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 taking the time to chat with us.
Can you explain to 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 it about your previous leadership roles in revenue that meant that you were able to take on that operational role?
Kev: First and foremost, I think there’s two pieces of it. I think the first company I worked for was purely activity driven, as opposed to driven by mathematics or formula. It wasn’t about seeing an input and what that creates as an output, it was more about calling a million people and sending a ton of emails. We focused purely on volume and it would turn into a lot of results at the end of the day.
But when I got to AOL, I started to understand how different efficiencies are built-in. In school when you’re doing math problems, you must show how you get your answer, right? That was something that I learnt to reapply to my work at AOL, because if we could see the 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 coach our salespeople to create efficiencies and eliminate waste and unnecessary costs.
The combination of those opposite ends of the spectrum – the pure activity and hope for a great output, versus a more calculated, formulated, and systematic approach, was a fortunate experience. Going into Madison Logic, I was able to take the best of those two worlds and combine them into something special.
Rory: That sounds fantastic, Kev. So, would you say that the progress you made at AOL was through asking questions and being inspired by those around you? Or was it a cultural thing at AOL that everyone who was hired was like that?
Kev: That’s a good question. I think that maybe a 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 and saying, 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 meant finding new accounts to go after new leads, a greater number of calls, emails, or meetings I had to book, I had my own personal formula for me personally. That gave me the confidence to achieve anything I put my mind to. Entering with an individual perspective was one of the things that the leadership believed in at AOL, and it was something that I believed in.
Rory: The bigger question here is then we’ve obviously seen the way that sales businesses are built, change, and evolve quite drastically over the last 10 to 15 years.
How do you think that the skill set that’s demanded of a revenue leader has then changed as a result and perhaps is reflective of how you’re able to transfer between these two different roles so easily?
Kev: As you can see, with the emergence of Salesforce and different CRM, it’s leaving a footprint of what’s happening. It also allows sales leaders to get a better understanding of what must happen to yield a particular result as an output, while chasing quotes and targets. Having that visibility into data activity reporting just gives us more data to make more accurate and informed decisions.
I believe that if you go back 10, 15 years and previous, sales was more of an art. It was based on relationship building and networking. It was amazing when we would close the big accounts and such, but we didn’t really understand what exactly went into that result. Now with emergent things like Salesforce, it’s combining this art and a science and it’s still this unique balance of the two aspects of it.
There’s a lot of data that can yield smart educated decisions, and a lot of insight. But you can never lose that art.
Rory: That’s a great philosophy. Where do you draw the line between building an army that can just produce the same number every month based on one strategy, and giving reps the freedom and autonomy to explore 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 you scale, the more open you must be with trying out new things. I think if you look at a business like a Salesforce or HubSpot, they know their process. They know what works because they’ve proven it over a really long period of time.
The data brings the 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 funnel is what’s going to give you better ability to make decisions. The sooner you can recognize changes, the more lenient you can be to not stick to a rigid process. Being able to track that autonomy, I guess, is a good way of putting it.
Rory: Great, I really like that. How does the amount of autonomy that your salespeople have affect the traits that you look for 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 looking at hiring people, I look at people that are working at startups that are very similar environments. Here, it’s the people that make the difference.
It’s people that are going to take the initiative to learn, to figure things out, and that are not afraid to fail – people that are able to think on their feet. If you’re dealing 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 figure things out and take the initiative and be autonomous. Those are the people we look for.
It’s not necessarily better or worse, it’s just a different approach. It’s a different skill set. I have hired people, unfortunately, that are very insanely process-driven or very talented salespeople if they’re given the step by step playbook – because they’re insanely process driven. Unfortunately, they did not thrive in this type of environment. So, having that scrappy startup mentality is still huge.
Rory: Interesting. And I presume that’s hard to look for, isn’t it?
Kev: It’s insanely hard these days, but there’s a lot of experiential questions that you must ask to understand them. We want to recognize the different situations you may have been put in growing up, whether that’s sports, education-based, or different projects where you had to be the one to move the needle.
Those types of independent stories are critical when we’re interviewing people. You must to get to know the person, as it’s the individual their behaviors and how they’re hardwired – those are more impactful to me than just the professional experience.
Rory: Great. What you are saying is that you’ll design questions which enable you to understand whether they’ve emulated the skill set you need now.
Kev: Exactly and then, the biggest thing is failing, learning, and then making necessary adjustments. That’s a major part of what we do every single day. For our new hires, the more that they are failing the better if they are learning something.
It’s not a failure unless they’re learning something because then they can then take that, bring it 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 the traditional magic, Christmas miracle art sales leader, how much would you question the validity of their skill set as the revenue systems and businesses continue to evolve?
Kev: Anywhere you look today, everything is moving 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 at a company that’s going to need funding and resources, so you must be able to prove and validate what you do. It’s no longer about, “Answer this question to this”, it’s “Show me how you get there.”
If you look purely the amount of money that’s being invested in companies these days, you just can’t hope on a prayer that this is going to yield a great output, you must be certain. The only way to exude confidence in your go-to market plan is through data, and then being able to act on that data. But it’s not just about being super data and formula driven. Anyone can plug numbers into a formula – there’s a science to the execution of these methods.
So, there’s still a place for that, it’s not a completely dead skill set. For example, if you’re a business that’s trying to scale to a million in revenue, it’s not about how you’re getting there formula-wise, it’s about your story. It’s about connecting with the specific personas that you are pursuing.
Again, I think there’s value in having a data-driven approach. In today’s world, the more systematic approach is what a lot of companies need, because at the end the day they can’t grow, thrive or succeed without having the confidence to get the required results.
Rory: Excellent, thanks Kev. Where do you see for yourself headed from here? Would you say you’re going to end up more operational or you’re going to end up more towards revenue?
Kev: I have this operational mindset. For me personally, I’m super passionate about that operational side. When it comes to building teams, understanding what’s working and what’s not working, scaling and growing them, that to me is super exciting.
However, its true for any sales leadership role that you can’t always be behind the desk looking at numbers – that’s only one piece of it. I still love getting on the phone, understanding our prospects, and understanding our customers and their needs…The sales playbook from 10 years ago is not applicable today, because our buyers are rapidly changing.
You have got to be both as a leader. If you’re just looking at it through one lens, you’re not getting the whole picture. If you’re the person at the end of day who’s responsible for the growth, and the efficiencies of scale, you can’t just have a single vantage point, you must have the holistic view. Personally, I don’t ever want to be on one side of the fence or the other. I want to sit on both sides because I think that will allow me to perform the most effectively in that role.
Rory: That’s a very good answer. I really appreciate that, Kev. Until next time!
Kev: Awesome. Anytime, Rory!