EPISODE 457: Premier Sales Leaders Rebecca Wetherly and Hannah Kate McWilliams from AWS and Cvent Say You Must Do This to Start the Year Strongly

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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 January 12, 2022. It featured an interview with Amazon Web Service’s Sales Leader Rebecca Wetherly and Cvent Sales Leader Hannah Kate McWilliams].

Rebecca and Hannah Kate are IES Premier Sales Leaders. Learn more here.

Find Rebecca on LinkedIn. Find Hannah Kate on LinkedIn.

REBECCA’S TIP: “Embrace the new year. Don’t be rudderless, develop an account plan, action your plan, be adaptive, agile and flexible to the needs and demands of your customers as the environments are ever-changing.”

HANNAH KATE’S TIP: “Meet with all of your clients and prospects or as many as you can in the early part of the year and really listen to what their resolutions are, personal and professional. You’ll learn about their pain points, their goals, then what motivates them as people. Emotional intelligence is so important in sales so take this opportunity to meet with as many people as you can and really listen to what they have going on.”


Fred Diamond: We have Rebecca Wetherly with Amazon Web Services and Hannah Kate McWilliams from Cvent. You are both IES Premier Sales Leaders, it’s the designation that we announced in November of 2021. Congratulations. We’ve done shows like this with all the previous premier sales leaders and we have a couple more scheduled to go. First off, congratulations on the recognition.

Rebecca, it’s great to see you. Let’s get started. How are things going for your sales organization right now?

Rebecca Wetherly: Thanks, Fred, for the opportunity to speak today, and Hannah Kate, awesome to be on with you. Happy to be here with you guys, everybody out there. Fred, things are going really great today, to be honest. We’re kicking off 2022, we’re prepping for our sales kick-off that happens every year, virtual again this year. We’re working on executing account plans and continuing to stay focused on our customers as COVID continues to impact and plague us two years in. But we’re really focused on our team staying healthy, getting the support they need to continue to work, remotely engaging with our partners and customers.

Fred Diamond: It’s great to have some people from Amazon Web Services. We had Clint Crosier who also is a Premier Sales Leader on a couple weeks ago. Hannah Kate McWilliams, you’re with Cvent. I want to acknowledge Cvent, Cvent’s been a great partner as has Amazon Web Services of the Institute for Excellence in Sales. We actually do all of our registration on the Cvent system for all the programs we do. Our Women in Sales and our monthly program and I’ve got to say, you guys provide unbelievable customer service and it’s just a pleasure having Cvent as part of the team. How about you, Hannah Kate? How are things going for your sales organization right now?

Hannah Kate McWilliams: Thank you, Fred. I actually got to participate in a Women in Sales event last year and learned so much from it. Great organization. Q1 is always a very exciting time for our sales team. Like Rebecca said, we’re planning for our sales kick-off, we are assigning new territories and working on our revenue plans. It’s always a very momentous time of the year for sales and as we all know, sales is a great place to be. We’re busy.

Fred Diamond: I’m glad you went through the program. Thank you so much. Gina does a tremendous job. It’s an interesting time, it’s the beginning of the year. We’re doing today’s interview early in January of 2022 if you’re listening sometime in the future and we just finished the year, which is always interesting for sales. Of course, we’re just starting. You both mentioned sales kick-offs. But we’re also still working from home, we’re still in the pandemic mode, so people want to know what you’re focusing on right now. Hannah Kate, why don’t you go first? What are your top priorities? As a sales leader, what are you specifically focusing on right now?

Hannah Kate McWilliams: We are really prioritizing getting to know the reps on our teams. Some of the reps on my team I worked with last year and it went really well, but I do have several new members. I spend this time really getting to know them, understanding what their goals are, what motivates them, what their pain points might have been from last year. I spent most of the beginning of January while we finalize all of our territories getting to know the reps. Once our territories roll out, the focus really shifts to revenue planning helping reps create that plan. We work backwards from their number and really map out where we plan for the revenue to come from, and then come up with action items for each of those accounts. Those are definitely our top priorities for the beginning of January.

Fred Diamond: We’ll talk about this in a little bit, about how you’re working with some of the new sales professionals. A lot of them haven’t met their coworkers because they’ve been working from home. We’ve had a couple of IES Live programs at the end of 2021 and it was the first time that people in companies met some of their coworkers because people are still working from home and with the spike, it’s going to continue like that. Rebecca, how about you? What are you focusing on specifically right now?

