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#ScaleStrategy: Growing sales from one to many

How Nudge.ai CEO and co-founder Paul Teshima is using hard-earned lessons from the past to transform his startup sales team into a scaling one.

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Steve Woods, Paul Teshima
Nudge.ai was co-founded in 2014 by former Eloqua executives, Steve Woods (left) and Paul Teshima
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#ScaleStrategy is produced by DX Journal and OneEleven. This editorial series delivers insights, advice, and practical recommendations to innovative and disruptive entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.  Read the in-depth Q&A with Teshima here.

“One of the most important aspects of scaleups is figuring out how to transition sales – from a founder to a larger sales team. It’s also one of the hardest,” says Paul Teshima, CEO and co-founder of Nudge.ai, a relationship intelligence platform that helps sales teams to access new accounts, analyze deal risk, and measure account health.

And, he knows what he’s talking about.

Teshima is a Canadian-born serial entrepreneur and a rare breed too. His previous company, Eloqua, achieved unicorn status.

As part of Eloqua’s executive team, Teshima grew the company to more than $100 million in revenue over 13 years, through two economic crises, its IPO and its eventual acquisition by Oracle for US$957 million in 2012.

Today, from Nudge.ai’s office in OneEleven, Teshima and his co-founder Steve Woods (also a co-founder at Eloqua), are hoping to scale up again. Since launching in 2014, the company has grown to 22 employees, several major enterprise clients and over 20,000 B2B users on the platform. And they were recently featured in the Wall Street Journal on how AI is changing sales. It’s no surprise they’re gaining momentum given the growing need for digital relationship management support. After all, Google, Salesforce, Microsoft, Cisco, and more tech giants are moving into the space.

As Nudge.ai builds out a sales team, Teshima is leaning on lessons from his past and learning new ones about who, how and when to hire, what founders forget about when training newbies, and the art of cracking an enterprise deal. 

From One to Many

When it comes to the first few sales hires, Teshima believes they should be entrepreneurial. His approach to building a high-performance sales team is what he calls a classic best practice: hire people in pairs so that you can start removing variables. For example, if both salespeople are having trouble, it may mean that it’s not the right time to transition. If one is successful and the other is not, then it could mean you didn’t hire someone with the right skills.

Nudge.ai is in the process of transitioning its founder-oriented sales team to a larger group. “We’ve got some salespeople working on that delicate transition period now,” he says. “I can tell you that I’m already overestimating how much I think they know because I take my knowledge for granted. I mean, of course they don’t know what I know, it’s in my brain still.”

As a company scales, Teshima urges founders to pause and appreciate how much they know about the business, and how quickly they can make decisions at the drop of a hat in a deal cycle. Those skills are not always things salespeople can do right away.

“It’s really important to simplify,” he says. “Understand what can be translated to a salesperson that he or she can then repeat over and over again.”

To support their success, Teshima focuses on being as methodical as possible throughout on-boarding and training. In addition, he brought someone in to help simplify the sales process to determine what can be scalable.  

Hiring Sales People

Should you hire a Director of Sales or build the team from the bottom up? Teshima says it depends on where you sit on the revenue curve as well as the capital and talent that’s available to you at the time.

He definitely sees the value of of hiring a Director of Sales first who can “carry the bag” and help to scale that initial phase, but also agrees with the approach of hiring a hands-off VP to go build up the entire team.

“Both require early evidence of some form of scale. You have some sort of process that defines how the sales process works today and also key metrics about it,” he says.

Teshima acknowledges that finding sales talent can be a challenge. “Are there less seasoned salespeople in Canada who have gone from $0 to $100 million than in the Valley? Yes. Do we need to solve that problem? Absolutely. But you are seeing a lot of seasoned people coming back and as that continues you’re going to see those people train others to get to the next scaling point,” he says.

Closing Enterprise Deals

Enterprise deals are coveted targets for scaleups for the revenue, for the credibility, and for the learning that they offer.

“The hardest part of closing an enterprise deal is finding it,” says Teshima. “Getting involved in the sales cycle itself is challenging because decision-makers are so inundated with a barrage of outbound outreach. These buyers shut down and avoid dealing with 20 or 30 vendors.”

