Archive for the ‘Sales Learning Curve’ Category

Dave Chase interviewed after New Business Models for News Summit

November 1, 2008

Chase was interviewed by David Cohn of Spot.Us about his experience at the New Business Models for News Summit that was put on by CUNY, David Cohn and Jeff Jarvis. He shared his experiences about building a successful hyperlocal local media business particularly in this challenging economic time. The interview can be watched here.

The company that Dave is working with is NextNewsNet that builds off of the success of SunValleyOnline and NewWest.Net. He has been applying both the methodologies of Altus’ Sales Learning Curve and Sales Process Optimization practices with the help of Bill Lawler. Bill’s background with Dell has been particularly helpful in developing a low cost customer acquisition model. NewWest.Net has already seen the quantity of HOT Opportunities increase 4-5x in the early stages of the project. If past experience holds, this will result in a significant increase in revenue.

The video is of Dave Chase doing a “lightning round” at the summit explaining what has been learned with SunValleyOnline and NewWest.Net that is being applied to the NextNewsNet business model is located here.


When is the time right for Renaissance vs. Coin-operated Sales?

September 19, 2008

The Wall Street Journal recently reported the news of sales executive Joanne Bradford joining Yahoo after a brief stint at Spot Runner reminded me of Mark Leslie’s commentary in his seminal paper on the Sales Learning Curve published in the Harvard Business Review. In that paper, he described three sales phases — Initiation, Transition & Execution — of a company’s market entry and the accompanying sales talent that fits with the phase. The sales talent needed at the Initiation phase is more akin to a Product Manager function than a pure sales role.

Joanne is one of the top two sales executives I’ve ever worked with. She was certainly what the doctor ordered when she came into Microsoft early this decade after a long tenure at Business Week when Microsoft was in the Execution phase. I have no doubt she’ll make a major impact at Yahoo as well. Not knowing what happened at Spot Runner, I can only speculate that it may have been a similar situation to countless sales reps and executives hired before into startup world with storied sales careers only to find it isn’t a fit at the startup phase of a company.

For a founder that isn’t steeped in Sales & Marketing, it is appealing to hire a Sales leader that fits the profile of someone who has many plaques on their office walls with etchings of “President’s Club” that speak to their sales success. However, these are executives that are accustomed to being surrounded with a well-defined market and product to meet that market. Further, they are used to the full complement of sales collateral, systems engineers, sales support, defined sales compensation model and the like common in the Execution Phase.

Unfortunately, as Leslie states “It’s both unrealistic and potentially dysfunctional to assign large sales quotas in the Initiation phase”. He goes on to say what their priorities ought to be. “The members of the sales team should be encouraged to focus instead on learning as much as they can about how customers will use the product.” The byproduct of hiring the former President’s Club member is frequently great frustration as the sales exec finds he or she can’t earn the money they expected as there are too many issues with the product and go-to-market strategy. He outlines what is needed at this phase as follows:

The types of skills needed during this phase differ from those needed to sell more mature products. They include a facility for communicating with many parts of the organization, a tolerance of ambiguity, a deep interest in the product technology, and a talent for bringing customers together with various functional teams within the company. Salespeople must be resourceful, able to develop their own sales models and collateral materials as needed. We think of this kind of person as the “renaissance rep.”

Later, in the Transition phase, sales management should focus on developing a repeatable sales model, refine market positioning and more. Leslie talks more about the type of sales rep needed at this point.

The original renaissance reps should continue to focus on learning. The people hired at this stage — we call them “enlightened reps” — should be comfortable contributing to a still-evolving sales model but do not need to have the analytical and communication skills of the renaissance reps.

At this point, the executive team should assess whether they are confident that they have sufficient traction and a proven, repeatable sales process. If they are confident, that is the time to rapidly scale the sales organization. Leslie expands on this…

In this phase, when the formula for success has been developed and all of the support requirements for sales reps are in place, the company needs more traditional salespeople — what’s known in the industry as “coin-operated reps” — who require nothing more than a territory, a sales plan, a price book, and marketing materials to bring in orders.

The common mistake of hiring a coin-operated team when a renaissance reps are needed is a costly and time-consuming mistake that delay success. Counter-intuitively, this “go slow” approach is the fastest way to achieve success.

Related Article: Altus Alliance Partner, Dave Chase, wrote an article entitled “Go Slow to Go Fast” on the Sales Learning Curve for the leading Internet Marketing site iMediaconnection.

Demo tips from a seasoned pro

September 5, 2008

Demos are vital for any startup whether you are trying to raise money or close a sale. Collected below are the insights of a veteran of demos — Jason Calacanis.

For the past 10 days I’ve sat through 200 company demos for the TechCrunch50 conference. These demos are mostly done over the phone for 10 minutes using the phone and web conferencing software like WebEx or Adobe’s wonderful new “Connect” service.

After doing 2,500 minutes of demos (40 hours) this year and many more last year for the conference, I’ve learned a lot about what makes for a great demo and what makes for a horrible demo. Since demoing your idea is a key to your success as an entrepreneur, I thought I would share everything I know in a few simple bullet points.

