Modern Performance Profile: Bridget Gleason, VP of Worldwide Sales at Logz.io, Discusses Delegation, Motivation, Dealing with Setbacks, and More
Bridget Gleason (LinkedIn, Twitter) grew up a witness to the value of swimming against the tide. Along with five sisters and an older brother, she first experienced the concept of calculated risk by watching her father become a serial entrepreneur at a time when funding was hard to come by, and venture capital meant a trip to the bank. After a decidedly traditional start at Xerox, Wang Laboratories, and Hewlett-Packard, Bridget found herself taking a calculated risk of her own. Wanting to control her own schedule and spend more time with her young children, she opted to start her own company. Suddenly she was hiring and managing other people, something she’d never done before. This comfort level with risk and entrepreneurship led her to sales management and ultimately to be the VP of Worldwide Sales at Logz.io. In this interview, we discuss what she’s learned over a noteworthy career, including topics like the importance of internal dialogue, identifying roadblocks using metrics, and empowering team members to solve their own problems.
Success leaves tracks. So I look for people, even if they’re right out of school, who have a record that demonstrates motivation and a drive to be excellent. Whether it’s the captain of the water polo team or someone who worked to get their pilot’s license, they’ve shown themselves to be driven and goal-oriented, and can point to milestones of success in their life.
“I ask job candidates to give me a narration on their career. I listen for the story they tell themselves, their internal dialogue.”
Why do they say they’re applying for this particular job? How do they think they got into a certain school? If their internal dialogue is optimistic—if they think, “I can overcome. I achieve. I overcome obstacles”—then that’s the person I want on my team. That’s where you can often find evidence of resilience, persistence, and tenacity. It’s important that they have a positive outlook and believe that they can overcome obstacles, because in sales, you run into a lot of setbacks.
What kinds of exercises or interview questions do you use to test for high performance during hiring?
I ask candidates to tell their story. I listen carefully and ask questions that may seem emotional in nature. “How did you feel about that?” or “How did that impact you?” Again, I’m listening for that inner dialogue. Then I have them do a mock presentation or discovery call about my product. At Logz.io, we sell a very technical product, so it’s unlikely unless someone has been in that space, that they’re going to be able to answer technical questions. It puts the candidate in an uncomfortable situation. They’re not going to know all the answers.
“A mock discovery call during the interview process gives me a good glimpse into how they handle themselves when they don’t have all the answers, when they’re uncertain and uncomfortable.”
Do they get nervous and panic, or are they able to rise above it and still connect with the customer?
I always have a formal onboarding and I’m responsible for putting together the agenda. There’s a well-thought-out, structured plan for at least the first two to four weeks to ensure that new hires actively participate. I’ll have new hires find our three biggest competitors, research the primary features of their products and how they differ from ours, and present to the group. Sometimes that requires digging, going online and researching who they are, or signing up for their service. They have to put a lot into it to get a lot out of it.
“From day one, new reps are also working on getting what we call ‘Solutions Certified.’ They learn how to conduct a compelling discovery call, give an effective demo, and pass a written test demonstrating knowledge of the product, the market, and our company.”
Not everybody passes the first time. If they don’t, they keep trying within a certain period of time. We might give feedback, like “You didn’t do enough discovery to tease out what the use cases and benefits are. You’re going to have problems running the sale.” Finally, onboarding is not a one-and-done. It needs to be ongoing and reinforced. Every week, we do demo practice. At my previous company, reps were asked to be what we called ‘audible ready’. At every sales meeting, we’d bring up a topic, and people would have to be ready to talk about a product, feature or market at any time.
So much of that starts with who you hire. It’s really important to hire to the culture first. You can communicate all you want, but if you don’t have someone who naturally fits the culture, there’s often a disconnect. We may have a team culture that’s very collaborative and team-oriented, where we help each other, talk about deals, and share best practices. If I bring someone into the mix who has thrived saying “It’s all about me making my number and my quota,” I can communicate what the culture is, but it may be a mismatch. Also, the most powerful communication is how we behave as opposed to what we say.
