible for equipping different sales teams with sales intelligence and data analytics tools. In Lars Nilsson’s experience, having this role has been incredibly valuable for his sales teams across the board. “I had an opportunity for my SDR to join the sales enablement team and become the dedicated sales-enabling person,” he said, “I’ve gotten more mileage out of this one person for a group of 60 SDRs than than I have in my career.”

The tools available to sales today can help teams predict the future. They help you rank your pipeline, and spot customers you have a higher likelihood of closing. With a sales enablement team providing access to these tools, you can help qualify leads before your prospector even gets to them — driving up sales efficiency.

In another example, organizations are finding new ways to flip the script around how they structure sales teams. Lars Nilsson spoke about one company he encountered where they have decided to hire more SDR’s than AEs. “And that happens to be one of the fastest growing companies in B2B technology today. They are generating massive pipeline delivered from a lower cost SDR operating model while allowing their quota carrying reps to focus on selling and closing rather than cold qualifying and cold prospecting .”

Just because you’re setting up an enterprise sales department doesn’t mean there’s no room for innovation. In fact, that’s necessary to figure out just what works for your business.

Build Relationships By Emphasizing Solutions

Above and beyond aligning your company and building your sales team, the top priority for scaling enterprise sales is developing a deep understanding of the enterprise customers’ problems. Enterprise customers like innovation, but they buy solutions.

Enterprise customers like innovation, but they buy solutions.

Building strong relationships with customers is the keystone to enterprise sales, which means you need to be able to clearly articulate how you help alleviate their specific pain points and deliver value. For enterprise CIOs, this will primarily be around how you help them generate topline revenue or drive customer acquisition. Building around efficiency is a second-order concern.

Start by returning to the basic questions around your product: am I solving a problem? Am I doing it in the best way possible? As a company grows their product and evolves, the answers to these questions also must evolve. Understanding the value that you deliver to your customers is a continuum that’s constantly changing, so you have to constantly ask these questions.

John McGee, managing director, west of SAP says that the best way to bring this understanding to enterprise customers is by developing concrete narratives around their products and how they help customers.

“It’s all about stories,” he says. “You want to be able to calibrate the product talk in terms of the customer validation. Have industry stories and outside validation from third parties because what you want the enterprise customer to be able to do is say I trust you.”

It’s all about stories

Opening the door for yourself in enterprise sales requires that detailed understanding of your product and solutions and the narrative of how you’re alleviating your customers’ pain points.

Understand International Markets Before You Leap

The last question companies have to answer as they build their sales rocket ships is when to expand internationally.

A lot of this depends on where you’re currently based. Companies based in North America often focus on expanding domestically, because they’re located in the biggest market. Companies in Israel or India might consider expanding internationally faster.

Companies have to carefully weigh their options before expanding internationally. Moving too soon can overstretch a sales organization — but moving too slowly can put you far behind the competition.

Moving too soon can overstretch a sales organization — but moving too slowly can put you far behind the competition.

You have to nail your product and pipeline before you expand. Understand your customers, and build momentum. Then when you’ve decided to expand, start building partnerships and identifying channels where you can sell overseas.

Because enterprise sales are fueled by trust, understanding different cultural norms in different markets is critical. In Japan, for example, you are looking at “a multilevel channel-oriented go to market where,” says McGee. “you’re not going to get a return for two or three years.”

No matter what your market, building momentum domestically until you have fully fleshed out what your product and sales strategy looks like in a foreign market is critical.

Building An Enterprise Foundation

Enterprise sales has a unique set of challenges, and are fundamentally different from other types of sales. Our panel highlighted some of the most important things to figure out when transitioning to selling to enterprise and becoming a revenue-based company.

This is not an easy task. And, as Nilsson says, “it’s harder to do this job working for the venture-backed technology startup than it is if you’re working at HP.” But the work you put in to making the leap to enterprise can transform the success of your business.

If you are eager to get into all of the enterprise wisdom shared at the conference, don’t worry. We’ll be writing up more wisdom from the talks soon. In the meantime, you can watch session videos from the event here.

Enterprise Sales


The information set forth herein is not intended to constitute investment advice and under no circumstances should any information provided herein be used or considered as an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy an interest in any investment fund managed by Sapphire Ventures. Sapphire Ventures does not solicit or make its services available to the public and none of the funds are currently open to new investors. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.

The portfolio companies referred to above do not necessarily represent all of the investments made or recommended by Sapphire Ventures, and were not selected based on the return on Sapphire Ventures’ investment in them. It should not be assumed that the specific investments identified and discussed herein were or will be profitable. Not all investments made by Sapphire Ventures will be profitable or will equal the performance of the companies identified above. View all of Sapphire Ventures’ investments here.

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