Tony Jackson is the Regional Director of Enterprise Sales at Snowflake and covers the Pacific Northwest region. In this conversation, we wind back to when he joined Snowflake in 2018. Coming from MongoDB and Tableau, Tony found Snowflake far from the revenue engine that it is today. So what was it like?
We had no first call deck!
Anu: [00:00] Imagine it’s Feb 2018 and you’re about to walk into Snowflake on your first day at work. What does it feel like? Take us back to what it was going to be for the next 30 days or 90 days?
Tony: [00:12] My first day was actually the first day of their fiscal year. And it was a QBR session for two days down in San Mateo. And I just walked in, ready to learn. I think there’s no better time to join the company than the start of the year when you’ve got QBRs, you’ve got sales kickoff, you get this accelerated learning environment. My first week was kind of consumed with QBRs. My second, we were in Tahoe for a sales kickoff, which actually was the entire company at that point, which was 370 employees. They’d bring everybody out to Tahoe and they were just instituting this methodology called the forest management command of the message. Command of the message is really a framework for guiding a customer conversation and being able to understand a customer’s current state and the negative consequences of that current state. Their desired future state and the positive business outcomes of that future state. The requirements that would be needed for them to achieve those positive business outcomes. And then understanding how they would measure whether or not your product would meet those capabilities. And then being able to so flip and articulate, ‘Well, here’s how we meet those required capabilities. Here’s how we do it differently, uniquely or better than any of our competitors. And then here’s some customer proof, here’s examples of other customers that we’ve helped do that.’ So it was a really interesting time because it was very clear to me and we’ll talk later about my Mongo DB experience, where we used that same methodology and it was the same process in terms of onboarding, but it was dialed… I’ll just say that it was not dialed.
[01:45] We were very much trying to figure that out at Snowflake. That was my first couple of weeks on the job. And then going into the field, literally, I distinctly remember going to my first customer meeting and asking one of our reps, ‘What’s our standard meeting deck that we use’ and he’s like, ‘Oh, we don’t have one. Everybody just kind of does their own thing.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, this is going to be fun. There’s going to be some building here.’ And so I really leaned in with all the people that were having success. And I said, ‘Well, what do you do? How do you approach the first meeting?’ And then I tried to build for a lot of our sellers, ‘Here’s a structure that we can use in first meetings.’ And I think there’s a real balance between creating a framework that is predictable, scalable, repeatable, but not a template. And not mandating that everybody sounds like machines where it’s the exact same message by every single person. You want to allow for enough framework for people to tailor the message and sell in their own unique ways, really hone in on the things that they do well in part because it will help them be more effective, but also in part because if you continue that documentation and collaboration, it’s just going to keep getting better because that’s how you scale it. It’s constantly evolving to this day.
[03:00] Literally over winter break, I’m looking at what some of my reps are doing that are different than others that I’m saying, ‘How do we incorporate this such that more people are using these components?’
Refining Messaging & Tailoring the Narrative
Anu: [00:00] Could you give us an example of a person who was doing it really well and what you borrowed from there?
Tony: [00:04] I would say early on at Snowflake I think we lack some maturity with respect to the corporate messaging. In part, ‘Hey, we were branded as a data warehouse’, which has evolved into a ‘data platform’ and then the ‘data cloud’, which is more strategic. And then we always talked about our results for customers in the context of faster query times. That puts you in a conversation with a certain user or buyer different than when you’re talking about revenue, cost, risk, things that organizations want to invest in. And so early stage, I can think of one seller in particular, his name is Evan Blake and Evan had a ton of experience. He’s a 20 year software sales veteran – success, everywhere that he goes, a lot of maturity in doing big strategic deals with complex organizations. And Evan was ahead of the curve and very much set the tone for our sales organization in terms of maturation of our articulation of our value proposition.
[01:00] I would take a lot of things that Evan would do and the ways that he would translate how a feature equals reduction in costs, increase in revenue. He just did a really masterful job with some of those things. Another thing that he did really well was, at Snowflake, we have a lot of data in terms of the way that our customers use our product. And Evan was the master at being able to look at our internal analytics and to be able to project what the out year forecast would be in terms of our customer’s consumption. And he was able to go position that using data with our customers to get them to actually understand, ‘Hey, we need to increase our investment.’
Anu: [01:38] Could you give us an example of a place where he tied a feature to the actual business outcome in a way nobody else was able to.
