Lessons from an executive: Charlie Atkinson



A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak with Charlie Atkinson about managing relationships, working with technical talent, and some of the key habits he had that helped him get to where he wanted to be. Charlie’s background includes being both a Marketing leader at organizations like Sharp and Kodak, managing some of the largest relationships for Xerox as a Major Account Executive and eventually becoming the Canadian leader of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Highlighting our conversation there are 4 key takeaways that I wanted to share:

1.“It’s not about the sales cycle. It’s about the customer lifecycle.”

Too often and I have been guilty of this too, as sales reps we get “happy ears” and the second we believe we have uncovered a pain point, we jump pounce into selling mode.  It’s all about positioning your solution as the answer to your customer’s problems to help them avoid or take away their pain. It’s essential to have thorough discoveries with your clients and get to know what’s distressing them. One of the keys to his success was understanding the industry drivers of the major accounts he was working with and what influenced his customer’s customer. As the old saying goes, you have two ears and one mouth and if you focus more so on listening to your customer, rather than just working on the perfect “pitch”, you’ll be able to accurately qualify your prospects as a lead that should or should not be utilizing your solution.

KEY NOTE: The most distressed customers are often the ones who are most interested in finding solutions that will give them a competitive advantage. It’s not just about collecting logos… Your job as a sales rep is to find the customers that NEED your solution and the only way you can really decipher this is by understanding their problems, not just what your solution does and what generic “benefits” it could potentially provide their business. Stay focused on the customer lifecycle.

2. “Live the brand, don’t just represent the business.”

Trust, Integrity, Commitment and Excellence. These traits describe sales reps who thoughtfully follow-up with their clients, even after the sale is done. Too often reps simply walk away from their clients and revisit only once they believe they have something else to sell them and don’t thoughtfully follow-up with their clients to see how the solution has been working for them, what their clients current problems are, and often treat accounts as a “one-time deal” rather than a long-term business partnership. Charlie had mentioned the importance that every voice-mail, e-mail, or time he left a new business card, he was picking up where he left off. Trust is built through consistently following up with your clients, being thoughtful and listening to their problems and serving as a facilitator who brought

KEY NOTE: Just like all of us in sales, Charlie had customers and prospects who would sometimes give him hell. During his time as a Territory rep selling copier solutions he dealt with bad moments like these by always having a large bucket in his trunk, which included: Q-tips,  wipes, tape, and FRESH business cards. He would go back to his old clients and voluntarily clean up their machines for them, asked them not just about how the machine has treated them but how is their business is doing, how they are and what has been happening. The conversations were not surrounded on him or his solutions, he knew that their environment was always changing and he needed to stay up to date with their problems, not just focus on his quota. At the end of each visit, there was always a new business card on each machine because he looked at every visit, message, and the way he presented himself (including his business card) as an extension of him and his brand.

3. “Invent the process and stay disciplined.”

Having a process for how you open your calls, follow-up with prospects, how often you are visiting your clients, and how you qualify potential buyers is the sales reps responsibility NOT your managers or organizations. Meticulously analyzing every single KPI will help you accurately forecast how much of your pipeline you should expect to close and give you an indicator for what you need to do in order to reach your milestones. “Failure to me is success inside out” -- what Charlie meant by this is that the sales reps who so called “fail” the most, tend to be the ones who finished on the top of the boards. If you know that based on your stats it takes 10 demos to get 3 closes and on average you book 2 demos for every 20 cold-calls, it suddenly doesn’t become such a daunting task to cold-call 200 prospects… Embrace the failures that come with sales and stay disciplined, stay disciplined, and implement a process for keeping up to date with your prospects, clients, and your contacts.

Key Note: “There’s nothing more powerful than referrals”.

As Charlie continued his career he found himself with binders full of references from each role he was in. A book of business is created over time through discipline and by genuinely solving your client’s problems. By staying focused to your client’s issues, you have inevitably created a greater chance of gaining referrals simply by staying on top of your tasks and demonstrating your competence in your field. The correlation between those who craft reference letters and the same people who referred over a business you may need your solution is incredibly strong. Through being diligent and disciplined you will earn each referral.

4. “People buy from people.”

