It was her idealism that initially led Annelies Husmann (LinkedIn) to sales. As someone who always considered herself an environmentalist, she had landed a dream job at Opower, a customer engagement platform for utilities. Laying out the benefits of smarter energy consumption was a natural fit for her. But before long, she found that she had fallen in love with selling itself. Since those early days, Annelies has also become attached to startup culture, moving from Opower to Yammer and then to AdRoll, where she was exposed to management and mentoring. She immediately took to the challenge of helping others develop and grow their careers. In her current role, as director of sales at Mode Analytics, she was able to build out a sales and account management program from the ground up. In a wide-ranging interview, we touch on topics including how she uses her Personal Work Time (PWT), winning like you’ve been there before, and why she can’t stand the phrase ‘open-door policy.’
One of the things that sets my hiring style apart is that I don’t have an exact formula for finding a killer performer. What makes teams and organizations really great is when they draw people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. That being said, I do look for some key attributes in the interview process.
“When hiring for high performance, I look for some sort of record of having done it before – whether it’s academia, sports, or a previous role. Then, how is that transferable in some sense to the role we’re interviewing for?”
I want to get at what it took for them to achieve success. Was it something that they really had to work for? Or did it just come naturally to them? If it fell more on the natural side of the spectrum, I would want to dig in more about whether they have the dedication to grind and to learn and to improve.
What exercises, tests and interview questions have you found useful in identifying high performers during hiring?
I don’t personally believe in “gotcha questions.” It ultimately doesn’t serve the purpose and really only creates an uncomfortable situation.
“I want candidates to tell me stories about their past performance. In sales, it’s important to be engaging as a storyteller, so I begin to test that ability.”
Having candidates walk through their stories demonstrates whether they have the Emotional Quotient (EQ) to say, “These are what my struggles were, and these are the ways I overcame them.” Of course, it also tells you how they view their successes. Are they humble? Are they not? Are they going to be a great culture fit?
I meet with most of my team on one-on-one basis each and every week. With new hires, we do it maybe twice a week. Then, as they get ramped, we move it down to once a week. I see my much-more-senior team members every other week, because their schedules tend to get pretty crazy. In one-on-ones, the secret is just being present. I know that will sound a little San Francisco–New Agey, but it goes a long way to have your laptop closed and take notes. It’s their 30 minutes. You want to commit to that as soon as you walk in that conference-room door. It’s important that one-on-ones are consistent and predictable. Do them on a regular cadence and follow the same agenda, so things don’t fall through the cracks. You have to come prepared. Spend 15 minutes before each one-on-one reviewing last week’s notes, preparing this week’s notes, and dropping in Salesforce links, so you can have a really great 30 minutes. Set the right expectations from day one. I guide new team members by saying “These are the topics we might talk about. I can help you choose the first few.” I want to help coach them and get them to the point where they understand the value of it.
“There are two time slots every day that I reserve for Personal Work Time. So I can have some time to come to one-on-ones prepared myself.”
I spend a few minutes in the late afternoon looking at my meetings for the next morning, and a few minutes right after lunch looking at afternoon meetings. The team has to know, “If I come prepared, if I have questions to ask, it’s going to help me in my career, and with my deals and my bottom line,” all of which are important to them.
It goes back to the values and the culture. We might say to new hires, “Hey, we’re a team here. We share best practices. We’re not a culture that tries to hide a great email or hide how we closed something successfully. We have team goals and holding onto information like that would not get us to where we need to go.” At Mode, we’re still developing in small teams. Luckily, we haven’t run into too many communication problems yet. We all sit together.
“We’re much more likely to spin around and just talk to each other rather than type messages into Slack. That also means anyone else around you can turn around and listen in. What could have been a one-to-one communication has now become a one-to-many communication.”
With Slack, there can be this recurring theme of, “It got lost in Slack.” There’s definitely a downfall of this approach because messages are not recorded anywhere. That’s something I’m still trying to work through. We have all these great one-to-one communications, team discussions, now, how do we record them to help new hires get up to speed?
I make sure I ask my team for feedback on a whole spectrum of issues, including communication style. You know you’re communicating well when the team can repeat back important items like the goals for the quarter and the metrics that matter.
“I can’t stand the phrase, ‘It’s an open-door policy.’ It’s overused. You need to check in with team members on a daily basis to make sure things are going well, not just wait for them to come to you.”
I also tend to have candy and junk food on my desk so if they want to come to me to talk, that’s a great incentive. I have this awesome bowl of chocolate-covered espresso beans I just brought back from Ecuador that are just dynamite. I also have a poof that sits right next to my chair and so people can come sit in the poof. They don’t have to awkwardly hover above my desk.
If I’m doing a recurring task, I ask myself, “Is this the best way I could be spending my time or would I have more impact shadowing a phone call or even getting on the phone with a client?” If the answer is that I could be using my time better elsewhere, then let’s try to delegate that task.
“Once someone is ramped, they’re doing well and they have their core role on lockdown, then that’s a great time for them to start getting cool projects outside of just hitting quota.”
Make sure they have one or two recurring projects a quarter that they can participate in.
Goals should be clear and concise. You should consistently check in on progress, which is one of the things I make sure is on the agenda for each of our team meetings.
“It’s not just the reading off of performance metrics, but what are the stories behind them? How are the numbers changing from week to week?”
