David Greenberger (LinkedIn, Twitter), the Vice President of Sales & Brand Strategy at Splash, began his sales career with Yext, where he ascended from Sales Associate to Sales Manager to Director of Sales. Greenberger then helped to rebuild Yext’s Pay-Per-Call product as Head of Sales for their FELIX division before it was sold to IAC. From there, he moved to Foursquare, where he served as Head of Midmarket Data Sales for three years, before coming to Splash.
Greenberger favors hiring in cohorts and developing sales teams through an intensive focus on core values and gamification, creating a competitive but collegial atmosphere. From the first interview through promotion, he strongly emphasizes transparency of process—it doesn’t get much more transparent than tracking performance on a public scoreboard with dynamic features. Beyond this, always evident in Greenberger’s advice is an awareness that his role as manager is not just to direct action, but to help employees find their own paths, and a belief that leadership can clear roadblocks and facilitate success.
Be transparent. Talk to people about the goals, where they were before, why the goal is beneficial to them, and where they need to get to. Then, quickly draw a map back to how they can get there. For example, if the goal is a million dollars for the month and we have ten AEs, that means that each AE on average needs to be bringing in $100,000. How does each AE get to their $100,000 this month?
“What’s always been helpful to drive a new sales team is having a clear and visible scoreboard. Every sales team I’ve had maintains a huge scoreboard that updates in real time over the sales pit. It’s visible not only to the sales team but to everyone else as well. I want everyone who walks by to see it. Whether that’s our executives, board members, potential new investors, recruits that we’re bringing in, whatever. Everyone sees exactly where everyone stands relative to their goals.”
We’ll also send out group emails on our pace to the team goal. Are we ahead? Are we behind?Measuring every single day and knowing where you stand helps you to hit that mark.
We have Salesforce and I have a ton of reports. But we try to make goals more than just a metrics thing. We try to make it fun. We’ll attach people’s pictures to that scoreboard—dynamic pictures, so your face and your name get bigger as you get higher up on the board. Your name gets bold, and sparkles or highlights if you’ve gone way above your goal for the day. This allows everyone to see what’s going on.
“There is the celebratory factor and negative incentive, as well: nobody wants to be on the bottom of that board. The scoreboard helps to create competition and keep people accountable.”
In sales, those are revenue or deals. The leading indicator for revenue or deals is opportunities in the pipeline. We closely track how many activities a rep is having and how many meetings each day.
“When people have a live meeting they fill out a field report with a bunch of questions. This ensures what they’ve learned about the customer is disseminated across our team. This way, we all know who you’re selling to, what marketing materials are being used, and everyone can learn from your encounter.”
And from those field reports, we know that if you’ve had twenty-five meetings in a month. In turn, that means that you’re likely to hit your revenue goal two months from now—because that’s what our sales cycle looks like. Understanding those leading indicators helps us a lot to make sure people stay on track.
What are the aspects of qualitative performance that you like to pay attention to, but which are hard to instrument?
“It’s what we often refer to here at Splash as “warrior spirit” and being inquisitive. The warrior spirit part is about persistence. Are people really going above and beyond? You can quantify that by activities.”
But what about being solutions oriented? Are you listening to and understanding your client? Are you perceiving what the client wants and helping them? That’s really hard to quantify and track. Ideally, it comes out in the conversion ratio, but you can get through your conversion and move to the next meeting without ever truly understanding what the client wants.
I’m a fan of having a lot of team meetings. We have one almost every morning. On Monday mornings we do an operations review where we look at the numbers and review what happened last week. We look at the closed lost deals and why they lost. We make sure everyone is on the same page and that everyone knows what’s in the pipeline and who is set to close.
We also have book club meetings. We read a different book every month and each Tuesday we’ll talk about a chapter and how we can apply it. On Wednesday morning, we’ll do a sales to CS handoff, where we discuss best practices for how sales and CS can utilize each other to make effective meetings. On Thursday we do product training. On Friday we do the best practices where everyone shares their ideas.