He says that if you’re going to play in the enterprise space, you should understand what you’re getting into. First, it’s difficult to get in. Secondarily, startups can’t wait out a 44-month sales cycle knowing the deal may not close. “You can, but you’ll be losing a lot of sleep,” he says.

Teshima’s scaleup strategy is to show pocketed value right out of the gate. “Lock them in and then go from division to division quickly. And do it more cost-effectively than the competitor. Try that approach versus just the top down approach.”

When it comes to offering freebies or deals to close a deal quickly, Teshima believes low-paid pilots can be risky.

“Enterprises today actually have slush funds to experiment with technology where they didn’t before,” he says. “You could be in a small little pilot where they throw money at you and you wouldn’t even know if it’s a real deal or if they’re throwing real resources behind it. It is absolutely true that if they put some skin in the game, you’ll have a more successful pilot. You need to be pretty disciplined about qualifying, and if you invest in the cycles then put a price on it.”

What about when enterprise customers who scaleback during the renewal process?

Teshima says he hasn’t experienced this yet at Nudge.ai, but in the earlier days at Eloqua, there were times when customers pulled back.

“It’s only a death cycle if you don’t learn from it for the other existing customers. You should never forget that customers can always come back and champions can always move jobs. You always want to do right in those situations because you never know when you’re going meet them next in the ecosystem,” he says.

Channel Partners Sales

In B2B sales, channel partners can be a tempting avenue to explore. While there are good synergies on the tech side – on the cloud and services side – it can be more challenging to have channel partners depending on the nature of the product, says Teshima. In fact, he warns against channel partners in the early scaling stage.

“If you think training your first salesperson is hard, try training channel partners on your product when they have 20 competing products to sell and they’re making a small margin on your product,” he says. “You can get lucky and find one strategic partner and go big, but more often than not, you’re going to find that they’ll get all excited, get trained, and not sell anything. Even if they do close something, it may not even be the right fit,” he says.

Instead, Teshima recommends, clearly establishing that you can directly sell your product in a repeated way before you think about channel partners.

Scaling a sales team isn’t easy. And it won’t happen overnight.

“My one piece of advice is that it’s never one thing,” he says. “It’s a million little things you need to do every day. That’ll make you more successful than trying to figure out the one thing that will help you hit the jackpot.”

Want more? Read the in-depth Q&A with Paul Teshima for more insights on scaling sales. 

DX Journal & OneEleven
Author: DX Journal & OneEleven

#ScaleStrategy is produced by DX Journal and OneEleven. This editorial series delivers insights, advice, and practical recommendations to innovative and disruptive entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.

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Betting on yourself with entrepreneur Tanya Gough

Armed with a passion for narrative literacy and a knack for content architecture, creative-industry entrepreneur Tanya Gough is driven to help make the writing process more interactive, collaborative and social with StoryBilder.

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“Whatever you do will be wrong…until it isn’t,” says creative-industry entrepreneur Tanya Gough, about navigating other people’s feedback while building a tech platform. 

Armed with a passion for narrative literacy and a knack for content architecture, Gough has created StoryBilder. It is an adaptive story-generating platform that transforms the way writing happens. The platform is aimed at helping storytellers build out their plots, characters and entire worlds to make the writing process more interactive, collaborative and social.

Gough is one of 50 women across Canada selected for the first cohort of the BANFF Spark Accelerator for Women in the Business of Media. With support from Western Economic Diversification Canada, this new program offers training, mentorship and market access to women entrepreneurs ready to grow or launch their own businesses in screen-based industries.

Leigh Doyle, partner and VP at DJG and a fellow cohort participant, interviewed Gough as part of a series showcasing the entrepreneurs in the BANFF spark program. 

Leigh Doyle: You’re a big believer in narrative literacy. Can you tell me a bit about what is narrative literacy, and why do all of us need to sort of relearn it?

Tanya Gough: Narrative literacy is the ability to recognize and understand narrative structure in the stories around us. It matters because we’re surrounded by story, and it’s an incredibly persuasive format for transmitting information. When we understand story, not only are we better able to express our own stories and be heard, but it also gets easier to recognize when we’re being manipulated or lied to. And that gives us better defenses against fake news and makes it easier to differentiate between fact and fiction.

Doyle: How did the idea of StoryBilder come to you?

