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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on November 17, 2021. It featured an interview with SAP NS2 Sales Leader Barry Leffew and Cvent’s Matt Freix. ]
BARRY’S TIP: “I recommend using what I call a process play in email, where you communicate with the customer your understanding of the steps that they have to go through to get to issuing a contract or an order. You don’t want to do that after the first call, but after you’ve spoken to the customer, validating those steps often gives you insight into, wait, there’s an additional step or no, we can skip this step because of this size of the purchase. I really recommend putting that to use, a really crisp email, something that somebody can read right on their phone just verifying, here’s the steps we’re going to work through together to get this completed.
MATT’S TIP: “Trust but verify what your customer’s telling you. You need to ask them to make sure you understand their full process. Do they have a legal review? Do they have security review? Whether there are approvals and so on, and then hold them accountable to that. Also, stop asking times that your customer is free to schedule a call and instead, just send the meeting request. You can send your email that says whatever information you need to tell, and at the end you say, “I’m sending you a meeting request at this date and time. If it doesn’t work, please suggest a new time.” It cuts down on that process of going back and forth so many times, and it’s been very successful for us.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Fred Diamond: The Institute for Excellence in Sales just launched our Premier Sales Leader designation, 13 distinguished sales leaders were recognized as a PSL. Over the course of the next couple weeks, we’re going to be talking to them and get some insights for you on how you can take your sales career to the next level. This is the first episode that we’re doing where we’re talking to some of our Premier Sales Leaders, we have Barry Leffew from SAP NS2 and we have Matt Freix from Cvent. Gentlemen, welcome, congratulations on you both being recognized as two of the 13 inaugural IES Premier Sales Leaders. Let’s do a quick introduction, then we got questions.
Barry, let’s start with you. Congratulations on becoming a Premier Sales Leader, you’ve had a very distinguished career, a lot of people who’ve been involved with the IES Women in Sales Program have worked for you or worked with you at various times. When you got the recognition, I got a lot of people reaching out to me saying, “Great choice with bringing in Barry.” Let’s get started here. How are things going, and how are things going in your sales organization?
Barry Leffew: Fred, first, thanks again for the recognition and being recognized by IES. It’s great to be here today with you and Matt. In terms of how things are going, this is a busy time of year for us at SAP NS2. We’re in Q4 pushing towards a strong close here at the end of the calendar year. It’s full steam ahead, we’re working it in a slightly different environment than we were a year and a half ago, but we’re still finding a way to get business done.
Fred Diamond: Matt Freix, congratulations. Cvent, we’ve had a number of Cvent sales leaders on the Sales Game Changers podcast, Brian Ludwig, Darrell Gehrt’s been on the show a couple times, Alex Otwell. Congratulations to you on the recognition, I know there’s a lot of great sales leaders at Cvent. Nice job reaching as the cream of the crop. How are things going for you? Tell us a little bit about how things are going in your sales organization.
Matt Freix: Thanks a lot, Fred, really appreciate the recognition. It’s really cool to be recognized by an outside organization, especially one that focuses on sales. Things are going pretty well right now. I know 2020 and 2021 were kind of rough, especially with sales professionals, but we were actually lucky enough to pivot to a virtual product pretty early on that the market was craving. We’re just full steam ahead focused on that right now.
Fred Diamond: That was great. As a matter of fact, we do an award event and for the first 9 years, we had done it live in person. Speaking of SAP NS2, we recognized Mark Testoni with our Lifetime Achievement Award a couple years ago. The last two years, 2020, 2021, we obviously did it virtually and we used the Cvent product, The Virtual Attendee Hub. We were very fortunate to have had the relationship and to be able to have done the event on your system which was tremendous.
Let’s talk about focus. We’re doing today’s show on November of 2021, we’ve heard things like The Great Resignation and people are exhausted, all these kinds of things. Let’s talk a little bit about what some of the priorities that you all have as sales leaders. What are you focusing on?
Matt Freix: I think Barry hit the nail on the head earlier talking about Q4 and closing out the year strong. Me personally, I’m trying to remove as many roadblocks for my sales reps as possible so they can focus on selling and getting on as many customer calls as I can to help progress deals through the funnel. My team specifically has a big focus on renewals, so this time of year we’re really focused on early renewing 2022 customers so we can get a head start on the 2022 business as well.
Fred Diamond: Barry, what about you? What are you focusing on right now? What are the big things that you’re prioritizing?