“We have a lot of meetings, and I think there is such a thing as overkill, but it’s important for everyone to be staying on the same page and sharing with each other, especially at a startup.”
If we can keep meetings to about 30 to 40 minutes, it’s an okay way to start your day and to get rolling. It’s my job to help get the blockers out of the way and knock down any obstacles to help my team see around the corners.
“Everything we do is to tracked back to performance metrics. The mantra at any early stage startup is to make decisions based on data and not on emotion.”
What we’re trying to do is understand the metrics and how we’re pacing towards them. That helps drive the urgency level and the content of what we’re going to talk about.
I try to arrange the team so that people can ask each other a lot of questions. A couple of years ago when I was at Four Square, we implemented Slack as a rule. If someone wanted to know, “Hey, do we have any case studies for this?” or, “How should I handle this objection?” they took it to Slack. If I had an answer, everyone could see and hear it, and it was all searchable for reference. We wanted to foster that interaction. I wanted to see answers to questions from other people on the team—answers that might be better than mine.
“Eventually, what happens when we require that kind of group interaction is that people will just start going directly to each other with questions. Yet, I can still see what’s going on so I can offer guidance or correct any mistakes. That’s been a really helpful change that I couldn’t pull off very well ten years ago because we just didn’t have the technology to do it.”
We also try to facilitate communication in other ways. For example, we’ll buy people lunch if they go out with one of their account managers or one of their CS reps—just to facilitate a connection on a personal level, so they feel comfortable with each other and can work together.
How do you give feedback where the answer is measurable (“Fewer bugs in the code, please,”) versus less measurable, (“You come off as aggressive, Bob.”)
“I think those typically go hand in hand. There is most often a quantitative effect of qualitative feedback so you want to tie those both together, whether it’s positive or negative.”
Hey, you’ve hit 200% of the goal again this month. How are you doing that? Well, you’ve been really aggressive about filling up your pipeline in the previous months. You’ve been conscious of not spending your time on issues that aren’t promising. You’ve done X, Y, and Z—so keep it up. Alternatively, “Hey, we’re seeing that you’re having a really hard time with your discovery call conversion ratio. Well, after listening to you on the calls, I think it might be because you’re being overly aggressive.”
Alternatively, “Hey, we’re seeing that you’re having a really hard time with your discovery call conversion ratio. Well, after listening to you on the calls, I think it might be because you’re being overly aggressive.”
I’ll explain how it’s hurting the metrics that we’re looking at, and how that will hurt their opportunity to hit their revenue goal two months from now, which is ultimately going to hurt their bigger goal of getting promoted.
Delegation is definitely important. The key is to have people that you can trust to take ownership of the opportunity. You have to be very clear about what you want, and be specific about what they’re responsible for, and which metrics are key. If you can do that, it’s easy to slowly test people’s capabilities. You might be surprised at how much people step up when you give them responsibility and ownership.
If they don’t, you need to assess what’s not going well, and why, so you can teach them how to do it right.
“One of my mantras is I want you to fail, but fail fast and then never do it again. That’s how you learn. You’ve got to know when you delegate that people are going to make mistakes, and you need to watch for them. But generally, if you’re patient, if you really take the time at the beginning to explain what you’re looking for and then allow people to go on their own, to make their own mistakes and fix them, you’ll get a really good team very quickly.”
I look for high performance and consistency. Are they in the top 10% or 15% of their group? That’s important. Have they been able to sustain that performance over an extended period of time? That’s how they’re going to get the respect of your group. Are they doing the little things right? Because they’re going to have to ask their reps to sweat those details.
“They do not need to be the best. Often, the best reps don’t make the best managers, but the best managers will find a way to get themselves where they need to be for long enough to move up.”
