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The Revenue Operations Blog

Sales Leadership, Nicola Atchison

December 21, 2021

The Interview

Kluster's Take

Georgina spoke with Nicola Atchison, VP of Sales at Accruent. She explains her thoughtful approach to sales leadership.

Nicola is an experienced sales leader, who’s moved from director to becoming a mother and now VP of Sales. One of her favourite sayings is “If there’s no wind, row”. She explains that wherever you go, things may not be perfect from the outset. So it’s important to pick up deals and get rolling. Nicola also acknowledges the impact of the pandemic on people’s working lives. She explains that it’s probably influenced the way they act in their careers.

When it comes to success measures, Nicola is looking at the numbers. She looks at the numbers of opportunities that they are creating, as well as those they are killing quickly. Nicola believes that A-Players don’t care about issues or challenges. Instead they are thinking about how they can overcome them.


It was a confident of that themselves, their ability. And they don't worry about looking at that pipeline or that funnel and carrying opportunities that are going no way.

So today we are interviewing Nicola. She's an impressive woman in the SaaS space, but most importantly, a strong and experienced sales leader who has moved from director to becoming a mother to now VP of sales for three years and four months and innovatively companies that just accurate. So as Nicola has had an interesting uninspiring path, it's only fair to start by asking.

What's your philosophy as being a VP and how has your life affected that next? Wow. That is such a good question. That I have to be honest, Georgina, you have me rocked. Okay. So my philosophy for life, um, I think anyone that will know anyone that knows me, you'll tell you I live by sayings and I'm always throwing sayings out there.

So probably, um, the, the, the two that I, by at the moment, uh, . Which means if there's no wind row. Um, so, you know, wherever you go, you know, it might not be perfect at the outset and it might not be happening, but you're there for a reason. So it's important pick up deals and get rolling. Uh, and the other one is it's very, it's tied very closely to being a mother.

And, uh, sometimes, you know, um, I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm put in situations in my role where. Things like the high stakes or you may be dealing with people like, you know, you think, wow, you know, I'm just a little, you know, I'm just a little kid from, you know, new castle at the end of the day. I knew they get dug.

These really impressive people and I'll think I'm never worried, never scared. And I go on every exchange, never worried, never scared because at the end of the day, I'm here for my family. Uh, so it doesn't really matter too much to me. I met to a job, do my best for my little boy. Oh, that's great. It's I think it's really, I think it's really lovely.

Um, especially when we're speaking to sales, that he's, cause obviously it will be so busy and hectic and things like that. There are actually people behind these roles that are having their why and their motive to be sort of bigger picture ideas and a lot of the. It's linked to personal attributes as well.

Okay, great. So, um, we'll now move on to our main theme of the interview, cause we really wanted to take in rap development and how you do that as a sales leader. So to you, what defines an A-plus. Okay, so this is one, um, I've had to, you know, I, I reviewed continually throughout my career. Um, and I think if me right now is somebody I look at and think I used to think 90 10.

And at the moment, I think 80 20, because. The last two years or so, you know, with the whole COVID thing, um, I've had a sort of switch my, um, my standards up a little bit because everybody's had a tough time. Um, so it's no longer, you know, you're sitting in front of people and they're saying, Hey, you know, I brought in two, 300% of McWhorter.

I'm finding that everybody has a tough time. Um, so what I'm looking at is I'm looking for, you know, the. The, the top of the deck, you know, maybe the, um, the 10 or 20% of individuals that are have an 80 or 90% chance that, you know, doing that quote at unmold, that's what I'm looking for. That's how I sort of quantify that, you know, that that's sort of a player, um, And there are all sorts of personal attributes that go in that.

And they're also to know I'm looking at their reputation. I'm looking at their track record. I'm thinking about the highlight reel, but it is it's, it's that 80, 90% of the people that will do, you know, so I'm looking for the 10 to 20% of people that are going to probably do 80, 90% of my revenue overall.

Okay, great. I think that's great that you took into consideration the pandemic as well, because I think COVID. It's sort of something that can't go unnoticed and it changed people and also probably the way they act in their careers. Um, so that's great. So what metric do you then use to sort of measure the success in your eight reps or in your reps in general?

