Lessons While Growing a High Performance Sales Team

December 16, 2019

It’s no secret that Samsara is growing fast—in the past year alone, we’ve grown revenue by 200%, doubled our employee count, and surpassed the 10,000 customer mark. That’s why we’re opening up new business units and expanding across our offices in San Francisco, San Jose, Atlanta, and London. 

One team experiencing rapid growth is our sales org. To learn more about building a sales team in a fast-moving environment, I grabbed lunch with our Director of Industrial Sales, Courtney McGowan.

Cristina Ashbaugh, Content Marketing Manager: You’ve worked in several sales organizations. I’m curious—how is Samsara different from other sales orgs you’ve worked at or managed? 

Courtney McGowan, Director of Industrial Sales: I’ve never been surrounded by so many “A” players, it’s really motivating. Our performance-driven sales culture means that the people to your left and right are executing at the highest level, creating an environment of overachievement, high energy, and hard work. At Samsara we believe in embracing growth, being transparent, obsessing over our customers, and winning together. This set of core principles is intrinsic to our success on the sales team and different than anything I've experienced before. 

Cristina: We talk and hear a lot about the gender gap in tech overall, but also specifically within sales. As a female leader, can you speak to what it means to be a sales leader in tech?

Courtney: I struggle with this one because instinctually I want to focus on attributes of leadership instead of gender. I’ve spent a lot of my career making it not about being a woman; mostly because the weight of gender expectations (male or female) can be limiting. For me, having a career in sales has been about competing on an equal playing field. You can’t argue with performance metrics and when it comes to achievement, the numbers speak for themselves. 

What’s important to me is that people see a version of themselves represented in our leadership team. 33% of our sales leadership is female at Samsara, while the industry average remains at 12%. We aren’t at 50/50 yet, but we’re on our way. 

Cristina: What’s something you do as a leader to help develop and invest in your newer sales hires who are earlier on in their career? 

Courtney: I do quarterly career planning sessions with everyone on my team so I have the chance to hear about their aspirations and goals. This helps me pinpoint strengths and passions  and map them to potential career opportunities at the company—whether it’s helping an individual figure out how to invest their employee growth fund, providing them an opportunity to be more visible cross-functionally by leading training sessions or speaking at our Sales Kick Off, or just hopping on a customer call to give feedback. It’s really important to have those in-the-weeds career conversations regularly in the greater context of desired career development.

At other companies I’ve worked at, career progression has felt really ambiguous. But at Samsara, there are clear, unbiased career ladders. This means that if you’re successful on our commercial team, there’s a clear path forward to mid-market, and so on, which I think is really important. 

Cristina: How does Samsara help develop middle managers to become the next generation of sales leaders? 

Courtney: We develop our leaders in a number of ways but I’d like to highlight two things that have dramatically impacted my career development: access to senior leadership and new opportunities to take on more responsibility. Managers have access to different leaders at the company through regular skip-levels—where senior leaders meet with team members a level or two below them—as a normal part of our cadence. This allows up and coming managers to learn from a diverse group of strong leaders across various departments. Because of our accelerated growth, there’s a lot of  opportunity for managers to take on more responsibility which promotes career development through new experiences. 

Cristina: What has been a major takeaway in growing a team in Samsara’s fast paced environment? I know you moved out to London to build our first team there, can you touch on that?

Courtney: Growing an early stage team to scale is an iterative process but what stays constant is our team culture and company values. Amidst all this talk of rapid expansion, getting the fundamentals right is at the core of whether a team is successful. It starts with recruiting the right people; we look for individuals with integrity, high intelligence, and a strong work ethic. Once someone joins our team, we invest  heavily in training and development to grow our internal bench of talent so that as we scale, we can promote top performing internal candidates who embody our principles and values. As a result, both performance and culture can grow in tandem. 

Cristina: What does professional growth look like at Samsara? 

Courtney: What I think is really unique about Samsara’s culture is that we’re able to foster career growth and give individuals a lot of runway to develop in new ways because we’re constantly opening new business units, offices, and expanding into new segments. If you want to grow your career, Samsara is the place to do it. I've seen some people go from account executive all the way to director in less than two years. I've also seen reps from our team go from commercial to mid-market and then to enterprise. Samsara has a choose-your-own-adventure view of how to grow your career. 

And sometimes people want to pursue a role outside sales; maybe a commercial rep goes into recruiting, or maybe they are really interested in joining the customer success team. Samsara is a place where you have the opportunity to have those conversations and explore options, because there's always something new opening up.

Cristina: In your opinion, what is the single best quality a sales leader can have to be successful?

Courtney: Vulnerability, someone who can make real connections with the people on their team. Vulnerability leads to a lot of other great qualities in a leader like transparency, EQ, and bravery. It also allows you to be open to feedback and change. 

Cristina: What’s one piece of advice for aspiring sales leaders to grow their careers? 

Courtney: Be intentional. Be honest with your management team really early-on about your goals, while still being patient and coming in and showing that you can do your job really well. There are so many different ways to grow your career here. But the folks that have really been able to accelerate their career have been the ones that have sat down, figured out what they want (what is actually important to you? what are you great at?), and created quarterly goals for their development. This means actively testing out new skillsets, asking for support, and holding yourself accountable. It’s not easy, but I’ve seen it pay off.

Cristina: OK, last question—what’s a fun tradition your team has? 

Courtney: There’s a tradition we came up with while we were opening the London office that I really love. When you’re launching a market from scratch there is a lot of outbound activity and we needed  to keep energy and morale up around prospecting. One of our reps came up with something called “stirring the pot.” Before cold calling, the team would gather on the sales floor and talk about our game plan and pitches. Then everyone would put their hands in the middle of the circle and “stir the pot” as a sort of pre-game cheer. I know it sounds awkward (it was) but it made something that can be kind of tough and challenging really fun because we were doing it as a team.  

To start a new adventure, take a look at our open positions at samsara.com/careers

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