EPISODE 625: Buyer Centric Insights for Sales Success with Martha Mathers

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Martha Mathers is the Chief Revenue Officer for OPEXUS (formerly AINS).

Gina Stracuzzi, Program Director for the IES Women in Sales programs, conducted this interview.

Find Martha on LinkedIn.

MARTHA’S TIP: “Take every opportunity you can to learn. If I don’t understand something, I will take the time to invest. I try and hire people who can teach me something new and help broaden my horizons or help me learn different perspectives as well. For me it’s that learning and constantly looking at the next horizon and never assuming I have a complete playbook, or toolbox, or something along those lines, always looking for ways to improve. 


Gina Stracuzzi: Welcome, Martha. Martha Mathers is with us from OPEXUS, and she is the Chief Revenue Officer. We’re very excited to have her today. Martha, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to your role.

Martha Mathers: Thank you for having me, I’m so glad to be here. I will go way back. I began my career in a company called CEB, that later became a company called Gartner. Really moved straight out of undergraduate into that organization as a French major, to my parents chagrin. That’s where my passion for all things go-to-market, sales and marketing really grew and expanded. The company was known for hiring liberal arts majors because they were good at research, good at synthesizing and identifying interesting insights. That was exactly what I was tasked to do early on in my career.

I studied best practices in sales and marketing, had a ton of fun doing it, and really grew within that organization to start to take on larger projects, advisory roles, client work. Ultimately when I left the organization, I was managing a large part of our research organization focused across B2B sales and marketing, thinking about what our offer looked like for chief marketing officers and chief revenue officers, and worked super closely with the author of Challenger Sale and Challenger Customer, Brent Adamson, and Matt Dixon, and Nick Toman, that whole crew.

I began at that point to think, “I’ve seen so many different things. I’ve peeked under the hood in a lot of companies, given them advice, shared what I’ve seen work and not work across companies,” but I started to have that hankering to work in more of an operator role. I took a couple of steps closer, moving into the Vista Equity Partners space. I worked in their consulting group and really went broad and deep with a lot of the software companies and their portfolio, helping them build new sales and marketing capabilities or transform entire organizations.

Over the course of that journey, they asked me to move over to a govtech company called Granicus. I went into the company to rebuild, rework a significant part of their marketing organization as they got ready for their next round of investors. Did a lot of work on their demand generation approach, their alignment with sales, product marketing, sales enablement. I met an individual called Howard Langsam, who’s now CEO of my current company, OPEXUS. He asked me to follow him over a couple of years later. I came in to build marketing where there was none. After a little bit of time he asked me to broaden my horizons to take on the sales team as well. Today my organization is a unified go-to-market team that includes marketing, a federal-focused sales team, and a state-and-local-focused sales team.

Gina Stracuzzi: See, it just goes to show parents don’t know everything, because you really made the best of that. You’ve had some great opportunities. Clearly this is your first bona fide sales leadership role. First off, congratulations on that. I love hearing women getting into these opportunities and given the opportunity to build something, not just take it over maybe. Let’s talk a little bit about, now that you’re embarking on this new aspect of your career, what are your expectations for the role? Where do you see things going? What are some of the things that maybe concern you or keep you up at night in this new role? Because we have a lot of women in sales leaders, new leaders that listen to this podcast, so you might be able to give them some insights that they could really use.

Martha Mathers: The thing that has been most exciting and energizing to me is the idea of a unified go-to-market team. Back in my CEB days, I spent a lot of time talking about how buying wasn’t the serial event, where first you consume information digitally and then you start talking to people and they’re very binary. In fact, we all buy things and we know that that process is both online and offline and includes people and includes digital information. I’ve tried to build a team and a go-to-market community where sales and marketing work hand in hand at scale, but also on individual opportunities to make sure that we’re really leading customers along. Having the opportunity and the blessing from the CEO to build out the organization in that way has been super exciting from my perspective.

The part where I’m constantly thinking and checking myself is thinking about the health of the overall sales capability. I’ve gone super deep in different parts of sales over my career working hand in hand with BDR teams on their cadences and activities, building out seller playbooks, and onboarding guides, and making sure that we’re ramping people in the best way, and then working more surgically on individual deals. But thinking about the whole puzzle and how we’re building each component from sales ops, to pipeline generation, to our closing ability, “Can my reps articulate themes?” I’m constantly thinking about the pieces that maybe I’m missing or the pieces we’re not spending enough time on, and making sure that we’re putting enough energy into all the different aspects of sales excellence.

Gina Stracuzzi: Honestly, it’s really nice to see how you are pulling on various aspects of your career up to this point in order to fulfill this new role. I can tell that it’s given you an appreciation for every aspect of it, which sometimes when people come into roles, they don’t necessarily have that. That kind of really diverse, really deep background that can help them think about all pieces of it. I can see that you’re going to be greatly successful in this new role.

Well, we’ve talked a little bit about what your journey looked like into sales leadership. Let’s talk a little bit of what your biggest takeaways are from the 10 plus years of researching best practices in sales and marketing at CEB.

