As a serial founder, Pete has built up an impressive library of knowledge on scaling businesses and optimizing sales motions. In this episode, he shares how he fell into the sales leader category and his advice for others who want to do the same.
If you missed episode 87, check it out here: PODCAST 87: How to Pitch Category Creation to Your CEO or CFO w/ Anthony Kennada
What You’ll Learn
- How selling as a founder will help you understand your sales motions
- Why your ability to teach sales reps will help scale your business
- How sales can be instrumented
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Show Agenda and Timestamps
- Show Introduction [0:07]
- About Pete Kazanjy / Atrium [2:16]
- Learning as you go [4:34]
- To establish strong sales motions, do it yourself first [9:29]
- Identifying a business pain [14:27]
- Common pitfalls for sales organizations to avoid [22:03]
- Arming yourself with knowledge of your product [34:35]
- Sam’s Corner [41:34]
He then created the community that a lot of folks in startup land know as something called MSP, which is modern sales professionals. It is the largest email discussion group that I know of talking about sales operations in the world.
He’s also the founder of a company called Atrium. And he’s also the author of a book called Founding Sales. The whole point is Pete has taken his experience building companies, but also the experience that was a requirement for him, which was learning how to do sales, learning how to do sales effectively. And he has indoctrinated that it cross a wide range of functions and content so that the rest of us can learn.
We talk in this episode about when you should hire for salespeople, how you should think about scaling sales and what are the things that you need to look for as you’re trying to build and grow business. And it’s really, really interesting stuff.
We’re excited to have Pete on the show. He’s a well known figure personality and dare I say friend. Now before we get there, we want to thank our sponsors. We’ve got two sponsors today. The first is DocuSign. Every sales org feels the pressure to close deals faster. Take control with a DocuSign agreement cloud, a suite of tools that automated sales contracts and quotes all in your CRM. Great custom contracts, get them signed and pull data back into your opportunities. See why more than half a million businesses use DocuSign with a free trial and discount exclusively for Sales Hacker listeners, go to go.docusign.com/saleshacker for more information.
Our second sponsor’s Outreach, that’s outreach.io, the leading sales engagement platform. Outreach support sales reps by enabling them to humanize 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 our interview with Pete Kazanjy.
About Pete Kazanjy / Atrium
Sam Jacobs: Pete is the founder of a company called TalentBin that he sold to Monster.com, he also founded one of the leading sales communities out there a couple of years ago. It’s called MSP for short modern sales pros, so he’s one of the most regarded and well known voices in the space because he curates and manages this community that must be over 10,000 people at this point.
He also is the founder of a company called Atrium and he’s also the founder of a not for profit called Tech For Campaigns that is deployed on behalf of democratic candidates and giving modern demand generation technology in order to help people run for office all over the country.
Tell us in your words what you’re doing right now and tell us a little bit about whatever initiative you think is most interesting.
Pete Kazanjy: I like to fancy myself kind of accidental sales leader in so far as I’d done up until five or six years ago, my background was primarily in product management and product marketing and I got into sales and revenue acquisition through necessity from my last software company, TalentBin. It’s been a really fantastic journey to learn all about modern go to market and then learn about it and then start being one of the forward voices in the community.
I wrote a book on sales for founders called Founding Sales. Plus, I run a software company called Atrium that makes advanced sales performance analytics software for instrumenting rep performance. As you can tell, I’m like a one trick pony, ride them all in on sales excellence.
Learning as you go
Sam Jacobs: Let’s get a little bit into your background and figure out how you became such a sales advocate.
Pete Kazanjy: I got into tech when I originally worked at a company called VMware back in the day, I worked in the product marketing organization and I was the product marketer for a product called VMware Fusion.
And it was this small line of business within VMware that because it was such a small revenue driver, it didn’t have a ton of resources. It was like a startup in a much larger organization, but allowed me to wear many hats. And eventually I started my own software company called TalentBin, which is a recruiting software company. The way I think about it is like LinkedIn recruiter for the whole internet.
