Daniel Barber, VP of Sales at Datanyze, Discusses Identifying Passion, The Importance of Writing Ability, The Power of Book Clubs, and More
Daniel Barber’s (LinkedIn, Twitter) wanderlust has served him well on the way to becoming a leader in sales management. Having lived and worked in Australia, the U.S., the Netherlands, Germany and Japan, Barber was exposed to a variety of cultures and their unique take on management practices. He has taken much of what he learned and put it into practice as Vice President of Sales at Datanyze, a leading provider of online customer prospecting intelligence for marketing and sales, here in the U.S. In our discussion, he touches on what’s he learned, including elements of a Japanese philosophy on people management, known as kaizen. Barber explains how continuous improvement is at the heart of team management and individual development, and he points out how it relates to product feedback loops and the ‘build, measure, learn’ approach to product development and sales.
What’s the secret to hiring for high performance? What are the most important characteristics you look for?
The core attribute I look for, and I’ve written about this topic from my experience in more than 1,800 interviews, is passion.
“If you find people that are genuinely passionate about what they do, they will work as hard as they need to in order to learn new skills or refine skills that will help them be successful.”
I also look for a familiarity with the concept of failure. It could be through sports. Maybe they ran around the track and didn’t get the time they’d wanted, or broke their leg playing football and had to sit out for 6 weeks. Or maybe they’ve experienced struggle and failure through travel, perhaps on a study abroad program or teach for America program that put them in an environment where they weren’t comfortable. I know it seems like a stretch, but that’s very relatable to success in sales. Most companies and individuals have a win rate around 20, 30, maybe 40%. That means that they’re losing 80% of the time. Eight people in 10 are telling them, “No, I don’t want to buy your service.” The thing that’s interesting is when you fail, what do you do next? What are your 10 steps to get out of that hole? Last time I checked, the people that got a 4-point GPA at an Ivy League school, they didn’t really see that a lot. Sure, you can consume information, good for you. That’s not that interesting in sales. It’s interesting from an intellectual horsepower perspective, but bright people but are dime a dozen. I can see that on a piece of paper. It’s dealing with adversity that really enables success.
The other thing that I focus on is writing capability. If you’re in a sales position, you have to write well in order to represent yourself and the company well.
“I think it’s wonderful that someone is able to speak on their feet, but in today’s environment, a business email is so important, and not just inter-office email, but external email.”
For an SDR role, we test for this by creating a prospecting exercise. A potential new hire would get information on an individual that they would be reaching out to, not a name, just title and company. So first of all, the question is ‘Can you find someone on LinkedIn?’ Then I would ask them to put together a prospecting email conveying the value proposition of the company. The candidates would have to put their creative thinking caps on and digest a lot of information. For publicly traded companies, they’d have to dig through financial reports, try to find a meaningful connection between the two companies and more importantly, try to look for a method of creating affinity between themselves and the person to whom they’ll be writing. I look at what methods they use to create a human connection with the prospect, and from a quantitative standpoint, how did they approach the barrier of “Why should I take the meeting with you?”
There are two aspects to effective onboarding. First, you definitely need to have an onboarding document, which takes shape and evolves organically. It’s probably a Google document, so it can be crowdsourced and modified easily by team members. Each person is responsible for a particular module and its maintenance. Salespeople will tend to compete with those around them on the quality of their module.
“By allowing the team to co-create and co-own an onboarding document, you get a beautiful byproduct of creating a competitive environment around learning, and as individuals hand the module to the next person in that role, that sense of ownership is passed on.”
I put one person in charge of wrangling all these modules, usually someone that’s looking to take the step into management. This gives them the opportunity to manage people without actually managing people so they can test the waters of management without the full responsibility of, “You own this person’s number, don’t screw it up, otherwise you’re fired.” But a document doesn’t create a successful person, otherwise we’d be back in school right? The other part of the onboarding schedule is collaboration with the team. I usually set up a couple of exercises. For new hires in sales development, I have them meet with every member of the sales team for 30 minutes, go through a set of questions around pre-call, during call and post-call issues, and document it all. So this person who’s coming on board is going to meet with maybe 20 people over a 2-week period. Not only does it integrate them into the team extremely quickly, they’re also extracting all this knowledge in those critical areas within sales. I’d look at ‘Before you have a conversation, what do you do? When you’re having the conversation, what type of questions do you ask? After the conversation, what are your steps for success?’ I ask them to take notes to keep them on task and make sure they get value out of each 30 minute session, and to send those notes to me along after every meeting with a revised pitch on our company and what it does. We’d do this every day for the first 2 weeks, revising the pitch using a Kaizen approach. Each day, the pitch gets better, both in email form and over the phone, I ask them to leave me a voice mail for the first 2 weeks of their employment. There’s a feedback opportunity and feedback as people are learning is a beautiful thing. If someone’s willing to give you feedback, that’s actually saying they want to invest in you.
I think getting a new team member integrated and excited about working with a new group of people begins with creating a collaborative culture of learning really quickly. Before they join, I issue them a book that they’re required to read for a sales team book club.
“We have a book club every Friday morning from 8 to 9 AM to read roughly 2 to 3 chapters and discuss. This is not a monthly, “Hey, come along, hopefully you make it,” Every Friday morning, it happens, and if you’re late you can expect to get called out by coworkers. It institutes a learning culture from day one.”
It’s also a very open environment where people can talk about their experiences from reading this book and get comfortable expressing themselves. We go to work to learn, so if once you stop learning, you might as well quit.
The agenda is key. For me, one-on-one meetings, you have to create an agenda that is valuable for that particular individual. In the first three weeks after their hire, I do hour-long one-on-ones once a week, which is more than what most people do, but I think it’s very important to have a strong connection to new hire. We establish the agenda by asking, “What are they hoping to get out of this session?” Part of that might be day-to-day concerns, but also what are some articles or posts we can go through that can improve your development. I like to identify helpful content in the space that we’re selling into, constantly staying on top of new information that’s available and identifying takeaways. Usually, one meeting would be in the office on a monthly basis and the other 3 meetings would actually be walking meetings.
“I definitely prefer a walking meeting. From a scientific standpoint, your neural pathways are activated as you move so you’re going to have better conversations when you’re moving. It’s also just nice to be outside and usually your employees will open up a lot more as you take them for a walk.”
It extends the branch, “Yes, I know that you’re an important part of the team, I want to support you.” They’re probably more open to talk about sensitive issues outside of a four-walled office. And they create the agenda. Really if you’re a leader, you don’t manage people, you lead them. I try to remember that it’s their time with me, not my time with them. They should be able to talk to me about anything that’s on their mind, and tell me what I can do to help them learn and improve.
I haven’t found the optimal route for team meetings. I’ve tested so many things and tried different approaches. For instance, the team comes with an agenda, the team doesn’t come with an agenda, the team creates the agenda. But the group meeting is not something that I’ve really mastered to be honest. In fact, I’ve never really seen a successful 10-person meeting. I don’t know but if you put 10 people in a room, it’s like there’s too many people in the room. As far as what I can draw upon from my experiences in different cultures, I would love to say that I’ve seen an amazing format and I’m going to adopt it. But it’s not the case. The Japanese have a worse team meeting than we do. No one communicates so there are extended pauses for 2 minutes at a time. I can’t remember one successful team meeting in Japan.That’s not an area they’re really strong. Germans will run it very rigorously. They will have a very strict agenda and things will get covered, but it doesn’t open it up for communication and collaboration. Maybe more of an open forum is the answer. Otherwise, I’d say just send out a survey or an email. You don’t need to waste everyone’s time.
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