Selling open source is different from selling in an enterprise SaaS environment. Rico Mallozzi’s guest is Javier Molina, the Senior Vice President of MongoDB. Javier discusses with Rico how the reality of every business is the need to drive revenue. This is where the open-source managed service model comes in. In this model, the core functionality of the software is still available to anyone for free. But there are additional features customers can choose to purchase. Join in the discussion to learn from Javier’s sales and marketing strategies!
Selling Open Source Managed Services In The Cloud With Javier Molina
I’m excited to have with me Javi Molina, SVP of Worldwide Corporate and Cloud Sales at MongoDB. Javi has been one of the leaders that have stewarded MongoDB’s go-to-market transformation to selling their fastest-growing cloud offering solution, Atlas. MongoDB’s cloud product Atlas has reinvented their business and been a game-changer for the company’s continued growth. In this episode, we will discuss the go-to-market strategy for selling open-source software, how their cloud offering transformed how they engage with customers, the three distinct customer channels that MongoDB created to increase sales velocity and the genesis and role of the cloud team at MongoDB. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did.
Javi, thank you for joining us.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Your background is very interesting and it helps provide context for why we’re having this conversation. Can you provide the readers with you a thumbprint of your experiences?
I’ll preface by saying, sales is as much of an art as it is a science. You can get a lot of enablement around how to sell and the science of medic and all kinds of different sales philosophies out there. At the root of it, social interaction and reading the person across from you is like an acquired skill and often happens through social interactions. When you apply it professionally from a sales perspective, some of my best sellers have different backgrounds. They work at a retail store. They were bartenders. They were doing door-to-door sales when they first got out of college and a lot of those things.Sales is as much of an art as it is a science. Click To Tweet
I appreciate the SDR, the AE software typical sales path but I even more so appreciate the other path, which is my path when I got out of college. There was a pending housing crisis. I just came out of the capstone class, which is the last class you take in college around personal salesmanship. We learned about overcoming objections, making sales calls, how to interview and I appreciated the challenge. I got my first sales job that I could in my last semester in college at an industrial supply company.
If I can paint a picture for you, you make a cold call, go on-site, make a sale like $300 and make 5% of the $300. You go back to the store and put in the order. The delivery comes back two days later. You put it in the box and then you go and deliver it. Five percent on $300 is not a tough software margin by any means. That was my start in sales. I enjoyed it and I enjoyed the challenge. After that, I started applying for outdoor electrical companies and construction equipment.
I got interviewed for Dell but did not get that job either. I knew nothing about recruiting or headhunters and I came across a company that placed me at a home security company called Brinks. They eventually changed the broad view and they got acquired by ADT. What I was doing was meeting with people that we‘re building a home so they go pick up their carpet, cabinet colors, appliances and they’d meet with the 23-year-old me. I would walk them through the home security that they would be getting in the house to pre-wiring for surround sound and for the outdoor speakers, those sorts of things.
At the very end, I will try to get them a three-year contract. They sign up for the contract with the first month‘s payment. Keep in mind their house hasn’t even broken ground yet. I had a 92% close rate. They had to fire someone that I worked with and so I said, “Don’t backfill and let me work all these shifts.” I was newly married, just bought a house and had bills to pay. I worked 7 days a week for 9 months. I made it into the President’s Club as the number one recommendation at the time. We got acquired by ADT so that was my time to say like, “It’s time to start a new career.” I had a cousin working at a software company here in town and ended up working in software. I went to a software company. It was an IT management monitoring company. This part of the story is important in the fact that it is a final motion. The company was focused on demands and bottoms-up selling. We didn’t have any field sellers at the time but they learned about how to run a bottoms-up sales process as a company and then 6.5 to 7 years later, we evolved into Mongo.
One of the things that you mentioned that was interesting and I want to tease that out is not necessarily hiring for the conventional career progression path. SDR to a sales leader and manager. What are the signals you look for then when you hire those people? They don’t have the necessary experience but there are other things you must be looking for that you can tell will make them successful in this enterprise sales role. It’s important because we’re in a talent crisis. Maybe you can get better candidates if they don’t have that progressional path. In some instances, you can’t even get that progressional path because there’s not enough talent out there.
