Modern Performance Profile: Mike Haylon, VP of Sales at Care Message, Discusses Smart Goal Setting, Key Metrics, Candid Feedback and More
Mike Haylon (LinkedIn, Twitter) chalks his sales career up to equal parts intent and fate. Growing up, his father had always encouraged him toward selling. In college, Mike participated in cold-calling efforts to raise money for his school’s endowment. He demonstrated his intent by taking the script, throwing it out the window and rewording it in a way that he felt would be more compelling. He had discovered that how you frame a pitch deeply impacts people’s interest in buying. But his real-world sales career would be kicked off by fate. He applied for and accepted his first sales job at cloud platform OpenAir largely because the company’s founder was also an alumnus of Holy Cross. That led to several years with the company, including after its acquisition by Netsuite, where he grew into roles of increasing responsibility. But Haylon wanted to be in a high-growth company with a focus on social impact. That led him to the healthcare industry, and Care Message in particular. In our interview, we discuss the benefits of over-communication, telling compelling stories around metrics, and the importance of nipping prima-donna behavior in the bud.
“One way I ensure the team is communicating well is, ironically, by treating them as individuals.”
It helps to build trust, and convince them that they are not a cog in the wheel or just a means to get to a goal. I acknowledge that each of them has their own unique needs and communication style. But I also ask them to commit to some standard processes. There’s a balance in highlighting individuality and having some standardization to help accurately benchmark performance. If I build up the trust that I value them as individuals, they in turn are willing to sign up for an objective process — capturing data in Salesforce, rigorously qualifying initial call prospects, telling the story in a consistent way, etc. As long as they can approach these things with their own style, I’ve found it fosters an effective team. Lastly, we do things outside of the office or I give them the autonomy to do that themselves. Planning dinners, happy hours or team events allows us to interact without necessarily talking about work.
New teams often expect that I want to get straight to the nuts and bolts of the work. But by temporarily putting those concerns to the side at first, I show them that I care about more than just getting them to their number.
“I try to over-communicate, even if some of it seems irrelevant. Keeping them in the loop helps build trust, so they feel part of the process, not just held to task on the end result.”
Listening intently is also important. I’m there to help them be successful, whatever that means. I want them to buy into what we’re doing. I don’t want them to feel like they’re just being dictated to. Lastly, I give them the opportunity to actively participate in the process. Take over team meetings, go meet with the VP of sales or the CEO if you have a topic you’re interested in talking about – make your voice heard.
I’ve done some reading on this topic, and the best advice I’ve heard is to establish a larger mission or a theme, so team members can easily grasp we’re all working towards. At Care Message, it’s to grow the number of patients whose health could be impacted by use of our platform.
“Everyone should have a clear understanding that every goal or metric we establish is tied very specifically to our overarching goal.”
Then we decide how we can track results. For us, it’s scalability and data integrity. Within that, there are two or three key objectives that each team or person signs up for. In the case of data integrity, for example, it might be capturing certain data on every single deal that you work going forward. We’ll measure you against that. For scalability, it might be increasing the annual contract value (ACV) by $5,000 this year. Give them some ways to think about how they would go about doing that, and then measure their ability to actually increase the dollar amount of deals. The goal-setting process we built at Care Message is a collaborative one. Everyone gives their thoughts on a goal, how it should manifest, and what specifically they will contribute. That way, the goal is one that they’ve helped create, signed off on, and will be ready to execute.
Goals should be visible to the team at all times. We have a dashboard that everyone in the company can access that reflects our patient count, so that we have it constantly on our minds, and try to help grow it.
“Instead of just using Salesforce dashboards to keep the CEO apprised of key team metrics, have a dashboard for each salesperson that reflects those same metrics.”
That way, everyone is on the same page about how you’re being measured, what you’re measured on and where it stands every day and every week. You don’t want goals only to come up during a review at the end of a quarter or year. Regularly communicate goals and progress toward goals through a standard set of metrics, whether it be on dashboards or in consistent emails.
I’m a big fan of any tool that salespeople can use without data entry, as long as it can help them capture data and perform better. For example, email plug-ins that gather open and response rates can be very useful. You can also use them to automatically capture interactions and activity into Salesforce. That way, reps aren’t having to spend additional time entering that information manually. There are phone systems that do similar things.
Some metrics are relevant to our task, but are hard to capture and reliably trust. Take numbers around conversion at each stage of the funnel as an example.
“If you have five stages in the sales process, the challenge is to decide what it means objectively to be in phase one versus two versus three, and so on.”