Are we having a really great week for outbound, which will help us kill our number? Or if we are having a really crappy week, why is that and what can we do to fix it? It’s also crucial that team members can access the info whenever they want and check progress toward goals. Depending on what the metrics are, they either live in dashboards in Salesforce, or they live in Mode. We have a couple key goals or metrics that will always sit at the top of our weekly Quip doc, and they’ll match the first couple modules on the top of the dashboard. We’re a data company. We’d be in a world of hurt if we weren’t making good use of our own platform. Our chief analyst does some pretty killer stuff for me in Mode that supports all of this, so I’m really lucky. As a sales leader, that has made my life so much easier in so many ways.
For SDRs, we use Outlook to tag positive reply rates. That’s something we’ve found effective in tracking outbound SDRs.
“We don’t just track how many replies you got, but how many positive replies, because that is really what’s going to drive the needle for SDRs toward their quota.”
Once we have that number, we ask “How many emails or accounts do you need to touch to hit quota?” We always try to move that number up because that’s one of the easiest numbers to increase. For account executives, we focus on driving deal size, or Annual Contract Value (ACV). As you become more senior, build a better pipeline and get to know the industry more, I want you to be focused on driving your ACV on a per-seat basis in the deals you land. I want my team to sell bigger contract values from earlier on. If they can grow their deal size by 10, 20, 30 percent, then that means they’ll hit quota that much faster. For account managers, the number we want to look at is touch points per quarter for VIP clients. The goal there is defending our relationships and making sure big clients feel loved and cared about.
One of the things I’m working on with some of my account executives right now is competitive positioning. That’s more of a soft skill. It’s not something that’s easy to track with numbers like you can with emails, calls or demos.
You have to keep an eye on how AEs conduct themselves on those emails, calls, and demos and ask each team member, “How did you position yourself and Mode against our competitors? Is your ability to do this improving?” We all know what our win rate is, but not all things are equal in those situations. So, it’s important to go deeper and make sure they are demonstrating industry knowledge, and are always improving at competitive positioning. If you go to head to head with a competitor and swing and miss every single time, then it doesn’t matter how many at-bats you have, because you’re still not going to do well.
“People will tell you that sales is an art. What they mean by ‘art’ is showing skills in competitive positioning, product and industry knowledge, and knowing when to push and when to pull back.”
Those are the types of things you need to try to get at even if they are hard to track.
One of the phrases that I say to my team a lot is “Don’t stop.” Look, you’re ahead. You’re in the bonus round. Keep going.
“If a team member has a great win, I’ll say, ‘Great, you’re on a high. Go call those three people who’ve been avoiding your phone calls.’”
I want them to use that positive energy and keep driving toward their goals. I try to figure out what motivates them, how to get them even more jazzed, whether it’s money or praise in public. And I say, “Don’t stop.” I will reiterate that over and over. In a sales role, you’re not done when you close the deal. If you’re getting positive feedback, that means you probably did something great or you mastered a skill set. Great, you’ve now hit quota three times in a row. Here’s what else you need to do before you get your promotion. Make sure they know what the next step is in the march toward whatever goals they have. Don’t stop. Get here earlier tomorrow.
From a management point of view, promoting someone is the best part of my job. Hands down, bar none. First off, you want the high performer to demonstrate consistency and predictability. Are they hitting quota over and over? Are they already performing to some level above the role they’re currently in?
“If a high-performing SDR is trying to figure out what the AEs next steps are once he or she hands them a lead, well, that’s great, because that’s what you’re going to be doing soon.”
Someone is likely to be ready for promotion if they are already showing some of the characteristics of the job level above them.
There’s a bigger conversation around whether this type of person is a culture fit for your company. Some companies might deal with that type of behavior, but a good leader should make sure team members fully understand that you can be the best rep, but you need to click with the values of the company and the culture. Otherwise the relationship may not work out, to be very blunt. But it’s important to define primadonna. What types of behaviors are we seeing? Is this just an ongoing coaching thing? Or is this more ingrained? I played lacrosse growing up.
“I learned that when you score, you don’t celebrate. Act like you’ve been there before. And act like you’re going back.”
To me, that’s what really highly skilled people do. They might take a high-five, but at the end of the day, they’ve been there before, they’re going back. It’s just a Tuesday.
“On a sales team, bad morale really poisons the well and that’s big, because a happy sales team is so vital to the success of the company.”
You absolutely can’t allow someone to affect the morale of the entire team. What’s important is to figure out what happened, what changed? If you can pinpoint that, then you can identify how to get out of it. It might be personal, it might be professional, it might be something in between. Maybe they’ll tell you they’ve begun to hate selling. Okay, well if you’re an all-star, high performer, is there another role here at the company that could be better suited for you? If not, can we turn this around? Otherwise, I will be a great letter of recommendation. But, I’m pretty bullish on not having bad apples around.
Find out what drives them, and whether your incentives and goals are aligned. Some people aren’t as motivated by money, but they might be motivated by leadership opportunities. For whatever reason, they may have determined that leadership opportunities weren’t there for them. If you figure that out, you might be able to put the incentives in place for them, and hopefully increase their drive.
“People assume all salespeople are coin-operated and that’s definitely not true.”
We’re not all praise-operated either. We’re driven by a lot of different things. Figuring out what makes your team members operate at their very best is really important for driving success at the team level.
“If there’s no more progress to be made in the career ladder for the time being, team members will still have professional development areas or goals, and I can support them in that.”
It could be owning a piece of a project outside of their core role. That gives them a breath of fresh air in their daily routine, keeps them engaged and enables them to use a different part of their brain throughout the day. A project could be developing training modules, or if you’re the best at delivering a demo, working on improving the team’s demo skills. Figure out what excites a high performer outside of their core role, and find a task or a project that aligns with that.
For more Modern Performance Profiles subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter.