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The NBA Lover's Guide To a SaaS Sales Team

· Jeremy Boudinet · 16 Minute Read

The NBA Playoffs are in full swing. It's time for to revisit a favorite muse and construct the ideal SaaS sales team.

Here at Ambition, we're a SaaS company whose product is built around scoring, visualizing, and rewarding front office employee performance. We're tech junkies who traffic in the worlds of sales and sports for a living. Oh, and we're also huge NBA fans.

For those reasons, we'd be remiss if we didn't celebrate a favorite time of the year for NBA lovers, the NBA playoffs, by doing a deep dive comparing elite SaaS sales team personnel to the NBA stars still competing for the 2015 championship. 

The Championship SaaS Sales Team

How this is going to work: We're breaking down the team into roles, with 2 Chief Executive-level figures and 15 core Sales Force members (the same as an NBA roster). From there, we're comparing each Sales Force member to an NBA player from 1 of the 8 teams still competing for the 2015 title (as of May 6, 2015).

While obviously not every SaaS organization is going to have this model for their sales team, we think we're covering the vast majority of the bases with our 17 personnel. The goal here is to identify the key personas you want on your SaaS sales organization. So let's get to them.

NBA Lover's Guide to SaaS Executives

Our two SaaS Chief Executives are not people actually out on the court, if you will, but on the sidelines and in the back office running the show and making the big-picture moves that will define the organization's output.

#1. VP of Operations. Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets General Manager. 

Your sales offense runs through your Sales and Marketing Ops leader. This person is responsible for optimizing your technology and processes, and synthesizing your sales team's attack. The Sales Ops leader should not only be an effective sales professional, but an analytics-minded consummate teammate who sees the sales process/pipeline/court in ways others simply don't.

A great Operations VP is a chess player, not a reactionary leader, and Daryl Morey deserves credit for making unorthodox strategic moves to build this Houston Rockets franchise. A favorite son of analytics geeks and advanced stat afficianados, Morey excelled in taking a moribund franchise and turning it into a contender, without bottoming out or blowing up the Rockets cap.

That's an extremely difficult move to pull off, especially for someone who is not in a premiere market like L.A., Miami, Boston or New York, so hats off to Daryl. You want an Operations leader like him who can build a Championship contender shrewdly, effectively and seemingly out of thin air.

Plus, check that video. How could we not put the NBA GM who's also an MIT graduate in this spot?

#2. VP of Sales. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Forward.

Your VP of Sales must be an effective recruiter and someone you can build a team around. Your VP of Sales should make others better and optimize the talent around him or her.

Most of all, your VP of Sales should be able to call the shots about the style and nature of your sales offensive -- LeBron does all that for the Cleveland Cavaliers and then some.

That above highlight is the stuff that doesn't just beat opponents, but utterly destroys their will to win. Who was the lynchpin? LeBron.

Come on, you really think the Cavs are going to trust 1st year coach David Blatt over LeBron James when it's crunch time? LeBron is the VP of Sales in those scenarios.

Bottom line: your VP of Sales should always be the MVP of your SaaS sales organization. LeBron is the perfect candidate here (apologies to Steph Curry).

#3. VP of Business Development. Chris Paul, LA Clippers Point Guard.

Sales Development is all about the art of the perfect sales assist, and Chris Paul led the NBA in assists this year, with 10.2 per game. On top of that, he's also the premiere floor general in the NBA today, which makes him the ideal candidate for the all-important SDR leadership role.

Paul commands respect, is tough as nails and can also call his own number in the clutch-est of situations.

Exhibit A. His series-winning shot in Round 1 versus the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Which he hit after coming back from a 1st half hamstring injury. We rest our case.

#4. VP of Client Success. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies Center.

Also goes by VP of Account Management, this role requires a cornerstone player who gets easy points via renewals, expansion, and referrals. They also need to be a steady, reliable leader. Marc Gasol is the most direct comparison.

Note the color commentary at the end of that reel. "[Gasol] is directing traffic at the offensive end. Telling guys where to be. Helping them out."  Marc Gasol typifies your ideal Client Success leadership. The Sales Ops leaders isn't running point, but the offense runs through him or her. He or she isn't closing the biggest deals, but maximizing your all-around offense.

Your Client Success VP should also bring defense (Gasol was Defensive MVP of 2015) and overall leadership to your team. Add in the ability to unleash the occasional sick highlight reel as seen above, and you've got your person. 

#5. VP of Marketing. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors Point Guard.

Whoever your Marketing leadership is, you want that person to be the SaaS version of Steph Curry.