Tony: [01:46] A lot of people have figured it out since, but I think he was ahead of the curve. One of the core differentiations is this notion of true separation of storage and compute and true separation of compute from compute, meaning you can have these independent, isolated computer [00:02:00] environments and those can be internal or external to your organization. And so before it was trendy, it’s like very much a huge part of the go to market motion now. But Evan was very much a pioneer in talking to customers locally. And being able to portray that into, ‘Hey, you should be thinking about building customer facing analytics products on top of Snowflake.’ So rather than thinking about Snowflake as an internal data warehousing product that we’d use for corporate internal analytics, how do you go monetize this strategic technology platform? Or how do you replatform an existing product? Where you can reduce your COGs and increase your time to market. I’d say that was kind of a key learning early that he, and some other folks on our team really had dialed.
Anu: [02:42] And what was important about customer facing applications?
Tony: [02:45] Yeah, in part, because if you think about that value proposition really multiplies when you have more users. And so when you have thousands of people trying to at the same time access to the same data that creates a lot of problems in basically any other technology, not named Snowflake in our space.
[03:00] It really just accentuates our value proposition and then the other piece to that puzzle is that it’s also tied to revenue for customers. So it translates to larger opportunities for Snowflake.
Anu: [03:14] The second point that you mentioned where he was able to project the usage into the future and bring that back to the customer to say, ‘Hey, there isn’t enough investment going on here.’ Could you speak more about that?
Tony: [03:26] I’d say that the generic Snowflake rep in 2018 would have gone into a renewal conversation with a customer and said, ‘Well, here’s how much you bought last year. How much do you want to buy this year?’ Or there may be some proactive suggestion of what to buy, but Evan and a few other members of our team, Danny Purcell was another person that was really good at being able to really dig into the data and say, ‘Well, your month over month growth rates look like this.’ And they can isolate and say, ‘Well, this was a new workload that hasn’t hit its full ramp yet. And so you actually need to account for that.’
[04:00] And they would open up a discovery conversation and they would use this kind of consumption forecasting conversation with customers as a way to identify to the benefit of customers – ‘Are there other use cases you should be thinking about leveraging Snowflake for, and should we be planning for that?’ So it created this great dynamic with our customers, such that, both the customer and Snowflake would benefit by really roadmapping what projects do we need to look at leveraging Snowflake for and what kind of investment would be required to do that and does that make sense? Just getting really deep into the granular levels of the data really made a big impact being able to do that successfully.
Anu: [04:33] How were you able to get into the customer’s mind about the roadmap? For example, there’s this chunk of usage that is coming from this application. And have you considered other use cases? How did you make that leap? And even just this first application, hasn’t quite hit production. And so how did you make that leap?
Tony: [04:49] It’s just approaching the conversation more strategically. So if you approach the conversation by saying that, ‘Hey, the point of a consumption forecast exercise is really to align and zoom out and help us understand how much data do you have as an organization. What are all the different use cases and where does that data live today? Some of that’s in Snowflake, some of it’s not. And then just through dialogue, we could uncover and say, ‘Wow, you’re doing this over there. Well, how’s that working?’ And they say, ‘Oh well, not well’, or ‘ I have this pain point’, or ‘I have this thing that I want to go do.’ It would open up a dialogue about, ‘Could Snowflake be a better solution for that?’ It’s the mindset of being a little bit more strategic, a little bit more consultative, really focused on customer outcomes, as opposed to a transactional conversation about doing a deal.
Working Backwards from Customer Outcomes
Anu: [00:00] We all speak about customer outcomes. And it’s the first thing you mentioned, it’s kind of thing that you want to in fact measure. Bring that home with one example of what that customer outcome looked like.
Tony: [00:08] There was a startup company that was trying to get acquired and they had been trying to get acquired for probably two and a half or three years. They were having challenges doing it because as their chairman said, and I quote, ‘ Our margins were pitiful.’ that was the challenge. They just couldn’t get investors to buy in on the company until they could improve their margins. And so we really sat down and had a very deep conversation about understanding at a line item level, what their COGs looked like. through that process, we were able to uncover that their underlying technology architecture that was powering their customer facing analytics had a lot of waste and they had an army of people required to manage it. What we did was, we said, ‘All right, let’s take all those specs and let’s understand, project. Okay, if we did this on Snowflake, what would that look like?
[01:00] There were some cost benefits of our technology versus the underlying platform that was there and there was a massive reduction in administrative overhead that was needed. literally the single most important thing that this founder did, he would, he would tell you is change his backend architecture from I won’t name what it was before, but an existing technology platform and move it over to Snowflake. It nearly doubled their margins. And they got acquired within six months of becoming a Snowflake customer after demonstrating that they in fact had improved their margins at a really healthy back valuation. When we think about customer outcomes, that’s probably as good as it gets. It aligns to the company’s most strategic initiative.
