EPISODE 328: Lisa Pope Recounts How Epicor’s Sales Teams Stepped Up to Support Their Essential Business Customers

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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 and hosted by Fred Diamond on February 17, 2021. It featured Epicor Americas Sales Leader Lisa Pope.]

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LISA’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “It’s really important that each sales person differentiate themselves. Think about what your brand is and focus on that. If you’re early in your career you develop it, if you’re later in your career it might have evolved but knowing what you stand for, what makes you different in a sale cycle, not just your product and your company but what you can deliver – it might be incredible customer service, it might be incredible industry capability, whatever that is – work on it. Focus on it and be able to articulate it. Ultimately, regardless of whether you’re working out of your home or you’re in your office, that’s what’s going to come through and you will achieve your results.”

Fred Diamond: Lisa Pope, it’s great to see you, you’re down in Dallas. We’re in the middle of a nation-wide ice and snow storm, I’m here in Northern Virginia, we’re going to get it tomorrow. We have a lot to talk about, you’re doing some great things. Lisa Pope is the EVP for the Americas and a member of Epicor’s executive team, she’s responsible for driving revenue growth across many key verticals including manufacturing, retail and distribution. Tell us a little bit about Epicor and tell us how it’s going. How are things going for the business right now?

Lisa Pope: Thanks, Fred. Business has been really great, we finished our 2020 with really strong business results and also just finished our Q1, beat our targets and are seeing really strong growth in the cloud. Those of you that may not be as familiar with Epicor, we do sell enterprise software to customers that basically make, move or sell essential products so as you said, manufacturers, distributors and essential retailers. I think what was unique about our customer base is that our customers were not just open over this past year, they actually saw their businesses in many cases grow high double-digits. They might have been the only ones that were actually open, one of our largest customers is Ace, for example, and they had just an absolute phenomenal year.

It poised some interesting challenges for us during the pandemic because we didn’t really have the option to stay home and wait it out and hope that things improved with our customer base. They asked us to be on site in many cases so we really let them dictate the level engagement that we had. Many of our employees were actively still traveling and trying to support those customers, whether it was in person, remote or some version of hybrid. I think our big challenge was around this whole workforce management and some of the changes we had to make on the sales side included rearranging territories so that sales reps could actually drive and be closer to customers. Also, making sure that from a forecasting perspective we tracked deals literally by city and state so we knew which ones were open and also tried to share resources across those opportunities.

One of our big surprises was Canada. Once the border shut down, we’d had people traveling over the border from all of our teams. Couldn’t do that anymore so we basically appointed an interim head of Canada who has acted as our overall executive sponsor across all of our business units and we’ve seen that business grow over 25%. Real different challenges that have poised but I think overall we made the right choices, were flexible and ended up gaining the benefit of that.

Fred Diamond: We have a lot of members at the IES who help companies get into the cloud, and even the VPs of Sales were saying to me, “Fred, we’re working from 6 in the morning until midnight, I’m not leaving my kitchen table because we have customers we’ve got to get onto the cloud.” I’m curious, has that evened out a little bit? We’re going to talk in a little bit about your conversations with your customers right now, but has the 7×24 that everybody was focusing on who support clients in the cloud, has that evened or is it still like that right now for companies like yours?

Lisa Pope: We’ve definitely seen it shift. I don’t think it’s ever going to shift back to the way it was but we’ve definitely seen both our customers and our employees settling in. In the beginning I do feel like we actually did a lot of best practice sharing with our customers because they considered us to be a pretty well-run, remote company with sales reps and a lot of people working from their homes. They definitely were like, “How do you guys do it? How do you manage people? How do you handle things?” We did quite a bit of that, but for the most part my teams are balancing, some travel to customers who are willing to and then are also working remotely. I think for the most part, the early days of that make shift office at the kitchen table or the master bedroom closet, we’ve addressed most of those issues.

Fred Diamond: What are you focusing on right now? Again, you manage a team of a couple hundred sales professionals, you’re also on the executive team so you have issues coming from the top, you have issues coming from the bottom, across. I’m curious, what are your specific priorities right now as a sales leader?