“We can have posters on the wall about our culture being transparent, but if we’re not behaving in that way, the poster is meaningless.”
I look for opportunities to demonstrate, with actions, what our culture is. Once people join the team, it’s also their responsibility to be bearers of the culture. When you have someone new start, rather than saying, “Here’s who we are,” let’s show who we are.
I want one-on-ones to be about finding ways I can help each individual be successful. So it’s important to listen and to be a good listener. I have to be careful not to solve their problems for them.
“There’s a fine line between removing the roadblock and giving team members the tools they need to solve whatever problems they’re encountering.”
For starters, the person who I’m having the one-on-one with owns the agenda. I am at his or her service. Also, being honest and giving honest feedback, both positive and negative, is very important in one-on-ones. We discuss professional development and whether they are getting the experience and support they need to grow. These topics shouldn’t just come up at the end of the year in an annual review.
I’m not having meetings for my own sake. I want everyone in the room to understand why we’re there, and how we can benefit if we keep on task. One of my pet peeves is laptops and devices in team meetings.
“When people get distracted, meetings go longer. Treat the team meeting like a flight and put your device on airplane mode.”
I’m okay keeping the meetings short, but let’s everybody be present and be in the room. Always have an agenda ahead of time, check in with the team and ask if we’re on track in terms of the agenda. If people aren’t tuned in, then there may be some adjustments that need to be made during the meeting. I also make sure that meetings are participatory. So if we’re doing a forecast review, I may have the manager of that pod lead the meeting. If it’s a product announcement, I may ask a different person, I don’t want it to be just me talking. Typically in a team meeting, my goal is to speak less than anybody else in the room.
At a team level, performance metrics give me a clearer picture of what to expect, help me diagnose any problems, and help provide motivation to team members. For instance, if eight out of ten of the reps have a seventy percent conversion after Proof of Concept (POC) and I’ve got one that’s at twenty percent, I know there’s an issue there. If everybody’s around twenty percent, then it shows me there’s a different issue.
“Metrics help me identify where problems and bottlenecks are, where I can help the team improve, and where maybe it’s the product.“
Top sales reps keep very careful track of their metrics because they want to be able to diagnose themselves. They also want to know what the team’s metrics are, because if somebody else has an eighty percent conversion from POC to close, and theirs is at sixty, that tells them, “Mine can get better. What are they doing that I could be doing?” So I want metrics to be a motivator rather than punitive.
“Managers need to model effective communication. The best communication is open, honest, and respectful.”
At my last company, all of my managers read a book called Nonviolent Communication to learn how to get difficult points across in a way that is respectful. Also, when reps come to me with an issue, I always encourage them to go straight to the source. I’m happy to be there, but let’s try to be open and honest with each other and keep things transparent. Unacceptable behavior needs to be called out. It’s another practice that has to be ongoing, because emotions can flare up quickly. It’s important to be able to go back to teammates and colleagues and ask for a do-over, saying, “You know what? I’m sorry. I had a bad reaction to that. Let me start over.”
Most of my team is in Tel Aviv, ten hours ahead of me. Most of them speak Hebrew first and English second. So we deal with language differences and time differences, and much of time, we’re not working simultaneously. I’ve spent a lot of time in Tel Aviv. Because that face-to-face time really helps in our relationship. So when we’re apart and dealing with difficult issues, there’s already a connection.
“I try to over-communicate. I’ll often say something and also send an email summarizing it.”
Whenever possible, I’ll try to pick up the phone and have a conversation. We use Google Hangouts, so we can meet face-to-face, even across thousands of miles. There’s something about having the visual. A CEO once told me his motto was, “No good news. No bad news. Just news.” He wanted to maintain an environment where people felt comfortable to come to him with anything. I try to model that, to be non-reactive so that people feel comfortable and trust that they can share anything with me.