[01:38] And so one of the practices that we’ve implemented at Snowflake is this notion of value engineering to be able to uncover with a customer and a collaborative discussion, what results are they trying to achieve or do they think they can get from an ROI standpoint and/or with an existing customer actually going through and saying, ‘Hey, when you look at what your alternative was, or when you look at what you were using before, how does that compare from a cost standpoint, from a revenue standpoint, from a risk standpoint, from a differentiation standpoint, and how do we measure that?
[02:09] And it’s really just creating a framework in guiding customers through it. They own all the data. They own all the inputs, but it’s just getting them to think in ways that they may not have been thinking before. And then the output of all of that actually translates to -> now you have wonderful artifacts that you can go in and have confidence when you go lead a customer conversation with a prospective customer saying, ‘ Hey, customers, get these outcomes with Snowflake. Let’s dive into what that means for you. So now you’re having a business conversation as opposed to a technical conversation.’
Persona of the Internal Champion
Anu: [00:00] Who did you want to involve in the conversation with the customer as part of the value engineering discussion?
Tony: [00:04] There’s a perfect persona and it’s gotta be the person who understands your technology enough. You can’t just purely have this with a business stakeholder who doesn’t understand the tech. And in most cases you’re not having it with the person who is the core user of your product. It’s usually somebody right in between who has enough access across the business and enough purview into what’s happening in all the different areas and can translate from a business and technical standpoint, both ways. And understands how a specific feature of Snowflake equals differentiation that would cost significantly more. So I’d say operational overhead is a big component oftentimes when we go through those. When you’re talking to a CFO, they don’t necessarily think in those terms. I mean, they think in those terms, but they can’t correlate how your product versus a different investment is going to help them reduce costs in those ways.
[01:00] And so it takes a really strong champion who can stand up to the CFO and the CFO respects what they say, but also can say, ‘Hey, well, these technology features, if we didn’t have them, it would require for additional head count to do these tasks. I don’t have to hire these people because I invest in this technology. It’s a no-brainer just from that standpoint, but then there’s a whole bunch of other value that we’ve summarized and articulated here.’ It’s usually somebody that’s kind of that director level and can speak technical and business.
Anu: [01:27] The next milestone for me as a person selling to the company was to get them to try the product. Were there any specific things that worked really well to get customers to try the product?
Tony: [01:37] Honestly, I think it was just that it was easy. But if you were to ask some of the people that were the absolute first on the ground, they would tell you legitimately, ‘I used to beg people for like a hundred dollars orders. Literally beg people.’ Really it’s all about identifying the people in organizations who want to be change agents. Forward-thinking and innovators. And if you can just get in front of as many of those people as possible, and then have such enthusiasm and passion and conviction that your product or your technology is going to align to objectives that they care about, I think that’s the magic of convincing somebody to just try it. And we did that really, really, really well for a long period of time at Snowflake.
Anu: [00:00] Were there any failures that you remember?
Tony: [00:02] Of course. It’s a really hard balance when the orientation of the go to market focus is about new customers. We call them capacity ones or cap one customers the first time that a customer purchases capacity to use Snowflake. And so we just had this absolute obsession with cap one’s capital one’s capital one’s cap ones. And that was great. It established this wonderful foundation of an install base, which gives you a lot of product feedback. It gives you a brand, it gives you momentum. It gives you so many things outside of just revenue, which it also brings. But there were times that we got too focused on that and we would do what you might consider like hit and runs, which is, ‘Hey, we just went in and we had that meeting. We said, ‘This is the best product ever, Give us $20,000, and your life is going to be changed.’ And we didn’t take the time to really diligently understand what are the business objectives and really help a customer through that. And so there are some scenarios where when you do a more transactional sales cycle like that, you are perceived as transactional and you’re perceived as maybe low value or for a specific small use case. you have to overcome that.
[01:09] The other is we probably burned cycles chasing deals like that. That would have been better served chasing deals that have much larger addressable markets within the companies. And that’s clearly been an evolution for us. When I started probably every rep at Snowflake had a hundred accounts, sometimes more as their territory. Going into next year most of my team will have like five. That’s a totally different motion. You’ve got to have a really strategic, thoughtful account plan that you are diligent executing against every day, every week. And then you’re really navigating a very complex multi-stakeholder, sales process. And that is a drastically different motion that oftentimes requires a different skillset that also impacts what’s the hiring profile and how do you think about territory design. So big shift over the last couple of years, lots of lessons learned from mistakes, but those are also our successes.
Anu: [02:06] How did you even realize that this change is required? What struck you as, ‘Hey, we’re doing something wrong!’
Tony: [02:11] There’s a balance you want to have leaders and you want to have salespeople on your team who have been through this journey and they’ve seen the other side. There’s really no substitute for that. So that helps, but maybe more importantly for the people that a have that in and the people that don’t, it’s more about just being aware that you are missing things.
