“Concentrate on what will produce results rather than on the results, the process rather than the prize.”
Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh was talking about football, but for David Brock, sales is no different.
Many powerhouse organizations fall into the same trap: Success is achieved; it becomes the norm. Over time the competitive landscape changes. The organization grows complacent and fails to adapt. One day, leadership looks around and realizes they’ve lost their momentum. Often, the realization comes too late.
As CEO of Partners in Excellence, David Brock has advised companies ranging from rapidly scaling startups to NASDAQ success stories. No matter how well they’ve done in the past, even successful companies must be vigilant about maintaining their sales velocity.
Sales stagnation is ultimately a matter of coping with “the challenges of overwhelming complexity,” says Brock. Market changes are unpredictable. The speed at which they hit an organization can be overwhelming.
David Brock sat down with LeadGenius during Clari EXCEED at Levi’s Stadium, to discuss how companies should think about increasing sales velocity, staying sharp, and why companies that were once so successful get left behind.
[William Wickey, LeadGenius] To start off, just tell us a little bit about yourself and Partners in Excellence.
[David Brock, Partners in Excellence] I actually started my career as a scientist. I had no idea that I’d be in sales or business. I was a research physicist. I got involved in a start-up company and the start-up company flamed out and I realized there was much more about business than products. So I went to school, learned how to sell, went to the dark side of the world which is selling mainframe computers for IBM, and since then, everything I’ve done has had something to do with selling even though I’ve also run organizations. So I really consider myself a salesperson and a sales executive at heart. My reputation was doing very, very complex turnarounds in very tough situations and I established Partners in Excellence originally as a company to do turnarounds.
What are some of the primary challenges your clients are trying to solve?
My clients are often dealing with the challenges of overwhelming complexity and it manifests itself in really different ways. You see some organizations that are just struggling. For some reason, they used to be fantastic organizations years ago, but somehow, they took their eye off the ball or they kept doing things the “old way” and their markets changed. They’re dealing with “how do we respond to market shifts,” so on and so forth.
Others are high performing organizations but they’re trying to say, “How do we stay high performing? How do we grow?” This world that we live in is changing so fast. There’s so much disruption whether you look at it from technology, competition, people, markets and those kinds of things.
They’re struggling just to identify the right things to do this quarter. How do we get the right people to do those things? What are the things that we do to help those people perform at the highest levels?
What are other reasons mature organizations begin to backslide?
I think they take their eye off the ball. I think success can be a terrible kind of seductress and if what you do has become very, very successful you say, “This is what has always caused us to be successful.” But you don’t recognize things have changed. There are competitors that come up that have one-upped you. The markets have changed. The technology has changed. Most importantly, the customer has changed. The great performing company of yesterday, unless they’re constantly looking to improve, unless they’re constantly looking to learn, unless they’re constantly looking to lead their customers rather than follow their customers, they’ll eventually become dinosaurs.
One of the companies I’m working with right now, it’s fairly tragic. Albeit somewhat obscure, but they were a NASDAQ high flyer in early 2000s. Right now, their market cap is 5% of what it was at their peak. They’re good people but they took their eye off the ball. The customer changed, the competition changed and they didn’t. By the time they recognized that change, their ability to respond to it and catch up has been really challenged.
But again, I think the sales operations function has been underappreciated in terms of its strategic role of helping organizations to deal with these issues of change, deal with the issues of complexity in how we continue to grow and how we continue to thrive.
What are some of the most common misconceptions sales managers have about the world of sales operations?
Every company I think has a different definition. I think that’s the problem: there’s no converged definition of sales operations. Most of the time it’s “those numbers guys.” They have all the data and say, “You know, you’re not doing the right things and you’re not adding any value to me.” Typically sales operations is the ultimate big brother because of the data, the analysis, and so forth. The way I look at it, sales operations knows how all the bits and pieces of the organization fit together.
So when you look at the broader role of sales operations, they look at how all the parts fit together and how to harmonize those parts in a way that really drives performance in the organization.
I think too often the way we tend to problem-solve is we fix this piece here and optimize that there, not recognizing that it’s somehow connected with something over here and it really screws things up.
Sales velocity. Where should sales leaders look first when optimizing?
I think when you look to optimizing, to understand velocity, I think you have to understand where should the leads come from. You know who’s our target customer? Who’s our dream client? And optimize everything that we’re doing to reach out to those. Then once we do that, are we removing all their roadblocks and all their barriers to reaching out to us or us reaching out to them?
Then I think the second thing beyond that is, are we getting the right people? Then after that is are we engaging them in the right conversations? For instance, something that I always whine about all the time is I have SDRs. I think the world of SDRs. You know, but I have SDRs calling me up as CEO of my business and I don’t mean to be arrogant.
They say, “Well, your business can perform better.” And I say, “Oh, that’s really interesting. What are we doing wrong?” And they can’t hold that conversation and it’s not their fault. But they aren’t prepared to have that conversation with me so they’re wasting that opportunity. That starts slowing everything down and it also leaves this residual in effect that I remember that company, not that individual. That company called me and wasted my time. So, the next time they call me, I’m going to say, “Been there, done that.”
