Modern Performance Profile: Steven Broudy, Director, Inside Sales, Americas at MuleSoft, Shares Secrets to Audacious Goal Setting, Data-driven Coaching, Effective Prioritization, and More
Steven Broudy (LinkedIn, Twitter) has an extensive track record in performance leadership. He spent over five years in Army Special Operations, serving in 2nd Ranger Battalion as a Special Operations Sniper Team Leader. Following his military service, Broudy ran the Business Development team for an HR analytics startup, Evolv, Inc. (now a part of Cornerstone OnDemand) before joining MuleSoft, a company that helps organizations change and innovate faster by making it easy to connect their applications, data, and devices. Broudy spoke with us about hiring and onboarding sales teams, how to manage and develop performance, using data to to drive coaching, setting audacious goals, prioritizing ruthlessly, and more.
In sales, most meetings are going to fall into one of a few categories: performance management, one-on-ones, in-line coaching, and professional development. In-line coaching falls into three buckets. In the first meeting I try to determine: what is the single biggest lever I can pull to improve an individual’s performance, and how can I align an appropriate coaching plan? In the second meeting, we execute that plan, for example, by using repetition to target a specific skill until the employee has attained at least a level of confidence, if not excellence. The third meeting is an in-line diagnosis in which we go through their role and responsibilities, and discuss opportunities to make incremental improvements.
Coaching one-on-ones are more oriented towards general improvement, rather than focusing on a specific skill.
“The key is to empower people to solve their own problems. We want them to identify their biggest challenge and determine how they can improve and what help they need.”
“Data-driven coaching is table stakes for leading an effective team. I always want to ensure that whenever we’re discussing performance in any facet, we’re speaking to the data. We’re not managing to the metrics, but we are validating our hypotheses with data.”
A sales process is a series of conversion rates over time, from one activity to the next, or one stage to another. It’s key to diagnose where those conversation rates fall off in order to align an appropriate coaching plan.
You motivate individuals by aligning compensation to the activities that are most engaging and offer the greatest potential for impact.
“You have to be an authentic leader who demonstrates that you deeply care about the people you work with, while holding them to incredibly high standards—often expectations that far exceed those that they have for themselves.”
I let the team choose how to celebrate a team win. You should be celebrating the wins that drive success for the company, for the team, and for the individual.
“Above all else, celebrate wins in a way that ties back to the work that was done, and to the values that work most embodied, that the team and the company believes we all should hold.”
“What’s really important is to make sure that individual wins are also specific teaching opportunities for the broader team.”
For example, if someone drives a successful engagement through the CIO of a global 500 organization, then it is key to dissect and understand why this effort was successful.
In Army Special Operations, every night we went out, and ultimately every time we returned from a mission, whether we were successful (which generally was the case) or not, we did an after-action review–a post-mortem. We asked the team, “What are the three things we should sustain? What are the three biggest opportunities for improvement? How are we going to go and operationalize those?” During these debriefs, the floor was open to everyone. It was everyone’s responsibility to give radically candid feedback, and believe me, no one pulled any punches. By ensuring we always analyzed how we could be better, we ensured that we were always growing more effective as an organization, from one night to the next.
At MuleSoft we bring aboard only the best people possible. A lot of people make that claim, but for the role that I’m hiring for in the account development (AD) organization, we have less than a 3% throughput rate. To put this in context, Stanford accepts 5% of people.
We interview for four things. First, they have a track record of achievement—they are true A players. That’s something that you can quantify. An A player is someone who demands excellence, and they can validate it through quantitative or qualitative data points.
Second is cognitive ability, meaning not only have they demonstrated a track record of excellence, but they also have the mental stamina and skill set to succeed. We look for people who are logical, analytical and think quickly on their feet.
Third, we use the phrase “square peg, square hole”. Meaning, is this role the right fit for them? It’s critical to identify that an individual is not just an A player, but is perfect for this particular role. I’ve spent six years in Army Special Operations, and our job was to go out in the middle of the night and capture some of the worst people on the planet. It’s an incredibly difficult job, and because there’s an incredibly rigorous assessment and selection process, it dictates that the people who make it through that pipeline are only the best of the best, real A players.
