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EPISODE 165: Hear How Competing in Triathlons Has Made Appian’s Kristin Scott into a Top-Tier Sales Leader
KRISTIN’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Stay curious. Be open to learning new things – and that could be new ways of selling, that could be new solutions you’re offering, that could be really understanding what your customer’s needs are. Make lasting relationships and act with a spirit of generosity. The importance of being generous and raising your hand to new opportunities, to helping people, to sharing your opinions and comments and advice and helping colleagues, it all comes around to help you in the end.”
Kristin Scott is the Vice President of US Commercial Sales at Appian.
Prior to taking over sales leadership at Appian, she held sales leadership positions at CEB now known as CEB Gartner.
Find Kristin on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Kristin, it’s great to have you on the Sales Game Changers podcast. Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Kristin Scott: I’m from the east coast originally, grew up in Connecticut then went to school in Maine at a college called Bates. I’m an avid runner, have participated in a number of triathlons including a half Ironman series which is a blast. I really love working with my clients, my customers and my team. I’m so excited to talk with you on the podcast.
Fred Diamond: The triathlon, what is your favorite part? Is it the running, the biking or the swimming?
Kristin Scott: The swimming is the easiest for me, but I love the running. It’s the end.
Fred Diamond: Have you gone to Hawaii or any of those big races that they have?
Kristin Scott: I did the half Ironman in Australia which was fantastic, I did that a couple of years ago.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little bit about what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Kristin Scott: Appian sells a digital transformation platform. What that means is we build custom applications rapidly to support our customers across a wide variety of industries and across a wide variety of functions. It could be improving their customer experience, it could be improving back office operations and it could be anything from a governance risk or compliance process. The exciting part of that is you’re on the front line of change initiatives, so you’re helping companies think about different ways to go to market, different ways to support their evolving customer base. You’re supporting new initiatives that are exciting to drive efficiencies, it’s really a fantastic platform that’s providing a ton of value.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious, a lot of people who listen to the podcast want to know who the guests sell to. What are some of the titles? Is it IT, is it App development, who are some of the people that you physically sell to?
Kristin Scott: It’s a great question and I think that’s the beauty of a platform like ours that’s so flexible. We actually sell to any different type of industry, my team really focuses in on financial services, insurance and what we call broad markets but we have a fantastic group of customers in the federal space, life sciences and healthcare. As you look at a CEO’s director of ports, we’re basically selling to anyone in the C-suite and below so our applications can be used by finance, HR, sales, marketing, operations, legal. The sky is the limit in terms of who we get to engage with.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little bit about yourself, how did you first get into sales as a career?
Kristin Scott: I first got into sales when I was at school, I led our student fundraising program where we would call 6 days a week to alumni and parents of current students and get them to make donations to the school fund. I loved it, I loved the cold calling aspect of the role, I loved being able to learn the different stories of people that had attended the school and also try to convert them into a yes. Often times we’d get a lot of push back where people felt that they had already spent enough money on their college tuition and we had to convince them why it was important to continue to give back. That led me to my first job at CEB Gartner actually doing what was then called a marketing associate role, but it’s really a business development role where I was scheduling meetings with CFO’s at Fortune 1000 companies.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key lessons that you learned either at your CEB new job or back when you were making cold calls to get alumni to give back to the university?
Kristin Scott: There were so many fantastic lessons that I learned early at CEB Gartner. At the time it was the corporate executive board, but I think the one I mentioned in terms of the student calling program was this relentless persistence really enjoying converting people from a no to a yes and just being creative in terms of approaches and ways that you can help folks realize why you’re calling and the importance of it. I’d say persistence would be #1. I think the second would be a relentless focus on preparation, I know that that’s a common topic on your podcast, I’ve heard many of my peers talk about the importance of preparation. That was a skill I think I learned early on that has afforded me my success and my career.
I think lastly is just the focus and importance on doing really solid discoveries asking really smart questions. CEB Gartner did a fantastic job training me early in my career around the importance of being inquisitive and being curious, and being on the front line of a lot of these important initiatives that the C suite were faced with.
Fred Diamond: Can you teach someone that? Let’s say you have a couple new SDR’s or BDR’s. Can you teach them how to ask better questions?
Kristin Scott: I absolutely think you can. I like to think about it in terms of someone having the motivation and then the competency. I think you can teach the competency piece, I think we’ve done a fantastic job here rolling out enablement programs that are all around how to do effective discovery and how to ask the right questions and smart follow up questions. I do think you have to have an innate sense of curiosity, you have to be inquisitive and you have to have that motivation. I don’t know if you can necessarily coach or train that.
