EPISODE 374: Cvent Leaders Darrell Gehrt and Alex Otwell Divulge Imperative Sales Success Strategies

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers LIVE Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on June 16, 2021. It featured Cvent sales leaders Darrell “DG” Gehrt and Alex Otwell.]

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Find DG on LinkedIn here. Find Alex on LinkedIn here.

DG’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Evolve. We all have to evolve, the world is evolving, it’s changing on a regular basis. How can you refresh what you’re doing? If you want to avoid burnout and you want to avoid getting into that paralysis state, constantly change your game. If you do that, you’re going to like your job a lot more, you’re going to like your interactions with customers a lot more and you’ll thrive and survive.”

ALEX’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Be humble, keep evolving and get 1% better every day. Just take a little bit of time every day to try to make yourself a little bit better and don’t forget that. Be humble, because we’ve all been bounced around this year and had to look ourselves in the mirror. I tell myself that every day, try to do that and I tell my reps that a lot.” 


Fred Diamond: We’ve got an interesting show right now. We have a couple sales leaders with Cvent. It’s a little bit of a different twist, we have Alex Otwell who leads sales development, and of course, Darrell “DG” Gehrt who leads a lot of the new business. We’re going to be taking today’s shows from a couple different angles.

I want to acknowledge you guys, both of you have been on the Sales Game Changers podcast before, your own special episode. I just want to acknowledge, Darrell “DG” Gehrt, you are the IES Member of the Year for 2021, you’re also on our advisory board. Thank you both so much.

Let’s get right to it. How are things going in your sales organization right now?

Darrell Gehrt: Thanks, Fred. First, it’s great to be back on the Sales Game Changers podcast. I was actually looking at it the other day, I was #19 so early on, what has now become quite the phenomenon. I really appreciate what you’re doing for sales professionals and leaders not just here in the DC area, but really around the world.

How’s it going? Look, the pandemic was tough for us but we’ve been a very resilient organization. There are two things that have really been impactful for us. One is taking what has traditionally been in-the-office workforce and going remote. Also, just our general product offerings that we have which tend to be for face-to-face events.

But the short answer of your question, Fred, is that we’ve been resilient. I think people have really learned what it means to work from home and there are some challenges that maybe we’ll get into a little bit later on. But all in all, we feel really good right now.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about priorities. We ask this question all the time. Last week I was stunned at one of the answers that we had. I asked the Senior VP of Public Sector for Dun & Bradstreet, his name is Tim Solms, I said, “What is your biggest priority right now organizationally?” and he said fatigue, managing the fatigue of the organization.

That was a fascinating answer and we actually did a poll about that. How fatigued are you? Alex, we got 15,000 people viewing the poll, we got over 1,000 votes and 67% of the people who chimed in said either they were extremely fatigued or very, very fatigued. I was just blown away and I’ve had some conversations with sales professionals.

Give us a little bit of focus right now. What’s going on in Cvent? What are your top priorities?

Alex Otwell: Yeah, fatigue is a real thing and we’re all salespeople at heart, so being ripped out of our social sales environments at work I think is certainly weighing on a lot of folks after a year or so. To your point, training and engagement to address the fatigue issue is definitely one of the top priorities.

If you think about where we were as a company a year ago and what happened in the events industry, as Darrell mentioned, it’s all about evolution. Frankly, it was rough at first and there was some excitement as we evolved and came out with new technology to address the virtual market.

Then once that hit, now we maybe started to enter a new phase where we’ve been in this for a year, and maybe there’s even virtual fatigue. Customers may be experiencing fatigue and wanting to go back to live events, that’s a big thing that our reps are focusing on now.

It’s engagement with our sales reps and it’s training, helping them to evolve, evolution’s definitely been the word of the year. A lot of my focus is listening to my SDRs too, they’re on the frontlines every day talking to our customers and our prospects and they know what’s on their minds.

Like I mentioned, we’re hearing it from our customers too so it’s taking that message, understanding our buyer mentality, spreading that across the entire SDR organization. Then coaching to that and figuring out the best way to connect with our customers and talk to our customers.