I left this part out but I played baseball in college. I wasn’t the big recruit coming out. I walked my way towards the scholarship. I’m the underdog. I always appreciate that quality in people where they’re trying to work everything they’ve had in their life. They had some struggles. They focused on being the best version of themselves. If you give them an opportunity, they can flourish into the type of employee that you want them to or salesperson in our story. I get into the personal characteristics as much as I can in an interview process. I’m looking for qualitative traits. How driven are they? Do they think about their career strategically? Are they coachable? All these things are important. There are different scales and measurements for each one but it’s getting some of that stuff out in the interview process that helps us get the best talent that we can out there.
One of the things that were fascinating when we first met was your sales background, that experience and how it’s helped you. Can you give the readers a little bit of the experience you have as a sales leader and a working professional, generally?
When I was graduating college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do like most 22-year-olds. I want to get into advertising. I was coming off and trying to be a pharmacist, a pre-Pharm degree. I realized I want to be in sales so I had a capstone class in college where we learned about objection handling and those sorts of things. I enjoyed the art of sales and so my experience is amazing. The fact that I did a good 2.5 to 3 years of non-software sales as opposed to how some people go from college straight into software sales.
I sold industrial equipment and supplies, to start off with. Nuts and bolts also. I would sell $300 of nuts and bolts and I would make 5% on the sale. I would have to go and deliver it. That was the whole process in itself. You learned what hard work was. I then went into home security sales. I would meet with people that were building a home. I’ll talk to them about the home technology, exterior speakers and doing surround sound in their house. At the very end of it, I would pitch them on their security system, what they have and adding accessories to it. I would try to ask for a three-year contract with the first-month payment, which the house hasn’t even broken ground yet. To sign a three-year contract with the first-month payment and then also I added warranty. I was getting $25 of sales at a time.
I worked seven days a week for my last nine months there. I was the number one sales rep in the nation. That whole experience made me realize that you get used to talking to people face to face, reading situations and how to take conversations. I had a 92% close rate at the time as far as my face-to-face interactio￼ns. When I got into software, I still remember my second day on the job. My boss stole an $11,000 deal from me and I did the calculations. My commission was $375. Remember I’m from an office where I work for 7 days a week with $25 a sale and I’m about to get $300 or something off of commission. I’m like, “I love software. This is great.”
Long story short, an IT management monitoring company. I ended up going from an individual contributor into channel sales, into a manager, into the director in a town on the Western part of the US. I own the channel team and the OneAmerica team. It was definitely a fun ride but the important part of that story, the company was an inside sales-only company that was selling to the enterprises from the inside. It was about being operationally efficient. It was about tying to demand gen. It was well before its time in regards to bottoms up-selling and this was in 2008, 2009.
You’re talking about being very heavy in marketing and demand gen and understanding the flow of the growth engine and also selling from the inside. That was a school that I grew up in before I got to Mongo. When I got to Mongo, they were enterprise process, sales-driven and outbound prospecting. It was a different experience. I matched up to my inside operational perspective with now an outbound prospecting enterprise sales process. Matching those two things together, I feel like there’s a unique skill set in the market. It’s given me a good perspective in regards to how to evolve the sales team and the go-to-market motion that we started with MongoDB.
Can you explain what your role is as a leader at MongoDB?
Maybe a lesson in career pathing for people. I was a director at my last company. I was leading a bunch of teams and had a lot of responsibilities. I came to Mongo to learn and latch on. I knew nothing about Atlas in 2017. I came to sell Enterprise Advanced but I joined for the world growth opportunity. I felt it was in public. We had great executives, product and product-market fit. The total addressable market was massive with great board members and all of the above.
When I came to Mongo, I started running a team of five people. I’ve grown into the role that I have now, which is the SVP of Corporate and Cloud Sales is the official title. What that means is I have a global sales team, 130 salespeople, a tremendous leadership team and driven individuals. We focus on sub–$250 million companies as well as companies that are sub–1,500 employees. In emerging markets like APAC and LabCam, I own enterprise sales there as well. That’s the current role that I have and I also have a cloud team.
You mentioned that sales are more of an art. This hybrid go-to-market requirement convergence requires you to be just as much as the art sale but also the science, which I feel like product growth is definitely more mechanical inspecting those metrics. There’s a heavier science element in the product-like growth and it’s the convergence of those skills. One other interesting thing about Mongo is it’s an open-source company. At Sapphire, we’re big proponents of open-source technology and now we’ve seen a few incredibly successful companies like Mongo and Red Hat, MuleSoft and others. Can you describe for the audience a little bit about how selling open-source is different in a SaaS environment?
Before I got to Mongo, there’s a question around, “Can we build an open-source product for developers and scale adoption for building a sustainable business?” When they first began, just set the table for Mongo, it was about doing something that was completely different when it comes to building a database. There’s technology out there that’s called relational technology. You think about rows and columns and how those operate. That’s been around for a long time. To set the table on the market, the last database company to go public before Mongo was in 1992. The market was very legacy and for Mongo to come out and do things differently the way that they were was disruptive.
In the early days, it was about driving adoption. For us, we gleaned a lot of positive experiences from open-source. There was broad-based adoption that we could monitor how many downloads we’re having. We’re seeing the market much more. There are so many companies going out there to use our product on a broad–base scale and production. On the flip side of that, as a salesperson and this is coming from a sales perspective, there’s always a free version. You’re always trying to reinvent yourself at times.
Not only am I going against relational databases or the competition but the free version of somebody else. Somebody’s given the ability to deploy it on their own. They can adopt the product without best practices especially in a complex technology as a database. You can have people that can deploy using best practices from a relational product and then deploy that into a document store like ours.
Also, you have people that download open-source for exactly what it is. They have a build versus buy mentality. They don’t want to buy end services and Mongo didn’t have that kind of service when they first launched. Theirs were like, “I’m going to build my application from scratch.” They use a lot of built-in automation and into the cloud. The real strong usage around just using a free product to accomplish their need. When you get into open-source, you’ll run into that a little bit for people that want to adopt a free product to building a solution.
One of the incredible stories about MongoDB is the transformation they went through from a product and go-to-market perspective. Can you explain a little bit about that transformation and that new product that was added in and how it changed the dynamic at the company?
As an open-source product, it was early about driving adoption and then along the way monetizing through support and tooling to allow people to use and scale the solution. The problem with that product is in the middle where the subscription product was, for one, you’re attaching to customers that were at the end of their product lifecycle. They’ve already built the product and tested it. We were essentially selling support or tooling to help them manage the database. The product-market fit was there in regards to the database itself and MongoDB but it was also siloing the repercussions that we’re going after.
Early-stage companies and non-enterprise companies weren’t necessarily the ideal customer profile of this product fit. The reason why was because these companies were crowdsourced. They were innovative. They weren’t looking for a way to manage a database. They were looking for ways to go to market faster and realize value from the development team. When Atlas was created, it completely changed the game. Companies went from trying to figure out not only how they deploy MongoDB but use MongoDB on the backend. Also, how to manage the database for the first part, which is, “How do we use MongoDB competitively to differentiate ourselves in the market?” Whether it’s going to market quicker and realizing time–to–value in their development lifecycle. There’s also a PCL component to it where instead of hiring people, processes and technology to manage the database, now you’re buying a solution to help solve that. You’re just focused on being innovative and how you go to market.
It might be helpful to tell the audience what Atlas is from a product perspective and how that compared to the product you had existing.
Atlas is a database of servers. With our open-source versions, you can download and deploy the product itself. There’s still a necessity to patch, upgrade and provide infrastructure for the database itself. Atlas takes all that away from you with a couple of clicks of the button. You can implement security, deploy features like online archiving or the search function that we had built in within the product. You can do automated backups all built within the product. We fixed all the operational overhead. With a subscription product that we’ve sold for many years prior to Atlas and even PCA is a product in which you can get a warranty identification. We provide you with support and some tooling to help you manage the database but you still have to do a lot of the operational overhead to keep the database up and running.
It’s pretty clear that there was a huge product transformation going from an open-source licensed product to a cloud-managed service product. A lot of people forget that impacts other parts of the business. Can you specifically talk about what type of sales transformation that required?
Atlas is launched in 2016, which is identical to the service. I joined in 2017. At the time, our revenue from Atlas was less than 3% and the company was known for various reasons. When I joined the company, there was still a large emphasis on enterprise advancement and a lot of focus there. I noticed that there was one team that was starting to pivot their focus on selling the database as a service. They were looking at things completely differently. It was a focused territory management exercise. It was identifying the ICP and going after an expand model.
I remember I flew to New York, sat with that team and learned what they did. I tried to understand the nuances of the solution. I when I came back to Austin, I took over the North America role and ultimately the global role implementing a lot of those processes was what changed the game for us a lot. What that was were a few things. If I was to give advice to people it’s that territory management is probably one of the biggest overlooked aspects of any sales opportunity. Understanding what type of customers you want to go after, how many accounts each rep should have, the type of account that you want to go after. From there, there’s a marketing message that you want to drive and a persona that you want to go after. That was a big change.
