For quickly expanding tech companies, hiring and retaining the right sales talent, and scaling teams to accommodate growth, can be a challenge. Germain Brion, vice president of sales at Chargebee, helped the company’s sales team, which is based in San Francisco and Chennai, India, grow from three to 55 people over his three years at its helm. Kyle Heller, ZS’s high-tech industry lead, caught up with Brion to discuss how Chargebee built a high performing sales team, his plans for continued growth as the company expands and his advice for other tech companies on hiring and retaining the right salespeople and motivating them to be successful.
Q: For fast growth companies like yours, the right talent models are important. How does your hiring process at Chargebee work?
A: I reach out to some of the candidates that our talent acquisition team identifies directly on LinkedIn, and the response rate is extremely high. For recruiting talent from India, one of the sales team leaders in India will speak to a recruit, then we have three onsite interviews that happen in the same day. They meet with a future peer so we get a ‘team fit’ validation, meet another member of the leadership team, and have a longer interview with possibly a founder or the sales director in Chennai.
In the U.S., not a lot of people know who Chargebee is, and we’re in San Francisco, one of the most competitive markets for talent, so we’re competing against the household names of the geek world. We don’t have the marketing resources of an Andreessen Horowitz, so we have an issue in San Francisco of being attractive to talent and giving people a line of sight to their path to growth since it’s unlikely that we’ll scale to a 200-member team here.
Q: How do you overcome that challenge? What’s your advice for other growing firms in raising their awareness among the Bay Area talent pool, and attracting and hiring the right talent in general?
A: We use recruiters that are generally pretty good, and most of our team in San Francisco has moved here from elsewhere. Once we got this critical mass, and built our marketing team, the local talent started to pay attention. Our strategy going forward is going to be about how we’re going to open a second location in the U.S. where there’s a lower cost structure, like Salt Lake City, Atlanta or Chicago. At that point, we’ll look at how to have a more scalable recruiting process.
Q: How do you go about onboarding and training your staff so that they’re ultimately more productive?
A: We spent a weekend in India with some of our sales managers and hashed out an onboarding plan that lasts four weeks. A new hire comes in on day one, and there’s a week-by-week schedule. We put in place a learning management system for product training, and held talks on the ecosystem and confidentiality. We’ve been pretty successful with this. We’ve onboarded 18 people since January 1, and had only one person who we decided wasn’t going to be a fit based on a ranking system that happens at the end of the onboarding.
Q: What advice do you have for managers to help their salespeople succeed?
A: As a manager, you can be in an echo chamber where you’re not getting a feel for the frustrations that are building up underneath on your sales team, or what salespeople are hearing from the market. If you don’t have open communication or close links with people who are on the front lines, the messages get skewed. I do this by choosing a couple of key leads and deals that I follow; these tend to be more strategic accounts but I also sprinkle in some smaller ones. By doing this, I stay in touch with what customers are saying and also have the opportunity to engage with the front-line team. I also make a point to have some ‘skip-level’ meetings so the team feels they can reach out to me directly.
Q: What tools do you have in place from a professional development standpoint to show salespeople their path to success?
A: We have ongoing training any time we come out with a new product. The career growth trajectory is starting to pinch at the lead development rep (LDR) or sales development rep level because those are jobs where, if you don’t give people clear milestones to progress, they go to the competition or get discouraged. We’re working on that this quarter, creating a three-tier system (junior LDR, LDR, senior LDR), with different expectations for each role, and we’re working to create more levels within the team overall.
Q: Do you do anything specifically to eliminate or minimize turnover?
A: Involuntary churn, as we call it, is pretty low. With the growth dynamic that we have, people realize that you don’t get invited into a rocket ship every day. People that are hired are young enough so that the gravity of growth is what retains them. I think that as long as people feel they are in an environment where they are growing within their function, the grass doesn’t always seem greener elsewhere. So, the short answer is, we’re not doing enough, but, the long answer is, that it’s not been an issue.
Q: What other tools have you put in place to help your salespeople succeed?
A: This goes beyond the sales organization, but at the end of last year, we put in place a system called the rules of engagement, which defines the handoffs and responsibilities of any customer-facing role: when is it a sales relationship, when is it a customer success relationship, when do pre-sales, onboarding or support teams get involved. It gives the team a decision-making matrix that removes the dependency on leadership for making decisions. That’s been really helpful in terms of scaling.