And so you’re measuring every little thing. And you’re taking opportunities to do that. We are pretty diligent and thoughtful about measuring, not just bookings and revenue and capacity one deals, but actually looking at what are we doing from a pipeline standpoint, we’re looking at conversion ratios from stage to stage. We’re looking at stage velocity. When you start to get into those data points, you start to realize it becomes clear. ‘Oh, well, here’s where deals get stuck. All right. Well, what type of customers are we getting stuck with? What tactically can we do in terms of our go to market approach that might speed up this process from stage X to stage Y.
[03:06] Then we try to create from a leadership standpoint a structure such that this kind of organically comes to fruition so that it doesn’t require every single person to think that way for my team in particular, we do Monday morning meetings that are focused on specific topics, really focused on learning.
[03:23] We do Friday meetings where everybody comes to the call and they share which opportunities did they create this week? Which opportunities did they advance from stage X to stage Y. Which deals did they close? What did they learn that would be applicable for the group? What’s something that they did for somebody else or somebody else did for them. That starts to build this culture of collaboration and iterative learning. And I think those are all really, really valuable parts of making sure that you’re not missing things or at least identifying the things that you’re missing so that you can solve them quicker.
PoCs, PoCs, PoCs!
Anu: [00:00] Could you connect the dots between which metrics triangulated to the point that you realized that you’re not taking forward the cap one deals?
Tony: [00:08] We’ve got like seven different sales stages. One of them is called technical/business impact validation. And what we find is that most deals actually get to that point. Snowflake’s got a great product. We solve a problem that almost universally, every company has. And so it’s very rare that we go have a first meeting and they say, ‘Meh..This isn’t a good fit.’ So we almost always get to the point where they say, ‘ Yeah, we have a problem. We’re interested.’ We think that you might be able to solve it. And then when we get into this notion of, ‘All right, everybody wants to do a POC, POC, POC, POC. Some customers are more adept than others at being able to do the business validation. And so we would see here’s where the deals are getting stuck and here’s how long they’re sitting in that stage.
[01:00] And so now we can understand, ‘All right, well what are we doing to lead this technical validation. I don’t say POC because there are other ways to do it. And so I think there’s been a real concerted effort around how do we become more efficient in those areas so were helping guide the customer more about here’s all the things you might want to think about: testing. And here’s the way that you can test them. We’re going to do these three features via a demo. You’re going to talk to a customer reference for these two, and then we should upload some sample data and you can test these three as opposed to waiting for the customer who doesn’t really have a well formed plan and is busy and has other priorities to go piece all that together and articulate to us what their test plan is and how they’re going to execute it. And that has a material difference with respect to conversion rate and velocity in that stage.
Anu: [01:42] And once you have passed the POC, then it’s really just about bringing production data over to the platform.
Tony: [01:47] Yeah, pretty much. Generally speaking, when a customer actually goes through a process and validates our technology they usually end up buying it. It’s pretty rare that they, that they test it and choose something else.
Mechanisms for Review & Growth
Anu: [00:00] Wanted to very briefly about the Monday meetings, which is where you mentioned the learnings happen, and the Friday meetings where you come back and share what happened in the field. Can you just briefly explain how they’re different and what roles each one serves?
Tony: [00:13] Monday morning, 8:00 AM we kick it off and it’s everybody. So we’ve got all of our account executives. We’ve got our sales engineers, we have our field marketing, we have our SDRs. We have our ABM team. Got a whole bunch of people all in on this call. That’s part of the methodology too, is we are all one team. It’s a revenue team. It’s not the sales team and the sales engineering team or the SDR team. We are one unit. And we’ve switched it up a number different times. I’d say every quarter, we look at it with a fresh lens. So one quarter, as an example, we assigned each AE and SE it just so happened, there were like 12 of them, you pick the topic. So it’s on you to come present something that you think your peers would care about. And it can be anything. I mean, it can be about a new feature. It could be competitive intelligence. It could be, the way that they do prospecting, it could be the way that they run a first meeting, it could be bring a guest speaker, internal or external from the organization.
[01:03] And so we get this kind of healthy blend of different topics. Although it is tough for some, 8:00 AM, to get the gears going. I think in general it ends up bringing everybody together, especially in a remote world and it continues to contribute to people’s learning in different ways.
[01:19] And then the Friday meeting, it’s quick hitter. The Monday meeting is an hour. The Friday meeting is 30 minutes and it oftentimes doesn’t even go 30 minutes. For me, it’s a mechanism to highlight things that people either learned or succeeded or failed with.