That said, would I make a good nurse? Absolutely not, and I have the utmost respect for people who go into that career. I think it takes a totally different person. Determining whether or not they’re the right fit for this role typically involves getting them to articulate if they can, how this role maps to their long-term career aspirations.
And lastly, at the end of the day, are they a good human? Do they embody MuleSoft in our values, both as a company and what tends to be most predictive of success in this role?
“The people who have been most successful embody a growth mindset. These are extremely gritty individuals. They’ve got a bias for action. They’re genuinely intellectually curious, and they demonstrate a level of coachability.”
For the AD role, we have an additional set of qualities that we’ve determined make an outstanding candidate who will succeed. These are: coachability, grit, growth-orientation, competitive, smart, and passionate about sales.
The most important thing is, will they raise the bar for the rest of the team if we bring them on board? If we can’t answer that question, then we don’t want to bring them on board.
We have a very rigorous and thorough interview process involving multiple rounds and interviewers. More than anything its data collection.
“A lot of people find it fairly easy to go to an interview and spew a lot of adjectives and claim to be excellent, but can’t validate it with a track record.”
We have a deliberate hiring process. There’s also a degree of testing, which can involve both practical exercises and on-the-spot testing for their ability to think on their feet, but also coachability.
“We make such a massive investment in interviewing to ensure that we are bringing aboard the right people, to not make an equivalent investment in their initial training and continued enablement and development would be a terrible business decision.”
Selling is very much a science, so we put new hires through what amounts to a four-week tech sales MBA, using both a classroom environment and practical hands-on exercises. We go beyond teaching people how to sell. We teach them the product, the messaging, our relevant customer stories, and our tooling and internal processes. It’s a rigorous program and we have an internal training and enablement lead who runs it, along with regional leads in our EMEA and APAC offices.
There’s an idea, if you shoot for the moon and miss, at least you’ll end up in the stars.
“I think it’s critical to set really big, hairy, audacious goals. You can track your progress over time by segmenting those goals into specific measurable tasks.”
The OKR framework is good because it distils what you’re focused on to the highest-impact goals. You need to determine, what is that one single biggest lever you can pull. Focusing your efforts on attaining a level of competence or excellence in a particular area, or a high-leverage task makes hitting your long-term goals easier.
You set goals as a sales leader, using the data at hand to diagnose where a sales rep has an opportunity to be most impactful. What conversion metric shows the biggest opportunity to drive exponential improvement in their performance?
“We incessantly focus on professional development. In the Army, we called it having not just a 50-meter target but a 500-meter target. Everything should build towards that 500-meter target.”
Even when you are focused on attaining a level of expertise in your current role, everything you do should build towards that long-term target.
It’s key to map things out from a near-term to long-term perspective. You plan by considering, “Where do I want to end up in x amount of time, and what do I need to do to achieve that?” But you need balance; you can’t let long-term plans supersede your attention to interim goals.
The secret to effectively communicating goals is, you don’t effectively communicate goals.
“People need to establish their own goals and communicate them to you. Your job as a leader is to help facilitate that discovery, challenge people to be as audacious as possible, and together make a plan to achieve those goals.”
If you’re setting goals for someone and they don’t buy in, they won’t be motivated to achieve them.
What’s most important is first modeling the behavior that you want to see.
“At MuleSoft, we subscribe to the idea of being radically candid in our engagements with peers. We care deeply about the people we work with, and we convey that, but we are also as direct as possible.”
Creating a culture in which giving and receiving feedback is expected and valued gives people the opportunity to grow and learn to effectively communicate.
“One thing to keep in mind is that people are less inclined to be radically candid if they’re your subordinates. You need to make them aware that it’s their responsibility to give you feedback.”
