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PODCAST 109: Forget Checkboxes and Focus on Asking Better Questions with Patrik Svanström

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This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Patrik Svanström, Vice President of EMEA sales for Datadog.

Datadog is one of the hottest SaaS IPOs in recent memory. They are actually helping companies accelerate their cloud migration right now, which is happening across the economy, across the landscape as companies accelerate their transition using this COVID crisis as a means of accelerating their IT roadmap. Datadog is right at the center of it. So a really good conversation. Patrik has been a long time veteran of helping US companies enter EMEA, and he brings a ton of expertise and credibility to the conversation.

If you missed episode 108, check it out here: PODCAST 108: An Honest Conversation About Race in Corporate America with Devante Lewis-Jackson

What You’ll Learn

  • Who is Patrik Svanström and what is Datadog
  • The biggest mistake non-European companies make when trying to enter EMEA
  • The questions a company or a sales team needs to answer in order to build an effective, adapted, and scalable go-to-market motion
  • Why you need a combined top-down, bottom-up alignment to the customer decision processes
  • Right talent vs. wrong talent
  • How COVID-19 affects growth plans

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

    1. Show Introduction [00:09]
    2. About Patrik Svanström and what is Datadog [02:01]
    3. The biggest mistake non-European companies make when trying to enter EMEA [08:11]
    4. The questions a company or a sales team needs to answer in order to build an effective, adapted, and scalable go-to-market motion [11:23]
    5. Why you need a combined top-down, bottom-up alignment to the customer decision processes [13:47]
    6. Right talent vs. wrong talent [16:01]
    7. How COVID-19 affects growth plans [22:07]
    8. Sam’s Corner [29:45]

Show Introduction (~300 words) [00:09]

Sam Jacobs: Today on the show we’ve got Patrik Svanström, the vice president of EMEA sales for Datadog. If you don’t know Datadog, you absolutely should. They are one of the hottest SaaS IPOs in recent memory. They are actually helping companies accelerate their cloud migration right now, which is happening across the landscape as companies accelerate their transition using this COVID crisis as a means of accelerating their IT roadmap. Datadog is right at the center of it. Patrick has been a long time veteran of helping US companies enter EMEA, and he brings a ton of expertise and credibility to the conversation.

Now, before we get there, we want to thank our sponsors. We have two sponsors. The first one is Chorus.ai.

As companies adapt to this new normal, keeping your sales team moving together as more central than ever. Chorus.ai is a conversation intelligence platform that provides key insights into the sales conversation your team is having every day. Record, share, review, and coach your team based on the voice of your customer. With Chorus.ai, get your reps to hit quota consistently, ramp your new hires faster and replicate your unicorns through coaching initiatives, all while together or fully remote. Go to Chorus.ai/sales-hacker to try it for yourself. That website again is Chorus.ai/sales-hacker to try it for yourself.

Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform that enables sales reps to humanize their communications at scale, from automating the soul-sucking manual work that eats up selling time to providing action-oriented tips on what communications are working best. Outreach has your back.

Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Patrik Svanström.

About Patrik Svanström and Datadog [02:01]

Sam Jacobs: We are delighted today to have Patrik Svanström on the show. He is the VP of EMEA sales for Datadog, one of the top-growing SaaS companies, one of the big IPO stories from last year. And Patrick has built his career helping large enterprises enter Europe. Looking through his LinkedIn, he’s run many teams for EMEA for some of the best corporations in the world.

He’s got over 25 years of deep SaaS and technology experience and B2B tech leadership and sales roles. He’s worked at Xerox, PTC, the very famous PTC which spun out so many incredible sales leaders, EMC Oracle, and now again VP of EMEA sales at Datadog for the last two years. We’re excited to have him on the show. Patrik, welcome.

Patrik Svanström: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

Sam Jacobs: There’s probably three or four people in the world that don’t know who Datadog is, so give us a little bit of background on the company and also how you got there.

Patrik Svanström: If you are a developer or you’re in IT operations or actually a business person in any company and living through the cloud age today, you would use the Datadog platform to monitor and analyze what you do. And we’re starting to become that standard platform in the cloud age these days.

