Founding Sales: Peter Kazanjy on selling as Co-Founder at Atrium

September 25, 2023

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Episode Summary

After founding and TalentBin, Peter Kazanjy has been sharing early-stage sales advice with startup founders and early sales hires.

He wrote Founding Sales — The Startup Sales Handbook, and founded Modern Sales Pros — a community focused on sales leadership, sales operations, and sales enablement roles.

Pete is also the co-founder of Atrium, a data platform that provides insights about sales team performance.

Pete Kazanjy literally wrote the book on founder sales.

As a three-time startup founder, Pete knows the ins and outs of building an early-stage sales team.

On today's episode, Alex and Pete discuss:

  • Pivoting his first startup to TalentBin
  • Writing Founding Sales
  • Evolving past founder-led sales
  • Democratizing sales metrics at Atrium
  • The datafication of sales
  • Building the Modern Sales Pros community

Links and References


Founding & TalentBin

Alex Kracov: I'd love to start today's conversation talking about the early days of TalentBin. Can you share the story of and how that led you to start TalentBin?

Pete Kazanjy: Well, I think like a lot of early-stage founders or first-time entrepreneurs, I think we had a hypothesis that wasn't very pre-validated. Just to remind folks, this was 2007. So lean startup methodology and what have you wasn't super well-known. And so we have this hypothesis that you could solve the problem associated with reputation, like portable reputation mainly for the hiring use case, using some of the mechanisms that helped with reputation portability for businesses and services and what have you like the Yelp metaphor or the Glassdoor metaphor or whatever. So was like Glassdoor or Yelp, with the intention of it being community contributed reputation for individual professionals. It ended up not working.

The funny thing was it's wildly provocative. People were just freaked out. Like Michael Arrington, he had kittens. It was so funny. Just all these, oh my god. This thing, it's going to be a defamation machine or whatever. What was hysterical was, all the press was defaming us. Well, hypothesizing about this thing that actually never came to pass, which was hysterical. Where it's like, oh, my God. People are going to do all this stuff. It's like, no, actually, no one's going to care at all, and no one's actually going to ever write reviews. Because guess what? Writing reviews is hard. And so just died to death of no one cared. It was a failed hypothesis.

When we went back to the drawing board, we're like, okay, what is the problem that we're trying to solve for recruiters and what have you? We did a bunch of customer interviews. What was actually funny was, we did this lean user experience research. It's called Lexi with this woman, Janice. I forgot her last name. Janice Fraser. We were in the same class. The guy is from Poll Anywhere and the guys from Zimride who were trying to figure out, pre-Lyft. It was hysterical. It was like pivots anonymous. It was like all these people are like, "Are things not working? What should we do here?" It's like, well, get back to - it was super funny. It's like, get back to basics. So we did a bunch of customer interviews with recruiters. We're like, "Hey, what's your big problem right now?" Oh, finding technical talent and specifically their skill profile. Are they a JavaScript person? Are they a Java person? Are they an iOS person or what have you? Again, this was 10 years ago. So at the time, LinkedIn had really, really big problems around information density on the profile.

Then the second thing was contact information. We're like, oh, that's actually pretty interesting. Because you have these data sources on the web, like Stack Overflow and Twitter and Meetup and GitHub and da,da,da,da. I wonder if we could just crawl those and create composite profiles of that and put that in a database that the recruiters can then search? Then maybe find the email addresses associated with those candidates, and put that into a database. And so this notion of a composite profile. It's now very prevalent. There's companies like People Data Labs, and then also there are sales companies like Apollo or ZoomInfo who do these things. But at the time, it wasn't really a very common thing. And so that's what we pivoted into, and that's where TalentBin came from. We've got to a few million dollars of ARR before we were eventually acquired by Monster. But that's where it came from.

Writing "Founding Sales"

Alex Kracov: And so you built this product for technical recruiters to help them. Then you realized you had to start doing sales. Actually, you wrote a whole book about that process, that I got right here. Shout out Founding Sales. The book was obviously written with a lot of hindsight, but you had never done sales before. You had a product marketing background. What was that process like? How did you figure out sales at TalentBin?

Pete Kazanjy: The good news is that we did a bunch of customer interviews. It should just be this flow process where we did a bunch of customer interviews to unpack or discover pain points, and then we got to create some hypotheses around that and then piece together an MVP, so on and so forth, and then took that MVP back out to some of the same people that we originally did interviews with. There's actually a really good article on First Round Review called 'Get in the Van' by Michael Sippey on customer interviews. Then it actually pairs really well with an article I wrote for First Round Review on customer advisory panels.

