Modern Performance Profile: Jeff Rothenberg, Director, Customer Service at Upgrade, Discusses Identifying Talent, Active Coaching Daily, The 10-to-1 Rule, and More.
In sales, you can often find yourself presented with a vastly undervalued opportunity: To learn not only from mentors and colleagues, but directly from the customer. Just ask Jeff Rothenberg (Twitter, LinkedIn), Director, Customer Service at Upgrade, who had a very unique chance to do just that on a large-scale early on in his career. As manager of business sales for Apple Retail in San Francisco, Rothenberg was able to work closely with a vast range of startups, from two-person operations to enterprises, and discuss their approach to equipping their employees with both the hardware and the information access they need to reach their goals. Beyond simply selling them hardware, iPads, iPhones and computers, Rothenberg and his team worked with a whole host of founders and CTOs thinking through custom-tailored plans for issues like backup solutions and data, and global device management. They ended up making a mark on the development of these new businesses, and picked up valuable insight on to personnel management, productivity and employee empowerment along the way. Not only was the experience valuable for his young reps, it had a profound effect on Rothenberg’s own approach to management. In this interview, Rothenberg pulls the curtain back on some of the wisdom he’s gleaned over the years, including the power of radical candor, the usefulness of the 10-to-1 rule, and what he means by Active Coaching Daily.
The number one thing I look for is that burning to desire to be great. It’s not always easy to identify that, and it’s far more rare to find that inner drive than you would initially think. But when I find people who are essentially driven and motivated to make something special of themselves, it makes my job as a manager so much easier, because they’re fueled to put in the extra effort on all levels. They’re the type of people who ask me before they even start, “What can I do to get ahead? What can I do to be most prepared before going into training? What specific articles, books or websites should I be reviewing prior to joining?” During training, they’re already asking questions without hesitation because they know it’s going to help them. They’re the ones volunteering to give the first demos. They’re the type of people putting in the extra effort, coming in early, staying late, Googling questions that they don’t have answers to at the end of their day. They understand that their first 90 days are really important and so they want to make a mark early and often.
“I’m a huge believer in the positivity factor, specifically when hiring salespeople. I want people that look at things glass-half-full versus half-empty. You’re getting rejected in some ways constantly.”
It can just be a flat-out grind sometimes, so you need people on your team that understand that none of it’s personal, that failure along the way is expected. You have to be okay putting yourself in uncomfortable situations because it’s going to help you become stronger in the long run.
A couple of characteristics I look for are competitiveness and coachability. A history of being competitive and winning in sports or other extracurricular activities is really key. It suggests a certain level of coachability. Nothing sucks more than hiring someone that thinks that they know everything.
“Many of the best sales reps are also people who have a chip on their shoulder. People who have been slighted in the past and are motivated to prove people wrong.”
I look for a history of understanding what a hard-earned dollar is. Maybe they worked throughout college, or they’ve worked from an early age because their family needed the extra income. They’re raised that way. That tells me that they know how to work hard, that money is important to them, and that they take the opportunity I’m presenting them very seriously.
I like to get into their early experience with sales. What in their upbringing might have led them down that road, how they might have been inspired to go into sales.
“In the interview, I’ll ask ‘What was the first thing you ever sold?’ That opens up some really cool conversation.”
That type of question has been impactful in pulling evidence of high-performing behaviors out of people. I want to hear about a candidate’s first few jobs they had growing up. How old they were when they started. What they learned through those experiences that might have benefited them later in their career.
I think it’s also important to get your managers and subject matter experts involved in the training early and often – training should not be delegated. Once you scale your team large enough where you need to hire a full-time trainer or build out a LMS system, your management should still heavily be involved in the training program.
“You need to invest heavily in a strong employee onboarding experience. New hires only have one first day so it’s really important to make it special for them. It’s having little things in order like getting the desk all set up and organized, maybe balloons, take them out for lunch with your management team and some top performers.”
I also like to write a handwritten note welcoming them to the team and just reiterating how excited I am for them to join our team. That first day, that first week really matters and it’s what sticks with them and can often set the tone for the rest of their experience with your company. That’s really important. A lot of people get that wrong. Involving them in the training, I found that while it’s really time consuming initially, that efficiency gain you get with your new hire is tremendous. If you only get a 1% efficiency gain, that’s still significant over the course of 50 plus weeks of a year of people working for you.
Engagement always starts with our leadership team. Our leadership team needs to take an active role, not only in hiring and onboarding, but in the day-to-day. Really setting the energy for our sales floor. As a manager, whether you’re an experienced leader or newly promoted, you’ve got to budget your time well so you can take a proactive approach to coaching.