They buy from YOU first, your company second, your product/service third, and the price is the final reason your client has decided to invest in your solution. Credibility is built through consistency, which can definitely be frustrating for any sales rep measured on quarterly or monthly quotas. The key is that by consistently delivering value through providing insights into what your client cares about, finding ways to help them convert their own prospects into clients, and through thoroughly following up and assessing how you may (or may not) be able to help them solve their problems, you can build credibility. Charlie had mentioned a time where he went as far as working in the call-center of one of his major clients to see how crucial the software they were providing was to their employees. On one end it allows him to empathize with the frustrations of irate clients when the solution isn’t working, but on another it showed the client that he’s not there for one sale, he’s there to help ensure the solution he’s offering help his clients reach their targets.


“Take care of your people and they will take care of you.” Charlie was the first to note he was maybe the least technical individual in HP. A key piece of advice he gave is that your implementation team doesn’t know what you had promised or shouldn’t be expected to implement the best solution for your client because they weren’t there during the discovery process! As a facilitator Charlie was the bridge between his technical team and the client’s team who needed the project completed. He knew at all points where the technical team was during the implementation stage, would work with his team anyway he can. Whether it be giving detailed notes from all of his conversations with the client or simply BEING THERE during the implementation on weekends to run errands and take care of his team. Due to the effort he was putting in to ensure the project ran smoothly, he often found his technical team very appreciative and even watchful of the clients for him. He had mentioned a few instances where some of his teammates helped initiate key meetings which served as the catalyst to some of the most lucrative accounts he worked with, simply because they felt that they were working in unison rather than a divided unit of the pre-sales and implementation teams. He maintained credibility by essentially being his own project manager and bridging the communication between his teams and built credibility with his own team by demonstrating he wants to help any way he can and isn’t above showing up on evenings or weekends or taking on a different role to help his team. His clients, implementation team, and pre-sales team had great trust in him and ultimately his technical team became his ears in field, letting him know of opportunities and his clients continued to work with Charlie through the relationship he cultivated with them.

If there’s one way to summarize what I learned from our call it’s to focus on the process not the outcome of what you are trying to achieve. Focus on the process for thoroughly following up with your prospects and clients, focusing on their problems not your quota, finding ways to solve their problems and if you can’t then you need to be honest with them about it. Aside from these points having your own system in place and staying disciplined will ensure long-term success.

TradeGecko, VP of Global Sales, Stephen Defina, speaks to building a profitable organization


Stephen Defina, Vice President of Global Sales at TradeGecko, emphasizes that in order to build a profitable organization you need to understand your organization’s growth map.

This allows you to find the right units to measure growth and determine if you are getting closer to completing your mission. One key piece of advice from Stephen was that you should not be looking for “sales reps”, but should be looking for problem solvers. At its core, your team should consist of individuals with high character, integrity, resiliency and intelligence.

To attract candidates to your opportunity, you need to focus on technology and where the company wants to go, this way the candidate sees how their role fits into the big picture. You need to be transparent on what works and doesn’t in the role, as well as have a defined job profile prior to beginning your search.

Excellent managers will use data, as opposed to emotion when guiding their team. A key point is that you need to consider how individuals fit into management when promoting from within. It’s always great to have a healthy mix of external and internally-promoted managers to lead your team. This way your organization can gain the perspective from leaders who come from diverse backgrounds, opposed to leaders who were all trained by the same individuals.



For more interviews in our Great Sales Leaders Know series click here.

Nudge.ai CEO, Paul Teshima, talks to the importance of building relationships and a successful sales strategy


Paul Teshima, Nudge.ai CEO, provides insight on the importance of building/nurturing professional sales relationships and shares how his 2014 Toronto tech startup developed a successful sales team and sales strategy.

Nudge.ai is a relationship intelligence platform that uses artificial intelligence to find actionable insights on prospects and helps salespeople manage/measure their relationships with clients. When engaging with prospects or nurturing relationships with current clients, Paul believes that sales professionals should focus on lead quality over lead quantity. He states that 84% of sales start with a referral, so it’s critical to maintain business relationships to create warm leads, and it's imperative to have relevant and insightful information about your prospects to increase your chances of forming a partnership with cold leads.

When it comes to building a sales team, Paul says that sales leaders should ask for guidance when faced with uncertainty. He implemented advice from experienced consultants, which led him to structure his sales team by first evaluating whether he needed salespeople who exhibit more of a hunter or gatherer profile.

Additional characteristics that Paul looks for in great sales hires are that they are entrepreneurial, follow a sales process, and have the ability to draw information from clients. These points along with many other insights that Paul learned while building his startup are discussed in this 26-minute podcast.




For more interviews in our Great Sales Leaders Know series click here.

