[EDITOR’S NOTE: On the audio, we erroneously said this episode was number 116 when in fact it was episode 117.]
EPISODE 117: Hanover Research’s Meghan Phillips Shares How She Made the Leap from Being a Researcher to Leading the Successful Team that Sells the Research
MEGHAN’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Develop systems that work for you and stay accountable to the elements of the job that you can control. If you’re organized and develop good processes and then follow those processes, you usually get where you need to go in the end and you’re usually able to do that in a way that you have some semblance of work-life balance.”
Meghan Phillips is a Managing Director at Hanover Research, and oversees the team that sells into the B2B, Manufacturing and Industrial clients for Hanover.
Prior to coming to Hanover, she was with The Advisory Board Company and CEB (now Gartner).
We also interviewed Hanover’s Chief Growth Officer Vineeta Mooganur as part of the Sales Game Changers podcast.
Find Meghan on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about what you sell today? Tell us a little bit about what excites you about that.
Meghan Phillips: Hanover provides custom research and insights to inform growth initiatives for our clients, that could be developing new products, assessing and moving into new or adjacent market opportunities, improving sale strategy. As I mentioned, in particular I oversee the B to B manufacturing segments of that and the reason I’m excited about the product that we bring to market is because the business model and the capabilities that we have really meets a clear need in the market particularly for small and mid-sized organizations that we support.
Often times those companies haven’t incorporated data or research into their decision making because it’s too expensive or they can’t hire the skill sets internally and so we’re often the first resource that they’re using to incorporate those insights so it’s really exciting to be a part of that transformation for organizations.
From a sales perspective, the thing that excites me about Hanover is it’s a fast growing company and there’s a lot of application for our capabilities that we haven’t even tapped into yet. When you’re selling you always want to see that, you want to see growth, you want to see the opportunity for future growth so I’m really excited about that part of it too.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you first got into sales as a career?
Meghan Phillips: I think I’m just as surprised as anybody that I’m in sales, I used to have a terrible fear of public speaking, basically refused to do it so it was a gradual shift to not only being able to interact with clients effectively but also to enjoy it. As you mentioned, I started my career at CEB, I was actually out on the research side of the house there for about 5 years and over my tenure there I shifted more and more to almost a sale support role where I was joining calls with sales folks, account managers, helping with proposal developments.
That’s where I got more comfortable and realized that I enjoy that client interaction and those conversations, but I also realized that I enjoyed the energy associated with sales and the chase. When the deal would close it wouldn’t be my deal, but I would have supported it and I really liked that. I decided I wanted to make a leap and go into a very clear revenue role, so from there I moved to The Advisory Board and was in account management for them working with their talent development partnerships.
Then I came to Hanover and had my first real true sales hunter role here and never looked back, I loved it.
Fred Diamond: We have two types of people that we interview on the Sales Game Changers podcast, there are those who have been selling lemonade since the age of 10 and they knew they were going to be in some type of enterprise sales role, and then there were those who were an engineer or a consultant and then something happened early on in their career where someone noticed something or someone said, “You’re pretty good in front of the customer.” Did that moment happen to you? Do you recall something like that?
Meghan Phillips: Definitely. When I was at CEB especially towards the end, I was a sought after call support partner. I was sought after for helping to close these deals and it made me realize, “I’m pretty good at this, I want to get paid for it. I want to be doing it.” That was really the impetus of feeling like folks wanted me on the call, feeling like I was having an impact and feeling that there was an opportunity to do it myself.
Fred Diamond: You came over from research and then into sales support. What were some of the key lessons that you learned when you made that transition into sales? Some that have stuck with you today.
Meghan Phillips: It was a harder transition than I thought it was going to be, I had been part of the sales process but I hadn’t owned the sales process. I think a couple of things that I learned very quickly were persistence and preparation being so important, there’s a different level of what I’ll call proactiveness that’s acceptable and required in sales. I had to push myself to get to a point where I was comfortable picking up the phone, catching my prospect or something in that third or fourth email touch to generate a response, it’s those interactions that usually yield the update you’re looking for or get you the meeting.