Also, there was a fundamental shift in how we sold. It was less about trying to find the $100,000, $200,000 deal. It was more about what the ideal customer profile is. What person within the company is a champion for managed services? How do we latch on to that person that’s trying to drive change within the company? Let’s just land small. Let’s do a $5,000 or $10,000 deal. Make sure that we have professional services and an in-house services team that’s excellent in educating the customer.
Once it went in that way, it was such an easier opportunity for us to continue to upsell and grow with that customer long–term. That changed the game completely in the way that we went to the market and the way it’s sold. There was some hesitation I can remember in the sales team because they weren’t used to finding those big enterprise advanced deals. In any change, the status quo has a large center of gravity. They’re all tying back to the why. Constantly communicating and giving strong examples of them building out a proposed way to get to your number from a sales perspective like, “You’re going to miss the first two quarters. That’s okay because I want you to build a pipeline. I want you to land small. All those small deals that you’ve landed are going to be huge for your Q3 and Q4 of the year.”
That’s the sales process. There’re so many changes in our finance team doing sales productivity and from our sales ops team so on and so forth. What I like to tell people is that I come at it from a sales perspective. There was so much that we did and everything was explained. It’s a true culture shift in the way that we went to market when we made this change. A lot of companies are starting off product-led growth. If you are looking to make that transition, it’s truly a culture change that needs to be innovated from within.
In summary, I want to highlight those key points is moving to a managed service like Atlas allowed you to cover more customer segments. Before it was just the largest of the large customers that you were converting to paying customers. Also, it allowed you to have that sales conversation much earlier in the product experience.
Exactly. On top of that, the small and medium businesses that we’re adopting their product, we were looking for a needle in the haystack at the time trying to find companies that were willing to pay for that subscription licensing or tooling. A lot of startups that were born in the cloud, very innovative and tech-forward weren’t looking to add that type of licensing to their software.
Can you talk a little bit about the natural tension in open-source even with Atlas? One of the things you’re driving towards is that open-source is a great distribution strategy. It gets the product out there and in people’s hands. It gets people using it. What’s that natural tension between that mass distribution and then trying to monetize it? How do you manage the two?Sell the right solution to the right customer. Click To Tweet
That’s probably a great question for our product team. From what I’ve seen and how we’ve done it is it’s balancing how we market our products. Open-source is our core and where Mongo came from so that’ll always be in our DNA. At the same time, for us to launch a product as we did in Atlas, we have to go out into different segments of the market. I’ll give you an example. There’re employees that have been with the company for five-plus years. They were here before Atlas. In the early days of Atlas, there was a lot of misunderstanding of what we’re going towards. “Are we driving people to download a product? Are we driving people to try Atlas?” In our marketing messages, action items, white papers and things that we put on the website, reconfiguring where we want to drive people was a big conversation that we’ve had. We still have it as far as balancing open-source versus our SaaS product.
Prior to Mongo, I saw on previous conversations you’ve had where you said, “It was more like selling insurance rather than a product.” What do you mean by that? How did that position change?
The analogy that I like to use is to imagine you’re at a technology retail store and you go to buy a TV. You buy a TV, look at the TV, compare the TV, do some rating on the TV and then we go to the cash register. The person at the end says, “Do you want the 2-year insurance or the 5-year insurance on this thing?” At that point, the person at the cash register is being reactive to your entire customer journey, your entire process of buying the TV.
If you have someone that’s been there along the process, I’m sure you’ve bought TVs before in person so you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s comparing the TV, asking you questions about what kind of room it’s going to be in. What height it’s going to be. Do you watch movies or sports? You’re going to be tying you to the right TV at the moment and then also mentioned at the same time, “It seems like a big investment for you. It probably makes sense to do this type of warranty. Do you need someone to come to service it? Do you need someone to come to install it?” The entire process completely changed. If you think about the total ticket on both of those items, the 50/50 chance that you get the insurance sold by the register scenario.
The first one is potentially upselling someone along the way, you are getting them to potentially buy someone to come and hang the TV for them, accessories for the TV and then the support. That’s the best metaphor that I can give you for what I’ve seen in selling both products. When you‘re along the entire journey, you can attach to the biggest pain and need, a strong discovery and sell the right solution to the right customer. I come from a place where I’ve spent way too much money at Best Buy.