Lisa Pope: That’s a really great question. We just finished our board meeting last week and as a sales leader you’ve got short-term things like, “I’ve got to it the number this quarter”, but then if you’re not really looking out 12 months the way your board is, you’re effectively not doing your job. Me being able to focus on both, I’m very deliberate about how I manage my team. I actually built quite a bit of time into my calendar to focus on those growth initiatives and make sure that I include part of my leadership team that also needs to assist me with that versus just letting the craziness of the day and the quarter consume you.

One of my top priorities, really for us as a company, was to continue to focus on how we grow our pipeline differently. What I mean by that is most people in sales expect that a certain number of leads are going to come in through your website, through digital marketing. A lot of companies like ourselves rely a lot on events that we either host, that our customers come to or in many cases we may attend trade shows or customer events where we actually do quite a bit of business and get a large amount of leads at those events. With those not happening, we can’t sit around and wait so my whole focus has been, “Let’s not wait, let’s create. How are we going to create pipeline and think about lead generation differently?”

The two things that I have been very focused on this week are focused around that growing pipeline and creating pipeline, and the first one is around our influence or community. A lot of focus around getting leads in from outside your four walls in a different way. For us, these can be selection consultants, analysts, press, media, certainly doing events like this but getting our brand out, getting more information out and we’re doing a large event next week. We’ve been very focused on ensuring that that virtual video event for our selection consultants and influencers is unique and different and that it doesn’t come off like a webinar from the perspective of a lot of content. We want to pull in panels and creativity, so a lot of focus on that and making sure that we nail that. The second big area that my sales teams have been focused on, we’ve had some really good success around moving our customers to the cloud. Again, this is a way that we can create pipeline by going into the base and creating a catalyst and a business reason for them to think about moving to the cloud. That is a good revenue stream for us, it’s a good business decision for them right now especially with some of the challenges they’ve had with people working from home and maybe lack of IT resources.

We’ve had a very specific program in process on how to target each customer, how we move them to the cloud, we’ve seen substantial results on that in the last 8 weeks. As a result of that, we’re expanding that program and we just got off a couple calls this morning focusing on the next target base and also working to get some additional sales compensation approved to escalate this program. Part tactical, part strategic but pipeline for everyone this year, coming off the year we had, continues to be a focus for many companies.

Fred Diamond: Let’s get specific on some of the things that you just talked about. In the very beginning of the pandemic, everybody was talking about, “You’ve got to go back to the basics. Go to your existing customers, make sure they’re okay, help them.” Maybe that’s the source of your pipeline, if you will. Now we’re almost a year into it, we’re approaching March of 2021. Are you seeing more new customers coming into the pipeline or is it still, “We need to keep going back to the base, offer them new things, maybe take them to the next version” or whatever it might be?

Lisa Pope: I think that’s a great question. I actually have seen our net new business definitely rebound, hence the focus on the selection consultant activity that we have and its event next week. There also was a 4 month gap, if you think back especially in the enterprise software that we’re selling, it’s a good 6 month sales process and in some cases longer. You think about everything shutting down last March, April may and into June, everything came to whole in terms of new selection starting. If you look at it from a timing perspective, that’s hitting us now. If you think about business starting to pick up which we certainly did see end of summer and early fall, yes, a lot of those net new projects started to get back in cycle. People felt comfortable working from home, I’ll talk a little bit about business climate because I feel strongly that this is probably one of the best business climates to actually sell into right now. We’re definitely seeing a lot of interest still on net new. It’s a hybrid between net new and also your customer base, but we’re seeing a lot of companies wanting to standardize a little bit more or maybe not allow every single site, company or division that they own make a different decision. We also try to focus in on companies where we can expand into a new division and we’ll still be competitive, we’ll still have to earn that business but since they already know us and they like us and they’ve had good success, obviously our chances of winning would be higher. We look at all those levers but definitely the net new business is coming back strong.