We’re one of those hyper-scale companies, especially in the space we are in today. And I think one of the key reasons customers spend money with us and we’re growing is that we actually allow them to do these incredibly fast movements into new modern applications that drive their business.

I came into EMEA two years ago. And they had got started in the mid-market back then, so it was a solid team in Dublin. Roughly, we had across EMEA 40 persons, and now we grew dramatically over the last two years up to 110 persons, and we’re basically with feet on the ground in every single country across EMEA, and that growth is accelerating as we speak.

Sam Jacobs: Let’s go back a little bit, just tell us a little bit about your career. How did you originally get into sales?

Patrik Svanström: I grew up in a small family business in Sweden, actually a flower shop, and too many customers complained about how I put together a flower bouquet, so I realized that that wasn’t my gig. My sister was much better than me on that. But I did love the customer conversations already back then, and a couple of customers we had in that shop, they came into the shop having their nice cars parked outside and I tried to understand, “Well, what are these guys doing?” And it turned out many of them were in sales.

I guess I got my way to dream back then and decided, I’m going to get into sales. Back then, now we’re talking mid-’80s, so this is a long, long time ago, there were two companies really you would consider if you wanted to get trained and that was Xerox and IBM, and I was very lucky. Even though I didn’t have a university degree, I was accepted to get into the Xerox training school, which was a lucky strike. I’m super grateful for that, and I had seven amazing years in Xerox.

Xerox back then was an innovative company. And I walked through the different, I mean very hardware-centric company and developing mainframe printers and all cool stuff back then.

I felt the software was something I truly wanted to get into and that’s how I ended up in PTC and had a couple of amazing years there with great leadership and learned to manage. And from there I guess my curiosity grew into different sectors, into different IT spaces, different company DNAs. And then two years ago I came across this company, Datadog. Was lured into a conversation with the founders and my current boss Dan in the New York headquarter and realized this is one unique opportunity to join the rocket ship.

Sam Jacobs: Yeah, we love Dan Fisher over here at Sales Hacker. He was on the show last year. So my question is, have you always been running or building EMEA teams?

Patrik Svanström: I haven’t lived outside Europe. I built a couple of remote sales teams in a few Swedish startups I helped out in the past, but I haven’t had the benefit of living over there yet, unfortunately.

The biggest mistake non-European companies make when trying to enter EMEA [08:11]

Sam Jacobs: What do you think the biggest misconception or mistake people make is when they’re a United States company or a non-European company trying to enter EMEA?

Patrik Svanström: I think the biggest misconception is that EMEA isn’t one market. It’s actually many, many different languages and many different business DNAs, cultures and go to market models. So that’s the complexity I guess.

Sam Jacobs: Does that mean that people… Because I’ve seen that I myself, you need a German speaker and you need a Dutch speaker, et cetera, et cetera. It’s not enough to just simply send a bunch of US expats over to Dublin and hope everything will spin up. But do you think that that results in mis budgeting, basically people under forecasting or under planning in terms of how much money they need to invest to stand up in an EMEA operation?

Patrik Svanström: Yeah, I guess in the early days. Today there is a lot of knowledge around the market opportunity and market size and the priority of them. I think it’s more a level below that. If you take Southern Arabia, you have a very high dependency on partner ecosystems. Even if you are in the top enterprise segment. If you are in Germany, you typically have to be very engineering in terms of how you approach even C-level customers. C-level of customers typically knows as much, sometimes even more about your technology than you do yourself. So there are those generic differences in the market. I think as an American company, you get that value by having local knowledge when you go to Europe.

Sam Jacobs: When you’re thinking back on your days at PTC and Xerox and now reflecting on the team, the hundred-plus people that you’re leading at Datadog, what do you think the key changes to the sales motion or the sales process have been?

Patrik Svanström: So today working in the tech sector, you actually don’t work in the tech sector, I used to say. Tech is every customer’s core business today, especially if you’re selling software that supports the business, and therefore, you have to be in the go-to market model. You got to have a much deeper understanding of what is actually going on in that market with the customer in that industry vertical, what kind of local ecosystems is being built up in finance, in the automotive sector, in healthcare, et cetera. Without that insight and having that running, how you prioritize, and how you educate people, how you structure the sales teams, and the partner teams, then you lose a lot of the opportunity. That wasn’t the case when you had cool tech 15 years ago, you started to sell the first internet server, et cetera. Then you had a cool product and it did deliver the value.

