Panel Q&A| Wins & Losses: People Stories from the Sales Frontline - SaaSGrowthLive

For this panel conversation we're going to talk about the wins and losses and just people's stories. So the stories as leaders from the front line that you've been experiencing over the last kind of three to five months now. So we've got Sean Murray, Sean is current the CRO of greenhouse software and prior to this he's been a great champion as the CRO of Salesloft and prior to that I mean he's got experience building sales marketing and leadership teams back 20 years, kind of a long tenure at CEB, so it's great to have that experience Sean and a big fan.  Elaine massive champion UKs number one leader delivering SDRs, and there's been a lot of conversations about how to deliver SDRs. Obviously one of the companies as a recruitment business immediately would have felt the impact on any type of hiring freeze, so it's great for her to come on board and talk honestly and openly about what her business has faced, but also where she started to see the opportunities being created. Chris Springer has been a huge advocate of the online digitalization and he represents the head of sales of Zapnito. I can speak from experience Zapnito is one of the most user-friendly  and best ways to take your community online. So I can imagine Chris's experience, this is you know being fairly positive in some ways and that's okay, you know, there are winners and losers in any challenging economic situation, and we're going to talk about some of those winners and losses.

So I'm going to start the first question to you Sean; thinking about when this first tip how did you or the leadership team or your sales team respond to the impact of covid, and can you share any stories from that experience early on?

Yeah sure thing and before I dive in this has been an incredible event James and it's so good to be part of this experience so thank you for having me. When I go back in time which seems the beginning of the crisis it feels that it was five years ago and it's funny how it was just about a hundred days ago, but it just feels so long. And there were going back in my career as you had mentioned I've experienced a few crisis’, so it wasn't my first time going through this right so whether it was 9/11,  2008 the financial crisis, and then entered this new recession and pandemic. And the reason why I share that perspective, is that there certainly wasn't a playbook, and we were all going through this together for the very first time. And when I go back to let's say that march time frame when things really started to get dicey, what we wanted to concentrate across our business we're obviously focusing on the people, and we kept on and continue to channel these three major points. First ensuring that yourself and your family are safe and healthy, and that was the first step, and nothing else mattered except for that. The second, how are you engaging with your community, are you helping those around you, how can you engage with your physical neighborhood and those around you that you care greatly about. So that was the second priority and then third if one and number two were okay, focusing on the business, and focusing on the company, and so that's that was just more I would say less of a mantra, but it was more of our philosophy, and how we wanted to address this brand new change that was impacting everyone all over the world, and again it's not as if we had a playbook that we could that we could read and just follow.

Interesting,  Elaine you were at the front end as  as we know that let's hear some of your experience in those early days.

Yeah absolutely, so I guess you know in my career it's the second crisis that I've been a part of the first being 2008 when I was actually just joining my first ever recruitment job, so my first crisis potentially as a leader of a business. So we work on a success only basis in Venatrix, so when we place SDRs the time that we actually actualize the revenue is when those people start in the business, and we have no recurring revenue streams to support the support the organization. So mid-march when the lockdown restrictions came in that was essentially turned out to be the last day in the business, we we were on track for having one of our best financial months ever, having spent four and a half years building up our portfolio of clients, and and obviously building our brand, super excited about what we were going to deliver, and all of a sudden that was no more, because naturally all those businesses who had planned to onboard graduates in the latter half of march, quickly changed their immediate plans against the backdrop of uncertainty and not knowing how they would on board and train people that they they were now not going to be able to sit next to on a day-to-day basis. So that was obviously a really uncertain time for us, where we were suddenly thinking like now how are we actually going to be able to get cash into the business, so super duper challenging to you know to lose all your predicted revenue overnight, and was obviously you know something I was completely not prepared for and hadn't envisaged ever happening, so initially a huge shock for Venatrix.

Chris how about you?

Great to to be joining today first off James, thanks for inviting me. I think from our perspective we had a similar situation to what Elaine has just alluded to that our predicted revenue on usual enterprise communities longer term projects definitely remotely put on hold, and March for us really all about how do we make the most of the situation work very closely with our customers so what we actually did was we did a lot of our new customers that we that we work with on new projects actually at cost as a team or as a business, so we rallied together with our with our customer base, and actually just focused all of our resources on let's not try to scale here, it's not about that how can we work with the customers that we have and that we really partner with as an organization, and help them with whatever it is that they may need. And that was of course strongly around digitizing events that were supposed to take place in person, and we actually changed a few things around our product to meet that need and the company, we rolled that out or deployed that within what would normally take a two to six month time frame, scale it back to a matter of weeks. And to do that with the team that we have was was phenomenal, but I think it also ties into Sean's point that it's about this staying together in those times not just as a team, but with your customers as well so that they understand you'll never deliver perfection, it'll never be a fully mapped out process but they that both parties understand we're trying to work further and make it work  as fast as we can.

