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My name is Simon Johnson, and I am the UK General Manager for Freshdesk, we are the fastest growing software start-up in the world, and today I am here to talk to you about Taking on a New Sales Territory and will recall my journey at Freshdesk to present day as it is has been quite an amazing experience!
Before I start, can I just get a feel for the demographics in the room. Please raise your hand if you are a CEO? A Founder? A VP Sales? A techie? Something else? Hopefully this will be relevant information for each of you to digest…
I have spent my last 16 years working in the IT industry, and have been involved in both hardware and software development companies. The last 13 years working for start up and scale up businesses building sales strategies and teams, the past 3yrs of which have been with Freshdesk.
My passion is working with people, and in particular working with sales teams to grow revenue, I will share with you today my experiences, challenges and recommendations for successfully growing and scaling software sales teams in new regions.
Let’s start with giving some context on Freshdesk…
My Freshdesk journey began with me needing a change in pace in my career. During my hugely enjoyable time at Redgate Software, I had successfully grown a team from 1 to over 50, this included teams in Cambridge, California and Singapore.
However I needed a change, I had become a little bored, and now that my home life was settling down after having two boys in quick succession I was needing a new challenge on the work front.
It was about this time that is when I received ‘the most intriguing call in my life’ from a head hunter asking me about joining a VC-fuelled Indian start-up company, to head their operations here in the UK. After having several rounds of video interviews with the CEO in India, VPs in the Valley, Investors in San Francisco and London, and whilst not actually meeting anyone from the company in person… I decided to accept the offer.
Ofcourse I’d love to say that this took a great deal of consideration and deliberation…
but ofcourse it didn’t! I was super excited and accepted the opportunity with a huge smile.
I remember one of my mentors once saying to me “a successful change in life, is a proxy for a successful person”… I have tried to live my life to this analogy
2 months later I found myself in Chennai, making my way to work in a country I had never been to, to meet colleagues I had never met before, and to begin my learnings to build a SaaS sales team from zero…
Let the good times begin right??!! What could possibly go wrong??
When thinking about the structure for my session today, I chatted with several CEOs and VPs of Sales, and the majority have said that everything begins with the WHY…
To get full buy-in from the organisation and the Board, you need to think this question through fully… it will also really help you to keep your strategy clear, and your remote region head focused on the important things…
Once you have a hypothesis for WHY, the very next question is WHO… not HOW
For Freshdesk, that WHY was driven by the customer, and this is the first important point. There was a pull from the market that had been corroborated by customers asking for f2f visits and local representation. The remote sales team based in Chennai were competing with the likes of Salesforce and Zendesk, and whilst Freshdesk were winning the SMB market hands down, which was the strategy at the time, there was a desire and a demand from the Board to go bigger and the only way to do that was to get some boots on the ground and take it to competition to give us a fighting chance.
The only way to grow new mid-size logos quickly, was to invest in a local sales operation.
From my research into talking with CEOs, Google Board members and VPs of Sales… the WHO question is actually the most important piece to the puzzle…
It is essential that you think about this person not only as an extension of your organisation and culture, but also someone that can handle adversity and rapid change on their own. This is where I have really grown in to this role, and feel a huge sense of pride building our UK operation from the ground up.
So who is this person?
Can someone tell me who this person is?
Well firstly, the person needs to be relevant for your answer to WHY are you entering a new market
“Successful change is a proxy for a successful person”
Test these areas by building questions around the themes… again these themes are relevant for the situation with Freshdesk at the time, however there could be other reasons why you are starting a new team. Flipping from CEO to me
Having returned from my amazing trip to Chennai, super excited and ready to get stuck in to my 25-page plan that I had put together, I had my new Apple MacBook, I had Freshdesk t-shirts, basically I was completely ready to taek on a new territory… alas… I quickly realised that no plan can really stand up to the harsh realities of being truly on your own, sitting at your desk in your office at home, your nearest colleague being 6000 miles away, your children running around you, feeling jet-lagged, thinking about impressing the Google Exec Board, and feeling more than a little exposed I can tell you… perhaps not a lot different to starting your own company I guess!
Who in the room has felt like this in their careers before?
