International offices demand pricey upkeep. Ambitious salespeople resent wasting time in offices. So why have offices at all? Christopher Ahlberg couldn't see the logic. But neither was he enamored of relying solely on his network of distributors. Ahlberg's company, Spotfire, produces sophisticated business analytics software that requires a dedicated sales force. His solution: Recruit reps in key markets who don't need--or even want--offices to nest in.
The Boston-area company has thus built a sales force of more than 45 people arrayed across 11 countries. For example, Steven Naarding manages some of Spotfire's reps and accounts in Europe and the Middle East. He travels constantly but, when not on the road, he works from his home in the Netherlands. There, he exults, he faces none of "the typical distractions of a chat in the corridor" that can sap a rep's productivity.
What prevents Spotfire from coming undone by this diffuseness is technology. In addition to Skype (NASDAQ:EBAY) phones and WebEx (NASDAQ:WEBX) videoconferencing software, Spotfire's intranet--which far-flung employees access from home--allows sales staff to share information about the disparate operations of a single large customer. Someone covering GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) in Philadelphia, for example, knows what's going on in Tokyo.
When customers bring Spotfire into new markets, the company lines up local talent, often interviewing candidates at the airport. The Swedish-born Ahlberg looks for people who "like to work with customers and like the action of the field.
"And we prefer to see them out there, too," he adds. Today, 40 percent of Spotfire's revenue comes from international operations.