But the point is that, I quickly realized, like, hey, this doesn't sell itself. This was also really pre-PLG and what have you. But even with PLG motions, what people quickly find is, PLG is really great for - it's great for lead gen, but it's not great for closing. This is one of the things that killed Dropbox and another number of other organizations as well. One of the jokes I like to say is: never mistake your lead gen as your business. What I quickly figured out was like, oh, someone's going to sell this thing. And so conveniently, we remembered the First Round Capital portfolio. First Round Capital, again, 10 years ago, they're really ahead of the curve when it came to facilitating community within the portfolio. And so I was able to learn sales. Early is kind of crib sales from a bunch of really great founders, a gentleman named Sean Black who led inside sales at Trulia. He was the Founder of a company called SalesCrunch, an early Zoom plus slide thing. That eventually was acquired by ClearSlide. So him, Angus Davis, who's now a partner at I want to say Foundation Capital, but he was one of the founders at Upserve, and before that, Tellme. I just learned from that but also trial and error. But I think the biggest thing was just realizing, like, hey, man. Somebody's got to do this. Somebody's got to interface with customers, got to ask them discovery questions, get them to open their eyes, present to them, and persuade them to give this thing a whirl. That experience taught me a couple of different things. One, you got to do this thing. Two, anyone can learn it.

As you noted earlier, my background is in product marketing and product management. Well, I'm not an engineer by background. I'm a pretty left-brain person. Also, I'm pretty, at least historically, I was a pretty introverted person. And so just realizing there's a lot of false narratives out there about born sellers and so on and so forth, and it's just like a muscle. It's just a muscle that you can learn. It just gets built over time if you do the push ups. And so that's why I ended up writing Founding Sales as essentially a textbook that goes from the very, very beginnings, all the way up through sales management and what have you. I like to say that Founding Sales is like the sequel to The Lean Startup but then the prequel to Predictable Revenue or Jason Lemkin's From Impossible to Inevitable. It's like for that in the middle like a 0 to $2 million, where it's just like, alright, cool. We have a product. What do we do with this thing? That's where Founding Sales lives.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, I know it's an amazing book, and there's so much amazing tactical advice in there. I've referred to it many times as I've been trying to figure out selling myself at Dock.

Pete Kazanjy: Well, that's why it's a website. It's because one of the big frustrations I've always had with books is that they're monolithic. The search experience within a book is pretty miserable. And so my wife - God bless her - put all of Founding Sales up on We hacked Squarespace to be a booty CMS. And so the entirety of the book is available on, in Squarespace, searchable. It's free. You just have to reg. It's just sitting right there. Because it's written in chronological order, it's not really a page turner. Like, oh, this is fascinating. If you're a founder and you're just starting out, you probably don't need to read the Sales Hiring chapter. But when you get there two years later, that's the point at which you want to do it. So that's why we put it online so such people could search across it and come back to things. Like, oh, yeah, I need to refresh our deck. Where was that again? And you can search for it.

Alex Kracov: I'm curious. Because it was written a couple of years ago. Was it 2020 that it was published, or before that?

Pete Kazanjy: I wrote it over four years from 2014 through 2017. But yeah, it was written over that period. For the longest time, it was actually - talking about MVPs, it was just a series of Google Docs that were inter-hyperlinked. And so it was so funny. As I was writing it, we had an index of it. There was all these chapters and then there were the next chapters that hadn't been written yet. You would see all the anonymous emails and whatever in the Google doc sitting there. You'd click into one of the chapters, and there'd be a bunch of other anonymous aardvarks and foxes as well reading it. But yeah, it was definitely something. It was a work in progress for a really long time before it actually got published.

Alex Kracov: I'm curious. Are there any tactics or chapters that are maybe a little outdated now that you wish you could go back and rewrite? Because sales and tech evolve so quickly. Anything come to mind?

Pete Kazanjy: I think I would actually disagree with that. I don't think that sales evolves quickly, at least the fundamentals. I think that there are some tactics around edges. There's screenshots of LinkedIn Sales Navigator in there that doesn't look like that anymore. But the core notion of, like, there are databases, they are full of humans that align with the personas of people that you should be selling to, you should go into those databases in order to find those humans and then seek to engage them. Whether that's LinkedIn Sales Navigator, or Apollo, or ZoomInfo, or whatever, the vendors may end up changing. But the core concept of there are humans in the world, they have your need, you should find them and then get in front of them and then persuasively talk with them about why they have your need or why they have this need, and why your solution solves that, that really hasn't changed. So I do need to go back through there and gussy up the vendors.

I think, as an example, in the CRM section, we're talking about CRM. I think I talked about Pipedrive and as being good baby CRMs alongside HubSpot. At this point, HubSpot is the canonical baby CRM for SMBs. And so that needs to be glowed up a little bit. But the notion of having a CRM or keeping track of your deals, that's something that's time immemorial. Whether it's a piece of paper that had all your deals on it and the status of it, or a local version of that on your machine, or like Siebel CRM with a server client architecture, or Salesforce, or HubSpot, it's all the same. It turns out keeping track of 50 concurrent deals, your brain is not set up for that. You should probably write it down.

When to Hire For Sales

Alex Kracov: I love how the book starts with, like, establish your narrative and your positioning. Then take all of that and use that to create all the marketing assets, and the decks, and the PDFs and stuff. And as a former marketer, that really speaks to the way I think about. That's foundational. That'll never change over time. You have to nail the narrative and the positioning before you go do all the other things. That's that foundational piece that evolves no matter what company you're doing.

