SalesTechStar Interview with Nealesh Patel, Head of Business Development and Sales at Crunchbase
Building better customer relationships in a remote world where everyone is still largely ”working from home” requires salespeople to become more agile in their approach. In this chat with SalesTechStar, Nealesh Patel, Head of Business Development and Sales at Crunchbase talks about the best ways to identify new opportunities while capitalizing on changing sales trends. Catch the complete QnA:
Can you tell us a little about yourself Nealesh? How has your journey at Crunchbase been so far?
I currently lead the business development, sales, customer success and customer experience organizations at Crunchbase. I have nearly two decades of deal-making experience, specifically focusing on executing progressive growth strategies, landing strategic partnerships, and building revenue streams.
The cross-functional nature of my current role has provided me with an invaluable understanding of how users interact with our products. This knowledge has helped me lead our team in doubling unique users and increasing Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) by over 15x. On the business development side, my team and I have helped the company land major deals with partners like LinkedIn, Oracle, Yahoo, Business Insider, Amazon, and Snowflake.
Before joining Crunchbase in 2016, I spent a little over 8 years at Google working on various business development initiatives for Google Maps, Google Search, and Google Fiber.
We’d love to hear about the team’s (and your!) experience adjusting to the new normal during the peak of the COVID-19 induced lockdowns.
Like many companies around the world, Crunchbase went fully remote at the beginning of March this year. The initial transition was a huge adjustment for everyone from both a personal and professional standpoint. At the highest level, I focused on understanding the different reality that our business was facing, but also all the different realities each team member was facing. On top of the added stress from their day-to-day work, they were dealing with the constant concern that their family/friends might get sick or they could contract the virus. They were worried about the impact on our company and potentially their jobs. They were trying to figure out how to work entirely from home and not meet prospects, customers, and partners…or have the camaraderie of being around each other all day. Thinking about all these factors was at times overwhelming, but they were the right thing to focus on before jumping into pivoting our sales strategy.
In the initial stages of working from home, our team became keenly aware of the responsibility we had. We chose to look at the entire situation as an opportunity, knowing that every dollar brought into the company matters 10x more than just a few months ago. We’re also incredibly lucky to sell products that help fellow salespeople identify industry trends and discover new opportunities during a time like this.
I’ve always believed that when you’re scared or suffering, the best thing you can do is help others. Knowing this, our team began to focus on helping salespeople at other companies become a hero within their team, or even better, help their company stay afloat, stand out, and ultimately succeed at their jobs as the economy fluctuated. This mentality shift gave our team a sense of purpose and was the first step toward our success during this time.
What are some of the strategies and tactics you implemented to help your team adjust to selling remotely during this pandemic?
The first strategic decision we made at the beginning of the pandemic was to keep our existing quotas. Rather than lowering them, we implemented a spiff as a collaborative incentive. As the team collectively got closer to a team target, new spiffs were unlocked. Our sales team had been crushing it prior to the pandemic. As a wise mentor once told me, “you don’t put a crutch on a good leg.” We decided that this spiff strategy and incentivizing a winner’s mindset would show confidence in our team, while also providing them the resources and direction to be successful.
Next, we audited our pipeline to focus on selling to companies that we felt confident we could help. Our team adjusted the risk of each prospect based on how they were likely impacted by the pandemic. This gave our team a realistic sense of what our pipeline was going to be like. Additionally, it empowered our Account Executives to avoid investing time in accounts that were heavily impacted and therefore unlikely to purchase our product. This freed up their time to focus on businesses that we might actually help accelerate in this new environment like finance, remote work, telehealth, education technology, etc.
Lastly, we made investments in new tools and training for the team, as well as management. It’s a new era, and we need to be positioned and equipped to succeed in it. The team saw us doing these things, and our hope was that they’d internalize the belief we had in them. We were putting our money where our mouths were, so to speak. These strategies successfully boosted the team’s confidence tremendously.
As businesses and the workforce move through the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; there will be more change in the way companies and teams function and the way businesses interact with customers / prospects. What are some of the core fundamentals to sales that will change along with this?
One of the main sales processes that has already changed is relationship development. You have to do it differently now. In a remote world, you can’t invite a prospect to grab a drink after work or meet for lunch at a nearby restaurant. All those lighter in-person engagement tactics are now gone, and salespeople have to take time out of a prospect’s day to sit on a Zoom call.
Because of this, salespeople need to understand that when asked to meet outside of work hours, people are being pulled away from completely different activities in this new world. In the past, if you were asking for a prospect’s time during non-working hours, they had to leave work a bit early, or have a meal or drink with you instead of another person in their network. Now, you’re pulling them away from time with their families, taking care of personal matters, etc. This might make them even less willing than usual to sacrifice that time outside of working hours. So, it’s ultra-important to make every interaction count.