“One practice I really believe helps to set the tone is something I call Active Coaching Daily. Managers should devote three quarters of their day to rep training where they’re either sitting side-by-side in deep-dive individual training with reps, or plugging into sales calls.”
Coach for one or two specific areas of focus. I believe in doing a lot of live call monitoring. You can do it sprinkler style, plug in to one rep after another for five minutes, listen to calls, take notes, do some coaching after each call. Then, be willing to jump on the phone yourself. We do something we call Power Hour, where we get on the phone ourselves, perhaps to lift the energy level on the floor or create more competition amongst the reps. I think a good manager should always lead from the front. In terms of building culture, it starts with your leadership team. If we’re high energy and we’re highly engaged and we’re really focused on improving our team around us, that’s going to translate to our team.
I know this is really simple, but you need to set a recurring one-on-one that works for you and your employee and stick to that as consistently as possible.
“Don’t move one-on-ones to different days and times just because you think you’re so busy. Employees will usually say it’s okay that you’re moving things around, but it’s really not. It’s disrespectful to them and a big indicator that you don’t value your employee’s time and their voice enough.”
Keep in mind, if your people are engaged and they want to improve every week, the one-on-one with their manager might be the highlight of their week, because it’s the only time that they get some solo time to voice their concerns, their feelings, their ideas and really talk through different methodologies for their improvement. I think this is a common error for particularly new managers but also managers in general.
It’s important to come to team meetings prepared with a detailed agenda, and to get the team to contribute to the agenda. That way, engagement levels are significantly higher. It’s also useful to have team members teach subject matters where they have expertise to their colleagues. So not only are they learning on a deeper level, but they get the experience of explaining it to their peers. I like to show what greatness is with a sales call of the week, chosen by the leadership team or through rep submission. It recognizes that person that had a great call but more importantly, it shows the team, specifically younger sales reps, what greatness is and that even greatness still has areas for improvement. To spur development in team meetings, we’ll also review a great article or listen to an enlightening podcast, break it down and go over what we learned. Lewis Howes has a podcast called The School of Greatness or there’s a podcast called The Charged Life with Brendon Burton. We’ve done book clubs where we read a book every quarter, and review each chapter weekly for about 10 or 15 minutes as part of our team meeting. We’ve even done crazy stuff like meditation training in team meetings to talk about stress reduction, focus etcetera. We’ll bring different people in from all over the company once a month for 15 or 20 minutes to explain what their group does, how they ended up in their role, any advice they may have, and some open Q&A time. We also found individual call listening sessions to be very, very important. These are where we have all of our calls already recorded.
“We bring the entire sales team into the room, listen to calls for an hour and break the call down, kind of like an NFL film room where you’re going over plays and rewinding and fast-forwarding. We found that to be very successful and helpful for people.”
Reps always reported that they got a lot out of that exercise. It creates a transparency with team vision, goals, measurement of progress and a culture of people feeling really a part of the team, a problem solver, a business owner.
I really try and come prepared to meetings, having looked at the latest metrics from my managers, team KPIs or their individual sales rep KPIs.
“I think metrics matter because ultimately, they’re a key indicator of current performance which ultimately drives career progression.”
In my one-on-ones, I want my direct reports to have a clear idea of exactly what they’re doing great at and maybe a few things that they need to improve upon, as well as how they can go about making that change. I also think it’s important not to just leave a one-on-one giving your direct report a list of things to do on his or her own. That’s part of it, but also, as a leader, you need to ask yourself, “Have I given them all the tools and resources they need in order to be successful?”
Hear what other experts have to say about the role of performance metrics in meetings here:
I’ve always believed in radical candor, which involves being very authentic and giving a lot of fearless feedback. We’re going to be the first group of people to high-five you when you close a deal on the phone, but we’re also going to be the first people to give you constructive feedback when we feel you can do better in certain areas.
“I am personally a big fan of skip-level meetings, meeting directly with my manager’s employees that report to him, to assess how well my managers were communicating and performing.”
That way I get feedback from the floor that I can share with my managers directly. It also shows our floor reps that I‘m taking significant time out of my week to meet with them and hear how they’re doing, what’s going well, what we’re struggling with and what we can do better. The floor always felt really supported, which is big.