I like the metaphor. Oftentimes, if I get asked at the point of the cash register, I do decline it so maybe they will be better served if they had more of a high-touch experience during the process might have sold me on it. I think one of the other things you mentioned is that Atlas opened up conversations with the next-gen unicorn-type customers. How did that materialize from a sales perspective? How did you leave that?
For a lot of the companies, when we are focusing on the small and medium businesses with subscription products, there were high churn rates. The customer may not use support as much as we would like them to. For example, they would buy a one subscription license for $50,000 to get to the end of the term and they say, “We can probably manage it ourselves. We use support a lot. We are going to go back to the open-source version.” That was a difficult sell.
The product–market fit was there for the beta core database but the managed service was not existing. A subscription license being the only way to monetize the customer, it left the small and medium business team to get into some live fights when it comes to trying to close a deal. As Atlas came aboard, that changed because now a company that was a 3-person startup or a 10-person series A or series B or maybe they’re in Sapphire’s portfolio. When they start up and they’re thinking about how to go to market, they’re not focused on building out a full-fledged ops team or someone to manage their databases.
They’re thinking about how can we go to market faster? How can we disrupt the market? How can we go after the major player in the market or pioneer a new way of doing things in this new market whether it’s a low code or no code type of situation? For those types of companies, not only will MongoDB be a great technology for them to use because of all the innovative qualities of the database but the managed service is a great fit for them. They can get to market faster and they don’t have to worry about managing the operational overhead of the database.
That’s important that you can then empathize with their biggest problem, which is speed, time to market and product feedback. Atlas opened up that conversation. When you prospect in a software sale environment, what made it challenging? How has that changed now as a result of that managed service delivery product?
For companies that weren’t in the self-service funnel, companies that were using the free version of the open-source version, it was difficult because they had already gone into production. Their companies had already gone to market with the database. It changed the dynamic of how we sold and what we sold. Prospecting into a customer that’s been using MongoDB for three years and expecting them to welcome you with open arms because you have this new service now.
Don’t get me wrong, we did have several customers in the early days that weren’t aware of our managed service. I thought that was an opportunity for us to change the way that we market and those sorts of things. In the early days, it was about either building awareness around a managed service or finding customers that were using the open-source version and being discovered. We’re selling a managed service so doing discovery around what I call a noble term but people process technology.
For example, who are the people responsible for the database? How long have they been there? What are their skillsets around managing the database? From the process perspective, how are you managing the database? How are you doing backups? How are you delivering security required by your customers? What technologies are you using to accomplish these processes? When you understand all those things, the goal of the sales team is to correlate all those things back to saying like, “Here are some inefficiencies in your business. This is how Atlas, our managed service, can solve a lot of these pain points.” That you’re building people processes or acquiring new technologies to solve. That was a huge shift in how we trained ourselves and how we sold.The root of sales is social interactions. Click To Tweet
As a result of Atlas, you developed three distinct customer channels. In a way, it diversified your go-to-market motion. One, being self-serve, the other being inside sales. Lastly, field sales. Can you elaborate on what each of those motions does and how they work together?
Our self-service funnel is our traditional product lead growth funnel whereas open source will always be the top of funnel broad-based feeding mechanism to our product in general. The self-service funnel is our first opportunity to monetize the customer through a product-like growth motion. If where developers want to try and use our product. You can swipe a credit card and be off and running. From that, we have our inside sales team that focuses on a specific segment of the market in which they are either outbound prospecting the customers to convince them to use MongoDB or even Atlas, the database and the service or they’re helping grow existing customers that are using the product. Sharing that they’re doing so with best practices and that we’re educating the market on these new workloads and what Mongo can do.
The same thing with the enterprise sales team, with Mongo being a disruptor in a large and adjusted market, there is a large opportunity for us to continue to educate our customers on how to use our products. Our enterprise sales team does similar to what the inside sales team does but they do so with much larger companies attached to some of the largest initiatives that are out there existing in the world focusing on legacy modernization projects and customers that are looking to launch a new application to defend against competition. We are going after new logos just as much as we are growing customers that we have now.
Before Atlas was created, we had the typical inside-outside sales teams, enterprise teams and the enterprise inside sales team is selling from the inside. We’re selling the product that we talked about. Open source will always be our top-of-funnel mechanism for driving adoption but the self-service engine was our first opportunity to gain insight into who was trying our product and monetizing people that were early on in using MongoDB.
Maybe they were prototyping and then they would spin up an Atlas cluster and start paying. They went into testing QA and paying more as they went into production. The self-service funnel, in particular, is one of our greatest customer acquisition mechanisms that we have as a company. You lay on top of that an inside sales team where most inside sales teams are overlays. They’re more of a transactional-type sales team. Don’t get me wrong, the inside sales deals are a little bit faster than the enterprise deals.
In the core DNA of what MongoDB is, our true differentiators in the market are two things. We have a heavy emphasis on enablement. It’s been 5X more than any other software company. The second one is the sales process. It comes from our board team and our executives having a strong sales process. It’s hard to be an inside sales team and not carry that DNA into your daily sales process. The inside sales team is focused on monetizing the open-source customers, calling on the self-service leads that we’re seeing in the funnel and working to grow those customers as time goes on.
Our enterprise, similarly, is going after companies that were using Mongo. They’re also latching themselves on to some large initiatives and enterprises that are running their legacy modernization or trying to build a new application to keep up with the disruptor in the market. They recognize that MongoDB is an innovative database to re-platform some of the legacy applications. The field sales team latching on to some of those big, multi-million and sometimes billion–dollar projects is how they go to market.
That’s helpful. It helps understand how you instrument those three teams. Are there signals where the self-serve team is feeding information to the inside sales teams to say, “These are the right prospects that you should be calling on,” and vice versa? Whether it’s product telemetry or different signals that you’re going off to feed that sales motion.
Like most software companies, there’s an NCL, PCL model that has been set up internally. The key is and the question that I always hear from people is at what point do you introduce salespeople. What role do salespeople play? Do you even have salespeople involved and all those things? The key piece there very early on, at least when I got the Mongo, there was a transition from selling the enterprise solution and to selling the managed service solution. The big difference there are a bunch of different things.
The kind of conversation that you have and what you’re qualifying from a sales perspective but also what you’re going after, ultimately. When you’re selling a managed service, you have to find a champion in managed services, to begin with. Someone that values buying a solution to solve the problem versus building. Secondly, it is important for us to try to be a land and expand model. It was risky in the beginning because we were going from sending $250,000 to $100,000 quotes out to saying, “Try the $20,000 and we’ll see you again in six months.” For a salesperson, in particular, those were the days that were difficult to believe in. I had to believe in it myself. It took a lot of courage from our team. I have great salespeople and I had a great team at the time that believed in where we’re going. To completely fundamentally change how we’re selling is a huge change that we made around, just going after smaller lands and knowing that the product was sticky enough for customers to grow.
To your question about telemetry, there were two logos with the extended spiking. We would see all those sorts of things and latch ourselves onto some of those customers. It was unsophisticated some years ago but you learn. That’s a huge part of the change. Not only are we changing in the way that we’re going to market from a product perspective but as a sales team, we were learning how we need to interact with these customers. Since then, we got much more sophisticated in utilizing our sales development team, a cloud team that we have and our inside sales team. The enterprise team is also doing the same thing. Figuring out which type of customers we should be latching on to, which projects are real and using our discovery process to build bigger.
That’s a great point you bring up there. The premium product, the managed service product typically has small lands and bigger expands. Who’s responsible for that in MongoDB? I see that’s another question a lot of organizations have. Who is then responsible for those bigger upsells? It impacts quota and things of that nature. Is your team responsible for that as well?
They are. That’s a real territory management exercise for us. Making sure that the customers or the reps that have installed base or some sort of opportunity to grow accounts, we’re constantly iterating on the territory that they do have in their name. We also have a strong customer success team. A lot of that customer engagement and adoption is being driven by our customer success team. When we pair up the account executives with the CSMs, it has given us a huge opportunity to grow. When there’s a lot of opportunities, like any sales team, to continue to look for ways to create more efficiencies and grow accounts in the proper way that we want them to. The process has been strong for us and the way that we go to market.
By moving to this new managed service product in this more holistic go-to-market approach and product suite, a larger sales team and your inside sales team. To act less as an overlay and a transactional team and operate more in an enterprise sales way even though they may not be the account executive. What do you mean by that? Can you explain that a little bit further?
We have corporate accounting executives. The enablement of sales processes is in Mongo’s DNA. When you come into Mongo whether you’re an SER, Senior Enterprise Rep, you’re trained on the same fundamental sales processes. For the inside sales team, if I can paint a picture for you, in 2017, 2018, there were still problems going. In the early days there were a lot of companies that were adopting the product that we had never spoken to before because of the product that we were selling. All of a sudden, you have this managed service that customers want to use early on.