So I mean you know, just to give interesting hearing Elaine, because there's a difference between you know the service business and some of the SaaS backed companies right. A lot of the SaaS companies have a longer runway so there's you know protectionist strategies that are put in place and but they can extend that. You know I can speak  just the events business literally got turned off overnight you know ,and it has not been a positive experience, and actually this has probably been the most positive outcome of us seeing everybody come together as a community online, and talk positively about a new future. Things I'm not ready to share right now it's as a CEO a first-time CEO you know when you set out a year with a plan and you're investing your own cash and to see that be wiped out overnight, so for in our case you know field marketing was just switched off, you weren't you know, nobody was allowed to go to an event, and I think you know we haven't necessarily covered the impact of  furloughs or redundancies, and you know we've all had to make some you know difficult and efficient decisions for survival. And I think you know personally that that for me has made you know life the most difficult professionally behind the scenes, because that uncertainty is a continuum. However this has come out a good time we're moving into the summer, obviously different parts of the world are being impacted differently, and it's okay by the way, and I've had conversations with people, it's okay that some people won. You know actually Zoom you know while they were one kind of like you know parting about it they won during this we had Aircall, andrei earlier yes people are going to be picking up the phone more and avoid calling obviously Salesloft, remote teams scaling your business that is okay. And I think more people becoming comfortable in that I would say that anybody that's still watching now and that you know we've picked a kind of 500 engaged people use this network opportunity because we all know publicly even for this event which is a bit more open, that we are going to hold some stuff back right, and that's important that this is inspiring  but it's also important to acknowledge and recognize that majority have been some hard times but there's also been some wins as well so I'm keen from your perspective Sean to hear you know any of that that personal experience for you personally, how you responded for your family. Or what you saw  from your team, you know maybe things that weren't the norm that you're comfortable sharing with the audience.

Yeah sure, and let me speak  on behalf of the team as far as some wins that we have experienced with some of these massive changes. What we did as a business, and we like to say -making a jazz reference here -is that good musicians adjust and some wins that we experienced going through this change of which we really didn't know really what to do, was we had this healthy paranoia about how to go forward, and and we heard from some speakers early about it was Ben that had mentioned how as a sales professional, when you're in front of your customer it's critical that you are an advisor, that you are expert on your product or service, and that couldn't be more true. When I thought of some of our wins, we really shifted people, we shifted jobs, we shifted many things in our business to really focus in on the customer, and just helping our customers think through what we were hearing from our other customers right. So we were acting as thought leaders, we were acting as trusted advisors, and it was really genuinely coming from our heart, and not thinking of how we can make money from the experience, it's really coming from our heart. And eventually we we found some wins right, but it was this collective enthusiasm from the overall company to just genuinely help our customers navigate and think through this complexity and that really was a massive win. I think another win, is what you had articulated earlier James, is how the entire world is completely distributed, and what we're able to demonstrate is that people can be productive when they're not in an office right, people can be productive and connect with one another, be it over Zoom or leveraging Slack, but it really was a win for us because I was part of the camp that thought if we wanted an office SDRs, inside sales professionals, it would be very difficult to capture the tribal knowledge, to capture culture, but what really what we found is that being distributed is that culture beats strategy. You know, so so many companies right now that focused on culture prior to the crisis, they will win today, right because companies that have the healthiest culture, or the best organizational health, they will struggle, completely distributed. At the same time the companies that did not put focus on culture, their inclusion, in their business, they are in a lot of trouble right now. So we were able to win because we do focus on our culture quite a bit and so while it's been very challenging for our employees right now to build that human connection, it's been a great win and a true benefit that if you do focus on your people you do focus on the culture, and I don't mean just ping pong and beer although those are good things to have in your office, but really focusing on clarity, mission, purpose, and having a healthy culture was a huge win for us. 

That's fantastic, Elaine?

So I think a big win for us has been innovating our approach to new business. So prior to the lockdown  because we were benefiting potentially from having what we would call a candidate driven market where where there were more opportunities than there were candidates to potentially be appointed into them, and all of a sudden that changed overnight. So again you know now no potential opportunities to recruit for, and potentially people being made redundant, losing their jobs, moving into a period of uncertainty, pushed us as a sales team to be more efficient and more effective in terms of reaching out to potential new clients. And you know, Sophie, my business development director and I, when we look back at our strategy over the past three months, we've actually generated half of our income from total new companies that we'd never had the pleasure of recruiting from before. And so I think that that has you know shined a light on how actually effective and efficient we can be in terms of winning new client relationships has been a definite positive for us.

Yeah I mean I think that is one thing  you know that has been amazing to see, is people's adaptability in in these situations. And adaptabilities that go well, or don't go well, you know I've had mixed ones, but ultimately people's ability to adapt has been amazing to witness in so many scenarios and I think you know moving those type of things online where you would have never ran an assessment online to assess candidates, I mean what you know all these people talking about how we've selected, interviewed, placed, and onboarded people without ever meeting them, just shows you the the power of connecting the minds, without physically being present. And you're absolutely right Sean and without a doubt like when it's true cultural values, when people truly are aligned to the vision and mission and the leadership, then they remain a kind of productive organism without ever physically being together, so it's been really impressive.FShris what do you have to add to that?

