Sales · Enterprise software

Is Slack refusing to hire a sales team a mistake?

Jessica Alter Entrepreneur & Advisor

March 18th, 2016

Slack CEO came out recently saying they do not have and do not plan to hire a salespeople.  Of course, it's worked so far but the same can be said of how dropbox and yammer started and they both realized  they then needed to hire in that arena. 
Curious to hear from both sides of the aisle whether or not they think this is a smart decision or doomed. Particularly interested if you've been at a company that's done this (successfully or unsuccessfully) or have lots of experience in sales.  People piling on to rag on sales or business isn't helpful or productive. 

Rodrigo Vaca Product & Marketing

March 20th, 2016

Didier -

"Atlassian is one company that has thrived without having a sales team"

I did a quick LinkedIn search for Atlassian. I found the following people at Attlasian:
- Chris Short, Sales Operation Analyst:
- Paul Vu, Deal Desk/Sales Ops:

- Ghazwan Khair, Sales Engineer:
- Tim Granshaw: Director Of Sales Optimization and Experimentation:

Also, in Atlassian's Contact Us page, it clearly says:

Need to get in touch with someone from our product or sales team?

(emphasis mine)

So I'm not entirely sure what you mean when you say Atlassian doesn't have a sales team!

Maybe you outsource sales, maybe you only sell through channel, but at the end of the day, we all want to sell an extra one more widget. Think about some of the defining tech companies - Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel... you name it, there is a beefy sales department at each one of them!

Brent Bussell Retired High Tech Sales & Marketing Executive

March 18th, 2016

I've seen many businesses in my 30+ years in high tech attempt to minimize their investment in, and dependence on, a dedicated sales function for revenue production. And I've seen almost all of them come to regret it. But notice I used the term "sales function" because sales can take on different forms and doesn't necessarily mean a bunch of sales reps on the street carrying a bag, which is the vision many have when the role is mentioned. And not all businesses require that type of sales investment to be successful. But I would say that virtually all businesses require some person(s) with the proper experience and background in "sales" and the singular focus on producing revenue for the business to drive the actions of the business that will get customers to buy.

Rodrigo Vaca Product & Marketing

March 19th, 2016

On the original question: "Is Slack refusing to hire a sales team a mistake?"

Well, it WOULD be a mistake, it it were true.

But it is simply just not true. Just some bravado posturing by a CEO to show how confident he is on his product. It is good for PR too. That's also what you'd want/expect them to do, so that's not a knock on them. We use Slack day in and day out and it is indeed a fantastic product.

Sales people profiles at Slack:

Most importantly, you may not have people with "sales" in their title, and you may not be paying them a commission (BestBuy's non-commissions blue-shirt salespeople come to mind). But as some point, somebody is *selling* the product.

BTW, the BI article you referenced stated as much at the very end - probably an update after the initial publication? Maybe he just got a little carried away during the SXSW presentation.

Didier Moretti VP/GM Cloud Apps - JIRA Projects, Confluence, Service Desk at Atlassian

March 19th, 2016

Atlassian is one company that has thrived without having a sales team. Our business model is based on having great products, low prices, and high volume. We spread via word of mouth, have over 50,000 customers, ranging from startups to the F500. Atlassian went public late last year.

Atlassian is one of the first companies with significant revenues based on such a business model. There will be many others.

The model is not applicable to all markets - in case of Slack, one can debate whether or not they can deliver on high expectations without a sales team. Time will tell.

Sam Khavari Co-Founder & CTO at Stride Labs

March 18th, 2016

> Is Slack refusing to hire a sales team a mistake?

The end of the article shows a tweet where he acknowledges they aren't refusing to hire a sales team. Dropbox / Slack seem like they're trying hard to learn from the challenges at Boxand aspire for financials like Atlassian. Andrew Hoag pointed to Tomas' great write-up which describes how Atlassian does it.

While Dropbox is known as a no-sales or bottoms up type of organization they have a considerable effort brewing around enteprise sales. We can see how much Dropbox is expanding its sales efforts here:

Glenn Donovan Vice President of Sales (fractional)

March 22nd, 2016

Funny, I never inherited a team of engineers, Rob... Today's engineering driven culture is a reversion to the pre '90s culture which prevailed in tech where engineering drove companies off cliffs. With startup failure rates higher than ever and falling business formation rates, I have to say this mentality is an abject failure. The average SaaS startup I encounter is a clowncar driven by naifs who have no business creating go to market strategies or executing them. But they are being driven by VCs who often even understand less about how this all works.

I think it's an absurdity that I have to even explain why enterprise sales teams are needed when it's simply a reality that is born out every day. But hey, I'm just a guy who's driven over 100 million in revenue personally, what do I know? I'm getting sick and tired of having to justify my existence to people who can't survive without me. In many ways this is a consequence of bubble economics and so much capital chasing so few opportunities.

But then again, it makes for clients who eventually are incredibly hungry for sound, realistic advice and approaches. Sadly, I have to wait until they've made a mess of things usually, "growth hacking" their fool heads off with no good results. Hey, it's a living though...

Rob G

March 18th, 2016

Bill Gates was fond of saying "our software sells itself",... but he had a sales team... and a monopoly.  Even Google has a sales team and few have Google's reach.  I've managed sales at small, medium and large software companies (b2b). Assuming they want to grow in the F1000 market, eventually Slack's organic growth will slow and competition will increase and investors will pressure them to grow revenues faster and they will acquiesce to deploying a sales team. Having a great product helps, but pushing into the F1000 without a sales team against competitors who have sales feet on the street puts them at a competitive disadvantage. 

Jessica Alter Entrepreneur & Advisor

March 18th, 2016

Actually my point was that Dropbox does have a sales team - 100%. Even though they started bottom up. And more importantly they've struggled with enterprise deals vs box because they waited so long. Sent from my iPhone

Andrew Hoag Builder of products, teams and companies

March 18th, 2016

I can't think of a company that's done this successfully over the long-term. If Stewart thinks he can change the way enterprises buy software, I'm all for it (and am doing everything I can to help that revolution), but until every F500 company is using holacracy I just don't see it happening at terminal scale.  

And if he's going to hire a bunch of inside salespeople and call them "Customer Success" then I call bullsh!t. It's not outbound sales but it's still persuading someone to spend more money with you.

Rob G

March 23rd, 2016

this article touches on the prevalence of SaaS companies who have/want enterprise customers and have sales teams: 

"Late last year, I combed through the Montclare SaaS 250 - a directory of the biggest SaaS companies in the world - to find common trends in what I thought would be a significant dataset. As it turned out, 80% of the 250 biggest SaaS companies didn’t have a pricing page at all.  As I looked at in that previous article, there’s often good reason behind hidden pricing, and, for the top 250 SaaS firms, that reasoning was mostly that they are selling to enterprise customers who think pricing is just a formality.  And, besides, enterprise SaaS is a more complex beast than self-service, or SaaS aimed at SMBs.