RELATED: Build Product Readiness Before Moving to Enterprise: 3 Questions You Need to Answer (Part 1)

Questions to build an effective, adapted, and scalable go-to-market motion [11:23]

Sam Jacobs: So your point is the product’s not enough. What questions do you think a company or a sales team need to answer in order to build an effective, adapted, scalable, go to market motion?

Patrik Svanström: You got to first look upon what the actual customer appreciates and value that you deliver. I see in a lot of startups having amazing, super cool technology doing things much better than other technologies, but if you can’t translate that into a value that the customer appreciates and acknowledges you deliver that value that then you have a shallow issue to start with and then of course, how easy is it for the customer to derive and accept that value? What type of sales cycle do you have and who needs to appreciate that? Is your product mature enough? Is it hardened or is your service hardened enough to quickly scale out all your marketing and business development motion? I think having an understanding of those elements is key to the right size and also have the right type of customer approach.

Sam Jacobs: That sounds completely accurate. How do you teach that? Do you use medic? Do you use some of the methodologies that were developed at PTC and Miller Heiman back in the day?

Patrik Svanström: At Datadog, we’re definitely past that business development phase. We have a super-hardened product that is widely accepted in the market and the value creation from customers’ experience when they start to use us is apparent many times. So for us it’s about how to rescale this to have as big a market outreach as we can as fast as possible. And when you go into that notion, you have to have a process-oriented approach and medic is for sure the framework we used to qualify every single sales engagement. I think the two main pieces we use are, do we have an acknowledged and customer verified pain slash business opportunity in there. And do we have a champion who will help us go after and secure that the customer actually gets to that value?

RELATED: Moving to Enterprise Sales (Part 2): 5 Go-to-Market Prerequisites You Need to Succeed

Combined top-down, bottom-up alignment to the customer decision processes [13:47]

Sam Jacobs: Gartner has been talking about how the average number of decision-makers in an enterprise sale has continued to increase. It used to be around 5.4 now some people estimate over 11. Is that the case in EMEA sales as well that multi-threading and engaging multiple parts of the organization is as critical as it has ever been in order to drive an opportunity forward?

Patrik Svanström: A very good question. I think in the SaaS world and the consumerization of also complex data center technology, clearly the bottom-up sales approach where you land with the use of base is very successful and an accurate approach. We definitely have that approach as a company as well as your product turns into more and more of a platform and that platform becomes strategically important than, and also sometimes the average sales price grows dramatically. You have to have top-down support and that’s when the politics start to come into play and you will have different stakeholders having different views and then coming from different value bases. So we’re definitely looking more and more on a combined top-down, bottom-up alignment to what were the customer decision processes.

Sam Jacobs: What do you think the biggest driver is for you between success and failure as the VP of EMEA sales and how do you think about executing your plan? What are the key inputs?

Patrik Svanström: As I mentioned, we are in a super scale situation, so clearly, when I talk to the people, I say we have one single big competitor today and that’s time. The time you have had on your wrist right at the clock. And the way you manage that is for us to attract the right talent with high velocity, you’ve got to always be precise. That’s when you attract the wrong talent and that costs you much more than attracting the right talent too early. So that goes both for leaders and individual contributors and sales for sure.

Right talent vs. wrong talent [16:01]

Sam Jacobs: What’s the right talent? What’s the wrong talent?

Patrik Svanström: We look a lot at the ability to be hungry and curious. I’ve been in the business 25 years, I tell you, I still the last two years learned as much as I did the last 10 years in this company. We’re so focused on being curious, develop people. Our enablement program is probably the best I’ve seen since I was back in Sierra. They focus on enabling people to take on this market with a better approach that’s been done before is key. So that willingness to learn even if you are a senior leader or if you’re coming in as an SDR is a key element for us.

I think when I look on how to build the teams to different regions, I truly believe that the blend of talent is super crucial. So we definitely put in some pretty seasoned people, both in the leadership and individual contributor roles and we blend that with some very early trajectory career folks. The key thing there is on the leadership side, you’ve got to ask yourself, “would I even if I’m young, if I’m more tenured, would I like to work for this guy?” This is it the right type of job, is it the right type of leadership talent? Is it enough each year, et cetera on each of the leadership levels.