Rebecca Wetherly: I agree with Hannah Kate. We’re very focused on a fast start to the year, I talked a little bit about having sales plans delivered, having our account plans completed, actions, owners, expectations set. We’ll have our goals out very shortly if they haven’t already gone out. Two other things that are really top of mind right now which is hiring. We’re going to add hundreds of jobs to our public sector business in 2022. We’re culture builders, we’re always seeking excellent salespeople at all stages of their careers and we have a goal to be the earth’s best employer. It’s out there, it’s one of our leadership principles and it’s all about fostering a culture of ownership and creating an environment where employees are empowered to be their best. If that sounds like somebody on the phone, get in touch, we’d love to talk.

The other piece becomes a core component of how I’m spending my time in January, the beginning of the year is all the talent reviews of our team. I’m reviewing performance against financial goals and other key indicators, I’m doing a healthy review of the business to look for gaps and opportunities making sure we’re making the right investments in our business as well as the people, and ensuring we have good career development plans in place for all. I’m super excited to have a couple, I think we’re going to invest seven women from my team into the IES Women’s Leadership Group that Hannah Kate referred. We’re really excited about that this year.

Fred Diamond: We’re very excited, very grateful for that. We have a couple questions. This question is from Jeremy and Jeremy says, “Amazon is hiring,” and I presume Cvent is hiring as well, “What do they look for right now as they’re hiring?” Rebecca, why don’t you go first? Then Hannah Kate as well. What does the ideal sales professional look like for Amazon Web Services? Again, you’re in the public sector division. Hannah Kate, for you too. Cvent is rapidly growing. We talked about when you started there were a couple hundred people and now there’s many more in the sales organization. So, Rebecca, what do you look for when you’re hiring?

Rebecca Wetherly: Great question. As I mentioned, all stages of career, whether it’s early career talent or leader in your career, we really look at folks that are able to come in and perform the job as written functionally, but also have the ability to scale and do other things within our organization. I think that’s part of being Amazonian where there’s tremendous opportunity for growth and expansion and we are a tremendous employer. We’re looking for folks that can perform today and extend and grow tomorrow. I mentioned a culture of ownership and being a builder, that’s really important for us. As you look at Amazon as a company and you think about your sales skills, we have a set of leadership principles that are really core to who we are as a company. Get familiar with those.

It starts with the customer, which is super interesting. Customer obsession is our #1 leadership principle and the final one in the run is around delivering results. If we start with the customer, and we’re always working back from there, we know that we can define and have tremendous outcomes.

Fred Diamond: Hannah Kate, what about you? What does the ideal sales professional look like at Cvent?

Hannah Kate McWilliams: Cvent is a very flat organization. We are all encouraged by our CEO, Rajeev, to be entrepreneurs. Similar to what Rebecca said, I think #1 for us is being passionate about our culture and being passionate about our company. We have a really exciting industry and our industry has been through a lot over the last two years, but we’ve been through a phenomenal stage of transformation as an industry and as a company in response to that. We’re really looking for people who are excited about the meetings and events industry, excited about the evolution of that industry and the digital transformation that is taking place and want to just be part of the Cvent family. Even during this time when we’ve been remote, it’s a very tight-knit culture.

Fred Diamond: You both were designated as IES Premier Sales Leaders. For the first time, the IES announced our Premier Sales Leader designation in November, 2021, and we’re going to be doing that every single year. What are elite sales professionals doing right now? We’re doing today’s show in early January of 2022, we’re still in a funky time with where we are with the world and the pandemic, so many things going on. Women in sales have been affected a lot which we talk about every Tuesday. What are the elite sales professionals doing right now, and then the elite sales leaders? Hannah Kate, why don’t you go first? What does elite look like right now?

Hannah Kate McWilliams: I would say that elite sales professionals are not letting the pandemic get in the way of their success. They’re continuing to put themselves out there whether that is within their own organization or connecting with others within their industry or even outside of their industry. They’re getting involved in organizations like this one and really taking their game to the next level. When I think about my team and what the elite members of my team are doing, they’re really standing out from the competition. The way that they do that is by bringing creative and consultative ideas to our prospects and clients. Our industry is in a time of disruption and transformation, so our clients are really hungry for thoughtful and consultative ideas. The best sales professionals in my industry are the people who can bring that to our clients and to our prospects.

Fred Diamond: Rebecca, what does elite look like to you?