Then when you do that and that resonates and they have success as an SDR team, you start to see the fatigue die off as people do better. It’s really focusing on training and engagement.

Fred Diamond: DG, I want to ask you a slightly different question. Cvent is a global organization, you have sales professionals, you have support all over the globe. We’re talking about here in the United States coming out of the pandemic, if you will, but organizationally you guys have had some personal effects. It must have had some shimmering across the organization.

A little bit of a different question than what we typically ask, but give us a little bit of insight into how you guys have organizationally handled everything, supported each other and provided the best means that you could for your employees.

Darrell Gehrt: I think there’s two big things that we did, Fred, at Cvent. One is we looked to redeploy talent when in-person events started to fade away. We had a lot of staff that we need to figure out what we did with. I won’t unpack it all here, but we were able to find places where people could be productive.

Early on in the pandemic, that was a big thing. People worried about job security, they were worried about making an impact because if you’re not making an impact, then your job could be at risk. That was one of the top things that we did.

Also, as you know, we’re 4,000 employees worldwide, Singapore, Australia, Europe, Abu Dhabi, all across the US. We started doing big town halls where our CEO would come on and would address the company and what is happening and what are we doing to adjust.

The third and final thing was we really had to reach out to all the leaders on our team and said, “You have to make sure you’re making those individual connections.” That’s one of the things that actually came out of this that I was surprised about. Some of the individual relationships have improved and gotten better because it’s really easier to have a one-on-one conversation with somebody.

Fred Diamond: We’re doing webinars every single day. As a matter of fact, DG, you were actually on the very first one that we did when the pandemic kicked in. What’s absolutely beyond crazy is that here it is, the middle of June when we’re recording today’s show and we’ve got a whole bunch of people watching us live, and we also have thousands of people listening and reading our LinkedIn post that we did.

You were on the very, very first show that we did with Randy Wood from Akamai and one of our other guests from Expel. Here we are 15 months later and we’re still in the same mode. I’m doing this from my home office, you’re doing yours from your home office as well.

Since we do a show every single day, a lot of words have emerged over time. One of the words that emerged is elite, and the reason that’s emerged is because it’s been such a challenge to be successful over the last year. We all know the reasons why.

For the first couple of months, everybody was trying to figure out what the hell’s going on, how do we survive, how does my family survive, let alone my customer interactions, if you will. But over time, we’ve seen a lot of sales reps flesh out. We’ve seen a lot of sales professionals rethink, is this what they want to do? Because it has been such a challenge.

Cvent is an IES Premier Sales Employer for the second time, so congratulations. You’ve won a couple of our awards over the years as well, you have an elite sales organization. What does it mean right now to be elite? What are elite sales professionals doing? What are elite sales leaders doing?

Darrell Gehrt: When you talk about what are they doing, I’m going to point you back, Fred, to a LinkedIn post that you just had today and it was on curiosity. I think those are the people who are thriving today, because I think just about everybody’s product set has had to change at least some. Your approaches had to change a lot, we’ve had challenges in both.

But the #1 thing that both sales leaders and sales reps are doing is they are listening, and they’re getting curious about how they can improve what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis. One of the things that Alex and I talk about all the time is that employees will say, hey, I’m getting burned out.

What does that mean? That probably means that you’re doing the same thing day after day, the same call after call and you can’t do that. You’ve got to be curious about how you can evolve your approach.

What we’re seeing is a whole different set of top performers today versus a year and a half ago. Because there’s a certain group of sales reps that have really embraced the change and how to speak about it in a different way, while others lag behind trying to do the same thing that they did two years ago.

Fred Diamond: That is a great answer. I’ll be honest with you, there are certain words that I really hate, and one of the words that I really, really hate is resilience. “We’re a resilient sales organization”, I just absolutely hate that word. But being able to adjust, being able to understand how you need to shift your being.

We talked in the very beginning of the pandemic about sales reps, a lot of them we talk to, SDRs particularly, Alex, were struggling because their company said, “You still got to make 100 phone calls today.” Everybody’s trying to figure out what’s happening to the world, we can’t make 100 phone calls when people are focused on their own stuff.

