EPISODE 561: How to Love Your Sales Team with Microsoft’s Helen Fanucci

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with Helen Fanucci, the author of Love Your Team, A Survival Guide for Sales Managers in a Hybrid World. It was hosted by Gina Stracuzzi.]

Find Helen on LinkedIn.

HELEN’S TIP: “Get to know your team. Set up a regular cadence of one on ones. I do 30 minutes every two weeks. Understand what they care about, what their goals are, aspirations, career objectives, whatever it might be. Maybe it’s flexible work schedule. Figure out how to support them in the life they want to have, your sellers want to have, while you also support them in excelling in the business objectives that you have.”


Gina Stracuzzi: I am super excited to speak to my guest today. I met Helen Fanucci at a conference in California and we hit it off right away. She has written a book, which we’re going to talk about in just a few minutes. She is a 25-year veteran of big sales organizations, many of which you’ve heard of, Microsystems, IBM, Apple, Sun, and she’s currently with Microsoft. Welcome, Helen.

Helen Fanucci: Thank you, Gina. I am so delighted to be here.

Gina Stracuzzi: I always like to get started with how my guests got started in sales and what kept them in sales.

Helen Fanucci: It’s a great question. I actually started my career as an engineer working for IBM in Silicon Valley. About a year into it, with all the activity and action happening in the valley, I decided I wanted to be out helping customers use technology to drive business results, rather than in the back room making the technology. I was able to navigate my career and work. First of all, actually, I worked in a marketing role for IBM still. During that time, I went through IBM sales training, and that was a year and a half program at the time. Then I got a sales territory and became a seller for IBM selling the full product line, mainframes, and databases, and everything in between.

Gina Stracuzzi: Mainframe. Now, that is something I haven’t heard in a long time.

Helen Fanucci: Yeah, I guess it dates me, but that’s how it was.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, no, it dates me too, because I remember the same thing. I was doing technology sales early on in my career for United Technologies, and so I know the lingo, but it’s just something I hadn’t heard in a while. Let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing now and how it led you to write the book, Love Your Team: A Survival Guide for Sales Managers in a Hybrid World. Wow. Is this timely or what?

Helen Fanucci: In July of 2021, where it looked like maybe we were having a reprieve from COVID, I attended a conference in Texas for sales leaders. The topic I was talking about in my keynote was hybrid work and what it means for sales leaders. At that time it was clear that people were leaving, resigning, like four and a half million people were leaving their jobs each month. There’s a lot of concern about how do you retain talent and an upcoming talent shortage. When I was on the slide thinking about, “What do I say about retaining talent?” I thought, “Okay. Care for your team, support your team.” But what was authentic for me was love your team, because I believe that’s the sentiment that managers must have with their teams to retain their talent. Then I unpacked it a bit, and I said, “Gosh, I am nervous using the love word in a business seminar, business conference, but it’s authentic for me.”

I got such amazing response and positive response. During the breaks, people would ask me, “Well, now can you talk a little bit more about what you actually do?” I realized that there was an opportunity for me to write it down and put it in a book. This book is actually a conversation-by-conversation guide for sales managers on what they need to do, the 17 conversations they need to master to retain their top talent. As an example, the first section is called Conversations of Connection. That’s five conversations. I go through in each chapter the purpose of the conversation, how you recognize the need for the conversation, how to conduct the conversation, how do you know if it worked, and then some thoughts and considerations. That’s what the book is about, and that’s how it came to be. I thought it was super timely in hybrid world, because what I could anticipate is I didn’t think that employees would stand for going back to the office. I thought, “Well, I have something to say here,” and it ended up manifesting in the book that I’ve written.

Gina Stracuzzi: As we talked a little offline, this is a reality. Employers are really struggling to “make” employees come back to the office. People have gotten in their rhythm and companies have really figured out that this fear that people weren’t going to be as productive is not a reality. That was always the fear. Like, “They’ll just be slacking off and watching TV and not doing the work,” but that simply isn’t the case. I think your book is just going to really be such a valuable tool to employers.

Let’s get into the sales part of things and how the hybrid world has changed the expectations of sellers too. Because this came up in a conversation we had last week where there is sometimes a mismatch between sellers and buyers. Some want to do in-person conversations, others don’t. Sales teams are struggling a little bit to figure out what’s the best way to handle things.

Helen Fanucci: A couple of things about that is, as you say, the expectations of sellers have changed, expectations of buyers have changed, people got accustomed to working remotely and being quite effective. To your point about sales managers being nervous about, “Is my team going to be productive?” I talk about that in the book as well, and that’s part of the conversations of performance, because it’s so critical to create outcome-based performance objectives and then monitor whether your team is on track. But to your point about expectations of buyers and sellers, we do still have a preference for our sellers that we hire to be in the general time zone or co-located with the buyer. Here’s the fact though, we’re seeing in many organizations, the decision makers are not in the office either.

