“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
Launching a business is as trying as it gets, and every step of the journey brings a distinct set of challenges and opportunities. The startup phase is characterized by firsts – the first version of the product, the first outside hire, the first closed deal. Progress in the early days is almost always a byproduct of grit and creativity, finding scrappy ways to make things happen. Crossing the chasm from startup to scaleup requires process, structure, and standardization to ensure the business matures with predictability and consistency.
Software companies don’t produce physical goods. They don’t have inventory. They don’t manage manufacturing dependencies. There is no assembly line to optimize. The business value is instead the amalgamation of the thoughts and ideas of the brilliant minds on the team, which is most valuable when synthesized cohesively and applied uniformly to achieve a common goal. Supporting and enabling the growth of the organizational knowledge asset will ultimately play a pivotal role in catalyzing the growth of the business.
Knowledge – related to the company’s value proposition, market positioning, competitive landscape, go-to-market strategy, and a laundry list of other meaty topics – becomes the fuel required to power the organizational engine in the scaleup phase. That precious resource resides only in the minds of the founders/early team initially but must be extracted from the heads of a few and disseminated methodically across the entire organization as it expands.
Employees get exposure to the amorphous knowledge blob in the early days by sitting beside the founder(s) and naturally absorbing valuable information via observation and osmosis. Employee number 100 won’t have that same luxury, as information flow becomes inherently diluted as the team grows.
Know this. Plan for it. Focus on it. Establish a system to capture institutional know-how programmatically and deliver it in a structured manner to provide every new hire with the best chance of being successful.
This is easy to say, but very hard to do. The good news is that software can help! The third installment of our thought map series examines this overarching theme that we’re calling strategic knowledge flow. This is certainly a large, amorphous, multi-faceted area of the software universe that extends into and overlaps with many other categories, but we’ve identified and examined three sub-segments for the purposes of this missive. At the highest level, the vendors playing in these spaces are aimed at supporting the flow of valuable information across an organization as it scales, as effectively and seamlessly as possible. Each sub-segment discussed herein is attacking this dynamic challenge from a different vantage point, respectively focused on a distinct and well-defined use case.
Video-Centric Productivity & Automation
COVID-19 catapulted video-based interactions into the foreground as the new de facto standard in business communications.
Remember when scheduling a phone call was typical? I certainly do!
Whether you prefer hopping on a Zoom “call” or chatting on your cell, video is here to stay. We’re still in the early days of this new video-centric era, but the tectonic shift it has influenced already is pervasive.
For starters, these new channels kick off new forms of data – both structured and unstructured – all of which can be valuable for different reasons. This requires new methods to capture it all and new strategies to make sense of it in a cogent way.
Software continues to eat more and more of the world. But it does so over time and in waves, not immediately and comprehensively on day one. We’ve seen a recurring dynamic whereby the first things to change tend to be driven by automation of tactical but impactful tasks that were previously largely manual. Driving workflow efficiency or increasing speed of execution provides a benefit that is clear and tangible, easy to define and hard to deny. This is essential for new approaches and technology platforms to gain traction initially and experience widespread adoption thereafter. Technology that frees up employees’ time to focus on more strategic higher-level activities was attractive ten years ago, still is today, and will be ten years from now.
Inputting data into a CRM, for example, has always sucked and never been fun. But it has always been essential and needs to be done with high fidelity. This monotonous process has evolved dramatically in the last five years, as automation has engulfed and augmented more and more of the process. We believe technologies similarly focused on the “low hanging fruit” opportunities to make organizations operate more efficiently in the current video-centric age of business communications will be those that garner early traction and momentum.
Being able to eliminate the need to ever take notes during a meeting again – I think all would agree… is valuable.
Pen and paper have given way to laptops and tablets for faster scribing, but the fastest typist in the world has no way of capturing the entire nuance of a virtual meeting happening on video. But software can, and a cadre of ambitious entrepreneurs identified this logical and strategic opportunity early on. Solutions in this bucket have quickly gained traction and experienced viral adoption in market, led by a few vendors that are out to an early lead.