During one of my early management jobs, the joke went that if you raise your hand with a suggestion, that the task would be delegated to you. So now, often that’s the type of person I will delegate something to. When somebody has an idea and they’re excited about something, they’re often a very good person to take on the project and own it, as opposed to me taking it on. An executive coach once told me that I collect a lot of monkeys. She said, “Whenever someone on your team comes to you with an issue, you take that monkey and you strap it on your back. Pretty soon, you’ve got the people who work for you light as a feather.”
“Effective delegation means you don’t take other people’s monkeys off their backs. Help them solve the problem, but you don’t need to solve it for them.”
If someone comes to me with a roadblock that’s slowing their work, I ask for a list of recommendations and tell them we’ll review them the next week in our one-on-one. It helps because that person, then, takes ownership of the issue. They feel empowered and as busy as I usually am, I don’t become the bottleneck.
When I feel like I’ve got too much on my plate and I can’t get everything done—which is every day, by the way—I have to look at a couple things. Am I prioritizing properly? Am I effective at the things that I need to do? Are there things that I’m doing that someone else can be doing that I need to delegate? I don’t ever get everything done at the end of the day.
“I’m very careful at the beginning of the day to prioritize. If I see that my schedule is out of whack, then I have to go and apply filters and criteria.”
Are there items that just should fall off because they’re not as important? Are there tasks that I could be doing more effectively? Are there tasks that I need to delegate? So that’s a continual process on a daily and weekly basis.
“The key is making sure team members set their own goals, so they own them.”
Let’s say the company sets their quota at 100k for the month. A team member may tell me that their goal for themselves is 50k. A gap that wide requires a conversation where I help them get to a different goal. It’ll start with questions. “How will that play out for you if you hit that goal, over the month, the quarter and the year? Is that a goal that you’re going to feel good about if you achieve? Do you think the company will view that as success? ” With these questions, you can uncover what’s behind their goals. Then I tell them that before we can talk about how to get you to 100k, we need to have that as a target. I can’t make you want that as a target. If they feel like it is something that I’ve imposed on them, there’s not a good likelihood of them achieving it.
I work backward, starting from quota and focusing in on each sales cycle. I’m going to look at what their revenue is, then I’m going to look at how many Proof of Concepts (POCs) they are initiating, because POCs have a really high close ratio.
“I know if somebody does X number of POCs in a quarter, they’re going to hit their number. So I can just look at POCs and say, ‘Yep. That looks pretty good.’”
Then I look at discovery calls, when you’ve actually got somebody engaged. If they do a certain number of discovery calls, I know eighty percent of those will end up in POCs. This leads back to raw activity. How many phone calls do they need to make to get one discovery call? There are countless metrics you can track. I try to get it down to the smallest number I can, but these are the ones that I tend to return to.
Positive feedback is easier because team members are always more receptive to it. Often, it’s tied to a high expectation.
“I make sure that I’m not stingy with my praise, but that I only give it when it’s sincere and warranted. When they hear praise from me, they know it means something.”
For example, I have one rep who’s been working really hard, putting in extra hours, shadowing this other, more senior rep. He’s working hard on his own process and technique, and he’s having an amazing month. My expectations were always very high, and it meant something when I said to him today, “Fantastic job. I see the work that you’re doing has really paid off.” I try to tie my praise to something that he or she has done that’s very tangible. It’s not just, “Hey, great job.” It’s, “I saw the work that you did improving your demo skills, and I see now that your conversion rate has really gone up. Great job.” I make it very concrete, so it’s a motivator to do more of that and to continue to work hard.
“It’s helpful if there’s some context already built around the issue before any negative feedback is given.”