I'm curious. How do you know when you're ready to start hiring a sales team outside of the founder just doing sales? That's something I'm struggling with, too, at Dock. I was doing sales for a while. We had a bunch of customers. We have one AE now. I don't know. It's something I'm always thinking about. It's like, what's the right moment? How do you let go? How do you balance that transitionary phase where you're going from just the founder to the baby sales team?

Pete Kazanjy: I do a presentation on this called Founder-led Selling Maturity Stages. There's a deck that's available online. There's a bunch of recordings on YouTube of me doing it in different conferences. There's this transition period between the founder doing repeatable sales. What that means is, the reason why you do repeatable sales is because what you want to - there's kind of two things. One, will anyone buy this thing? That's non-zero. That's not repeatable. That's existence proof. So would anyone buy this thing? Then get utility out of it. Because you'd be surprised. You'd get good at selling. You can sell something. You can sell people the promise. But if they don't use it, it's actually not delivering on the utility. Jacco van der Kooij from Winning by Designs has this great phrase for this, nice little terse phrase, which is, recurring revenue is the result of recurring impact. So you got to make sure that there's recurring impact. That's usually signified by ongoing usage and then ongoing impact of delivery of the value that was promised.

Let's imagine we do that initially, the existence proof of that. Then the next thing would be the reason why it's important not to declare victory after one customer or two customers or whatever and be like, all right, we're done. Let's hire 10 sales reps or whatever, is because there's still a bunch of rough edges, a bunch of sharp edges. And so by doing multiple repetitions, it's like when you're making a recipe. It's a good metaphor for this. Okay, cool. Oh, this turned out good the first time. Let's do it again. Oh, I broke it. It didn't work the second time. Or, oh, man, I ran out of this ingredient. Or, "Ooh, man, actually this order is off." And so literally, the only way that you figure that out is by doing repetition, repetition, repetition, repetitions. And so the crux of knowing when it's time to get another chef alongside you, if you will, another line cook alongside you, is when you can see that you can repeatedly sell a deal.

There is a recipe. When it comes out of the oven, the souffle doesn't fall. It reliably tastes good. And so the way that that works in sales is win rates. If you have a repeatable win rate of anywhere 15%, 20%, 25%, where if one out of five of your first meetings turns into a deal, it's pretty solid. And so the only way you're going to know that that's the case is if you do 50 at bats to get 10 customers. While you're doing those at bats, you're like, "Oh, man. You know what? People get confused when I talk about this slide. I need to fix this slide," or like, "Oh, maybe I'm actually going to change the order of the deck," or, "The demo flows." And so then you get it to the point where you're like, okay, this is pretty tight. If I know that if 10 new opportunities come into the pipe, I'm probably going to close one or two of them. At that point, now you say, "Okay, great. This now feels like it's packaged or package-able, such that another line chef can sit alongside me. And they can start working with these raw ingredients and see if they can make a souffle." That's the point at which you do it.

The failure modes here are, one, having never even cooked it yourself. That's a disaster. Two, not enough. Alright, cool. I closed two deals. It's like, cool, yeah, that was your mom and your aunt. That's not valid. And so the rule of thumb I like to say is, this is contingent on average selling price. But if you get to 10 or 20 - this is software that costs $10, $20, $30, $40, $50,000. If you get to 10 or 20 customers that are reliably getting to success and are referenceable - referenceable is a really important indicator. Because they're like, "Yeah, you know what? I gave you $20,000, and I got $100,000 of value out of this." I will tell anyone about that. That's a good indicator. Reference ability is really important. Because people are like, "Yeah, this is great." It's like a really wonderful fair trade. If you can get to 10 or 20 customers, close to 10 or 20 customers who are super juiced, now you're at the point where like, alright, let's add. Importantly, I don't want to add five line chefs. Maybe I'd add two line chefs next to me. Then you're on to a new stage, because now your responsibility is to get those line chefs to success in getting them to the point where they can reliably make the soufflÈ as well as you can.

Alex Kracov: And what does that phase look like? Are they shadowing you on calls? Are you making PDFs and slides for them? How can you support your fellow line cooks to keep cooking that soufflÈ?

Pete Kazanjy: That's why doing it really repeatedly yourself is so important. It's because, what you're doing is, as you're making assets for yourself, you are making the assets that are for those future line chefs. I talked about this quite a bit in the chat, the sales hiring and onboarding and management chapters in Founding Sales. One, it's onboarding effectively. If you have call recordings off - first of all, the assets should be there. The collateral should be there. This is where a lot of founder sellers skimp on documentation. But having a demo flow in your head is not great. You should have it documented even if it's just bullet it out. Having a deck. I have a presentation on. It looks like a presentation on sales presentations or whatever. We're making sure that you have a sales deck that you yourself were using, even if it's like a discovery deck that's largely for framing. Having those assets ready.

Then what you do is you just train up on those, where, ideally, you've recorded a bunch of these. You have Chorus or Gong or any like Fathom any of these like free options that are available that just follows you around and records all these things for you. Then you certify your staff on them. This is actually something where a lot of folks really struggle. It's, I don't want to micromanage. Micromanage is the dumbest word ever. You mean you don't want to manage? Got it. Totally. Oh, you know what? I just busted my ass for a year figuring out exactly the right order that these deals should go in - what the discovery questions are, what the presentation script looks like, and the slides look like, and the demo script. But you know what? You just do you. You do you. Just go crazy. No, that's terrible.

