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Open for Business: How Red Hat's Sales Team Embodies "The Open Organization"

In his new book, The Open Organization, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst writes about the need for companies to embrace a culture of collaboration, creativity, and openness. Using Red Hat as an example, Jim writes: “It's perhaps no surprise that a company that has built a business running and operating open source systems – where openness, transparency, participation, and collaboration are the very basis for how the company makes money – espouses those same principles when managing it.”

Those principles are not just pretty platitudes that we put on our walls (though you might see some variation of them if you visit one of our offices!). They are deeply ingrained in our corporate culture and evident in everything we do – including sales.

This open and transparent culture is a big reason why we see a lot of interest from people wanting to join our sales team. Many of these individuals are highly qualified professionals who have come from other technology companies, they've been in the business for a long time and, on paper, appear to be excellent fits.

But it takes a certain type of person to work with our sales team. Yes, passion is a requirement (that goes without saying), but so too is a willingness to adapt to a different type of culture. Specifically, a culture that:

  • Doesn't just stress openness and creativity, but demands it.
  • Doesn't just encourage people to say their piece, but welcomes it.
  • Doesn't just pay lip service to working in conjunction with other teams, but necessitates it. Red Hat's culture requires all of this while still being accountable for driving shareholder value.

This type of approach isn't for everyone, but if you're willing to join a different kind of company, you're looking in the right place.

And we really are different. We sell free software – and made almost two billion dollars in revenue doing so in our most recently completed fiscal year. We eschew the consumer market – but have become the leader in enterprise-class open source solutions. As depicted in Jim's book, we favor a “meritocratic” style that rewards folks for actively contributing to our effort to reach our goals – rather than the typical “top-down” approach that rewards people based on title or position.

Our sales approach is different, too, as it's based on open source software development methodologies. Open source software is born out of highly collaborative and transparent communities. These communities strive to continually push the envelope in the development of innovative solutions encompassing cloud, virtualization, application development, infrastructure platforms, storage, and more. Further, because it is open, everyone knows what's being developed; our customers themselves can see the innovation going on as it happens. This approach provides a very healthy customer-to-vendor relationship.

For our sales team, this means a couple of things.

First, our sales representatives must be able to keep pace with the open source community, which innovates exceedingly fast. That means taking an agile approach but always thinking ahead to the next breakthrough business solution that will help our customers. Sales agility requires an energetic, talented, and forward-thinking sales team and the propensity to throw out old school sales strategies in favor of collaborating with each other, our partners and our customers, while letting individual voices be heard. We're proud to say we've done that, and will continue to do that in the years to come.

Second, just as the open source development community relies on transparency to move its projects forward, our team members must be committed to always maintaining open and honest lines of communication with our customers. Our customers can see all development activities in the respective upstream communities, so it is up to us to explain how this work will impact a customer organization. It's also important that we work directly with customers so that the solutions developed by the open source communities will suit their needs. Further, we want to espouse the ethics and honesty that we see every day in the open source world, where people routinely try to help each other. As Jim writes, “You must further knock down the walls of your organization in ways that allow you to collaborate with your customers, vendors, and partners – to open up your organization in a way that keeps you on the cutting edge of change.”

Our sales organization attempts to knock down these walls every day, because doing so is important to our success. I realize a lot of companies say this, but with Red Hat, it's true: our subscription model dictates that we cannot survive without developing deep, ongoing relationships with our customers. To do this, our people must rely on the expertise and knowledge of their fellow teammates and commit to doing whatever it takes to support our customers' business.

It's not an easy job, but it is a fun job. I'm proud to say that many on our sales team have been with Red Hat for more than ten years.

That's what you get when you have an open organization that's devoted to collaboration and forward momentum. Happy people. Satisfied customers. And a blueprint for corporate and individual growth.