As a Sales leader, Brandon Conley has spent the last 20 years building highly successful tech sales teams in venture-backed start-ups. His track record of taking innovative solutions to the enterprise market with the best team has led to accelerated revenue growth and five company acquisitions. Brandon is known for hiring teams that achieve significant, rapid sales growth – the holy grail for many companies. We explore how he does it and what challenges he sees for today’s leaders.
What are you most proud of professionally?
My entire career has been about helping start-ups succeed and seeing them acquired by publicly traded companies. Now I love finding and developing young promising sales talent and seeing them find meaning in their work, provide for their families and grow their careers. On joining RedLock, a team of 3 in sales were producing sub $2m in sales. I grew that team through my personal network to 11 Regional Managers, quintupling bookings within a year. Within 18 months of the acquisition by Palo Alto, the team was carrying a $200m quota.
What do you look for when hiring?
I usually know exactly who I want to hire. The things I look for – those who have demonstrated they can hit the ground running with little hand holding. There are enough strong reps in Security that I don’t look outside this domain. In the early stages of start-up life, there’s little time to train junior professionals. Second, I look for people close to my network – those who come with a trusted reference. Finally, they need to be comfortable in the chaos of a start-up – those who are not afraid to wear many hats and will work hard to get in front of key target customers.
The challenge is timing. I have many good reps in my network but I can’t necessarily hire them at the point that I need them. There may be a delay with deals they are closing, equity due to vest or comp due to be paid. The more successful they are, the harder it is to move them!
My strength is in early stage businesses, evangelizing a new way to solve a problem with new technology – I am not an optimizer. This relates to the people I hire – we are aware of when and where we are highly valuable and when we stop being beneficial.
How do you attract the best sales reps?
Culture- the best people want to work in an environment that is fun, work hard, play hard, with high integrity, zero politics, a positive, high energy and ambitious team- which is hard to replicate in a large company.
The opportunity – both cash and equity compensation remains a lure for the best people, and they need confidence that the tech solution has potential to be number 1 or 2 within the market.
In today’s VUCA world what do you see as the biggest challenge for sales leaders?
There is tremendous noise in the market due to the thousands of Cyber start-ups. Both customers and sales professionals face a tyranny of choice. The leadership of a business will be influential to the decision-making process of where great people will choose to work. There are a number of great leaders also looking to build great sales teams, so it’s highly competitive to hire the best people.
My new role as CRO encompasses marketing, analyst relations and alliances, so I have an opportunity to broaden my knowledge and am always learning. I love the tech and am a geeky sales guy. I keep learning to stay ahead of the curve as it’s ultimately the product that attracts customers and good salespeople.
I’m not afraid to fail or ask questions. I leverage my network of senior leaders when I need advice but, for the most part, I rely on gut instinct in decision making and that has served me well. It’s a simple as always trying to do the “right” thing for your reps, sales engineers, customers and partners.
What advice would you share with your 21-year-old self?
I intentionally invest time talking to young salespeople about their careers, so this is an easy one! If I could go back and join seed or A round start-ups earlier in my career I would have. I would have started a company in my 20’s before I had a mortgage and 3 kids.
Who influenced your early career?
Before anyone else, my father, a West Point graduate and Colonel in the US Army. He is loved and adored by not only his family but the entire community he served. He has basic principles; be kind to everyone, always do everything with integrity and good things will happen.
Another mentor is the COO of my 2nd start up, Lewis Carpenter, who has a very positive, coaching approach. I took a lot from his style and he was influential as I progressed from individual contributor to my first management role. I did not seek the promotion, but he coached me to transition from worrying about my own W2 to caring about my teams. I take every opportunity to promote people who want to move to more senior sales or sales management roles. It’s highly gratifying when that works and I always prefer to promote from within rather than sourcing externally.