These tips are applicable to presenting in front of an investor, a partner as well as a demo style conference. Of course, every situation is different so consider these loose guidelines.

Background: The TechCrunch50 conference is taking places on September 8-10th in San Francisco and you can find more information here: Mike Arrington of and I started the event last year as a place where fifty startup companies could launch their products without having to pay a fee (i.e. the incumbent conference called DEMO charges $18,500 to launch a startup company–that’s really low/abusive in my book). Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Sequoia Capital and a bunch of other fine partners have joined us in hosting the event.

I have listed his tips below. If you want the full commentary, go to the article on Techcrunch where he expands on each tip.

1. Show your product within the first 60 seconds

2. The best products take less than five minutes to demo

3. Leave people wanting more.

4. Talk about what you’ve done, not what you’re going to do.

5. Understand your competitive landscape–current and historical.

6. Short answers are best.

7. PowerPoint bullet slides are death

8. How to use this new device called the phone.

9. How to handle questions you don’t know the answer to

10. Always confirm the time of your meeting/call, and always be 15 minutes early.

Jason went on with some more tips in Part Two. He set up Part Two before going into his additional tips.

Last week, I camped out at Sequoia Capital on Sand Hill Road and did rehearsals with most of the 50 companies that are presenting–in fact, launching–new products at the TechCrunch50 event next week. These 50 represent the top 5% of the companies that applied to our demo-style event. Truth be told, the top 150 companies were all qualified to be on stage–if only we could have a five day event with two tracks. -)

These are the best of the best, and most of them came into “first rehearsal” with a demo that I would rate a seven out of ten. (Yes, I’ve come up with a rating system for these presentations, but that’s another email).

Actor Ashton Kutcher did his rehearsal last week, and I have to say it was kind of ironic to be sitting there giving presenting advice to someone who’s been in, and created, a large number of movies and TV shows. As an actor, Ashton obviously has the ability to draw you in, but presenting a product in this format is a very, very specific skill. He picked it up quickly.

After coaching hundreds of folks over the past two years, I’ve developed 18 solid rules. You can see the first 10 rules over at TechCrunch, which reprinted the previous email with permission here. These extra eight are very detailed and speak to some deeper techniques for capturing people’s attention and transferring your enthusiasm for your product to them.

These eighteen rules are just a framework, and are based on demoing at a conference. However, the rules can apply, to various degrees, to presenting your product to investors, partners and potential employees.

11. Show Don’t Tell

12. Use inclusive words, live in the present

13. One driver, one navigator

14. How to handle technical issues

15. The Setup

16. Horrible ways to start your presentation:

17. Describe your product five times

18. Change up your style (i.e. shift your tone)

Go big by starting small

January 31, 2008

Business Week has an interesting story about how the tables are being turned on where technology first gets adopted. It used to be the small & medium sized organizations waited for the trickle down from what was being implemented at large corporations. The article highlights how the reverse is now happening. That is, small & medium businesses are adopting technologies that are then migrated upstream. and RightNow Technologies are two examples cited. This is instructive for companies developing their go-to-market strategies.

I’ve observed this going one step further. That is, there are a number of examples where consumers and end users are adopting technologies before businesses and/or their own companies. Recent examples include instant messaging, peer to peer technologies, social networks and blogging. They’ve all started at a grassroots level before moving upstream. In most cases, new features have to be added to address organizational issues but they’ve already overcome the biggest obstacle — end user adoption — so the feature investment is well justified. In the early days, with consumers/end-users, the bar for bulletproof software is lower which is a plus while the young company is tight on resources. Over time, the bar will raise for a variety of reasons (req’ts of enterprise customers, scalability, competition, etc.) and the organization may require more funding/resources to scale. Tim Oren had a good post earlier in the year on two-stage companies that fit with this approach.

Update: Payscale is another example of a business that started at the end user or small business level before moving upstream. This article highlights what they’ve done.

Top 5 Tools For Generating Sales Leads

March 31, 2007

Top 5 Tools For Generating Sales Leads

From a podcasting news site, this talks about the top 5 sales lead generators.

When asked, “Which offers are ‘very effective’ for generating high-quality leads?” marketers in all three areas studied – technology services firms, and business software and hardware – put Blog and the Podcast in the top five.

The information comes from Marketing Sherpa’s annual survey of business technology marketing executives. About 1,900 responded to the survey.

Top 5 Tools For Generating Sales Leads

·         1. Free Trials — Business software marketers ranked free trials extremely highly, with 54% calling trials very effective.

·         2. Webcast — At 41% this was another favorite for software marketers, however technology services and related hardware firms also ranked webinars at 33% and 31% respectively.

·         3. White paper — All business technology marketers rated white papers fairly evenly, giving white paper offers ratings ranging from 31-36% ‘very effective.’

·         4. Blog — 35% of software and ASP marketers rated their blog as very effective, as did 33% of technology services firms. However, just 19% of hardware companies felt that a corporate blog was effective. This may be because general business executives are more likely to read a blog, while IT staffers may not.

