Winning is a lot easier when you recruit the best players. Indeed, winning coaches rely on superior recruiting capabilities to give themselves a competitive advantage. Not sure it really matters if Kentucky Basketball coach John Calipari is a better coach or recruiter? The two are fundamentally linked. Just ask Pat Riley, whose singular focus on pulling the best players together ultimately paid off this year with an NBA championship. Or ask LSU Tiger’s coach Les Miles how he felt when one of the country’s top recruiting programs let one slip away. Yep, it’s that important!
Just like great sports coaches, winning Sales Managers spend a disproportionate amount of time attracting the very best Sales People. A perfect example is Hubspot’s Mark Roberge, who figured out how to define what great players look like according to the data, and now runs a reliable hiring process to get them on-board. I was reminded again how critical it is to have a process for hiring your unfair share of the best sales people, when I interviewed Greg Brown last week. Greg is Extole’s Chief Revenue Officer, faced with scaling his team quickly to meet the demand of a high-growth social marketing software business.
This isn’t the first time for Greg. As you’ll read below, he was part of Webex’s Sales Management team as the web-meeting software space caught fire. He learned quickly that ‘getting the right people on the bus’ would be a linchpin for personal success. Greg established a repeatable process that he still uses today.
Read on to learn more about how Greg methodically laid the foundations for a highly successful Sales Management career.
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1. How I Got Started in Sales Management
I was selling for a couple of years with Basic Chemical Solutions back in 1997, and then recruited away to build and run sales for a tech startup called Pulse Technologies.. I went from selling commodity chemicals to building a team of sales professionals selling manufacturing process automation systems to large manufacturing facilities like Ocean Spray Juices and Sun Sweet Juices. My team was mostly involved in big projects with a heavy dose of engineering.
2. My Biggest Surprise
My biggest surprise was the time demand for administrative activities. I learned quickly that establishing reliable processes and delegating in a number of areas was going to be key to my success.. For example, a big part of our selling process at Pulse was writing comprehensive and detailed proposals for projects and we were a small company. This was time NOT spent engaging the customer and we knew we could not win every deal, so we had to pick our battles carefully. We had to become adept at qualifying out hard and then leveraging resources internally and delegating many aspects of preparing these proposals. This led to the early development of a rigorous project qualification process we came up with to put the team in a better position to succeed, with scarce resources. It worked, we were able to scale and take our unfair share of business.
3. I Realized I Had Become Successful When…
After Pulse I made the transition to a small, relatively unknown start-up called WebEx. I was hired to build out the mid-market team at the end of ’99. Later in 2000, we took the company public and had to further step on the accelerator. Over the course of that year, I hired 22 reps and a couple of managers – and that was just my group. The growth was truly explosive! We we’re able to successfully ramp the new hires into the business and exceeded our bookings goals for the year, which were lofty and aggressive. At some point toward the end of that year, I remember looking back and feeling, okay, I definitely still have a lot to learn but I’ve got something to be proud of here; something I can really leverage as I build my career. .
4. I Would Have Been Successful Sooner, If Only…
Let me start with a little story…I took the opportunity to move to Europe and head up sales and services for WebEx in 2005. I knew I needed to make some changes, given the environment. Being new to the region, I reached out to a consultant to help us accelerate getting to a reliable staffing process – position definitions, interview strategies, hiring models, etc. We ended up with a systematic and rigorous process where the criteria for each role were benchmarked. The interviewers were briefed on specific questions to drill down on and score on a 1-5 rating for each of the areas, which are critical to success. We used the scoring system to compare and contrast perspectives across the interviewing team and found this to be a reliable tool to uncover otherwise hidden risks. For sales people, we put them through a mock sales call to see how they acted in a real world environment. Then we did the reference checks and back channel checks to validate our findings.
We took Webex Europe from the worst to best-performing region in the company largely due to the quality of talent we were able to hire. It’s probably no surprise that I still use this process today.
I wish I had realized the necessity for implementing a rigorous hiring model and staffing process earlier. Nailing the job specifications for each role and then getting the “right people on the bus” would certainly have led to a smoother ride earlier in my career.
5. Other Sales Managers Fail Because…
I’ve seen a number of managers take the following strategy – ‘just bring over my crew from the last job – past success will ensure future success’. You’re moving into a different role, the requirements for that role are probably not the same. Managers that don’t take the time to define what types of sales people are needed for their new environment will struggle to succeed. The process of defining the criteria for success in a specific role and a rigorous approach to hiring those people is needed to prevent failure.
6. On leadership
One of the more fundamental leadership principles for me is goal clarity and organization alignment. I’ve implemented a philosophy of identifying the ‘vital success factors’ in my business and managing the organization to those vital factors. An important part of this is leveraging the 80/20 Rule – focusing on the 20% of activities that are going to generate 80% of the results.