It's not enough that Steph Curry dishes incredible dimes (high-quality inbound leads) to his high-flying Warriors teammates, runs the most high-powered NBA offense (the Slack of the 2015 NBA), and can also go off himself for 30 points on a given night (achieving mass sign-ups with zero need for a sales team).

There's so much more. Curry is one of the most likable faces in the NBA. Since arriving in Golden State, he's flipped the superstar script upside-down. In a league filled with big personalities and freaks of nature, he's a soft-spoken, lanky, low-key hustler. And he plays for a franchise that has long been the NBA equivalent of Siberia: the Golden State Warriors. 

And yet, its Steph Curry getting his named dropped by rap megastar Drake in massive summer hits. Its Steph getting the MVP nod over LeBron. And its Golden State earning the number one overall record in the NBA in 2015 while simultaneously becoming the most marketable team in the league.  If you're looking for a consummate Marketing Leader, look for the SaaS equivalent of Steph Curry. 

#6. Sr. Account Executive. James Harden, Houston Rockets Shooting Guard.

When looking for a premiere SaaS Account Executive, look for someone with the DNA of James Harden, aka the Beard, aka the guy who every OKC Thunder fan goes to sleep quietly sobbing about.

Opportunistic, fearless, relentless, versatile, and freakishly gifted are all apt modifiers to describe James Harden. What makes him the signifier of a premiere Account Executive?

An ideal NBA scorer is someone who can "create his own shot." An ideal SaaS Account Executive is someone who can take a deal from cradle-to-the-grave almost at will. Bear witness.

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Your premiere Account Executive also sets the tone for the rest of your team, and should also be a great team player as well.

In that respect, Harden is your ideal. He finished 2nd in overall scoring (revenue generated) during the 2015 NBA season, while also finishing in the Top 10 for both assists and steals. 

Your premiere Account Executive, likewise, should be your team captain. Someone with an extra gear that can be counted on to close huge deals, steal clients from competitors, and generate assists through referrals and peer-to-peer coaching of fellow reps.

#7. Sr. Account Executive. Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls Power Forward.

The cagey veteran Account Executive brings an extra sense of pedigree, maturity, and resourcefulness to your sales organization. This is ideally someone who knows how to win, who has been a key part of a championship team, and who is keen on being a cultural asset to your organization.

The arrival of Pau Gasol to the Chicago Bulls was as important a move as they made this season. While accomplished veterans, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and the like have never reached the mountaintop. Pau Gasol has.

Your cage veteran Account Executive, while perhaps past his or her prime, should also be capable of erupting at given times throughout the quarter. 

A cagey veteran Account Executive should also be able to pick up the misses of other sales reps (offensive boards), be able to swoop in on heavily-contested deals versus competitors (defensive boards) and generally be a stabilizing force on the court/in the sales bullpen.

All of those things describe Pau Gasol -- find the SaaS equivalent of the ex-Laker who's also looking for a fresh start and recruit him or her to your sales organization.

#8. Sr. Account Manager. DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers Center.

DeAndre Jordan led the league in rebounds and was Top 5 in blocks this season. Your Sr. Account Manager knows that the best defense (against competitors stealing your clients) also drives offense (referrals, renewals, expansion). You need someone who loves getting physical in the paint with competitors and denying their offensive efforts while generating his own.

If you're in SaaS, chances are you're in a crowded space, which is why it's critical to have a sales version of DeAndre Jordan on your squad.

Jordan is a rim protector who relishes his of hand-to-hand combat with the opposition. Someone who know the strengths and weaknesses of his or her opponents inside-and-out and can quickly sense where there's leverage in a deal.

With customer success, you need somone who is also someone so grimly effective at keeping clients happy that he or she fundamentally alters the ability and desire of a competitor to attack your existing client base. A DeAndre Jordan is a beautiful thing to have, and the more crowded your space, the more valuable he or she is.

#9. Account Executive. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors Shooting Guard.

You need Account Executives who have no fear, live for the big moment, and have the capability to utterly go off at a moment's notice.

When your Account Executive gets hot, there's no stopping him or her. This person is a streaky wrecking ball that is hot more often than he or she is not, and tends to prefer scoring in bunches, rather than being a steady, consistent contributor. If the SaaS Account Executive version of Klay Thompson is on your team, God help your competitors.

#10. Account Manager. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies Power Forward

The Heavy Muscle is who you go to on your Account Executive team when you're facing a particularly obstinate prospect. This is the guy who specializes in converting a relatively weak SQL into a paying customer, over time and using a mixture of deft maneuvering and brunt physical force.

While every Account Executive loves the easy close, this AE relishes, or at least doesn't mind, getting in the muck, fighting for inches and position, and slowly, steadily backing down a prospect until it's time for the go-to post move.