Loopio Co-Founders, Jafar and Zakir, talk about attracting top sales talent and growing a company culture


Jafar Owainati and Zakir Hemraj, Co-Founders of Loopio, an RFP response software that streamlines the way enterprises respond to RFPs, RFIs, and security questionnaires, share their thoughts on starting a business, attracting top sales talent and maintaining and growing a company culture in a changing business environment.

After graduating from university, Jafar and Zak figured they would work a few years, get an MBA and work toward a corporate executive career like many others; which was the case for Jafar. However, after both were exposed to the startup bug they knew it was the path they wanted to pursue.

Jafar and Zak’s early years at Loopio, along with their third co-founder Matt, were full of pleasant surprises. They were able to bootstrap the company for an extended period, thus leading to better than expected cash flows and big-name clients, all while having little trouble attracting top sales talent. Looking back now they had greatly surpassed their own expectations.

When it comes to attracting top talent, the founders express the importance of the interview process. It should be one that is a sell for both the candidate and the employee. They also stress the importance of rockstar candidates that are able to receive feedback, both in the interview process (as a warning sign) and in the position itself. Being adaptive as a salesperson, regardless of tenure, is extremely important.

Jafar and Zak stress an “uncomfortable feedback” company culture which pushes team members to develop a sense of “true culture”, one which embraces transparency, feedback, honesty, and integrity as opposed to an artificial culture brought about by perks and ping pong tables. Lastly, the founders explain the challenges associated with both maintaining a tight-knit company culture as well as retaining top talent during periods of high growth and how to best position oneself for such challenges.


By Dan Petz

For more interviews in our Great Sales Leaders Know series click here.

Citron Hygiene EVP of Sales and Marketing, Alison Mahoney, talks about understanding your role and growth in an organization


Alison Mahoney, EVP of Sales and Marketing at Citron Hygiene, emphasizes the importance of each team member understanding the value of their role within an organization in order to grow the team and business as a whole.

This interview spoke much about the importance of drive, hunger, and an understanding of what it takes to be successful as key indicators of potential in salespeople. Alison focuses on making sure each member of her team understands their position and that without their efforts, that she would not be able to make her business as successful as it could be.

This is also indicative of company culture – acknowledging employee contributions, making sure employees know leadership is there for them, promoting those with coaching personality traits or re-evaluating compensation for more autonomous workers, connecting tenured employees with the newer employees for training purposes, and creating a work structure, but also allowing the flexibility to not have to directly work within this structure – are all ways Citron remains attractive to employees in order to increase employee longevity.

The biggest takeaway? Challenging your employees to think of themselves as a business within a business and having them ask themselves; would you make this decision if this was your company?


By Ana Pesic

For more interviews in our Great Sales Leaders Know series click here.

Honk Founder & CEO, Michael Back, talks about the evolution of sales and the trait he most respects in a sales person


We sat down with Michael Back, founder & CEO of Honk, the easy way to find and pay for parking. Michael talks about the evolution of outside sales to inside sales, 100% commission compensation plans, and the trait he most respects in a sales person

Michael Back (MB): On the consumer side, Honk is here to make it easier to search, find, reserve and pay for parking. On the owner and operator side, it's about putting more cars in their parking lots. That’s really what it boils down to.

Jamie Scarborough (JS): Collective POS, your last business which you built for 13 years, was also about convenience of purchase?

MB: That’s correct– Collective was a transaction processing business. We built one of the largest non-bank credit card processors in Canada. What was happening in the credit card world was something very simple. It was less about processing transactions and more about adding value around the transactions. When I sold Collective, it was then about what other industries needed disruption. It didn't take us very long to think about the parking industry. If you think about the parking industry, the major innovation was adding a meter at every single space. Having the payment background that I did, Honk was started as a business to make parking about more than the parking meter.

JS: How is the business doing?

MB: Honk’s been around for 4 years and so much has changed already. We’ve realized it’s going to become so much more than the parking meter. We want to disrupt parking the way companies like Travelocity and Expedia disrupt travel. We are already starting to play with autonomous vehicles and connected cars. If you think about a car that in the very near future is going to drive itself, it has to know where parking exists, it has to know how much it costs and has to be able to transact, all without human interaction. That's where Honk is going.

JS: With Collective POS, you used a more traditional sales model. From what I understand, a huge part of that workforce, that sales force, was an outside sales profession.

MB: It was a combination. At first, we had feet on the street all over the country, knocking on doors and presenting to small merchants on premise. As the business grew, we built an inside sales capability.