Anyone who’s worked with me for any length of time knows that if anybody is in their corner, it’s me. So when I give negative feedback, it is in the spirit of, “I am on your side, 100%, but this particular thing isn’t working.” I had a situation where I fired one of my top performers. I loved this guy, but there were some things that he was doing that were unethical, and I don’t tolerate that at all. When I let him go, he knew. I even said to him, “You don’t have a bigger fan in this company than me, and because I am such a big fan of yours, I need to let you go.” I explained to him I cared about him and will always work to help him, but that he needed this lesson at this point in his career. He wasn’t happy about it, but I think he also knew that authentically, I’m in his corner and I care about him.
How do you do feedback where the answer is measurable (“fewer bugs in the code please”) versus less measurable (“You come off as aggressive, Pete.”)
“Feedback requires examples and making sure you stick to facts without any sort of judgment or opinion.”
Going with the example provided, it’s easier to say there are X number of bugs in the code. My request is, instead of fifty percent, I want it to be twenty percent. Be very specific. If it’s less measurable, I wouldn’t say, “You come off as aggressive.” I might say, “I heard this conversation where you said this.” Stick to facts. “Someone said they felt uncomfortable when this was said.” I try to keep it coming from a place of support as opposed to judgment. When people know that you are sincerely rooting for them and want them to succeed, they can take feedback, positive or negative, a lot more easily.
Don’t just leave it to an annual review. In every one-on-one, I try to discuss professional development. How am I doing, as a manager, in helping you get to where you want professionally?
“I don’t always have positions available at the time when top performers feel ready to move up. So we talk about other things they can be doing to expand their professional horizons.”
Sometimes, I can have them do an informal team lead or help with coaching of new reps. I may ask them to take on a project that’s Salesforce- and metrics-oriented, helping track conversions and help team members improve conversion from demo to POC. I may ask them to run the weekly forecasting meetings or have them talk to another team within the company on different skill areas that they’re interested in. I’ve encouraged team members to send papers to conferences where, if the papers were selected, that they would be asked to present.
I don’t tolerate morale problems. My first recourse is always to try to understand what’s going on. My team knows I’m in their corner.
“If there’s a morale issue, and the person in question doesn’t feel it can be solved within the context of their current situation, then I want to help them find somewhere where they’re going to feel happy and fulfilled.”
It’s not okay to taint the well with a poor attitude. I tell them that a decision needs to be made. If they can’t be positive, and a positive contributor in the context of this organization, then I want to help them find a place where they can. What I want most of all is to create an environment where they will share with me. So sometimes, it’s in the course of a regular one-on-one, I’ll say “Let’s go for a walk and chat.” Former team members remember those walks, remember the positive tone of our conversation, and have thanked me for the advice I gave them that helped them get a better hold of their issues.
Reps build up such energy when they’re successful, that you’re more likely to see them getting bored rather than burning out. There’s so much adrenaline involved in closing deals. That always seems to give star performers a little more fuel. But high performers will get bored. They’ve been really successful, and they wonder where they’re going with their development. They’ve obviously mastered this, what’s next? If I don’t have a place that I can promote them or something else they can do, it’s important to be able to tap into other ways I develop them professionally.
“Even at a small company with fewer opportunities for promotion, you can provide opportunities for growth that are often more valuable in the long run than a change in title.”
On getting burned out, that’s making sure that they calibrate. You have to be careful that they’re not expending extraordinary amounts of energy. We’re going to ebb and flow a bit, so we all need to watch that.
I don’t believe that it’s my job to motivate. Motivation is internal.
“‘Rah, rah, rah,’ might energize somebody for twenty-four hours, but it’s not going to motivate them over the long haul, so I look for motivated people and try to create an environment where they can be successful.”
If I had someone on the SMB team that wanted to move to mid-market, I would pair him or her with a mid-market rep on a few deals. I would give that person five mid-market accounts to go after, and and try to close to earn the commission on them. So I would pick very specific tasks to help the person focus on what they want to do and their career. I try to give them work that is challenging, where they can improve in areas that they’re interested in.
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