[01:35] Maybe even more important than that it serves as this mechanism for each individual to be more thoughtful about those topics. At the beginning when we did this, people would say, ‘Oh, well, I don’t know what I learned this week.’ All right, well, that’s not a good answer. I hope you learned something this week. And it’s just because they’re not consciously thinking about what they’re learning, but it kind of forces that thinking to say, ‘ I want to be more mindful about the things that I’m learning. I want to be more mindful about the successes I’m having, that I should be sharing with others that I may just be too busy to kind of pick my head up and do on my own or I need help with something and I want to ask the group. We uncover a lot of stuff during those because inherently somebody is going to be ahead in a specific area where everybody else is having a problem. And so I love those fact that we’ve kind of held that structure. We’re really consistent with it. We very rarely cancel the calls because we want it to be valuable and we want to have that kind of consistency so that people know what to expect.
Anu: [02:30] Maybe a couple of examples of surprises that you’ve picked up from one of those calls?
Tony: [02:34] At the beginning of them, I mentioned this notion of the first thing that each person talks about is, ‘ Which opportunities did I create? Which opportunities did I advance, and which opportunities did I close?’ We also have a short blurb about what’s your updated forecast for the quarter. I think the thing that is really enlightening with that structure is just the way people think. So there are some people on the team that when it’s their turn for that topic, they literally just like, they’re looking at their calendar and they’re like trying to like do it on the fly. They just ramble about the meetings that they had and it’s not very coherent or thought out. And then you have some people that are just like, ‘ I created three opportunities. I advanced this one from this stage to this stage. I closed this deal for this much, that puts me at this for the quarter I’m forecasting this.’ And they just have pure command of their business.
[03:22] The surprise for me because I’m oriented that way is that not everyone is, and some people need some help and guidance with respect to how to get to that point. And that’s a growth opportunity.
Building the Muscle for Hunting Whales
Anu: [00:00] You alluded to that point earlier where do you move from this high-velocity, high customer volume to growing your accounts? That was the next phase, if I’m not mistaken?
Tony: [00:10] Yeah, very much so. Part of it is rewards and measurements. There was this notion of like cap one, where it was this cult thing where it was like cap one, cap one, cap one. That’s not really the focus anymore. There’s been a big shift to the notion of consumption. And that’s in part because some of the hit and run deals, where it’s like you sell a deal and it wasn’t that strategic. And maybe the customer didn’t adopt it fast enough. Those are edge cases. We have phenomenal backend economics in terms of organic expansion when we do land. But we’re now a publicly traded company and we recognize revenue when customers use the product, not when they pay us or when we book a deal. Half of everybody’s compensation plan is tied to consumption quota. How much are the customers using? So that completely shifts the approach.
[00:54] Most good reps were already doing that because the only way to get more growth out of an account is if they use what they already bought. But now there’s this real, real focus on how do I get customers consuming faster and consuming more. We’re pretty fortunate the way that our product and our commercial model works. We want efficient usage of our product. We want value. Like we want our customers to say my cost to value ratio is really, really good. And so it puts us in this healthy position to go to customers and really care about ‘ are you getting value and how are you getting value and how can we help you get more value?’ And so we’ve implemented a structure around that.
[01:35] Now when we onboard a customer, we’ve got a pretty regimented, ’Here’s a kickoff call. Here’s our touch points over the first month that are either weekly or monthly depending on the engagement and the customer. Here’s how we run a QBR every quarter with customers and here’s the topics we want. Here’s the people we want that we’re already talking to on their side. Here’s the people that we are talking to, that we want to bring in. We’re really thoughtful around that. We do executive round tables every six months in some accounts such that we’re getting in front of the C-suite and understanding what they care about. We’re making sure that they’re aware of the value that we’re bringing such that now, when it comes time to go write another check that oftentimes is a big multiple of what the first one was. Now they feel like, okay, I’m getting good value. So that entire process drastically different than how do I just go get meetings and convince a new customer to try the products and then that’ll go expand mostly organically or on its own.
[02:30] The tricky part about it is managing your time always. So there’s this constant assessment of where is the biggest TAM and where do we have enough momentum? It’s a little bit of a balance. Thoughtful territory design is the key element of this. I know that we’re talking about Snowflake evolving to a much bigger stage, but I would encourage startups that are trying to get their first 10 customers to actually have thoughtful territory design even if it’s the founder is [00:03:00] the sales person. Be really mindful, have an opinion, have a guess, ‘I think these are my top 50 targets, companies and people, and I’m going to go run against that and then I’m going to learn and I’m going to figure out. So you’re constantly reevaluating, reassessing. Where am I getting the most bang for my buck. In our scenario with existing customers, we do the same thing. We really start to see which customers are picking it up, what other use cases do they have and, when you start to see, ‘All right, there’s probably not a whole lot more here’, then we shift to, ‘Hey, we’re in support mode for them. We’re more reactive than proactive or we scale it back to some degree. And then in the other places where it’s, ‘Wow, there’s just so much opportunity for this customer to use us’. Then you’re tripling down. You’re all in. You’re bringing in more resources from your company. It’s not just a you thing. It’s really important that you’re connecting them with other customers, with partners, with product team members in Snowflake, your sales engineer. There’s just an army of resources that you want to make available.