Fred Diamond: I would have to agree with you. Of course persistence and preparation comes through in a lot of the Sales Game Changers podcast interviews that we’ve done, but curiosity as well. If you have the curiosity, you’re going to really put yourself in a position to help your customer. Almost everybody that we’ve interviewed in the Sales Game Changers podcast sees that, that they’re there not to sell, they’re there to assist their customer in achieving their goals.
Kristin Scott: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about you, what are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Kristin Scott: First, I have to say I love this question. It’s one of my favorites when I listen to your podcast because I think it’s so interesting to hear people reflect on what they think they’re an expert or brilliant in. It gave me a nice opportunity to think about myself in a different way and the first thing that jumped out to me was an openness to change. I think that has served me really well in terms of being a change agent, as an individual contributor but now in a leadership role actually helping folks manage change effectively. It’s so important today, I think the amount of change that we’re facing in terms of roles, our customers, our companies, it’s so important that folks be change agents and that they be open to it and curious to change and they actually see change as an opportunity, not as something that’s being pushed down upon them.
I’m actually leading a panel next week at our annual user conference in San Diego called Appian World and the topic is leading through change. It’s a fantastic line up where we’re going to be talking about effective practices on managing change, what are the leadership skills needed to do that effectively and then what does the future workforce need to look like so that we can sustain this change.
Fred Diamond: We’re going to be running today’s podcast way after you do that panel discussion, so good luck and I hope it went well. What are some of the insights that you think are going to come from that, just curiously, as a sales leader to ensure that your people can embrace change?
Kristin Scott: It’s a great question. The historic way of doing change management has always fallen short when you think about communication and how you communicate the change. Most companies fall into this terrible trap of communicating down. They work together as a leadership team to come up with a great new idea and then they email it down without really getting buy-in and support from the folks that will be impacted by it. I think a key lesson in talking to the panelists was all around how you do an open source change management and communication strategy where you get people bought in that actually feel this is an opportunity for them to grow and evolve. I’d say communication best practices is really at the top.
Fred Diamond: I would think for a company like yours, again you’ve reinvented a lot of the way that people create their applications, not to mention the culture has to be open to embracing change as well.
Kristin Scott: Absolutely, and I think that’s one of the reasons that I love working at Appian is we are just on the front lines of change, of helping our customers change but also as an organization. I joined, we were 200 people, we’re now north of a thousand so as you can imagine, change is ever-present and it’s fantastic.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor or two and how they impacted your career?
Kristin Scott: I’ve been fortunate to have so many wonderful mentors across my career, and really strong leaders that I would say weren’t necessarily official mentors but people I could look up to and try to emulate. All of them share common characteristics that I aspire and I try and reflect in my own leadership style.
I look at someone like Carla Harris from Morgan Stanley who talks about impactful and authentic leadership. A lot of the women and men that I’ve had the pleasure of either having a mentor relationship with or being part of their organizations have all brought strength and warmth and authentic leadership to the table which I think is so important if you want people to follow you, if you want people to be inspired, if you want people to be successful.
I’d say those are the top 3 things that stand out to me in terms of those relationships. Then early in my career I had some wonderful mentors that really helped me identify what my strengths are, so I’d encourage our listeners to take things like Strengths Finder which is a fantastic assessment to really understand what are you naturally good at and how do you find opportunities where you can really thrive and leverage those strengths.
Fred Diamond: Just as a note, we’ve actually interviewed Edward Hughes, of course he was the Global Sales Leader here and we also interviewed David Mitchell who is currently the Senior VP of Global Sales at Appian. What are some of the biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Kristin Scott: There are two that jump out to me. One is a common refrain that I’ve heard on pretty much every podcast that you’ve had and that’s around recruiting. Finding the right talent I’d say is a continued challenge and focus for me. The second is how do we find ways to simplify the buying process for our customers? Why that jumps out to me is I think it’s really difficult to be a customer today. I know for myself when I’m out trying to procure different things, it’s overwhelming.
There are a ton of options out there to solve your challenges, there’s a ton of information at your fingertips and there are so many people now that get involved in the purchase process that I find it often leaves our customers feeling risk adverse. They’re overwhelmed by the amount of information so they need more information. They’re overwhelmed by the options so it stalls and delays deals because they want to make sure they make the right choice and that can often time lead to buyer’s remorse when you feel like, “Did I make the right decision or not?”