Then once you’re on the phone with an executive, you need to make sure that you’re making thoughtful use of their time, so really taking the time to do that front-end work to understand their business. Have some sort of hypothesis of need, develop thoughtful questions and make sure you’re doing discovery in a way that is going to be interesting to them and also get you the information that you need and hopefully help you develop a compelling business case. The preparation piece of that I think I might have underestimated that but quickly learned what an impact that can have on an opportunity.
Fred Diamond: What are you specifically an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Meghan Phillips: I think just like everyone else, I’m not really an expert in anything but I do think one of my strengths is in process and organization. I think if you asked my team, if you asked Vineeta they would say that probably my greatest strength is process. I think there’s a lot of moving parts to keep track of in sales when you think of top of funnel management, meeting preparation and follow up, opportunity strategy, forecast, there’s a lot going on in any given day, any given week, month. I think I’ve benefited from developing and implementing systems to keep myself accountable to the activities that I need to do and make sure that I’m prioritizing my time in an efficient manner and really executing the activities that are most important first. For me and my team, that process piece is probably what I bring that I think is most important and a strength for me.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Gotten to where you have in such a relatively short amount of time you must have had some mentors that helped you through. Again, we interviewed Vineeta Mooganur who is one of the chief growth officers over here. Is there anybody that you would recognize as an impactful sales career mentor? Tell us a little bit about how they impacted your career.
Meghan Phillips: The clearest person to me would be Mike Dennis. Mike was formerly with Hanover and was our vice president of enterprise overseeing sales for the corporate division at the time. I had my first sales job here and he taught me everything that I know about sales. I came in with enough client facing experience to be dangerous but he really taught me the fundamentals and he was incredibly thoughtful and diligent in the way that he managed the team and our opportunities.
I really learned a lot from him about how to keep yourself accountable as a salesperson but also how to keep your team accountable which was really helpful to me as I shifted into that management role understanding what are the kinds of activities we should be tracking, how you effectively manage somebody else’s business. I would say he has been an invaluable mentor to me.
I would say as a manager, Vineeta has been fantastic. She’s incredibly empowering, she gives me tons of opportunities to step in and try new things and to expand my role so she’s been a really positive force in my career as well.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious, you started out in research and you moved into sales and account management and then you moved into management. How has that been? Obviously it was a great decision, but was that where you wanted to go? Did you recognize that you wanted to go into management at some point and you got there? Tell us a little bit about how you decided to move into management.
Meghan Phillips: I don’t think from the start where I was graduating school in 2009 I thought that I wanted to be manager but one of the things that I like about my job the most is the collaboration. I liked that whenever I was an individual contributor and working with my manager, working with other sales directors, I loved that component of it. I think management gives you more of that, it gives me more opportunity to work closely with folks who I respect to be part of more opportunities, talk to more prospects so I think I quickly realized that was a role I wanted to take on or try.
Having done that last year and then this year as well, I think it’s been a great fit, I’ve really enjoyed it. Hopefully, my team has enjoyed it in some form or fashion but it’s been a great challenge, I’ve learned a ton, I’m really liking it.
Fred Diamond: On that topic, what are two of the biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Meghan Phillips: I think the biggest challenge I run into on a daily basis is how to spend my time and how to prioritize. I could fill entire days, weeks really, just supporting my team on tactical activities, joining calls, editing proposals, thinking through opportunity strategy, but I also need to make sure I’m carving out time to improve our processes or develop new messaging, coach and improve the skill sets on my team. Finding time for both or determining that right mix is a challenge, that’s one.
I would say the second is around talent and for me, it’s around making sure my talent stays engaged. I think certainly sourcing talent is always something that is a challenge in the sales environment but also when you have a team that’s in place, it’s a strong team which is what we have in place at this point. It’s really around how you keep those folks engaged, motivated and helping them think through what are their career steps and how can they be successful. That’s another challenge that I have, is just making sure folks stay engaged and that they feel content in their roles and they have opportunity.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you do, Meghan Phillips, to be successful in optimizing your time?
Meghan Phillips: I think from a logistic standpoint I’m pretty relentless about managing through my calendar and blocking time, having a visual of where is my time going on any given day or any given week. For this bigger activities that aren’t calls or meetings, I still put those on my calendar and block that off so I can see I’m spending 4 hours developing a coaching plan for this individual, or I’m spending this amount of time going through and managing pipeline at a more strategic macro level.