Alex, you work with a lot of young people, a lot of SDRs. Of course, it’s a sales development rep or business development rep, it’s the first job they’re taking in sales. You guys have historically hired a lot of kids from elite colleges. All cards aside here, my son was an SDR here [laughs] DG, you remember that? On the CrowdCompass, the great Steven Diamond a number of years ago, he learned a tremendous amount from you.

How are you coaching them right now, Alex or DG? What are some of the things you’re doing to coach the junior people? I’m also curious, what are you coaching the senior people as well?

Alex Otwell: I’ll take the first stab at that, Darrell. I joke in my team a lot, my management team. Our job is half sales coach and half life coach because we’re hiring these folks that are coming right out of school a lot of times and they’re having to for the first time live on their own, pay their own bills and support themselves. Also, learn a job and learn how to make a cold call and learn how to battle an objection, learn how to qualify somebody.

That’s hard enough to do when there’s not a pandemic going on, then you throw that on top of it. It was a really tough year. There are certainly folks that I think got to a point where they could do this job and then the pandemic hit, and having to make that adjustment on top of everything else, those were probably the ones that did raise their hands and said, “This isn’t enough for me.”

I think what we really saw was the reps that could evolve, that could adjust, that were more intellectually curious and were asking a lot of questions and doing maybe more listening than talking were the ones that ultimately surfaced. In a weird way, I think we also saw who our strongest people were and were able to hone some of the insights that we used when it comes to hiring.

There were certainly some silver linings that came to that in terms of what we’re seeing from our best reps now. It’s the same thing and given our more senior reps, it’s leaning in with them and using them as a tool to help train up and coach our less experienced reps.

Taking our top 10% and saying, what are you hearing, what are you doing and how are you having so much success? Let’s show that with everybody else and recreate some of that osmosis learning that you’re going to get in the office but you’re not going to get. Which I think has impacted a team like the SDRs more than any other, because as they learn everything being surrounded by their peers, being motivated by their peers, that’s such a big part of this game.

When you strip all that away, it becomes a much tougher job. So it’s leveraging every asset that we have and every tool that we have and using our best reps to help coach our less experienced reps is all part of it.

Fred Diamond: DG, I’m curious. You’re one of the top sales leaders at Cvent. How are you coaching your leaders? What are some things that you’re thinking about that you need to be aware of to make sure that the people who are reporting to you are as successful as possible at the leadership level?

Darrell Gehrt: I think there are a couple things. I’ll lead with my management philosophy has been you lead teams and you manage individuals. You really have to look at each individual and what they need because they’re all at different places, they’re all motivated different ways.

Back to my comment before, we coined the term that sometimes gets looked at a little bit funny, but we call it Zoom bomb. Zoom bombing for us is when I would call Alex Otwell, just like I was calling him on the telephone. We can do that in Zoom, his Zoom rings and if he’s available, he answers the call.

But what I’ve told my leaders to do is make sure you’re reaching out to people. It doesn’t have to be a scheduled call, just talk to them, see where they’re at. It’s interesting right now, Fred, I’ve been reading some articles about turnover.

People right now, and it probably has to do with that fatigue that you were talking about earlier, are just up and quitting jobs. I think it stemmed from a lot of things like they just feel disconnected, they’re doing soul-searching, they don’t feel like they have a place, they’re just unsure, it’s that paralysis of analysis. For me, the #1 thing to my leadership group is be engaged with your employees.

Fred Diamond: We’re doing today’s show in June and things are beginning to open up in the United States, we’re all based here in Virginia right outside of Washington DC even though we have listeners all around the globe. The mask regulation has come off in a lot of places, people are going to start going back.

As a matter of fact, the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we stopped doing live events obviously back in March of 2020. We just announced that we’re going to start doing our live events again in September and we think there’s going to be a huge woosh, we think there’s going to be a huge demand and we’re very excited.

My question for you is, it’s not just going to be like a switch. We did a LinkedIn post the other day and DG, thanks again for referencing my post today. That curiosity one has definitely gotten a lot of attention. But the pandemic is not going to end and we mentioned in one of our previous posts, I said, “As the pandemic begins to wind down…” and somebody replied, “You’re living in a fantasy world if you think the pandemic is winding down.”

I communicated with somebody today, one of our members who’s in Canada and they’re still on lockdown in Winnipeg, Canada. Even though we see things opening up in the United States in some level, it’s still really tough. The question is, what are some of the characteristics that you think sales professionals need to have to be successful moving forward? What are some of the things you’re looking for in sales reps?

We talked about curiosity, we talked a little bit about empathy. But specifically knowing what has been successful and knowing what hasn’t been successful, I’m just curious on what you’re looking for as you’re ramping up, you’re hiring at some level for what these characteristics need to be?

Darrell Gehrt: Alex just hired a bunch of people.

Alex Otwell: Yeah, they’re all in training right now. That’s a good question and it’s a funny analogy you used because it’s true. I feel like when it comes to the market we’re in, you have a third of folks that are walking to the grocery store with no mask on and they feel good about it, they’re full-on planning their live events and it’s happening and they’ve moved past the pandemic.

You have a third that are maybe walking to the grocery store and feeling a little bit unsure and that’s where I think we can move the needle the most as an SDR team. It’s reaching out to those customers and sharing insights, letting them know it’s okay, you’re not the only ones, live events are coming back.

The biggest thing is letting them know that you’ve got to lead with the market knowledge they have from being in the frontlines and talking to lots of folks in their shoes. At some point in time, you’re going to have to make a decision on your events, live, virtual or hybrid approach.

Arm yourself with the knowledge to know what the options are and that’ll help you make that decision down the road. Going in leading with what they’re seeing versus going in, just asking questions, understanding where they are. Because the reality is a lot of our customers don’t know where they are, they’re still very much in that middle phase. Then of course, ultimately we have those folks that are still very much in the, “We’re not ready to take our masks off yet, we’re virtual all the way for now.”

Fred Diamond: DG?

Darrell Gehrt: I don’t know that the characteristics have changed any, Fred, from where they were a year and a half ago for me, anyway. I’m still looking for people that are curious, that talk less and listen more. Maybe one that’s gotten a little bit more liked today than before is people that are agile, they’re willing to change, they’re coachable.

Because I can tell you, there’s just a lot of change in the world today. Not just the pandemic, lots of things. If you’re not agile, you’re not going to survive and that doesn’t matter if you’re in sales or otherwise.

Fred Diamond: I agree with you. I want to talk about customers for a minute. You mentioned, DG, you should reach out. A lot of your customers, of course, were in the event space and things shifted. By the way, I want to acknowledge Cvent. You guys did an unbelievable pivot. You guys came out with a tremendous virtual hub, a virtual event platform.

I will say, the Institute for Excellence in Sales has used it twice. We used it in October of 2020 for our 10th Annual Award Event which we had 1,000 people log in and it was absolutely spectacular. We did it again, our Award Event was on June 3rd and we used it twice and it was fantastic.

The fact that you guys were able to add a critical product in a relatively short amount of time and providing tremendous support to your customers who needed it was absolutely fantastic. I want to applaud you about that.

We’ve got time for a couple more questions here. Let’s talk about customers. A lot of your customers do events, Cvent is one of the most successful event software management companies on the planet, huge amount of success, beautiful software.

I also want to acknowledge you guys have the best support on the planet. I’m a user, of course, I just mentioned and whenever I have a question, I just go to chat and there’s always somebody there. I always say high priority, maybe that’s why they’re always there, I don’t really know but it’s fantastic.

What are your customers expecting from you right now? Maybe frame that answer from the perspective of the sales professional. What do customers need from you right now? What do they want? How do they want to interact?

Darrell Gehrt: First of all, you’re making me blush over here. I appreciate all the kind words, it’s a pleasure to serve that award event the last two years. Look, customers expect a lot from us and it’s not because we’re a 4,000-person company. Your customers, Fred, expect a lot from you. I think that is the world today and we have to embrace that and execute on it. That’s the #1 thing.