Fred Diamond: Lisa, we’re getting some questions here coming in from the audience. We have a question here from Wilson and Wilson is in New York City. Wilson says, “What is a selection consultant?” I presume that’s a partner that you work with. One of the topics that comes up not infrequently on the Sales Game Changers podcast is partnerships during this challenging time. Could you talk about the role that the selection consultant plays and some of the things that you’re doing to build those relationships right now?

Lisa Pope: A selection consultant is somebody that the customer or the prospect in this case would hire to go help them make a decision on who they should select. Again, this offer that we’re selling is mission-critical, runs the entire company so those decisions aren’t made lightly. There’s usually 10 to 15 different departments involved, it’s a very detailed process to make sure that everybody is on board and signing off. Many companies will go ahead and invest and pay a selection consultant to guide them through that process. They’ll typically help with an RFP, they’ll help narrow it down to say, 3 choices, they’ll orchestrate how the demonstrations will work of the product and then ultimately once the contract is decided and signed, many of them do not stay to implement. Their goal is not to also get the actual installation or implementation, their goal is to then go help the next client.

The reason that’s important for a software company is good relationships with them and probably more importantly, good references with them leads to more business. They’re like, “I recommended Epicor, they got them up and running in 90 days, the company is very happy so I’m going to invite them to the next one that I do.” It tends to be very much a trust relationship and a great source, obviously the more selection consultants that we work with, the more opportunities potentially that you can get invited to. But outside of selection consultants there’s still a lot of influencers that will hear, it could be an analyst, it could be a president of manufacturer association, all of those people would have connections and getting involved at that level as well can also help generate additional leads.

Fred Diamond: Lisa, I know that a lot of leaders are struggling because they can’t bring their people together and it’s been a big challenge. You could do virtual, Zoom all day long and at some point it becomes a challenge. We’ve spoken to some of our sales leaders along the way who have said that they imagine that a higher percentage of the people who aren’t able to perform well may not last because of things that they can’t do virtually that they used to be able to do in person. I understand that you created a way to bring some people in your sales organization together, could you talk about some of the things that you’ve done?

Lisa Pope: As a sales leader I’m asking my teams to go out and visit clients and travel, so it’s important that we lead by example. If we’re selling to essential companies, we need to think like they do. From an overall perspective of my sales organization, as we finished our year I felt really strongly that I did want to bring my sales team together at our kick off. First just internally, I felt strongly that it was important for morale, we had some really big shifts in the business in terms of our cloud focus that I felt would be easier to train in person so we made that decision. Luckily, things went great. We held that event in Dallas, Texas in late October so maybe we had a really good lull there, but we also did it in such a way that people could attend virtually. The goal was to get as many people on site that felt comfortable traveling and then for those that had a challenge, situation or if my team from Canada, for example, could not come down, we did provide a platform for them to come in virtually as well. We happen to use a platform called Bizzabo that I like because instead of it just being a Microsoft Teams look and feel, it was way more interactive and it almost felt like they were there and could participate.

We did do that, I feel like it was definitely the right decision, we had literally zero attrition which most sales leaders know, at the end of your fiscal year as soon as checks get cut you usually see your largest attrition then. We really have had none and the other thing that was really great is just the morale, especially for salespeople who are relationship people. Even though they were at their own individual table in a huge ball room with their masks on, being together and having an award ceremony and doing some of those things really helped set the year off right. The other thing that we’ve done is we’ve worked on our sales process and I can share more details later, but really trying to narrow in on how you create a sales process that isn’t just the same process now done on the phone and video, but trying to rethink how to leverage technology. Again, I think one of the things that differentiates us is we will go on site and we’ve worked with our sales teams to understand who can and who can’t and made those changes where necessary.

