How GitHub Built a $7.5B Sales Machine
To effectively sell your product, you need to deliver a consistently positive sales experience to your customers, which means you need a well-oiled sales machine. GitHub, a development platform, has 36M registered users across the globe and surpassed $200M ARR in 2017. With more than 60 percent of Fortune 50 using GitHub Enterprise, the sales team clearly has a formula that works.
At FirstMark’s Annual Sales Summit, GitHub’s Erica Anderson, VP of Worldwide Sales, and Paul St. John, former VP of Worldwide Sales, shared lessons learned while setting up the sales machine at GitHub. They covered the three stages to developing a positive sales experience: creating repeatable sales motions, building a profitable sales machine, and defining and monitoring metrics.
Create Repeatable Sales Motions
Step 1: Map the customer journey
Before you can start selling to customers, you need to understand the customer journey. In addition to doing customer interviews and UX testing, there are a few facts worth noting.
“On average, the customer doesn’t talk to the vendor until they’re 53 percent of the way through the buying cycle,” states St. John. “More importantly, only 17 percent of the customer’s buying cycle is spent with vendors, so the rest of the time, they’re sitting on their computers alone or debating the merits of different products with their co-workers.”
This means you need to have compelling selling points on your website and produce content and information that is directed at various stakeholders, including the end-user, CFO, and any other people who might be involved in the purchase decision.
Step 2: Choose a sales methodology and stick with it
Both St. John and Anderson emphasized the importance of finding a sales methodology that works for your team and sticking to it. The team at GitHub uses the Challenger Sales Model. St. John notes that it doesn’t matter which sales model you use as long as you pick one. This is not just important for the sales team, but for the entire organization.
It doesn’t matter which sales model you use just as long as you pick one and stick with it.
“We needed everyone from sales to product to engineering to have the same vernacular and be rowing in the same direction,” says St. John. “The sales model gets everyone using the same language, the same words, and looking at the same things.”
Step 3: Create consistent messaging
In order to compete for market share, your business needs a unique selling proposition. Before building out a team, decide what your messaging and positioning will be. Know your angle, your sales pitch, your message, then clearly communicate that with your staff to make sure everyone is selling the same thing in the same way.
Step 4: Develop a customer enablement platform
As previously mentioned, customers spend only 17 percent of the buying cycle with vendors — and that’s time spent with all vendors — not just you. That leaves 83 percent of the buying cycle for outside research, including looking at your website and social channels.
“Customers are looking for case studies and references to industries like theirs,” explains St. John. “It’s essential to build a customer enablement platform to help potential customers build a business case for buying your product. A really good website will accelerate the sales motion.”
In addition to a customer enablement platform, you need to carefully consider pricing and simplify the on-ramp as much as possible.
“Your product needs to be cost competitive and super easy to use,” claims St. John. “Challenge your team to go back and analyze the pricing to make sure you have the best possible model.”
Build A Profitable Sales Motion
Step 1: Set up initial motions
Once you have the foundation of your sales philosophy, you need to establish an inside sales organization and a field organization.
“At first, we only invested in a small business and an enterprise division,” says Anderson. “However, as we grew, we realized we actually had a mid-market space as well, so we decided to create territory sales reps to help with those customers. Be sure to look at your customers carefully, segment properly, then hire teams to service each customer base.”
Step 2: Establish the right teams
Hiring the right people and placing them in the right role is very important. If you’re looking to hire field sales reps or open new offices, St. John suggests creating a map of how many people are needed in each location to help determine whether or not it’s necessary to open a physical office.
“You don’t want to open an office unless you’ll see revenue coming from it,” explains St. John. “Do you need engineers in that location? What about support staff? If you only need sales presence in a location, you probably don’t need an office.”
When it comes to actually hiring the right people, GitHub started by working with a talent acquisition firm. They learned the ropes, then brought talent acquisition in-house. St. John mentions that establishing salary bands and getting offers out fast were the two things they focused on when building their talent acquisition department.
Step 3: Empower your sales staff
With a strong sales team in place, sales enablement becomes your focus. You need to make sure your reps have the tools and training needed to be successful.
At GitHub, new employees go through a two-week onboarding at headquarters, followed by role-based training that lasts for ~90 days.
“I would highly recommend investing in enablement because it will decrease your ramp time,” says St. John. “The first week of boot camp consists of general training provided by HR, and the second week is sales-specific.”
Getting your sales staff up and running as quickly as possible is paramount. Anderson and St. John note that there are three key ways to ramp up your sales staff: with a ramp quota, draw or a combination of both. GitHub has found the combination method to be the most beneficial for both the company and reps.
Regardless of which method you use, you need to ensure your rep ramp is consistent and scalable. And leadership needs to drive rep capacity to make sure the company is growing and hitting the financial projections — especially if you’re a venture-backed company.
Step 4: Shuffle your accounts
It’s important to move accounts around. St. John notes that reps should be in the field 65 percent of the time. Once a client becomes pretty stable, reps stop booking face time with them, which is when your competitor moves in.
“Shuffling regions and accounts forces your reps to get back out into the field,” states St. John. “Regularly trying to win new clients keeps them at that 65 percent number.”
Step 5: Prove your value, get the renewal and upsell
After closing a client, you need to have proactive account management. Within about 6 to 12 months, reps should be trying to work on renewals, upsell the client or get them to purchase additional products. The best way to do that is to prove your value as clearly as possible.
“You need to show your client how your product has affected their bottom line,” emphasizes St. John. “Give them data that they can send to their CFO that shows the extra revenue your product brought in or the time savings it provided. If you can prove your value to the customer in hard numbers, you’ll get the renewal or the upsell. But you have to show them why they need to spend more.”
Define and Monitor Your Metrics
Step 1: Decide on key metrics
Once your sales machine is up and running, you need to use data to win. Anderson and St. John recommend monitoring six key metrics: CAC (customer acquisition cost), LTV (customer lifetime value), selling time, revenue per head (GitHub targets 5–10x), pipeline-to-quota and sales ramp. With those in place, you can start to measure your CAC/LTV ratio to determine how productive your team is and find new levers to pull that will help get that ratio where you want it to be.
Step 2: Conduct a TAM analysis
To grow your business, you need to understand your addressable market and find places to win over new clients and upsell old ones. You’ll also want to review revenue churn as a leading indicator for what’s happening in the business.
“We recently did a bottoms-up exercise where we looked at our developer seat potential and took that across our key industries,” explains Anderson. “We brought that intelligence into how we tier our accounts, target them and distribute them.”
Step 3: Forecast and manage your pipeline
Accurately forecasting sales based on what’s in the pipeline can be very challenging. Getting it right requires a careful balance of art and science.
“Technology has allowed us to have much more structured conversations about forecasting,” states Anderson. “Our AI does a great job of scoring the deals and we follow up with our reps to make sure they’re committed to closing the deals with the highest score.”
There are many ways to set up a profitable sales machine. But with 36M registered GitHub users, this sales team has proven to have a system that works.
FirstMark’s Annual Sales Summit is a private conference that gathers global sales leaders from across the FirstMark family to learn from each other and from accomplished CROs from breakout companies like Zendesk, GitHub, Square, Okta, HubSpot and more. Click here to learn more about the FirstMark Platform, which connects our founders with talent, customers, and expertise.