Shilpa Prasad gave a great talk on the problems facing a small startup like hers, YouNoodle, in the context of sales enablement, sales leadership and the overall world of sales.
"I'll kick off by saying that we're not a noodle company.
We are a tiny little startup based out of San Francisco. We've been around for nine years.
We've seen multiple pivots along the way. We've had to constantly reinvent, reiterate, redefine what sales means to us, and what the sales organization looks like in the context of our startup.
I don't have all the solutions, but I'll share a little bit about our journey and what that has looked like and why my hair is now grey."
"I'm a sales leader. I'm sales enablement. I'm sales strategy. I'm everything sales.
I have personally been attracted and gravitated to sales roles over the last 15 years, whether I've liked it or not. I have landed myself in opportunities that are sales and sales related.
What is it that takes me back there on an ongoing basis? Do I like the strategy? Do I like the rush of adrenaline when I sell a deal to a customer? Do I like just selling in general? Do I like creativity? Do I like meeting people?
For me, it always lands in a space where I'm in direct contact with the customer.
That is just priceless.
Because in terms of the value that you can add in the value chain in an organization, irrespective of the size, if you're talking directly to the customer, everybody in the organization is going to have to pay attention to you.
So that I think is very core to me in terms of how I have arrived at this place saying this is why I do sales.
Also, I go to a lot of events in Silicon Valley where we're talking about women in STEM and women in tech and I think that women in sales is an equally relevant subject.
You get used to hearing words like intimidating, or 'you're a little bit aggressive.'
So I'm happy to say that we are an all sales revenue team of 16 people, and half of us are women.
Half of that half is actually driving revenue in the organization. So that's pretty awesome for a tiny little company like ours.
We're also very global. In the 16 people, we have 10 different nationalities, which is amazing.
Diversity is key to us. And in the context of the work that we do that I'll walk you through in a little bit. You'll see how it makes such a big impact."
"Now, what we believe at YouNoodle is that disruption and innovation go hand in hand.
We are an innovation management platform that allows corporations to actually discover, engage and evaluate startups that are relevant to their businesses and be able to create meaningful pilots out of them.
Sounds pretty cool. But it's extremely, extremely complicated.
Complicated to an extent that our customers are global. They're industry agnostic. Different workflows, different processes, drive innovation in organizations.
And our small team of 16 people does all of this virtually, through our technology based products and services that are data driven and provides actionable startups to our clients.
What does all that mean?
It means that if you're a corporation, and you're looking to find solutions that could help you avoid or navigate disruption or find new opportunities through the startup world that could create new business lines, new opportunities that you could build on. You could do that using our products and services.
Now, you could do that by doing an open call for startups and have them apply to an opportunity that you're looking to to fulfill. Or you could do it through scouting and evaluating these startups in a way that it's relevant to your businesses and innovation life cycles.
It's global customers. So we're sitting in five different locations as a team of 16 people. So we're also distributed in that context and that makes it a bigger challenge in terms of delivering this value.
The value proposition ultimately is co-creating something with the startups and the corporates and bringing them together in a way that it's creating impact."
Making ourselves unique
"When we look at sales and sales enablement, how do we differentiate ourselves in this massive ecosystem?
Whether it be consulting houses, whether it be accelerators, whether it be, innovation labs, whether it be innovation summits, conferences, everywhere you go, people will possibly be saying very similar things.
So what is that differentiator for us? And how do we create that difference for ourselves, not just in the context of the customer, but in the context of the value proposition that we're putting in front of the customer?
To us that has always been technology.
That we are a technology driven company, that when you come to us, when you find these startups, you will find them based on technology evaluation that is possible by our data driven products and services that can support that process.
But I think there's also an element of purpose.
What is our vision? What do we want to do in this world that everybody else is constantly delivering towards? And how do we drive that purpose and vision across all the different stakeholders that interact with our brand?
For us, it has always been from the get go, that we have wanted to decentralize the way in which opportunities are available to startups, and also decentralize the way in which corporates are looking for these opportunities and in startups.
So that's that's been the fundamental, overarching vision for why we started, what we do, and how we have continued to do it.
Of course, the products have looked different along the way, the services have looked a lot different along the way, but at least that's been the sort of driving force from the get go.
I think the other part of this is people."
The secret of sales
"Ultimately, I think sales and sales enablement and leadership sales leadership and sales support sales operation, it's all about people.
So how do you enable people within your organization to actually talk that language and be excited about the value proposition of your products and services and take that to the customer and then be able to translate that into revenue?
