EPISODE 539: The Sales Organization’s Role in Promoting Corporate Culture with Datasite CRO Mark Williams

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast, sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales featured an interview with Mark Williams, Chief Revenue Officer, Americas at Datasite. Datasite is a 2022 IES Premier Sales Employer. Read more about the distinguished Premier Sales Employer designation here.]

Find Mark on LinkedIn.

MARK’S TIP ABOUT HOW TO BE A PREMIER SALES EMPLOYER: “We believe that culture is owned and operated every day by everybody on the sales team. To give you a practical example of that, we don’t have rules of engagement, we have guidelines of engagement. One of the things that we do is communicate the intent of what we want to achieve to the teams right down to the seller level, and we make them responsible for achieving that outcome and in the way that we want it achieved versus. I think anybody listening to this podcast will either have worked in or know somebody that’s worked in a sales organization where rules of engagement have been weaponized. That’s a practical example of how we work pretty hard on the culture and everybody has an ownership stake in the culture.”


Fred Diamond: Mark, the IES, the Institute for Excellence in Sales just announced our 2022 Premier Sales Employers, and it’s basically a guide. It’s on the IES website of the top places for sales professionals to consider working. As we all know, it’s a constant challenge to get great sales professionals to join the team. The mission of the IES is to help sales leaders like you attract, retain, motivate, and elevate top tier sales talent.

We created the Premier Sales Employer to basically help people who are looking for great places to work to find the top sales cultures, the top companies that really appreciate the sales process. It’s the second year in a row that Datasite was recognized as an IES Premier Sales Employer. It’s great to meet you. We’ve had some great people from Datasite on the Sales Game Changers podcast in the past.

Todd Albright has been on a couple of times. Russ Walker is an IES Premier Sales Leader. We had him on the show last November and some of your great women in sales leaders like Nertila Asani and Rosie Corcoran have both been on the show as well. It’s great to have you. Let’s get started. Again, Datasite is an IES Premier Sales Employer. What does that mean? What does it mean to be recognized as a great employer for salespeople?

Mark Williams: Well, firstly, Fred, thank you very much for having me on the webinar this morning, and thank you for everything you and the team do for the sales community.

Fred Diamond: Appreciate that.

Mark Williams: I think for Datasite to be recognized by IES, that helps us in terms of appeal. We are in growth mode, we’re hiring. I’ve added over 36 quota carrying salespeople to the team this year alone. As we look to build the deepest and the broadest pipeline possible, being recognized by IES, as people do research and try and evaluate what would make sense for the next step in their career, that helps put us on the map and we appreciate that.

Fred Diamond: Tell us what you do at Datasite and that’ll put in a little bit of context as well.

Mark Williams: I am responsible for sales operations in the Americas, so Canada, domestic US and all of Latin America. For those that haven’t listened to one of the previous podcasts with Datasite, we’re the leading SaaS provider for the M&A and capital markets industry. We support everything from corporates and their corporate development activity through to the adviser communities that then support them as they complete mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, fundraisers of various types, things like that. Think investment bankers, lawyers, audit firms, and all of those advisors that orbit the large public and large private corporates.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about Datasite specifically. What specifically does Datasite do to make itself an attractive destination for sales professionals? I also saw that recently Selling Power Magazine had you guys at the top of the list as a place you want to work for, so glad to see that we’re both thinking the same way, the IES. By the way, our process, companies apply, and we have an independent judging committee who goes through a 10-question application. They rate all the answers, they do their own research, they then do some follow up. What is it about Datasite that makes it an attractive destination for sales professionals?

Mark Williams: There are a couple of reasons that make it a solid destination, Fred. I think the first one is culture and we work pretty hard on that. Obviously, our CEO Rusty Wiley sets the cultural tones at the most senior level, but really, we believe that culture is owned and operated every day by everybody on the sales team.

To give you a practical example of that, we don’t have rules of engagement, we have guidelines of engagement. One of the things that we do is communicate the intent of what we want to achieve to the teams right down to the seller level, and we make them responsible for achieving that outcome and in the way that we want it achieved versus. I think anybody listening to this podcast will either have worked in or know somebody that’s worked in a sales organization where rules of engagement have been weaponized. That’s a practical example of how we work pretty hard on the culture and everybody has an ownership stake in the culture.