That’s something that I think is really helpful for me to make sure I’m spending time in the right area but also just to have that, track the balance of where is that time actually going and I think it’s cyclical. I think the way that I spend my time changes across a quarter. Right now it’s July, we’re in the beginning of Q3 for us so a lot of my time is spent planning for the quarter, planning for the second half.
My day looks very different than it will in September when we’re all hands on deck trying to close deals and close opportunities. I think you need to be thoughtful about what time of the year is it, what time of the quarter is it and what really matters in that moment. When you do have the opportunities earlier on in the quarter to do planning activities or things like that, carving out the time and making sure you’re actually doing them at that point because that’s really the only time that you have that.
Fred Diamond: Meghan, what’s the #1 specific sales win or success from your career that you’re most proud of? Why don’t you take us back to that moment?
Meghan Phillips: As I think about that, it would probably have to be Q1 2017. Last day of the quarter I came into the office, we always have war rooms for closing days and I had three deals in play, and we needed all of them to close to get across the line as a team. I ended up going three for three that day and it was just a great feeling, not only for myself but also just to help the team and the organization hit the growth targets we were shooting for, certainly everyone else contributed towards that number as well but to have that moment where you’re closing the deals that you need to to get the team number across the line, that was really special.
I got an ice cream cake, so that was great [laughs].
Fred Diamond: Do you ever replay that day in your head? Do you ever think about the success you had? Three for three closed deals, that’s always a great thing which meant also that three customers saw value in what you were bringing to them. Do you visualize that when you have a day that’s maybe a little bit stuck?
Meghan Phillips: I don’t know that I actually do, I tend to be pretty forward-looking as a person, so I haven’t gone back and reminisced about that. It’s not a bad idea, it would probably be motivating to revisit some of the wins of the past whenever I’m having a down day. That was a great day and it’s a great feeling, that’s what you do it for, for these moments where you get the wins, for all the times you don’t. That was a good moment for sure.
Fred Diamond: You made the shift from research to account management into sales and then into sales management. Did you ever question being in sales since you’ve made this transition? Was there ever a moment where you said to yourself, “Meghan, it’s too hard. It’s just not for me”?
Meghan Phillips: No, not seriously. It’s always felt like a fit to me since I found myself in sales, to be honest with you. There are certainly hard days and hard moments but what I found is that usually those lows, those toughest moments, those most stressful moments happen right before a win. You’re at this point you’re not sure it’s going to turn out and then something usually does end up happening, in my experience, that lets you forget about it. Once you have that win in the door, that high from closing the deal makes you forget the stress. So no, I’ve loved it.
Fred Diamond: Meghan, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals across the globe to help them improve their career?
Meghan Phillips: I think when you’re starting it’s really important to keep your head down and trust the process, focus on what you can control. For any sales role there are supporting or fundamental input metrics that you can manage, meeting numbers, contact quality, elevation bench marks. I think as you get started it’s important to make sure you get that part right because you have the ability to manage that piece of it.
Conversion rate comes with time but you won’t have a shot of success if you aren’t making sure that the raw materials are there in the first place. I’d say start there, get the fundamentals down, the engagement with prospects, being compelling in person, on the phone, all of that comes with reps but you need those reps.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Meghan Phillips: I try to say yes to as much as I can. I’m here today doing my first podcast with you – something I haven’t done before – to stretch myself. I take that as my approach in work as well, I try to take on new roles before I’m totally sure I’m ready for them to stretch myself, say yes to taking on hard or unfamiliar tasks when I have that opportunity. I think that really helps from a career standpoint making sure you’re being exposed to different opportunities. From a sales standpoint, I spend a lot of time very close with my team and going to meetings on the phone with prospects to stay really close to the market, I found that to be helpful. I never want to get to a point where there’s that level of separation between myself and the market and that feedback because I can’t effectively coach my team if I don’t know what’s going on with their industries and their business.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Meghan Phillips: Related to that, where I’m really focused right now – especially because we’re selling into a very broadly defined B to B segment – is focusing on developing more targeted messaging for different industry verticals. The competitive landscape in trends in chemical manufacturing are very different from those in auto parts manufacturing so thinking through and articulating how do we speak more intelligently to the executives within each of those segments to really help connect the dots between their challenges or solutions.