Because it’s a consumption-based product and some of these companies were going through a series A, B, C or maybe even publicly traded but they weren’t quite decided from revenue or employee count. We’re walking into some hefty-sized deals quickly. Thankfully, we have a strong sales process internally. The sales team along with the other leaders on the team were trained to handle these accounts. We latched ourselves on to some big projects with high-growth companies that we’re proud to say they’re more of the MongoDB logos now.
You have a dedicated cloud team and they act between the self-service and your traditional sales team. Can you explain the role of that and why they are important in your sales process?
Early on coming from my last software company, I recognized that there are thousands of downloads coming into our SaaS product. Because we had such a strong outbound culture, I felt like those opportunities could be better served. We created two pilots. One was to see if we can move customers from free to paid in a more efficient manner. The second one was if we went to those cloud customers that were using the self-service product and didn’t try to get them onto a contract, didn’t try to get a big ACV deal out of them but nurture them. Try to understand how they were using Mongo and help them out in any way that we could through a completely different way of selling.
We learned that there was a huge opportunity for us to start to work better with our self-service customers, the ones that have adopted the product on their own and grown with Atlas on their own. For us, the team has evolved, a comprehensive change and it’s a much larger team now. We have a global leader now for that team. It’s a huge opportunity for us to continue to grow that team. I’ve talked to a lot of founders that are looking to grow their sales motion. What I constantly tell me is revenue is important but there’s a tendency to always gravitate towards like, “I have all these leads. I have all this data for my self-service product. How do I get a $1 million deal out of this customer? How do I get the $500,000 contract?”
To be honest with you, it’s almost the anti-pattern of how you want to engage with these customers. Focusing on customer success early is important. Making sure the customer is successful on your application or on your product is important. Latching on to the customers’ goals is important. If you can do that effectively and not worry about trying to earn the contract, the ACV, the ARR or MRR will grow over time. That’s a big learning for us and the team as we continue to evolve and adapt.
Is that team a customer success team for the self-serve users? Do they carry a quota that they need to close? When it turns into a sales opportunity or a larger sales opportunity, do they then pass that along to the dedicated sales team and enterprise account team?
It’s a mix. The comp plans are based on leading indicators that we want to focus on to make sure that they’re focused on making sure the customer is successful. They’re not a customer success team but they’re the hybrid of sales/customer success. As the product-led growth evolves, those nomenclatures get mixed over time. This team is focused on leading indicators that will drive an indicator of success. There are opportunities for us when accounts get a little bit complex or an account outgrows the cloud team, that we will nominate those accounts to move into a full sales cycle and move to the sales team.
For the most part, what we found is the cloud team is highly efficient to focus on the right things early on in the customer journey. As long as you set those things up correctly, the lifecycle of the customer is so much smoother. There’s an analogy that we use internally that our CRM created which was the bow and the arrow. Sometimes we try to focus too much on trying to change the direction or path of the arrow, whereas you want to make sure that the bow is pointed in the right direction and it’s the right velocity and focus there.
It’s interesting that you’ve created this hybrid specialist team for that cloud motion. I want to ask one more question on this. How do you identify then what comes from self-service should then go to the cloud or enterprise sales team? Is it an employee threshold or does everything go through the cloud team before it gets to the enterprise sales team?
Like most companies, we have account indicators, email domain indicators and those sorts of things. Those create MQL. Those indicate where we need to engage. At the same time, we’re also building out the muscle of identifying customers that maybe don’t fully adopt or go through that growth funnel. In any growth funnel, there’s attrition that happens throughout whether it’s the registration page or we’re unable to convert the MQL. We’re in the process of building out some more BDR muscles to help catch a safety net outside of that growth funnel to make sure that we’re turning over every rock and making sure that we’re engaging with all the right customers. Once we do engage with the customer, there are indicators of complexity, potential growth and other indicators that give us the opportunity to nominate those accounts to go to a full-fledged sales team.
You mentioned the collaboration with marketing. It’s one of the things that’s oftentimes overlooked if your sales leader or if your marketing leader is the importance of that collaboration. Can you eye-level talk about how you collaborate with your marketing peers at Mongo and what you found successful especially in a sales motion that has that high-velocity approach where there is a wide funnel at the top?