Fred Diamond: Let’s get right to it. How are things going right now? Again, we’re doing today’s interview, we just published the Premier Sales Employer Guide 2022. We published it in June and July. We’re doing today’s interview at the middle of July of 2022. How are things going for the sales organization right now? We’re still coming out of the pandemic, it’s not really going away. People still want to work from home, people are still struggling to get back to the office, people are still doing remote things like selling over Zoom and it ain’t going to go away. How are things going in the sales organization?

Mark Williams: Things are going well. Last year was one of the best years ever in M&A and obviously we benefit from that. We had over 33% year on year growth. Our financial year ends January 31st. We had that strong performance coming into the beginning of this year. We had over 40% increase in the number of projects that we supported last year. Obviously some of those projects while we won them at the beginning of this year, they’re currently on the platform in flight. We can’t talk about them, because obviously they’re confidential.

We’ve got pretty good visibility into how this year is going to go for us. The market conditions have certainly changed this year from last year. They’re not as bubbly, obviously. Inflation’s now at 9.1%. The Fed are indicating that they’re going to raise interest rates, another 75 basis points. What that has resulted in, I think it’s put pressure on the market.

Again, I think that’s an indication of how solid the Datasite business model is and our value proposition is that we’ve been able to withstand that and do well in the current environment. As we come to the halfway stage at the end of July here, we’re ahead of the targets that we set ourselves for this year and we’ve maintained our year on year growth. I’m pretty happy with what the team has done to deliver those types of results in this current environment.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about salespeople right now. Again, I mentioned The Great Resignation before. The reason that the mission of the Institute for Excellence in sales is to help sales leaders attract, retain, motivate, know the top tier talent is that it used to be a question I would ask on the podcast to the sales leaders all the time. I remember asking that question to Todd when I first met him back in December of 2019. I interviewed a guy named Frank Passanante who’s a Senior VP at Hilton for USA, and he said, “Everybody should say hiring and retaining and that’s table stakes.” He said, “Everybody who’s a sales leader needs to deal with that.” He then gave a couple of other answers.

What are salespeople looking for right now? Again, you said you’re hiring, you’re bringing on new people, what do they want, especially the ones who are good? What do they want out of an employer to help them be as prosperous? Even though we know that salespeople, the first thing might not be compensation. It’s definitely up there, but also things like culture, things like recognition, appreciation. What are some things that you think salespeople are looking for right now?

Mark Williams: I would actually break salespeople into multiple categories, Fred. If you look at folks who are maybe in an inside sales role and looking to take their first field sales role, culture is definitely important in that cohort. They ask a lot of questions during the interview cycle about training and territory, what is their opportunity to be successful and what is their career path? What does that look like? If they’re going to invest in their time in this stage of their career with a company, what is that going to do for them on a medium and a longer term basis?

You mentioned having had Rosie Corcoran on the podcast. Rosie started off in our New York office as a sales associate before ultimately being successful in a number of roles and moving over to the London office as a VP of Sales. Then, if you look at the America sales team, and one of the things I like about LinkedIn is these are publicly available facts, not something that we tell people during an interview, they can do their own research. We’ve got a number of people on our team here in the Americas that started off as sales associates through the meritocracy that we run, were successful and are now in sales leadership roles.

In that maybe first field sales role cohort, we’ve got some pretty good data for people to look at, obviously IES. You mentioned being ranked number one by Selling Power. That’s important for people starting their sales careers. The next cohort maybe point to our more experienced and successful sellers who’ve been around a little while. They know what they like. Importantly, they also know what they don’t like, and we’ve done pretty well in attracting top talent from that cohort as well.

The questions differ slightly, and especially in this environment, it comes down to how stable is the company? How well funded and capitalized are you? What does the revenue growth rate look like? Is it planned and scalable year on year success or is it unrealistic, we’re going to hockey stick, and everything’s going to be okay for us to get to a C or a D round of funding?

They ask a lot of questions about fundamentals. They ask a lot of informed questions about the comp plan. At Datasite, we have an uncapped comp plan. We regularly run specs to react to market conditions during the year to incent sellers to perform. Then you alluded to it a little earlier in terms of the coming out of the pandemic. We’ve been very flexible with our work from home and work from the office.

Now, interestingly, as we’ve reopened offices, we’ve had a number of people who want to be in the office. Not everybody has a home environment that is conducive to working and some people enjoy that separation of being able to leave where they live, go to work, feel like they’re at work, and then when they leave work and go home, feel like they can decompress. We’ve shown a lot of flexibility around that and I think that’s helped us attract and retain talent in multiple cohorts across the sales spectrum.