Barry Leffew: Customers always come first, so we’re spending a lot of time focusing on customers, understanding their needs and then also working with our sales team to make sure that they’re enabled. That they understand the set of solutions and technologies that NS2 has that they’re prepared to go out and talk about those solutions. Also, we’re spending a lot of time doing smaller group meetings, whether it’s to meet people at an offsite, a lunch or a dinner, just staying connected to people is incredibly important at this time with our sales teams.
Fred Diamond: We’re recognizing you as Premier Sales Leaders, so let’s talk about what it means to be a Premier Sales Leader. Elite is one of the words that we used a lot over the last two years that we’ve been doing the webinars in the pandemic world. Barry, you’ve been a leader for a long time. What are some of the elite leaders doing?
Barry Leffew: I think the elite leaders, the top leaders in the field are really all about putting together a vision, sharing it with the team and making sure that everyone’s aligned with that vision and approach. Sales leaders lead by example, so you spend a lot of time with customers, a lot of times working with your teams to develop strategies and approaches. That’s really important, to be hands-on and evolved and show the team that you’re willing to roll up your sleeves as well, and not be someone that sits and manages from a spreadsheet or from afar.
Fred Diamond: Matt, a follow-up question to you based on what Barry just said. You alluded to it in the very beginning. Your company, Cvent, was in the live event space for the most part prior to the pandemic, and you were the leader in event registration and helping companies find venues and organize their events. Obviously, things stopped for an extended period of time and you all had to flip. How do you as a sales leader or how did your leadership continue to have people on board with the shifting vision? How did you continue through that process to ensure that the rank and file, the sales professionals on your teams were still on board knowing that you were going through this major disruption?
Matt Freix: I’ll answer that question from a personal standpoint. I think we all as sales leaders understand the tactical side of it, but from a personal side, you really have to offer more flexibility. With everything that everyone’s going through, I think flexibility was really key. Giving people a little longer of a leash to prove their worth and to understand what they’re able to do with the new environment that we all live in. I like to say that the people on my team would run through a brick wall for me, but that’s because I would do the same for them. Showing them that you’re vulnerable, showing them that you’re going through the same thing I think was a huge key to making sure that whatever message you’re giving or putting across to them, that they’ll be able to deliver on that.
Fred Diamond: We have a lot of people here who are watching today’s webinar or listening to the podcast who are junior in their sales career. As a matter of fact, we just started doing live programs. Prior to the pandemic, the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we were doing 50 live programs a year. We just did our first in almost two years back a couple weeks ago in early November, and it was interesting. We had a bunch of junior salespeople there who had never been to an event because they were hired two years ago.
In some cases, they had never seen their coworkers live in person until they came to the event that we had. I want to get your advice for how you’re coaching junior sales professionals right now. Barry, you’ve mentored a lot of junior sales professionals in your career. Talk about what would be your advice for junior sales professionals, what they should be doing right now, especially as we begin to maybe go back to the office and begin to meet people outside of the online world.
Barry Leffew: Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of people come through junior roles and grow and be some of the most successful salespeople that I know. The pandemic has given us some new challenges, but it really does go back to the basics in terms of it’s really important to learn everything you can about selling, about your customers, especially in the area of how government does acquisitions.
Then also really finding a mentor and being part of a team. No one is every successful in sales in a vacuum, so what’s really key is to align yourself with that virtual team, find mentors, find coworkers and interact as frequently as possible. Also, we encourage obviously everyone in our team to participate in organizations like IES and take advantage of sales training and sales tools.
Fred Diamond: I have a follow-up question to that. Barry, you mentioned mentor and we haven’t really spoken too much about mentoring on the Sales Game Changers podcast in a while. You’ve obviously mentored so many people. As a matter of fact, the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we have a very robust Women in Sales Program. Every Tuesday, we do a webcast for and about Women in Sales. Barry, your name has come up not infrequently as somebody who has mentored a lot of women along the way. Give some advice to the junior sales professionals on how to be mentored better. You, as somebody who’s mentored dozens, if not hundreds, what would be your advice? You just don’t want them to come to you and say, “Hey, how can I get better?” How can someone be better mentored?