To successfully build relationships in a remote world, salespeople need to become more agile than ever. Start with understanding what you’re asking of prospects when requesting their time. Next, have a clear understanding of what context you can bring to the table to ensure the prospect feels like that 30 minutes of their time was well spent. This takes a high level of adaptability and emotional intelligence to tackle remotely but is the key to building lasting business relationships today.
What according to you should sales leaders keep in mind when revisiting their sales processes during this downtime?
A major trend I’ve noticed is that older, tried and true tactics are beginning to work again. When revisiting strategies, a context-based approach is one old-school tactic salespeople should pay close attention to. This approach focuses on in-depth conversations where salespeople understand and then create context by deeply understanding their prospect’s business, goals, etc. When using this approach, salespeople must do their homework and deeply understand the account, often talking to multiple stakeholders before they speak with the final decision-maker.
One mistake salespeople often make with this approach is failing to realize how much of a burden it is for a prospect to spend a portion of a conversation educating them on their company. Doing your research and creating the context for prospects will always lead to more in-depth conversations that form real business relationships, even if a prospect isn’t ready for your product just yet.
An analogy I like to share with my teams is to imagine you’re on a beach and there are two ways to get to a nearby island. The first option is to use a rowboat and paddle straight to that island as hard as you can. The second is to use a sailboat and spend time studying the waves and feeling the wind. Although you may end up getting onto the water faster when choosing the rowboat, you’re going to encounter lots of obstacles along the way, like fatigue and strong currents. You may even have to turn around and go back. Meanwhile, the sailboat may take a bit more thought and planning but allows you to adapt as the wind and current changes. Whatever happens with the wind and current, you have a plan that will eventually get yourself to that island.
The rowboat represents how many salespeople are operating today, blasting out emails to prospects and relying heavily on objection handling. I always encourage my team to choose the sailboat, do their research, and create context that allows them to adapt as obstacles arise.
How are you seeing leading sales teams in tech respond to the changing business times – what are some initiatives that have stood out in the last few months?
One major trend I’m seeing is a high level of camaraderie and knowledge sharing within the sales industry right now. Salespeople at all levels are taking the time to share tips and feedback, by just jumping on a Zoom or call, or even online through communities and social platforms like LinkedIn. I’ve even seen seasoned sales leaders share redacted versions of in-depth strategy decks in addition to detailed examples of how they approached unique sales climates 5, 10, and even 20 years ago.
Knowledge sharing is also helping people relate to each other and identify common struggles during this time. This doesn’t completely replace the in-person interaction, but I’ve seen firsthand how it promotes a more compassionate attitude toward the incredibly hard work salespeople are taking on as they adapt and sell in this new environment.
What are some of the biggest takeaways sales, customer success, marketing teams should grab from this entire experience of working and living through a global pandemic?
One big thing I’m constantly reminding my team about is that not all solutions have to be super complex and result from long, drawn-out analysis. So many business problems can just be solved with some common sense and logic, if you scope the problem correctly, and focus on impact. For example, I often see new salespeople taking inventory of every single company in their territory, then filtering out the ones they want to sell to. Some of these companies have a less than 1% chance of success, yet they still spend time trying to convert them into leads. Don’t do this! Even if you’re early in your career, your time is precious. Use it to find companies that are best situated to buy your product. These are the prospects that will become great customers over a long period of time.
What according to you makes for a balanced salestech-martech stack to match the needs and challenges of sales and marketing during a global pandemic?
At a super high level, whenever things are shaken up within the industry, the market naturally becomes brutally more simplified. I think we’re on the cusp of a simplification right now. There are tons of interesting sales tools available, and you can certainly make arguments that people need to “add” this tool or that tool to their stack in order to succeed today. However, much of that becomes noise and distraction, both operationally and financially. At the end of the day, the ones that will actually help you find the right opportunities are tools that:
- Identify companies that are situated to buy your products
- Surface insights to help you prioritize which companies to focus on in your active pipeline
- Make outreach more efficient and organized
You might notice I didn’t mention a tool to surface individual-level contacts. That’s because it’s incredibly easy to find that information, and I view it as a tiny part of the overall process. It’s much more impactful to focus on high-ROI accounts and use your time to develop a personalized plan to lead those accounts through the sales cycle.
My team became immensely more efficient and successful when we pivoted to an account-based approach. Our salespeople are constantly dogfooding Crunchbase tools and data to determine the industries that are still growing in addition to specific companies that are being funded within them. Data points like these signal opportunities to reach out, while also helping us take a more compassionate and personalized approach.
If you’re a series A, B, or even C company, it’s really important to keep things simple. As a company gets bigger and bigger other tools will come into play, but I’ve found that this salestech stack is the foundation for success, especially right now.
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Nealesh is the Head of Business Development and Sales at Crunchbase