EPISODE 377: Datasite CRO Todd Albright Shares How His Sales Force is Recovering Strong

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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 on June 23, 2021. It featured Datasite CRO Todd Albright. Datasite is an IES Premier Sales Employer.]

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TODD’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “It’s all about getting a lead and pursuing that lead. If you’re a seller and you’ve got good relationships, I’d call your best customer and ask for a referral. Think about who we sell to, it doesn’t matter. We sell to investment bankers, that investment banker knows other investment bankers. That other head of corporate development knows other people. You’re probably going to get a really warm introduction if you’ve done your job and been responsive and covered that account. I would call your best customer and ask them to give you a lead to the best prospect and here’s the beauty, it might not be in your patch. But what a wonderful cultural moment that would be when you get to swivel in your chair hopefully one of these days and go to the cube next to you or whatever, or pick up the phone across the country and say, “I’ve got a lead for you.”


Fred Diamond: Todd, you’re the Chief Revenue Officer and the Global Head of Sales for Datasite and you’ve been in this role since April, 2015. You’re responsible for leading the global sales strategy for the company and you manage a global sales organization of nearly 200 sales professionals. You support clients in over 170 countries.

Todd, before we get started here, give us a little bit of an update on what Datasite does, what your company’s missions are. We’ve got questions that are already coming in and we’re excited to talk about what you all are doing to get past the last 15 months and rich into the future.

Todd Albright: Thanks again for having me, Fred. Datasite in a nutshell is the Coca-Cola of M&A technology. We have a platform that enables thousands of deals every month, nearly 12,000 deals every year. These are people that are buying or selling an asset or a company that’s going public or raising financing or you name it, even dealing with distress situations in the case of bankruptcies, restructurings, etc.

We provide a technology platform that allows you to, if you’re selling an asset, market that asset to potential buyers. Once you get a committed buyer, we support the entire due diligence lifecycle. Think like buying a house, you do a termite inspection, you do all these inspections. We provide that super sophisticated, very secure auditable platform for conducting due diligence.

Then we also have tools for buyers of assets as they’re considering potential acquisitions. It’s more of a workflow tool. Then of course, on top of all this, a tremendous amount of reporting and analytics and of course, security, which we trade in daily.

Fred Diamond: Todd, give us a little bit of an update if you don’t mind, on mergers and acquisitions, where we are. We’re broadcasting today’s show, it’s July 2021. Depending on where you’re listening around the globe, we’re in various stages of getting out of the pandemic at some level, returning to some degree of what it might have looked like prior to March of 2020.

There are still a lot of places around the world where they’re still in lockdown. I actually did an interview with a VP of Sales in Winnipeg, Canada last week and they’re still on lockdown. Give us a little bit of an update on the mergers and acquisition scenario right now. Of course, it’s wide-ranging but give us a little peek into the reasons why people need your technology, why it’s happening right now as it is.

Todd Albright: I can assure you that like many industries, we have officially lapped COVID. If you look at our volumes, Datasite is one of these platforms traditionally associated with M&A but our business actually was quite healthy through the pandemic because when times were tough, you’ve got a lot of distressed activity going on, a lot of investment activity going on.

As of June of last year, the M&A business has been up and to the right. We’ve been fortunate to be in a field such as that. Year to date, our fiscal starts in February, our first quarter, the volume of deals on our platform was up 33% year on year. Again, we’re lapping a pandemic here but that is continued into May and into June at current course and speed. We feel really fortunate.

It’s traditional M&A activity that’s more than just the exhale from the pandemic but you’ve had a change in government administration in the United States, you had a significant amount of fiscal stimulus and you have potential fiscal tax policy changing in various countries around the world. That’s all driving a lot of activity in M&A right now.

Fred Diamond: Todd, a question comes in from Jerry in Ohio. Jerry says, “You mentioned 170 countries, what does it look like for a sales perspective right now around the globe?” That’s an interesting question. You mentioned you guys are in 170 countries, I mentioned in the introduction that one of your top leaders who’s based in Singapore. What’s it like managing a global sales organization right now?