The same way that when someone joins the New England Patriots or whatever, it's like, you know what? Just go ahead and run that route and run those plays however you want. No, here's our playbook. We're going to onboard you a note. We're going to see how you run these routes. Cool. We're going to do a bunch, a bunch, a bunch of run throughs of making the soufflÈ. We're going to taste it each time, or I'm going to sit next to you. You're going to watch me do it a bunch, a bunch, a bunch of times. You're going to watch the video a bunch, a bunch of times. But that's not sufficient. Then you're going to do a bunch of fake ones where I'm the customer. We're going to do it again and again, and again, and again, and again, until you just have it absolutely, absolutely nailed. Then we're going to start letting you get in front of customers - not by yourself but with someone riding along with you. We're going to do that a bunch, a bunch, a bunch, a bunch, a bunch, a bunch of times. Then finally, you're going to be at the point where you can do this on your own. But it takes a long time. You can't do that if you don't have the documentation, if you don't have the recipe there. Moreover, if you don't actually authenticate that the person can reliably execute that recipe, if you don't do any of these steps, you're opening yourself up for all sorts of terrible hurt.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, I definitely made the micromanager mistake at Dock, where I was like I hired someone. They're doing great. It seemed to be going well. I took a little bit too far of a step back. Then sales started to slow a little bit. It was like once I came back in and more clearly defined the process and how it should go down, I was like, oh shit. Now it's actually working. Now it was working when I was collaborative. Actually, it didn't feel like micromanaging. Andy, our sales rep, loved it. You could collaborate with me. We could figure out what was working, what wasn't, and really clearly define it. Once we wrote down each little step of our process, then it was like, oh, this is actually simpler than we thought. It started working. It's funny how that all works.

Pete Kazanjy: The written word, it's been helpful for thousands of years.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, exactly. Except this time, I think it was more of a FigJam file where I had the flowchart for - Written word, the same thing.

Pete Kazanjy: Oh. So even earlier, hieroglyphics. Yeah, got it.

Co-Founding Atrium

Alex Kracov: Yeah, exactly. Good point. I love to switch gears and start talking about Atrium, which is the company you co-founded and where you're at now. Atrium is a data-driven sales management platform. I think I got that right. I'd love to understand the early days of Atrium and the founding story there. What was the product like? Why did you decide to start it? Can you give us what it was like?

Pete Kazanjy: Yeah, for sure. I think Atrium really came out of a lot of the experience that we had at TalentBin, where when I was our initial seller and then as soon as we started having incremental salespeople instrumenting - Like the thing that you were talking about earlier. Like, hey, you took a step back, and then things started to get weird. But I didn't quite know why. And so when you have one or two reps, you can be on calls. You can listen to calls even when you're just sitting next to them. To extend the cooking metaphor, it's just like, oh, I'm going to sample this as things are coming out of the kitchen. But once you get to 10 reps or 20 reps or whatever, you can't taste all the foods, so to speak. Instead, you have to use metrics for that.

This is a key insight at TalentBin. One of my favorite business books is a book called The Goal by Eli Goldratt. It's written as a novel but it's like manufacturing research, like Toyota lean manufacturing concepts explained as a novel. It came out in the '80s. But essentially, what it opened my eyes to - I actually read it when I was in high school - when I started managing a sales organization, I was like, oh, this is just like a factory. Got it. We've got these various assembly lines. We have to just instrument things coming in into the process and then all the steps along the way. Like, how many things are moving along, where are the things falling out, what are the conversion rate issues. Our machines, our reps, are they doing sufficient quantity and quality of work in order to move things along? And so we did a pretty good job of that at TalentBin.

But then, when TalentBin was acquired by Monster, it was kind of funny. Because I anticipated. Because Monster was a 1,000-person sales organization. I was like, okay, cool. Well, I'm sure they do way better than we do. It was just like, no one had any idea what was going on. It was all like anekdata. Oh, I'm hearing XYZ. No one used the CRM. And so what it opened my eyes to was, most organizations do a very poor job of instrumenting the quantity and quality of selling behavior that's happening by their reps metrically. Call recording is all well and good. People tell themselves a story. Managers listens to calls. They don't. All that stuff is cool. But really, the way to understand what's going on with a rep, a set of reps, many reps, many teams, et cetera, is through instrumentation. All the technologists who might be listening to this are like, oh, yeah, duh. You mean observability software like DataDog? Obvi. But sales organizations don't necessarily think that way.

The good news is, the sales operation's function exists to help with this. But historically, the tool chain that they've used for that has been more generalist, horizontal, kind of like BI, Looker or Tableau, which are great for analysts. But can a sales manager or a sales leader who come from sales land - they're great communicators. They're super empathetic, great listeners, etcetera, etcetera. But one of the jokes we like to say is, most sales managers and leaders don't come from the math department. So if you hand them a grid of 12 tiles on a Tableau dashboard, they're going to be like, "Thanks, man. What the hell is going on here? Close the tab." Then they're going to go back to, like, "Let's talk about deals, deals, deals, deals."