Therefore, there was only one thing to do…
One of my pet hates… get out there and learn how to do the job you are about to hire for and manage!!!! It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it fifty times before, go and learn the job and get your hands dirty…
Get to know your Customers:
What were their buying triggers? This is the key question to have answered in any business Build a picture of your top customers in the region Make a list of the use cases and go and visit them to show them some love Verticalize your thinking to help you take on more defined targets. Thinking wide at an early stage is lethal Get some quick wins to give you and your CEO early confidence Chars of customers – Sector, Size, Technology
2. Build relationships:
They will support you They will reference you They will give you what you need to build a vertical strategy and support for your sales team Touch on checklist for a potential vertical
3. Locate for Success:
Attracting people to an early stage start-up is hard… location of the office can really help and shouldn’t be underestimated What levers can we play with to attract talent? Where are your competitors based? Are there meet ups you can tag along to?
Once you have thought about these areas, the next thing is to build your team…
What are the key questions when making your first hires?
You’re only focus at this point is the following - Can they survive in a start-up?
My view on initial hires is that you want people that will grow with you. If they are not team players willing to deal with rapid change in a dynamic environment, then a new office isn't for them Make your initial hire someone that can become your successor. If this office is successful, you'll need someone to offload some of the management tasks associated with running the office so that you can focus on growth
2. Think process, not Enterprise My first sales hire into the office… had never had a Sales role in his life
1. Blended staffing Have an office with some staff transferred from home base and some local hires. That way a good connection with home culture is formed but you also get access to local customs and networks.
3. Look for diversity What is the culture of the head office, and what is the culture you are looking to create. Be careful not to hire mirror images of yourself because they make you feel comfortable and safe
Moving forwards you now have the makings of a fantastic team, however how many people in the room have sold an Enterprise product before, or are used to dealing with mid and Enterprise companies…
Ofcourse, loads and loads of revenue and we all live happily ever after…
That would be nice wouldn’t it…
The cold hard reality is that this is really hard, and all I can do is to make recommendations based on my experiences and the feedback from CEOs… however, when speaking with my CEO last week, he made this very very clear… there is no silver bullet, you may get a couple of gimmies with account management, or an early win or two, but the reality is that this is longer term project.
As a CEO and Board, you must buy-in to this…
I have listed a couple of things that will help this transition to try to close the time up a little…
Encourage visibility and transparency
No-one likes a surprise, least of all the CEO of a Unicorn software company…
Avoid surprises at all costs
Top 3 Frustrations from Regional Leaders…
The two teams won’t align. One will just quietly deviate from what you’d said you’d do, which means we can’t share work and best practice that easily.
Top 3 Frustrations from CEO/Founders…
I wanted to finish my presentation by saying that 2 years ago… I had hair… and also looked a lot younger… but as hard and frustrating as setting up a remote operation can be, it is hugely rewarding and certainly an experience I will take with me for the rest of my career… and remember, a successful change is a proxy for a successful person. I'm not even half way there in my journey yet…
Thank you for your time, please do fire away with any questions you may have…
Taking on New Territory: The 3 Pillars of Successful Conquest: Simon Johnson
Taking on a New Territory –
The Key Take Outs
BoS Europe - #BoS2017
● Founded: 2010 in Chennai, India by Girish and Shan
● Mission: To provide software for businesses of all sizes and make it refreshingly easy for them to engage with
● Products: Freshdesk (SaaS Customer Support), Freshservice (SaaS ITSM), Freshsales (SaaS CRM)
● Customers: 100,000+ in 145 countries
● Offices: San Francisco, London, Sydney, Chennai, Berlin
● Investors (totalling $160M): Google Capital, Sequoia, Accel Partners, Tiger Global Management
Key take out #1 – Business Strategy
Why are you considering taking on a new region?
Key take out #2 – Leadership
The WHO is the single most important piece to the puzzle
Ideal profile and experience…
• Local market knowledge
• Evidence of getting stuff done
• Great communicator and relationship builder
• Success with size of target customer
Key take out #3 – Lead by example
Those who can, do… those who can’t, manage
Advice for CEO’s and Founders…
1. People not respecting meeting start times and end times
2. Too much time spent doing admin tasks
3. Assumption that everything has to be done how it is done in other
Advice for Regional Leaders…
1. The desire to work as one team… but invariably operating as two
very different teams
2. New team not taking time to build relationships… and then trying
to make organisation and process changes
3. Remote Leaders ‘going quiet’