JS: Which is more modern-- almost all inside sales is in that format. It is much less about being a lower version of sales, in fact it’s actually replacing almost all sales. We rarely call them ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ anymore. But at that time, outside sales was for the more senior people and inside sales was for the more junior people.

MB: Correct.

JS: How did you measure those outside sales people when you had so many transactions? I'm assuming it's not an easy task to keep track of all of the salespeople and how many meetings they're having?

MB: Absolutely. I was in my 20's, I didn't know anything about business so it was just about tracking how many deals each person was able to get. We were mostly just tracking the results: revenue, number of accounts and the type of accounts that were brought in. It wasn't so much about inspecting the inputs or the activity, it was really just noticing the outputs. Eventually the company got to a size where our phone started ringing and something very interesting happened. Say we got a hundred inbound leads, we would sell 50 deals. Then we got 200 inbound leads, we sold a 100 deals. Then we got 300 inbound leads and we still sold a hundred deals. Then 400 inbound leads and a hundred deals. What we realized was our math was all wrong. What we really needed to track was the fact we weren't closing 50 out of every hundred deals. When we put it like that, the funnel looked very different. That’s when someone introduced me to Salesforce. To this day, I live by it. I believe you need to inspect what you expect and look at all aspects of the funnel. At Honk, there is no concept of inside or outside. A sales person here uses the tools that are available. We do what it takes to win business.

JS: To be efficient in sales there’s this notion that you need to be in front of someone and shaking their hand to close a deal because that’s how all of the the big deals are closed. Now it seems as if people are doing millions of dollars worth of deals using remote technology.

MB: I actually think it's the opposite now. People don't want to see you. There are times and places where people will and that's where the trade shows and conferences come in and that's great because you can wine and dine... But beyond that, you can accomplish more in a 15 or 30 minute phone call than you can on an hour long meeting. People are so pressed for time today that people only buy from those that they know or like. Developing that relationship is important.

JS: The older model of sales was all about relationship building; playing golf or going for drinks. Now it’s entirely different. When you were looking at your Salesforce data did you find that it was so much easier to measure your inside sales compared to your outside sales?

MB: We could both measure and influence them. You knew when someone was doing presentations or sending out contracts because you actually saw them doing these tasks. There’s a certain type of camaraderie that comes with being in the office on a daily basis. It also brings a certain level of competition amongst all of the salespeople internally. There is something to be said about what happens by the water cooler, in the lunchroom or after work drinks. It's all of those intangibles that I think push your sales force forward.   

JS: As you were building Collective POS how did you start paying people? Was it really high commissions, low salaries, no salaries?

MB: Absolutely. First of all, I was the first sales person.

JS: With the best companies that's always the case.

MB: So, I started that business by walking up and down the street and knocking on doors. Then I started thinking about elevating my process, building an infrastructure and getting more people in place to help me sell more product. That's when we started building a sales force. After that, what ended up happening was I couldn't afford to pay them, so it was all transactional. It was all tied to winning an account. They were 100% commission. We paid a lot so it was very lucrative for these people.

JS: They were bound to do well if the pay was there.

MB: Correct. Then we ended up growing to a point where we were able to put people on salary. That's when we started bringing the inside sales folks in. It was very interesting because at the time we were competing with the likes of Salesforce.com and Rogers. Our customers were the same small businesses and our salary packages and commission packages were very similar. So we were competing in the marketplace for human capital. It was never by design. In terms of structure, our base was lower but our commissions were higher- that was sheerly because we couldn’t afford to pay anything more. So what happened was, the people that were competing with Rogers and Salesforce ended up self selecting out. If we were offering a $35K base back in the day and say Rogers was offering $40K, our $35K came with uncapped commissions and Roger's $40K capped out at $60K. So the person who left and said, "I'm not going to take your opportunity and take a $40K that caps out at $60K instead”… turns out, that’s not the person we wanted in our sales force anyways.

JS: Right.

MB: We ended up having people who started with a $35K base around 8-10 years ago. Obviously salaries have gone up since then… but people would start with us at a $35K base and instead of capping out at $60K, they were walking out of our office with $75K, $80K. Our top performers making $100-120k. So, it's amazing when they say necessity is the mother of all invention. We never designed our construction that way. Philosophically, I wanted a structure where there is no such thing as a cap, but most successful salespeople should get paid the most amount of money. There should be no reason to stop. These people are your stars.

JS: They're hungry.

