SalesTechStar Interview with Steven Mih, Co-founder & CEO at Ahana
Steven Mih, Co-founder & CEO at Ahana joined us for a quick chat to share a few pointers on sales leadership practices (that can especially be useful to drive sales teams during a pandemic) while discussing his journey through the years and the inception of Ahana.
Hi Steven, welcome to SalesTechStar! We’d love to hear about your journey in tech through the years…
After getting my electrical engineering degree from UC San Diego, I came up to Silicon Valley and happened to find my way into sales early in my career. Back then the big semiconductor companies all had amazing sales learning and development programs. AMD had a top-notch program, led by Carol Harbin and her team, along with executive management support, all the way up to Jerry Sanders, the CEO and former sales leader himself. The new grads were called Technical Sales Engineers and went thru an intensive year of sales and technical training while rotating thru product lines. The sales training included quarterly oral boards which were like a one hour dry run meetings in-front of eight of your managers and directors. Only later I realized how much they really invested in us, the L&D org, the management, everyone we worked with in AMD Sales and Product teams were the epitome of pay-it-forward and selfless teamwork. Like getting to do a week of Target Account Selling and other trainings with tons of role plays, all without a quota…was pretty incredible considering how SaaS has changed how people get started in sales. After that year, I was a Field Sales Engineer and continued to sales management which tends to be a long haul and then became CEO of an early stage startup called Aviatrix.
Now I am cofounder/CEO of Ahana, which provide self-service analytics with Presto, one of the fastest growing open source projects in the data analytics industry.
What are some of the sales leadership tactics that have helped you through the years; in today’s business environment (amid a pandemic) how do you feel sales leaders should realign how they manage, lead and build teams?
For me, sales leadership is about having empathy for what your team is going through, articulating which hill to prioritize and how the team will get there. It takes well-defined structure with flexibility to allow individual selling styles to be the most effective for them, with a good dose of creativity for removing customer or internal objections. That is a recipe for a winning culture. During the pandemic – we’ve been very fortunate that companies are accelerating their data initiatives in the cloud. One realignment is how much people are more zoomed-out, where one zoom meeting can blur into the next…so sellers need to find ways to cut through to the value much more. Also work and personal life are blurring so I think it’s important to be open to being more personal. Everyone is off-balance trying to form short term habits in a bi-weekly changing environment, e.g. schools slowly opening up, etc.
What are some of the top go-to market strategies that you’ve seen drive results in the recent years; can you share a few of your most successful sales and go-to market success stories?
Go-to-market with AWS Marketplace: Just like most everyone uses Amazon Prime, most data platform teams in the cloud can use AWS Marketplace. At Aviatrix, Sunil Kishen, our VP Product and Sales, was first to see the potential of Pay-As-You-GO (PAYGO). After we had some success with customers, we tripled down on that approach. We became the fastest growing seller on AWS Marketplace in 2018.
What according to you should every sales executive be doing today as part of their daily routine (prospecting-cold calling-social media, etc) to network better with prospects and customers and start relevant conversations?
As everyone knows it is a numbers game. Calls still matter. Be more knowledgeable about your space and understand what your customers are going through. Focus on solving problems for your customers and understand their business as much as possible.
According to you, what are some of the sales tech tools that sales reps should absolutely learn to implement as part of their process to drive results.
My sleeper recommendation is followupthen.com. It’s time-based email reminders right in your inbox. I’ve been using it for over 10 years and they’ve been copied by a few others.
What are your top of mind thoughts on structuring a marketing-sales team/hierarchy that helps ensure a continuous pipeline and flow of communication to enable better sales / revenue outcomes?
Learned from one of my favorite board members Nick Sturiale @ Ignition, the idea of traction channels. But at an early stage startup, it’s about finding the one traction channel that threads the needle for the flywheel to start to spin – that’s the pull from hitting product-market fit. When that happens look out! Of course these days it’s about one funnel across marketing and sales, which means learnings are shared consistently.
Can you tell us a little about your typical sales tech stack?
LinkedIn Navigator for everyone, Zoom, of course, Seamless is highly recommended, Autopilot, Drift, Slack channels, HelloSign, and Otter.
What are some of the biggest takeaways sales, marketing teams and business leaders should grab from working and living through a global pandemic?
Ahana is an all-remote company but of course sales is used to working that way. Sales has always been somewhat removed from the rest of the company and knows how to provide lots of written communication for the rest of the company. Now all customers are working remotely and it’s looking like that for a while. This means a different working model. Best to find who is lucky enough to be innovating, most likely quickly moving to the cloud, and work with them to quickly deliver value to their organization!
A parting thought on your biggest sales goof-up and the learning that came from it!
Speaking of those traction channels, it’s really hard to turn on downstream reseller/distribution partners. One year a few years ago, I made a plan that included 1/3 of Sales coming from a new distribution channel. That was so far off, we were literally goose-egging, that the plan had to get completely reworked for the second half. There are no short-cuts with partners that I’m aware of and it won’t magically appear. It takes a ton of methodical execution over a sustained period of years.
What Should Sales and Marketing Teams Keep in Mind for the Rest of 2020? Catch these conversations where leaders from Chili Piper, PopIn, Zilliant (and more!) share some thoughts.
Ahana, the self-service analytics company for Presto, is the only company with a cloud-native managed service for Presto for Amazon Web Services that simplifies the deployment, management and integration of Presto and enables cloud and data platform teams to provide self-service, SQL analytics for their organization’s analysts and scientists. As the Presto market continues to grow exponentially, Ahana’s mission is to simplify interactive analytics as well as foster growth and evangelize the PrestoDB community. Founded in 2020, Ahana is headquartered in San Mateo, CA and operates as an all-remote company. Investors include GV (formerly Google Ventures), Lux Capital, and Leslie Ventures.
Steven brings over twenty years of experience in sales, business development, and marketing of enterprise technology solutions to Ahana. In addition to his role of CEO, Steven is a Presto Foundation Board Member. Prior to Ahana, Steven was the former CEO of Alluxio and Aviatrix. His multifaceted go-to-market experience spans leading additional organizations including Couchbase, Transitive, and Cadence Design Systems. Steven started his career as a Field Sales Engineer at AMD. Steven holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from UC San Diego.