[04:00] You can do that at any stage obviously. You always want to appear bigger than you are. The more people you can bring in and make a customer feel the love the better. The way that I think about territory design in the context of my team is really, ‘How do we ensure that there’s enough Tam here so that people will be successful. We can’t have a scenario where people are starving. The number one thing that matters is rep productivity. My objective is every single member of my organization hits their number. It’s not about how do I hit my number by loading the top two people with all the opportunities and everybody else starves, which is unfortunately the way it works in most places.
Anu: [04:36] What do you do when you see momentum slowing down with a customer where, you know, there’s a large time, but it’s just not moving.
Tony: [04:42] You’ve got to either try to get wider or higher usually. So you’re trying to understand, are there different groups that you aren’t talking to that you should be? You’re trying to get to a higher level in the organization and sometimes you have to bring somebody higher in your own organization to get access to those people. Oftentimes you think about the partner ecosystem. We’ve got this vibrant partner ecosystem where we have cloud partners, we have BI partners, we have ETL partners, we’ve got SI partners.
[05:08] And so really doing your diligence with all the partners, understanding and getting data points for cross to say, what opportunities are there in this account and what are the ways to unlock them? Who are the key people that you need to be in touch with? Uncovering every rock I think is kind of the way to go do it.
Anu: [05:25] This is sort of rounding out this section about sustaining momentum. Um, How do you know it’s working?
Tony: [05:31] Two main things are listening to your customer. It becomes apparent when it’s working. It’s kind of like you just know. And it’s in part, cause you’re listening to your customer and it’s in part because you’re measuring your results. Again, not just bookings and revenue, but do we have healthy pipeline? Are we accelerating our velocity of the different stages? Are we converting at the different stages? Are those getting better? Are they getting worse? It’s just measuring the data and listening to your customers, I think are the primary ways that you know that it’s working.
Inside Sales – Revenue Engine & Promotion Path to the Field
Anu: [00:00] Super interesting for me to just understand how you thought about inside sales and how it has shifted, not just where it sits in the organization, but how you think about it.
Tony: [00:11] The profile of the early, early Snowflake reps was actually more of people that were inside sales reps. And it was their first opportunity to sell in the field. And so they were doing in-person meetings and that seems like a totally foreign concept now. But that was kind of the first Snowflake sales team was a younger profile, hungry, good prospecting, a lot of velocity, aligned well with that go to market approach that we discussed earlier. We started to hire more experienced seasoned people who had a little bit more maturity.
[00:41] I mentioned to Evan Blake, Andrew Songer is another person, myself, Danny Purcell, people that have more chops in enterprise selling and strategic deals, bigger deals, all those types of things. As we were going through that motion and maturing our field sales organization, we were also starting to build the inside sales organization and it started with an SDR team that was responsible for delivering pipeline to the field. And then obviously, we were hiring so many people. It’s like, ‘Wow, now you have all these talented young people who are very eager early career professionals. And now we’ve got to create a home for them. And so that’s where the corporate account executive role came because the delta between being an SDR and field seller selling to strategic accounts is far too big to just jump to it for 99% of people.
[01:24] And so we started to develop the corporate account executive inside sales team. And that’s a group that I think has done a fantastic job over the last couple of years and really evolving in terms of the way that they hire people, the way they develop them, the promotion path to the field, the productivity of the team. I’d say one of the biggest things that they’ve done that has led to their success is they’ve realized Snowflake’s kind of a complex product for a younger, less experienced sales person to be able to go navigate. And so just completely simplifying it and saying, ‘Hey, you’re selling to smaller organizations. Typically have one to three buyers or influencers versus, multi-stakeholder highly complex. And we’re going to try to be really thoughtful about the build, use case, the application build, where customers are building customer facing applications on Snowflake.
[02:13] They’ve really developed this repeatable play, where they teach the inside sellers, ‘Here’s the play. Here’s who your buyer personas are. Here’s what they care about. Here’s the value proposition of our product relative to this use case. Here’s the examples or customer references that you can use to validate that.’ And that has created a lot of efficiency where we’ve got inside sellers our CFO would probably tell you that he just loves the economics of our inside sales organization, because it’s a lower cost of sale, so higher velocity, and now they’re starting to do bigger deals. It’s so important not only just in the sense of, ‘Hey, this is going to be a really efficient, part of the revenue engine for the company, but it also becomes the pipeline of talent, as you promote people up into the field or into leadership roles. The hiring that Snowflake has done over the last few years is almost unprecedented and will continue to be so. The way to really build a world-class organization because you can’t hire unicorns at scale. I think early stage we were hiring unicorns. The way to do it is to have a program such that you can take people who have great intangibles. They’re intelligent. They’ve got a lot of grit. They’ve got a lot of drive. They’ve got a lot of curiosity. They’re coachable. How do we just take that, get them into the organization, teach them, develop them and then promote them throughout the organization.
