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Advice on Scaling Startup Sales Teams from Brian Christiansen at Salesforce

As your startup grows, so do the challenges of your sales organization. For bootstrapped or early-stage business, customer acquisition relies on unstructured, ad hoc process development and a few goal-driven hunters. Your customer value proposition and pitch are in constant flux with new features, hiring and onboarding increasingly become even more challenging (especially as you start hiring in new geographies), and customer retention takes center-stage. Sales reps need different support at each stage of your business’ evolution.

We caught up with Area VP of Sales at Salesforce, Brian Christiansen, to glean some guidance for growing startups. Before Salesforce, Brian spent 10 years leading sales at SAP. There, he was responsible for driving an executing a business plan to successfully secure incremental investments over $18 million when he served as VP of Global Pre-sales.

Brian is passionate about mentoring and coaching future leaders in the high-tech industry. And, as a sales leader at Salesforce (which provides tools for startup businesses and enterprise-level companies alike) we had a hunch he’d have some interesting perspective to share with Boston-based entrepreneurs and growing sales teams on how to achieve sustainable growth.

Steph: What is the most important thing startups should know about building a sales team?

Brian: Sales is all about growing your business. You sell to grow your revenue, and then you have to grow your operations. So, it’s vital for your sales leader to have a long-term vision for how he or she wants to grow. Don’t get caught up in what you need right now. That’s important, of course, but you really have to think about what you want your team to look like in a year or two or five.

S: What is the best way for startups to track success as they are beginning the sales process?

The best way for startups to track success is to use a CRM tool. You want one that connects your departments (so you can share information) and you want one that grows with you (so you don’t have to get a new one when your sales really kick in). We created Salesforce Essentials with these two things in mind — it’s a perfect CRM tool for startups and small businesses. It’s basically our enterprise software packaged up at a small business price.

S: Any other advice you could share with startup sales teams based on your experience?

Prioritize diversity. When you’re building your team — really whether it’s sales, marketing, service, or anything — it’s so beneficial to have multiple backgrounds represented. You never want to let your message or process get stale, and bringing together a bunch of different perspectives is a great way to keep things fresh and come up with new ideas. There is no downside to diversity

S: What is your favorite thing about Boston’s startup scene?

There’s so much to love about Boston’s startup scene right now, but my favorite thing isI just love the camaraderie. All the startups here are showcasing their innovation, bouncing ideas off each other, and really working together to raise our profile as a technology center. It feels very collaborative.

S: How is working with startups different than working with other types of companies at Salesforce?

I think startups often come in with a different mindset. To be successful, theyStartups today really have to innovate and think differently, and they bring that mindset into everything they do. One of the hallmark features of Salesforce is that it’s totally customizable, so when a startup comes in with a really unique idea we’ve never thought of, we just love it. It makes working with these younger companies extremely fun.

S: What do you consider one of your proudest accomplishments so far?

I’m proud of the work I’ve done to support our Salesforce 1% pledge. I had no product knowledge when I started, but have since utilized Trailhead to become a Salesforce Admin. Now I’m the administrator for a local nonprofit which sends dozens of chronic or terminally ill children and their families for a VIP week at Disneyworld. It’s work I’m really proud of — and I never would have dreamed of something like this without the opportunity and encouragement from Salesforce.

S: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career to-date, and what did you learn from it?

Not many people know this, but I actually restarted my career. I’d grown into a position that was satisfying on several levels, but I wasn’t passionate about it. I wanted to spend more time with customers to reignite my spirit a little. So I became an account executive, regrouped, and then moved to a new company with a renewed focus on values and what’s important. That move has paid off in so many ways.

S: What is one thing that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career that you now know?

Ask for help. I could have done a much better job soliciting mentors and help along the way, but I was too scared or shy to reach out. Personal guidance is so valuable, and as an added bonus, it often comes with stronger connections.

S: What is one piece of advice that you have for startups?

Be flexible and listen to the market. Always.

Rapid Fire Questions:

What is your favorite thing to do in Boston?

Walking Charles Street to my hotel and visiting the North End for some good Italian food.

What is one sales myth you wish you could dispel?

That salespeople don’t care about their customers — not true at all!

If you could have one superpower, what would you choose?

Sleeping on command.

Choose a movie title for the story of your life.

Seeing It From Both Sides

Want to learn more about building sales operations that can scale as your startup grows? Join us to discuss this and more at Startup Tips to Achieving Sustainable Growth.


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