Session Notes

Building Your GTM Machine

Pam Kostka

Building a go-to-market engine to fuel growth and carve a path to profitability is critical for success, but rarely a straight line. We gathered two of our stellar Operator LPs who are scaling iconic companies to share their inside track on cracking the GTM code with OpCo founders, CEOs, and GTM leaders from our portfolio. 

The Speakers: 

Heather Akuiyibo: VP Sales, Databricks. Heather has been at the helm of Databrick’s sales since 2017. She didn’t just navigate through the pandemic, she crushed it. At the end of 2021, Databricks reported $800M in ARR, a NRR of 150% and over 7,000 customers, making it one of the top 10 most valuable companies.  

Olivia Nottebohm: Chief Revenue Officer / Advisor at Notion. Olivia grew Google’s Cloud Business internationally before joining Dropbox as COO, and most recently oversaw Notion’s entire marketing, sales, customer support and customer experience function, propelling the company to new heights. 

Here are the GTM gems they shared: 

Two key things to nail.

  • Hiring profiles for right now. Every single role should have a strong sense of what key skill sets are most important for this point in time. The AE you needed two years ago is not the AE you need now, and won’t be the AE you need in two more years. Constantly ratchet up the skill sets, and tweak and fine tune the target profiles. 
  • Enable your people. Find out what makes the first, or the best, sales person tick and codify it. Just get it on paper, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Train everyone on the path to success.

Mistakes not to make.

  • Reinventing the wheel. Value propositions for the customer can be standardized based on pattern recognition: stages of customer, business problems they face. Don’t allow too much deviation from the core fundamentals, and reel it in if it gets too far. Creative sales scenarios often come at the opportunity cost of sales for more standard applications.
  • Not serving the customer. Obvious one, but customer success needs to happen at a particular scale whether they ask for it or not. A lot of research can be done online and self-served. But if they don’t get helped after a certain level of spend, expect dropoff. 
  • Not asking for executive sponsorship: if sellers don’t want to ask for help, by the time the executive relationship comes through it can be too late. 
  • No champion, no deal. Find out who the power users are quickly, and reach out to them. You can help change the profile of someone on the customer side by giving them things to do, things to advocate for, and making them stand out as a champion.

Just start documenting.

  • Surprise! There is no one right way to GTM. There’s no exact model that will work perfectly for your specific team and company. And it will change as you grow.
  • Start writing down what works so people can learn from each other in the early days. Some salespeople are better at getting new logos, others are better at account management. 
  • Document who is responsible for what. How to use the tools. Explain management dashboards and why they’re important. Make it easy to search.
  • Start early with executive alignment so everyone knows when, where, and how it happens with every deal.
  • Having a playbook that evolves with you will always keep people in the loop about expectations and what good looks like. 
  • Capture videos and recordings from the best sales people. Having a library creates transparency and increases productivity. There’s nothing wrong with the beg, borrow, steal approach when it comes to best practices – and it’s important these sellers have the time to do what they do best versus onboard new people. 

Stay scrappy. 

  • Needs constantly change – internally, externally, different geos, etc. Stay flexible. 
  • Some things should work on a repeated basis, but have a tolerance for experimentation and empowerment. Never stop experimenting. 
  • Even the most sophisticated companies do things like a LinkedIn mosh on customers to find the relationships that can open doors and make the difference between a win and a loss. Relationships truly matter, even in PLG sales motions. 

Build your technical & data backbone before you think you need it. 

  • Get your systems right and invest in them early. Make sure you have your tech stack architected in a way that will scale overtime. If you’re not getting the inbound right now, a downturn can be a great time to do this properly. 
  • Data and storytelling are key components of realizing value. Decide what pieces of data matter, do the right tagging, and at the end of the day, data is where the answers lie. 
  • Get the balance of data and storytelling to drive the insight you need to prove.
  • When you don’t have enough clear data, listen to what the customer is saying and what the sales reps are saying. Keywords you hear can be a way into a story that wasn’t previously obvious.
  • Know what growth metrics matter to which teams like customer success and engineering, and think about what kind of north star internal metrics tell the true value. 

You’re probably going to be wrong 20% of the time. 

  • Don’t let perfection get in the way of good. Paralysis is the enemy of GTM success.
  • In a world where you don’t have perfect information, just make some bets. 
  • 80% of the best practices should be repeatable, 20% needs to be adapted. It’s easy to get stuck in old ways. Develop the muscle to recognize what’s repeatable, and what kinds of investments don’t have a return. Which is where culture can make a huge difference…

Keep it real, make it fun. 

  • Culture matters. There will always be deals that don’t go your way. Rather than trying to solve it yourself or run away, “embrace the suck”. From the CEO down, open and transparent communication informs teams about what’s really happening, and you can have a productive conversation about what is, and what is not, in your control to do differently. 
  • No support question is just a support question. All of the GTM functions work in concert with each other, and when something goes off the rails it shows up in other areas. It’s easy to point fingers, so always reinforce that the team is in it together. 
  • Spiffs and other incentives keep sales people engaged. Make it easy to participate, nominate each other, and celebrate as one team.
  • When there’s a big loss, talk about it. What are you going to lean into, what are you going to stop. Learning the hard way is valuable and should go into the playbook.
  • Map your successes to your values and customer needs.

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