Five months ago I joined Dataminr as their first ever VP of Inside Sales. For those who know me well know that I love a challenge, especially when it comes to building sales teams from the ground up. Although I have “seen this movie” twice before at Jibe and Fuze, my new role at Dataminr came with a laundry list of new challenges.
One of these challenges included my team selling across all four of our market verticals – News, Finance, Public Sector and Corporate Security. Between my background in selling security tools to the public sector and marketing tools to marketing agencies, I knew that selling Dataminr to news, public sector and corporate security clients would present less of a challenge. However, I knew absolutely nothing about selling FinTech to hedge funds, asset managers, research firms or investment banks. I knew even less on how to sell to Traders, Portfolio Analysts and Business Intelligence folks. On top of all this, I also needed to recruit, hire and train a sales team capable of selling to these unique personas.
The following has been my step-by-step approach that I used to prepare and accomplish this massive challenge.
1. Initial Research
I didn’t go out and purchase a ‘how to’ book on selling or building a sales team. Instead, I purchased All About Hedge Funds by Ezra Zask. I learned about opportunities and risks in popular hedge fund strategies, how to search for profits in down markets, what short selling was, legal and regulatory guidelines for hedge funds and how to start my own fund. This was my first step into seeing things through the eyes of a hedge fund manager and investment professional.
2. Networking Within the Industry
Thank goodness for LinkedIn and my previously established network. I also have the fortune of having close friends who are hedge fund managers, research pros and portfolio managers. I spent a minimum of 30 minutes with each of them asking a series of calculated questions, like:
- How do you start you day?
- Which hours of the day are the busiest for you?
- Do you make buying decision when it come to investment research?
- What sources of data do you rely on to make investment choices?
Spending this time with them allowed me to further understand the pain points and persona of my buyers. My confidence was starting to grow.
3. Designing the Team
We generally look for reps who have sold technology into the sectors we’re trying to reach – for example, a rep from Bloomberg or another large corporation can do great things for us because they already know the value of breaking news and the impact social can have on financial markets.
We also have some really experienced, credible people with domain expertise. We’ve hired some ex-traders to ensure the quality of our programming and knowledge base. We also found success hiring ex-Fox News and CNN journalists who can evangelize the Dataminr solution to other journalists.
Out of my first four new hires, only one came from the finance sector. Although he had only spent just over a year in sales, he had exposure to finance buyer personas and experienced adversity within the industry. All too many times I see young people exiting college, getting a job and getting fired prematurely. This candidate was let go from his previous employer. You can’t teach someone how to manage adversity, so seeing his drive and initiative to get back on his feet along with his finance experience made this hire a no brainer. Combining his finance experience along with the ability to dust yourself off and move forward made this hire a no brainer.
If I can leave one piece of advice for new sales managers, it’s to be careful not to dismiss a candidate simply because they were fired. Being fired is a humbling experience and how someone responds to being fired will tell you volumes about them as a candidate.
I take note of these four things when interviewing:
- Preparation: I look at how prepared they are for the interview. It’s a good indication of their organization skillsets which is crucial for sales.
- Interest: I ask them how much they know about Dataminr. I don’t expect a perfect answer but it needs to make sense and can’t come out of left field.
- Attitude: I’ve let reps go just because of attitude even if they are good at their job, so I observe their attitude in the conversation and their energy level.
- Passion: I care a lot about people who have passions, outside hobbies and show self-improvement. I love finding people who have unique hobbies. I once interviewed someone who was ranked 16th in the world for yo-yo’ing. I think it’s a great sign of drive and a winner.
5. Segmenting Verticals and Setting Rules
I chose to lean on the Dataminr experts within our team to help segment our verticals. We have a sales team that handles what most would consider enterprise deals. As a leadership team, we decided to segment based on AUM (assets under management) and in non-hedge fund scenarios we went with employee size and quantity of traders at a given firm.
This was a critical step to my ability to grow an inside sales team appropriately. Since we are 90% outbound when it comes to demand generation and our pipeline was and still remains our #1 objective, we needed to establish target account lists and compile data quickly. This critical step also allowed for us to hit the ground running and amass a healthy pipeline in just under 45 days.
Hopefully, the framework above gives you confidence that even if you don’t have 100% domain expertise within your new industry, you can still be a successful Head of Sales. I’ve learned a lot since joining Dataminr and had great success with building the sales team here. It just takes a lot of determination and a desire to learn. My parting advice to all sales leaders is to always remain a student, seek help from others and just press go.