The second thing I would say, and this is probably in our business but I think everywhere. People want to be educated, they don’t want to be sold. Back to what are salespeople doing well, they’re asking questions, they’re serving, they’re educating, to some extent they’re probably challenging the status quo. That’s what customers want.

What they don’t want is the dog and pony show, a canned approach, an impersonal interaction. They want to get knowledge.

Fred Diamond: Alex, how about you? I’m interested in your angle there, because you guys talk to customers all the time. Your job is to engage in conversations with your team. What are customers expecting from sales professionals right now?

Alex Otwell: From conversations I’ve had with my team, customers are armed with a lot of information right now. A lot of people had time on their hands during the pandemic, they sat at home and googled what their options were and what to do. We’re talking to a lot of folks who have a lot of information, so I don’t think customers necessarily want information but they want deeper insights than maybe they were getting a year ago.

As a sales professional, we talk a lot about evolving. It’s evolving and understanding that your customers are educated, so how do you help them see the bigger picture of the next level down the road? Our sales reps that are able to understand that and understand the buyer mentality and educate our customers.

They need to be looking at their events program from a holistic view versus, “My next event in September” but rather, “My events program over the course of the year.” What will the evolution of that look like and how can Cvent tie into that? Those are the sales reps that are winning the conversations, they’re setting up demos that are going somewhere, that’s where I think our customers are connecting with our sales team.

Fred Diamond: We talked about that a lot. You need to provide so much value and like DG said before, if it’s just showing up with features and specs and not listening, there’s no value that you’re providing and you will fail. Give some time and energy, think about where the customer’s going, think about where they’re going to be sometime in the future and how you can provide value.

I want to thank Alex Otwell, I want to thank Darrell “DG” Gehrt. I want to acknowledge both you guys. DG, you’ve been our Member of the Year, you’re on my advisory board, you’ve provided so much value to me, to the Institute and all the members that we serve.

I want to acknowledge you both not just for what you’ve done for us, but for what you’ve done for thousands of sales professionals helping them stay focused. Helping them understand what they need to do to provide value to your customer.

Your industry has definitely gotten smacked around over the last year, but it’s going to come back strong. It is coming back strong. People are itching to get back and to have amazing experiences at events and to reconnect and to meet and greet. I just want to acknowledge you for helping your sales professionals help their customers, it’s so critical.

Give us an action step. You’ve given us so many great ideas. I want to ask you both, give us one specific thing that you believe our sales professionals watching today or listening to the podcast should do. Alex, why don’t you go first? Give us an action step, something specific people should do to be successful.

Alex Otwell: I’d say be humble, keep evolving and get 1% better every day. Just take a little bit of time every day to try to make yourself a little bit better and don’t forget that. Be humble, because we’ve all been bounced around this year and had to look ourselves in the mirror. I tell myself that every day, try to do that and I tell my reps that a lot.

Fred Diamond: Continuously improve, very good. DG, Darrell Gehrt, bring us home.

Darrell Gehrt: Alex stole a little bit, I’ll explain in a little bit but I think it’s evolve. We all have to evolve, the world is evolving, it’s changing on a regular basis. I’m looking at your Sales Game Changers home page right here, there’s 249 episodes it looks like.

Fred Diamond: Actually, 370. We need to update that page.

Darrell Gehrt: Look, that’s a lot of content and a lot of things. How can you refresh what you’re doing? If you want to avoid burnout and you want to avoid getting into that paralysis state, constantly change your game. Constantly change it. I think if you do that, you’re going to like your job a lot more, you’re going to like your interactions with customers a lot more and you’ll thrive and survive.

Fred Diamond: Once again, I want to thank Darrell “DG” Gehrt, Alex Otwell from Cvent. To all of our listeners around the globe, we’re getting some comments here. Marissa says thank you so much, Claude said this was fantastic. Suzanne says well done, gentlemen. These people may work on your team. Daniella says awesome, Daniella is a frequent listener. Once again, gentlemen, Alex, DG, Darrell Gehrt, thank you all. For all our listeners, thank you so much as well.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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