If they don’t do that, they’re not demonstrating that they care about you, the same way you demonstrate that you care about them.
Tone and inflection, how you deliver feedback effects how they receive it. They need to know you believe they can be better.
A leader should never be above any task. It is also critical to make sure you’re spending your time on the highest leveraged activities possible and on the highest priority items.
“Delegation is about finding the person best equipped to tackle the problem at hand, but there’s a slippery slope with delegation, because you run the risk of creating the perception that you’re just above doing hard work.”
I certainly am not, and none of the leaders here at MuleSoft are, either.
There’s a great book called Essentialism, and another called The One Thing. The idea is, every day when you come into work you have to ask yourself, “What is the one single most important thing that I can do to make other tasks easier, or even unnecessary?”
Apply the classic Eisenhower matrix to determine how you’re spending your time as a leader: if something is not urgent and important, you shouldn’t be spending time on it. That’s when you delegate.
“As a leader it’s crucial to ruthlessly prioritize. Delegation is about finding the right person to do the task at hand, and it’s also an opportunity to empower them.”
Even if a leader believes they can perform the task better, often it’s still in the best interest of the company to delegate. And in contrast, not delegating tasks can be disempowering to subordinates.
We’re highly data-driven here. We capture a massive amount of data to understand the entire sales process in a holistic manner. Once you know where to look, then you can begin the process of diagnosis and determine how to align coaching. This process is laser-focused on assessing what is that one single, biggest lever that can be pulled. Once that’s been identified, you can start performance coaching.
“In professional development, it’s critical to identify the biggest challenge for an individual. It’s a process of discovery and the key is listening, which is easier said than done.”
We often go into a coaching conversation thinking that we have the answer and looking for an opportunity, we lead a person to it, instead of really listening them.
The best coaching advice I’ve received is to first take note of your own natural tendencies, before you step into the conversation. Acknowledge and assess those tendencies, and consider how they relate to your core values. How do they align with what you’re trying to achieve in the conversation? People need to feel heard, understood, and walk away feeling that they got something out of the conversation. All too often we think our value as leaders is to have the answer. I just don’t believe that’s the case.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is negative feedback.
“A truly growth-oriented individual believes that all feedback is positive, even if it hurts.”
That said, as leaders, it’s important to consider, “Why am I giving this feedback?” I think at times, people deliver feedback not because they genuinely care about the people they’re speaking with, but because they want to get it off their chest.
The most important thing is that everyone is engaged and wants to show up to work every day. Then we focus on measuring the right behaviors, the right techniques, and ensuring that people buy in at every level of the sales process.
“I don’t believe that there is one best metric, or even a series of best metrics to track. You should be collecting the most data possible and then finding which tend to correlate to success.”
But how you define success is different at every level of the sales process, so the utility of specific metrics varies. Ultimately, it comes down to driving revenue and tracking backward from there. There is no magic metric.
First, you begin the process by diagnosing where they’re having the biggest fall-off. Second, dig in and determine what the individual is doing that’s preventing them from being successful. The third component is to build a coaching plan in which they practice and drill in the techniques they need to be effective. Once they have attained a level of confidence and excellence in that specific technique, you consistently monitor them, whether through in-line coaching or work sessions, to ensure that they are being successful. It is a very, very deliberate process.
“We make a massive investment to find the best people possible to bring into the organization, so it’s our responsibility to ensure that they are set up to succeed. If someone is not performing, it’s as much our failure as leaders as it is theirs.”
Now, if we have done everything within our power and they still don’t succeed, then this likely isn’t the right fit for them.
That’s where showing people the data is really important. Give them a sense of relative performance, and usually that naiveté goes away.
“It’s important to teach professional patience. Help someone to understand that a career is forty years. Show them, on a bar chart, from zero to forty, how long they’ve been working. Show them how long you’ve been working.”
Show them how long the CEO of the company has been working. You demonstrate how they’re thinking about their career in terms of days, weeks and months, and how short-sighted that is. Show them instead of telling them.
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