Todd Albright: The first thing I’d say is given that Cleveland is my home town, Jerry, there’s no better place to be selling software than Cleveland, Ohio. Go Browns, go Tribe, go Cavs. Listen, I think you hit it in your question. It depends where you sit.

If you’re in New York, markets have never been better, the lockdown has effectively ended. But if you’re sitting in Japan where a month ago only 2% of the population had been vaccinated, you’re scrambling towards the Olympics. If you’re sitting in Southeast Asia, particularly a city state like Singapore where you’re in full lockdown still, it’s tough.

I think as a global sales leader, we had an executive offsite last week not just sales but our CEO and the entire leadership team, you’ve got to be really thoughtful on empathetic in terms of your expectations, of performance, as well as what the market will bear in those markets. We continue to have a very empathetic posture.

I’ve referred to this pandemic as whack-a-mole. We’ve got a wonderful return to work policy until it’s not a great return to work policy because you’ve got spiking cases, etc. Places like the United States, Europe, the trend lines are really healthy. It’s improving in Canada, even improving in Japan as they ready for the Olympics.

You’ve got to be agile on this thing as we get to full herd immunity. As a sales leader, there will be no one-size-fits-all probably for a while yet.

Fred Diamond: We have another question here that comes in from Janice, she’s in DC. Janet says, “What skills are required for selling software like Datasite sells?” I’m curious, again, I mentioned in the introduction that Datasite is an IES Premier Sales Employer which means basically, it’s a great place to work if you’re in sales.

Todd, talk a little bit about what sales professionals who would be successful, what do they look like selling your type of technology, or specifically even Datasite?

Todd Albright: The first thing I’d say, Janice, is we’re going to enable success independent of your background. We’re going to teach you about our products, we’re going to teach you about our markets, we’re going to teach you about the competition, we’re going to teach you about how to add value to the customer.

I would say the characteristics of a successful salesperson at Datasite – and we will increase the number of sellers we have this year by 30%, Fred, which is a bit of a tell on the momentum on our business right now, on the proliferation of the product portfolio.

Listen, if you like to hustle, if you love high-velocity action and you love people, you’re going to do very, very well at Datasite. This is one of these businesses where you can come in in a very short order of time and with proper dedication to training and being accredited and understanding how we’re successful, learning from your peers who’ve been successful here.

This is the kind of business where independent of your background, whether you come out of software and you’ve sold trading terminals for Bloomberg, or you’ve sold pet supplies to major wholesale and retail outlets, we can make you successful. Got to love to hustle, got to love high-velocity sales, got to be really good with people. And of course, curious, but that’s not independent to selling, that’s probably general to all professional success.

Fred Diamond: We talked about curiosity a lot. As a matter of fact, it was the theme of one of our shows from last week. Todd, quick question here. On the Wednesday Sales Game Changers show that we do, we typically talk about two things. How the sales leaders are directing their team to interface and work with customers, and also how you’re leading, managing and motivating your team.

Let’s talk a little bit about the conversations that you’re talking to your sales team about with the customers. Again, you mentioned that there really hasn’t been much stoppage in your particular space and you’re coming out of COVID very, very strong. Talk about what conversations look like right now, and I’ll tell you why.

We’ve been doing webinars every day, you were a guest I think it was back in June of last year with another guy from another company in New York. Every day there’s new words that appear. Empathy, for example, is one of the biggest words that we’ve ever had. Talk a little bit about how you’re directing your team to have conversations with customers.

You always need to be empathetic, but is it now just back to business? Because the industry that you’re in, it’s a no-BS type of a business. It’s fast-paced, it’s hardcore. Talk a little bit about the conversations with customers right now.

