There Are No Do-Overs on the Road to IPO — Here’s the Next Best Thing!

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Imagine there were mulligans for B2B entrepreneurs navigating the perils and pitfalls on the journey from $0 to IPO. Would that there were, you’re thinking, but in reality and in business building there are no do-overs. True, however; the next best thing is learning from the mistakes made by those who have tread boldly before you and hearing what B2B pros who’ve been there would do over again if given the chance.

Attendees of Revenue Summit 2017 in San Francisco enjoyed such an opportunity on Tuesday morning when an All-Star panel of B2B executives — Cloudera Global Inside Sales VP Lars Nilsson, Mulesoft Americas Inside Sales Director Steven Broudy, Emergence Capital Growth Partner Doug Landis and Topo, Inc. Research Director Kristina McMillan — shared their trials, tribulations and, ultimately, successes in growing companies from seed stage through IPO.

Even the best and brightest often don’t learn valuable lessons the first, second or even third time around. Nilsson, who has been building inside sales teams for the better part of two decades, took the same approach in the half dozen companies he helped build, adhering to the old real estate adage about location, location, location. “What I learned was there were companies building inside sales teams but not in the Bay Area,” he said. While it may sound counterintuitive to develop outside the Mecca of all things tech, Nilsson recalled that “for every two people I hired, I would lose someone… so I started listening to where other companies were putting their inside sales teams.” Ultimately, Nilsson decided on Austin, Texas. “Within a year I was able to pivot and build a team in 1/4 the time… I grew a team of 30 inside of a year. That would have taken three years in the Valley.” However, Nilsson warns “if you’re going to build an SDR team outside the Bay Area, make sure you have the right infrastructure in place.”

McMillan cautions business leaders to stay on course as their companies scale upward. “Early on, smaller organizations are nimble and good at using every ounce of customer info because that’s all we have,” she explained. “As we grow, make sure you have the ability to iterate and continue to improve your messaging.” As teams grow, it’s easy to lose sight of strategic agreements between different parts of a company. “Conflicts arise between sales and marketing,” says McMillan. “We need strategic agreements and we need to keep them in mind as we grow and renew them.”

“It’s a lot easier to train 10 people to be effective than it is to train 50,” adds Broudy, a Special Forces veteran who said that in the life-and-death situations faced in the military, “there’s no doubt about accountability.” Developing the right personnel is crucial. “As you scale you get the benefit of not just growing your head count, but you have a massive opportunity to develop a talent pipeline,” Broudy explained. “The right personnel can really help you bridge gaps. Constant reevaluation if someone is the right fit for the next chapter in your company’s growth is also a really important lesson.”

“Not only is developing front-line leaders of the greatest importance, but as you scale you also need to develop leaders who can in turn develop leaders,” Broudy stressed. “The other must-have is a sales optimization manager. It’s absolutely critical to growing and scaling and refining your process, messaging and overall go-to-market strategy.”

It’s not just good enough to develop and teach. “You also have to inspire,” Nilsson asserted. “People need to be told what you’re doing. Use teachable moments or inspire them to click on a link you’re sending them.”

“The number one function that’s overlooked is the front-line sales manager, it’s the hardest job on the planet because you manage up and down,” Landis concluded. “There’s so much you have to do that it’s often looked, and no one trains a new RVP on how to be an RVP. It’s really important to think about how you’re going to develop managers… it’s absolutely crucial to your ability to scale and grow.”

Nilsson concurred. “SDR managers are the unsung heroes at Cloudera. They’re doing it all,” he said. “SDR is a super-user of various technologies. It catapulted our teams in Budapest and Singapore. I will never start another SDR team without someone dedicated to enabling.”

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Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for U.S. news. Based in San Francisco, he is the editor and publisher of Moral Low Ground and is a Yahoo! Featured Political Contributor.