(I originally drafted this post years ago while at Foursquare an in an effort to share more thoughts I edited for 2019 and bringing this to the surface – enjoy!)
[2019 addition] When I first made the switch from BD to sales at Foursquare I learned a very valuable lesson that has stayed true throughout my career and other companies I have worked with. In any early stage environment there are typically limited development cycles, budgets, and overall resources to get things done. The CEO/co-founders role can be that of air traffic controller for these resources to make sure the business is doing the most with the least, and figure out who needs what. In this constant struggle, I learned (definitely the hard way) that Revenue = Resources.
When I was first on the BD team at Foursquare we would optimize many of the initiatives and strategic partnerships around brand recognition and exposure – there was no scalable revenue to speak of. This was in 2010 and certainly early in the life cycle of network growth and sales. Looking back of course we should have focussed on these things sooner, but the future was bright and the sky was the limit – so we focussed differently.
When I started beating the drum to drive scalable revenue and products to match, I was met with some opposition (to say the least!). This was warranted because the network was growing, consumers were happy, and this is “what social networks did” so I was the very vocal minority.
However, the lesson soon came into play, and providing real life use cases of companies and partners that were willing to pay large amounts suddenly was a way to shift focus and cycles. I let potential customers tell the story with dollars vs. me shouting from a soap box. By focusing on what someone wanted to see in the world and in the product – through the lens of revenue – we were able to steer resources to the things that were needed. The reality of this of course is not a strategy that I can highly recommend, but it was an incredible lesson in aligning the company around a new focus. The other important lesson coming out of this showed me how much I didn’t know about building and scaling a sales and revenue team from scratch.
I didn’t truly understand this at the time, but making up products to sell to clients and agencies directly is a herculean task requiring a senior sales team, account management team and integrated product and engineering org focussed on these products. I would absolutely describe this today as its own startup. Event thought we had built up a bank of relationships with 1M+ merchants, it was still difficult to figure out what they actually wanted to pay for.
The first major lesson in humility I got in sales was hearing from the first mega merchants I had great relationships with who declined the sales pilot. You see they had been asking for years about advertising with us, giving great feedback on what products could and should look like, the KPIs they needed to see, and even asking to beta test products. Great prospects right? Wrong. You see in the end asking for feedback is very different than asking for money. You need to combine the two to be successful.
2019 update: Documenting what customers are asking for, how much they are willing to pay for features and services, and letting the external parties bring your “asks” to the product + engineering teams can be powerful. I was able to get more resources, faster, with the prospect of large sales vs the ideas and roadmaps I wanted to see built. While my intuition was correct, the data supported model helped garner support and resources beyond any discussion.Tags: Revenue, Sales