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How to Build A Winning Sales Strategy: Lessons from Harness CRO Carlos Delatorre

February 21, 2024

The best companies strike the right balance between great products and great GTM motions. We recently asked sales veteran Carlos Delatorre, Chief Revenue Officer of Harness, to share his best practices for leading a sales org with 25 sales leaders from across the Menlo Portfolio as a part of an event series we call “GTM Titans.” Carlos’ motto is, “Excellence is about doing ordinary things extraordinarily well,” and he shared six rules for optimizing sales strategy that transcend industries:

1. Assess before taking action.

When a CRO joins a new company, they may feel pressure to start making decisions immediately. Often, time has lapsed between the first day of a new CRO and the departure of the previous sales leader. As a result, a backlog of decisions is waiting to be made. It’s tempting to jump into execution mode, but it’s essential to understand the new org’s culture and priorities before you start making changes. Find out: What’s working? What’s not? As a CRO, there’s a constant need to prioritize problems. One of the biggest challenges as a leader is managing people. Typically, 20% of the salesforce will immediately embrace the new direction. There will be even more who will have questions and need convincing. As a leader, you have to discern intent. There’s going to be skepticism, but is it merited? Make room for those that are willing to come along on the journey.

2. Be an internal champion for strategic initiatives.

Many companies no longer offer a single-product solution. Sales leaders must determine how to build a new revenue motion while maintaining the existing business. To keep sales aligned and engaged, a CRO must model the behavior. 

When Carlos joined MongoDB as CRO in 2014, he said the company already had a strong open-source business. But, the executive team realized they would eventually hit a wall, so they introduced Atlas, a new usage-based cloud offering. “We made a really big deal out of it. Attention went toward those deals. We focused on enablement, financial incentives, and management attention. All-hands meetings were all about Atlas.” It took six months to get the sales team to prioritize it appropriately. 

3. Quality control at scale.

As a sales organization grows, it’s hard to control quality. At 20 or 30 people, you can assess and manage every rep on the team. Around 50-100 people, the signals become weaker. The QBRs and visiting multiple offices each quarter are not enough. 

Instead of managing each rep, relying on pipeline generation metrics and managers is imperative. Discovery meetings are important, but conversion rates are a major leading indicator. Are discovery meetings progressing to the next stage (scope) in two to three weeks? Something is wrong if there is a bloated discovery stage and nothing is converting. There’s a clear need to re-examine the PG program with the manager. Dig into the research, decks, and follow-up tactics to diagnose the bottleneck.

4. Assess for talent and grit. 

Carlos looks for four main qualities in a great salesperson: intelligence, drive, coachability, and character. Intelligence combines EQ and IQ: connecting the dots in the business and building personal relationships. All things being equal, he believes the trait that matters most is drive or grit—the desire to endure and work hard.  

On the skill side–depending on the product–Carlos seeks out specific experiences:

  • Salespeople who have worked at a challenger company whose logo alone won’t carry the deal or get their calls returned.
  • Reps who have done PG for a living and have been responsible for generating their pipelines. If they rely on SDR support, inbound, or have only worked in product-led growth (PLG), they may find it challenging to sell a complex technical product independently. 

5. Invest in enablement.

It is not just money or time but investing in programming. Carlos utilizes the index card method: Start with a hypothetical version of a fully ramped salesperson—what skills does she possess? 

On an index card, write out the core competencies of the role—skills like business case development, pipeline generation, and knowledge of the IT landscape. On the back, write out the best way to teach each competency, whether reading a white paper, watching a video, interviewing a customer, learning in a classroom, or role-playing. After figuring out the modality, think about the timeline. Decide when these skills should be mastered. Is it a month or three months? Carlos developed “rail cars” or events with specific milestones and tests for each new capability at Harness.

6. There’s no substitute for PG. 

“I don’t believe that PG doesn’t work.” There are great AI tools to help tailor messaging, but they don’t replace outbound selling and cold calling. As a sales leader, building the PG habit with reps is essential. Define the why and make it non-negotiable. Build the repetition and create the right environment. Take time to celebrate successes and host weekly PG wrap-ups. Be a cheerleader. Make the expectations clear and the wins tangible for the team.

We want to thank Carlos Delatorre for joining us and sharing his insights. We are lucky to work with many incredible sales leaders across the Menlo portfolio, and Carlos is one of the standouts.  He’s built an incredible reputation working across industries at companies that include Harness, MongoDB, and TripActions. We’ll continue to host quarterly GTM Titan events like this one to build community among revenue leaders and pay it forward to our network.