I think for Appian we’re really seizing on that challenge as an opportunity to really help our customers through that buyer’s journey, keep things simple, make sure that we’re really prescribing to them how best to evaluate us, what are we a good fit for, maybe recommendations for other technologies that would be a better fit to solve their needs. I’d say that’s front and center for us.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great answer and of course you were at CEB now CEB Gartner when the Challenger Sale came out, and of course you probably spent a lot of time with Matt and Brent, the guys who wrote that book. Challenger Sale is something that has come up not infrequently on the Sales Game Changers podcast and part of it is the complexity of the buying process, if you will. You talked about how Appian is trying to address that, so you gave some general ideas but what’s one or two things that you’ve done physically to make it easier for your customer to purchase your software?
Kristin Scott: There are two things that jump out to me. We’re a platform to build custom applications so we can really support a wide range of needs. What we’ve rolled out is really a roadmap and a framework to give them ideas for what are good applications to use our platforms for. What are the right use cases, the right projects? The second would be actually helping them and mapping out what the buyer’s journey should look like, so we are very transparent with mutual action plans or sequence of events, different companies have different names for them.
That’s been really helpful, we leverage that out of the gates to help just simplify it for our customers to say, “These are the different things that are going to have to go on and these are the different people that will have to be involved.” We actually can take charge, and to use the Challenger wording it’s teach, tailor, take control. It’s that take control part that I think we’re really helping our clients with to coach them through the process.
Fred Diamond: Take us back to the #1 success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Kristin Scott: I actually have to say each year gets better and better. The opportunity I’m in now to lead the US commercial team is the one I’m most proud of and really most bullish about what we can succeed. I have a fantastic team, a fantastic product and a really terrific organization, and I mentioned in the beginning we are on the front lines of some really powerful change initiatives with our customers. That’s really exciting, I’m very proud of it.
Fred Diamond: It’s very good when you see the results of what you’re selling to the customer and you have those partnerships, and when you hear from your customers that they achieved their goals because of using your technology. Do you document as many of your customer examples as you can so that you can use them as fodder when you continue to sell?
Kristin Scott: Of course, that’s the most powerful way to sell, to actually sell through stories. That’s the most powerful tool we have and I’d say that’s been front and center for Appian’s growth year over year, having our customers be really proud of what they’re delivering on our platform and be really open to talk about it. We have tons of fantastic videos for folks that are listening to go see what our customers are doing, I think it’s really important.
Fred Diamond: We’re talking today on the Sales Game Changers podcast with Kristin Scott, she’s the VP of US Commercial Sales at Appian. Before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors did you ever question being in sales? Again, you went to CEB right after college. Did you ever think to yourself though, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Kristin Scott: Never. I’d argue that everyone is actually in a sales role to some capacity. Regardless of what function you’re working in, you’re really always selling yourself, you’re selling your ideas and I’ve loved every peak and valley and have never questioned whether or not this was the right fit for me.
Fred Diamond: You run triathlons or compete in triathlons. If you would have said, “Absolutely” I’d be a little bit surprised. Good for you for answering the question the way you did. Kristin, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening around the globe to help them improve their career?
Kristin Scott: There are a couple things that I’d love and reflecting on advice that I was given when I was starting my career. I think it’s stay curious, I talked about how important it is to do proper discovery and ask smart questions but the more you’re open to learning new things – and that could be new ways of selling, that could be new solutions you’re offering, that could be really understanding what your customer’s needs are – I think that’s so important. The next would be just make lasting relationships.
Early in my career I formed really strong friendships and relationships with both my colleagues and my customers, and those are relationships I have today. Even though we’re not still working in the same industry or environment, we’re still keeping in touch and it’s so important. Then I’d say act with a spirit of generosity. I’ve been fortunate to work at two organizations where that is a pillar, a core value driver for both organizations, at CEB Gartner and now in Appian. The importance of being generous and raising your hand to new opportunities, to helping people, to sharing your opinions and comments and advice and helping colleagues, it all comes around to help you in the end.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about some of your selling habits that have led to your sale success.
Kristin Scott: One would be preparation, just being incredibly focused and diligent about preparing for everything. I talked to my team about the importance of preparing for every meeting, every scenario, every outcome and preparing for internal meetings as well. I think once you make it a part of your daily habit, it becomes so easy and it’s just a natural method that you take to making sure that you’re on top of your game.
