While I was on maternity leave in Q1 of this year, Christy Weymouth, who started ExactTarget’s first outbound prospect operation in 2005, was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her experiences building a sales team (a wildly successful one at that), and the lessons she learned along the way. Oh, and she is also incredibly thoughtful and sent my daughter, Grace, an ExactTarget onesie and teddy bear. Love it.
For those of you who weren’t aware, ExactTarget went public in 2012, and OpenView’s Senior Managing Director and Founder, Scott Maxwell, sits on their Board of Directors (ExactTarget was an Insight investment and OpenView spun out of Insight Venture Partners in 2006).
For the companies in OpenView’s portfolio, and for the broader expansion-stage B2B technology community, Christy’s team can surely serve as a role model worth emulating.
DM: Why did ExactTarget originally decide to launch this team? Did it start under marketing or sales? Where is it today?
CW: We started the team in June 2005 under marketing. We reported under sales for a couple of years, and now we’re back under marketing and have been for the past four years.
There are advantages to reporting under either department. When you report under sales, you are closer to what your customer/sales wants from you. When you report under marketing, you are closer to the marketing calendar of events and brand awareness. This gives you an advantage in providing prospects with the latest thought leadership content, subsequently enabling you to be the most relevant and creative in discussions.
DM: How is the team broken down? (How many reps are on your team? How many closing sales reps does each rep on your team support? Is it territory-based? Segment-based?)
CW: We are currently a team of 20 and growing. On average, most lead gen reps support approximately 4-5 closing sales reps. We support them on a combination of territory and segments/target accounts.
DM: What are your primary responsibilities when it comes to the management of this team (i.e. percentage of time spent where, what does a week in the life look like, etc?)
CW: The role of manager is to make sure an opportunity goal is set each month and quarter. My advice is to not wait for a goal(s) to be delivered down to you or the team.
In addition, as manager I provide the team with the tools/resources, encouragement, and incentives that ensure they stay driven to hit this collective team goal. Their success is really my success. I work to make this goal obtainable but always a stretch.
We prioritize everything we do around two key initiatives:
- Providing value to prospects/customers
- Generating sales opportunities for our sales organization.
I spend lots of time meeting with sales reps, sales/marketing leaders, potential team members, existing team members, product marketing managers, and sales enablement to ensure that we stay focused and enabled to achieve our goals.
DM: What are your reps’ goals (daily, weekly, quarterly)?
CW: The four primary goals are:
- Monthly quota of opportunities generated
- Contribution to closed business
- Total activity
- Collaboration with sales
DM: What is the most important lesson that you’ve learned over the years?
CW: It is imperative to stay on the same page with sales reps and leaders. In lead generation at ExactTarget, we have two primary customers:
- the sales reps we support
Our satisfaction comes from providing value to prospects/customers and enabling our closing sales reps to hit their quotas. Focus your daily activities around on these two goals and get rid of the clutter.
DM: How long did it take before your team was able to contribute toward a repeatable revenue model?
CW: Eight months from start of program. I worked the program solo for two years. The experience of starting the program and working directly with sales leadership and reps was crucial in setting a solid foundation for scalable expansion. Knowing what works — with data behind it to prove it — enabled us to build a solid ramp up program that sets lead gen reps up for success from Day 1.
DM: How did you manage executive expectations before the team was generating deals that actually started closing?
CW: I worked closely with the VP of Sales and Marketing to start the program. I had their support and members of their team. They celebrated each and every opportunity to start. As deals started to close from the program, the closing sales reps began to buy into the program more and more.
DM: How do you keep this type of team motivated?
CW: An attractive variable compensation plan is necessary. In addition, we run lots of random incentives to keep the team excited and working towards not only their individual opportunity generation goal, but also a greater team goal.
One month, we ran a program that if we hit a collective team goal of opportunities generated, everyone on the team would receive a Nike ExactTarget-branded hoodie. The team really wanted those hoodies. That month, we set a company record in the number of lead generation opportunities generated in one month. You have to shake it up and ask team members to give you ideas.
DM: What is the profile of the candidate you’d want to have most on your team?
CW: I would break it down like this:
- Proven B2B cold calling experience
- Solid verbal and written communication skills
- A passion for interactive marketing
- A natural curiosity in solving marketers business challenges
At ExactTarget, we only hire top talent and we have a detailed onboarding process to get them ramped up effectively and quickly.
DM: What advice do you have for a manager who is trying to get this type of team off the ground?
CW: Often, this is considered one of the more junior sales positions in a company. I look at it differently. Someone who is placing calls into executives needs to have a solid business background in order to provide value in conversations and to generate interest for the company. Therefore, it is imperative to hire top talent.
Secondly, you need to make sure you have buy in from the executive team and sales/marketing leadership. It is important they celebrate the success points along the way and hold everyone involved in the program accountable. Lastly, provide lots of different marketing assets, product updates, and case studies to lead generation members so they can be as relevant as possible and provide the most value to prospects/customers. In short, enable and empower lead gen reps to generate interest.
Great advice, Christy. Thank you very much for sharing your lessons and insights!
(And thank you from Grace for her fashionable new orange outfit — you can put the company she will be CEO of in your team’s pipeline for 2043.)