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EPISODE 141: Cvent Sales Leader Brian Ludwig Says This One Thing Will Help You Connect with and Have Much More Fruitful Conversations with Your Customers
BRIAN’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “The best of sales reps are always going to know their product and solution cold. They’re going to know and appreciate the types of pains and issues that businesses have and because they have that passion, they’re going to be able to connect that and have much more fruitful conversations.”
Brian Ludwig is the Senior VP of Sales at Cvent.
He’s been with Cvent for 19 years and took over sales leadership in 2007.
Like Podcast host Fred Diamond, Brian is a native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Emory University.
Find Brian on LinkedIn!
Brian Ludwig: Thanks, Fred. What do you need to know about me? I am a lifetime sales guy, my entire career I’ve been a sales guy or sales leader. I fundamentally love it, I actually can’t imagine what I would do otherwise. Part of what I like most is that my role stretches across sales and other areas so I get to be very involved in product development, in sales enablement, in marketing initiatives, in finance and collections. Literally in my world sales touches the full life cycle of business which really gets me going.
Fred Diamond: I mentioned in the intro you’ve been here for 19 years. How long has Cvent been around?
Brian Ludwig: About 19 and a half, so I missed about the first half year.
Fred Diamond: You’ve seen this tremendous rise. For the Sales Game Changers listening to the podcast around the globe, Cvent is one of the star companies in the DC region, the company’s done great, had a lot of success, had a lot of interesting movements along the way. We’re doing today’s Sales Game Changers podcast on the floor at Cvent, a lot of energy as you walk through the floor and get here for the interview. Why don’t you tell people what you sell today? Tell us a little bit about what excites you about that.
Brian Ludwig: Cvent is a full-end-to-end event management software tool set. We enable those that organize or market events to find a venue, to manage their budget, to invite the right type of audience and bring them into a registration experience and capture key details, session choices and travel requirements in your name. Then we have on site tools, so someone gets to the event, we can check them in, track their attendance and their interest, they can interact with exhibitors and sponsors, we can give them a mobile app so they can collaborate with other key folks at the event.
Full cradle to grave event management that empowers organizers, but maybe more importantly fosters engagement and a great experience for the attendees because live events and the power of human connection helps drive business. That’s what we’re seeing people are investing in, live face to face meetings because of the ROI that meetings deliver. That’s frankly what excites me the most about the business, that our technology helps empower organizations for profit and not for profit drive results and create more engaging experiences for their attendees which fosters community, pipeline, fundraising, all of the things that a business is trying to accomplish.
Fred Diamond: Give us a spectrum of what type of events would use Cvent software, everything from huge conferences to weddings? Do you guys do personal stuff as well?
Brian Ludwig: We don’t get too involved in consumer style events or weddings, but that’s not to say that we haven’t had a bride or two use our Cvent supplier network to find a venue to host their event. Having said that, I think that the gamut is more of business style events, but it could be anything from 20 person internal meetings straight up to the hundred thousand person Dreamforce that Salesforce puts on, which I’m sure you’re aware of. We power the whole on site technology experience of Dreamforce.
Fred Diamond: Salesforce takes over the entire city and it’s tens if not hundreds of thousands of people, that’s a monster event. They use your software for the entire process?
Brian Ludwig: No, they don’t. That’s a work in progress, they use us for part of the process. Part of that is because they’re Salesforce and they build some of that tech themselves, so they have their own mobile app, as an example and it’s tied into Chatter and other tools on the Salesforce side, but RFID, tracking, who’s going where, what sessions are most attended, where the interest levels lie, badging and credentialing people when they get there with kiosks, etcetera that’s all through Cvent.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned that you consider yourself to be a lifelong sales guy. How did you first get into sales as a career?