The second is just really being customer obsessed, really focusing in on understanding your customer, being a trusted adviser which I think you really get through that preparation piece which is why I said that as #1, and then the third selling habit I’d highlight is a little bit of what we were just talking about, Fred in terms of the take control part of the Challenger Sale. I use the word prescriptive with my team, but it’s really be a coach to your clients, help them through the buying journey, make sure you know what the next steps are you’re driving towards because it will make your customer more successful in the end.
Fred Diamond: A lot of times salespeople presume that their customer knows more than they do and they really don’t, especially in the buying decision. They don’t know everything about every vendor, they don’t know everything about all the competition, they don’t know about all the possibility of what your solutions could provide, those are the best sales professionals out there. Kristin, why don’t you tell us about a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Kristin Scott: I’m a big believer in sales culture and how important culture is to the performance of teams. One of the initiatives that I’ve rolled out this year is really taking a look and examining both myself leading this as well as my front line managers on what are the key strengths that our team are bringing to the table and really being thoughtful to identify across every single person at Appian – at least in US Commercial – what is their strength.
What are they bringing to the table and how best can we connect everyone across the organization to drive stronger collaboration, to make sure we’re leveraging that to empower them through things that they’re naturally good at. It has been really fantastic to see the team collaboration that’s happening where people might be really good at telling customer stories or doing discovery or talking about competitors. Being able to share those learnings across the team has really led to an improvement across the team.
Fred Diamond: How are you doing that and how are you making that known, what Joe is particularly skilled at to the rest of the organization?
Kristin Scott: We actually have a working document that we use where we’ve identified all of the competencies that we think are important and then we’ve listed out the individuals that we’ve identified, and there every single person has to be identified for at least one strength. On the spreadsheet it’s open to my management team to be able to when they’re doing coaching sessions with folks on their team to say, “You have an upcoming meeting on this topic, it’d be really helpful for you to go to talk to your peer” and it’s just a great way for us to connect across the organization.
Fred Diamond: A lot of times you find out somebody is really good at something years into their tenure, and it’s great to be able to classify that and have that known. Kristin, sales is hard, people don’t return your phone calls or your emails. You have a lot of competition, your company has emerged as a very successful company but it’s gone through iterations over the years. Your customer has more challenges, you even talked about how challenging it is for customers to buy. What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Kristin Scott: I think the most rewarding things in life are the most challenging. I look at the half Ironman that I did, it was about a two mile swim, 56 mile bike and a half marathon afterwards, and it was so rewarding at the end of the finish line. I think that’s why I love sales so much, is there’s so many different challenges that you’re faced with and the feeling of success after you’ve helped a client with an important initiative or helped a team member be more effective, that’s so rewarding in the end. I genuinely love it.
Fred Diamond: I just want to ask you a quick question because the whole concept of the Ironman and the triathlon, how has that led you to become such a top flight sales leader as you are today? Do you think about things as your running, or the competition? Just tell us one or two things from being that person that has led you to become a top flight sales leader.
Kristin Scott: I think there are three things that jump out for me in that question. I think the first is we’ve talked about the importance of preparation, I’ve made that part of my daily life and to compete in an Ironman triathlon you have to do a ton of preparation. You have to be really effective at managing your time because it’s a big commitment to be able to prepare effectively for it. That’s helped me in terms of how I’ve spent my day and what I’m focusing on has definitely benefited me in my current role.
The other is just I have a natural competitive streak and so triathlons are a great way for me to flex that muscle, set my own goals and I’d say that’s true within sales. The last is just I think some people work out and train listening to music, I actually don’t listen to anything when I’m swimming, when I’m running, when I’m cycling and it’s a great time for me to actually think about my customers, my business, have some time to be mindful and really take a moment to understand what’s going on.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us a final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast?
Kristin Scott: I’m hiring. We are hiring and we are bringing in fantastic people to the organization so if I could leave a final thought, it would be to your listeners to let them know that we have exciting opportunities and we are a fast growing company. If they’re looking for an exciting opportunity to be on the front line of some massive change initiatives for very large customers, this is the team to join.
Fred Diamond: Nothing wrong with that. We did today’s Sales Game Changers podcast right on the sales floor at Appian. For those of you listening around the globe, Appian is based in Northern Virginia, a town called Reston about 10 minutes away from Dulles Airport, about 20 minutes away from Washington DC. We’re actually up here in their office which is on the 17th floor in one of the buildings in Reston, we’ve got a beautiful view of the expansive Northern Virginia, we can see the Blue Ridge Mountains, we can see DC out in the distance. A lot of energy on the floor, a lot of stand up desks, a lot of people gathered here huddling, it’s definitely a high energy place to be.