How An Enterprise Sales Leader Builds Relationships to Close Global Business
If you’re an enterprise salesman you know how hard it is to get deals closed, not to mention getting a global conglomerate in the door. So, today we wanted to give you a look at how TellusLabs and Fernando Rodriguez-Villa have brought global agriculture conglomerates on board.
Throughout the article, we’ve pulled out these key insights for you:
- Step-by-step process for discovering your target customers
- Tips for selling a “First of its Kind” product
- Why customer feedback is critical to enterprise sales
- Why you need to map out your target customer’s org chart
- Tips for selling into a mature or “Old-School” market
Nudge: Tell us a bit about TellusLabs.
FRV: TellusLabs uses 15 years of satellite and weather data to build machine learning models that provide answers to environmental questions, particularly within agriculture. This allows us to say early in a harvest how well the crop is going to perform.
Those insights are incredibly valuable, not just for large agribusinesses and CPG companies that are trying to manage their supply chains, but also for commodity funds that trade futures. It’s remarkable how many people across the economy depend on the products of the agriculture industry for their day-to-day business.
Nudge: That sounds really intriguing, how did you get involved with this?
FRV: My interest in deal-making started at J.P. Morgan, where I worked on large M&A transactions and capital raises. Next, I moved into a business development role with Knewton. There, we used a large amount of student proficiency data to train models that allowed us to personalize learning experiences at scale and in real time.
A few years later I moved to Boston for personal reasons and was looking for early-stage tech companies where I could be helpful in a business development role. I’d been doing some freelance work with a few of these companies when one of their investors introduced me to the founders of TellusLabs. We did some really exciting work around how the commercial side of the enterprise could work, and eventually, that freelance engagement turned into a full-time role that I couldn’t turn down.
Discovering your Target Customers
Nudge: I’d love to hear a bit more about this, how did you determine what those core commercial areas were going to be?
FRV: David and Mark (the founders) had done this really ingenious thing before I even arrived – during the 2016 growing season last Summer, they tweeted and “MailChimped” their forecasts every day – all folks needed to do was provide their email address.
Folks in the agricultural community (farmers, traders, researchers, reporters, etc…) signed up for the newsletter to receive the latest forecast alongside some analysis. What started as a dozen friends and family turned into 600 really well-informed industry practitioners… and we had all their email addresses!
When I arrived we had a huge list of 600 emails from folks who had expressed interest in our information. Not all of them were credible customers, but that list allowed us to start the journey of customer interviewing (always crucial for both product and business development). This helped us get an understanding of who the key stakeholders were in the space and how big of an opportunity each segment would be.
Now that we’ve moved from the customer development stage to having clients paying us organizational licenses, we’ve found that many of the people from the list were either clients or people who knew our clients. It just took multiple hops of networking and building relationships to get there in some cases.
Key Insight – 5 Steps to Discover your Target Customers:
- Set up a newsletter signup on your website.
- Publish informative content that relates to your product in order to engage with people in your industry.
- Define the assumptions you want to test in your customer interview and create questions to prove/disprove these assumptions.
- Start conversations with the people who consume your content and ask them these questions.
- Track and analyze the results to draw conclusions.
Selling a “First of its Kind” Product in Global Business
Nudge: So how do you sell this product?
FRV: The market is at a pretty early stage, the whole idea of combining remote sensing data (satellite information) and machine learning to forecast crop yields is relatively new. Our customers didn’t go into the year saying “I’m going to set aside some budget for satellite data”, instead they’re thinking of weather data, their Bloomberg terminal, and maybe a meteorologist that they’re going to keep on retainer.
This means a big part of the sales role is to educate them about what our technology is and why it could be useful. It’s a totally different deal than if we were selling HR or CRM software where customers already understand the concept, might already have a solution and are being pitched by many other vendors.
The goal for us in this first year of commercial distribution isn’t necessarily to maximize revenue. The goal is to establish relationships that will grow over time and generate incredible feedback so that when we’re doing product development or going for subsequent fundraising, we have the right people at the table. Our main priority is to get the right customers, not necessarily the most customers.
“Our main priority is to get the right customers, not necessarily the most customers.”
