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The Revenue Operations Blog

Success in Sales, Richard Smith

December 16, 2021

The Interview

Kluster's Take

Theo spoke with Richard Smith, Co-founder and VP of Sales at Refract. He breaks down what it takes to succeed in sales.

Richard started with a computer science degree, before transitioning into sales. He credits his success to hard work. This led to him co-founding refract. Richard believes he’s learned more in the last 4-5 years with Refract than he did in the previous 10. This is because he realised the importance of coaching.

He believes that an A player has a top-tier work ethic. A Players are open to feedback and their ego doesn’t get in the way. They are always seeking how to stay on top and get better.


I think hard work ethic has to be called out as I've never worked with a good salesperson who hasn't worked hard.

Richard welcomes the cluster community blog. I'm really excited for this discussion on upscaling reps. But first of all, I'd like to start off with a bit about you. So, Richard, what is your story in sales up until this point? Oh, well, good. Good to be here, STO on. Um, I think the. Story for me is probably very similar to a lot of people in sales.

Um, I, uh, when a university thing and I was going to be doing something in it, um, I did a computer science degree, um, and quite frankly, failed at it. Um, got a pretty, pretty, pretty poor degree at the end of it and realize with that, uh, becoming a developer. Or similar was, was not my path. Um, so, uh, and I think like many at that point was kind of like, where do I go my career?

I don't know what, you know, what I want to, I want to want to do. And, you know, fell into sales. Like many people do, um, started. What we would call an SDR now, they weren't called that back when I started, um, I'm not that old by the way. Uh, but, uh, and kind of realized that I was quite passionate about it. Um, realize I was, you know, pretty good, um, or, you know, but then I thought it was pretty good.

Uh, did, did well, I think is probably the way I describe it. And probably a lot of it was. Winged a lot of my early part of my career got by with a lot of hard work, more than anything else, um, versus skill sets, so to speak. Uh, and from there, you know, I kind of really performed all different types of roles from selling small deals to selling bigger deals.

Uh, and I've been totally privileged over the last six years to, um, to, to build refract, which is now part of the Lego group. An idea to, you know, quite a successful business. Part of that is being growing and managing and leading a really great sales team. And, you know, um, I, I, myself, I would say I've learned more in the, the last three or four years in sales and I did the previous, the previous.

Um, that I've been doing it. So, um, yeah, for me, it's always a constant learning game and, and, um, yeah, that's pretty much kind of where, uh, my, my backstory and in two minutes. Fantastic. Why do you think you've learned more than the last four years as opposed to the last kind of 10? I think a lot of that was, um, a lack of appreciation in my early part of my.

For what true sales excellence actually is. Um, it's not just being confident, having the gift of the garb and all that kind of nonsense that gets peddled. Um, it's actually realizing that there's a, there's a, there's a genuine, it's a genuine profession with genuine skills and behaviors that are required to be, to be, to, to be good at it, to be successful at it.

And not to be lucky in sales, which I think a lot of people can be just, you know, they get by with a lot of look. But it's also the fact that I've had, uh, more so in the past few years is like I've realized the impact of coaching and ongoing development. Um, the old way of just sending your salespeople off to sit in a posh hotel and get a training seminar from a bloke, sat on and stood on the stage with a PowerPoint presentation and some, you know, a note, pad and pen in front of you.

People don't learn that way in sales. Um, and people learn by. Doing doing the job and getting, and getting coached much like a, I dunno, a golf player is constantly coached every day on, on improving their swing. So, um, and I think aside ascites enough, Theo is also just like the amount of time that I've invested personally.

And just learning, like study the study, the profession, you know, constantly, you know, watching webinars, listen to podcasts, reading books. Hearing people who've been there, done it and see, uh, more than I have and, um, you know, learned a lot through that process too. Fantastic. So you said that you mentioned there that you work with reps in your kind of time and experience.

What would you say really defines an a player rep? The top of, I love this question. Um, I think. The well, first of all, I, I think hard work ethic has to be called out as I've never worked with a good sales person who hasn't worked hard. Some people might immediately think, oh, here we go. Another kind of like hustle, pawn sort of pitch where, you know, you've got to start you there four in the morning and finish at midnight.

