Startup Sales Tips from Salesforce.com Veteran Leo Tenenblat

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AppMesh
Interviewee: Leo Tenenblat, Co-founder and CEO at AppMesh
Interviewer: Jorge Soto, Founder at Sales4StartUps
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Jorge: What’s your professional background and how did you get into startups?

Leo: After college I worked for a few startups, before going back to school for my PhD. Then I spent 6 years at salesforce, half in Sales Strategy and half in Product Management. I’ve always had this inclination towards “doing my own thing” and had a few false starts at building a tech startup in my early career. I also got exposed to risk-taking through a parallel life as an expedition cyclist, which is uncannily similar in principle to running a startup.

I never imagined I’d work for as large a company as salesforce, even at 1000 employees when I started. But I learned a lot there about how to run a company and Marc always instilled a startup-ey “be your own CEO” culture internally, which was phenomenal. In 2012 my co-founder Tom and I realized there was an opportunity in the market that just made sense to pursue as a standalone company, and here we are.

Jorge: You were at Salesforce.com for quite some time. What is your take on the current state of sales CRM and what do you believe that the future looks like for this category?

Leo: My sense is software is going through a renaissance in the mobile era, and we’re still in the early innings of that platform shift. Salesforce and other b2b software companies have done a great job addressing corporate needs but mobile is personal and business apps don’t usually excel on that front.

Nowhere is that more true than in sales apps, where you have to “beat reps with a carrot’ to get them to use the app. So my sense is the big bumps in value-add for business apps will come from a better personal ROI and experience for end users, either from the vendors themselves or from 3rd-party apps that integrate well with them.

Jorge: What is AppMesh and what was the vision behind building the product?

Leo: We built AppMesh to bring to fruition this vision of personal, company-connectable business apps on the mobile front. Our first app, SalesMesh is a personal CRM that covers the entire sales cycle and integrates with all communication channels to capture data automatically as it happens. Then we allow reps to route info to the company as they see fit. Our sole focus is on the rep: removing manual work, saving them time, and helping them sell more, it’s that simple.

Since we make the data flow easier, though, it means more data goes into the corporate CRM. That and the fact more deals are closed means it’s a win-win for the company too. As you can imagine, this personal lens can apply to other roles within a company as well – that’s our broader vision.

Jorge: What do you believe the impact of mobile has made on the way we sell and how do you envision it evolving moving forward?

Leo: Mobile has allowed people to free themselves from the desk and the office, moving deals forward and fostering relationships at all times. At least in theory. The pieces of the puzzle are all there but putting them together into a cohesive set of tools or processes that help sales happen still has a long way to go.

Mobile is still seen as just another endpoint by most vendors and that’s a mistake. The wealth of sensors and the OS ecosystems offer an immense opportunity not just for productivity bumps but entire new ways to drive collaboration and insight for salespeople.

Jorge: What does “sales” mean to you?

Leo: I take a pretty broad view of that term in the sense that it could be a standard sale of a product/service, or simply the closure of an agreement like fundraising.

At AppMesh, because we focus on individual people vs companies, the basic elements are the same regardless of company size or industry: you build and track relationships with various people over time and there’s usually a goal which the sales rep is trying to get everyone to agree to, usually a monetary one.

Jorge: What mistakes do early stage b2b startup founders make when planning their sales efforts?

Leo: It’s very common to underestimate the level of effort required to get your first customers. It always takes more time, more money, and the outcome isn’t necessarily the same as you expect from the onset. Generally speaking I always recommend making your best plans, then double the time and money to get the same results.

Understanding the market and painpoints is key also – too often I feel like startups start with interesting solutions and search for a problem, which is an uphill battle, vs the other way around.

Jorge: What do you think are the first few steps a b2b founder should follow when beginning to think about sales?

Leo: Think about the journey from the customer’s standpoint, and understand that the end goal is not a sale but a long-standing relationship as a customer, an advisor for your business, and ideally also a reference. Why would they buy? Why from you? Why now? How do they find out about you? How do they buy? How much of the decision is rational vs emotional? Why would they stay? Why refer?

The planning (and execution) should follow from all that. It’s all too easy to see sales as just a number but at the end of the day what really matters is people helping other people – achieve that alignment and everything else falls into place.

Jorge: What else should should readers know about AppMesh, early stage selling, or yourself?

Leo: While I’ve spent most of my professional career in b2b, and AppMesh is focused on business apps, our go-to-market approach is actually closer to a b2c. That said, most of my comments apply across the board.

Sales is all about working with people or brands that you trust and products/services that provide clear value. In that sense, our goal is do our part with SalesMesh to provide value to salespeople all around.

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