Martha Mathers: So many lessons to take away. Personally, I worked closely with a number of impressive sales leaders, many of them women. Also some great male sales leaders as well. I constantly am pulling on that network, reaching out to people I worked with on the CEB for marketing and Gartner for marketing leaders products and asking for their personal lessons learned, advice, things like that, playbooks they’ve used and had success with. But then I certainly am pulling on the research that we did over the years as well, because that pulled on so many different companies, so many individual rep behaviors. First and foremost, it sounds bland, but customer centricity, and leading with empathy, and making sure that you let the customer engage in the conversation, and sometimes lead the conversation. Especially when you’re bringing an early career rep onboard, they have a tendency to just talk. That idea of understanding the customer, their priorities and pain points is something that I am really trying to bring to the forefront as much as I can.

I talked a little bit already about my view of sales and marketing and I’ve seen the data that proves the more that sales and marketing can be consistent and unified in their messaging, the better the company performs in terms of their deal quality. That’s another lesson that I’ve brought along overall. Then really trying to coach reps on how to lean into conversations, how to appropriately challenge customers, prescribe the next step, ensuring that as we activate our seller playbook and approach individual deals, all those years of best practice are helping our need to push on different deals and make sure that we have everything we need to help drive the overall growth and health of our business.

Gina Stracuzzi: It goes hand in hand with some of what we’ve been hearing from other guests on the podcast, that it’s so critically important at this particular juncture that you’ve done your homework and you can really coach your clients, your partners on solutions for them, rather than just throwing a bunch of products and services at them and hoping something sticks, because buyers are guarding their dollars and they’re making sure they are spending them very wisely. As you pointed out, they do a lot of their due diligence online in the background before they come to the final decision of maybe the top three companies they want to deal with. I think your point is so well taken, that relying on those years of research knowledge and how you’ve come to know a particular customer is so valuable for your team.

Martha Mathers: I think they appreciate the quotes I bring to the table sometimes and the examples. I’ll share with them individual customer stories. There’s a famous Gartner graphic that we called the Spaghetti Bowl that shows what a buying process looks like. I will take a relatively new-to-role rep and say, “This is what you need to make your way through in order to progress your deal to a purchase decision.” We talk a lot about how to make it easy on the buyer. Then I spend a lot of time as well talking about how to make it easy on the seller. I spend a lot of time with the rest of my leadership team trying to remove some of those obstacles and barriers so that my team can really focus on selling and customer-facing activity versus some of the administrative things, that certainly they have to do, but making that less instead of more of their role.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love that kind of visual too. You’re running a bit of interference for them so they can make their way through that spaghetti bowl. Because if they have to then do a bunch of paperwork on it too, that takes their attention away from it. Let’s talk a little bit about how commercial organizations should be evolving. What’s your thoughts on that?

Martha Mathers: It was interesting for me moving from more of a research and leading edge perspective into a practitioner role, because when you have the luxury of not leading a team, and standing up sales force, and dealing with all the practicalities of running a commercial engine, it’s very easy to say, “You should have a unified organization and sales and marketing should work together every step of the way.” Practically speaking, if you don’t have sales and you don’t have marketing and you don’t have go-to-market systems, there is some work you have to do to put together maybe a more traditional capability as a phase zero or a phase one before you can really evolve it to a true account-based or buyer-journey-aligned motion. Working through some of that and building appreciation for all the nuances of effective modern sales and marketing was something that was I’d say invaluable learning.

There was a Vista operating partner who would always say, “The best leaders can go very broad, but they can also go very deep in certain spots.” Building that depth has been a massive learning for me, is I think about how to get to a great commercial engine. But the company that always inspires me is one called SMART Technologies. It’s an edtech firm, and their chief commercial officer, Jeff Lowe, is always pushing the envelope thinking about how to evolve and how to make his sales and marketing teams work more effectively. He’s the leader that I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from and really picked his brain on how to pull certain principles that he has in motion into my own organization.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love when guests talk about who their inspirations are, or whose posts they like to read, or books, if that’s appropriate, because it gives the listeners an opportunity to delve into that a little bit further as well. Tell us a story or two, if you’ve got one, that really epitomizes why you think that there needs to be this more cohesive approach to sales that includes marketing and it’s more of a holistic approach.

Martha Mathers: A couple of examples come to mind. One, if you just look from the lens of how a healthy company works, you have to have good communication and trust between the commercial functions. I’ve been in a position where I’ve worked with a company where the head of marketing and the head of sales are so focused on what marketing brought in the door and what sales brought in the door, that they really weren’t able to grow the company in a healthy direction because they were so focused on attributing and accounting for what each of their teams had done. I took that lesson and said the amount of energy that was poured into PowerPoint decks and where an individual dollar pipeline came from, think about it, that energy had been into how to go in the next big account. That’s one story that I take with me. I think my CEO now had similar experiences coming from a sales background. We were pretty aligned in terms of what we wanted the organization to look like.

Then I think about customer conversations I’ve had where they’re pointing to something they’ve found on the website, or something that they’ve heard from another customer that’s completely misaligned with what they heard from a sales rep. You think about introducing friction points like that along a buyer’s journey where perhaps they read this great piece of thought leadership that a rep then couldn’t necessarily speak to, that slows them down and makes them wonder how well aligned the product is to the conversations they’ve had and the information that they’ve consumed. I really also try and take that buyer-centric view in terms of how do you make it easy to buy? How do you make sure you’ve got one set of messages that makes its way all the way through a purchasing journey?