And that's not the case. What I would say though, is I, the people who do those extra hours, often the ones that are more successful, um, the ones who, you know, don't watch the clock. And as soon as 5:00 PM comes around, they're like, right. That's me done for the day. I think I've never seen anybody successfully who has that kind of mindset.

Um, and I think the other side of it is people who are completely self-aware. Of their weaknesses. Um, I think there's a lot of people in the profession who kind of feel that they've made it like, Hey, I've, you know, I've smashed quote a tip for the past two or three years, or I've got 10 years of experience.

You know, we hear this a lot when we actually start selling to some sales teams that they say, my, my sales team are really experienced the tenured guys. They, you know, they wouldn't benefit from what you sell. And I just think what sort of professional has that mindset. You know, if you, if you actually spoke with it, Top class professional in any discipline.

Um, the best professionals all have coaches because they always looking for those big gains of marginal gains. Um, so it's those people who have that kind of growth mentality. I also think it's people who, um, are open to feedback. You know that they're not that that ego doesn't get in their way, that they're constantly seeking out how to get, how to get better.

Um, and Paula is that they're, they actually go looking for what the top performing salespeople are doing differently. That's quite, that's quite a crucial point that they, they look around and see, Hmm. That person's having more success than I am right now, or that person's doing really well. What are they doing?

Because they probably will be doing things different and it's, it's having the nouse and the desire to want to go and find that stuff out. Yeah. Um, so I'd, I'd kind of, yeah, there's probably more to it, but I'd say that's some of the things that I've seen in my career that the people that, um, that ended up being really good salespeople, for sure.

I think work ethics, you know, it's quite a, maybe a boring answer, but it's always the, I think it's always the answer really, you know, Uh, interesting to see what you think of have confidence in sales and the top reps have had a lot of confidence, but to all the top reps have a lot, have a lot of confidence in how can people learn to be confident because confidence isn't something people are born with is often a learned behavior, right?

Yeah. This is an interesting one because what breeds confidence in most things is usually doing. Yes. You know, you do well for you. You do like, I dunno. It's like when you think of like football players, um, like you get a striker who was on a ghost girls score and streak, and they it's just like, they go through those streaks where they can stop score and week after week.

And it's like the reason, one of the reasons they're doing that, that that happens is because of confidence, confidence, breeds, competence, and ability. Um, But do the top, I guess, on that basis to the top reps often have the most confidence. Yes. Albeit I think the top reps who are overly confident, it's a dangerous game to be in because a lot of sales believe it or not.

As out of, out of your control, you know, we can't make, we can't make people buy. Everyone has at some point, um, bad patches and tough spots in their, in their, in their car. Um, and it's about the people who are kind of attuned to that, that they know that those bad spots or could be around the corner. They could be next month.

It could be next quarter. It could be next year, but that they know that it starts, that that's likely going to happen. And is the ability to not let those bad is when those you get on those bad patches is to not let that get you down in the dumps because, um, I think a lot of. If you get stuck in wallow in your kind of like self pity, it's really, it's really hard to kind of get yourself back, back, back, back, back to form.

So, yeah, it's a really interesting question now. And then, but I would say that the, uh, yes, that by nature, the top sales people are more confident, but I think it's also a dangerous game to be too confident in sales. Okay. I liked that. I liked that a lot. You mentioned reps going through, you know, diff difficult patch.

If you had a wrap when you'd seen that was going through it through a difficult part misquotes this month, and it was looking great for the next month. What would your advice be to that person? Break it down into like the very fundamentals and basics for me, Richard? Well, I guess at a high level, as I've just mentioned is that everybody has a bad patch in sales.

I've had my fair share of punches. Um, it's real, like, you know, we're not all fortunate. There's very few people. Constantly month after month, quarter after quarter constantly smashing out the park. I don't think that's a true reflection of what the world's really like. Um, so I think first of all, as a, as a manager, as a leader, if you've got a sales person, a position, it's kind of just letting them know that that's a real thing.

Everybody has their bad patches. It's it's, it's not it's you haven't done anything wrong necessarily. Um, I think the second part of it is making, getting them to see. Like this isn't this isn't, you didn't suddenly turn into a bad salesperson overnight. And that reflect on the previous wins. I think it's really important to get some perspective.