Gough: I was hanging out with a friend of mine who is a game designer, and we were brainstorming for an app we were working together on. At that moment, StoryBilder just happened for me. I knew exactly what it had to be. 

I wanted to create an environment where people could not only write their stories, but that could also help them organize their thoughts and ideas. And, if they were new to writing or didn’t know what to do next, there would be support and tools to help them improve their craft. I also wanted to ensure the platform would foster creativity, which I think is missing in the market.

Here’s what it is and how it works: 

Doyle: Who is StoryBilder for? 

Gough: StoryBilder is currently designed to support creative writing, particularly for fiction novels. But the technology is adaptable. I’ve already got screenwriters who want to use it as a planning tool for their scripts. I have game developers who want to use it for world building. I even had a D&D master ask me if he could use it to build campaigns — and the answer to this is yes. StoryBilder is built around a narrative construction model that can be applied to any storytelling format. It can be used for a lot of different things.

Doyle: What author would you be thrilled to see using StoryBilder? 

Gough: It’s so hard to pick! The obvious answer is George RR Martin. The idea of this huge epic world, with tons of characters spanning multiple books and managing all of the interconnected pieces, is a long-term ambition of StoryBilder. But, personally, from more of a literary geek perspective, I would say Michael Chabon who wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It’s probably my favorite book of all time. Chabon writes these incredibly dense, complexly structured storylines with interconnecting plots and massively detailed backgrounds. This is the type of narrative I’m keeping back of my mind as I develop StoryBilder. 

Doyle: When will StoryBilder be available to the public? 

Gough: Right now, we’ve got beta testers helping me find the last of the bugs, and I’m doing some extra design work. Then we’re launching this summer. I’m looking forward to getting it into the market and getting the word out.

Headshot of Tanya Gough, founder StoryBilder

Doyle: You’ve owned a boutique CD and video store, the world’s largest Shakespeare video catalogue and created content for companies like BlackBerry, Shoppers Drug Mart and more. How have you seen the entrepreneurial landscape change for women over the course of your career?

Gough: If five years ago, you asked me if there would be any substantial change for women in business in my lifetime, I would have said no. And clearly I won’t see parity in my lifetime — just look at the numbers. But what I have seen — especially in the last few years — is a rising opportunity for entrepreneurial women to connect with each other. This is thanks to social media and groups on large networks like Facebook. 

The women in these groups are not only talking about their challenges in a really honest way, but they are incredibly generous about helping each other and supporting each other through not only the bad stuff, but making sure that we’re all succeeding together. Change is happening now. It’s not going to happen as fast as people hope, but it will happen as long as we continue to support each other and continue to speak openly. Support and solidarity are incredibly empowering.

One of my big drivers for creating StoryBilder is this knowledge that more women need to have businesses to create a path for the next generation to follow. Someone needs to be out in front. And that’s where I need to be, with the rest of the women taking the hits and leading the way.

Doyle: What lessons do you have for entrepreneurs building tech platforms like Story Bilder? 

Gough: The first is to forget about funding. Sure, there are stories about people getting funded at the idea stage, but it’s rare, and you’re new and inexperienced. Find another way and don’t waste all of your time chasing the money until you have something solid in hand.

The second is whatever you do will be wrong…until it isn’t. Take the time to experiment and try new approaches to make sure you’re solving the right problem in the right way. Likewise, if you are looking for funding, be prepared to hear you’re not ready — a lot.

Finally, do it because you love it. Starting a business is way too much work to do if you don’t wake up every morning excited to be working on it. Which isn’t to say you’re going to love it every day, but if you’re waking up every morning not knowing if you’re building the right thing, go do some market research or get out.

Connect with Tanya and StoryBilder on social media: 

Leigh Doyle
Author: Leigh Doyle

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Digital transformation for a more sustainable world

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Sure, they’re confronted with business challenges every day, but the world’s top business leaders have a significant part to play in solving the world’s challenges — economic, technological, societal and educational. 

As Christian Klein, Co-Chief Executive Officer of enterprise application software company SAP succinctly puts it in a blog post for the World Economic Forum, “Companies today don’t just prosper based on their financial performance, but on how they make a positive contribution to society.”