Brian Ludwig: I think my first sales job is one of those semi embarrassing sounding jobs, but for me it was foundational. I sold vacuum cleaners door to door, I worked for a company named Kirby, their owned by Berkshire Hathaway which is Warren Buffet’s. I would go and pitch you, Fred on a $1,300 dollar vacuum cleaner or what we would call a home maintenance system. I would dazzle you, I’d pull a hundred dirt pads during the hour, hour and a half demo and then I’d get you to give me friends and family of people that might also have an interest and if you did that, I’d give you a free car vacuum cleaner.
I then had a telemarketing team that would call your 16 friends and colleagues and set the appointments for me, so then I would go out on the road and go door to door. This was a summer job, but I was really good at it and I loved it and had a lot of success, and I think that got my eyes open to a career in sales, to be frank.
Fred Diamond: We’ve had a couple Sales Game Changers on the podcast who’ve started out their career door to door selling encyclopedias, I think we had someone who sold bibles door to door. What are some of the things that you learned? Of course, now you’re the senior VP of sales at Cvent, I know you have hundreds of sales professionals reporting up through you. What are some of the things you learned selling vacuums door to door, or I should say, home maintenance systems door to door?
Brian Ludwig: [Laughs] thank you for correcting that. They had some – I don’t want to use the word “shady”, but let’s just say they had some sales tactics and strategies that you could argue weren’t as professional as you envision a sales professional being. To find point on that, I was very good at selling the woman of the household during the business day and maybe the man of the household wasn’t there, and they would train us to use very sexist lines to entice her to make the decision without the husband’s input.
Invariably, I would end up getting a call one, two, three days later that they can’t keep the unit, I need to come back and pick it up. In the end, that shortcut or that strategy worked sometimes but it didn’t work every time, but more so, I didn’t feel good about it. I felt that taking those kinds of shortcuts and preying on stereotypes wasn’t the right way to go about business. I think early on that helped me take a more noble path in the way that I approach sales, in the way that I manage my team.
Fred Diamond: Again, Cvent is an event management software technology company. Tell us a little bit about you, what are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Brian Ludwig: I think if you would ask folks on my team about what are the things that make me tick and what do I care about the most, sales obviously is art and science but a big part of it, it’s a numbers game. If a rep can figure out a way to be more efficient in the same 8 to 10 hour day, we’re going to get more out of them. Saying the right thing and being compelling and solving a pain with a key value proposition, we train to all of that, all of that is critical but if someone was able to make 80 calls versus 40 calls, they’ll probably be doubly successful.
We really pride ourselves on the blocking and tackling and removing impediments so our sales reps can move quickly. As you walk around the sales floor you’ll notice little things like everyone’s got two monitors, sales force is on one side and then outlook and doing research on that prospect via the web, that’s on the other screen. Wireless headphones so everyone can sync in and coach each other, standing desks so everyone can go up and down and be most comfortable.
We put teams together so every single direct seller has an SDR that’s partnered with him or her to help them be successful. We put in a lot of infrastructure so they can get more done, so I pride myself on being a guy that puts efficiency at the forefront.
Fred Diamond: Along the way, you’ve probably had some mentors that have helped you out. Again, you’ve been with Cvent for 19 years so tell us about a mentor who’s impacted your career and tell us how they impacted it.
Brian Ludwig: It’s a little bit ass-kissy, but I think I’ll say my current boss. He’s the president of worldwide sales and marketing, his name is Chuck Ghoorah. He’s the co-founder, he was here since the start and he’s a debate stud. He was debate guy at Duke and he’s a tremendous speaker, and I think I’ve always been a good speaker but frankly when I compare myself to him, he’s a notch ahead. What I’ve taken from him is having a beginning, a middle and a close, having key transitions and taking people on a roller coaster ride, and that has really helped me in pitches directly to prospects and clients, but in public speaking in general to the sales team, to the company at large, lots of speaking opportunities here at Cvent. I think I’m a better manager and leader because of what I’ve taken from him.
Fred Diamond: I have a quick question for you. As we’re walking through the floor to get to today’s interview, I’ve noticed you have tons of young people here. You mentioned Chuck went to Duke, I know you and I both went to Emory, I’ve seen a lot of pennants around the office, different universities where people have gone to that’s obviously a big part of the collegial culture, but you have a lot of younger people here. You mentioned SDR so you have to hire a lot of younger people to take some of those roles. What are some of the things that you’ve noticed to be successful in managing a younger workforce like Cvent has?