Fred Diamond: The fact that you’ve served essential industries probably has given your sales professionals a leg up and knowing what people were doing right now. It’s interesting, prior to the pandemic in sales we wanted to help the customer with their strategic view, etcetera, “Where do you want to go?” especially for the types of products that you sell. But in a lot of cases it was like, “How do we get out of this pandemic and how do we financially turn things around that have been implemented?” Along those lines, we have a question here from Marissa and Marissa is in the DC region, she attends our webinars pretty frequently. She says, “How can I be an elite performer right now? Because, to be honest with you, I’m struggling.” What is your recommendation? We don’t even talk about surviving anymore, we talk about excelling. How do you become elite? Again, you’ve worked for some great places, you’re an elite sales leader. What do you recommend that people be doing right now, sales professionals, to be at that elite level?

Lisa Pope: I think it’s another great question and I’ll actually think through. We have a number of people at Epicor that haven’t just had long tenure with the company but literally 20 years of making their number consistently. We have one individual that’s been our top level sales rep 3 out of the last 5 years, that to me starts to be elite. It’s not just making the number, but when you start getting into the top reps. One of the things that I saw a couple of our top performers do early on, first of all, they all figured out how to differentiate themselves. We’re so used to having relationships be based off of getting to know your prospect, going out to visit with them, finding common ground, taking them to a sporting event, taking them out to dinner, talking about kids or colleges or whatever that connection is. You lose that nowadays because when you’re not with them in person and there’s 10 people on a call, it’s very hard to get individual personal time to develop trust and increase your chances of win.

I am a strong believer that product can get neutralized, but people buy not just from people, the buy for trust especially in our markets where we’re going to run their company. They’re looking for not just a rep but the whole company culture, “Do I trust them?” My elite reps have definitely realized that the game has changed, they’re not waiting around for selling to return to normal but embracing this as the new normal and rethinking how they work. #1 is my top reps are doing everything they can to meet with clients in person. They’re offering, they’re asking, they’re suggesting and especially for some of those first initial meetings, it may not be every meeting going forward. Even if they’re not at the customer’s site, they’ll go and try to have lunch with them, try to at least talk through some of the important areas of their business and get that eyeball-to-eyeball connection.

In addition, I think the other big thing I’ve seen is that they have taken some of the tools that we’ve given them and leveraged them to the next step. I’ll talk a little bit about video, every call, every meeting, anything that you’re doing, making sure that they were on video and also making sure that it looks good. I was laughing but I was doing some sales interviews and I was struck by how many people did not know how to use video technology. I thought, “I’m having a hard time either seeing them or feeling comfortable with that environment and I’m going to put them in that environment in front of a prospect.” What is coming across on video is very important. They got really creative too with things like, “I’d like to see your warehouse, I know we’re selling you warehousing and distribution. Could you go ahead, get your iPad and walk me through your warehouse?” so that even though maybe we weren’t on site, they were taking that step to say, “I’m going to connect with you because I’m going to be able to show my industry knowledge as you walk around your warehouse. I will see things and be able to ask questions.”

The other thing which has been really fun for me is these same top reps have decided that since they no longer have to fly people to a presentation or demo that they should have the right to ask any Epicor executive to participate. They’re like, “You don’t have to fly out to DC or New York, now what we’d like to do is have you join for the first 15 minutes and do a meet and greet with their CEO, talk a little bit about our company, have him share about your company and also bring on our President or CTO to talk about the road map.” They’ve actually been able to leverage more of what I would say is Epicor’s entire culture and capability and executives into their cycle, where normally that would just have been a logistical nightmare and you wouldn’t do it. Those are probably three examples that I see about how some of our reps are really trying to think out of the box.

Fred Diamond: Those are great ideas. By the way, for people listening today, we’re in the middle of a big ice storm and snow storm that’s happening across the country. A couple people have said that it’s a bit chopped so please bear with us because the content that Lisa Pope from Epicor is giving us is actually quite fascinating. We talk a lot about customer conversations and you mentioned salespeople like to develop relationships but the people that you’re talking to, they’re in the essential industries that have been on board from day 1 of the pandemic. I’m just curious about the customer conversations. People are wearing masks when they go to see customers, if they’re on video people don’t want to be toddling on video, they have a lot to do especially if they’re managing IT for a supermarket chain or anything in retail that they have to be open, supply and all those kinds of things. I’m curious on your insights and we have a question here that’s coming in from Sally Anne which goes in line with this, “What should you be talking about right now and how do you balance the empathetic conversations versus let’s get right to business?” How should sales professionals be thinking? Do they want to make sure they can get their information as quick as possible so the customer can go off and get their work done, or do people want to talk? We hear that as well. I’m just curious on what you think, Lisa.