Sam Jacobs: How do you develop them? Do you have a formal leadership development program? How do you think about helping people? If you’ve joined as an SDR, what’s your career path at Datadog?

Patrik Svanström: It’s pretty well mapped out. So we have structured, right now we have a remote program that people follow with a lot of online tests and the manager, regardless of what role you are in, have weekly, monthly, quarterly checkpoints where you interact and see if you are following the learning curve but that’s mostly the knowledge piece. Then you have of course the skills and the leader piece where the one on one coaching that we spend a lot of time on is key as well. So that learning, that coaching piece is central to how we operate.

Sam Jacobs: How has the team responded and what changes have you made to respond to the COVID-19 crisis?

Patrik Svanström: Number one, it’s super important to understand that each and every individual is impacted by this in different ways. You have the worst situations. I have friends who lost a close person. So you got to be very sensitive to that. People actually have severe situations and today is the time to really be sensitive to that and hug people rather than push too much. That goes for customer conversations to employees when we hire people, et cetera. So that is the most important thing. Be much more sensitive to exactly what kind of situation is the person in.

But then we look actually at every single process, every single type of engagement we have. Everything from how we prospect to how we coach people to how we hire, how we onboard people. And we made sure that we have an online way of doing that. Even some of the social things. So we end the way, it’s now with the virtual Friday beer, which the first two weeks was a little bit weird, but now actually people are looking forward to it. Then people come to that with a beer or soda or whatever they think you are right.

Sam Jacobs: I imagine that across EMEA you have some experienced field sales reps that have relationships in the market. Have you tried to put in activity metrics for calls per day, emails per day, for experienced leaders as you try to essentially transition a field sales team to an inside sales team?

Patrik Svanström: Those have actually been there all the time even before COVID, so we were very metric-driven and tried to find the quality improvement opportunities in the metrics. touched upon one thing here is that especially the experienced guys, the enterprise large account salespeople, they are used to prospect and do customer meetings face to face and interestingly enough here we even use star younger inexperienced it inside sales team to enable the field sales team on how do you accomplish that customer intimacy in a remote fashion? So that’s interesting to see how sometimes the experience sharing actually goes that way as well.

Sam Jacobs: Do you have any key insights that the youngsters shared with the old folks that we can take back to our audience in terms of establishing rapport with the customer over zoom?

Patrik Svanström: Yeah, I think it starts with the reach out, right? And clearly being more personal, more relevant these days is key. We also see that even connecting to C-level people that it can be more challenging for some people has been easier now. So we actually raised the bar. I think just having that mental decisiveness that this can be done as a rep and go and do it and be, as I said, a little bit humble but still focused and business-centric. It’s been working well for us.

How COVID-19 affects growth plans [22:07]

Sam Jacobs: How does the COVID-19 crisis impact your growth plans? Are you not building offices, building offices. What’s your outlook on the length of time that you think this will impact the global economy? What are your predictions?

Patrik Svanström: I guess you got to be a little bit careful. We’ll have a few days away from our earnings call where they will get some forward-looking statements. So I won’t be precise there, but I can relate to what we see in a couple of analysts saying the last couple of days, which is many of the cloud transition projects, which are fundamental drivers for our business is actually accelerating now. So I think that’s a good thing. And we definitely see that in EMEA as well. Clearly there are some businesses in our line of hospitality that are pausing, but we also see a lot of sectors actually accelerating because their businesses are booming. And also as I said, the bigger taxation and the transformation focus is if anything increases that its the right thing in many businesses. So I feel pretty bullish about our opportunity and so far we’re continuing to hire all over the place and we’re continuing to open up new offices.

Sam Jacobs: Has the crisis changed your point of view on how many people can work remote versus how many people have to be in an office?

Patrik Svanström: I think the entire world right now is learning from this. That’s my absolute personal perspective and I think there’s definitely parts of the engagement that we will see. It’s actually super effective to have remote work options. While I think the personal interactions you have will also be much more beneficial and focused on whatever is the purpose of that interaction. So I think at the end of day the efficiency will increase and the value of personal meetings will increase, but for sure the face to face experience when you do some trust-building in a launch, businesses will still be there that I’m positive of.