Todd Albright: One of the privileges in our business, Fred, is we call on among the most interesting executives in the world. These are CEOs, CFOs, general councils, these are controllers, these are investment bankers, these are security attorneys, these are private equity professionals. These people are in demand, they’re busy, they don’t have much time.

The luxury of that is you cut to the chase and you get down to business which is not always true in many businesses. We, to some degree, are a need-to-have product depending on the nature of your product. It’s about coverage and it’s about execution.

The universal truth about our market right now is that our customers are starved for time. There is more action within each of their spaces than they could ever possibly pursue. The way that our pitch has evolved has really been about how the underlying technology itself can provide time and quality of life back to the traditional users of our products.

A lot of how you use our tool is in the due diligence process, you upload a bunch of content. Financial statements, commercial contracts, employee records, etc. The typical analyst or associate or corporate development person has to open all these documents, they have to read all those documents, they have to index all that content, they have to put it in the right folder, then they have to permission users, etc. It is an arduous, time-intensive, manual and mistake-prone task.

We’ve invested in things like artificial intelligence that actually automates that whole process and gives our customers not just days back, but in many cases weeks. We have automated redaction, you can imagine if you are a public company selling something to another public company, you’re under SCC regulations, there’s a lot of regulatory insight.

As a shareholder responsibility and under SCC guidelines, you’ve got to protect that material nonpublic information from getting public. We offer a redaction solution equally. Imagine a redaction solution where you have to pull out your sharpie and you have to blackline these things.

We do all that though artificial intelligence. For us right now, it’s about serving the customer need. Our customers are starved for time, so most of where we’re leaning in and building out functionality is to address that, and the results are better too.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk a little bit about where we are right now and where you think we’re going to be in the next six months from a sales perspective. Todd, give us a little bit of your perspective about how the pandemic will continue to impact your work and your industry through the remainder of the year.

Todd Albright: Who knows, Fred? Do you know?

Fred Diamond: No.

Todd Albright: I don’t think anybody knows. One of the things that was validating through the pandemic is what a strong connective culture we had as Datasite. Times like this reveal what you have, doesn’t inform or guide what you had. From an executive perspective, 2019, I flew 300,000 air miles around the world as we recruited and built this team and now went to zero starting in February of last year.

Yet our employee engagement results, we just did a survey, our retention rates are best in class. We feel that that’s indicative of the people we have on the team and the quality of the talent as well as how we have enabled success and enabled connectivity among that team.

Where does it go from here? Listen, I have no idea. What I do expect is that we’re going to be in this kind of environment for the next four to six months. I’ll put it out there for anybody on my team who’s listening. Our club trip is in October and that’s the marker for me to business as usual, how about that? [Laughs]

Fred Diamond: What are some other factors or trends that you think we should keep our eyes on for the remainder of 2021?

Todd Albright: One of the nomenclatures for what we sell is a virtual data room. It’s helpful to be selling a product with virtual in it, but I think what’s happened is there’s a rise of customer service just in terms of historically, you walked into the store, now you’re online with a rep.

We’ve made substantial investments in building out, we call it the Datasite experience, which is all about ensuring responsive coverage of our customers’ needs in and when they’re using the product. Any given month, we’re providing 150,000 hours of customer support to our end clients and that’s really relevant. I don’t think that’s going away.

I think some other things that are going to change is in our space, if you’re trying to sell something, you do what’s called a road show and you’re literally flying all over the globe. You’re flying to Seoul, you’re flying to Frankfurt, you’re flying to Sao Paulo. That’s going to change.

I would see what’s happening is what previously for those initial seed meetings would be on-premise type events, you’re going to see those go virtual. If you need to close an order and I’ll quote David Solomon from Goldman Sachs, our great partner and friend, you’re going to get on a plane to book that order.

But those earlier days when you’re seeding an account, you’re getting an introduction, I think positively those are going to be more virtual. What actually also gives you time as a seller to start covering more accounts and chasing more deals.