And so the whole idea behind Atrium was like, how can we democratize the power of management biometric at the manager level, at the second leader level, at the third leader level. This is actually the rise of AI in the last six months. Large language model AI has really helped democratize that even more so. Because the way that Atrium works, it takes five minutes to set up an account. There's a read-only connection with your CRM. Poof. We calculate 100 plus metrics out of the box through all sorts of smart mapping and learnings over the last three or four years. Then we have all this statistical anomaly detection on top of that. All that stuff is really great. But even that was too much or a bridge too far for some sales managers. And so literally, it's just like breaking it down and just explaining it to someone in English. Like, "Hey, by the way, this rep right here, he has a booking from, that's coming from this win rate issue right here. His win rate issue is coming from the fact that he's got a lower conversion rate at a proposal as compared to all the different reps." And literally just like bulleting that out for a manager, turning into a narrative for them, so they're like, got it, I should BirdDog proposals. Like proposal stage with this guy. Or like, "Hey, you got this rep over here. It turns out he's got a pipeline hygiene issue. You can see it based on his untouched ops and his stuck ops right here." His activity is not low. He's doing a bunch of activities. It seems like it's just misdirected. You should put time on his calendar that is specifically for pipeline clean up twice a week.

This is the stuff that now you can do with large language models, whereas previously a year ago or two years ago, we would be showing people these statistics and asking them to read the tea leaves for themselves. Now we've actually got been able to go a lot further in reading the tea leaves and providing recommendations, which is great. Because at the end of the day, I have a whoop on right now. I don't know if you're an Apple Watch guy or what have you. But using data to measure behavior and then provide recommendations is really powerful. But if that's only something that very analytical people can do, that's a very small subset of the general population.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, it's an amazing story of how you can basically just turn math into real action and real insights that people can actually go and impact not only the listing sales-

Pete Kazanjy: And words.

Alex Kracov: And words. Well, I guess that's where the LLM stuff comes in, right? Because then, now you're actually - there's like a paragraph. I see you sharing it a lot on Twitter, where, okay, there's a whole paragraph of actions that people can go take when they realized that-

Pete Kazanjy: I think this is a key insight for us. I think this is why it's really important that founders stay super close to the product and also give themselves enough maker time in order to do this stuff. I had this realization that humans, for the most part, they think in words. They're programmed by words. As a marketer, you know this, right? Anyone who's watched Mad Men knows this. Then this has been the case for hundreds of thousands of years. The abstraction between numerics, analytics, and words is pretty substantial for a lot of people.

There was a key aha moment nine months ago where it's like, hey, it seems like we can probably transform a lot of these facts that we are creating, these insights that we're manufacturing with that then for a large proportion of our audience. They were like, okay, cool. Thank you for the anomalies here. But what does this mean, and what should I do about it? Now being able to turn that into something that they can natively speak, which is like words in stories, and then providing a recommendation. Like I said earlier, like, oh, there's a pipeline hygiene problem right here. Here's why. This is what you ought to do about it. Now managers are just like, "Oh, my goodness. Thank you."

Alex Kracov: I imagine building a platform like this is kind of hard. You're ingesting all this data. Then you're trying to connect those data to specific insights. Everyone's CRM is very messy. Data hygiene is always a problem. How does that sort of work behind the scenes? Is it, I guess, really clear that, okay, this data point is always going to map back to this action or this problem that are going to surface back? Because I assume some things can be related to multiple things. How do you think about this challenge?

Pete Kazanjy: The way to think about it is just the way that a human would think about it. This is where part of our sales motion is what we call the marriage counseling between sales operations and sales management. Where when you're instrumenting a sales organization, it's not a factory. It's like a factory, but it's not a factory. The reason why is because the machines are not reliable. The machines are messy. The reason why you need those messy sellers is because they're interfacing with prospects who are also messy. So you got messy on that side, and you got messy on this side. And so what that means is, that doesn't mean that it's impossible to instrument. It just means that it's not deterministic necessarily.

This is where a lot of sales operations people, especially BI teams, get super wrapped around the axle. They're like, "But it needs to be accurate, within 99.9% accuracy." It's like no, it doesn't. We're talking about humans, man. All we're trying to figure out is like, I think Bob has an activity problem. I think he's doing less activity than everyone else. Oh, well, this meeting right here, that was actually with his wife. He took his wife out to dinner. She has a MuleSoft email address. That was on his calendar. Yeah, totally. But he has 50% fewer meetings than everybody else. You're right. It's like, hey man. Cool. I'm glad you had a date night. But he's got 50% fewer meetings in his group or 30% fewer meetings than his peers. Oh, okay. I think that there's just like part of this is that industry changes at the pace of the humans who can change.

