“I believe in Programmers and Salesfolks”.
This started for me back in 1981, when I began working as a consultant for 3PM, a SaaS technology company near Detroit. 3PM became known for their hosted pharmacy solutions and I was part of a team that broadened their portfolio to build a stand-alone Pharmacy system (back then everyone wanted to get away from SaaS!), Medical Billing System, Laboratory Management System and Durable Medical Management System. When 3PM was acquired by McKesson in 1983, I acquired these three properties and started SoftCare, Inc.
So much for history, but it was during these early days of the products that I established strong relationships with the Sales Team who went out selling our products and services. It was a time before Agile development and Lean Startup processes, but this is how we operated. Every day, the lead SalesRep, Ted, would come in and tell me about his challenges in closing deals, especially “if we only had this feature”, or “we’ll close the deal if we make a technical commitment”. At the time, it was very frustrating because to make changes to the software took a lot of work, coding, testing and deploying. But we were trying to ‘cross the chasm’ and we had to make a lot of concessions to make customers happy. So, we were very hard and established extreme discipline to our development methods to be as nimble as possible while maintaining quality.
It worked. These products were innovative, solved problems and had value for our customers. I won’t go into the whole story here, but the best lesson I learned is that good salesreps, who listen to their prospects and customers, provide a wealth of information. And by GOOD, I mean salesreps who actually close deals. They were the ones I listened to, and to this day, I’m most happy when joined at the hip with a great salesperson.
Lesson to startups? First, Hire the best salespeople you can find and establish relationships with people who know how to sell. It’s the difference between having a great product and an innovative product. Innovation is market-driven from customer feedback. And your salesfolks are the front-line individuals hearing from your customers. Second, look at your competition. So many companies have bloated themselves with staff who have nothing to do with product development or sales. It’s these old business-models that you can kill. Stay lean, mean and connected! Third, remember your Lean-Startup disciplines – always be ready to pivot!
Great programmers + great salespeople = success.