Photo credit: Jared Erondu

(or how to market yourself from selling for a big Marketing cloud vendor to a niche VC-backed marketing tech company)

Think you’re ready to leave the corporate nest? There is no doubt that grass often looks greener on the other side especially when we read  “overnight” success stories or b2b saas firms that end up on the fast IPO track or get to vaulted “Unicorn” status- although cockroaches might be more the thing these days.  Whether that startup is actually right for you will be the subject of another post but, in this post, we have assumed that getting into one in a sales capacity is indeed your goal and we want to help you get in there. Let’s assume you are in sales with one of the big marketing cloud companies – Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle or even now IBM. How do you make yourself a credible candidate for startups attacking a niche area of the marketing platform ecosystem?


Firstly, be highly self-aware. Rightly or wrongly, Startups will likely have will have some preconceived notions about you and your corporate background – some are good but most are not. Your job is to play up the good ones and negate the bad ones.

The BAD preconceptions:

  • You will find it hard to work independently – you relied on teams to close deals that you claim as your own.
  • You will need a support structure of bid managers to respond to RFPs, sales engineers to talk to technical clients, field marketers to create your sales presentations
  • You rely on their corporate brand to do the selling for you
  • You won’t want to hunt
  • You won’t roll up your sleeves
  • You LOVE red-tape (!) and love to spend most of your time on internal conference calls.
  • Your previous success came at least partially from political alignment.
  • You lack street-smarts or hustle and have forgotten how to simply get shit done(!)
  • You are truly institutionalized. This is really a combination of all of the above but that phrase is really reserved for those with serious tenure at a large corporate (read 10 plus years).

The GOOD preconceptions

  • You know how to do really large, truly enterprise-level deals
  • You know how to rally a company’s resources
  • You understand client politics (partially from seeing politics play out internally in your own employer’s work environment)
  • You have better formal sales training
  • You are more likely to have resume stability. Longer tenure is more likely at an established cloud vendor but there is a tipping point:  After 5 years of tenure there is a law of diminishing returns that kicks in.
  • You are more likely to have good to great w2 earnings. Again, this is more likely in an established firm with good tenure. There is a tipping point here too. Big w2 earnings (say over $400k for a Senior IC) can intimidate some startups who don’t have a history of people getting near that level.

So now you are armed with self-awareness, it is important to now…..


I will focus on your linkedin presence here but the same basic principles apply to your resume.

1. Details please!

Firstly, as we are assuming you are working for a big marketing cloud vendor, to only mention your company without any detail on what you are selling and to who is truly unforgivable. Expand in detail on both. Mention….

  • …the exact solutions and products you sell. Specify the product names and the legacy products that made up those areas even if those product names are now retired. For example, at Salesforce mention Buddy Media and Radian6 in addition to talking about their marketing cloud. At Adobe name Neolane when you talk about “Adobe Campaign ”
  • ….previous firms that were acquired that make up your current proposition set ESPECIALLY if you were with the acquired firm previously – in fact break that out as separate experience. For example if you were part of the Responsys Acquisition and stayed for a while. Mention “Oracle (through Responsys acquisition)” and “Responsys (acquired by Oracle)” as two discrete work experiences.
  • ….competitors. There is nothing like guilt-by-association. If you sell Omniture for Adobe, subtly mention Coremetrics and Google Analytics. Recruiters may be looking for those firms in their keywords and you want to be found when they do.
  • … clients & vertical orientation. State your vertical expertise. Name drop clients. Niche vendors are often targeting very specific verticals like ecommerce or travel. You might have a general territory that is cross-vertical (as is typical in larger firms) but over time you might have a critical mass in certain verticals so highlight that. Key verticals you might want to highlight in the marketing arena include CPG, Retail, Travel, Financial, Healthcare, Auto, Pharma, Agencies (specify media, creative, search etc).

2. Bite sized chunks

Break up your experience into chunks ESPECIALLY if you have long tenure at a firm.