What I anticipate happening is that there ends up being these moments in time where we have large gatherings. Maybe it’s around an executive briefing or maybe it’s at a conference and there’s a tack on meeting where some of the folks in an organization who are decision makers get together with a company selling and then there’s an executive review or things like that, there’s these moments in time. On the day-to-day selling, I think most of that will happen remotely. It’s important to be sensitive to how a company wants to buy, but I have seen over and over again that in the organizations that we sell to, business to business, that many of the decision makers are located in different places. It becomes less critical for a seller to be co-located, but I think a general time zone alignment can make a lot of sense.

Gina Stracuzzi: I’ve actually not thought about it that way, or even had anyone else that I’ve had on the podcast talk about it in that respect. It makes sense, because it is hard enough to align schedules. If you’ve got time zone differences, it really becomes messy. Let’s talk a little bit about what happens when you lose your top talent and what the true cost is. We hear those statistics all the time, tens of thousands of dollars, but it’s more than that, isn’t it?

Helen Fanucci: The data I’ve seen lately is about 20% to 24% of sellers are considering leaving their company. Now, that may have changed a little bit in the last couple of months because many organizations have stopped hiring. It may have slowed down people moving from one company to another. But if your top talent leaves, and they’re most likely to leave on the first day of a fiscal year, say that seller has a million-dollar quota, well, it takes you three months to replace that seller at minimum. That’s $250,000 that you’re at risk of not being able to recover. Then it takes maybe six months for them to get up to full speed. That’s another $500,000. That’s $750,000 of that seller’s quota that is at risk. Not to mention the momentum that they had and the additional opportunities they may have cultivated, because a top seller usually exceeds their quota. What if that replacement seller doesn’t work out? Which sometimes happens, then you’re back at ground zero. It becomes a critical skill for a sales manager to be able to retain talent literally in order to make their quota.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think too, managers don’t look at it that way when they’re talking about the cost of it. It’s an HR cost versus what is the real long term cost of that? Not to mention the relationships that a top seller builds. Those are invaluable. If they take that client with them, which we know happens too, that can be very problematic and way more costly than even that devastating scenario you just laid out.

Helen Fanucci: Right, it really can. There’s common wisdom that people don’t leave companies, they leave their manager. This book is for sales managers because I think they are the critical pivot point in the innovation of economy to be able to amplify growth and revenue, or really put revenue at risk because of the importance of the manager in supporting their team and retaining their talent.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk about how your book and what you’ve written reflects your team and how you manage.

Helen Fanucci: That’s a great question. I’ve been managing remote teams for over 25 years, and really hybrid, because I had some people in the office and then I had some people in other parts of the country or even other parts of the world. What I do, actually, this is a system, I said a conversation guide, but I call it the love your team system of conversations, and I use it with my team. Let me give you an example, and this might surprise the listener. I am a firm believer that my sellers need to be, first and foremost, in the limelight executing their role. An example is it’s common that when we’re negotiating a deal, that the customer, the buyer, is looking for investments from us. Investments might be in the form of a discounted price. It might be in the form of engineering support to help implement. There’s a lot of different kinds of resources and investments that companies ask for from Microsoft, from my team, when we’re negotiating a deal.

We have a process where we go to the deal review board, and so I have my seller conduct the presentation, or the business case really, on why we need to have that investment and what the situation is with the customer and what the opportunity is. I always offer to my seller that I’ll take notes, I’ll say, “Do you want me to take notes and actions so you can be present in the meeting and focused?” I never turn on my camera, I make it all about the seller making the pitch and presentation, and then I’m in the background taking notes. Then it’s also an excellent opportunity to debrief right after that discussion on how it went, did we accomplish our objectives? It also provides my sellers with visibility to the senior leadership team in the company who are making the investment decisions.

I view my job as amplifying them, supporting them, and helping them be successful. It’s motivational for them, and frankly, they appreciate that they don’t have to also pay attention to action items, and I’m doing that in the background. It’s I guess a form of servant leadership, but it’s probably not typically done by most sales managers, is my guess, because I think a lot of traditional sales managers want to be in the limelight doing the presentations on behalf of their team.

Gina Stracuzzi: That leads me, Helen, to a question that has been percolating as you talk. Do you find that women sales managers are better at these conversations outlined in your book, or at least more willing to try them? What’s the difference between how male managers and women managers have fared in this hybrid world? Do you have insights on that?

