In four years, Thierry Mbemba has gone from an entry-level sales rep at Confluent to one of the leading producers on the company’s worldwide sales team. A customer relationships driver who has been promoted three times, in 2020 he had the distinction of having secured one of our largest deals to date.
In many ways, Thierry’s success reflects the company’s success. Confluent, which provides instant access to “data in motion,” has grown fast in just seven years, achieving a global presence and market capitalization of more than $16 billion by the end of 2021. Below, Thierry talks about his growth at Confluent and the sales challenges and opportunities ahead.
The opportunity! I joined four years ago as one of the first 270 employees, and we have around 2,000 employees today. There are so many possibilities now that we’re a public company, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.
What Confluent does is core to a lot of businesses’ survival. To be able to survive as a company now, you need to have a good data strategy.
It’s about how you respond to the insights you’re observing about your business, being able to respond quickly and capture that market share. To do that, you need a good data management solution. And that’s where we come in, giving companies the power to leverage data in real time. We can literally be at the heart of any and every company in the world. And our current customer base is only a fraction of that potential, which is very exciting.
I’m an enterprise account executive. My day-to-day work varies a lot, but basically, my job is to bring in new customers, getting companies to adopt our technology. I also work with existing customers, not only to drive retention but to learn how we can improve our relationship. I work with a technical counterpart, and sometimes, we’re just listening to what customers are doing with our software. We’re educating them on using the power of the technology, helping them find more uses for the software and become internal evangelists.
I joined the company in 2018, as an inbound sales development representative, or SDR, for the French market. The inbound SDR is there to do the first part of the job, which is to book meetings with direct contacts in companies the account executives want to work with.
While the inbound SDRs are looking after leads and sorting out where we have good opportunities, the outbound SDRs are actively prospecting new and existing accounts, looking for the C-suite contacts, and existing users. Even though I was recruited as an inbound SDR, I found myself doing both inbound and outbound, which quickly helped me get the first of several promotions. I only had that inbound title for three months, and I went on to do the outbound role for another three months.
Then, an opportunity arose to be a team lead. I would like to do management full-time in the future, so it was good to get some experience for a few months—managing the team, and recruiting for the person who would be the actual manager. Once that manager was hired, I went on to work in a role where I’m involved in the whole sales cycle. At first, I worked with companies that had revenue up to a billion dollars per year. Now, I’m working with much bigger companies and closing much larger deals.
Sales is hard—not just at Confluent, but everywhere. You have a target to hit, and there’s always pressure when there is a target. Your job is to deliver value to the business and the customer. It is challenging. But it’s part of the job, and you just learn to manage the pressure.
It really helps to make sure everyone is on the boat with you. For the two quarters before I closed my biggest deal, I didn’t have a single sale. Most of my client pipeline was affected by the pandemic, and I hadn’t brought in any new business. But during that time, I stayed close to my internal stakeholders. I was constantly meeting with them, sharing ideas, getting coaching. I’d let them know, “These are the opportunities I’m working. Could I be doing something different here?” The feedback was really helpful, and even though I wasn’t closing initially, everyone could see I was working on this major deal and similar deals that were really promising.
My career hasn’t been extensive enough to give me the right to answer that question. But from what I’ve seen, I think the first thing is perseverance. I don’t think sales would suit someone who doesn’t like to work hard and overcome challenges. And from my limited experience, people who are successful at this are extremely tenacious and smart. Not necessarily in the sense that they went to the best universities in the world, but they’re able to understand information and put it into perspective.
Also, it definitely “takes a village” to do well in sales. Part of the way you do that is to build internal champions—people with power and influence who would benefit from you being successful, and who have your best interests at heart. For instance, very early on, I chose my manager as my champion to get a promotion. Together, we set out the exact metrics, criteria, and timeframes I needed to work toward.
Having a good CRM and engagement management software is also important to track activity and set reminders. But above all, it’s crucial to understand your team and their expertise so you can leverage their knowledge accordingly. For instance, my technical counterpart may not be the best resource to address a very specific security topic, so I always make sure to align my prospects to the people who can “speak their language” at Confluent.
My biggest deal is a great example of how I combined perseverance and teamwork to get the outcome we achieved. It was with a company I had been targeting for about a year. I was getting no responses. I finally met someone at an event, and that person told me, “Yes, we are looking into using managed services, and potentially, we’re looking at using yours.” So I leveraged that information to go back in. But they told me, “No, we’re not looking at your tech, we’re fine.”
But exactly a month later—I’ll never forget, it was on Christmas Day—I got a message saying, “Hey, can you talk?” And it took off from there. I had been working with them for a whole year, and I’m so happy that I didn’t give up.
Lee Wright is the Regional Sales Director of Confluent’s UK+I Enterprise and Public Sector team. His team is responsible for driving new business and managing and growing relationships with existing clients. Lee lives and works in London, and prior to joining Confluent, he was one of the first hires at Elastic in the UK.