Barry Leffew: I think the key thing is to go through that training and enablement and really demonstrate your willingness to want to be involved. I think that’s a way to get recognition within an organization. We encourage people to participate in organizations we have called Employee Resource Groups to align for women in technology, for other types of efforts. I think that’s really important, to get involved in the organization, get to know people, and then to find someone else in the organization that you want to emulate. Sometimes mentors just happen naturally, but it’s important to have a variety of connections in your organization. I think Matt wanted to add something there.
Matt Freix: I think mentors and mentorship is important in the sales industry. One piece of advice I would give to a young sales professional is tell your mentor what you want to get out of this relationship. Tell me what your goals are. As a high-achieving sales leader, we pride ourselves on being able to deliver whatever those goals are for you. So, if you tell me you want to achieve X, I’m very confident in my ability to help you get there. You’ve got to give me the direction of what you want, and I can pave that path for you.
Fred Diamond: Matt, that is great advice. On today’s Women in Sales webinar, a woman named Meghan Cohen who works for a company called immixGroup, her final bit of advice was, “Let people know what your career aspirations are.” Leaders aren’t mind readers, we don’t know. We may look around and have our ideas on who’s going to ascend and who’s shown leadership capabilities, who we want to put some more time and energy in, but if you don’t tell them, they’re not going to know. Conversely, we talked about junior sales professionals, there’s a lot of people who are at the mid-course of their career. They have some different challenges that they may be going through. Matt, what might be some of your advice for them? Then Barry, I’m interested on your thoughts on this as well.
Matt Freix: I’ll take it from a coaching perspective. One of the things I really like to do with more senior reps is use the Socratic method. If they come to me with a question, instead of answering that question, I’m going to ask them, “What would you do or how would you solve this problem?” It really fosters that critical thinking aspect instead of just listening to what I’m saying and then going to do that. It’s like teaching someone to fish instead of bringing the fish to them. I think it really helps with the professional development of more senior sales reps, and it really helps when you’re a leader to be as specific as possible when you’re giving this coaching advice.
For example, if I’m shadowing a call, I want to give that feedback directly after the call and say, “You did this, I would recommend this,” or, “You said this, it went really well, next time maybe try this,” because it’s going to resonate much better with the sales professional if you do it directly and immediate.
Fred Diamond: Barry, how about you? What are some things you’re seeing with people who are maybe 10 years into their career? The whole world hit an inflection point over the last 18 months, everyone’s reevaluating, what are some of your advice for people who are at that particular stage?
Barry Leffew: I thought Matt had a great answer. I think in addition to some of Matt’s points, the key thing I’ve seen sometimes in the middle of careers, reps sometimes don’t go through the basics anymore, and don’t always really follow those fundamentals. I think really refocusing on understanding the customer need, understanding what your value proposition is and understanding all the steps in the process are always critically important. Sometimes I see people not being as diligent or assuming certain things are going to happen. It reminds me of an old saying, if you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. That seems really true. The key thing is that focus on fundamentals.
Fred Diamond: One of the reasons why you all were recognized as Premier Sales Leaders wasn’t just how you’re dealing with your team and the people who are on your team, it’s also how you’ve dealt with customers and how you’ve worked with customers over your career, especially right now. Barry, I’ve got two questions for you. You’re focused on the public sector marketplace, you’ve devoted your career to that. I’m interested in why would someone consider devoting their sales career to the public sector markets if people were asking you, “Should I come into your space?” Secondly, how are you talking to customers right now? Then, Matt, similar question for you.
Barry Leffew: In terms of why I focus on public sector, I think it’s multifaceted reasons. First is government provides some of the most essential services to our country and to our citizens, whether it’s our military veterans and leaders protecting our country, important missions like homeland security in the world of the pandemic, organizations like HHS figuring out how to get a vaccine out and widely available. Clearly, it’s a very important mission for the overall good of our country and society, and government also tends to do things in a big way. Government budgets steadily increase, they have an increasing reliance on technology and there’s a lot of really important problems that we can help governments solve to be more efficient and provide better services. I think that’s the key reason why to focus on government as a career.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about the government customer for a second or two. One of the interesting things that we’ve seen is that the government had a tremendous response to the pandemic, it quickly got into the cloud and they’ve done a tremendous job with providing support. You talked about health and a lot of the things that they’ve had to do. Talk about your engagement with them right now. Has it changed? Matt, the same thing for you. You’re in charge of renewals, etc., what do conversations look like right now with customers? Barry, why don’t you just follow on with that and then Matt, let’s hear your thoughts?
