A short video I made interviewing Marcel LeBrun giving business advice for startups. Please excuse the focus issues. I was hand-holding my iPhone 🙂

Jonathan: So I’m here with Marcel LeBrun. Marcel is one of the cofounders and was the CEO of Radian 6 before it was acquired by SalesForce. I appreciate this chance to chat to you for a few minutes.

If I asked you to give advice to the owner of a software company that is at least one million in revenue, what advice would you give to them, what’s the one thing you would say to them?

Marcel: Well, I think every situation is different, of course, and so every company is going to have its challenges depending on what their vision is, how big their market is and all of that. But, if they are at a million dollar run rate and growing, a lot of software companies start with the product vision, the founders have a view of this need they want to address in the market and obviously there has been some degree of validation, some degree of sales and some degree of growth around that. And, I think that a big thing that I see separating companies that make it to 1 million or make it to 10 million or make it to 100 million is sales execution. And, being a product person myself, I always focused on having the best product, just making sure your product is remarkable, really meeting needs with your customers but I learned that sales execution is what really earns you the right to continue to invest in your product, to be able to reach those next levels. And so it’s an area where you can stumble a little bit on your product and a competitor moves forward, and you’re behind then you get back ahead and you catch up and you’ll get all of that right but on sales execution you can’t really miss and you just have to get that equation right. And, a lot of times that’s an area where I see organizations struggling, so really figuring out the discipline that you need, very much understanding your cost of customer acquisition, the type of sales people that you need, the type of sales leadership that you need, the processes that you need, and the top management focus, how much time you as a CEO are spending on customers and selling. And then the number two thing behind that is customer success, which is making sure that they stay with you after you acquire them, and then really what you’re doing with your product.

Jonathan: Some of my clients who are in this situation have said to me, can I divert money towards inbound marketing that takes the place of a really expensive sales guy so that the leads are coming into me. What would you say to someone who’s thinking of going down that path?

Marcel: Well, I’m a big fan of inbound marketing and I’m a big fan of just good sales execution. I think that you need both. Various types of market lend themselves more or less to different types of marketing. If you have a product that sells into a broad base of customers who tend to communicate with each other a lot you can generate a lot of positive word of mouth which start to become the answer. I’m a big fan of inbound marketing. I think the way you do inbound marketing is by leading with a vision, what you care about. You’re changing the world, this is how you view the world, and oh yeah, by the way, we have a product that helps you to do that as opposed to you’re out there just kind of barking around what your product is all of the time. You’re actually out there leading the community’s thinking, everybody starts to hook on to your leadership, and then they like what you’re about and what you believe and then that just tends to lend itself to people wanting to work with you. And, that drives inbound marketing and then, of course, behind it you can have content marketing strategies where you’re publishing things, but I’m a fan of publishing thought leadership, not so much product features and those kind of things. So that’s really important. But you also need sales execution. Inbound is great to bring in interest but now you have to be able to turn that into a closed opportunity and also turn it into a three times larger opportunity. So, a lot of times if you just focus on inbound, and you don’t invest in that sales skill, you might close a small transaction, but if you know what you’re doing you can really grow that into a big transaction and create more strategic relationships with customers.

Jonathan: What do you think the hardest part of good sales execution is; is it the right software to manage it, having the right process, having the right sales person, a combination of all of those. Which in your mind is the hardest nut to crack?

Marcel: I think the hardest nut to crack in sales execution is sales leadership. I think if you have the right sales leader who knows how to set the cadence, all those things that you mentioned, whether it is the technology used, the processes, all those kinds of things, the skills that you hire, but the right sales leader who knows the kind of profile of the sales person you need, how to create the cadence on the team – it’s really just blocking and tackling. But, also I think that at the top as well, if a significant percentage of time at the executive team is not spent on sales, I always see it tend to struggle. And it’s hard for some CEOs to be, if they are not naturally a sales person, but they need the team around them that can use them and make them a sales person. They may not be the one that’s doing all the blocking and tackling but they’re the one that, they need to spend, in my view, half their time or more in front of customers. And if they’re not the one that’s good at picking up the phone and setting up the meetings, they need that skill around them that they need to be engaged themselves.

Jonathan: How much time did you spend doing sales over the years from your first year to as it matured?

Marcel: Well, in the early days I don’t think there was a single customer, single significant customer, that we closed that didn’t have the involvement of almost all of our executive team just because it’s so relationship based. You’re not yet a large organization so they want to know who they are getting in business with and all that. But then as your company grows, that’s when the temptation is to delegate it to other people, you’ve got lots of sales people now; you’re not involved as much. And then you can risk losing touch with what the voice of the customer is, their needs, how you’re positioned, the feedback that you have, how you’re perceived in the market, and all that. So you can’t really ever lose that and I think I’ve learned by watching great leaders that seem to never stop visiting customers all the time, its always part of their thing. Now they might over time only get involved with the larger opportunities or the more strategic customers, that kind of thing, but they’re always selling.

Jonathan: Thanks so much, Marcel, really appreciate it.