You're seeing this right now. We have a bunch of fairly large organizations that we work with where the sales leaders who are 40 something, 50 something, maybe in their early 60s or whatever, they're now transitioning from - they came up in an era where there was no data. So they didn't need a data muscle. And now they realize, the old fogies are realizing, hey, I probably do need this. Plus, I see all the guys on the PGA Tour, they're wearing those WHOOP things. I know that I golf a lot, and so I pay attention to my fairways and regulation and my greens in regulation, and all these different stats. I watch that movie Moneyball. That's transitioning over time. Then of course, you have the younger folks who have grown up in a data native environment where they've been on Strava forever, or they're like what have you. And so I think that that is transitioning over time. People are now more open to that. But just because they're open to it doesn't necessarily mean that they have the skill profile to be able to do it. But at least, they're not resistant to it any anymore.

Atrium's Sales Process

Alex Kracov: I'd love to know what does the actual sales process look like for Atrium itself. Because it must be pretty challenging to go convince. Okay. You're like, the BI guys are probably a pain some time. Then you have to go convince, I guess, the sales leaders that they need to be more data driven. How do you think about your own sales process? How do you convince people that, okay, they need to move towards this for the Moneyball revolution for sales that Atrium is helping to power?

Pete Kazanjy: We have a two-legged sales process. A lot of vendors have a two-legged sales process, especially the higher that you get it. At this point, ICP for us is more than 30 sellers, like 20 or 30 sellers. We have historically had organizations that have had a lot of fewer sellers. But at this point, one of the things that we've observed is, the problem that we solve gets more and more and more acute the larger that you get. It gets more and more acute, not linearly. It becomes much more muscular. The bigger that you get, the more layers of managerial abstraction.

The managers actually don't take a lot of convincing, because they feel this pain point very concretely. I think that that's actually a really important thing from a sales process standpoint. It's to figure out who's got the biggest burning pain. You can start with them. But then, usually, if you have a two-legged sales process, you can't just show up to the other part of the conversation and say like, "Hey, these guys have this problem," and you need to solve it for them. You also have to figure out what their pain point is, as well. So in our case, sales management leadership and operations are largely the two people who participate in these conversations. Sales management's frustration is around access to data in a simplified format. That actually is accessible to them. Because they're used to being handed 24 tiles on a Tableau dashboard, that six of them are broken. They're just terrible. I just needed to know how many customer facing meetings my reps had last week. Jesus, guys. And so that ends up not being all that terribly difficult. Second level leaders recognize that their managers are not being enabled to manage my metric in an effective way. Then moreover, the second-level leaders also are like, even if maybe those managers are being provided with the right resources, they're oftentimes frustrated by the level of actual managerial execution that's being done there. It's like, now what? That's pretty easy.

On the sales operations side, sometimes you can have a little bit of a not-invented-here syndrome situation where it's like, what are you talking about? I provide all these reports and dashboards for these guys. What the heck, man? It's not my fault. It's like, no, no, Bless. It's not your fault, man. Totally. But these folks are not you. What do you do? Oh, econ. You did econ. Oh, biochem? You did bio? Oh, you started your career at Accenture? Miss VP of Sales Operations? Cool. Let's have a little bit of empathy for our sales managers here and our sales leaders here, one. Two, also, how many dashboard requests or report requests do you guys get in your org, in your sales ops organization? Oh, you're being eaten alive by them constantly? Then by the time you hand them back, the person has moved on? That sounds really frustrating for you, right? The more of the assets that you provide them, they're not even looking at. Do you guys do that interpretation for them? Oh, you have one analyst who does all that interpretation for them? Got it. Okay. Cool. How frequently do they do that? They spend the entire quarter doing QBRs for the last quarter because they're doing interpretation? Oh, okay. Got it. That analyst resource is $120,000, and you still only do interpretation for your managers once a quarter? Got it.

Anyway, you just need to make sure. As a marketer, you get this. I'm sure when you guys were doing this at Lattice, there was the line manager. There was the employee. There was the HR person. You just got to make sure that you got to talk track and slides, addresses the relative issues. And so when we're selling to these organizations, typically, we enter through sales leadership or sales operations. They come in at the top of the funnel, initial discovery conversation that is framed for them. Sales leader is going to look a little bit different than the sales operations one, as we just talked about. Then we see if they have that pain point, if they recognize that they have that pain point. Because we've gone from more of a bottoms-up sale to more of a top-down sale, as this is more recognized pain, we do more buying discovery initially to say like, Hey, is this like an initiative in the next six months? Or is this just something that's like below the line? Is this a priority five problem, or is this a priority two or three problem? So that's pretty much it.

It's super easy to turn on an Atrium account. It takes five minutes. But for a lot of these larger organizations, they like security processes and whatever. You'd be shocked. We still get public organizations. The VP of sales ops, he's like, "Yeah, let's turn it on. Here." We're like, alright, share your screen. Great. We'll do that. Then we progress to a very abbreviated pilot process and what have you. But in general, people are blown away by the interpretation of things that otherwise they wouldn't see. Especially with the AI stuff, it's absolutely bananas. You have all these anomalies. Cool. You want to see what's going on with the same click. Just the LLM writes out. Alright. Cool. These are the top three problems. These are the things you might think about this. Here are the reps to be worried about. Here are the reps who you should go give high fives to, and then here's the CliffsNotes on the eight reps on this team. It's like, oh, my god. That was a sales operations analyst just like a custom dossier for me. It took 45 seconds. Crazy. We got to show this to the CRO. You're right. We do have to show this to the CRO.