  • Show seniority / vertical orientation / product orientation changes. Your goal here is to highlight how you have adapted to change in your enterprise sales environment thereby inferring that you can take a move to a startup in your stride.
  • Per my last point, break out your time at a startup that was acquired by a large marketing cloud vendor. List that experience and your tenure there separately.

3. Lose the corporate speak – ESPECIALLY with titles

Big companies have many titles to describe sales. Often these are confusing and don’t look like sales titles. If you are salesperson and are called a “Solution consultant” remember that you may not be found by a recruiter looking for a “Sales” or “account exec” in their title keywords and who is expecting such a person to describe themselves clearly in such terms. Your quirky title may matter internally but make sure it is functionally descriptive to the outside world.


Now that you have got the interview by selling yourself on paper or linkedin presence (of mind), here are some quick tips on interviewing well for sales in a startup.

1. Re-read the bit on being self-aware. Remember this is all about risk/reward and that equation may not look in your favor when you first sit down to interview. The risk alarm bells will be going off in the hiring manager’s mind in particular around your cultural fit and ability to ramp up quickly given your large corporate sales heritage.

2. Dress for the partDress in a way that shows you know how to look and act professional in any context. Find out the way that the interviewing firm dresses for work and dress at least one notch up from that. For guys you can rarely go wrong with a suit with an open necked shirt. Pretty much universally, never, ever wear a tie!

3. Make the personal connection. Stereotyped/biased views always melt away when you make a true personal connection with the person you are interviewing with.  

4. Address the elephant in the room HEAD On.

If you sense some early resistance to fit based on your corporate sales background, it may make sense to go on the offensive to disassociate yourself with being a corporate “type”. You run to the beat of your own drum in that corporate environment. You are the sales startup guy in the corporate jungle. You are a maverick in the corporate world that will be a competitive team player in the startup world. You were destined to work at this startup!

5. Be “with it” and conversational on what is going on in the industry including the platforms that you think you are officially too old to use like Snapchat, Kik, Instagram etc.You might not have dated in a long time but get someone to walk you through Tinder so you can at least understand its swipe mechanics. Same goes for Twitter – you don’t have to tweet like a maniac everyday but you do need to know how it works. Be intellectually curious. Being “with it” will reap rewards when you discover your hiring manager is 10 years your junior and you need to relate to them.

6. Know the marketing tech space at the macro and the micro level. Read the tech and marketing publications and understand the client, agency and vendor perspective – don’t just focus on the vendor piece. Know the wider ecosystem your CMO customer needs to know about.

7. Exude passion for the business of the startup you are interviewing with. Be able to articulate passion for their target clients who are best of breed in applying what that company does.

Prove that you’re a self-starter who works independently, and will be okay with not being handed leads.


As a b2b sales pro from a corporate sales environment, setting yourself up to be found easier or to interview better is great, but sometimes that isn’t enough -especially if your fundamental experiential ties to the marketing arena experience are lacking. In that case uou have to show the personal passion and commitment to get to an earlier stage company. This isn’t as hard as it sounds but it starts with getting out of your comfort zone and doing things like…

a. Networking with startups on their home turf.

Attending meetups in your area is also a great way to network. Be sure to be generous with your own connections when asked. Helping someone in an area you’re familiar with can lead you to a new opportunity down the road. Target startup recruiters like me. Have coffees with friends in the startup space. The less domain or vertical expertise you have to bridge yourself into a new space or into a startup, the more you will have to rely on friends to get you in there with a referral.

b. Getting trained up.

Consistent with what I said earlier about intellectual curiosity. If you are lacking knowledge  in certain areas, don’t be too proud not to go back to school. You can do this formally but going to talks and learning about new areas or formally. Companies like General assembly help you bridge knowledge gaps with very specific courses.


If  you find yourself in this situation and currently sell Saas-based marketing or ecommerce Saas solutions with a Big Marketing Cloud corporate, do let us know. We specialize on such roles in major US markets and focus on the sales and client services chain of command. Our clients are predominantly Venture backed and about 25% of them are internationally HQd.

Leave a Comment

Copyright © 2023 Glenborn

Stay connected