At the beginning of each quarter, functional leaders define their top 3 goals for that quarter and how they’re aligned with our corporate goals. From there, they define the programs/initiatives that they’re going to drive and the metrics they’re going to use to measure progress. These plans are sent up the management chain, feedback comes down, tweaks are made, and the metrics that will be tracked to measure progress are locked and shared with the team top-to-bottom. It takes a little time, but is well worth the effort.
I’ve found that by going through this process each quarter, the organization becomes galvanized; distractions melt away and everyone is pointed in the same direction. Success is no longer a random coincidence, everyone understands how their efforts contribute to it and we’re well prepared to win.
7. How I Coach Sales People
Role-playing is part of our sales management cadence. We role-play different scenarios as a sales team – discovery calls, presentation prep, negotiations, objections handling, etc. These sessions are never combined with forecast, pipeline or account reviews and we create a non-judgmental environment where people are free to try new things, make mistakes and ask basic questions without feeling exposed.
To make role-playing seem less contrived and more realistic, we use example deals from the current opportunity pipeline as context. Let’s say we’re role-playing a negotiation session…the sales rep that owns the deal gives the rest of the team background on the deal, challenges and a little history on the key players and their interests/influence. We then assign roles to some of the other reps and I’ll secretly give them instructions to behave in a certain way, so we can play out a number of scenarios. This particular example gets the team thinking a couple of steps ahead and helps them develop analytical thinking, particularly useful for setting up a successful negotiation.
8. My Secret To Sales Forecasting
We’ve implementing a clear and concise forecasting model that’s integrated into our CRM system and we manage to it rigorously. It’s been my experience that most sales people are not diligent by nature with respect to administrative tasks. Updating the forecast on a weekly basis is not a favorite part of their job so it needs to be managed. The way we do that is forecast reviews on a weekly basis in front of the whole team. We pull up Salesforce.com and go through the deals to confirm status, look for risks and up-side opportunities. We keep the conversation crisp and move at a quick pace, if this turns into a pipeline review, we lose attention and it’s a waste of time for the rest of the team.
At the rep-level, our forecasting model is based on a categorization of deals into low, medium or high probability (high = ‘Commit’, medium = ‘Likely’ and low = ‘Best Case’). Of course, forecasting requires that the rep project the closure based on the selling process playing out as planned, which it wont always do. For our model to work we need good visibility to what’s possible and the risks associated with each forecast deal.
For example, let’s say we’re working on 10 deals, we’ll likely end up closing 5 or 6 of them. So, barring any outliers in terms of size, we need to be sure the Commit & Likely numbers line up behind that expectation. Of course, some months we bring in 1 or 2 additional deals and blow out the numbers but we rarely come in under 5 and attribute that to the diligence we put into our sales process management.
The reps get to think about their business differently. They’re not just throwing a number out, they are really thinking, “okay, what can I take to the bank? What do I believe is going to really happen?” And then the coaching is, “OK. Well tell me why you think that is really going to happen,” and then they have to explain how they’ve come to that conclusion. “With the deals that are in play, if this one fails, I still believe I’ll make it if two of these three over here close, etc.”
The forecasting model gives us the tools to focus team discussion on the deals that have the most impact on our business AND gives me the visibility I need to come up with my forecast for the Board. They expect one number from me, not a range, but without visibility to the range, I would have much less confidence in my own projections.
9. My Favorite Data
I look at data from a variety of different perspectives: a demand and marketing standpoint, a sales standpoint, and services. So it just depends on which aspect of the business I’m looking at. From a marketing perspective the two data points that are important to me are the trends in terms of visitors to the site and how they convert to leads. We’re big fans of scoring those leads based on behavioral and demographic criteria. We classify the leads into three buckets – A, B and C. This data is critical to us tuning the demand generation engine, so to speak.
On the sales side, the most important metric for me is new opportunities added into the pipeline and then pipeline velocity of those opportunities converting to customers. We also track more granular activities such as – face-to-face meetings, demos, and new ops into the pipeline by market segment.
Without question my most important data points are leading indicators to the future growth of our business. This is our early warning system and tells us whether or not we’re on track against the plan, and whether we experiencing any friction along the continuous marketing-sales-services-renewal funnel.
10. My Biggest Challenge Today
The biggest challenge I’ve got right now as a rapidly growing SaaS social marketing company is gauging how quickly to build out and grow the sales and services organizations as we’re ramping our marketing efforts – it really is a balance. We want to be as aggressive as possible, but not so aggressive that we outpace our ability to generate leads for the sales organization. We manage a delicate balance between the overall objective and being as aggressive as we can.