Helen Fanucci: That’s an interesting question as well. This book will resonate with some people and not others. I do actually outline in every conversation chapter, this is what traditional sales managers do, this is what love your team sales managers do, so compare and contrast. This book is not about conversations with customers, it’s really about conversations with the team. There’s some foundational principles or skills that are really underpinning success in this approach. Ability to build trust with your team, transparency, being very willing to communicate, talk about what’s really going on. A lot of change happens and your sellers want to have the context and perspective that only you can offer, and that can motivate or it can demotivate your sellers. Then building empathy, walking in their shoes and understanding their situation.

Some of those skills I think get more naturally attributed to women. Women are thought to be better at communicating and talking about particularly difficult situations and emotional things. Not always, but there’s some correlation there, the data shows there’s correlation with that. The other thing is the data also is super clear that women tend to be better sellers than men. This could surprise a lot of people too, which is they make their quota about 86% of the time, where men make quota about 74% of the time. That’s a pretty startling statistic as well. Then coupled with the fact that the pandemic hurt women disproportionately to men. You have now a lot of women that have taken themselves out of the workforce to care for elderly or kids during the pandemic.

There’s a shortage of women and yet the data shows that they on average are more successful than men as sellers. The skills of communication, empathy, building trust, are so critical and they’re underpinning success with being able to work well with your team and have your team trust you. Ironically, or maybe serendipitously, these are the exact skills sellers also need to have with their customers. They need to be able to build trust with customers and have transparency and strong communication, because what we all sell in an innovation economy is really hard for the buyer to really understand in depth. They’ve got to trust the seller, they’ve got to trust the company they’re doing business with. It really works very nicely because the manager is modeling the skills that they then expect the seller to have with their customer.

Gina Stracuzzi: Listening to you, I’m thinking that that’s a double cost to employers. The losing women, as we started the conversation, the cost of losing good sellers. Then they’re your top sellers to begin with. That’s a double whammy, if you will, that there’s less of the people that are making quota all the time. The statistics from 2022 are going to be really interesting when the year ends. I think it’s going to be a rude awakening. I can’t help but think it’s one of the reasons why this PWISE, Premier Women In Sales Employer designation that IES is implementing is going to be so important, because women, as you know, Helen, we want to work with companies that are going to support us and match our values and work with teams like yours, managers who love them and will support them. Something else that came to mind while you were talking, are there sellers that are still struggling to sell in a hybrid environment and what can managers do?

Helen Fanucci: You bet. In fact, I’m a proponent of working with every member of the team and I lay out the cadence of meetings I have with them, biweekly cadence, and even how to introduce yourself to a new team. Because most managers, they take on a new team that they didn’t hire. By the way, and I think this is common in high tech companies, but most of the sellers that I have had on my teams actually have been men. I don’t have a preponderance of women sellers just in high tech. That’s just been how it is. We’re always looking for great talent, no matter what gender. But anyway, the goals that I set for my team, of course, there are quota attainment goals, but there’s also goals like being able to manage your team and have a healthy team culture, getting higher in the organization and expanding your relationship with executives at your customer.

I’ve had situations where I’ve had sellers that aren’t hitting on all cylinders, and I have conversations and performance management even to the extent that people may have their job at risk if they’re not able to do some of the things. You could be an excellent seller, but if you’re not able to work well across the team, that’s a real problem. Sometimes you don’t always know who’s going to be your top sellers. You’ve got to really understand each of your sellers and what makes them tick, and where their strengths are, and where they need more coaching. Then it’s so critical to building a high-performing team that you address under performance, even if it’s under performance in an area that is different than revenue, because it can create toxicity in a culture, for example. It’s important, and I have a whole section on conversations of performance, and addressing under performance is just as critical as supporting the top sellers.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love that you brought that up, Helen, because it is something that I hear from women in the forum that they’re doing well, they like their boss, but there are people on the team that aren’t team players that undermine them, or just create those toxic environments that you alluded to, and it really brings down the morale, which just has an impact across the board. I think that it’s a really smart move to address it and deal with it and look at other measurements besides just the attainment of the sales quota. Well, we are at that point in the conversation where we ask our guests for a final action step, something people can put in place today to advance their career or help their sales teams. What piece of advice would you have for the listeners?

Helen Fanucci: I would say get to know your team. Set up a regular cadence of one on ones. I do 30 minutes every two weeks. Understand what they care about, what their goals are, aspirations, career objectives, whatever it might be. Maybe it’s flexible work schedule. Figure out how to support them in the life they want to have, your sellers want to have, while you also support them in excelling in the business objectives that you have.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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