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Google is way behind market leader Amazon Web Services in cloud infrastructure and also trails Microsoft, which has an established enterprise sales force from decades of selling servers and software to the world's largest companies.
Enterprise sales is something Kurian knows well after spending 22 years at Oracle, where he was most recently president of product development. He spoke to analysts at the Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco on Monday, laying out his plans to rapidly bolster the sales staff. The session was not open to the press or the public, but several analysts relayed Kurian's key points to CNBC.
Other executives in the cloud division also spoke at the event and told analysts that previous challenges had been ironed out. For example, in past years, 10 managers would have to provide approval before a salesperson could offer a discount to a customer, and the deal would then require non-disclosure agreements and a team of lawyers. These practices have since been streamlined, Kurian's colleagues said, according to an analyst in attendance who asked not to be named because of a confidentiality agreement.
Google's cloud sales team is around one-tenth to one-fifteenth the size of the sales forces at AWS and Microsoft Azure, Kurian told the Wall Street Journal, though he added that two years from now he expects it to be more like half the size of either. Kurian has been talking about the importance of growing the sales team since February, when he made his first public remarks in his new role at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference.
It's a familiar theme at Google that predates Kurian. His predecessor, former VMware CEO Diane Greene, also emphasized the importance of the sales function. On Alphabet's third-quarter earnings call, Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said the biggest increases in headcount were in the cloud business for sales as well as technical positions.
Kurian strayed from his usual suit and tie in his presentation on Monday, instead wearing a shirt and blazer. Merv Adrian, an analyst at Gartner, said he was impressed with what he heard from the new chief.
"Thomas is a great content/engineering leader," Adrian wrote in a message to CNBC. "This is his opportunity to show he can lead a company, and I would not bet against him."