Brian Ludwig: That’s a great question, it is a challenge. Part of the problem when you hire young folks straight out of school is they don’t know that the grass is maybe not greener. We run the risk, we are very heavy trainers so we bring people in for a full month, they go through this Cvent Ignite program which is very thorough. We put them through a very rigorous model here, they hit the ground running, we do a really great job of bringing them up and then maybe someone flashes $5,000 dollars more in front of them, so they’re quick to think that that opportunity might be better when in fact they could grow their career if they stayed the path here.
Keeping them inspired and motivated despite it being their first job is probably one of the biggest challenges but what we love about it, Fred is that they really are moldable, if you will. We have more success in bringing people in to a direct selling or account management position which is, say, the next step for an SDR in many cases. The folks that have grown up within Cvent that make it to those next stages often outperform lateral hires that we bring into direct selling or account management positions and we think it’s because we’ve gotten them with great habits and great training and great work ethic, and a great way of understanding business early on in the culture that we inculcate.
Fred Diamond: We mentioned that a second ago, some of the challenges, this being a challenge. What are the two biggest sales challenges you face as a sales leader?
Brian Ludwig: I think we just hit on it, frankly. Keeping the team – and not just SDR’s, keeping the entire team motivated. Maybe it’s a little bit more of a problem with the veterans, to be honest. I have a lot of sales guys that have been with me for 7, 10, 12 years, they’ve been on this team, some 15 years. The challenge is how do I keep them inspired and excited? We’re building new products, we’re acquiring tools, there are a basket of things that they can sell, continue to evolve but their sales game, their story, the value proposition, the way they’re connecting with the buyers for some, they’re a little slower to change. I’m having a struggle with getting some of my veterans to evolve as our business and our platform and the buyer are all evolving.
That’s one challenge, I think another challenge is that I’m human and like anyone, there’s frustration in the business. I think sometimes when I get frustrated with product road map or marketing initiatives or other things that are stressing me out that I need to solve, maybe I’m not keeping that as internal. I want to keep the troops motivated and inspired but at the same time I’m a very passionate leader and I wear everything on my sleeve, and maybe sometimes keeping those two things separated I’m not great at. I find it challenging to separate those two hats that I need to wear at times.
Fred Diamond: Again, Cvent’s had a great ride, a lot of success all around the world with managing events. Of course, you have people all over the world now on your sales organization. Take us to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Brian Ludwig: Cvent was a one trick pony, we had an event registration solution so you need to market an event and send emails and have people walk through to register, that was our game from ’99 to 2006. We then built a survey solution, we built a supplier network so people could find venues for an event, we built some budgeting and strategic meetings management stuff, I won’t bore you with the details, all that was built internally. In 2012 was the first time that we acquired technology from the outside and we didn’t know how it was going to go.
I led that charge, I was the leader in sales and really served as more of a GM position for a CrowdCompass which is a mobile app for conference attendees so they can see the content and they can collaborate with each other. At the time, that was a $2 million dollar business. We have now built that to a $60 million business in 6 years.
You know (Sales Game Changer) Darrell Gehrt, I think he’s on your board, he is the leader of that sales division for me now. What I’m most proud of is that A, it grew at that rate but B, I put a controversial model in place where I created a slight channel conflict within our business and I have one team that can sell our entire platform, including something like CrowdCompass and I have another team that focused solely on mobile technology because there are certain competitors in that space.
People challenge that and they thought, “You’re going to set up a model that potentially fails.” It is in my mind no doubt about it, we would not be where we are today in terms of gross sales of that product line if it wasn’t for the model. We’d literally be probably half the size, if that. I’m very proud that I pushed that through, that it stuck and that my gut was right, and that the business grew the way that it did.