GTM approaches at MongoDB – Fun & Challenging!
Anu: [00:00] Want to wind back a little further to Mongo, and there’s so much contrast between Mongo and Snowflake. Maybe I’ll let you first set the stage and context for what brought you to Mongo and how was it there?
Tony: [00:11] I was with Tableau software through their IPO journey and I had heard of Mongo DB and candidly, I thought the name was silly. I was like, what is Mongo DB? That was like my only association with Mongo DB at that time. I had since moved to a startup where I was leading a larger team and I got recruited by them. Literally, I didn’t know anything about them. But obviously once I was recruited, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a company that’s really doing some cool stuff. great team, great products, good investors, great momentum.’ And so I ended up joining the company running the PAC Northwest we had probably five paying customers when I joined at Mongo DB in my region. And there are so many learnings associated with that. When you look at the positives, the benefits of open source, absolutely zero friction between the users and the product. And so you can really build a ton of momentum and adoption of your product. That also leads to a lot of healthy acceleration of your product development because you’re getting better feedback faster. What I thought was the most interesting is even though we had five paying customers, nearly every company that we were targeting had somebody in that company who was a user of our product and the users of the product loved the product.
[01:18] And so that was this really weird dynamic where you have predominantly a greenfield territory and no one’s paying you any money. But everybody loves you and they’re using you. It’s very interesting in a lot of ways. We can talk through some challenges. So first of all, selling open source is really hard. It’s really, really hard. It requires a lot of thought in a lot of different ways. When I joined, the go-to-market approach was, find and call it a smoke report, find the open source users and then convert them to being paid. The thought that that would be like the most logical way to go to market and to sell the lowest hanging fruit. It wasn’t, I don’t think that was the case. And there are a lot of reasons why.
[01:54] Number one, we didn’t require an email address for people to download the product. So you didn’t know who the users were. We could only see IP addresses tied to a specific company. So we could say X company has this amount of downloads over this period of time. And so you’d have to get really thoughtful and strategic plus have really solid fundamentals from a prospecting standpoint to just get in front of people and figure out who within this company is using the product already. We can talk through some ways that we did that.
[02:23] But some of the other challenges are your users and your buyers in the MongoDB instance are two different groups. There was an intentional strategy to have absolutely no differentiation between the open source product and the paid version of the product at that time for developers who were the user of the product. What would happen is developers were like, this is awesome. This is free. I build my applications. Great. Now, when an application is ready to go into production, a different team owns that there’s like an operations team that has to manage the database. Well, they didn’t like Mongo DB because it didn’t have all the tooling things that they needed most of the time. They weren’t even aware that a paid version existed. Now, imagine the conversation. You go to those people and they’re already kind of pissed off because they didn’t want this technology. It was dropped in their lap. And now you’re going to go convince them to give you money for something that in many cases was used because it was free. That dynamic was really challenging.
[03:17] The other thing I’ll point out is that the engineering orgs that were building applications are the ones with the power and the money. But we were asking for money from the operations group who doesn’t have money, doesn’t have power. It was this really interesting go to market approach. Because of that it was difficult to drive widespread adoption within an account because there was this polarizing, half the people were just like, I love this product, it’s the best thing ever. And then there was a lot of noise about this product sucks. And it was because of the limitations for the operational aspects of it. From the free version that, we had a solution for, but it was really challenging to educate at the same speed in which the product was being adopted from an open source standpoint. This all really changed, when they [00:04:00] added the Atlas products to their portfolio because now it allowed, reps to go in and have a completely different conversation with customers, which was, everybody had some strategy around moving to the cloud, building software applications either internally or for external customers. People wanted to get out of the business of having armies of DBAs managing databases. They really wanted to empower the engineering orgs. And so we could have a value based conversation with senior people tied to initiatives that had budget that had a lot of strategic value to the customer. That go to market is a million times different than chasing, ‘Hey, somebody is using the product for free and now I’m going to convince you that these incremental feature sets are worth this amount of money.’ That was Mongo DB in a nutshell.
Anu: [04:43] That was fascinating. There were two parts to it. So I want to go back one step, finding who was using the product and reaching them and having a conversation with them. Could you say more about how you did that?