Alex Kracov: It's exactly what you want to hear, yeah.

Pete Kazanjy: I agree with you, Frank.

Alex Kracov: Let's expedite that conversation immediately.

Pete Kazanjy: Do you have their calendar in front of you?

Alex Kracov: It's too funny. I'd love to spend a moment talking about the top of the funnel. Because I think Atrium's growth strategy is pretty interesting. You clearly have a great personal brand and have given a lot back to the sales community with the book. Then also with the community, Modern Sales Pros, which I know is distinct from Atrium but also, I assume, related in some ways. So I would love to hear about that strategy and how that's paid off for your business.

Pete Kazanjy: We did a lot of community marketing. I know that you work in a bunch of community marketing at Lattice as well. Resources for Humans, if I recall it correctly?

Alex Kracov: Yeah, exactly.

Pete Kazanjy: I think the important thing to understand is, as an entrepreneur, as a marketer, what have you, is that your solution and the problem that it's associated with sits within a larger ecosystem of problems. And so if you can capture the attention of that audience, all of the problems they have, then you potentially can be well-situated to be the thing that they think about when the problem that you solve pops up. The problem is, a lot of people have done community marketing in a pretty dumb way, where they're like, oh, we're going to be the analytics community or the sales analytics community. It's like, I don't know if that's going to raise the level of like, oh, do I really need to be in my 10th Slack group for that? The challenge may be that for some markets, there may already be canonical communities that are in place. Modern Sales Pros has 35,000 sales operations, sales managers, and sales leaders. I'm sure that Resources for Humans has a bajillion HR people in it or what have you.

So just telling yourself a story that you're going to create a new community where there's already one is probably a pretty tough thing to do. But if the personas that you work with don't yet have canonical online community, that can potentially be a growth path for you there. It's been very successful for us with Atrium. Modern Sales Pros, it generates lots of content. We work with lots and lots of different vendors like the Gongs of the world, the Choruses, the ZoomInfos of the world, the Outreaches of the world, the SalesLofts of the world, the Orums of the world, et cetera, et cetera. We work with a lot of those folks. They do sessions that people are interested in. Of course, Atrium is just like layers in there with the others as well.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, I think community is such a powerful strategy, but it's hard to do when it gets saturated. I would love to do a sales community for Dock. But it's like, why would I do that, right? It's like Modern Sales Pros exists. There's other ones that exist. And so you have to find new and interesting ways to build a community and a brand. That's one of the reasons I do this podcast. There's different ways to go about and do it. Atrium is obviously not the first company you started. But I'm curious. What's been the surprisingly hardest thing about starting Atrium?

Pete Kazanjy: I think this is the thing that people, that entrepreneurs, will quickly learn. It's staging of a product. This is the biggest challenge that practitioners going into starting companies that are product-centric run into. It's, what is the order of operations by which I build the product? It really goes back to that Lean Startup concept. There's this great visual metaphor where you don't want to build. If you want to get to a car, you don't want to build the front left of the car, then the back left of the car, then the back right of the car, and the front right of the car. Because the entire time, you haven't been able to roll at all. If you want to build a car, instead, what you want to do is, you want to start with a skateboard. Build a skateboard first. You can roll. It sucks in the rain, right? But you can at least roll and go to the grocery store. Then you have a scooter. Put a little front on it, a basket. Now we can put groceries in it. Then we get to a bike. Then we get to a car. And so I think that that's something that's really important for founders to always come back to. It's like, make sure that you're staging appropriately. Then the customer is always getting utility along the way.

Now that can be hard when you're trying to do deep technology. I think you mentioned this earlier. I was talking to this SVP of sales operations for this 2,000-sales person organization earlier. He was like, man. The AI feature is called SalesCoach. He's like, this is insane. This guy's really, really sharp. He's like, but I can totally see how the only way you guys were able to get this was you needed to have all of that anomaly detection, the statistical anomaly detection done first. In order to have that, you need to have the entire metrics harnessed first. In order to have that, you need to have all that mapping.

One of our board members is a guy named Brett Queener. We call him gopher guts. He got all this insane gopher guts that you guys have built over time. And so that can be tough threading that needle. I think, in our case, it took a lot longer to build the thing that we wanted to get to the promised land than we anticipated. But I think the important thing there is always being focused on, are you delivering utility as indicated by usage, NPS reference ability, and stay close to that versus telling yourself a story that you're going into this deep build hole and what have you. You don't have those signifiers of customer utility. I think that can be really a recipe for disaster there. It's tough.

Alex Kracov: That's something I think a lot about as we build Dock, which is definitely trying to build a wider platform for revenue teams. But it's like, okay, how do we pace our product bets to deliver enough value to our customers, to hit those revenues miles along the way even if we're marching towards this broader vision? And yeah, I don't know. It's a tough puzzle, but it's fun to try and figure out.