Lisa Pope: I think the conversations need to happen at different levels and it gets back to that sale cycle and how you map people in your company, for example, to executives versus maybe more of the detailed work that you might be doing at the project level. Certainly at the beginning of the pandemic people were definitely in crisis and it was more like, “Volume’s big, we need more scanners, we need help with drop shift, we need help with this capability” and we were just reacting and trying to support them as best as possible. I think most companies now are past their crisis point, they understand that there’s a new model. I’m actually finding now that the customer conversations are way more strategic, so one of the things you might want to think about is leveraging and trying to get more of an executive-to-executive conversation going.

Similar to some of the other crises we’ve had in the last 20 years, executives now seem more open to new ways of working. They feel like they want to share best practices, they’re focused on trying to understand how to make this transformation happen themselves and I think for many of them, especially in our markets, they’re concerned about a lot of supply chain related issues as countries that they used to get products from are shut down or the factories aren’t working at full level or their people can’t go out and check on that. They’re rethinking their whole buy versus make and transportation and logistics, to me these are some of the best business conversations. Executives seem to have, similar to what I said earlier with my executive team, we’re all not jumping on a plane every single day the way we were in the past. In some ways, that has made us way more productive and allowed us to have more quality time to think about how we need to grow the business and more time to take on some of those strategic things. My advice to anyone in sales right now is that this is an opportune time to go high in a company and have a more strategic decision and discussion. If that’s not appropriate at your level, getting your execs to reach out to them, find a common ground is good.

The only other thing I would mention to the comment about how you engage somebody on video or how you break the ice, that is something that I think if you show up in a meeting, you’ve got 10 minutes or so to chat with somebody. It’s really hard to do that on video when there are so many people. We do a lot of individual discovery with people one-on-one before a call and then also we make sure that we are constantly reaching out to them one-on-one after the call so that they don’t just feel that they got “Zoomed”, is the word we use. Lots of little boxes but really hard to enable dialogue.

Fred Diamond: We have time for a couple more questions on the Sales Game Changers Live. We get this question all the time, Lisa, how have you changed? Again, I’m curious. You’ve worked with some of the greatest companies in the ERP space, you’ve had a great career, now you’re in the executive team so you’re hearing it from the top, the bottom and across. Just curious, how have you changed as a sales leader over the past few months?

Lisa Pope: I think for me really more productive and more engaged. What I mean by that is this whole concept of being busy versus moving the needle. I’ve found especially over the last four months more time for me to focus on the more strategic pieces of the business that are important, spending more quality time with customers one-on-one whether it’s our customer advisory board or some of our top clients in our strategic account program. Less focused on what I would call crisis or exception management and it’s because I think I actually have more productive hours in the day than I did before. I translate that to that being similar to a lot of executives out there and I think for me, I know my managers underneath me, my sales VPs that run the divisions, I’m getting more time to spend with them on their businesses. Again, them not calling me just because there’s an issue but us actually being able to sit down and plan out things a little bit better. As I said, I think it’s a great time right now to have these really important business conversations.

Fred Diamond: Lisa, before I ask you for your final action step like we do on all of our webinars and podcasts, I know you have a lot of young sales professionals that are on your team and I want to get some insights from you on your advice for them. One of the challenges that we’ve seen is you have a lot of people in their first or second sales job and maybe they’re in an apartment with a couple of friends or they’re living by themselves or they’re in their parent’s basement. There’s nowhere to go if you’re at that age because all the bars and restaurants and sport venues are closed, so you’re home with a computer and like you said, you’re working from home. What’s your advice for them? Because some of them are struggling. Again, it’s the middle of February right now, there’s ice and snow storms happening across the country. Where you are, people are shut down and some of the northern parts, one of our customers posted a picture on Facebook of where they live and they have 30 inches of snow. So what’s your advice for young sales professionals right now during a challenging time? It’s the middle of winter, what should they know to be as sound and effective as possible today and leading into the future?