I think first of all, it goes back to culture. It starts with having this transparent atmosphere where everyone has a voice, where there’s the constant encouragement of new opinions or ideas. We welcome constructive criticism and our leadership team is always transparent about the fact that we don’t have all the answers. Being humble and being open really matters. At Lending Club, we went from having a five-person team when I first joined to having over a 70-person team. Your communication changes. Some of the things we did to make sure that we’re communicating well with our staff is we would ask them questions in their one-on-ones or team meetings how is this form of communication working for you, do you feel well-informed, where are we missing things?
“I try to live by the ten-to-one rule. Ask questions at a rate of ten to one of giving answers. I want to get detailed information on their day-to-day experience in order to evaluate career progression and the goals they’re working towards.”
Are we tracking towards your career goals, both short-term and long-term? How are we holding you to account on your performance to help you reach these goals? As a management team, there was so much great information that we were sharing amongst each other behind closed doors, but we weren’t sharing with our teams on the floor. Say for example, I had a monthly PowerPoint presentation that I put together for our CEO that I would present to him on the state of our sales business. I would share that same PowerPoint to our sales team in our meetings to keep them informed. We also created a monthly newsletter where we recognize top performers, top performing teams. We give team updates around performance. We also highlighted specific changes that we had made in the past month based on their previous feedback to let people know that, “Hey, not only did we hear your feedback loud and clear but here’s the progress that we’ve made in making positive changes based on your feedback.” That was really well received.
I break goal setting down into five parts. First, limit the number of goals you set. It’s difficult to focus on more than about 5 at any given time. Complex lists with several goals under each section is a recipe for losing focus and slowing progress. You should be able to repeat your goals from memory.
“I believe in smart goals, meaning they must be specific, realistic, actionable, date-bound and measurable. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
Every goal really should start with something like an action verb like run, eliminate, finish, quit versus a go-to verb like am, be, have. A good goal should stretch you to the edge of your comfort zone and then step over it. If I’m not out of my comfort zone, then I don’t really think I’m thinking big enough with goals. Third, it’s important to simply write it down, even if you don’t include an action plan. This is really critical. When you’re writing something down, you’re actually stating your intention and setting things in motion for yourself. I literally make the team write their goals down, print it out and frame it on their desk, so that it was in front of them every day. Fourth, review them frequently. When you review your goals, you need to ask yourself what’s the next step I need to take really to move forward with this goal. I’ve always been a proponent of sharing your goals, especially with people who are going to help you accomplish your goals. It creates this accountable structure for achieving your goals where people can follow up with you and also help you achieve your goals together.
We use something called OKRs, which is really a simple spreadsheet. OKRs are objectives and key results. Every employee would put in four different quarterly goals, three of them being professional and one of them being personal and highlight the action that they’re going to take to achieve those goals. Then, we would share that spreadsheet over the cloud with the entire company and make sure we can read each other’s. That will create that structure of accountability as well.
The first qualitative measure I look for is personal effort. There’s a correlation between a rep who regularly smashes his or her quota, and those who do the little process things that sales managers preach. For instance, how does the rep spend his or her time when not on the phone? Are they on YouTube or Facebook, or are they talking to managers about new approaches, organizing their upcoming to-do list or reading a chapter or two in the sales book?
“It’s a key skill, managing time, planning and preparation before calls. Failing to plan really is, as they say, preparing to fail when it comes to making sales calls.”
Second is knowledge. Does a sales rep understand your product inside and out? Can they answer any question both from customers or internally about your products? When new features are introduced, do they make the effort to learn about those new tools? Can they communicate your product’s value proposition against the competition? It’s being fully aware of your competitors, their products and perception in the industry at all times. Third is personality and attitude. Does a rep get along well with the rest of the team? This doesn’t just mean hanging out for a few beers and laughs on a Friday afternoon. It’s important to observe how helpful a rep is, how willing are they to go out of their way to help pick up a struggling rep. Teamwork is a really critical part of sales success. Lastly, is the rep willing to accept responsibility when things don’t work out? A rep who steps up and is willing to take responsibility publicly is a strong sign of character.
I encourage reps to focus on your own growth. Even though initially, it can seem like a really selfish thing, you actually transform everyone you come into contact with. By working on your own growth, whether it’s improving your health, improving your relationships, improving your finances, improving your spirituality or really taking charge of your career path, you become a different person. You transform yourself, and in the process of transforming yourself, you actually influence your colleagues in a whole different way than you might be influencing them right now.
“We’re not just trying to create great sales people or great customer service people, we’re trying to create great people.”
Reps that are focusing on growth serve as a model for the people around them. They serve as an example of how others can create that kind of change in their lives. We’re trying to incorporate a lot of that type of modeling and learning into our team meetings.
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