Barry Leffew: We’re still in a pandemic mode, so conversations with customers are very frequently over a Zoom session, Microsoft Teams or another type of event, phone calls, a lot of using other sets of digital communications. I think that’s one thing that’s different, there’s not as many in-person meetings. That’s starting to change a little bit, but I think what’s really important is knowing your message. Take advantage of that time that you have with a customer that’s face-to-face, whether it’s virtually or on the phone, and coming prepared, coming with an understanding of why you’re taking the customer’s time. It’s gone virtual and it’s very important to be prepared.
Fred Diamond: Matt, you’re dealing with an interesting customer base that most of your customers shut down at some level for a while in 2020. Venues were closed, events were canceled, they’ve begun to come back. The Institute for Excellence in Sales, we’re starting to do our in-person programs, had our first a couple of weeks ago and it was great to be back. We did it on a little bit of a scale-down way than we had prior, but we’re going to get back in February, March, we believe, to the usual crowds. How about your customers? It must be going crazy as people are scrambling to start doing events again and that’s what you guys do, you sell the industry’s top software for event registration and putting on events. How’s it going with your customers?
Matt Freix: There’s a couple themes, but one of the biggest theme is uncertainty. I think this theme actually goes across multiple industries, not just our industry, but what has really been added to our plate as sales professionals is to help guide your customers through uncertainty. Help make them feel more comfortable as much as we can. For us specifically, we have solutions that could handle an in-person event, a virtual event or a hybrid event, so we’re covering all the bases of the customer’s uncertainty and just making sure the customer knows that we have your back no matter what. I’m sure you guys are hearing the same thing, Barry, of budgets being cut, customers being asked to do more with less. I think focusing on what we can control and providing that certainty has been helpful for us to progress these conversations.
Fred Diamond: Barry, what do you think? Is uncertainty a lot of what you see out there as well?
Barry Leffew: There’s definitely shifting priorities within government agencies helping address the pandemic, and preparedness is top-of-mind. The other thing we’re seeing is an increasing focus on security. Given all the cyber threats, that’s a really good area to try to focus on is how do you enhance a customer’s environment in terms of making it more secure? We are seeing some larger programs being to the right just because of the normal delays with the government, we’ve always come to expect delays but I have seen in the last six months those delays do tend to be longer than they used to be in terms of major acquisitions.
Fred Diamond: What are customers expecting from elite sales professionals right now? Someone made a really interesting point recently, we were doing another virtual learning session and we were talking about “The Great Resignation” that a lot of companies are going through right now. Most of our focus here at the Institute for Excellence in Sales has been on helping our member companies solve The Great Resignation, be presented as great places to work.
Somebody made the point, the bigger problem isn’t that, the bigger problem is that your customer is also facing The Great Resignation and their customers are also facing The Great Resignation. What do customers expect from great salespeople right now? One thing we talked a lot about over the last 18 months is extreme value, and sales has always been about value creation, but customers aren’t necessarily interested in what you’re going to tell them unless you’re really bringing some specific things of value.
Barry, what are customers expecting from sales professionals today? The markets that you serve are critical markets. Service to the citizen. Then, Matt, same thing from you. Your industry is restarting in a lot of ways and it’s completely shifted from 100% live to virtual, although obviously there was some virtual before this. Barry, what are customers expecting from your salespeople now?
Barry Leffew: What customers are clearly expecting is understanding their organization, having a sales rep that’s just not coming in to talk about features and benefits and communicating, but someone that comes with an understanding of the organization. What the organization’s priorities are and how your particular company and solutions help address those priorities. Customers are also looking for people to not just be salespeople but to truly be partners to help them long-term approach to solve problems in their organization.
Fred Diamond: Matt, same thing for you. I know you mentioned uncertainty before, it’s an industry that’s redefining itself in many ways at some level, what are your customers expecting from your and from your sales team?
Matt Freix: It’s a great question. I definitely agree with what Barry said, I’ll add to it that I think first and foremost, they’re expecting empathy. In our specific industry when an event producer puts on an event, that’s their whole life. It comes down to a few days, they’ve been working on this potentially for a whole year. If it doesn’t go right, it’s a bad situation all around. There’s a lot of empathy that’s needed from our sales team that this pandemic is really affecting me personally and at work, especially in the live events industry. That would be the first thing. Then to piggy-back on what Barry was saying, a lot of the talking points and the topics that we would use 18 months ago are completely changed. Understanding the unique needs of each customer and not just going in with a generic approach is very important in today’s environment.
