December 4, 2020

Case Study: A Decision to Hire a Sales Agent for Big Money

THE CHALLENGE To determine whether to hire a highly paid senior sales representative to expand the sale of Prometheus’s software to different industries.

THE BACKGROUND A scientist by training, Dr. Rozenblit understands the needs of researchers. They require a system that is powerful enough to handle millions of data points but that can be adapted as their studies change. Given the tight budgets of most academic institutions, the system cannot be expensive.

Prometheus developed original technology to enable scientists to connect their databases to the Web, allowing multiple users in various locations to access, manipulate and share large quantities of structured data simultaneously. Its software, called HTSQL, was embraced by scientists and technologists and has been Prometheus’s primary product.

Dr. Rozenblit said he believed HTSQL was a game-changing innovation that could also be used to manage data outside of the scientific community — most likely in the financial services and health care industries. Neither he nor his management team, however, knew how to market the software to other industries. “We knew the save in terms of time and money was dramatic, but it wasn’t a product yet,” Dr. Rozenblit said. “It’s not a product until you define a set of customers whose needs you meet and who want to pay you.”

To assess the value of its software, Prometheus had to engage potential clients to determine what problems HTSQL might solve for them. The management team debated who was best equipped to initiate those conversations.

THE OPTIONS Though Dr. Rozenblit and his staff were busy serving existing clients, he considered pursuing corporate accounts himself. After all, no one knew the product and its possibilities better. They also thought about reallocating several employees to approach organizations with large data management needs.

As a slightly more ambitious option, they considered hiring a junior sales representative to try to gauge the potential demand for HTSQL and to pursue new business. An employee at this level would be paid about $60,000 base salary, plus commission.

Finally, Dr. Rozenblit considered hiring a more expensive and experienced sales representative to cultivate relationships and help shape the way HTSQL would be deployed by future clients. A senior representative would command $150,000 to $200,000 in base salary, plus commission.

THE DECISION Dr. Rozenblit chose the last option. In November 2009, he hired Peter Harker, a senior salesman with nearly 20 years of experience selling technology, to lead the product introduction.

Dr. Rozenblit acknowledged that his decision was risky, in part because it forced him to cede some control over the trajectory of his business. Dr. Rozenblit said he wanted to stay connected to the process while removing himself from the daily demands of sales. He decided to include Mr. Harker in all executive team meetings so they could work together to determine how to approach new markets. “How do you let go of your baby?” he asked. “It would have been really hard for me five or seven years ago, but I’m a more experienced manager now.”

Dr. Rozenblit tried to assess his own limitations. Because his team could not define exactly how corporate clients would use HTSQL, he believed that Prometheus needed an experienced representative who had credibility with executive decision-makers and who could prompt a discussion about how HTSQL might help their businesses. “We were effective at selling ourselves to scientists,” he said, “but we had no contacts in the markets we thought were most promising. We needed someone who knew about enterprise software sales.”

Dr. Rozenblit said he believed Mr. Harker had the right blend of product and sales knowledge, and enough credibility to command attention from senior executives. He had a history of joining early-stage companies and helping identify new markets for cutting-edge technology. He had also been an entrepreneur himself, so he understood the scrappy culture and fiscal constraints of fledgling companies.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=db4f90a3053f9c6b839ecab4df7aede3

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