Fred Diamond: Todd, this question just occurred to me. I don’t usually ask this question, I used to ask it prior to the pandemic when the format of the podcast was a little different, more about stories and experience. Now because of the world, we’ve shifted toward, “Give me some advice for today.”

I’m curious, I’ve spoke to you a couple of times with Datasite being a Premier Sales Employer. I’ve gotten to know a bunch of people on your team and of course, some of your people have been through our Women in Sales Leadership Forum. I’m curious, do you have a go-to mantra or a go-to quote or something that everybody knows, “This is Todd’s”?

As I’m listening to you and I’m thinking back to the two previous times I’ve had you on the show and my knowledge of Datasite, I’m just curious. Do you have something like that? Do you have a go-to that you use?

Todd Albright: I sign off every employee communication with the expression, “Good earning.” As a seller, it’s a privilege to rep any company you’re working for but at the end of the day, we do this job to feed our families, pay our mortgages, that sort of thing. Good earning is the ultimate outcome of what you’re trying to do as a seller. I don’t mean that in a selfish or inauthentic way, that’s the point. Taking the risk to be in sales, there’s a return on that as well.

The second thing I would say is something I learned from my original SaaS CEO, Chip Mahan who’s been a serial entrepreneur, founded multiple companies, public companies. He always said as the CEO of the company to all of his employees, nothing happens without a sale. That’s a great privilege to be at the coalface. When the chips are down, how about just go find an order? It’s funny how the momentum starts to pick up. Nothing happens without a sale and good earning, those two things seem to travel well together.

Fred Diamond: We’ve been saying that for a long time, that nothing happens until there’s a sale and we talked about that a lot on the Sales Game Changers podcast and the IES programs that we do. Back to my original questions, how are you coaching your younger professionals right now? It’s been a challenge, everyone’s been at home. People typically haven’t been in the office, they haven’t been on the road.

We’ve met a lot of young sales professionals who started their careers in pandemic working either in their apartment that they’re sharing with two other guys or their parent’s garage, whatever it might be. Give us some of your saliant advice for younger sales professionals. Then I’m also curious on what is your coaching right now for senior sales professionals, maybe even leaders.

Todd Albright: Billy Beane wrote Moneyball and I had the privilege of seeing him speak at an event that was one of our customer’s and he kept getting questions about team culture. He said, “I found that I didn’t have to worry about team culture if the team was winning.” Fortunately, in our space, we have been in a red-hot market and people have been winning and you know what that implies for the business and commission checks, etc. That’s been really healthy for our culture and the employee engagement results.

I’ve been in sales for a quarter century, I’m proud to say that. Maybe once in a lifetime you’re in this kind of market where things are on fire. Don’t be complacent, because there’s going to be a point where things just change. We don’t know why, maybe the fed raises interest rates or maybe people don’t like tax policy or maybe, God forbid, there’s another pandemic. No man knoweth the hour, but stay vigilant because if you’ve got the hot-hand at basketball, you keep shooting. That’s the old mantra there.

For younger professionals who are new at this and may think this is business as usual, this is not business as usual. We are exploding. The people I feel good for are people in the hospitality industry. Marriott Corporation and the Ritz Carlton there, big partners of ours, Craig Smith who runs Marriott globally over in Asia.

How would you like to be selling conference space and hospitality services in June of last year? Right now it’s on fire, I feel good for those people. Our business has been hot. If you’re early in your career and you’re in a good market, if you’re selling Zoom or Teams or virtual collaboration or GoToMeeting, stay hot, stay on it.

For our more senior professionals, I’d say this. As painful as this pandemic was, what better crash course have you had in management than this? We’ve promoted 30 people out of the ranks of sales to the ranks of management across Datasite in the last 24 months.

Half of those were promoted three months before the pandemic started, so they’re taking on leadership of teams and individuals having to do it and build trust and compel results in a totally virtual environment having never done it before. We gave people a lot of support, but I would say to my sales leaders, be confident. If you could have succeeded through this environment, there’s a lot of upsides for you.