Fred Diamond: We have a question here that comes in from Rino, “How have Barry and Matt kept their teams motivated? How have they continued to build strong teams during the last 18 months?” That’s something that comes up a lot. You might have brought your team together at some point recently, I know you both said you’re thinking about going back to the office at some level. How have you motivated the teams? We’re all looking at each other through the rectangle, people are reticent to meet for obvious reasons, but how have you kept people as a team motivated? Sales is a team sport in a lot of ways.
Matt Freix: When it comes to motivation, I think the most important thing as a leader is to ask the individual how they’re motivated, because people are motivated differently. Some people are motivated by money, some people are motivated by recognition, so on and so forth. There’s a lot of different factors, so I first thing there needs to be a personal approach. But when we’re talking about it from a team perspective, especially in the last 18 months, it’s been difficult.
One of the things that outside of your normal sales contest and different pop-up ways to earn a little bit extra money, we’ve been trying to do some creative, funny, goofy things from managers’ perspectives. For example, we’ve done contests where it’s like, create a meme of your manager and then vote on it, see who can create the funniest meme, or try to do some virtual happy hours, things like that to try and keep it fresh.
Fred Diamond: Barry, how about you? Team building, you’ve led so many teams in your career. Talk about what you’ve done and what you’re doing right now to keep building the team.
Barry Leffew: One of the important things is always to bring together the team, whether it’s virtually or in person, to talk about your progress against goals, what your priorities are as an organization, and over-communicate in terms of talking about new hires, new key customer wins. Then recognizing then top performers in your organization. Those things are always really important. We’re trying to do more social type events now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, have a happy hour for the team, have people go out and meet at a vineyard. We’ve done a lot also recently with helping the homeless, we got our whole team together to pack food boxes for homeless and people around the country. I think there’s a variety of ways, it’s recognizing performance, making sure you’re staying connected and then over-communicating is always important.
Fred Diamond: A lot of times sales professionals will say to us, “What are some things I could be doing to grow my career?” One of the great answers is always to go do something for other people, not just from a sales perspective but do something charitable, do something service. At SAP NS2, of course, you have NS2 Serves, it’s a tremendous thing. As a matter of fact, we have an award we do every year where we recognize a young sales professional. We started in 2020. One of our first recipients was from your company, Andrew Bailey, who I believe went through that program as well. Whatever you all can do, sales leaders listening out there, to give back, go give back. A life worth living is one that is of service (Albert Einstein).
I want to thank Barry Leffew and Matt Freix, two of our initial inaugural Premier Sales Leaders. Gentlemen, I want to recognize you again for your achievement, for the success you’ve had in your career and the success that you’re going to continue to have. Thank you for all the great service you’ve done to your customers and to your teams. As we typically do, we end today’s show with action steps. You both have given us 15, 20, 30 each, but give us one specific action step people can do right now after watching today’s webinar or listening to the podcast.
Matt Freix: My advice and my action step would be, especially this time of the year, you need to trust but verify what your customer’s telling you, you need to ask them to make sure you understand their full process. Do they have a legal review? Do they have security review? Whether there are approvals and so on, and then hold them accountable to that.
The tactic that I’ll give out that people can start doing immediately after this is stop asking times that your customer is free to schedule a call and instead, just send the meeting request. You can send your email that says whatever information you need to tell, and at the end you say, “I’m sending you a meeting request at this date and time. If it doesn’t work, please suggest a new time.” It cuts down on that process of going back and forth so many times, and it’s been very successful for us.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great strategy. Barry, why don’t you bring us home?
Barry Leffew: Adding onto what Matt outlined in terms of really understanding the steps to close with a customer, I’ve always recommended using what I call a process play in email, where you communicate with the customer your understanding of the steps that they have to go through to get to issuing a contract or an order. You don’t want to do that after the first call, but after you’ve spoken to the customer, validating those steps often gives you insight into, wait, there’s an additional step or no, we can skip this step because of this size of the purchase. I really recommend putting that to use, a really crisp email, something that somebody can read right on their phone just verifying, here’s the steps we’re going to work through together to get this completed.
Fred Diamond: The more you can do that for the customer, the better. Once again, thanks to Matt Freix and Barry Leffew. My name is Fred Diamond. Thanks for being a listener of the Sales Game Changers podcast.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo