How InVision Built a $135 Million Growth Team (From 16 Different Time Zones)
Have you ever had a business crush? Ever happened upon a company's website and swooned?
For me, InVision is one of those websites and one of those companies.
They're also a pretty open company, in which their growth and sales teams aren't afraid to talk about what they do and how they do it.
Since 2011, InVision has grown into an industry-leading design prototyping platform that enables businesses to quickly build and collaborate on app development.
Following six seed rounds, InVision has raised $135 million in investment and is used by 75 percent of Fortune 100 companies (including Apple, Walmart and Disney). In the past year their revenue has doubled.
Most interesting though, is the fact that InVision is one of the first, largest, and most successful companies to have a completely remote team. All 300+ employees work abroad, including their entire sales and growth team.
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I wanted to understand how that team works and break down lessons that our business and yours can learn from their success.
This article will synthesize interviews given by InVision's Senior VP of Sales, Ryan Burke, as well as its founder, Clark Valberg. I'll also give actionable strategies we can take away to find the same success that InVision has.
Table of Contents
How InVision Started Building Their Growth and Sales Team
Ryan started at InVision a couple years into its creation, inheriting a team of three - all of whom worked remotely (but more on that later). The team is now more than 35.
This section will break down how InVision chooses its salespeople, prioritizes operations management, determines their emphasis on outbound vs inbound marketing, and how they structure and avoid conflict within an ever-expanding growth team.
On Choosing Salespeople
He focused on hiring and building up product-driven salespeople, in his words "They need to be product experts who can demo your product, get prospects into the product, and then educate them on best practices around usage/etc. In my past worlds there was a lot of BS around schmoozing, steak dinners, etc. to influence the deal - but now things are becoming cleaner and more product driven."
Focus on hiring salespeople with proven experience in selling a product similar to yours. Then, train them as much in the context of your tool as in selling best practices. This is all instead of the standard "schmoozing" style of sales.
By definition, your inbound marketing strategy and sales funnel are already educating these people. Prospective customers are more informed of what they need and what you should be delivering than a customer from 10 years ago. If your salespeople aren't even more versed in your industry, market fit and best practices, then your prospective customers will be the first to recognize it and bail.
On Sales Operations
Ryan has spoken a couple times about this in several different interviews, so I know he sees it as super important: Hire a senior operations person as soon as you can.
In his words "If you think it’s too early to hire sales operations, it’s probably too late. For any team that is rapidly scaling, the numbers and processes are everything. Back when I had a five-person team, I considered hiring a sales operations lead, but thought it was too early. By the time I had grown to a 15-person team, I found myself playing catch up. Operations is the lifeblood of any sales team. If you are going to over-invest in any area, make this your priority."
Any business looking to hire multiple salespeople and invest in multiple directions of sales development should have an operations lead in place before you hire more than a couple account execs or SDRs.
As Ryan says, "the numbers and processes are everything." Better to hire or train someone who can determine your needs than hire people to meet them blind.
On Outbound vs Inbound
InVision, like many modern businesses, talks more and seems to focus more on their inbound strategy. But that doesn't mean they don't rely on outbound marketing to work in concert with what their inbound team is doing.
Inbound: Targeting people for InVision is "all about the community you’re targeting. [...] You need to have a brand voice within that market - doesn’t always have to be inbound lead gen - it has to be delivering content, events, partnerships and embedding yourself in the narrative of the space."
"We have resources focused on outbound, and I also make sure all of our account executives are generating their own opps as well. We love inbound and leads from other channels, but sales should always control their own destiny and keep in the habit of opening up new doors."
I love how he put that last part - "sales should always control their own destiny." Don't ask salespeople to rely entirely on inbound lead generation, as it'll inevitably create stresses between teams.
Instead, balance your people between inbound and outbound intelligently, and ensure your sales operations manager has a finger on the pulse of both, enabling you to devote more or less resources as required.
On Structuring a Growth Team
InVision's growth team is all about specialization and stratification, and this is something which increases as they've scaled. I've noticed this with Wishpond as well, that as we've grown we've needed to implement a corporate-esque hierarchy of specialization.
And it's not just departments, though of course stratification applies to your growth teams (inbound, account execs, customer onboarding, customer success, etc). But also within those teams and within any given campaign or growth project.
Ryan put it like this: "As we scale, we are ultimately specialising more. We have specialisation on inbound. We’ve got specialisation on other sort of lead-gen channels, we’ve got specialisation at the SMB level for AEs, we’ve got enterprise, and then we’ve got specialisation now within the customer success as well to focus on things like onboarding, for instance. That’s kind of how we’ve been building the team and we’ll continue to stratify moving forward…"
Many startups start rolling out without much structure, believing that the freedom of startup-hood would be dispelled as soon as any kind of hierarchy is put in place.
But it's not about pinholing your people, but rather about giving your teams and your team members responsibility.
As you scale, it's going to be impossible to work in any other way. Specialization is a necessity in a team larger than a handful, and particularly with growth. Brainstorm in a large group and then assign responsibility.
On Avoiding Conflict within a Growth Team
Specialization can help to curb conflict, but there's still a potential for it within any competitive (in the best terms) growth team.
For example - and this is actually a question one of my sales colleagues, half jokingly, asked today - If your salespeople are paid any level of commission, why isn't your inbound team doing more to deliver high quality and high quantity leads?
InVision dispels any potential conflict between growth teams and team members by:
- Being very clear on goals. Recognizing and labelling which growth vehicles are branding focused vs. lead gen focused, etc.
- Getting everyone on board early in terms of who owns what. At Wishpond, we do this through brainstorming and assigning responsibility to a campaign leader and team.
- Letting the data drive the discussions. This takes opinion out of the initial justification, as well as any HiPPO concerns (highest paid person's opinion).
How InVision Found Success with a Remote Team
InVision's entire 250+ team works remotely. That's dozens of time-zones, a substantial budget for communication apps and, I imagine, a lot of headache in keeping track of people's time, output and optimizing the way they speak to clients.
And yet InVision is extremely successful, growing quickly, and its employees have given it a 4.8 star rating on Glassdoor. So clearly they're doing something right.
This section will discuss how Ryan and his team have addressed the numerous challenges of running a growth team remotely...
Don't people need to get out of their own house?
This is definitely a concern I've always had when considering remote work. I can't help but feel I'd get stir crazy living and working in the same place. At first it would be great, sure, but for a career?
Ryan, and the modern working world, have the answer...
"We have a few WeWork locations sprinkled around the country where we have a large number of employees. We give people the best of both worlds with the option to set up something outside their home. We even incentivize it with our unlimited Starbucks cards for every employee (no office rent = better perks)."
They've even found a way to find a business benefit by tapping their international employee base...
"We also enhance our focus on ‘getting out of the office’ by tying it to clients or events. We’re more present at client onsites or community events to give our team some face time with each other, which has a strategic benefit to our clients and market."
Remote doesn't have to mean disconnected. Co-work and WeWork spaces, the world over, give remote workers the opportunity to get out and be around other remote and freelance workers in beautiful spaces.
And InVision taps their remote workers to engage in communities and with clients they would otherwise only have a digital touchpoint with. And that's good for business.
Don't you need to keep an eye on new hires and less experienced team members?
"I hear this the most: 'Sure, remote works, but only for senior reps.' Not true. As long as you set clear expectations upfront, establish trust with your team, and let them enjoy the work/life balance, you will be surprised how they respond. At the end of the day this is still sales, you can’t hide from the numbers."
The biggest element of this is trust. You hire great people and then trust that they'll be great. You measure their performance (see "sales operations" and stratification above) and make data-driven choices.
Ultimately it's about having faith in three things: your own hiring ability, their work ethic, and well-measured results.
What about company culture?
"The keys to any team are communication, collaboration and culture.
In today's world you can address the first two w/ [communication apps], so you really need to focus on culture.
Remote culture takes commitment, but we make it work - with everything from peer based rewards systems, communication across teams, and even virtual happy hours (yes, those are exactly what they sound like)."
Here's an example from InVision's 2016 video encouraging its team members to donate a little of their paycheck each month to charity.
Before diving into hiring remote workers, establish a strategy for exactly how they'll communicate and how you'll facilitate their interaction and cooperation.
For our own remote team that's through many different tools (Slack, Trello and Google first and foremost). For InVision, who have taken this whole remote thing to the moon, they've invested in an entire structure, and hired people whose job it is to maintain a well-oiled remote team.
Either way you need to have the system in place before you get your first remote hire, or they'll be left in the cold.
What about, just generally, keeping the team together?