Fred Diamond: We have one specific question here that relates to what Datasite does and this question is from Jeremy. Jeremy says, “What does the deal activity on your platform tell us about where M&A is headed for the rest of the year?”

Todd Albright: Listen, Jeremy, one of the things that came out of the pandemic is we spent significant amounts of time fully instrumenting our business to give us an extensive amount of forward visibility. When things were hitting in March and April and May and June, all companies were being faced with really difficult decisions. It was really important to have forward visibility.

All our forward visibility says that this market will continue to boom for the foreseeable future. Financing markets are very healthy, but there’s another truth as well. Previously in M&A, let’s say 10 years ago, the primary participants were strategics and corporates buying assets. Listen, if a corporate had a bad quarter, everything would go on hold for a year.

What you have now is extreme robust participation, dominant participation by professional investors. Private equity firms, venture capital firms, other professional investors, asset managers who must put money to work. That also portends bullish continuation of these markets.

Fred Diamond: This question comes in from Daniella and Daniella is in the DC area. “How has your sales process shifted when it comes to high-level networking? Where do you see networking in the future as we come out of COVID? Face-to-face is still the highest form of communication if you can find those opportunities.”

Todd Albright, give us your thoughts on business networking right now. How are you directing your team and what are some of your thoughts for the sales professionals listening to today’s webinar and podcast?

Todd Albright: I approve the expense reports, Fred, so I can tell you that things are picking up in terms of face-to-face. Most of the markets that we sell into are highly network, they’re very virtual. I think what’s going to happen is those face-to-face meetings are going to be for icebreakers to establish an initial relationship and to close the deal.

I think you’re going to have less run rate activity which means you’re going to get much more focused on where I’m going to expend my T&E. Part of our making our plan last year was it was like the record needle going across the vinyl, everything just stopped for a year and then things started to trickle in.

We had two sales kickoffs that were scheduled and then pushed because we thought they were going to happen and they weren’t going to happen, and that’s the story around the globe. My view is if you’ve got an opportunity to separate yourself from your direct competitor by being face-to-face, that’s probably a really good investment.

Fred Diamond: Todd, give us one more action step, something specific. You’ve given us a lot of great ideas here, you’ve given us about 30 things people can do and consider, but give us one final action step. One specific thing people should do to take their sales career to the next level.

Todd Albright: First, to close, thank you so much for having me, Fred. I think it’s a privilege. I listen to these podcasts and these webinars as well and we participate for a reason because we believe in giving back, but we also receive something from it.

This may sound cheesy, but it’s really specific. It’s all about getting a lead and pursuing that lead. If you’re a seller and you’ve got good relationships, I’d call your best customer and ask for a referral. Think about who we sell to, it doesn’t matter. We sell to investment bankers, that investment banker knows other investment bankers. That other head of corporate development knows other people.

You’re probably going to get a really warm introduction if you’ve done your job and been responsive and covered that account. I would call your best customer and ask them to give you a lead to the best prospect and here’s the beauty, it might not be in your patch. But what a wonderful cultural moment that would be when you get to swivel in your chair hopefully one of these days and go to the cube next to you or whatever, or pick up the phone across the country and say, “I’ve got a lead for you.”

I think that’s a very practical, actionable step. You know what I’ve noticed over time, Fred? Your best customers want to see you win, want to see you succeed. They may give you more than one lead. Anyway, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Fred Diamond: That is a great point. Something we talked a lot about over the course of the last 15 months is the fact that your customers are coming to you. They don’t have to, but they’re coming to you because they think that you can help them succeed and achieve their mission, so they want to be in relationship with sales professionals who are going to help. We can’t lose sight of that.

Once again, Todd Albright, thank you so much for being on today’s webinar and podcast. For all of our listeners, thank you all so much as well.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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