– Fernando on early stage BD
That said, it’s important to make sure we’re not doing things like exaggerated discounting because that sets a bad precedent for future years and hurts our reputation as a premium provider. I hope we maintain this discipline for a long time to come. Naturally, the priorities will change over time as the business development & marketing functions grow and the product itself can power the “flywheel.”
Key Insight – 4 Tips for Selling a “First of its Kind” Product
- Understand your customer’s budgeting process and structure so that you know when and where your product will fit best – they likely haven’t accounted for you in their latest budget.
- Take a more informative sales approach as you will need to educate your buyers on what your technology is and why it matters – they likely won’t have other vendors to compare you to.
- Don’t try to squeeze every penny that you can from your early customers, focus on building amazing relationships with them.
- Leverage these relationships to create a feedback loop – this will guide your future sales strategy, product development, and add legitimacy to your business.
Establishing Customer Feedback Loops
Nudge: What are some of the bigger clients you’ve been able to bring in so far? What sectors are they in?
FRV: Our current client base generally falls into two buckets: global agriculture conglomerates and commodity investors. In agriculture, the four traditional big players are ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, within several months of launch we had signed two of those as clients. These clients are paying us decent money, but the real value is coming from the feedback they give us. We’re just starting on these multi-year journeys. As these partnerships grow, they’ll generate more and more value for everyone involved.
Key Insight – 3 Reasons Why Customer Feedback is Critical to Enterprise Sales:
- You have less potential customers than any other market (SMB, B2C, etc…) so you want to avoid burning leads with poor marketing messaging or sales pitches.
- Enterprise deals involve a significant investment of time and resources, you need to avoid wasting time on unqualified customers or selling the wrong value proposition.
- You need to be building product features that add value to your clients, not the ones you assume add value.
Enterprise Organizational Chart Mapping
Nudge: How did the sales process differ between these clients?
FRV: Overall the process is very similar, but the details you spend more time talking about are different. With the commodities and hedge funds, we’re more focused around the clarity our data can provide for their speculation. The folks on the commercial side care more about hedging and mitigating risk.
Another key insight is understanding the composition of different teams, a hedge fund might have a few people on a desk whose job it is to do quantitative analysis and trade whereas the large agriculture conglomerates could have a research team of 20 people. Getting an understanding of how to navigate these teams and build the right relationships takes time and empathy.
Key Insight – 4 Reasons Why You Need to Map out Your Target Customer’s Org Chart:
- You need to identify your potential champions, influencers, decision makers, secondary signing authorities, and deterrents within a company in order to strategize your navigation strategy.
- Businesses all structure their teams differently, so you can’t assume that the people with the same title in different companies have the same role.
- This allows you to approach your sales research in a much more structured manner, improving efficiency.
- You’re able to see if anyone else in your company/network has relationships with anyone in the target company, opening the opportunity for a warm introduction.
Selling into a Mature or “Old-School” Market
Nudge: Could you share a couple tips for people trying to sell into this space?
FRV: In agriculture, the margins have been pretty tight the past couple years, so there are not a ton of funds floating around. We have to be sensitive to the fact that most teams are in the middle of a significant change in headcount or structure.
As is the case with many industries, agriculture is figuring out how technology is going to affect its business and what the 21st-century version looks like compared to the 20th-century one. This is also where we find opportunity: We’re constantly asking how can we be part of a positive change in the industry.
In agriculture is that there is a bit of a generational shift, not a lot of folks in our generation are going into it. A lot of the children of old agriculture professionals are not wanting to carry on in that industry. Not just the farmers themselves but a lot of the executives at the big four and beyond. We think that will change as people realize just how important this sector is, particularly as we as a species deal with food imbalances and an increasingly volatile climate.
Key Insight – 3 Tips for Selling into a Mature or “Old-School” Market
- Be sensitive to tight budgets and organizational changes as their industry’s growth flattens.
- Conduct research to get a clear understanding of where your audience’s attention lies, whether that is email, social media, physical mail, fax, etc… You can’t always assume they will be highly active online.
- Identify systemic problems in the industry where there is room for innovation and position yourself as a positive industrial change.
Nudge: Thanks Fernando.