Dive deep and assess the problem. If we’re talking about performance, I’ll walk them through the whole funnel to find where the big breakdown is. Where are the conversions not working? Is it in between the discovery call and the demo? Is it from the demo to get the right people for the next presentation? Did everything get stuck in procurement somehow? Are we just not getting enough people to make discovery calls?
“Sometimes you’ll find problems across the board, in which case it’s probably a result of an emotional or attitude shift. There too, you need to ask specific questions and drill down to what’s going on.”
Is something not going well at work? Are they not getting along with someone and it’s frustrating them? Are they just feeling burned out? Do they feel like they’re not getting to where they wanted to be, so they’re getting a little frustrated with everything? Is there some kind of personal problem at home? See if you can figure out what’s going on, then move as many obstacles out of the way as you can. At the very least, empathize.
I think that first starts with setting the right incentive, expectations, and rules–so that people aren’t incentivized to have a big conflict. You also have to make sure and there’s not a whole lot of subjectivity in your rules. Typically, I try and make very black-and-white rules.
“A lot of conflicts come from a lead dispute, so I try as much as possible, when creating territories, to be very black-and-white about who owns what and when.”
If there’s a dispute, I most often will say, “Hey, you two work it out, and if not you can bring it to me, and I will make a completely by-the-books decision.” As much as possible, I will take any subjectivity out of what is going on and I will be very consistent with my ruling.
Celebrate wins as hard as you possibly can. It’s really important, not just for morale, but to make sure that everyone is on the same page and feeling like a team.
“On my teams, we just work too hard to not step back and enjoy our wins. If you don’t take opportunities to celebrate, people really start to burn out.”
We’ve been very, very aggressive here at Splash. We’ve had very tough goals and we’ve been going after them hard. And when that happens you need to celebrate just as hard.
What’s the secret to hiring for high performance? What are the most important characteristics that you look for?
Emmanuelle Skala said, “At a startup, what you’re really looking for is a missionary more than a mercenary.” You’re looking for someone who is entrepreneurial and hungry. I like to hire people with little sales experience so that I can teach them to avoid my bad habits instead of working to fix theirs. It’s hard to set a high enough bar for work effort and ethics.
“Instead of experience, I try to find people who have shown a willingness to extend themselves. For example, maybe in college, in addition to academics, they also had a job, and were active in a fraternity, and had a band going. I’m looking for someone who really tried to maximize their time and has built things—whether it’s a small community or a volunteer group or even their own business.”
When I do consider candidates with professional experience, I want to know who their boss was and who trained them. What type of environment were they in? If they were in iBanking early on in their career, I don’t care what they’ve done the last twenty years. I know they’re the type of person who will try to outwork every single person on their block. If they worked in a very early fast-growing startup, something that grew a couple hundred percent year after year, you know you’re getting someone who will work hard. You can find this work ethic in various places. Someone from the fashion world might not have made a ton of money, but they’ve been put through the ringer. Those are people who are used to and willing to come in and earn their keep—they’re the people who are hungry.
What metrics are the most illustrative of a high performing hire and how can you suss out these metrics during the hiring process?
“We try to look at data as much as possible to compare new hires to our best performers. Data helps identify the leading indicators for performance. We put a lot of emphasis on metrics because without it, I know for a fact I’m going make mistakes in hiring. At best, I’m going to be at 60%, and most often it’s a toss-up.”
That kind of mistake can cost you a lot of money and it can also cost the new person a lot of time, emotion, and energy if they’re not the right fit. It’s important to set the right expectations and to be able to identify early on if it just isn’t going to happen.
We’re in a SAS sales role at SplashFlash at around an eighty to ninety-day close date so I’m not really going to be able to tell if someone is good for five months or so given that training ramp-up. We try to figure out what the leading indicators are there. How many discovery call conversations should you have? How many new opportunities should you be adding in your pipeline? For outbound, how many calls or emails does it take for you to get people on the phone? We look at those metrics to determine what an A performer looks like, a B performer, a C performer, and so on. We give our new hires these numbers at the start, so they always know where they stand.