I think part of that is developing more specific collateral which is where I’m spending a lot of my time right now, but part of that is also working with the directors to adjust how we’re positioning our solutions in a way that’s going to be more compelling for the folks that they’re talking to in those industry segments.
Fred Diamond: Meghan, one of the other key themes that we’ve seen across the Sales Game Changers podcast – and of course, you came from CEB so you’re familiar with the Challenger Sale and everything that came out of that – but the fact that you need as a sales professional to show more value to your customer than you’ve ever had to show before. Sales has always been about creating and demonstrating value, but it’s even more imperative today as your customer has options and your customer can go to the internet and find things. As sales professionals, we’ve noticed the ones who are taking it to the next level, they truly need to bring significant value to their customer which means not just messaging to manufacturers but I like the way you said to chemical manufacturers and even sub-verticals, if you will.
Meghan Phillips: That’s right. I think building that credibility, that front that you understand their markets, understand their challenges gives you a leg up. There are a lot of options out there for researches, there’s a lot of options for how to do research so I think for us, developing that credibility up front, having a business case that resonates with them is important.
Fred Diamond: I have a quick question before we ask you the last two questions of the podcast. Again, you’re relatively new in your sales career, walking around the floor of Hanover in the past and you have a lot of people who are new, who are younger in their careers – first, maybe second or third job. How do you get as educated as possible as quickly as possible on chemical manufacturing? Do you hire kids who had chemical manufacturing degrees or do you make them sit in a room and read for a month? Tell us some of your strategies for getting your people as educated on the sub-verticals as possible.
Meghan Phillips: I think there are a lot of things that we do to train folks on their industry verticals just as far as the pure context book stuff. Reading the redacted reports, reading through case studies of the work that we’ve done there, reading through information on their industry but what I have found to be most effective is a little bit of baptism by fire. Getting on the phone with an executive, if you don’t know what you’re talking about you’re going to be sure you know what you’re talking about in the next call. That’s the biggest motivator that I’ve seen, we do as much as we can to encourage folks to understand their industry, understand what we do in that space and it quickly becomes apparent to them that they need to do more of that or they feel more motivated to do that if they are going to get on the phone with an executive and need to know what they’re talking about.
Fred Diamond: One thing I tell some young sales professionals is find out who your dad or mom are friends with, maybe you’ll find someone if you’re talking about the chemical industry, maybe someone spent their career at Pfizer or something like that. Go invite someone for a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning and I guarantee you, they will definitely take you up on that.
Meghan Phillips: Yes, and I think we do encourage directors to be curious. You’re on the phone with an executive of a chemical manufacturing company. If you don’t know something, ask them the question. People love talking about their business, they love talking about their role, they don’t expect you to know everything. You have to go in with some level of preparation and have to have some understanding of their business but you can ask questions and learn while you’re talking to them as well. I think that’s a great point.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great point, if you’re a CIO of a chemical manufacturing company I guarantee you, when you go home at night at 6 o’clock you’re not talking about chemical manufacturing to anyone in your house, so they’re always looking to talk. Again, today’s podcast we talked to Meghan Phillips, she’s a managing director in Hanover Research. Meghan, sales is hard, it keeps getting harder. People don’t return your calls or your emails, why have you continued? Again, you’ve been on a nice ascent here in the early part of your career. What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Meghan Phillips: I like the collaboration and I like the energy in sales. I’m a very competitive person naturally so for me I really respond well to the opportunity to achieve a very clear goal that’s motivating for me. I think that’s the biggest piece of it, the self-motivation to achieve a target that somebody puts in front of me. We also have a great team here at Hanover, I work with smart, fun people and that makes the harder parts a little bit less hard. Overall I would say it’s that collaboration and also just the ability to chase something down and feel like I’m contributing to the organization.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Thank you so much, Meghan Phillips for all the great insights today. For the Sales Game Changers listening across the globe, why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire them?
Meghan Phillips: I’m a big believer that sales doesn’t have to be a 70, 80 hour work week. I think if you develop systems that work for you, you stay accountable to the elements of the job that you can control, if you’re organized and develop good processes and then follow those processes, you usually get where you need to go in the end and you’re usually able to do that in a way that you have some semblance of work-life balance. I think the fundamentals, the process are so important to getting you 80% of the way there, so focusing on getting that part of it right, the rest follows through.