Over over the course of the last eight, nine years, we've struggled a lot with what does our sales org look like? What kind of sales organization do we want to build? Does it have to be a renaissance salesperson that operates as a lone wolf? One who is experimenting with every customer that they talk to?
Or should it be that execution team that is fully supported by marketing folks by sales support engineers, by product marketing, and in a tiny little company like ours, as you can imagine, sometimes all of these things that I just said is one person, or is multiple people carrying different parts of that role?
This is something as an organization we have struggled with along the years, but I think we have now arrived at a place where we think that the way we are structured in terms of we have on Renaissance salesperson, and then everybody else is working towards building that execution team is the path that we're experimenting with.
I think there is no fixed rule, there is just no fixed mantra of how this works, and what can transpire out of this.
I'd say as a team, we've been very quick to iterate, which is great.
As a startup, you need to do that.
We've been lucky. Sometimes. Some chances that we took worked out well for us, which is also great.
We've attracted the right talent that goes back to being global and the focus on diversity, the focus on what impact our products can actually create for our customers in the market."
"How does all of this come together in terms of prioritizing within an organization?
Priorities shift at various points in time for various teams, for various groups of people. But I think there's a few different things that could drive it.
One is the overarching vision. Where do you want to go with this? How do we want to create value? What does value mean to us? What does value mean to our customers? And how does that translate into impact?
So that's one direction to take in terms of prioritizing. I think the second part of priority without getting into ‘Am I achieving my quarterly targets and am I achieving my numbers and then my achieving the goals as a sales team?’ While all that is still relevant, it is also about aligning the overarching strategy to some of the on ground tactics that are being implemented.
Tactics look very different and can be implemented short term or long term, but have the capacity to take something as powerful as a vision and translate that into revenue.
Another aspect of prioritizing is asking ‘where do you see yourself five years from now?’ I don't mean that as an individual, but as an organization, do we still continue to build the momentum towards that vision that we had when we started?
Or do we change that a lot, has that shifted along the way, and if that has, then we start aligning all of the people of the processes to that vision and and move in that direction."
Our team is also very small and prioritization is an absolute nightmare. How do you make those decisions? Because it sucks.
"I think there is an overarching sort of strategic direction that the organization is headed in.
That strategy and that vision has to drive all the different pieces, be it product, sales, marketing, operations, and in small teams, that alignment has to be done.
I think a little bit more proactively more often. And, and, you know, we don't have a choice but to sort of like sit with it right and and continue to like, see where it goes."
Walk us through a typical customer coming to you. What is it they want? And then how do you fulfill what they want?
"Let's take the example of one of our current customers. That's booking.com. And booking.com is in the travel industry.
They approach us and say ‘We want to see what startups are building in our industry, in our verticals. We want to see how they're disrupting us.'
'We want to see how we can find specific startups that could be aligned to our business use cases internally, and maybe build a project or two together or, and then eventually look at an M&A if that is the ultimate goal for them.’
So when they come to us and they say find the startups, and they want to see global startups, we put together an incentive in front of the startup world.
So booking.com calls that the booster program.
The booster program is a 2 million euro incentive for 10 startups that will be shortlisted in this process and have the opportunity to not just win that prize money, but also the opportunity to work along with booking.com in some capacity, and that capacity is determined based on of course various engagements with these startups once they're selected, to take that to fruition.
Here's where our technology products come into into play in the front end. It looks like a beautiful website that is presenting this opportunity to the startups.
But in the back end is tied closely to our platform that is taking in all of these various applications is allowing for booking that is our customer to actually evaluate these startups based on key criteria that is relevant to their innovation process and life cycle.
And ultimately pick those top 10 that are either eligible for that incentive or to work with. That's one scenario.
The other scenario would be Nokia.
We run their Open Innovation Challenge. This challenge essentially is Nokia's way of finding startups in IoT that are disrupting that particular vertical and trying to see how they can in some format, integrate them with the Nokia Bell Labs.
So that's another completely different format where they don't do an open call. But they do a call through us where they want us to go and find these new technologies and match them to Nokia's specific request."
What are you doing to be more targeted, as opposed to doing an open call, so you're not flooded with 1000 startups that don't have anything to do with what your clients are trying to do?
"It can be as granular as you want it to be.
All of the startups that are coming through our network, and we see about 14,000 startups every quarter, are evaluated by experts that are either relevant to the program or outside of it.
So the data set itself is unique and curated already when you're when you reach out to us for an engagement
We’re like a Tinder for startups."
This article is adapted from a speech Shilpa gave at the San Francisco SES, Shilpa Prasad is Chief Growth Officer at YouNoodle