"There’s a lot of value in having the team together to have those quick learning opportunities. There are other ways. Through learning management systems or online tools, there are ways to address this. This is probably the No. 1 negative of the remote aspect—it’s just that there are now more positives (for us) to overcome.
* Side note: Not sitting together also mitigates some of the bullsh*t and office gossip, and the two hour lunches. When you’re communicating with someone in a remote culture, you’re enormously focused on the work at hand."
When determining if remote employment is a good idea for your new business, first determine what you get out of it and what you lose.
What I've found from diving into InVision's strategy, however, is that many of the traditional "cons" of a remote team can be addressed with tools and a liberal application of proactivity on the part of management and employees.
On hiring remote workers:
"[Remote teams] open up unique opportunities to be very selective with talent and also strategically have people in markets you maybe wouldn't traditionally have a presence in."
But it takes a particular type of personality.
"Remote workers have to be proactive. You have to be somebody that’s going to seek out help, somebody that’s going to seek out the collaboration from a cultural perspective, be very active."
When hiring remote workers, emphasize a need for employees to be their own motivators (and in your onboarding as well). There's, inevitably, going to be less "checking up" from managers on any remote team, so that team needs to proactively seek help if they need it.
Equally, that remote team needs to find their own happiness. You're not forcing them to leave their bedroom and go to a co-work space, community event or coffee shop, but most (if not all) will need to do so to stay productive and happy.
Identifying people who will work well remotely is as much about feeling out if it's going to be right for them as it is about proven experience.
On Remote Employee Onboarding.
"Think about how intimidating it can be to walk into an office on your first day, but at least you’re talking to people. If you’re sitting alone at home on your first day with just a computer on your lap, that can be intimidating. We just completely revamped our onboarding a few months ago just to literally schedule out people’s entire day for the first three weeks, and that’s a big area of focus."
On Remote Employee Satisfaction:
"A lot of people are put off by the thought of working remote. They want the happy hours and ping pong tables, and office environment, but once they get in a situation where they are doing incredibly rewarding work, empowered, and can spend more time with their friends, family, going to the gym, etc. – they love it.
Once we get people into this, our employee satisfaction is absolutely through the roof. I mean, we’ve got some new NPS-type employee criteria that we use and it’s absolutely through the roof."
This seems to be corroborated by employee reviews as well:
- "And most of all, you get to work from home"
- "The flexibility of working remotely is a huge bonus"
- "Full-time remote offers plenty of flexibility and no commute"
- "There are absolutely no cons unless you're not the type that enjoys working from a home office"
So what's the strategy?
Ryan's key and actionable points for a successful remote team are these:
- Utilize the tools that are there to communicate, collaborate and video conference. As Ryan says, "We're more connected than we've ever been."
- Be active in sales socialization and on top of organization and giving feedback: "We do weekly training calls, which I think are really important. People have to be active and contribute best practices. Because with the remote model as you scale, it’s increasingly difficult to make sure that everybody is on message, positioning new features the right way, overcoming objections the right way. That focus on training - collaboration from a best-practice standpoint - is really important."
- Incentivize "getting out" in your own community which, as I quoted above, means your remote employees meet each other and network on your behalf.
- Encourage proactivity. Without a general willingness to "make this work," a remote growth team isn't going to succeed. Hire the right kind of people, create a structure they can rely on, and then trust them to be both productive and happy.
Specific and Actionable Strategies to Grow
This section will be some bite-sized, actionable recommendations given by Ryan and Invision's CEO Clark Valberg over the past couple years in interviews, podcasts and AMA sessions. People have asked or prompted them to give concrete strategies for business growth and what's below is an accumulation of their answers.
These are the bits which I, and Wishpond's growth team, have taken to heart for our own business' growth. So focus up!
Don't abandon the phone
This is something which can be hard for young startups and entrepreneurs to fully understand - particularly if your growth team is in its mid-twenties (as many of them are). There is almost nothing more valuable to your business and your prospective customers than half an hour on the phone. There's nothing more personal, no way for value to be communicated more effectively, and no way for you to make a better connection. Ryan puts it like this...
"The phone is back. We introduced phone touches into every source of our outreach, from cold prospecting to inbound lead requests. The phone touchpoint is just one in a series of touches, and they should all build off each other. Nothing is truly ‘cold’ anymore. Buyers are informed, time strapped, and cagey - and you should treat them as such, with warm, personalized touches that add value. Always have something interesting to say, don’t waste their time with lengthy sales speak, and make it easy for them to respond. Picking up the phone is a part of that process."