From our side I think what we are very fortunate around is that our advisory board and our CEO Charles, and John one of our co-founders, I think anticipated the wave that was coming our way before it actually really happened, so I think remember James you and I were speaking at one of your last events before covid really hit, and just around that time from our leadership side, we were basically preparing or readying for what would be probably one of the busiest times we will ever face as a team, so what that meant really is that Charles from our side every single member of the Zapnito team whether you're in sales or out of it, was assigned a dedicated mind coach that would work with us on a weekly basis for a full hour to really help us through the time that basically coming our way. And that was phenomenally helpful because of the stress levels we had to deal with, but also the performance we we gained, but performance was I would say with secondary also to Sean's point, it wasn't really that we were it was not really a topic of discussion because by halfway into, halfway past q1 so maybe just a month into q2, we cleared last year's new business revenue entirely so we're we were experiencing so much volume, but I know that our solutions executives like Carmen, who's based out of Portugal, would have something some days where she would have to do 10 demos, and it's entirely unsustainable to do something like that with your team. So we definitely went way off the rulebooks, there's no nine to five, you work when when you can work and that we didn't hold our teams essentially to specific structures, but we basically put a lot of support in place. Doing even small things like some good gestures of amazon ration pack vouchers so they can get themselves something nice, and feel that they're supported, and basically make sure that we can get through this this phase together of extreme stress ultimately even if it was positive for the business, I mean that was one of the toughest periods from my side to have to work through that level of demand where I remember in March our volume of demo requests coming organically was more than 10x 2019. 

Wow it's funny I'm just sitting here reflecting on if this if I had had to adapt to this event physically to online three months ago, it would not have been as useful. I think it is a good sign I mean we're definitely feeling it here in the UK Chris, that, and Sean, that you know things are opening up and actually I think the conversation even today has had a real forward-looking view on the positivity now when accepts now you know whatever is the status quo, and so looking forward as we kind of wrap up this conversation which is it's been very open and honest, so thank you. Just coming back to you Chris, where do you see companies adapting and you know positively moving forward when you think about the future, you know what do you see is going to be working well for companies, and I guess how is that Zapnito playing a part in that because companies and people have adapted and need to continue to adapt going forward.

So really good question I'm conscious that right now we're at a live event, but I think the future that we foresee, is that the value or the importance of basically shifting more of the experience to asynchronous versus and over emphasizing delivering everything live to your customers is going to become much more profound, we see that on demand might be 80/90 percent of what a customer may want to see from a from an organization, because you work in this world of network, you wanna learn and engage and experience things when you want to and when you have the time. So in the initial run that we saw is that a lot of companies of course shifted to basically taking what they have in person, and plugging that straight into an online model, that's delivered on a live basis. And moving forward we're seeing companies basically extending this live experience out across weeks and months, which they some customers call them like the summer festival where they'll be having 80% of experience with their customers happening asynchronously whether that's on-demand videos, e-learning etc, and then delivering sessions live on a more adhoc basis, to basically ensure that they can have extend their their reach people can dial in from different time zones and Zapnito does definitely help with exactly that, there's a lot more emphasis now that is actually helping sales and marketing work more closely together on what is our user experience, what's our user journey whereas in the past companies could afford to be a bit more unconsolidated, so they'd have different systems quite fragmented because they'd be able to meet with their customers and have that connection, but when everything is fully virtual, we're seeing basically that companies need to really pay attention and hone in on what is their customer journey end to end from a new lead until they ultimately are an advocate, because otherwise they will lose the connection. If the customer doesn't have a seamless experience throughout being a customer with that organization, the in person not being a component anymore maybe not as much as previously has basically forced and accelerated kind of the digital roadmap from companies.

Great to hear  final parting point Elaine?

Yeah so and from my side I've been really impressed by the way that companies have put together super duper detailed onboarding processes, and then trusted and empowered relatively inexperienced people in the very early stages of their careers to go away and actually deliver. So you know I've placed people with companies who've never met the CEO that they work for who've successfully closed deals on behalf of those businesses, so I'm really pleased with both those candidates and those companies that they've managed to achieve that during this time.

Amazing it's great to see more of that coming up. Sean would you like to wrap up for us as we close out the panel please?

Yeah absolutely, before the crisis 20 of employees were actively disengaged. And what I am enjoying is watching how companies are adjusting and focusing on their people and in their culture; James I get inspired by your message on how you were listening to the calm app hearing Ollie Sharp at Salesloft speak and just Pete just a bit ago, thinking about stress and thinking about their culture, and again it's not about the perks that come with the job but it's talking about clarity, driving at organizational health and making sure there is clarity with their people on why they exist, how they're supposed to behave, what do we do, and what's important now. And thinking about diversity, equality, and inclusion, right, there was a poll here where just 22 percent of all the attendees and the end was little over 200, but just 22 had a completely gender, they felt great about where they are from a gender perspective, but it's only one out of five companies. And I'm seeing that more successful companies companies that are willing to focus on who they're hiring, and who they're bringing into their business starting at the board seat, and including more D&I in their practices but again culture just beats strategy especially the time like right now.

Amazing  great guys thank you, very much for joining in, super successful enjoy the rest of the day take care.