·         5. Podcast — Last year the concept of a podcast was barely on the technology marketing map. By June 2006, 22% of software marketers who’d given a podcast called them ‘very effective’ lead generation tools. Perhaps IT professionals are more likely to be in an early adopter community that might listen to a podcast.

Source: Marketing Sherpa (PDF)

The Best Startup Advice I Have

July 31, 2006

David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners has had a similar experience to Altus Alliance when he recounts “The Best Startup Advice I have”. That is, after hearing what Mark Leslie had to say it changed the way we did business. He does a nice job of recapping Mark’s principles. For more on Leslie’s Enterprise Sales Learning curve, I provided an update in an earlier post.

Sales Learning Curve Assessments

December 1, 2005
Altus Alliance established a relationship with Mark Leslie who has fathered the Sales Learning Curve (SLC). Not too long ago, I provided an update on progress on getting the word out on this ground-breaking thought process. One of the challenges that we saw when we initially heard Mark go through his presentation and read his whitepaper (PDF) was how to put his thinking into action.

Dave Jones (industry veteran who cut his teeth at IBM, got Oracle into the enterprise space in the late 80’s and then played startup exec roles and served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for a VC before starting Altus) has taken the lead in building an offering that would be high impact for our clients without breaking their finite banks. He’s architected an Assessment project that helps startup businesses accelerate hitting their revenue inflection point . He just led another one that wrapped up recently. I’ll let his clients do the honors on the impact of those “SLC Assessment” projects. [We try to limit marketing puffery on this blog but it’s nice to see one of my partners knock it out of the park]

“We had recently begun our go-to-market stage of growth and commissioned Altus Alliance to complete an SLC Assessment to help us optimize our revenue processes. Through their comprehensive interview and analysis process, and their extensive individual business experiences they brought real value to me and my team. The SLC assessment process was very thorough, thought provoking, and non-disruptive, while the benefit of identifying key revenue and learning leverage points was tangible and actionable.”

Nosa Omoigui, CEO — Nervana (startup in the “semantic search” space)

“Altus Alliance was asked to conduct an LSC engagement with us to support our efforts to identify and improve key points of revenue leverage within our marketing, product and sales organizations, and to help us determine the merits of new market entry versus other potential uses of funds. The process results were insightful and actionable. They hit it out of the park”

Tim Bauman, COO — SM&A (a $80mm public firm in SoCal)

Sales Learning Curve update

July 31, 2005

Given the strong feedback we received for more information on the Sales Learning Curve framework Mark Leslie presented at the Altus Alliance CEO briefing, I will provide an update periodically on the latest information regarding the Sales Learning Curve. The following are updates since that event:

  • Mark’s presentation and whitepaper was posted on this page.
  • Altus has conducted a couple SLC Assessments with clients and received very positive feedback on how they are helping focus the company’s energies towards what’s going to maximize their sales yield.
  • An article was written in the leading digital media marketing publication about the Sales Learning Curve.
  • Search engines are starting to pick up more articles and insights around the SLC. Here’s what Google, MSN and Yahoo have.
  • We are working with an institutional investor on incorporating an SLC Assessment into their due diligence process as they see how it can be a better predictor of success than what they’ve done historically. Conversely, we have a client starting their next fundraising round and they are using the SLC Assessment as a preparation tool for that process.

After the event, the quote I liked best was from a serial entrepreneur –

“I thought that the talk was nothing short of excellent. Often those things are lame-o and I will tell you that this was top 1%. Thanks again for including us. Do you have the deck? We would love to see it.”

Those types of events are a lot of work but that kind of feedback makes it worth it. We hope to do another event down the road but are focused on putting the SLC through its paces in the meantime.

Mark Leslie, Founder and former CEO of Veritas, presents the Enterprise Sales Learning Curve at the Columbia Tower Club

January 31, 2005
Mark Leslie
Founder & former CEO/Chairman, Veritas

Our guest speaker, Mark Leslie, presented on “The Sales Learning Curve – Why it Always Takes Longer and Costs More” at the Columbia Tower Club on January 28. Mark, currently a professor at Stanford Business School, is working with Altus Alliance to study the stage of growth between new product release and the revenue inflection point – a critical point in the growth of any business.

About the Altus Alliance Sales Learning Curve (SLC) Practice

In 2004, Altus introduced the SLC Practice to translate the Sales Learning Curve theory, developed by Mark Leslie; former CEO of Veritas, and other colleagues at Stanford Business School, into powerful management tools.

Altus offers four SLC Services that develop an estimated SLC, manage the factors impacting the curve, and accelerate traction:

SLC Assessment
Deep dive SLC assessment and recommendations to accelerate traction. Includes executive interviews, market analysis, and dynamic modeling of SLC.

SLC Executive Workshop
One day cross functional workshop to address corporate goals relative to the business SLC. Includes prioritization of issues and development of road map.

SLC Execution
Month-to-month interim role. Engaged with client to fill key staffing gaps and needs while helping to manage SLC methodologies on an ongoing basis.

SLC Coaching
Ongoing executive level coaching. Primarily aimed at fully-staffed businesses who have adopted SLC principles and request guidance going forward.