Justin Scott, CEO of Atlatl (ex- Zillow, Tumblr, FiscalNote), on how to create harmony between product, sales, and marketing.

What is Scaling Up?

Scaling Up is a weekly newsletter for technology founders, executives, and investors who want front-line insights about revenue growth. Each week I’ll pass the mic to a veteran tech operator who will opine on specific revenue growth topics. No fluff, just growth tactics. 🚀

For the inaugural edition of Scaling Up, we are joined by Justin Scott, CEO of Atlatl. Atlatl is using augmented reality (AR) to enable visual commerce experiences for industrial goods and manufacturing companies. Prior to taking the helm at Atlatl, Justin held roles as Co-Head of Sales at Zillow (NASDAQ: Z), VP of Brand Strategy and Sales at Tumblr (Acquired: YAHOO), and SVP of Revenue at FiscalNote. 

Keep reading if you care about:

  • Aligning your product and revenue teams
  • Creating clarity for senior executives
  • Inspiring your management team
  • Being data-driven

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Justin to chat about what’s top of mind for him in go-to-market: creating alignment between product and sales. This is one of the more ambiguous problems founders and executives face when scaling their business. A company might be able to get by without ideal alignment between the product and revenue teams, but it’s going to be more difficult to do something truly great. Like, $100M+ run-rate great, or create an entirely new market great. 

Justin and I discussed some of the strategies and tactics he’s used to get executive teams to go farther, faster, while ensuring cross-functional relationships and processes are resilient.

CB: How has the relationship between product and revenue teams changed over your career? What do you think are considered best practices now?

JS: There’s an increasing overlap between the responsibilities of product and sales leaders today. Product teams used to hand a packet of information to the revenue teams and send them off into the wild, but today it’s a more collaborative effort. The advent of product-led growth, faster agile development and more data-driven sales processes have enabled product leaders to think more like salespeople, and likewise, sales leaders to think more like product managers. Lean into this! We’ve found that when this is coordinated properly it’s a major net positive for the business, driving increased collaboration, shared ownership of go-to-market, and ultimately higher output. 

CB: How do you think about the division of labor across teams—does it make sense for revenue to share responsibilities with product and vice versa?

JS: Clarity is king. The overlap between product and revenue teams can make it more difficult to tell who should own what responsibilities. I call this the “hot potato” effect, where responsibilities are tossed back and forth between executives. To avoid this, it’s important to clearly define ownership of business KPIs and project deliverables, especially when they are shared by multiple stakeholders. Be as prescriptive and specific as possible without stifling creativity.

CB: I would imagine not all executives are on-board with the idea of sharing KPIs or outcomes with a different department. How do you get execs past that hurdle?

JS: As a founder or CEO, you need to articulate your long-term vision and do it consistently. How do you see the world in 5-10 years and why will your company thrive in that environment? It’s a difficult thing to do. Long-term visionary thinking is a learned skill, one that takes practice. At Zillow, we were big believers in having a big, hairy, audacious goal, or “B-HAG”. Your B-HAG becomes your North Star for everything you do. The team and you are going to hit hard times through the phases. It’s important to be focused on the “why” you are doing this. You better have that answer for the team and for yourself.

When you combine visionary thinking with disciplined planning and execution you have the ingredients to do something really big. But planning and process are boring! The problem is it’s all too common for visionary stargazing to start and stop with founders or CEOs. I’m a big believer in challenging all executives to contribute to the company’s vision with their own goals that support the B-HAGs. Inspiring execs to be audacious enables them to leave their comfort zone and eradicate the fear of failure while aligning around a common goal or purpose. Those departmental goals can be broken down into annual, quarterly, and monthly KPIs or OKRs, leaving just the execution.

CB: KPIs and OKRs are great, but I know their effectiveness is dependent on quality and relevance to the business. How do you keep everyone honest and accountable?

JS: Data is the great equalizer, and it should be shared openly with the company in a consistent cadence. I like to challenge our product and revenue leaders to be as data-driven as possible from the beginning. Nowadays this is table stakes. Product should be backing up their personas and customer profiles with market research. Sales and marketing should be justifying their outbound motions with funnel and engagement data. Again, there has to be an emphasis on transparency—it helps validate the claims of each department, making it easier to get buy-in from other executives. 

For many great growth stories like Slack, Twilio, Atlassian, Shopify, etc., the synergies between their product and revenue teams became a unique advantage for them. It enabled both teams to iterate and optimize faster to provide an almost magical customer experience. This doesn’t just happen by chance, it’s consciously built into a company’s culture from the beginning. Something to think about for your next executive team or board meeting. 

To hear more from Justin follow him on LinkedIn

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