Fred Diamond: I’m just curious, that’s a great answer. What would make a great Datasite sales professional? Again, you’re getting all these accolades now from the Institute for Excellence in sales and other places, and the company is doing great. What would make somebody really successful? You talked about the two different levels, beginning off their career, and then mid-course, and obviously, there’s a lot of opportunities for growth as you just described really well with Rosie. What would make a great Datasite sales professional?

Mark Williams: For me, it comes down to three things. The first one is curiosity. If you are curious, it’s fun, it’s not work. When the alarm goes off in the morning, you’re not dragging yourself out of bed. If you’re curious about the market, if you’re curious about your customer, if you’re curious about Datasite, that makes it fun, that makes it enjoyable. That’s one of the key things that I look for as I trade in somebody and ask them during an interview process, to give me examples of how they’ve been curious and what that’s led them to.

There’s no substitute for hard work. We’re in sales, there’s direct line of sight on your output to your reward, so hard work. Now, there’s obviously flexibility around when you work hard and how you work hard. We’re not just looking for people, the Dilbert Principle of clock in at 6am and work till midnight. That’s not hard work, but real hard work where you put an actual effort, energy trying to improve your position.

Then the third thing is teamwork. Because of the market we serve and the types of customers we support, surrounding a deal and working with your colleagues is very important. That’s another trait that we look for in people in order for them to have the most amount of success at Datasite is strong teamwork, enjoying working as part of a team, succeeding as part of a team is important.

Fred Diamond: One thing that people say is people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. I want to talk about leadership for a little bit. Talk about some of the leaders. You don’t have to mention by name, but what type of leaders work at Premier Sales Employers? What are some of the characteristics that they have?

Mark Williams: I think to be a good leader, you need to lead from the front, you need to display empathy to the people. You need to be a good problem solver. Leadership is not about, in my view, having all of the answers. Leadership is about putting the right team of people together to come up with the answer, the ideas, and if they don’t have the answer, to find the answer, and to then coach and motivate those people, and then take those ideas and scale them across the organization so that the organization can be successful.

If you look at Datasite, we invest pretty heavily in that. One of our former top sellers was promoted into a sales leadership role, and we run leadership training cross functionally. In addition to that, another top sales person out of our Chicago advisory team is responsible for sales enablement. Her and her team are responsible for training salespeople.

As those salespeople come up through the ranks of the 24 sales leaders I have on the team, more than 20 of them are in their first sales leadership role at Datasite and we run sales leadership training specific to Datasite for those people and put them in an environment to be successful. I think that helps us take real world sales knowledge from the field and have it embodied in sales leaders so that when they’re running and motivating and coaching their teams, they can do it from a position of strength and you couple that with empathy. I think it’s one of the reasons why we’ve had the success we’ve had.

Fred Diamond: Again, you’ve been recognized two years in a row now as an IES Premier Sales Employer and the company is on a great trajectory as you just mentioned. What are some of the biggest challenges you think you’re going to face remaining premier? No one expected The Great Resignation, nobody expected, obviously, some of the things that have happened during the pandemic.

One of the biggest programs we have at the IES is our Women in Sales program. There was an estimate that over a million women in sales professionals left the workforce by the US Chamber of Commerce over the last year and a half. Things are getting easier in a lot of ways, things are coming back in a lot of ways, but there’s still a lot of remnants of what’s happened over the last couple of years. What do you think some of the biggest challenges you’re going to face to remain premier will be?

Mark Williams: Continuing to innovate is going to be important. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of attracting talent. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of retaining talent. That’s not just from a sales standpoint. Our global head of HR, Deb LaMere, recently won an award for being the CHRO of the year. We’ve partnered pretty strongly with folks in the organization like that to improve our benefits package so that we can attract and retain talent.

Of the 36 hires we’ve made this year, 18 have been referrals. We’ve got a very strong referral program and that helps add to our culture. We need to keep that going if we’re going to remain a premier provider. Then I think continuing to provide career path opportunities for sellers, whether that’s moving into from, say an advisory sales role into corporate focused sales role, whether that’s moving into a team leader, or some form of sales leadership role.

Or for example, the lady that runs my revenue operations team was a former multi-year accelerated club qualified salesperson who decided they didn’t want to go into a sales leadership role, but really liked the scientific nature of revenue operations. If we can continue to innovate, create roles and create paths for people, I think that will help us stay at the top of our game.

