When I caught up with Kevin, I was impressed by his commitment to old-school sales knowledge and his belief in individual ability. It was refreshing to revert to the basics and get to grips with what truly makes a great sales leader. Having dwelled on both the operational and revenue sides of sales, Kevin has a pretty holistic picture of what the sales leader role requires. I was interested in where he saw the role going in the future, and I was fortunate to learn some great tips along the way. After explaining how he got into sales operations, the interview began…
Rory: Hi there Kev, I appreciate you takingthe time to chat with us.
Can you explainto me how you got into sales ops?
Kev: Well, when I started at Madison logic, I pretty much started off as a typical national sales manager. I was responsible for running and building our sales team, VP revenue and customer success, so it was more of an operationally driven role. It was typical given that it was still very much a startup, so you wore a ton of hats. I was managing the revenue, building out our entire end to end operations and process, and rebuilding our sales force. It was like a lot of the things that we're facing here at GWI, but that role was definitely more on the operational side than anything.
Rory: You've come into a sales leadership role at Madison, then moved into this very operational role. Historically, you throw a sales leader into an operational role, and you probably wouldn't expect an awful lot of success.
What was itabout your previous leadership roles in revenue that meant that you were ableto take on that operational role?
Kev: First and foremost, I think there's twopieces of it. I think the first company I worked for was purely activitydriven, as opposed to driven by mathematics or formula. It wasn't about seeingan input and what that creates as an output, it was more about calling amillion people and sending a ton of emails. We focused purely on volume and itwould turn into a lot of results at the end of the day.
But when I got toAOL, I started to understand how different efficiencies are built-in. In schoolwhen you're doing math problems, you must show how you get your answer, right? Thatwas something that I learnt to reapply to my work at AOL, because if we could seethe formula for success and identify the inputs that were driving the output,that allowed us to optimize our funnel better. From there we could enable and coachour salespeople to create efficiencies and eliminate waste and unnecessarycosts.
The combination ofthose opposite ends of the spectrum – the pure activity and hope for a greatoutput, versus a more calculated, formulated, and systematic approach, was afortunate experience. Going into Madison Logic, I was able to take the best ofthose two worlds and combine them into something special.
Rory: Thatsounds fantastic, Kev. So, would you say that the progress you made at AOL was throughasking questions and being inspired by those around you? Or was it a culturalthing at AOL that everyone who was hired was like that?
Kev: That's a good question. I think that maybea little bit of both to be honest. When I was an individual sales rep, for me,it was always about a plan. It was always about walking into the week andsaying, here's my end result of what I need to do for the month, and if I do X,Y and Z every single week, I'm going to get to where I need to be.
Whether that meantfinding new accounts to go after new leads, a greater number of calls, emails, ormeetings I had to book, I had my own personal formula for me personally. Thatgave me the confidence to achieve anything I put my mind to. Entering with an individual perspective wasone of the things that the leadership believed in at AOL, and it was somethingthat I believed in.
Rory: The bigger question here is then we'veobviously seen the way that sales businesses are built, change, and evolvequite drastically over the last 10 to 15 years.
How do youthink that the skill set that's demanded of a revenue leader has then changedas a result and perhaps is reflective of how you're able to transfer betweenthese two different roles so easily?
Kev: As you can see, with the emergence ofSalesforce and different CRM, it's leaving a footprint of what's happening. It alsoallows sales leaders to get a better understanding of what must happen to yielda particular result as an output, while chasing quotes and targets. Having thatvisibility into data activity reporting just gives us more data to make moreaccurate and informed decisions.
I believe that ifyou go back 10, 15 years and previous, sales was more of an art. It was basedon relationship building and networking. It was amazing when we would close thebig accounts and such, but we didn't really understand what exactly went intothat result. Now with emergent things like Salesforce, it's combining this artand a science and it's still this unique balance of the two aspects of it.
There's a lot ofdata that can yield smart educated decisions, and a lot of insight. But you cannever lose that art.
Rory: That’s a great philosophy. Where do youdraw the line between building an army that can just produce the same numberevery month based on one strategy, and giving reps the freedom and autonomy toexplore within their own character and capabilities?
Kev: That's a good question. I think that very much depends on where you are as a business. If you're still in early days, for instance, when I started building out the midmarket teams here at GWI, we did not have a proven playbook. We did not have a proven messaging value. We were getting new objections. There was no proven way of getting from A to B.
You must be a little more lenient to allow the room that reps need for testing new things and getting a little bit more autonomy. As time goes on, as you're figuring out what works and what doesn’t, you're going to be able to tighten up a little bit.
The more youscale, the more open you must be with trying out new things. I think if youlook at a business like a Salesforce or HubSpot, they know their process. Theyknow what works because they've proven it over a really long period of time.
The data bringsthe ability to identify areas of optimization where you're performing well, andwhere you need to fix things. I think that end-to-end visibility of the funnelis what's going to give you better ability to make decisions. The sooner youcan recognize changes, the more lenient you can be to not stick to a rigidprocess. Being able to track that autonomy, I guess, is a good way of puttingit.
Rory: Great, I really like that. How does theamount of autonomy that your salespeople have affect the traits that you lookfor in salespeople?
Kev: That’s a good question. I think with that,you must find people that are not afraid of being independent. When I'm lookingat hiring people, I look at people that are working at startups that are verysimilar environments. Here, it’s the people that make the difference.
It's people thatare going to take the initiative to learn, to figure things out, and that arenot afraid to fail - people that are able to think on their feet. If you’redealing with a new objection, you must be confident enough to say, "Hey,look, I need to sort this thing out”. Someone that is not afraid to figurethings out and take the initiative and be autonomous. Those are the people welook for.
It's notnecessarily better or worse, it's just a different approach. It's a differentskill set. I have hired people, unfortunately, that are very insanely process-drivenor very talented salespeople if they're given the step by step playbook – becausethey’re insanely process driven. Unfortunately, they did not thrive in thistype of environment. So, having that scrappy startup mentality is still huge.
Rory: Interesting. And I presume that’s hardto look for, isn't it?
Kev: It's insanely hard these days, but there’sa lot of experiential questions that you must ask to understand them. We wantto recognize the different situations you may have been put in growing up,whether that's sports, education-based, or different projects where you had tobe the one to move the needle.
Those types ofindependent stories are critical when we're interviewing people. You must toget to know the person, as it’s the individual their behaviors and how they'rehardwired - those are more impactful to me than just the professionalexperience.
Rory: Great. What you are saying is that you'lldesign questions which enable you to understand whether they've emulated theskill set you need now.
Kev: Exactly and then, the biggest thing isfailing, learning, and then making necessary adjustments. That's a major partof what we do every single day. For our new hires, the more that they arefailing the better if they are learning something.
It's not a failureunless they're learning something because then they can then take that, bringit to their next call, the next leave, the next prospect, whatever the case is,and yield a much better output.
Rory: Nice, I like that a lot. If we take thetraditional magic, Christmas miracle art sales leader, how much would youquestion the validity of their skill set as the revenue systems and businessescontinue to evolve?
Kev: Anywhere you look today, everything ismoving toward much more of data-driven world, and that's everything that we do.I think that if you're looking at a high growth company, then you're looking ata company that's going to need funding and resources, so you must be able toprove and validate what you do. It's no longer about, "Answer thisquestion to this", it's "Show me how you get there."
If you look purelythe amount of money that's being invested in companies these days, you justcan't hope on a prayer that this is going to yield a great output, you must becertain. Theonly way to exude confidence in your go-to market plan is through data, andthen being able to act on that data. But it's not just about being super dataand formula driven. Anyone can plug numbers into a formula - there's a science tothe execution of these methods.
So, there's stilla place for that, it's not a completely dead skill set. For example, if you'rea business that's trying to scale to a million in revenue, it's not about howyou're getting there formula-wise, it's about your story. It's about connectingwith the specific personas that you are pursuing.
Again, I thinkthere's value in having a data-driven approach. In today’s world, the moresystematic approach is what a lot of companies need, because at the end the daythey can't grow, thrive or succeed without having the confidence to get therequired results.
Rory: Excellent, thanks Kev. Where doyou see for yourself headed from here? Would you say you're going to end upmore operational or you're going to end up more towards revenue?
Kev: I have this operational mindset. For mepersonally, I'm super passionate about that operational side. When it comes tobuilding teams, understanding what's working and what's not working, scaling andgrowing them, that to me is super exciting.
However, its true forany sales leadership role that you can't always be behind the desk looking atnumbers - that's only one piece of it. I still love getting on the phone,understanding our prospects, and understanding our customers and their needs...Thesales playbook from 10 years ago is not applicable today, because our buyers arerapidly changing.
You have got to beboth as a leader. If you're just looking at it through one lens, you're notgetting the whole picture. If you're the person at the end of day who'sresponsible for the growth, and the efficiencies of scale, you can't just havea single vantage point, you must have the holistic view. Personally, I don'tever want to be on one side of the fence or the other. I want to sit on bothsides because I think that will allow me to perform the most effectively inthat role.
Rory: That’s a very good answer. I reallyappreciate that, Kev. Until next time!
Kev: Awesome. Anytime, Rory!