Atlassian has been able to build a great business what they call a ‘No Sales People’ model that leverages online technology to sell. Cameron Deatsch is Head of Growth and Acquisition at Atlassian and was kind enough to give us some insight into this innovative distribution model as well as his thoughts around sales teams and processes.
Is this the end of companies needing b2b sales people?!
Check out the interview below:
Jorge: You have been at great enterprise companies like Jive Software, BEA Systems and now at Atlassian. What would you say are the top 3 traits of a successful sales organization?
Cameron: I would like to preface my response with the fact that the most important components of a sales team’s success are the product, the market, and your go-to-market strategy. You can have the greatest sales team in the world, but without a differentiated product, a robust market and a well-thought-out plan to take that product to market, you are in for a world of hurt.
I believe that leadership, culture, and discipline are the three most important traits of a sales organization.
I can think of very few higher-pressure jobs than that of a VP of Sales at a rapidly growing tech company. A strong leader must develop the sales strategy, recruit quality talent, inspire the team, represent the market to the other company leaders, think long term, and of course, deliver on that quarterly number. The best sales leaders I’ve seen have a deep network of sales professionals that are willing to follow them into new and uncharted territory. These leaders are great at painting a vision for the company’s potential and take it as a personal mission to make each and every rep on their team successful.
The culture of the sales team plays a big part in the success of the company and quickly permeates the boundaries of the organization. While it always feels good when sales are going well, a strong sales culture is more important during those bad quarters – and you will have bad quarters. A strong sales culture keeps the company working as one, reducing or eliminating the finger pointing that often occurs between sales, marketing and product teams. While each company’s sales culture is unique, some common traits I’ve seen in higher performing sales teams are persistence, enthusiasm, camaraderie, trust, empathy, and most importantly, a shared desire to win.
Discipline in a rapidly growing sales organization is a difficult and rare thing. You may have great leadership and a strong culture, but you will never scale your sales organization without discipline. When I think about discipline, it’s all about repeatability. In the early years of a startup, it is very hard to understand what makes a successful sale. You are uncertain about your buyer, your value proposition, the buying cycle, your pricing, the size of your market, and the objections you will face. However, quickly identifying what works and what doesn’t – and codifying those learnings into your sales process, your compensation plans and your sales culture – are paramount to long term growth. Without this discipline, you will have sales team members going after any new opportunity that comes in the door pulling your company in directions it had no intention to go.
Jorge: Atlassian’s known for it’s `No Sales People’ strategy success. What should founders know about how to develop this type of sales model?
Cameron: They should know that it’s hard, and it takes a long time. Also, every potential investor, peer, or consultant would advise them against it. Once they get past those hurdles, the keys that make Atlassian’s model tick are:
- Self service – We make it as easy as possible to try and buy our products. We eliminate forms whenever possible. You can download and install our products without ever giving us any information. We make it easy for you to generate your own quotes and purchase licenses without ever speaking with a human. We constantly analyze our funnel, and our buyer’s journey, and have teams of people improving our systems and content to refine the self-service experience.
- Price – Atlassian’s products are a fraction of the cost of its closest competitors. Since we do not engage in sales negotiations, every customer gets the price that is published on the website. The downside here is that we leave money on the table, especially when it comes to larger enterprise customers. However, this is quickly countered by the large volume of business we do. Due to our pricing and self-service model, buyers can quickly bring our products into their businesses, often avoiding the more complex purchasing processes required for bigger-dollar transactions.
- Know the buyer – While Atlassian has expanded its offerings beyond software developers, software development remains a core focus for our business. Our founders, who are both developers, never wanted to speak with sales reps when trying new technology. They just wanted to try the tools. If it worked, they would buy it. If they had a question, they would prefer to read the documentation. This may not work for all markets or buyers. However, as information becomes more available and buyers can quickly connect with other buyers, I would argue that the industry is shifting much more in this direction.
- Data and experimentation – We ensure that we have a strong analytics and experimentation infrastructure across our funnel. We are capable of implementing experiments in ads, landing pages, registration forms, onboarding flows, product features, purchasing processes, email, and more. We dedicate teams of developers, marketers, and analysts to form SWAT teams to attack specific business outcomes. If evaluations of a certain product are down, the SWAT team attacks. We can quickly run dozens of experiments, analyze results, and implement changes into production in a matter of weeks.
Jorge: How does a purely self-serve offering work within high maintenance markets like enterprise level companies?