We have a brilliant marketing team and team leaders but a lot of the conversations that we have are around messaging, what type of campaigns we should be running and what we’re seeing in the market. We could be running a campaign to target customers that are using a competitive product but the competitor’s product isn’t necessarily a direct competitor of Atlas. It’s more of a direct competitor of the MongoDB database. Trying to get customers to shift from a relational database to a non-relational database is more of a message that you can drive, for example. It’s a strong collaboration that we have when we’re getting feedback from the field back to marketing. Marketing is doing the same for us.
Are there stand-up meetings where you’re taking that feedback and giving it to the marketing team? Do you do that monthly? Is there a cadence or is it just when you find something interesting from the team, you’ll then relay that to marketing?
Yes, it’s biweekly one-on-ones with the marketing team at the moment is important for us. Something that they’ve implemented is they have a marketing QBR where they’re presenting to the sales team the campaigns they run and the results. We talk a lot about attribution, making sure that we’re attributing the right marketing campaigns to the right sales deals. One of the things that we’ve discussed especially in the product-led growth transition for our company is attribution. Attribution, typically for a marketing team, is a closed one campaign and how many closed one deals that we drive. In the product-led growth, our self-service funnel, potentially your measurement should be how many customers we get to pay on the product, which there isn’t necessarily a closed one deal. The conversations that we have there are great and collaborative.
When we made this change from open source licensing to databases and servers, there are so many things that you don’t think about. It’s a true culture change. Everything from the cashflow that you can be expecting to discuss compensation models to help sales ops measure productivity to marketing attribution. There’s so much to it that you have to be able to have an opinion, observe and learn, as well as react and adapt to the changes that you see. Use data but you’ve also got to make changes as we change the world.
That’s a good way to end it. We get back to the art, the science and the balance of those two things. This was a great conversation covering everything from selling to unicorns to a product transformation that led to a go-to-market transformation and selling cloud services. Expanding that story and how you organized your team around that. I like to end this show with a question that has nothing to do with enterprise tech but it humanizes the conversation a bit. I know, Javi, you’re in Austin, a popular place for Bay Area transplants. Can you give, for those Bay Area transplants that are coming to Austin, what’s the go-to barbecue food of choice for you?
There’s a saying in Austin, “Welcome to Austin but I hear Dallas is nice.” Maybe they’re responsible for the uptick in our square footage valuation of the houses. To answer your question, I’m born and raised in Austin, which is maybe a unicorn status these days. For my favorite barbecue, I always recommend people to go look at Texas Monthly. They have a Top 50 Barbecue Joints article that they constantly update. Central Texas is by far known as some of the best barbecues.
I always recommend people if they can do it to go up and Walker, Texas. It’s a small town of around 15,000, 20,000 people. It’s known as the barbecue capital of the world. It’s about 45 minutes South of Austin. They have 3 or 4 of some of the best barbecue places in one town. My favorite is Crutch because I love slides. At Kreuz, there’s no sauce and there are no forks. You have to get creative with how you eat the barbecue. That’s my personal favorite.
If there’s a personal favorite barbecue place in town, I live South so Salt Lake is more convenient for me. It’s more of an experience. If you’re from California but you love the country feel of Salt Lake, I always recommend Black’s for people that are looking for a good barbecue. I can go on and on about barbecue. Franklin is out there. LA Barbecue is also great. That place has a killer brisket. I’m a nerd when it comes to this stuff. I try to do my own barbecue. I follow seasoning, how people smoke and the type of wood that they use. People on the show may be thinking, “What the heck is this guy talking about?” It’s part of our culture and being in Texas. I managed to do a show with some barbecue.You have to believe in yourself, your product, and your team. Click To Tweet
Definitely, when I come out to Austin next, I’m going to check out all those spots. Javi, if people want to get in touch with you to talk about enterprise technology, selling and maybe even barbecue, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?
LinkedIn is great. I’m not much of a poster on Twitter but I could do some more followers if people are willing and able. My handle is @JavierMolinaSW on Twitter. On LinkedIn, you can find me at Javier Molina on MongoDB. I would love to hear from anybody with questions. I do try to do my best if people are looking to transition their company from either selling enterprise subscription model to PLG. If they’re just launching PLG, giving them best practices. I tend to take those phone calls to offer my advice. Feel free to reach out and I’m happy to be a resource.
This was a great conversation, Javi. I appreciate the time. I look forward to future conversations.
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