That was the place where I started to realize the importance of revenue acquisition because we were making B2B products and it turns out that people just don’t buy things especially new innovative technology. It has to be delivered to them and persuaded and presented to them and their objective to handle this and so on and so forth.
This was a shocker to someone who didn’t know that at all. That started my journey from being business general’s founder, to our first sales rep, to our first sales manager and then VP of sales. When we were acquired by Monster, our sales organization was around 20 people. Then I started leading new product sales at Monster, which had a 600 person sales organization. It was a little bit of a change there.
All along the way, as I was figuring out how to run a process, excellent sales organization at TalentBin, that’s where I really started appreciating sales as a science of art I suppose. It is something that can be instrumented and it’s something that it is important for people to be excellent but at the same time being executed by humans who are messy and I’m prone to failure. That’s how I ended up where I am today.
To establish strong sales motions, do it yourself first
Sam Jacobs: How did you go about learning how to do what you needed to do, how to bring the product to market, and what were some of the first steps?
Pete Kazanjy: I did it through a bunch of terrible trial and error making a bunch of mistakes. But the good news is that there is a set of stepwise processes to go through. I think that a lot of founders don’t understand this because they come from a product background when they come from a technical background.
They haven’t interfaced with sales all that terribly much, or if they have, it’s been through Hollywood representations of sales or interfacing with large sales organizations like a Salesforce or an Oracle. I think that the most important thing early on is that founders have to do the initial spelling themselves, it’s highly unreliable to rely on somebody. It’s a high risk scenario.
It’s a lot to try to rely on somebody else to figure out the sales motion for you at the earliest stage. A lot of people screw their companies over by trying to do that because, for good or for bad, they’re afraid of selling.
We’re interfacing with dozens of people you’ve never met before, potentially who are adversarial or don’t want to necessarily be convinced of something, obviously it’s an uncomfortable behavior to start, but you have to start it. Because we’re just trying to hand it off to somebody else to figure it out for you is pretty untenable. That’s something that very frequently kills organizations.
Sam Jacobs: What is the sequencing that companies should be thinking about going from product with no go-to-market organization up to a 20 person sales team?
Pete Kazanjy: I think the first step is you have to sell it yourself.
Once you know that you can repeatedly sell it and you have that sales motion at least solved in the world, then the next stage is to work with somebody who is not you to see if they can also run that sales motion.
Sam Jacobs: Are you of the school of thought that you should hire two people versus one so that you can compare as your sort of in this go-to-market discovery process?
Pete Kazanjy: I am of the opinion that you should hire two. Part of the benefit associated with that of course is that you can compare, but I think in general, you should know what the KPIs are of your sales motion because you did it previously.
Identifying a business pain
Sam Jacobs: What’s the advice you give people who are out there having conversations but struggling to close?
Pete Kazanjy: In Founding Sales there’s a pitching chapter and then there’s pipeline management and closing. I think the confusion that’s experienced oftentimes is what are you trying to do in a sale? What’s the goal?
What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to identify somebody who has a business pain. Because if they don’t have a business pain, why are you talking to them? Persuade them and demonstrate to them that your solution would actually resolve that business pain in such a way that you deserve to capture some of the value that is being produced for them in the form of revenue. It’s a fairly logical progression.
Then the question is, as a founder who is selling first day, have you identified pain? Have you validated that they have it? Have you validated that your solution fits that pain and resolves it? Do they agree with that and believe you because it’s been demonstrated through either ROI or the fact that they actually see it and it’s making them happy?
Well, we saw that you had this problem, we validated the magnitude of that problem. We are now resolving that and there’s no value in the cost savings or the incremental revenue that’s coming as a result of that problem that you resolve. And so as long as you’re progressing along that arc, that is constantly the goal.
Common pitfalls for sales organizations to avoid
Sam Jacobs: What are the common areas that most frequently are pitfalls for sales organizations?
Pete Kazanjy: The reality is that there are dozens of particular pathologies that will show up injuring a rep. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet, which is why monitoring all this stuff in order to understand is important.
