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 22nd, 2016

@ Glenn D, well said. Those with experience in how enterprise scale companies and public agencies buy technology know that Slack's (and it's CEO, steward Butterfield) approach is nothing new. This movie has been seen many times. Microsoft certainly did not walk in the front door of the enterprise, though they certainly wanted too. Microsoft got in the door of the enterprise (actually SMB to start) by users bring stuff in the back door. Mostly IT guys tired of being held hostage by IBM. I suppose now it's IT guys and dept managers not wanting to be held hostage by MS. Some manager would come to IT with a need. They'd finagle a req for a few PCs and the 'rogue' IT guys would hack together 'stuff' much faster and cheeper than they could by 'following the rules' and building it on the mainframe. It would then get some attention internally and demand would build and then "corporate" would get involved (procurement, IT, legal, risk mgt, security, etc.). It would also get the attention of the IBM sales team and they would kill it with IT management.  the old adage "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" started for a reason.  IT management didn't want "those toys" in the shop either and they liked being treated like big shots by IBM, but those damn users kept making trouble. Now you have IT wanting to keep your stuff out and your competition actively working to keep your stuff out. Now what? Or maybe some team loves your stuff. Now you need "a contract"... because procurement and legal says you need a contract. So you go to the customer: "OK, what do you need"? We don't know what we need, we thought you could tell us what we need. "Hey, we need someone to talk to the guys over at Acme widget co. to tell then what they need. We don't have anybody here in the "not sales department" that can do that - isn't that what sales people do? Now that we've told them what they need, now their procurement people want special terms and they want to open an RFP and, and, and. It looks like they need 10,000 seats, that's would be our biggest deal ever, we can't loose this deal. Who can we assign to this to make sure we don't loose this deal? How do we respond to an RFP? Isn't that what sales people do? Now they want to talk about legal and source code escrow and security and they want to know if we will be around next year and what happens to their data if.... and they say that they have built this internal tool to do xyz to handle this regulatory thing for traceability... oh, and did i mention this is a huge deal? Oh, and i heard that 4 of our competitors are in there and they have relationships with all the C suit people, now what do we do? They formed this committee and if we get past the RFP stage they want a demo and then i don't know what happens after that. Did i mention this would be a huge deal for us? We can't let competitors 1, 2 or 3 win this deal. So somebody gets assigned to the 'task of managing this process that looks a lot like sales, but we don't have sales people'. Then if we win we decide this 'not sales' role seems pretty important and if we lose and competitor X wins we decide that this "not sales" role is really important so we need to hire a "not sales" manager to hire some experienced "not sales people" to make sure we can win these big deals. And that's how we grow in the b2b world with a "not sales" team.

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. 

mario chaves CEO & co-Founder, Avantica Technologies

March 18th, 2016

"I think we can get away without having a sales team in any kind of traditional way probably forever.", says Butterfield. The operative words being "I think" and "probably".  Until it no longer works...

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