- The components of a winning startup
- How Yammer leadership invested in employees
- What I learned from an early deal
Yammer had all the ingredients of a fast-growing technology company destined for success: the best product, world class leadership, and talented employees who were growing rapidly in their roles. It was, in the purest form, the dream start-up. Looking back now some years later it’s clear that Yammer gave me the foundation to build a career. It gave me the leadership, the training, and, most importantly, it provided the winning intangibles that culminated in our being acquired by Microsoft for $1.2 Billion.
What made Yammer’s product better than all the competition (Jive, Salesforce, NewsGator, SharePoint) was the product visionary and CEO, David Sacks. He understood that there was a market to capture and there was a race to capture it. He once said to the company “we’re 9-12 months in front of the competition and now it’s not about the existential risk to our company, it’s about the execution risk.” This was a profound statement and one that instilled confidence in all the employees, regardless of role. That confidence encouraged us to hustle and win this game!
Having a product that evolved rapidly was critical to remaining in front of the competition and to continue to close deals. From my roles, first as Sales Development rep and then as an Account Executive, I could witness the quick improvement of our platform. As the bi-weekly sprints would come to an end, new features and integrations would be released making the Yammer platform more engaging and delightful for the end-user. This would translate into winning competitive deals, speeding up purchasing decisions, and attracting larger and more established companies to buy a product, when they might have hesitated or postponed the decision otherwise.
Of course, a great product is only one part of the picture. Beyond building a great product, the second component is selling the product. In order to do that, companies need great sales leadership. That is exactly what Yammer had.
My first manager at Yammer hailed from Salesforce. He, along with most of the other leadership team, including our Chief Customer Officer, all had winning pedigrees from working at Salesforce. These winning intangibles rubbed off on our team immediately. Our 1:1’s were focused on making the individual contributor (IC) succeed better; internal meetings were crisp and concise; the focus of the team was always about the customer and how we could better serve them to help our business grow.
A most important focus of the Yammer sales leadership was the development of all team members. For example, each sales team had a book club that met on a bi-weekly basis. This book club helped to stimulate the minds and to offer different perspectives on topics such as cold-calling, running sales meetings, working with with customers, etc. Even years later, I think about the learnings of these meetings because we didn’t just read a book---we dissected the issue; we discussed it; and then we took action and applied these ideas to our sales-work.
Of course book club was only one part of the investment that the sales leadership made in their employees. The second--and for me, most important--was sales training. As part of our sales kick-off in Q3, Yammer brought in Jeff Hoffman for a three-day session. Jeff brought an impressive track record, having been in sales 25 years, building Google’s sales program, founding two sales training companies and having been Akamai’s top rep when they were an early-stage company. The in-person experience with Jeff was instrumental in my career development. In fact, the approaches and techniques that he taught were so impressive that I reached out personally to learn more from this master. I now work with him 1:1 on a regular basis.
Beyond the strategic structure that sales leadership brought and the resources they invested in the employees, they also provided the tactical instruction to help win deals. A wonderful example, was one of my early deals after becoming an Small Medium Business (SMB) AE. For context: once you were promoted, you were partnered with a veteran field rep, (someone who has been closing deals for 15+ years) and still managed your own territory. This provided insight about the complexity of larger deals (read more under my Microsoft page) and also started to hone the closing muscle by closing smaller deals oneself.
The tactical learning of was no better reflected than when I was notified that “this network is blowing up.” Because Yammer had a free version, it was often the case that someone at a company would invite colleagues to use the platform to collaborate around a project. Then, in rapid fashion the snowball effect would occur and the network would go from 50 to 500 people overnight---that is what happened with a consulting company based on the east coast.
Once their network started to explode, I knew from my training that the best thing to do was to contact the executive team and prospect in cold. Because Yammer was a platform that touched many different departments. If you were you expected to close a deal at a company of 800 employees, you needed to have multiple C-level executives bought in and endorse the platform. My cold outbound worked brilliantly and I was referred from the President to the Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO)
I spoke with with the Chief Knowledge Officer, who, as much as she loved the idea of Yammer, was apprehensive because of the viral nature of the platform. “We have significant security protocols at our company.” I asked another question or two and then she came to the conclusion--the same conclusion that I wanted--that she needed to introduce me to the CIO.
Now when you’re the CIO of an 800-person publicly traded company, you are bombarded with vendors trying to get your attention, and the best way for a vendor to get your attention is through a referral (more on this in a separate blog post). The crucial element for me with this deal, was that I had the warm, if not hot, intro from another C-level executive and there was end-user engagement. At this moment, I had started to expand my audience from one person to two and avoided the top problem in B2B sales--being “single threaded” with an opportunity.
The first meeting with the CIO was a moment I’ll never forget. Besides himself, he also brought in his Director of IT, who was a massive fan of Microsoft’s SharePoint, and therefore was less fond of this “Yammer thing.” After the initial introduction of their roles, I made a junior mistake and asked a question about “what type of SharePoint instance they had.” As the Director of IT started to respond with the enthusiasm of a teenage boy who just got his first kiss, the CIO burst in with his loud, deep English accent:
“Can we talk about what this means to our business! We can talk all about what tools we have, but can we first discuss what Yammer might do to my business!”
From my training I knew I had screwed-up. Starting the conversation around the tools they currently use was terrible place to start a sales call because it never afforded me the opportunity to learn about the customer’s business. Fortunately, I was able to recover quickly and steer the conversation in the right direction. From that moment on, I’ve focused on implementing proper structure and technique to sales meetings by having every single sales call start with questions about the customer’s business.
Over the next six weeks I continued to develop the relationship with the CKO, the CIO, the Director of IT and a business analyst. Having multiple roles engaged both at the strategic and execution level kept the momentum going. It culminated with the CFO approving a special budget allocation, during the middle of their fiscal year. For me, it was a great learning experience: I was able to insert the guidance I received from my management and to bring on a very successful customer.
I have many other stories of winning new customers, of personal progress, and of, course, of company-wide celebrations. Overall, it’s clear that when a company has the pillars in place: of the best product; is guided by world class leadership; and creates opportunities for their employees to grow and learn; the ingredients for fabulous success are in place.