Um, you know, I I've had this with people I've worked with all the time. Like if I had one of my reps is, wants, told me he was going through a bad patch and he was like, you know what? Richard might just took all this in and just become a postman. Actually, it just tastes like it was an emotional statement, but it just needed a like, okay, let's just understand what you're saying.

Well, let's reflect on what you've done. And you know, obviously that that's a different situation now. Um, but I think whenever you're going through a pod patch, that the, the key thing is, is understanding, has anything fundamentally changed and a lot of the time it's, it has it is that there are things which, um, Then not being as thorough as they once were.

They're not asking the right questions. They're not themselves. And in sales interactions, um, they're in corners there, whatever that is, it's usually in, there's something that they're doing, something has changed, but you have to be able to inspect that, to understand and figure it out. Otherwise it's just guesswork at the end of the day.

So it's, it's crucial that you invest that time. Getting the answer to how something changed. How are you doing things differently now, what you were before? And a lot of the time that just becomes analyzing what they're actually doing in those sales situations. You have the side of, I think it's important to call out as well for you is that sometimes when people go through bad patches, it's not out of the question that a lot of, some of that stuff might be impacted by what's going on in that person.

Yeah, some salespeople, you know, they go, everyone goes through, you know, bad stuff in their personal life, you know, and often that can bleed into their work. And as a result, they're less motivated that head's less than the game they're less driven. And, um, you know, it's, it's having the. The relationship to be able to have that conversation in safety with the salesperson to, yeah, no, that's a great point.

You've touched on there and such number four as well. Is this, this idea of self-reflection, which is one that maybe I haven't had too much of a think about in the past in terms of like, you know, good raps. Reflect on their performance and, you know, look at themselves in the mirror daily and go, okay, probably dropped the ball up.

My morning was a bit rubbish. Hence, you know, and then they get back to it. I think it's, it's, it's such a key area. And, um, I guess another question would be, we were on about 80 players here as well, and like, but how often does a real A-player come along? Do you think Richard.

When you say come along. I think I be interested in the sound. What, what you defined by that? Because I think that they're in the minority fish. Well, I mean, a statistic from objective management group who are. I have them the most, the biggest assessment of sales competencies in the world. And they've, they've assessed something like 2 million salespeople on various sales competencies, and they actually identify that the majority of salespeople believe it not globally, um, are actually do, are not strong at consultative selling.

I just one con uh, compensate. Okay. If you asked most salespeople, do you think you're a consultative sell? They'll probably say, yeah, I am. But actually the data shows that the majority of salespeople aren't actually in, in, in, in reality, And I think, you know, there's a lot of people who've been successful and they've done really well, but they move company.

It doesn't necessarily mean they're going to be successful in that new company. Hey, they may, they may have came from Salesforce where they came in and a morning on that calendar was full of back-to-back inbound demos from companies that were literally in the market by Salesforce. And they smashed out the park.

It's like, well, all they truly an airplane. Yeah. Would I rather hire that person or the person who has worked for a company that nobody nobody's heard of a little minute when that market, um, has had to make stuff happen for themselves as had to basically educate and market and done well for themselves, maybe it hasn't made as much money, but maybe made half as much money as the person went.

And those weren't going to Salesforce. I think I'd probably, I'd probably hire the second person. Yeah. Um, both would probably define themselves as a player. And very different situations book, but crucially, I think what defines an airplane, it comes back to your earlier question is it's the person who actually wants to stay top of their game and constantly wants to, you know, level up and receive coaching and they seek betterment.

Um, and I think actually there's probably a lot of top performing salespeople, revenue wise, who on, in not. Okay. So, you know, a played by revenue. Yes. But actually how much of that is driven by the road ability and success is another question. Interesting. So here, we kind of said, I love that point. It's all about, you know, you could be for a company that's like an, it has got a brand name of like an, a star brand name.

Um, and then it's quite easy if you've got inbound, get within bands all day. You kind of seen it. It's more, when you, when we look at a place you're measuring that the metric is the mentality. Not necessarily the performance. I think it's both. Yeah. I actually think the mentality drives well, the mentality drives performance.

I mean, the ultimate, the ultimate goal is outcome at the end of the day, like why you hire any sales person or sales person, because you want to drive more revenue? Um, I guess my point was more around just because. Driven loads of revenue at a company and they come along and on the face of it, they look like an airplane.

Doesn't always tell the full story.