Sasanka Atapattu, of LaunchSource, left MassTLC’s Sales & Marketing Summit on April 7, 2015 at UMass Boston with a pocketful of business cards. It’s no wonder why. Growing venture-backed tech companies are struggling to fill entry-level sales jobs, and that means they are potentially missing their revenue goals.
It turns out these tech companies don’t know how to market to young workers reluctant to enter a hard-charging work environment where success often boils down to a number.
LaunchSource has helped companies realize they need a different sales pitch to attract recent college grads, who want a team environment, stable pay and a clear career path.
Sales today is more commonly structured as teams, with lower-ranking members identifying prospects and developing early interest, someone else running through the specs or demos on highly technical products, and inside sales reps negotiating and closing deals.
LaunchSource focuses on those first-line business development representatives. It has “orders” from companies like Localytics, Acquia and ThinkingPhones to fill thirty-eight positions by next week.
I caught up with Sasanka at MassTLC’s Sales & Marketing Summit.
WB: Ethernet inventor and 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe famously said in a 1992 MIT Technology Review article Zen and the Art of Selling, “Most engineers think that on the food chain of life, salespeople are below green slime. They don’t understand that nothing happens until something gets sold.” Has this changed?
SA: I’m not sure if I agree with that statement today. Sales is critical for the success of any enterprise to grow. Sales has also fundamentally changed as a discipline. In some regards, successful salespeople need a very different skill set in order to be successful for today’s customer-centric business environment. Wheeler-dealers are out and problem-solvers are in.
WB: What’s changed?
SA: Today 60-70% of customers research something online before they make a purchase. That number is increasing. So, sales is moving rapidly from a “sell me a feature, tell me the benefit (push)” to “consultative and understanding.” (Salespeople should understand): Why did you (customer) visit our website? Why are you having marketing problems? Why are you paying too much for consultants? The “whys” lead to “hows.” How can we help you solve this problem? Tech sales now requires professionals to be digitally savvy, consultative, and data-driven in addition to many of the personality traits that have traditionally made one successful in sales such as ambition, coachability, intelligence, etc.
WB: That should appeal to recent grads infatuated with tech startups.
SA: LaunchSource identified a problem in the market. Today, colleges do not provide sales classes that educate and inform about what sales really is. There are a few minor exceptions, but nothing that really addresses the market need sufficiently. What we’ve seen is a lot of traditional sales training being pretty stale and outdated.
This creates a problem because graduates do not want to go into sales, simply because they don’t understand what sales is and how different it is from the stereotype of a pushy car salesperson.
LaunchSource evangelizes sales as a great career opportunity among an untapped talent pool, namely (past 1-5 years) college graduates that are looking to start their career in business. We focus exclusively on finding and providing foundational sales training (not company or product-specific) to recent grads for entry-level sales roles that we hope will grow into the next generation of business leaders.
WB: How is LaunchSource giving Boston area companies an edge?
SA: We use multiple channels to attract and screen through 150-200+ applicants a week specifically for the business development rep role. This allows companies to gain access to a larger pool of qualified candidates, shorten their hiring cycle, and spend more time focusing on what they do best, which is serving their target markets and delivering stakeholder value.
It allows companies to spend less time and money on recruiting for an entry level role that is critical for the success of the company, and spend more time on more senior level roles.
By providing foundational training, we also strive to reduce time-to-productivity so that we can provide a candidate with a great experience of giving them a jumpstart even before they start on the job. This allows companies to focus on teaching them their product and services, company culture, and values.
WB: Tell me about LaunchSource’s Interview Day.
SA: Interview Day is a unique experience that focuses on maximizing the candidate experience. Out of 150-200+ applicants a week we invite 15 to an Interview Day at the VDC where they go through a series of fun and interactive exercises, often in front of a client. This allows them to really stand out beyond just a resume. We spend time talking about the BD role and how it propels them into a true business career. For our clients, it decreases the time to recruit since they can avoid the multiple phone screens and mindlessly shifting through resumes.
WB: What’s it like being one of the few people who see all the opportunities tech startups offer college students?
SA: I just came from a Series D funded company that is planning on growing to $100MM by 2018, and the environment is fun, exciting and loud! There are very few private offices and lots of collaboration. Jeans are the norm and I almost got hit by a nerf ball walking through the sales floor. Tech startups are one of the most exciting places to be since you are having fun and you are truly make an impact through your work. In a startup, every person counts, so your work is instrumental not only to the growth of a company, but also to its survival.
Sasanka Atapattu is a University of Massachusetts at Amherst Marketing grad and a Babson College MBA. He was a Sales Rep and Account Manager at GlaxoSmithKline; and a Director, Life Sciences at Affinnova which was acquired by Nielsen. He then co-founded LaunchSource.