Buckets. Your Account Manager is also someone who loves getting in the mix with a competitor. Maybe he or she is steadily working on a number of key clients who use your competitors. Just because he or she has a mean streak. 

Whatever it is, it's grimly effective, and a great thing to have on your SaaS sales team.

#11. Sr. Sales Development Rep. John Wall, Washington Wizards Point Guard.

Our SDR Leader, Chris Paul, finished 1st in assists this season. Guess who finished 2nd/was the only other NBA player to average 10 assists per game? Your Premiere SDR loves facilitating and finishing equally. He or she has outstanding sales qualification acumen and demonstrates great decision-making skills.

Wall isn't number one in the latter category. That, far and away, would be Chris Paul, who led the league going away in assist-to-turnover ratio.  That's why Paul is your SDR Leader, and Wall is your Premiere SDR. He or she has the raw skills, the drive, and the winning instincts - they just need to be optimized.

Wall is a game-breaker who also demonstrates solid leadership potential. Your premiere SDR should be someone who is ready to enter the next-level and become a full-blown Account Executive. Someone on the cusp of greatness.

In other words, the SaaS sales version of John Wall.

#12. Sales Development Rep. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls Point Guard.

Your cagey veteran SDR is someone who, for whatever reason, has yet to make the jump to Account Executive. Maybe he or she is too valuable in their current role. Maybe there is a need for greater consistency. Maybe non-work issues are holding that person back.

Whatever it is, the sales development representative still adds value as a gifted facilitator and contributor who knows his or her role and can be counted on to come through in the clutch.

In Game 1 of their Quarterfinals matchup with the favored Cavs, the Chicago Bulls were spurred to victory by embattled star Derrick Rose. Even in this triumphant game, Rose still suffered an injury setback.

Can a cagey veteran SDR lead you to a Championship? Unlikely. But he or she can be a crucial difference-maker and exemplary leader when conditions are right.

#13. Sales Development Rep. Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers Power Forward.

This SDR is going to contribute a little bit of everything. He or she is going to put up Griffin-esque numbers (22 ppg, 7 rpg, 5 apg) while playing hard-nosed defense and occasionally electrifying the team.

Note that Griffin averages 5 assists per game as a Power Forward. This SDR may operate in unorthodox fashion, working with a fellow SDR or Account Executive to run a two-person offense (lots of high-screen pick and rolls) to close a deal within a particularly large prospect.

The SaaS versions of Blake Griffin add an extra gear to your sales offense and a dose of instant offense. This person is an aggressive, charismatic, borderline-daredevil who operates well in tandem with and under the direction of a floor general who is calling the shots on a given account.

Most importantly, he or she fills up your SDR stat sheet, and with style. 

#14. Account Executive. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks Power Forward.

Paul Milsap is a rare breed of Power Forward. He's Top 10 in steals on the season, while also averaging 17 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game for the Eastern Conference 1-seed Atlanta Hawks.

A ball-hawking power forward with gifted floor vision, physicality and quiet leadership, Millsap is a great NBA-equivalent of a prospect-thieving SDR. Just look at the throwback clip below.

On a Hawks team filled with scorers and playmakers like Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague, Millsap is an effective glue guy who can facilitate and finish as needed. Best of all, he can disrupt an opponent's offense with freakish athleticism and ball instincts. Like a great SDR who - to borrow a phrase - slides into a competitor's clients DM's seemingly at will, Millsap transforms defense into offense in the blink of an eye.

The result: turning opponent's offensive opportunities into fast break points for his team. What SaaS sales team wouldn't value from an SDR who does likewise?

#15. SaaS Content Marketer. Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies Small Forward.

Tony Allen is never going to lead the Memphis Grizzlies to a series victory. His major stats aren't electrifying, but it's impossible to miss the impact his intangibles bring to the team.

In many ways, Allen is like a top-notch, content marketer in your SaaS organization. While others are cold calling/e-mailing their way to prospect demos, this person is distributing company content on LinkedIn, tweeting at a prospective decision maker, and searching hashtags relevant to your industry.

The great thing about a Tony Allen is that he or she is going to be disruptive towards your competitors. He or she is going to make their presence, and thereby your company's presence, known. 

And in the process, something crazy is going to happen, like your content marketer doing the equivalent of finishing Top 3 in the league in steals. This person is an X-Factor, patrolling the new frontier of social selling, and bringing a unique, intangible glue to your SaaS sales process. 

Building an Elite SaaS Organization

Obtaining elite personnel, your LeBrons, Hardens and Currys, is just one part of building an elite SaaS Sales organization.  Your product and your processes are equally important. And while we can't help you create a better product, Ambition can improve your processes and personnel, as we have for sales teams in leading SaaS organizations like FiveStars, Outreach and ChowNow.

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