Pete Kazanjy: Yeah, you know who's a great person who thinks really thoughtfully about this and shares a lot, and he's funny when he does it? It's Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box. Because Box has been around for like, I don't know, 12 years or something like that. I'm sure, 12 years ago, they're just shipping features now that they talked about 10 years ago. But reality intervenes. The really important thing is that you have to be alive in order to do that thing. And if somehow, you have shipped something that nobody cared about along the way - so how you know that people care about the thing that you shipped is win rate. Win rate tells you whether or not they care. Then average selling price tells you the magnitude of how much they care, how big of a problem this is. Then renewal rate, net retention rate, gross retention and net retention rate, net dollar retention, tells you whether you actually delivered. Win rate tells you whether or not they believe you and they have the pain. Then NDR tells you whether or not you actually delivered on that.

And so if you pay attention to those things - that's why those things have to be healthy in order for you to have earned the right to continue to live another day. And either A, use the revenue that is coming in from your organization to then fund that future or persuade some investor. Like, hey, look, isn't this an amazing skateboard, or isn't this an amazing scooter? People will really like it. They will like it a lot more. We'll be able to access a lot bigger, a total addressable market, if we're able to enclose it in some sort of capacity such that the rain doesn't get on people. But you got to make sure that people are actually riding the scooter, want to ride the scooter, and are actually riding the scooter in the meantime to have earned the right to build the bicycle on your way to building the golf cart, on the way to building the car.

Alex Kracov: It reminds me a lot of like what Elon did starting with the Roadster and then moving into more broader available cars like Model S and all that. Got to start with the wedge, right? That's how it works.

Pete Kazanjy: Ideally, a high-margin edge, right? A high-margin wedge that you can then use to then get to the next thing.

The Future of Sales Tech

Alex Kracov: I'd love to end today's conversation talking about the future of sales tech. I think there's a lot of interesting things going on, especially with these big CRM adjacent players: Gong, Clari, ZoomInfo, Outreach. They're all buying up different companies and trying to build these platforms. What's your take on these moves? How do you think about the future of sales tech more broadly?

Pete Kazanjy: Yeah, for sure. I think the consolidation of - I'm calling them. I forgot what Gartner called them, but they're essentially digital sales like aggregators. They all came from a different place of strength. Gong and Chorus started out with call recording. But once you have the call information, you can do some judgment around deals. So now we want to have the deal functionality. Then of course, SalesLoft and Outreach started as sales development, especially email automation. No, no, no, this is sales engagement. No, it isn't. It's marketing automation light. That was cool, and that was super useful for the sales development function. Then they have started to accrete other functionality on there. Because it turns out the ability to send email as a core behavior of sellers, it turns out that having calls and managing deals is a core behavior of sellers. Then making judgments based on that like a forecast is a core behavior of a sales organization. That's where Clarity started out.

And so I think what's happening is, all of those folks are consolidating into a unified workflow interface for the revenue - human. You can see this. Where even the SDR-centric organizations like Outreach and SalesLoft who started out as sales development-centric, they've been working their bonds off to get into AE land, AM land, CSM land. Because that's 70% or 80% of the humans in sales land have those roles. That's why what you've observed is that Gong just added a capability called Gong Engage. That's mid funnel sales engagement and mid funnel email automation but, again, primarily focused on the AE, AM, CSM type person. Not really the marketing automation land piece. I think what's going to happen is, those folks with the next two or three years are really going to be focused very heavily on filling in their respective gaps. Clarity just bought Groove. Because, okay, cool. We have the ability to measure and roll up opportunities here. But what about taking actions on those opportunities? Oh, well, how do we take actions with email? Because we're digital sellers. Got it. Well, we'll buy this group. So I think that the next two or three years is really going to be that in a very meaningful way.

We think a lot about where we live in that land, we're very much manager-centric. The manager is the person who really cares about Atrium. The leader is the person who cares about Atrium. And so we're very heavily-focused on facilitating better management through metric and letting managers - SDR managers, AE managers, second-level leaders, et cetera - take action on managerial behaviors that they should be doing there, which is a little orthogonal to that. Those folks may start getting into that space. But the good news is, now that they're all filling in each other's gaps and what have you, probably a lot of their engineering resources are going to be going into that versus manager stuff. But we'll see how it shakes out.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, it seems like everyone's competing for the CRO's attention and how can we just give them an amazing data suite and help them get their forecast better, while actually also tying the different actions in their platform back up into that. But yeah, we'll see how it goes. I think Dock is actually pretty well-positioned to be a good adjacent platform to these new platforms that are being built. Because none of them are touching the world that we're playing. And so I don't know. We'll see how it goes.

Pete Kazanjy: Yes, it won't be boring.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, that's a great note to end it. Thank you so much, Pete. If people want to follow up with you, reach out, have questions about founder-led sales, where's the best social media channel to find you?

Pete Kazanjy: I am very easily findable on LinkedIn and Twitter or X, whatever it's called. There is only one Peter Kazanjy in the United States as far as I can tell, so if you just Google me. Don't worry about spelling my last name wrong, because Google will autocorrect it for you. The top links will probably be me.

Alex Kracov: Awesome. Thank you so much.

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