Gina Stracuzzi: I’m sure pretty much everybody has seen that, where it’s so territorial that no one is working together.

Martha Mathers: One of my favorite quotes comes from a thought leader in this space. He said to another colleague that I was sitting there with, “An MQL won’t buy you a beer.” I think that is a very true statement, and one that I would encourage any marketing team to think about as they think about how effectively they’re supporting their sales colleagues.

Gina Stracuzzi: Indeed. Let’s switch gears a little bit and let’s talk about the women on your team and the challenges you might see for them. What opportunities do you see for them moving forward?

Martha Mathers: When I think about the team I’ve built, we have some incredible emerging talent. But hiring is one of the biggest challenges that I personally have experienced in terms of how we build a diverse team and how we ensure that we have a great mix of talent and opportunities for women, and making sure that we’re thinking about that from entry level roles all the way up. I really try and spend some time individually mentoring some of the females across both my sales and marketing teams, making sure they understand the software space and our company, and pointing them to different people that I think have unique experiences that they’ll benefit from and learn from as they think about whether they want to keep growing in sales or move into other roles of increasing responsibility in the company.

I’ve also been lucky to work with an incredible number of both female business leaders and female sales leaders. I’ve made outside the company connections as well to really share my network, but also because I can provide advice and guidance and mentorship. But I think the best mentors I’ve had have helped me make those other connections as well that have just given me a fuller toolbox, so to speak, when it comes to thinking about where I want to take my career next.

Gina Stracuzzi: You mentioned briefly that attracting talent is difficult, and that is a challenge that companies across the board are having. Another big one is retention. A lot of times, companies seem to lose, especially women, they lose them in that BDR before they can even make real progress. I don’t know if it’s just a little too overwhelming, and especially now, because teams are semi-hybrid, and you don’t walk into an office and immediately feel encompassed in something and become part of something. You’re operating in your dining room or whatever the case might be, and you haven’t even met the team personally. Are you seeing that yourself and how are you overcoming that?

Martha Mathers: I certainly saw it in my last company in terms of we were almost a hundred percent remote. We did some team building activities maybe once or twice a year, and it was great to have the connection, but not the same as having a whiteboard to go to and that sort of thing. We’ve been pretty deliberate at OPEXUS around building a truly hybrid culture. We, for the moment, are DC based exclusively. Much of our client base is government, so it’s here in DC as well. We moved our office into the heart of Downtown DC because we wanted to be close to our customers, but we also wanted to be close to the talent that we want to come and work at OPEXUS. Thinking about people with 5 to 10 years of work experience, relatively young, hungry, high energy, wanting to have more of a work community.

We require all employees to come in two days a week. They can choose the two. We don’t have intents to say, “Hey, now you have to come back three, and four, and five days.” But we believe having intentional time to collaborate and learn from one another and develop talent, is hugely important. I think we have a pretty diverse executive leadership team. As I think about bringing my team in, and particularly the women on my team, just giving them exposure to people with a broad range of experiences, is good for them as they think about what they want out of their career and they see those different possibilities. My thought process overall is all remote is probably not the best way to do things. Some remote is the norm now and a lot of people thrive on that. We’ve tried to take an approach that gives the best of both worlds.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s something that companies are really struggling with, even the which days a week, because if everybody chooses and they don’t choose the same, and if leadership is going on the same thing, then they miss the opportunity to get any face time. It’s a challenge that I think most companies are still working on. It sounds like you’ve made some strides, and you’re ahead of the curve in many respects, because there’s still a lot of companies trying to figure it out and make it work. They feel like there’s too many days when the office is too empty. It’s still a work in progress, I would say.

Martha Mathers: I think that’s exactly right. I think our employees seem to be signaling they like the direction, they like that we’ve committed to not adding requirements in terms of days in the office. But we strongly suggest everybody come in on Tuesday, just to give a super specific example. We do a lot of collaboration sessions and team meetings on Tuesday so that people come in and they’re meaningfully together. They’re not coming in and sitting with headphones on, staring at a Zoom. I think having some of that intentional experiential time together has helped quite a bit as we think about the path forward.

Gina Stracuzzi: We are at that point in the conversation where we like to ask our guest to give the listening audience one piece of final advice, something they can put into place to make their careers stronger, or office situation better, or whatever you would like to tell us.

Martha Mathers: The one I hold onto is really, take every opportunity you can to learn. I’ve come from a spot where I started my career as a researcher, so that perhaps sounds true to brand in terms of where I’ve come from. But it’s served me really well as I’ve taken on new capabilities or areas of the commercial organization. If I don’t understand something, I will take the time to invest. I try and hire people who can teach me something new and help broaden my horizons or help me learn different perspectives as well. For me it’s that learning and constantly looking at the next horizon and never assuming I have a complete playbook, or toolbox, or something along those lines, always looking for ways to improve. That would be my advice, is learn everything you possibly can.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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