Yeah. So once the ones in post. We're looking at numbers, you know, I'm getting to, you know, end a 30, 60, 90 days, and I'm looking at behaviors. But past that past that point, I'm starting to look at that run rate. So I'm starting to look at the opportunities that they're generating. I'm starting even more importantly, to look at the, of the opportunities that are killing and killing quickly.

I think that's a huge differentiator it air players versus BPS. It has a confident of that theyselves their ability to generate their own look, pick up the oars. And they're not worried about looking at that pipeline or that funnel and killing opportunities that are going no way. So, uh, yeah, I'm looking to see the volume of formal additions in the early days, but then I'm looking to see how quickly that killing those opportunities that are going to go anywhere.

And then, you know, as he covered was 6, 9, 12 months, you're looking at. I worked for an environment companies, but so I'm coming dollars clothes. Um, I say you. So if judge the success of a rep through every part of their pipeline. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, look, it would be, I, I look after a range of software solutions, so some of those, um, some of those products will have a really short deal cycle.

Um, the more transactional and for those, you know, maybe looking more quickly at dollars, whereas others, you know, I have some deal cycles. Predated me in the company. Yes. As long, yeah. On those sorts of products, I need to look more at behaviors because if I'm too aggressive and I just count dollars, I can imagine the wrong people.

Yeah. I guess you have to take each bit of sort of the four leavers into account. Um, because if not, if you're dealing with different deals all the time, then I guess you have to sort of treat each rappers and individual as well. Um, which is really important. So how do you then compare a B player to an AP.

Yeah. So, uh, I think to a degree it's in it and we can get into the whole nature niche thing and look at, you know, people's experiences throughout their career and into their childhood. So I do think some of it is innate. Um, what I, that there are parts of it though, that are absolutely coachable and teachable.

I think. One thing or a few things that set an A-player apart is they almost create their own micro economy at work. Okay. They don't care about any issues, any challenges. They're not telling you the reasons they can't sell they're out, then I think, okay, that person over there did it. Why not me? I can do that.

And they're out there building funnel and navigating any challenges as they go, but then not. Bogged down in all of that, you know, that that really sort of chasing their own success. I think the other thing is, is that, um, air place or. Perpetual students. Um, so you know, you talk to them and you know that they're on holiday, they're on the beach.

There isn't necessarily a book. They're reading a sales leadership book. They're reading a marketing book, they're writing something like the lean startup. They never stop learning and they don't limit that learning just to sales. Um, that taken it, like I said, across into product, into marketing, they want to touch every piece of the puzzle so they can sit in front of that prospect as a sober and more rounded individual and a more value business was until.

Yeah. I definitely think from speaking to a lot of sales leaders, it's like a mixture of having a strong, um, sort of sense of self, but it's also people that, like you said, like they're just learning all the time, but not even just in sales, that it's not just a sales book, but it's a psychology book or it sort of anything because at the end of the day, you're talking to people.

So the more you know about the world on people, I feel like the more interesting conversation it's going to be, and also probably just the better it's going to. Oh, absolutely. I think I'm the best sales people I've had around me. Um, and you know, mentors are, you know, I've picked up earlier in my career.

They've all been curious, interested. They all asked phenomenal questions. Like, you know, like your question at the outset there while I was like, oh, you have me rocked. So excited when I'm interviewing someone and they come to me with a full deck of awkward questions, you know, I enjoy that. And it, you know, it's a surefire for me to put that person through to the next stage of the interview.

Uh, so yeah, questions first, the knowledge learning, um, I think that is as well. Um, the best salespeople really want to understand their prospects business because they're in there for the long haul and they have less of a transactional approach to things and robes of building a longer term relationship and really.

Maxing out account an account while helping customer to address several business challenges. I'll pay him a pains. Yeah, I think that's the thing is actually listening to your customer a lot of the time as well. Instead of just trying to, I feel like in sales, if you see the person. Trying to work for what they want out of the outcome and you can see straight through it.