Fred Diamond: Brian, you mentioned a couple times along the way that you’re a lifetime sales guy. Of course, you were selling home maintenance systems back in the day door to door in the summer, carrying vacuums up and down long pathways. Good for you for knocking on those doors.
Brian Ludwig: And they weren’t on wheels.
Fred Diamond: [Laughs] did you ever question being in sales? Did you ever think to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s really not for me”?
Brian Ludwig: I sure did. My first real job post Emory was I worked for Lutron Electronics, they’re a lighting dimmer manufacturer and I liked it. I worked there for 2, 2 and a half years but then I went to get my MBA. When I went to get my MBA, I was thinking when I came out of the MBA program I wasn’t going to stay in sales. In fact, I interviewed for a whole bunch of different types of jobs in marketing and project management, all sorts of opportunities that I was weighing and I honestly didn’t want to be a sales guy.
Someone in my business school program was already set to start working at Cvent, she had done an internship the second year of the business school program and she said, “You’ve got to go talk to these guys, they’re building something special. The management team is top notch and I love the space. I’m going to go work there full time, why don’t you go scope them out?”
I came in, met with Reggie Aggarwal who was our CEO then, he’s our CEO now and other key members of the management team and I was blown away. They didn’t have a sales leader, they didn’t have a commission structure, they didn’t have web conferencing software, we didn’t have a CRM like Salesforce, it was nothing. No infrastructure in place at all, but honestly nothing else was blowing me away and I was so inspired by the leaders that I met that I was willing to take a chance and go back into a sales role. I’m glad I did, because at the end of the day I’ve loved my career over the last 19 years but at that point in time I was looking elsewhere, to be honest with you.
Fred Diamond: You took a risk, good for you, it’s paid off. Brian, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening around the globe to help them improve their sales career?
Brian Ludwig: That’s a great question, Fred. When I do a pull up with all the junior reps which I do three months after they start, I ask them what they believe is the most important thing to be successful in sales. You get a myriad of responses, “It’s confidence and perseverance and efficiency”, “knowing your solution” all this things are true but I then sum it up this way. I say, “At the end of the day, more important than all of that if you’ve got to have a personality, you’ve got to relate to your buyer, you’ve got to be someone that they want to talk to. Be gregarious, have fun with it, connect on a personal level, you’ll get people to open up, share their pain at which point you can then share a solution.”
Too many people focus on the other aspects, but get in the door with personality. The best salespeople here at Cvent are the ones with the most engaging personality and I challenge them. I say, “If you notice colleagues of yours that seem to be better in social settings, in conversations, in storytelling, pay attention to that. Try to pick up things from them, that’s going to be the core tenant of having success in sales.” All the other things matter, don’t get me wrong, but that’s the foundation that everyone needs.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. If you’re going to require them to do 80 phone calls a day they’ve got to have something to say and they have to be creative in the conversations that they do. What are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Brian Ludwig: I’m reading blogs and articles on either my industry which is event and event technology or on innovation in general, or on sale strategy, things of that nature. I attend a bunch of conferences especially around my industry and sales enablement, I go to Dreamforce each year, I go to Sirius Decisions, we’re owned by Vista Private Equity, they do a sales and marketing best practice summit which I’ve attended. I think just staying in touch with other leaders, reading their thoughts, how they’re inspiring and motivating a team, we can all learn and I’m always open-minded to new ideas.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Brian Ludwig: I think as we’ve gotten bit – and we’re a large organization now – I’ve gotten a little detached from the junior level reps and they are the future. As I mentioned earlier, they are the ones that have the best success when we get them into quota carrying roles. I’ve got to reengage with them, so I’ve instituted these new meetings that I’m holding with them, I’m attending their events and contests, I’m doing one on one meetings with them, skip levels, those sorts of things. I got away from that because there was so many direct sellers to pay attention to which is important too, it’s tough, it’s all important but I feel I have felt detached from our most junior levels.
