Thoughts from the Portfolio: Is Your Sales Team Distracted by Shiny Objects?

Devon-McDonald by

Last week, I had the chance to catch up with a rockstar VP of Sales from our investment portfolio, Ron Clevenger. Ron joined Balihoo in Q1 of 2011, and since starting, the team has seen tremendous revenue growth coming from new business generated via outbound prospecting.  I thought I would ask him a few questions to figure out some of the ingredients in his secret sauce.

(Editor’s note: For more details on the success of Balihoo’s inside sales efforts, check out our recent case study.)

DM: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge that expansion stage technology sales managers face? What have you done to overcome these challenges at Balihoo?

RC: Devon, it all comes down to focus. With any expansion stage company, often times you have an opportunity to do so much, and it’s easy to chase shiny objects. Your sales team on a daily basis can create numerous shiny objects for themselves, and then all of a sudden, no one is really focused on anything. At the same time, you are an expansion stage company that hasn’t completely cracked the code, and you don’t necessarily have business walking through the door each and every day — therefore, you need to be creative. It’s a fine balance to not let your team, and even yourself as the manager, run free with multiple ideas that only confuse matters, but at the same time, you don’t want to disincentivize creativity.

One of the things that we’ve done at Balihoo to overcome this exact obstacle is to gather as a team regularly to talk about what we want to focus on, try out, or improve.  This may result in a product discussion, sales pitch discussion, marketing communications discussion, or all of the above.

Ultimately, what has really worked for me is fostering an environment where there are no stupid questions or comments. In our meetings, we brainstorm and write anything on the board that anyone wants to talk about. At the end of the meeting, we don’t walk away with 20 or 30 ideas, we actually vote on the top ideas and come up with one or two items to focus on. This allows me as the manager to walk away from a creative group discussion with everyone participating — and in the end, we’ve all agreed on a couple of the best ideas to focus our energies on.

DM: Your team is downright kicking @ss this year.  While I can’t share the numbers with the public, let’s just say the number of deals that your team has closed at the end of Q1 (when you started) compared to Q3 is astounding.  What would you attribute this rapid growth/success to?

RC: Well, two things come to mind.

First, a compensation plan that rewards closing businesses. The way that Balihoo’s compensation plan was set up and delivered creates a true sense of urgency. These folks aren’t going to ultimately make the level of income that they expect to make if they don’t immediately figure out how to close business. I think we are pretty generous when we bring employees on in terms of giving them a bit of a ramp, but they are very quickly coming to the conclusion that they need to close business to make a good living.

Second, not focusing on features and benefits. I think it’s easy for a company and its sales force to become enamored with their features and benefits. When I first started at Balihoo and listened to the opening conversations and sales presentations, the pitch was highly technical and detail-oriented. We were covering everything under the sun about our platform and services. In the end, the sales guys were not putting themselves in the shoes of the prospect.

What the prospect really wants to know is, “How are you going to help me? How are you going to get me more money in my bank account?”  For the most part, they really could care less about how that happens. What we did earlier this year was we turned the sales process and pitch on its head, and started leading the conversations with discovering the prospects’ latent pains, and from there setting up our product/service to remedy those issues.

DM: Thanks, Ron. Here’s to a great Q4!