Don't Sell. Educate
Coming from a self-professed (if former) "schmoozy" salesperson like Ryan, this should be seen as even more important. It's likely that your inbound marketing team is doing this, but remembering it in your sales processes is just as vital.
"Educate users on how they can use new parts of the product, educate them on best practices, and then let them decide what/if they will use. This also bleeds into our content - where our marketing and design education teams are continuing to add value to our target market outside of our product. We continue to innovate on how we cater to our target community, and it doesn't need to always involve product usage."
I love this anecdote from Ryan. And I love the content meetup group we have here in Vancouver, and can testify to the value that I get each time we meet.
"One other thing that was valuable was a [...] Sales networking group in Boston that I was an original member of. We would meet for dinner once per quarter and go around the table highlighting one issue you had and then we'd order. Once the food came we go back around and focus on each person's issue individually and then everyone gave their perspective based on their experience."
"It was invaluable to hear from people in a similar seat at similar companies. The group became very vibrant - adding 1-2 people per time and the insight, relationships, etc. have carried on even today. No matter what level/role you're in - I highly suggest a similar approach of finding peers and building networking groups."
Never negatively sell against competitors
This is a great rule of thumb, particularly in highly competitive markets. Ryan phrases it like this...
"Focus on your strengths. Prospects pick up on negative sales and [this] impacts their trust in you."
And, of course, when it comes to driving new business and keeping it, trust is everything.
Adjust the profile of your sellers
We touched on this above, but it's something which Ryan refers to several times in his interviews, so is worth repeating:
"[Your sellers] need to be product experts who can demo your product, get prospects into the product, and then educate them on best practices around usage/etc. In my past worlds there was a lot of BS around schmoozing, steak dinners, etc. to influence the deal - but now things are becoming cleaner and more product driven."
Stay true to your core product
Stay true to your core product - and your core customers - above everything else.
"Sometimes early stage companies get caught up in a sexy new market, or persona, or are pulled in a direction by a specific customer request - but you should always weigh that against what it will do to your focus on your core."
How did you get the first 1,000 people?
This is always the question which startups and entrepreneurs want to hear. Clark Valberg was asked it in a Mixergy interview and gave a great answer far more specific than we're used to...
"I had a really good coming soon page and a really good video. So, I hired somebody to make a video about the future of product design and the future of design or something like that. I scripted the video myself. I did the first voiceover and I storyboarded the whole video and I hired somebody to professionally produce it. Then we made a coming soon page.”
Any specific early growth hacks?
""I’ll give you an early hack that I did. I went through every single person who signed up for our waiting list by hand. At that time we had something like 115 people signed up on a really, really good day." "
"I went through every single email address looking for people who worked at big companies or people whose name I recognized and people I met at conferences and wrote them personal emails like, “Hey man, I see you’re checking out my product. Can I give you a personal tour of InVision? Can I hook you up with a free license to the product?” And I would give them six months access for free."
Top Recommended Tools and Resources
In several interviews, Ryan has recommended tools that his remote team relies on. I also reached out to Invision directly and they gave me a more extensive list of the apps and software they love:
- Slack - Inter-office communication software
- Salesforce - SaaS platform to manage all deals and sales activities
- G Suite - Everything from business email, video conferencing, online storage and file sharing
- Intercom - Customer messaging platform
- JIRA Software by Atlassian - Bug tracking, issue tracking, and project management software
- Gainsight - Customer success software for enterprises
- Zendesk - Customer service software and support ticket system
- Zoom - Video and audio conferencing software
- Dropbox - Content creation, storage and collaboration across the company
- Bonus.ly - Allows all staff to recognize and reward employees
Wrapping it Up
Here's the truth of this whole thing: InVision's success is astronomic in many ways. $135 million in investment likely means they're valued at over a billion dollars.
They did that by working their butts off, a little bit of "right tool at the right time," and a product-focused approach that they come back to time and time again.
It's nothing you can't do yourself (with a bit of luck, of course). And, luckily, the modern digital marketing community has never been more open than it is today. If you have questions, ask them. If you have problems, the answer is out there. And if you need anything, don't hesitate to reach out in the comment section below!
A Big Thank You:
I'd like to thank Ryan Burke, Leah Taylor and Jennifer Aldrich at InVision for their help with this resource. Keep kicking ass, guys!