My 2019 resolution, and I started it in the latter half of Q4, is to reengage with the troops so that I’m truly getting the best out of them now and then helping them get to that next level.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned something that was interesting where you bring in some people at the young stage and then they look at the grass on the other side, if you will and move off to something for a couple thousand bucks and realize the grass wasn’t really as greener. Sales is also hard, you’re selling to an audience where there’s a lot of competition, you’re selling to an audience that has a lot of challenges as well and a lot of options available to them. People don’t always return your phone calls, they don’t always return your emails. What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Brian Ludwig: I think it’s a balance of so many things and that’s what gets me excited. You’re right, it’s a tough business and it’s not for everyone, I get that speech all the time. I go, “Not everyone should be in sales and not everyone is going to be good in sales. Just because you chose this as your first job out of college, if this isn’t for you, do not stay in this role.” What keeps me excited is again, it touches so many facets of business. It’s an art and a science as we’ve discussed and it’s figuring out all of those pieces to understand your solution, to understand an organization’s business and what makes them tick, to understand pricing, to understand how to connect with a buyer, how to mirror them, how to work within the confines of an organization, how to push the right buttons internally and externally.
There’s so much to balance to be good at that art and science side of sales and it’s always evolving and changing. Things that worked in 2008 don’t work in 2019 and that’s what keeps it fun for me, that we’re always changing, we’re always evolving. For me, on a personal level we’re buying companies, we’re selling companies, we’re going public, we’re going private, we’re opening international offices. I’ve stayed in sales all this time because no two days are the same for me.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought? Why don’t you give us one final idea to inspire all of our listeners around the globe today?
Brian Ludwig: I think one of the key things that’s lost especially in junior reps is they’re told about a product that they need to sell and they get it, they learn up on it a little bit and then they go out into the field and talk about it. What’s missing is the belief, the true passion around the product or solution that they’re selling, it’s infectious. If the sales rep believes and cares and truly thinks that we can transform their business and bring results, that will be so apparent in the conversations and you’ll take that buyer along on that journey. I don’t want to say reps here are going through demotions because they’re not, but any rep that tells the story without that passion is going to miss the boat and they’re not going to take that buyer on the journey. That takes deeply knowing the product and solution, not relying on other people to know it for you. The best of sales reps are always going to know their product and solution cold, they’re going to know and appreciate the types of pains and issues that businesses have and because they have that passion, they’re going to be able to connect that and have much more fruitful conversations.
Fred Diamond: One last question. I think you’re absolutely right, I think the high performing sales reps that are moving up in their career truly understand the challenges their customers face. What are some things that you’ve done or that you recommend that people do to really get deep into the business of their customer so that they can share that passion and bring new ideas?
Brian Ludwig: It’s a great question. At the end of the day, it’s relying on colleagues that have had success in the same industries. If we sold successfully to a law firm, those stories need to be shared so the same compelling arguments can be made to the next law form or tech company or a manufacturing company or financial services, whatever it is. It’s learning from each other, so I’m very big on sharing success stories. We have a Chatter group in Salesforce where everyone is required to share success stories and those are segmented by industry.
We have meetings where we share those, it’s opening your eyes and having conversations with colleagues that have been there and done that and not keeping your strategies secret and to yourself. We all learn from each other, and for me that’s one of the most important things we can be doing, but on top of that there’s so many great resources under people’s noses. We have so much great data in Salesforce, as an example, just looking at other accounts that we’ve already closed. Who are they? How are they using it? Using that in your conversations, leveraging LinkedIn, leveraging the company’s website, leveraging Hoovers, leveraging other assets that we’ve given them.
There’s a part of me that says, “If you do too much research before a call, it’s paralyzing.” I’ve seen too many reps stare at the screen for 10 minutes before they make a phone call because they’re doing all of the research. I want them to move fast, it’s a double edge sword. I want the efficiency but I want them to know enough to be dangerous but they can’t paralyze themselves with research before each and every call. It is that balancing act that I want them at 80% comfort level over what’s the value proposition, what’s the story, who else have we worked with that’s similar that we solved a similar pain and moving fast.