Rebecca Wetherly: Elite for me candidly, I talk a little bit about this, about the concept of working backwards from a customer. That’s super important to us as you execute a sales partner, customer engagement strategy. You have to look at not only what’s in your bag to fill, but you have to orient yourselves to what a customer’s objectives are. That means the best salespeople are looking around corners, they’re thinking long-term and they’re determining, “What does my customer need to be successful?” And oftentimes that means they don’t go at it alone. They’re seeking strategic partnerships, they’re seeking strategic leadership engagement, subject matter experts to bring scale and address customer needs. That’s how we’re going to expand and grow in a business.

We just don’t have all the solutions that we need even as Amazonians, we know that, but we know that we can get in front of customers, understand their needs. It’s mapping that out and being very strategic about what you bring to the table. Speaking about what they want to achieve versus what we have to sell. I think that’s a really key differentiator of an excellent salesperson and a person who is trying to sell to achieve short-term goals versus, “Let’s be real strategic and go achieve what our customer wants to do.”

Fred Diamond: We have a question here that comes in from Miles and this actually is for Rebecca. “Rebecca said she services the public sector markets. Why has she chosen that market for her career focus?” It’s interesting because you both are in very interesting markets. Again, Hannah Kate, you mentioned how the association conference world was completely flipped because of COVID and is coming back at some level. Great things are happening at Cvent. Rebecca, your marketplace, the public sector, federal specifically had to respond quickly with health and with monitoring and so many things, taking care of the citizenry. You’ve devoted your career to the public sector marketplace. Talk about that and why have you serviced that marketplace.

Rebecca Wetherly: Miles, it’s a great question and one I have a tremendous amount of passion for, and that’s the mission that our customer served. Whether you’re a nonprofit organization that is working to advance a cause, it’s important to humanity, whether it’s a research hospital that’s solving for complex diseases such as cancer, or it’s supporting the different war fighter from wherever you sit, there’s tremendous passion that I have for serving that mission. That’s really how I got into this business, was a passion for serving the mission. I’m married to a federal civil servant, this just comes very naturally to me and for me, it’s always about what a customer wants to do. The passion that I have for public sector, it’s what I built my entire career around.

COVID, as you point out, was really interesting. We find that sometimes public sector customers, you might think they move slow, they’re bogged down by policy. What we found is our customers were able to turn on a dime to meet the needs of global citizens, whether that was for unemployment insurance, whether that was for contact tracing, whether that was call centers to help address citizen needs. It was a very proud moment. 2020 was a really hard year personally and professionally, but it was one of great gratitude about what our partners and our customers were able to deliver to better the communities that we live in.

Fred Diamond: The federal government responded so quickly. We had to get the government up on the cloud, for example, in such a remarkably quick amount of time. Hannah Kate, I have a question for you and then I’m also interested in Rebecca’s thoughts as well. You both manage people and you talked about onboarding and you talked about how you’re both hiring. What do you recommend for junior sales professionals? We have a ton who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast and they also read the transcription. But what would you be advising junior sales professionals? Maybe someone who was in their first two or three years of their career, to be successful right now?

Hannah Kate McWilliams: For junior reps there’s a couple of things that I like to focus on with them. One is to teach them about our industry. A lot of times, a junior rep is new to our industry and I’m very active in the industry community. Making sure that they understand all the players of our industry, what makes it special, giving them that passion for the industry I feel really helps them. Whether they end up staying in our industry in sales or going to a different industry, having that entry background is important.

The other thing that I spend a lot of time on in the company culture and helping those junior reps get to know the people at the company, helping them to buy into the culture and what we’re trying to build at Cvent. Especially virtually, that’s more challenging, really connecting them with other mentors that they can have at the organization or other pieces of the organization that they’re going to need to collaborate with. Trying to connect them into the overall community.

The last piece is teaching them to uncover and qualify sales opportunities for our space. That’s step one within the sales cycle and then for more senior reps, it’s more about how they can fully own the opportunity, how they can collaborate with all of their resources, be strategic, take it to the next level. But for those junior reps, we’re starting with the basics in terms of understanding the industry, how to qualify the needs of our customers, the basics.

Fred Diamond: We actually have a follow-up question to what Hannah Kate just said. This question comes in from Dan, “What are some of the things you’re looking to measure for your junior sales professionals?” Rebecca, you take that question. What are maybe one or two of the metrics that you’re expecting, observing or monitoring for some of the junior sales professionals?

Rebecca Wetherly: Let me be clear. I think measurement and how we’re achieving our goals, you could be junior, you could be senior. We’ve got consistent goals and I think those are really important to sellers, and it’s got to be looking at your pipeline, your number of new opportunities that you’ve got, the maturity and advancement of your pipeline. That sounds kind of crazy, but the concept of pipeline is super important and being able to show progression and measurement of that, conversion of that pipeline. I think you’ve got to look at where you are against your goals on an ongoing basis. Where are you driving your revenue? Where do you have KPIs or goals in place that are measurable? For me, it’s got to be around what kind of solutions or how many solutions are we developing? How many are we executing against?

I’ve got a new piece of business that we’re executing on, we’ve got a pipeline goal of new business to execute. I need my new sellers aware of what that is and have it in their bag. Are we measuring how that’s going to go? I don’t put goals in place that we can’t measure. Otherwise, it becomes irrelevant. What I would say is people need to know what their goals are whether you’re junior or whether you’re senior. How you’re going to measure those and what the impact on them is. That is the responsibility of all of my leadership, to know and make sure people understand, “Here’s what my goal is, here’s what I need to deliver against, here are my professional goals and here’s how I’m going to achieve those as well.” That’s what great leaders do and that’s the investment we must make in early career talent to show them the path forward to promotion and opportunity.

Fred Diamond: Let’s shift the conversation to customers. We talked about being of service and of course, we talked about your marketplaces a couple times throughout today, but what about the conversations you’re having with customers right now? Hannah Kate, why don’t you go first? Your industry has been definitely hit, of course, with COVID. It’s trying to come back, in a lot of places events are still going on as if nothing’s changed, but talk a little bit about some of the customer conversations from a general perspective that you’re having. Then also, Rebecca, I’m very interested in you as well, what is the public sector or federal customer talking as well?

Hannah Kate McWilliams: We’re having more conversations than we ever have which has been really exciting and it’s been great to be at the forefront and be able to help our customers navigate through the pandemic. As a market leader and a thought leader in our space, it’s been really rewarding to help our industry and our customers through this. What’s been extra cool is to see how our industry has evolved and pivoted versus halted or weakened. It’s not that our industry has died, it’s that it has almost been reborn in a new era of our industry. That’s been really exciting for all of us who are a part of it. The conversations that we’re having – and again, we’re having more than we ever have before – is helping customers thrive in that new world, helping them understand the industry trends, and then also helping them plan safe events. If they are going in person, whether it’s hybrid or in-person, helping them from a risk perspective plan the best event that they can in the safest way possible.

Fred Diamond: Rebecca, how about you? Tell us about some of the types of conversations you’re having with your public sector customers.

Rebecca Wetherly: Different than what Cvent’s having, but certainly super interesting to hear from Hannah Kate along those lines. As I think about the business, there are two key areas that I think are front and center just based on where we are. One of them is around innovation, Boston Consulting Group is telling us 75% of companies listed innovation as a top 3 priority. That’s a 10% increase, the greatest percent increase in 15 years. That is also applying to our public sector businesses, whether it’s private companies that operate in the public sector or public sector domains. Customers are seeking ways to innovate on behalf of their own customers and we’re leveraging mechanisms and best practices to build products, develop culture and solve customer problems because we know that our customers want to innovate on behalf of their constituency. So we’re really working fast to help them think bigger, move faster.

The second big piece I’d be remiss in mentioning is the topic of data protection. We think about what’s happened from a security perspective and ransomware and the attacks that have been in big businesses and governments over the last year. Earning the trust of our customers is foundational to our business and we earn this, we hope, every day by working closely with them to understand their data protection needs, offering a comprehensive set of services in full to protect the data that they have. We provide technical, operational, contractual measures to do that, but we understand that the underpaying of our business is foundational for customers to feel confident in the data protection they have when working with AWS. Those two big topics, I’d say. Data protection and innovation are two constants for us in the business.

Fred Diamond: That’s something that’s permeating every industry, so it’s not surprising to see those are the conversations that you’re having. I’m curious, what do you both see sales professionals doing wrong? If there’s one thing you could tell the salespeople – they don’t have to be at your company, it could be in general. What are two things that you see sales professionals doing wrong that you would love to correct on the spot? Rebecca, why don’t you go first? And then I’m interested in what Hannah Kate has to say.

Rebecca Wetherly: AWS is a heavy technical lift, it’s not for the meek. We’re continually expanding our services to support virtually any cloud workload and we now have over 200 fully featured services for storage, database networking, machine learning. You cannot be an expert in all those things, you really can’t. People that get it wrong are the folks that don’t leverage the talent around them and open the tent to think bigger about how to solve tough challenges. For me, it’s about making sure that as we’re inspecting what we expect of our sales folks, that we’re asking the questions and we’re understanding the diversity in their business – diversity in terms of workloads and services penetration, all that good stuff – but that we’re then asking those next questions of, “How are you doing it?” Because we know we’ve got tremendous access to sales expertise and other industry experts, we’ve got to pull those folks in.

Fred Diamond: Hannah Kate, how about you?

Hannah Kate McWilliams: Rebecca, totally agree with what you said. Being able to leverage resources, our best deals and our best relationships with clients take a village. I think that is a really important skill to learn. My two personal pet peeves are one, showing up and throwing up. Reps that talk a mile a minute and only about our organization and not the client, that’s my biggest. My second is sitting back and waiting for leads to fall into your lap. I was in marketing, I love marketing, they do amazing things for our organization, but at the end of the day, finding leads and prospecting is a sales function and the best salespeople are always on the hunt for that next opportunity.

Fred Diamond: We tell salespeople who ask for advice that you’re the CEO of your career. You may be working for a great company like Amazon Web Services or Cvent that is going to support you, and you’ve listed so many ways that your companies are supporting sales professionals. But at the end of the day, it’s your career and you’ve got to do the stuff to be successful. Before we ask you for your final bit of advice, I’m just curious. Rebecca, you alluded before how 2020 and 2021 were very challenging years. We didn’t touch on it today, but not infrequently we talk about mental health, we talk about self-care on the Sales Game Changers virtual learning sessions and podcasts because it’s permeating every bit of where we are as the work-at-home continues into 2021. We’ve just had the surge of the Omicron, we’re still in the midst of it. I’m curious, how have you changed as a sales leader over the last 19, 20 months that we’ve been in this different state?

Rebecca Wetherly: I’ll keep it quick. Being agile, flexible. Knowing when to apply different leadership techniques to individuals. We work with individuals, at the end of the day we have to make sure that we’re treating those folks as individuals and having a strong emotional intelligence and high EQ in addition to IQ has never been more important. I’ll say that I’ve really had to tap into things that I may not have tapped into in a while around this emotional and high ability to engage and be aware of others.

Fred Diamond: Hannah Kate, how about you?

Hannah Kate McWilliams: I could not agree more, that’s exactly what I would say. I’ve learned to adapt my management style to help others succeed, but also, being true to myself and finding that balance from where I want to be true to myself and my true north, but where I need to adapt and change with the different personalities and needs of those who work for me and that who I work for. Then for our clients as well. As leaders, we sit in the middle between the company, the business, our reps and our customers. It’s our job to find that win-win solution, and sometimes, to Rebecca’s point, that takes a lot of adaptability but that’s something that’s become even more important.

Fred Diamond: Before we ask you for your final action step, we’re getting a lot of nice notes here. Dan says this was excellent. Miles, who asked a question before, said thank you so much to Rebecca and Hannah Kate. Suzanne says thank you for this conversation. I want to acknowledge you both, you’re both one of the first IES Premier Sales Leader designates, congratulations to you. And congratulations to you not just on what you’re doing for your company, but what you’ve done for your employees and what you’ve done for your customers as well to help everybody navigate through this challenging time, to get back and set on the other side. Good for you and thanks again for your support of the IES and for our Women in Sales program. As we like to end each show, give us an action step. You both have given us so many great ideas, give us one more specific thing that sales professionals can do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Hannah Kate McWilliams: My final action step is what my #1 piece of advice is for my reps at this time of the year, which is to meet with all of your clients and prospects or as many as you can in the early part of the year and really listen to what their resolutions are, personal and professional. You’ll learn about their pain points, their goals, then what motivates them as people, as Rebecca mentioned. Emotional intelligence is so important in sales so take this opportunity to meet with as many people as you can and really listen to what they have going on.

Fred Diamond: Rebecca, bring us home.

Rebecca Wetherly: Embrace the new year. Don’t be rudderless, develop an account plan, action your plan, be adaptive, agile and flexible to the needs and demands of your customers as the environments are ever-changing.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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