This will become a must-have tool in the sales tech toolkit in short order for any company conducting business in a distributed/virtual or hybrid environment. The next phase of innovation in this category in our view will revolve around moving beyond simple data capture and process automation toward robust analysis of the data to glean insights and surface calls to action as the ultimate output.
Selling through partners is always elegant in theory. Feathering in a new high margin revenue stream without the additional overhead and new hires a typical direct sales motion requires?
Yes please – sign me up!
Unfortunately, the promise of partner-led strategies often sits in stark contrast to the reality. There are myriad reasons partner motions can and do fall short, but two of the most pernicious issues we see crop up time and again, regardless of the end market being targeted, solution being sold, or buyer persona being courted, are:
Insufficient Information: The partner’s sellers don’t have the information needed to effectively articulate the value proposition in a powerful way.
Insufficient Incentive: The partner’s sellers aren’t properly incentivized to change their behavior and sell the new solution instead of (or in conjunction with) their own.
You can’t expect someone to do something if you don’t tell them how to do it and give them the tools they need to do it successfully. Asking your kid to cut the lawn but not giving them a mower and a crash course on how to use it wouldn’t make sense. And while there may be some kids out there who are psyched to get out there and cut the grass purely for the love of the game… I’ll admit that I wasn’t champing at the bit to mow our lawn, unless there was a shiny $10 bill with my name on it for doing so!
Whether the goal is a well-kempt front lawn or a productive partner channel, it doesn’t matter; supplying the information and the motivation to make it happen is the name of the game.
A new cadre of thriving businesses has emerged focused on leveraging software to align knowledge and incentives with organizational objectives to optimize the partner channel. We believe several companies are well-positioned to transform the status quo and redefine what best-in-class partner enablement looks like over the coming years.
Building a productive, efficient, consistent go-to-market engine at scale requires a dedication to process-centricity and a commitment to making learning a continuous prerogative, not a once a year/quarter initiative.
Whether it be architecting an effective onboarding program or establishing the infrastructure to support ongoing training and real-time enablement, the most effective programs we’ve seen are underpinned by continuous learning. The most successful approaches we have seen are straightforward, learnable, and repeatable, aimed at arming both new joiners and fully ramped reps with the tools and knowledge they need to immerse themselves in the sales motion and constantly refine and optimize their craft to sustain productivity.
The best way to do this is to develop programs that are focused on specific outcomes. Things that are definable and have proven to be influential in the sales process. Software has enabled businesses to capture and analyze every element of the modern sales cycle, surfacing specific things that top performers do that are correlated with success. Activities and methods that can be clearly tied to productivity and closed business – things like mastering the company pitch deck or demonstrating command of objection handling with battlecards – should be built into the program to ensure reps learn impactful skills as they ramp and hone those skills over time as new strategies are proven more effective. This structure also ensures that the leaders of the GTM organization are focusing their one-on-one coaching time on further developing higher level skills versus micromanaging tactical task execution.
For software companies, the most important thing to equip your sellers with is strategic knowledge – about the product, the most effective way to execute the motion, the most impactful way to articulate differentiation. Importantly, this detail must be delivered in a manner that is digestible, and integrated into the existing workflow of the seller to ensure it can be digested without introducing friction as much as possible. Lastly, aligning incentives and providing a clear, attractive reward for performance is essential to operationalize that elegant theory into practice.
The second and final portfolio company plug in this series goes here to Rallyware, a business that has rapidly established an early leadership position in the next-gen partner enablement arena. Rallyware provides the right information, to the right individual, at the right time, in the right format to give them what they need to get the job done. Delivered seamlessly into the existing workflow of the seller – often beamed directly onto their mobile phone – and stapled with a Godfather-esque “offer they can’t refuse” to make sure the seller truly cares.
Equip your partners with top-of-the-line mowers, delivered with an intuitive user manual and comprehensive guidance on the unique ins and outs of your plot of grass – and you’ll have the most pristinely manicured lawn in the neighborhood.
Missed a part of our series? Review Part 1: Value Proposition Articulation here and Part 2: Data-Informed Decision Making here. Stay tuned for Part 4 of our thought map series – Optimized Execution– coming soon!