Ahead of the World Economic Forum’s 2020 meeting — taking place Jan. 21-24 — Klein outlined how digital transformation can be a force for good in the world, and be a way to create a more sustainable world.

Critical minds, he starts, might wonder why companies would take the time, considering their primary goal of making money. “These critics should not underestimate the power of the consumer,” he argues, explaining that while customers do consider their decisions based on products or price, but the company’s values. Employees act in a similar way, choosing to join companies “that embrace their responsibility towards humankind and the planet.”

Almost every person on the planet knows that technology plays a profound effect on just about every facet of our lives, from jobs to wages to health to security. Meanwhile the need for business to undergo digital transformation, simply to stay relevant and alive, is hardly big news anymore. 

“But transformation is also about a change of culture, which requires a radical rethinking of people, processes and technologies,” Klein writes. Included in this are “tectonic changes” that go into a company, and how employees interact within the whole system. 

“And just like a business cannot digitally transform unless – or until – its people transform, I believe that, while they come with their own environmental costs, technology and digitalization can play a crucial role in developing solutions for a better tomorrow.” 

Some examples? Blockchain’s potential to add traceability (and by extension, trust) to food supply chains. The empowerment of people with disabilities through AI, which, when properly applied, can reduce bias in the hiring process. Smart cities, powered by everything from sensors to open data to better supply services and protect resources.

[Related reading: How 5G and the Internet of Things can create a winning business]

“There is no doubt that technology and digital transformation break down silos and create transparent and unified data for objective decision-making,” Klein writes. “But even more so: they change how companies manage their relationships with the wider world.”

Creating a sustainable world requires us to look beyond corporate borders, toward the communities around us, creating an ecosystem of trust “that allows us to exchange ideas to create a safety net for the most marginalized.”

DX Journal Staff

Author: DX Journal Staff

DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.

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DX survey reveals high levels of enterprise-consumer disconnect

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A new survey looks at the global investment and effectiveness of businesses’ digital transformation efforts. The survey shows a disconnect between enterprise investments and consumer experiences.

The survey is titled “The Kony Digital Experience Index (KDXi) Survey”, and the main takeaway is that while businesses have invested nearly $5 trillion on digital transformation initiatives, only 19 percent of customers have reported any significant improvement in the experiences offered to them.

The Kony Inc., survey included 1,600 responses from business leaders and customers across the U.S., Europe and Asia. The responses were used to gauge the target digital project implementation efficiencies in banking, retail, utilities and healthcare. The research showed a disconnect on both sides and a potential misalignment around investment priorities, and highlighted the impact this could potentially have for businesses.

Among other things, the study found that consumers are underestimating the number of businesses that are investing heavily in every customer experience outcome by at least 50 percent. This means that while business are spending money on digital transformation projects, consumers are not necessarily noticing a difference.

The survey also reported that 62 percent of consumers say that they spend more with companies that offer effortless digital experiences, while 56 percent of consumers indicate that they will switch if a retailer does not deliver the digital experience they want. This signals the necessity for businesses to continue to invest in the digital experience for the customer. However, in doing so they need to start making an impact.

As the report states: “It is critical for businesses to have a greater focus on understanding and aligning with customer needs and priorities to ensure that they are driving the agenda for the digital technology they create and fund.”

In terms of what businesses should be doing, the basis of a strategy includes:

  • Embracing innovative thinking, ambition and a commitment to improvement
  • Prioritizing investment in digital outcomes, not digital initiatives
  • Getting their foundations right before evolving
  • Building for now, but investing in a roadmap that leads to the future
  • Saying no to silos and yes to integrated digital strategy
  • Setting a customer-centered digital transformation agenda

This means companies should work to provide web experiences that make it easier for users to navigate, and for websites to be more engaging and intuitive to use. There also needs to be comprehensive online and mobile facilities so that users can do everything online or via their mobile device. Furthermore, to truly step forwards, businesses need to begin offering digital experiences such as AI, chatbots and augmented reality.

Summing this up, Thomas E. Hogan, chairman and CEO, Kony, Inc. states: “Improvements in costs and efficiencies are always welcomed and clearly important to project funding, but the real returns and real impact of digital starts and stops with its impact on the customer experience.”

Tim Sandle

Author: Tim Sandle

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