DiscoverOrg CEO and cofounder Henry Schuck knows a thing or two about growth.
What started out as the clever idea of a college dorm-mate has grown, over the past 10 years, to an award-winning coast-to-coast operation. But as business grows, things change.
The plays that work for a scrappy team of 10 don’t necessarily work for 500 employees.
Or, as Henry says, “It’s not impossible to grow 40% or more year-over-year, in the first few years of business. But to maintain that level of growth when your company is worth $1 million, $10 million, $100 million? That’s crazy. That’s a whole different game.”
It is whole different game. And that’s the game we’re playing.
Henry has always seen the sales team as the growth engine of the company. So freshly out of a successful Q1, we asked him how the sales team needs to evolve alongside the company in order to support this kind of aggressive growth goal.
What sales activities make the biggest difference? What needs to change as a company evolves? And what trends are on the horizon?
Henry points to 4 key drivers of high sales performance:
- Technology +Strategy
- Chasing change
Specialization of sales roles
Charity: Of the all sales behaviors that DiscoverOrg has implemented, what’s had the biggest impact on success?
Henry: Specialization has had the biggest impact.
Every organization goes through an evolution. Early on, you hire sales people and tell them: “Your job is to get new business and close old business.” If you do it right, eventually you reach a place where more reps are leaning toward the closing – not the prospecting.
Then you have an opportunity to specialize.
That’s what has happened with us. We were doing great with marketing. Then we brought in new reps and said, “Your job is cold calling, cold emailing, and generating leads yourselves.” We brought in a senior executive to help put the pieces together, from demo to close.
But if marketing scales, you can push your reps into a closing role. The muscle memory for sales development and closing is very different. If you want to be great at cold calling, you have to do it day after day.
So we specialized those roles, and we were able to scale on a profitable way.
Charity: No kidding! Our Q1 2018 beat expectations – and they were high. What else has boosted sales performance?
Henry: If you ask anyone at DiscoverOrg what that culture is like, we often say it is “intense but collaborative.”
Everyone wants to be the best – but no one hides tricks or secret knowledge about how to respond to an objection, or show a feature. Everyone wants everyone to be great. Our senior execs foster that.
Scaling is part technology, part strategy
We also invest in call recording technology, which help us zero in on opportunities for coaching. Our reps use it each week to listen in on each other’s calls. Then they can ask each other, “Why did you do this?”
Call recording and review also offers coachable moments that we share with the entire team. Today, for example, I listened to a call from a Bethesda sales rep [in our Maryland office]: It was a coaching moment about how to answer a specific question. Rather than just talking to the one single rep how to change her technique, I recorded my response with Gong.io and sent it to all reps.
Here’s the important part: Scaling the coaching is partly strategy, and partly technology. If you have 100 sales reps, how can you possibly coach them all at scale? Everyone is struggling with the same thing, so if you can take these kinds of moments and share them with the team, you’re creating a flywheel around the coaching.
We are not defensive when it comes to coaching. Egos aren’t a thing we have to deal with. Everyone has egos, but we don’t let it get in the way of being coached, and that makes constructive criticism a lot easier.
My assumption is that the best organizations are like that.
You have to get better. You have to evolve. We’re not doing the same thing as we were a year ago. Can you imagine if we were doing the same things 3 years ago? But it takes the commitment of the whole team to be sharp.
We try to get 1% every day. That’s been burned in everyone’s mind.
Change is good. Complacency, not so good
I worry that we may get so big that we lose ingenuity, so I like to see what other CEOs of small companies are doing. On a call with a CEO of a small company a few days ago, I asked, “What kind of sales hacks have you figured out, that we haven’t seen?”
We’re coming up with new ways of doing business all the time, and that’s what I want to hear former small companies. How can we get better?
A lot of companies who have had the run that we’ve had are not reaching to get better. That’s dangerous for a company, and it’s dangerous for sale reps. If you think you’re some special rep, you don’t have to be coached or figure out how to be more efficient.
Charity: Do you think complacency is inevitable in a company’s lifecycle?
Henry: It doesn’t think it has to be. Look at Amazon. Google and Tesla are good examples. They are at the forefront of innovation. Progressive Insurance is 100 years old, but they’re innovative. Restoration Hardware was in trouble 9 years ago, and they had a dramatic turnaround; they were way ahead of the trend with the logistics side of the business.
The same is true of individual reps. They have to know how to innovate. When we hire someone, we look for coachability. We ask, “Tell me what DiscoverOrg does” … and they usually can, because most people do their homework. But the response is never that great the first time. So we say, “That’s not bad, but -” … and then we give them feedback. We’re don’t care about a perfect description of the company: We’re looking for a person’s ability to pivot, to make a quick change in the moment.
If you can’t do that, you’re in trouble.
Charity: Do you mean as a company or as an individual?
Confidence: Fake it ‘til you make it
Charity: What sales practices are universal to all organizations (as opposed to one-off behaviors that are just a response to a unique company environment)?
Henry: Confidence – and the ability to fake confidence – are really important.
You come in to a new sales role, and it’s easy to see all of the reasons why someone doesn’t want to buy what you’re selling. Early on, you probably don’t really believe in the thing you’re selling. So you have to fake it. Later on, you get the confidence. You take the negative feedback and figure out how to resolve that.
Marketing serves a key role in instilling confidence in the product: case studies are a huge confidence booster. You’re getting someone to tell you how they got value from your company. This is especially important when you’re selling software. It’s not like you’re buying an amazing physical product, like a Tesla.
I remember when I was 21: I had just graduated college, and I was selling for iProfile [a data company that DiscoverOrg would acquire in 2015]. The idea that company would spend $20,000 on software just didn’t make sense to me. The concept of $20,000 was so huge, it was hard to rationalize that. I thought, I would never spend money on that. A lot of companies hire young SDRs and sales reps who think that way. But not only do companies actually spend that kind of money – they make money on that investment.
This is easier to understand for physical consumer products. In software, it’s a lot harder to wrap your mind around.
Charity: What are a few new habits you’ve seen around DiscoverOrg’s sales department that you’re happy to see?
Henry: I like to see account execs working close with with SDRs. Our account execs are paired 1:1 with our SDRs, so it’s like a mentorship. It’s tough, but when the AEs feel empowered to go hard on their SDR – like when the SDR sets an appointment with the wrong person – they press the SDR to get better. The AE needs to say, I don’t want to talk to these people. And then they need to say why.
The account exec needs to feel confident enough to coach. We team up on purpose: If the AE is confident in their SDR and relies on them to bring in the business, the AE is more likely to set them straight.
It’s great to see that kind of collaboration. Their success relies on each other. And the company’s success relies on them.
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