Lisa Pope: It’s definitely a concern. We do have junior employees at Epicor that typically are right out of college and what made this even harder is we put them into a business development role where they are on a small team with a manager who closely monitors and manages their progress. There’s a lot of team activity both for morale purposes, socialization and also just a lot of learning, we expect them to learn the industry, the product, normally we would be taking them to some of our customers and letting them experience the product being used at a customer site so they can really see what they’re ultimately going to be selling. All of those people that we bring in ultimately, I want to be able to hire and grow into sales reps so I’m really passionate about this. One of the vice presidents who works for me who’s been with Epicor over 20 years started in that role, so I believe in that ability to take someone and move them up the chain.

I think we’ve got some top recommendations, I’ve been really pleased with our leadership on our business development team, I think they’ve done a phenomenal job managing through this and I think the first thing was focusing on a fairly strict daily schedule. Again, because college is not an 8 to 5 job there isn’t a discipline about learning how to get in a routine and it’s not something that necessarily most people understand until you do it. Whether you’re at home or in an office, with our business development reps we start them up early with a coffee call check-in, setting the day’s agenda with them, then giving them a break to do a series of phone exercises where they come back and then talk about their results. They’ll have a 30 minute call with their manager, then they’ll do an hour of industry training, come back on the phone. There’s a lot of check points and ways for them to interact so that they’re not just at home with the thought of, “Here’s what I’m supposed to do all day but no one’s really interacting with me on what’s working and what’s not.”

The second thing that’s really important is if your company lets you, I know for us as soon as we got clearance, most of ours are up in Minneapolis who are used to getting really bad weather. But as soon as our office in Minneapolis said it was okay, we immediately did start bringing all of them in a week on and then two weeks off while another team rotated on and then two weeks off. By doing that, we were able to keep everyone socially distant but then they got back in the office with their peers and they at least brought some of that. If you are someone who’s working from home now and your office is open and there’s an ability for you to work part-time in the office, I suggest it because I think it is more productive. Again, it’s about teaching and learning these early skills. Finally, you do still need to have social time and keep it fun. When nobody could go out and nothing was open, even our CEO sponsored some Zoom happy hour calls that trickled all the way throughout the organization. We definitely do that with our junior employees whether it’s a theme day where people are dressing up or something to keep it social. I would say it is really important that you just don’t let the days turn into the weeks and there’s not clear delineation. Set a schedule for yourself, do your best to stick with it and wherever possible, if you have the opportunity to engage whether a customer or employee or go back in the office a few days a week, I strongly suggest it.

Fred Diamond: I want to thank Lisa Pope from Epicor for all the great insights. I want to just acknowledge the work that you’ve done in your career, you’ve led some great teams. Epicor is a great company and the work that you’ve done with your customers, I didn’t realize you had so many customers in such essential businesses. As we all say, these are the heroes who are on the front lines getting us to the place where we are, so thank you for all the support you’ve done for their industries. Lisa, we like to end the webinars with one action step. We have people all over the globe watching the webinar, listening to the podcast sometime in the future, reading the transcript. Give us an action item, you’ve given us so many great ideas but give us one specific thing that they should do today to take their sales career and performance to the next level.

Lisa Pope: I think it’s really important that each person differentiates themselves. Think about what your brand is and focus on that. If you’re early in your career you develop it, if you’re later in your career it might have evolved but knowing what you stand for, what makes you different in a sale cycle, not just your product and your company but what you can deliver – it might be incredible customer service, it might be incredible industry capability, whatever that is – work on it. Focus on it and be able to articulate it because now more than ever, sales is still about people, it’s still about trust and it’s still about relationships. Know your brand and sell it. Ultimately, regardless of whether you’re working out of your home or you’re in your office, that’s what’s going to come through and you will achieve your results.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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