Scale Your Startup the Oracle Way: 7 Sales Lessons Learned

If you’re going to run a business based on a SaaS sales model, sales guru David Baga says there are a handful of companies renowned for teaching the process – one of which is Oracle. He should know; he spent six years there rising up the ranks from an individual contributor to a Senior Sales Director, during which time the software giant acquired 72 companies and scaled from 44,000 employees to over 100,000.

Like many to come out of enterprise sales, David has since turned his attentions to the startup community, most recently at Rocket Lawyer, where he started with one sales rep and grew the sales team to more than 40 in just a few years. I sat down with David as part of our “Advice From the Field” series in which established sales leaders share their tips and tricks of the trade to help others succeed.

Here, he shares what he’s learned at Oracle that he’s used to structure and scale his sales team at Rocket Lawyer.

 1. Customers first.

New companies need to dive in and try to understand who your customer is (and is not). He points to legendary entrepreneur Steve Blank, who suggests, you have to “get out of the building” and talk to your prospects and customers to find out:

  •  Who are they?
  • Why are they buying your product? Or not buying it?
  • How much is your product worth to them?
  • How much {time, money, pain} is it saving them?
  • What do they think is missing from your product?

This early investigative work helps you form an ideal customer profile that you’ll leverage across your entire organization. “At Oracle,” he said, “we were selling to large, Fortune 500 companies, but the process to build an ideal customer profile was the same even though the end user was very different.”

 2. Be results driven.

“Oracle’s sales management was really metric driven,” he said. “Everything we did was aimed at growth, looking at how we could do more with less. It was a very process-driven culture. It gave me a mindset that sales can become very predictable, even formulaic.” Early on, sales teams need to figure out their “sales recipe” and demonstrate that they can sell in a repeating manner, he advises. “You have to clearly understand the entire buyer journey and unit economics of a sale before you can step on the gas and scale out your team. It’s wasteful to scale before you really understand your team’s formula.”

This early work before there is a repeatable, scalable, and profitable model is really tough. He suggests startups hire people with a lot of drive, determination and creativity to help create the initial playbook. “Ultimately, when you put competitive people together in a transparent environment, it drives the entire organization up and to the right,” he said. “Make sure that you emphasize outcomes to prevent people from confusing activity with productivity.”

3. Design a transparent organization.

“Oracle was iconic for its transparency,” David said. Transparent means that your peers, managers – everyone – should know how you’re performing. The best sales organizations should know each team member’s goals and their progress against them. For example, the number of calls made every day, the amount of time spent on the phone, what each person’s pipeline looks like. “Your work ethic should be on display,” he advises. “This helps everyone in the organization understand what it takes to be successful; expectations are clearly understood.”

 4. Hiring is the #1 success criteria for any startup or sales organization.

David looks back on his time at Oracle, in particular recalling, “my good friend and manager James Volpentest and I used to talk about the pattern of A’s hiring A’s and B’s hiring C’s. You always want to bring in A’s, but it’s even more critical when you make your first few hires.” A core group of fun, creative, hardworking, and intelligent people should be your number one priority. If you get this part right, everything else gets a lot easier.

Work your network, get referrals, keep the hiring bar high and work like crazy to develop and retain your best people – “it’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said. “Not only will your team kick ass, but they’ll do it faster, have more fun and you’ll be simultaneously building your pool of future front line managers.”

5. Your values should be shared.

“Take the time to define your team’s core values,” David said. At Oracle, his management team emphasized integrity, respect, teamwork, communication, and innovation, among others, and they weren’t just lip service like some other enterprise giants. (He noted that Enron went down while their corporate values were emblazoned on a rock in their lobby for all to see every day.)

Interview for the characteristics that you want your team to represent – for David, that’s creative, strong critical thinkers who are analytical, data driven, and passionate about their professional career. They should also know how to have a good time. “Hire for those values and fire to protect those values,” he said. If you make a mistake (we all do) and hire someone who’s not a fit, you’re going to have to ask them to leave to protect your culture. Yes, even if they’re your best salesperson.”

6. Put the emphasis on training.

Make continuous learning part of the culture; emphasize and invest in training and professional development, David advises. “Oracle had a regular cadence of training that was consistently developing the fundamentals of product knowledge, competitive intelligence, prospecting, opportunity management, territory planning and professional communications.

“With a startup,” he says, “you’ll want to hire for people that are naturally curious and love to learn. One word of caution, don’t assume that if they’re a great individual contributor that they’ll be a great sales manager – that takes training, too.”

7. Be careful of bringing an old playbook to a new game.

What worked at your last company, or in another market. may not apply to your current situation. Use your experience to guide your approach but be objective and test your assumptions. “In the case of Oracle,” he said, “we were selling to large enterprise clients, and it took a long time to make a sale. Things were very different at Rocket Lawyer, we quickly realized that we could do a lot more volume in a lot less time. I had to reinvent the playbook for a completely different type of sales cycle.”

Of his time at Oracle, David said, “I really enjoyed operating in that environment. It was inspiring to be part of a team where nothing else mattered but your results, a real meritocracy.”

For those not as fortunate to come up the ranks through a major enterprise sales engine, there’s still a lot you can learn about the how to scale your own sales function. That’s where Upshift comes in; we’ve created our curriculum with the help of experts like David to help young companies prepare to scale quickly. Read more about the Upshift process here.

Read more of our “Advice From the Field” posts here.

Download our brand new eBook, featuring more tips from David Baga and other salesdynamos who share what they’ve learned and what pitfalls you should avoid.