I standardize that across the team so everyone has a very deep understanding of it, and we apply that rigor to Salesforce. When Rep A has a 50% conversion rate of leads to opportunities at a certain point in the pipeline, and Rep B is at 15%, you need to know that those numbers correlate and tell you something. If you haven’t built an objective way to capture what it means for a lead to become an opportunity, then reps can spin their numbers any way they like. One metric we had some difficulty tracking was a regression analysis we did to try to bring some objectivity into the interview process. It was very challenging to try to come up with a way to score outcomes, how often candidates went on to become high performers, and what were the specific reasons they did not.
As I discussed earlier, we use the third-party product pitch in the interview process to gauge someone’s ability to deliver a compelling story and connect with the buyer. It’s a good way to see how well people prepare and how much attention they pay to formatting and other details. Do they ask interesting questions? Are they just pitching the benefits of the product without showing an understanding of the buyer’s specific needs? You can get a feel for someone’s innate curiosity.
“If you can witness someone asking pointed questions or repeating back key words and ideas to you, that’s as good as any metric in measuring curiosity, a great skill that a lot of salespeople don’t have.”
Passion is another key attribute. That word is used pretty loosely. But there are ways to tell if someone is genuinely excited about the space. In the healthcare space, do they have someone close to them that has impacted by a chronic disease? Do they have a personal connection to the space that they can describe in any way, shape, or form? When they wake up in the morning tired, hung over or just unmotivated, will they have some extra motivation to keep them on task? Intrinsic passion and innate curiosity are two really important qualitative measures.
The traditional thinking on this is tell them something nice and fluffy, and then hit them with the hard news. I don’t buy into that. Everyone in Silicon Valley has now either heard about or tried to adopt the concept of radical candor. There’s a lot of merit to that approach.
“I don’t like to beat around the bush.
It’s my general preference to be very direct, and I ask for direct feedback in return.”
But I do so in a way that reinforces the idea that I’m out for their best interests. If someone lost a deal, I’d first let them know that I’m okay in general with them losing deals and I’m giving feedback so they can take it and apply it to their next opportunity. That way, people feel more comfortable sharing what happened. Then, I’d just be very direct and detailed on the feedback. For example: “I heard you say this on this particular call. The metrics are telling me this. All of this builds up a story that suggests that you need to improve on x.” Also, afford them the opportunity to share their perspective on it. Feedback is not just about dictating what you think needs to be improved, but about being open to their perspective. People are often self-aware enough that they might make some of the same points you intended to with your feedback. Lastly, make it actionable. What specific actions are you going to take to fix this thing? How are you going to measure your progress? Where do you need my help? Be very specific and make it clear the onus is not exclusively on them to improve, that you want to help them figure out how.
How do you do feedback where the answer is measurable (“fewer bugs in the code please”) versus less measurable (“You come off as aggressive.”)?
For me, the approach is the same.
“Whether there’s a metric to back your feedback up or it’s something more subjective, I always want to challenge my own perspective on their performance.”
I develop a deeper understanding by giving them an opportunity to share their thoughts. Then we try to come to an agreement on what happened and how to improve upon it. If it’s qualitative, I might provide an example of something I heard on a call. If it’s quantitative, it’d be a particular metric. Either way, I give my initial thoughts, then ask an open-ended question to give them an opportunity to speak on it. We open a dialogue about it and hopefully agree on a plan for fixing it.
I’ve encountered this situation with a number of people. The best thing we did was let them go.
“The impact that prima-donna behavior has on team morale and performance is remarkable. In the end, you’re usually left with the feeling that you should have done something sooner.”
There’s a book called The Score Takes Care of Itself. It’s an autobiography of Bill Walsh when he took over the 49ers. He talks about this topic ad nauseum. There were players he couldn’t even fathom getting rid of, but when he finally did, the impact on the rest of the team was profound. To me, it’s pretty straightforward. I’m more than happy to give someone an opportunity to prove to me that their first three months of being a prima donna was an aberration, but my experience is that it rarely is. You can try to understand their situation, determine what they’re willing to be held accountable for, give them some ways to show that they care about improving. But if they don’t do those things very quickly, let them go.
I’d take intrinsic motivation and drive any day of the week over skill. I’d obviously love to have both. But I’d prefer the former to the latter. That’s because skill can be honed, developed or trained, but intrinsic motivation and effort really can’t.
“I believe strongly in regular and intensive training for sales teams, regardless of experience, so I lean even more towards someone with intrinsic motivation.”
If drive becomes a problem, there might be a personal issue that’s affected their motivation. If it’s not reparable, then I’d say the best is to agree to part ways. If it is, then helping that person who has a strong skill set to get it right can only be to your benefit.
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