Sam Jacobs: What do you think are the big mistakes people make when they try to just take something off the shelf like a medic or med pick and apply it to their business? What advice can you give those companies?

Patrik Svanström: I think we interview almost every single candidate that comes into an interview with us today, claiming they know medic and many of them know potentially what the abbreviation stands for. But when I back in the days went into my first medic training, you spent like one full day looking into what is champion, what is champion building? How do you test development? How many champions do you need and exactly why do you need that many champions? I think today this has become a framework that is so standardized that many people don’t think enough underneath what is there and go into what is actually the true sales skills. That’s when it starts to get dangerous. If you use medic as a leader to coach and qualify deals and you rush through it and then think that you have the job done and people move on, then you might continue to work on deals you shouldn’t work on or spend a little time on deals where you should actually explore much more.

Sam Jacobs: What’s your point of view if you’re giving advice to people that are starting off their career on how they should manage their career over the next 10 years or so?

Patrik Svanström: I think the biggest mistake one can make when you’re early in your career is to not understand how long your career will be. You’re going to spend 20, 30 perhaps 40 years in business if you like doing that. And whatever you learn today, you will capitalize on over so many years. So I think the key element if I were young today again, I would… And I was lucky, I ended up in Xerox back then who had such a focus on enablement, coaching, and building professionals and I think that should be a key deciding factor, whether that’s a large or small company. And I’d say sometimes the very small companies, the real serious AB startups, might have a strong leader but they might not have time or processing in place to develop people like that. So I think that if you’re investing in yourself and that will pay off over time if that answers your question.

Sam Jacobs: What are some of the great things that have inspired you?

Patrik Svanström: I think being in sales and in business these days is one of the most fantastic jobs you can have if you work across industry sectors. You participate in a transformation of society and business that is faster than ever. And beyond learning, the core sales methodology is force management, medic, et cetera. Be interested in the market and what you actually do and get some fundamental ways of doing that. But back in my early days, I read a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins. That was 2000. There was a book, Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore describing a little bit of how markets develop and what is accelerating or stopping you to be successful. I think going a little bit beyond just reaching your quota, building your PG number, and getting a little bit more interested will actually have an exponential effect on how fun and how rewarding your job will be.

Sam’s Corner [29:45]

Sam Jacobs: Hello everyone at Sam’s corner. This is Sam Jacobs, a great conversation with Patrik Svanström from Datadog. A couple of things stood out to me. Patrik is a veteran of the sales methodologies and has learned from the best. At the same time, methodologies like medic and qualification frameworks and sales frameworks, they’re great, but they’re dangerous traps. If you use them as checkbox exercises rather than developing a deeper understanding and asking better questions. And so much of sales is just the ability to be curious and to ask great questions. And I think if you can really focus on your ability to ask those questions, I think you’ll succeed.

The other thing is that people think about entering EMEA as a continent. And that’s because they think of North America as a continent. I can call anybody, its common borders. I can build a sales team that speaks English and I can do my business. And the reality is that you can’t. And that’s why going into Europe, going into EMEA is often a more expensive exercise than people anticipate because it’s not just about building an office in Dublin or London or Barcelona and just hiring of a bunch of inside sales reps and having them hit the phones because there are differences and they need to be able to speak the language and understand the cultural nuance and that’s something that really only true experts like Patrik can convey.

What We Learned

  • Who is Patrik Svanström and what is Datadog
  • The biggest mistake non-European companies make when trying to enter EMEA
  • The questions a company or a sales team needs to answer in order to build an effective, adapted, and scalable go-to-market motion
  • Why you need a combined top-down, bottom-up alignment to the customer decision processes
  • Right talent vs. wrong talent
  • How COVID-19 affects growth plans

Don’t miss episode #110

We want to thank our sponsors again, chorus.ai. Record, share, review and coach your team based on the voice of your customer with chorus.ai, get your reps to hit quota consistently, ramp your new hires faster and replicate your unicorns through coaching initiatives. Go to chorus.ai/sales_hacker to try it for yourself.

Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform. We’re so proud to partner with Outreach and we thank them for the support, and of course, we’ll talk to you next time.

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