Tony: [04:53] We had play that I’d say it was ‘build it and they will come’. We would see based on these smoke reports that X company had a certain amount of downloads over a certain period of time. So we would say, ‘ All right, we don’t know, you never really know cause it could be like one person downloading a ton of versions and doing a pet project for themselves. But you’d have a suspicion. I think there’s more prevalent usage in these companies. Where we thought there might be some smoke, we were very strategic and thoughtful about the way we would communicate this. But we would basically send out a mass email to specific people. We would actually do the research and say, We think that these are the right people. It was a big process actually to identify them on LinkedIn, get their email address, get into a spreadsheet. It was very old school. There’s better ways to do this now. But we would send an email that would say, ‘Hey, next Tuesday, September 7th, Mongo DB will be hosting an event for your company. And it’s focused on these things. And then we were really good about the bullet points of the agenda were like very relevant to the people that we were sending it to. And then we would say, if you’d like to be added to the invite list, simply reply and we’ll add you. Keep in mind, there was nothing, there was no event. It was worded in such a way that we weren’t lying. We were building the event and then they were going to come to it.
[06:06] We’d have to be really thoughtful; as people would respond, we would engage with them individually. I was blown away by the responses that we would get. And I think the underlying psychology is everybody wants to know what their peers are doing. There’s a total FOMO. People don’t want to be left behind. And so people would engage. They would respond to the emails sometimes completely unsolicited and say, ‘Hey, I’m using Mongo DB for this project and it’s been awesome. And literally you just get all this wonderful information. We were really, really good at running that play and getting that to uncover a ton of opportunity.
[06:37]The other things we would get would be, ‘ Hey I’ve heard of Mongo DB, I’m not using it. Who else in my company is using it?’ Now, when that happened, before we understood how somebody was using it, we had a problem. So we had to go find somebody that was using it. Get on a call with them, do some discovery to say that we wanted to optimize or maximize their time by building the agenda to tailor it for them. And we just do some [00:07:00] discovery. How are you using the product? What projects do you have? Tell me about your role. Imagine having that conversation with 12 different people over the course of two days. Now you’ve got momentum and you’ve got this critical mass of people that are interested. I remember just piecing together, then you have to call somebody and say, ‘Hey, can you book us a conference room?’ That was always the hard part. Logistically was, could you book us a room? And you know, if we were fortunate enough to do that, which we usually were, we found a way to do it.
[07:24] Then honestly you have like 45 people show up from different groups, different agendas. It was challenging to get everybody in the same direction. Over time, we also started to learn to maybe talk people out of that, because sometimes it didn’t go so well. And you had all these different people and, there’s no clear set agenda. So sometimes we would just tell people as they would respond like, ‘ Hey based on what we’ve learned about what you care about, we should just do a separate session with your team.’ And then it was a better result. a lot of fun games, things that we can apply, obviously in other other companies, but worked particularly well in an open source environment.
[07:55] I would say that the Atlas product, it’s more of a freemium nature. Obviously I haven’t been there for a few years, so I think it’s probably changed. But when I was there, it was still challenging because there was still this responsibility between the developer, who’s using the product and who’s going to manage it. So still this database is a service requires a lot less management. There were still ‘Well who owns this thing within the organization. That was still up for debate. That created some challenges with respect to who’s going to pay for this thing. Again, who’s your user versus who’s your buyer?
[08:23] And then there’s still idea of, ‘Well, should we manage it ourselves? There’s an open source version. Why don’t we just use that? We have teams, we have resources to do that. You’re still fighting that same conversation of open source versus paid.
Anu: [08:36] Obviously don’t see the open-source versus paid conversation and Snowflake, but do you still run into the situation where the buyer is different from the user because the infrastructure teams will be different.
Tony: Absolutely. That’s been the biggest part of the evolution I talked about. When I joined Snowflake was the cloud data warehouse company. And in reality, our technology was a data platform and people were using it for other use cases. And it had a lot more strategic value, but just the way that it’s positioned usually the beneficiary of Snowflake’s product is a CMO, a product leader, it’s somebody in the line of business and their organizations are the ones who stand to benefit. But nobody in those roles wants to talk about a data warehouse. ‘I have people that manage that for me. That’s not my conversation.’ That was the biggest challenge of, ‘How do we get in touch with the people who ultimately have the strategic initiatives, stand to benefit from our products, have the budget and the power, the authority to get stuff done. That was a difficult thing to navigate. It’s getting easier over time because the data cloud or a data platform is a lot more interesting conversation. We have so many customers who build products on people are willing to have those conversations. So now you can talk to revenue leaders, you can talk to executives. And then of course, having the largest software IPO in history helps from a credibility standpoint. So now everybody wants to talk to you for sure.