Cameron: Very simply, we treat everyone the same. Whether you are GE or a five-person startup, you are going to get the same products, support, and SLAs. From a marketing and sales perspective, this means we have to take a very different approach to traditional enterprise software companies. While any enterprise sales person will tell you “sell high,” Atlassian takes a completely different approach. We focus more on the individual and the small team within the business. We focus on that small group of developers that are frustrated with the set of standard company tools and are willing to try something new. The reality is that often our largest customers don’t act like a single large customer, but more as many different small customers within the same business.
However, eventually organizations get to a point where they want to standardize on our products across their business. For these businesses, Atlassian does provide a set of enterprise products and services: https://www.atlassian.com/enterprise.
Jorge: What tips would you provide young sales leaders around building high performing sales teams?
Cameron: When it comes to hiring, I would make sure that you hire individuals with a variety of different personalities and experience. In the beginning, you don’t know what is going to make your reps successful and you want to ensure you have a good mix of people on your team so you can quickly target what traits work and don’t work for your market.
When it comes to comp plans, territory assignments, and sales organization, simplicity is key. When you’re first building your team, resist the urge to over engineer your operations. The reality is, you’ll most likely change each of these items every year, if not multiple times throughout the year. When in doubt, pick the simplest solution that maps the individual rep’s success to the broader success of the company and its long term strategy.
Celebrate the wins but also learn from the losses. Celebrations around a big win or a strong quarter will come easy, and feeding this camaraderie and team spirit will pay dividends in the following quarters. However, do not bury the losses. While nobody likes to lose and even the best reps take it as a personal loss when a deal slips through their hands, much can be learned from a lost opportunity. Speak with the customer. Have the rep share the story with the team. Document the pitfalls and use these learnings to build stronger sales engagements in the future.
Jorge: What sales mistakes do you see b2b startups often making during the early stages?
Cameron: The biggest mistake I see is hiring ahead of the market or the business. In early stages, usually after the first round or two of funding, the company decides to go into hyper-growth mode. So what do they do? They come up with a huge sales target, divide that target by an estimated attainment goal per rep, and then go out and hire the sales reps. Before you go ramp up your sales organization, you need to make sure the rest of the company is ready to support sales. Are your leads growing commensurate with your sales growth? Do you have the product marketing, product management, and sales operations teams in place to support the sales process? Do you have the legal and back office processes in place to negotiate and process orders? Do you have the post sales support in place so reps can continue to work on new pipeline?
The second mistake is believing that 100 percent of growth must come from sales people. Direct sales and online sales should not be an either/or conversation. In addition to a direct sales force, companies should explore an online self-service model as well as a third party channel model. My first recommendation is to take a subset of your leads that represent a broad cross section of all your leads, and run marketing campaigns against them. Instead of handing the leads to reps so they can follow up and demo the products, send links to videos of your products. Instead of getting your pre-sales engineer on the phone to walk a customer through the installation and setup of your products, document the instructions in detail and post them on your download page. Make sure to watch your conversion rates. You may be surprised at the results.
The last mistake I see is committing too quickly to a single sales model and never experimenting on the sales process. Traditional sales systems get stuck in the rut of pipeline building, managing rep productivity and hitting quarterly goals. How does a marketing or sales team know a white paper shared outside of a reg form won’t have a higher effect on lead generation or conversion? They never test it. Territory and compensation plans can be a double-edged sword. They drive accountability to your reps but they also restrict your flexibility to try new things. Companies with new sales organizations should do their best to build flexibility into their sales processes so they can try new tactics without adversely effect the compensation of their reps.
Jorge: What are the top characteristics of top b2b sales people within an early stage startup environment versus a more established company?
Cameron: First and foremost, I’m looking for passion. Joining a sales team at an early stage startup is a high-risk, high-reward proposition. Due to the simple fact that there isn’t much sales support in an early stage startup, the rep must wear many hats. The rep must truly be passionate about the company, the products, and the opportunity because they will inevitably be taken well out of their comfort zone.
Second, I look for reps who are articulate and inquisitive. The best reps I’ve seen can run a one-hour meeting, accomplish all of their objectives, progress their deal, and largely let the prospect do the speaking. These reps continue to ask questions. They seek to truly understand the prospect’s goals and challenges. They use questions as a way to build trust and lead the prospect to the company’s solution.
Jorge: What are your favorite sales automation tools and why do you like them?
1. Salesforce.com – Because what else is there?
2. Showpad – This is a great application for delivering sales content to reps and to customers via mobile devices. This application solves one of the biggest challenges I had in marketing, which is ensuring that reps are using the latest sales collateral.
3. Toutapp – This is a great, easy-to-use email template and tracking tool.
4. Evernote – Each rep has their own way to take notes on an account. I find Evernote to be one of the easiest.