First you have to identify what the problem is, detect it. Then you have to diagnose. What is the root cause of why this SDR’s opportunity creation pace is so much lower than everybody else’s?
Then once you identify a formal hypothesis of what the root cause is, you have to coach and say, “we need to resolve this because you’re not multithreading enough into these organizations.” I need you to take the extra effort in order to put more decision makers into your cue to execute against.
Look for coachability in sales reps
Sam Jacobs: What’s your fundamental view of human nature? And what I mean by that is, I think the premise of Atrium is that people are coachable and changeable. Do you think that there’s an ideal hiring profile for a salesperson?
Pete Kazanjy: There are repeated characteristics that will lead to a high performing sales reps.
Essentially, what we’re looking for is coachability. The ability to follow a playbook, take feedback when there’s a divergence from that playbook and then remediate that, an ability to engage in a high level of activities, and a curiosity because what you need them to be able to do is problem-solve.
Whether it’s an SDR or AE, so much of selling is navigating a maze. So, you need somebody who’s curious and thoughtful in order to do that.
Arming yourself with knowledge of your product
Sam Jacobs: What’s your view on the role of venture capital within all of this focus on hypergrowth and do you have any advice for founders beyond selling motion on how they should partner with investors and when they should partner with investors to avoid some of this premature scaling?
Pete Kazanjy: I think the number one weapon there is just expertise, which I guess goes back to the founder-led selling.
If you know how sales works as a founder, because you’ve done it yourself and you’ve then added a couple other people and you’ve seen it happening, it’s very difficult for someone to say, “Well actually I think you should approach it this way right here and you should add 15 sales people and it’ll be okay.” Because at least now you have the primitives to be like, wait a minute, I just did this. And I knew how much work it was in order to fill the pipelines of these.
Because you’re armed with knowledge. I think the first thing is to arm yourself with knowledge that you can actually have a pure conversation with those VCs.
Also, where a lot of VC’s and board members come from, is a sales background. But just understanding, having first principles and having those fundamentals nailed down allows you to understand. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is that customer financing is a really powerful thing. You look at some of these great sales organizations where they didn’t actually have to raise a ton of money. Qualtrics is a great example of a company who I hold out as an amazing sales organization where for the longest time they didn’t have to raise a lot of capital because they built an excellent sales organization out of Salt Lake City and they were able to acquire lots of revenue at a good contribution margin, at a good cost of sale.
Sam Jacobs: Great conversation with Pete Kazanjy, good friend and really insightful on how to grow a company using sales from a very early stage to what would define this scalability and I think there’s a couple things that he talked about.
One of them is just your ability if you’re the founder, but let’s say you’re even just an early employee, something can be scalable when you take somebody that does not have the domain expertise or the problem space expertise as Pete called it.
You can teach that person how to talk to your customers about the solution that you have related to the problems that they have. Your ability to teach other people is fundamentally what is going to enable your sales organization to scale.
If you can, then you’ve got something on your hands and if you can’t then that’s a different problem.
The other thing that Pete mentioned that I just think is worth reflecting on is if you’re not doing the basics of having conversations with your sales team about their deals and using socratic questioning to help uncover problem spots in their thinking, shortcuts in their thinking, areas where they might improve. If you’re not doing those things, there’s not really a piece of technology that you can employ that will make it better.
You have to get the basics down, the fundamentals of how to sell, how to teach other people how to sell and how to have conversations about the different conversations they are having, which are pipeline reviews. If you’re doing those things, you can begin to layer in technology, but if you’re not doing those things, technology really isn’t going to help you.
What We Learned
- Selling as a founder will help you understand your sales motions
- Your ability to teach other people is going to help scale your organization
- Sales can be messy but it also can be instrumented
Don’t miss episode 89
I hope you enjoyed the show. Before we go, let’s thank our sponsors.The first is DocuSign. Execute contracts and get to revenue faster with DocuSign, used by employees in 90% of the Fortune 500 businesses. Learn more at go.docusign.com/saleshacker. Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform
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As always, thanks so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.