When moving up-market, how should a sales development leader prioritize personalization, volume, and efficiency? What is the ideal type of personalization?
I think you have to look at personalization as a part of effectiveness. If I’m going to be effective in connecting with you, I have to know who you are at some level; the type of company you’re working for, the problems that you’re likely to have and I have to be able to engage in things that you care about.
What I want to do as a salesperson or an SDR is to get as close to you, the human being, as I possibly can. So there are maybe some limits to personalization. It may be an industry, a persona kind of level or it maybe I know who you are as an individual.
But what we’re doing here is to say how can I connect person to person as effectively as possible to achieve a shared goal? Then efficiency can only come after you’ve perfected effectiveness. And efficiency says, “How do I do that at speed?” We’re sitting here now at Levi’s Stadium and when you see professional football players practicing, they run plays in slow motion. They walk through the play in slow motion and then at game time they’ve perfected their effectiveness at it. At game time, they’re running it at speed. That’s working on efficiency. Sometimes we get confused on it. If you work on efficiency first, all you do is you create crap at the speed of light.
What are some of the different challenges sales managers face or sales operations professionals face when their businesses sell to SMBs versus mid-market or enterprise accounts?
Clearly there’s scale. For instance, I’m working with a company right now where a large part of the sales organization sells to SMBs. Typically, you say, “Well, who’s your target person at the SMB?” It’s the owner. It’s the president or it’s the controller or somebody like that.
Getting the access to those decision makers at SMBs is pretty easy. On the other hand, there’s a national council organization that is going after the very largest corporations in the world. Connecting with the CEO, in that case, is probably not appropriate; even if it is, it’s much more difficult.
In this world of consensus decision making, trying to get all the right people engaged is a common challenge regardless of size. They do different commas and different numbers of zeros on their income statement, but they all have similar business problems. They all have similar personal goals and objectives. If I’m a salesperson connecting with an owner of a small business, I still have to be able to connect with that person in what she cares about, both from a business point of view and from a personal point of view.
If I’m trying to connect with the 6.8 people in a large corporation, I have to connect with what they care about. So there are a lot of similarities in terms of how we connect effectively. But again, some of the differences in terms of complexity are number of people involved, how you get access to them, and so on.
Every company — and SaaS companies in particular — wants to increase the lifetime value of a customer. How should companies seek to increase the lifetime value of their customers?
The way I would like to see people think about this is that it happens from the very inception of establishing a relationship.
I was raised in selling with the mentality that it’s my God-given right to 100% share of account or 100% share of territory. As a salesperson, it’s my job to figure out how to do this. Clearly, we’ll never achieve 100%, but it gave me that mindset that I wasn’t looking for a single transaction, I was looking to establish a number of transactions and expanding that relationship with that customer because I had the mindset that said I want 100% of that business I possibly can go after.
If I’m doing some things in my initial deal that negatively impact my ability to do the next deal, or to expand within an account, I’m really selling myself short. So, from the very first interaction with the customer, I have that mentality of where I want them to go. If I’m going to do something where I go and screw you today to get that deal, I’m going to fail in my ability to get that 100% share of account and that 100% share of territory. It really has to start from your very first customer engagement which may mean you have to walk away from some deals. The really cool thing is customers get that and they appreciate it and they reward it.
What do you see as the future of sales and sales operations that maybe isn’t on your average sales leader’s radar that you think will be in 2018 or 18 months from now?
I think some of the things that we’re seeing all businesses, but particularly sales, facing right now is complexity. If you look at the rate of change in our markets, these global customers that we’re dealing with, the change within organizations or the churn within organizations for our customers, and if you look at the technology that we inflict on ourselves, we’re in probably one of the most complex and complicated roles that could possibly be. We’re dealing with our own company, we’re dealing with customers, we’re dealing with complex solutions, we’re dealing with partners, channels, and competitors.
How do I as an individual sales person look at all these things and figure out for myself what I need to do next with you or my territory, what support do I need to get from within my organization? If I’m looking at it from a sales manager or a sales operations point of view, I’m looking at these thousands of moving parts.
You work with a lot of enterprise customers. What are some things that enterprise businesses could be doing, that they’re not, to make their sales process more efficient?
We work with very large organizations. It’s surprising how many of them either don’t have a sales process or don’t use the sales process. I walked into a very major oil and gas company about five years ago and was doing some work with them and one of the first questions I always ask is “what’s your sales process?” They say, “Oh, cool. We have a sales process. It’s great.” And they pulled out a file and the cover of the file was dated 1992. I said, “Ah, I have an idea of what your problem is.” It’s that they had the sales process but it was so old it no longer reflected reality. Salespeople are smart people so they weren’t using the sales process.
Part of their performance problem was they hadn’t paid attention to keeping that process current and relevant based on their best experience. I think one of the key things I see is, do you have a sales process that’s aligned with how your customers buy? Is it current and are your people leveraging it and are your managers coaching to it? Because your people aren’t going to be leveraging it unless your manager is constantly coached to it.