Setting expectations early is the most important thing. Then you need to make sure new people know how to hit those targets effectively.
“It’s important to hire in groups whenever possible. They band together and help each other to hit the ground running. When you hire in groups, if there are problems, you can really understand if it’s the onboarding process or the people that are the cause.”
For example, if two guys out of the group are doing really well and one is lagging behind, you know it’s the people. If everyone is failing, it might indicate a problem with the process. When you only have a single person there it’s hard to suss out the difference.
The other thing I’ve learned the hard way is that a key to onboarding is having a playbook for people to step into. I’ve written about how over-training and over-automating the process for new reps can be a problem because it takes away a lot of their spirit and work ethic, but the opposite can be true, also. To get people off to a good start, it’s useful to have a set handbook to provide them with the basics: “What does our product look like? Who are our competitors? What does our sales process look like? What is the general pitch?”
Building a sales team is all about culture. You need to get the right incentives in place, hire the right people, form a culture of learning and winning—and get people used to doing both of those very, very often. Then just making sure everyone has fun. Everything else figures itself out along the way.
“We also have core values that are really important to us, and we hire around them. Early on in the onboarding, we tell our people about those core values and why they’re so important to us. We’ll try to expose people to those different elements and point them out. For example, one of our embedded cultures here at Splash is what we call “warrior spirit,” getting the job done and going above and beyond the call of duty.”
We talk about “Warrior Spirit” a lot in sales training. We celebrate it. We give awards to people who exemplify it and the other pillars of our core values. In this way, our new reps get a sense of our culture coming in and that awareness builds as they spend time with the team.
You need to know what drives your employees. That’s something I pay attention to from the first day I hire them. I will have a lot of one-on-ones that are focused on the person. These discussions are not about what their activities are, not about what’s going on, but instead focus on: what do they want? Why did they take this job? What is their objective? What excites them? How do they like to learn? Now that they’ve been here for three months, what have they learned that has surprised them? Where do they want to be in five years? I try to determine what they want and we work to drive towards that together.
A lot of people will say that they want to be promoted into management just because it seems like the only clear way to move up. That’s something you want to suss out. What are their motivations? Do they want to make more money or do they truly enjoy helping and teaching people? How do they feel if their commission is tied to other people’s advances?
“Sometimes it’s clear from the first weeks that someone is with us that they want to be a manager and they show a knack for it. So I will try to shade towards that goal for them. If we have a team meeting and something notable and management-specific occurs, I might pull them in afterward and talk about what I was thinking and why I made the particular decision.”
Then, as we start to get comfortable with the cadence, we talk more about management. Maybe I’ll bring them into my decision-making process ahead of time and ask their opinion or advice. I’ll ask them how they might handle a given situation.
As I start to get more comfortable with them, I’ll start to have them work with people who can mentor them in certain aspects of management. I might give them responsibilities on a certain product initiative where people look to them for guidance and see how they handle that role.
If all that goes well, then we might start to get into more formal management training. And I’ll ask them to read books on management and we’ll talk about those readings or do some kind of exercise around what they’re learning. Before I get the individual into a management position, I typically put them in some kind of team lead scenario where it’s a bit more formal and they have some direct responsibility for people. I want to see how they react to being in that position and see how the team reacts to them. If that’s going really well for a while, then and only then I’ll transition them into management.
“They need to be hungry. They need to be learning. They need to be setting a good example, and they also need to be outperforming their peers, because they need to be getting the respect of those reps. It’s really impossible to just flip over to management one day from the next day if people are outperforming you.”
They don’t need to be the absolute best person on the floor, but they need to be in the top 15% or 20% on a consistent basis so that they have the respect of everyone they’ll be working with and managing. People need to know that this person knows what they’re doing and that they are dependable, and that kind of respect comes with time. You can’t just flip a switch overnight or you’re asking for a lot of turmoil on your team
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