So it's about developing good people talking to good people. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it goes back to the question piece, um, asking great questions, listening 10 on your volume value prop around that. If there's not a fit, not being afraid to say to the customer, Hey, you know, I've enjoyed our conversation, but. I just don't think we can help you, but a company that can, or an or somebody else that can, I think that good people are afraid to walk away because they know, you know, they'll always be putting more into that funnel.

Yeah. So you've just talked about sort of the characteristics that make, um, an A-player. How do you make that coachable? Because obviously you said the sort of nature nurture argument, but is there a way you, can you infiltrate that into your own. Yeah, I think, um, I think the first thing is if you know it, isn't a question about Jude.

Um, so one thing I'm really keen on at interview is to understand somebody, Y you know, I, I have a full deck of whys. So for me that there isn't enough time in the day. Um, but you know, asking those questions in interview, I'm asking why someone's in sales, you know, did it, you know, how did they find themselves in sales?

I find so many people all accidental. Salespeople. Um, I am, it's fine. As long as you, you know, you wake up wide up when you get here. Um, so is it cultural? Is it cultural? I think the attitude and the desire to. Perhaps not so coachable, but there are all of the pieces of the puzzle in role, like, you know, prospecting, um, you know, where to go, where to target, which verticals you may have success in, um, success leaves clues.

So I'm a big one for if, um, if somebody is doing. Okay. Grabbing some time with them, making them amend or finding out what happened and replicating that. Um, so I think a lot of it is coachable and also, um, I have, uh, I'm really lucky to have a great team and that they are always happy to share knowledge.

Um, we're a high-performing team. I'm not afraid to have. Um, uh,

yes, the team are great in terms of, you know, we have some people that are fantastic Honduras. Um, we have some people that are amazing closes. We have some people that have amazing, you know, deep, long, long standing relationships with their customers. So we have a great blend across the team, and it's very much like a peer to peer.

Learning approach within the team. We have some people, you know, that have been with the business forever and understood how to get a deal on Lockton and through a process. So I think those components are very coachable, but the piece is one that really, I feel you have to be looking out for interview.

So you've just mentioned that, that you have a strong team and sort of a good team ethos, and that's what helps with development, but how in that sort of situation then how do you usually point out individual weaknesses and, um, whether it's the team as a whole or the interaction as a whole. So how do I understand?

What are some things team or individual? Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So we've had, uh, you know, I think we've seen. Both. Um, as we've had the challenge of COVID of the last couple of years, we've had to really dig into how we sell and be agile and make some adjustments in our approach. You know, gone are the days of always hopping on a flight.

So excuse me, hopping on a plane, a train we've had to turn our attention more towards. Digital and remote channels. Um, and with that came a whole deck of, um, new weaknesses first to overcome,

excuse me. So we'll have, you know, um, some situations where you may have one individual who's who who's struggling, um, and you can see that very easily. You know, you can see that in their results and we can see that in the conversion, you can see it in the funnel additions that can, you can see it in that from a fallout.

So having the correct data. Um, behind all of those decisions, um, I think it's hugely important because it stops you as well. Having that sort of projection, you know, positively or negatively. Um, you always need to be working with data when you're making calls on somebody's performance at a team level.

While we were readjusting to you way of selling. Um, I think the team overall took a bit of a dip and I don't think that was done just to be a company. It was while we were building that new skill set of, you know, digital prospecting, remote meetings and so on and so on. So I think that, you know, again, it's having data, looking at trends across, you know, individuals product.

Verticals geographies. And the key thing is data to drive those decisions. Yeah. Great. That's great. So I'm just going to move on to our final question now. So if you were in a room with the best sales leaders, whether that was of all time or right now, what would you ask them? What would you. Oh, how many questions am I allowed?

First of all, I would ask them how have they ever been in a situation where it all went smooth? And what was their road to recovery? What did that look like? How long did it take? What did they do? How did they take people with them? Um, so that's one. Yeah, recovery. I think resilience is so important in sales.

Um, you know, you can be riding high and then mid week, you know, anything can help into your phone. So, uh, that's, that's one. Um, I think the other thing I would ask them is to give me the. Top three questions of all