Fred Diamond: Mark, I have a slightly different question for you as I’m listening to what you’re saying. Last June, I did an interview with a guy named Tim Solms, who is the VP of public sector for D&B, Dun and Bradstreet. I asked him, I said, again, this was in the midst of the pandemic, of course. I said, “What are your major priorities right now?” He said, “Managing and monitoring the fatigue of our sales organization.” That was an unbelievable answer for me and that set the ground for a lot of what we started talking about on the Sales Game Changers podcast.

So Mark, one of the challenges people are facing right now is mental health. Again, there’s a new suicide prevention line that was just announced, 988, that’s available today. Anybody in the country, the United States, can dial 988 to get assistance if they’re struggling with mental health and suicide. Where are we as sales leaders? Where should we be right now with getting this beyond, “How are you doing with your sales process? How’s your account strategy going?” Should we be getting deeper and vulnerable? That’s a theme that has come up a lot over the last two years. Curious on your thoughts about where we should be as Premier Sales Employers at that level with our sales teams.

Mark Williams: I think you need to strike the right balance of not stepping over a line and getting too involved in somebody’s personal business, but being there for them as a leader. I think what that comes down to is having a broad strategy. There’s just not one route for somebody to ask for help or disclose that they may need help. For example, we increased our employee engagement through anonymous surveys so that people could speak freely, anonymously.

We talked with our sales leadership on how to engage with their team members to pick up on signs that people might be getting stressed and fatigued. We worked with our HR team to come up with ideas to decompress, so recharge days. We talked about that a lot, Fred. We try to demystify it and debunk it as a topic that shouldn’t be pushed into the background because sales can be a stressful environment and people can put as much stress and pressure on themselves as they feel from the organization.

We did some social things. For the last two years, we’ve participated in Movember, which does some really good work specifically orientated at men’s mental health, Moustaches and Acquisitions was a good name that one of our team came up with. This year I’m running the New York Marathon for the Movember team. We’ve done a range of things to try and be approachable in whatever lane folks want to, or feel that they need to, and we’ve tried to look as best as we can for signals.

Work to do, absolutely, but we’re trying pretty hard to make sure that folks don’t feel burnout, and that don’t feel overwhelmed. One of the things I’m really proud of coming out of the pandemic was the resilience that the team showed and demonstrated in helping each other, themselves. The pandemic was a real pressure test and a lot of people talk about how strong their culture is. I think one of the reasons we were as resilient as we were was our culture.

Fred Diamond: Have you run marathons before?

Mark Williams: I have, yes.

Fred Diamond: Good. Mark, before I ask you for your final action step, what are sales professionals expecting? We talked about what you’re delivering. What do they want right now? Just a little bit of a summary here. We talked about the fact that it is a buyers’ market in a lot of ways and sales professionals have a lot of options, a lot of great places are looking for people, even though we’re entering maybe a challenging time, but what do they want? What do they really want from their employers right now?

Mark Williams: If I was to boil it down into one response based on the interviews I’ve done since the beginning of the year, I’d say they want to work for a company where the value propositions are must-have value propositions versus nice-to-have value propositions or whether it’s a somewhat on the bleeding edge. So nice-to-have versus must-have is the key question that I get.

Fred Diamond: Once again, I want to acknowledge Datasite, I want to thank you for being with us today. I want to thank the people that we’re working with over at Datasite, Russ Walker and Lisa Bynum and the enablement team. They do a great job, it seems, to support all the people and again, congratulations and all the recognitions. Thanks again for being a part of the IES Premier Sales Employer. Give us one final action step. Break it down, something specific. You’ve given us 25 great ideas. Give us one thing specific people should do right now after listening to today’s show to take their sales career to the next level.

Mark Williams: If they haven’t already, pick up a copy of Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet.

Fred Diamond: Okay, why do you recommend that book?

Mark Williams: Because in terms of being curious, and challenging critical thinking skills, and giving them a new perspective that they potentially haven’t had already, I think it’s a very good book to bring that out.

Fred Diamond: I’m looking forward to reading that. A lot of times, I’ll ask the sales leaders how have they achieved success, etc. and curiosity comes up all the time. We did a show earlier this year with Dr. Alison Horstmeyer, that was probably the industry’s leader on curiosity in business and using curiosity to grow business. We’ll put a link to that show as well and, I’ll make it a point to pick up the book you just recommended. Once again, I want to thank Mark Williams. I want to thank everybody who watched or listened to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast. My name is Fred Diamond.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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