MB: That was something that we fell backwards into, but ended up being one of the key reasons that we were able to attract great talent, hungry salespeople, top performers and the ones that took the risk averse solution and went to the big company, versus the ones that were risk takers and went to the small company. Our people were very well rewarded for it.

JS: How did you choose who to hire?

MB: We hired for culture, we hired for fit and we wanted people that were hungry and aspirational. We wanted people who wanted to buy cars, houses and eventually get married. People who wanted to build a career, wanted to learn.

JS: People who were going to stay hungry.

MB: Correct. That was the profile we looked for. We wanted the money hungry people. It’s interesting, if you say to someone, "hey, do you want to make a million dollars?" very few people would say, "no, not me." But what you do find is that some people fall off at a $100,000, some people fall off at $200,000, but as I said, we wanted the hungry people, we wanted the money motivated people, and it worked.

JS: How do you identify that the first interviews?

MB: You know it's an easy question to ask and it's a hard one to answer. I used to joke back in the day that I was very good at making bad hiring decisions. It was really just hiring for culture because you can always teach business. I knew nothing about parking when I started this 4 years ago. I knew about payments and I knew as a customer I had to park my car... but I didn't know about the inner workings of parking and everything that goes on. I always hired the person not the experience.

JS: By the time you sold Collective POS you had approximately 80 people. How many of those were salespeople?

MB: Around 30 or 40 on the street and about 30 or 40 in the office.

JS: A legitimately large sales force for Canada. How many managers would you have had at that time? Was it that formulated?

MB: There was around one manager for every 8 sales reps. By the end we had a VP of Sales and directors. The inside sales group of around 30 had 4 directors and 3 managers. It was never 1 manager to 20, 30, or 40 sales reps.

JS: How did you learn this? Was it all trial and error? What were the biggest changes you made to your business? Did they come from trial and error or did they come from other experts giving you advice?

MB: I joined a CEO group early and I would go to these meetings once a month, non-competitive. There are various companies that put these together. They are still close friends to this day. I just happened to be at a meeting, talking about the fact that even though our lead volume is increasing, we can't seem to be increasing our conversion rate. We hit a glass ceiling in terms of the number deals we could write in a month. It didn't matter if I added more people... we were stuck. That’s when I was introduced to salesforce.com. That's when the world opened up.

JS: Because you were seeing data that you just never knew existed.

MB: Correct. I was realizing that even though the lead came in on Monday, perhaps it took us six months to close that lead. My math was really linear and tied to the month. I started to understand people's performance, knowing what the average close rate was, the average length of a pitch, frequently asked questions, objections; all kinds of metrics. So that's when the world kind of opened up. A lot of it was trial and error, but a lot of it was some good advice.

JS: And it is that interest in data.

MB: Yes.

JS: While a lot of people have access to data, not everyone dives deep or has an interest in it. Were you always that way or did you surprise yourself?

MB: First of all, I have a degree in finance, so I would say that I was always analytical. We definitely made sales mathematical.

JS: What are the biggest KPIs that you look for as you are managing your sales team?

MB: I like effort. Well certainly, the numbers, the finance, the results…  But when I am looking at salespeople and I am figuring out who the good salespeople are, I want to see hustle, I want to see effort– however you measure that. Maybe it’s calls, proposals, meetings… The sales cycles at Honk are longer than the sales cycles were at Collective. I’m looking for that person who shows up everyday and is organized, has defined next steps, comes in with goals and knows what they are going to do, those are the people that I have all the time for in the world. I really believe those are the people who achieve the best results. While there are exceptions to every rule, I would say that that one holds pretty true.

JS: Michael, you have been really open. I always appreciate the conversation.

MB: My pleasure. Thank you. This was fun.

For more interviews in our Great Sales Leaders Know series click here.

Firmex CEO, Joel Lessem on “building a machine”, a culture of respect, and why Firmex will never hire sales engineers


We sat down with Joel Lessem, CEO of Firmex, a fast growing SaaS company. We spoke to him about making the right hires, 'culture carriers', and analyzing and implementing the right technology tools for the job.

Tell us about Firmex today.

Joel Lessem (JL): Firmex is 11 years old now. We are a for profit SaaS company. You find a lot of them aren’t making money. We’ve grown steadily in North America and now overseas. We’re over 100 employees and a “rule of 40” company. Great operating business with the biggest customers only representing 1.5% of revenue. It is all recurring revenue with 92% gross margins and 25% operating margins. Very healthy business. We’re very proud of it.

How is the biggest opportunity for improvement in software sales?

JL: Sales as a craft is done poorly, generally speaking. As a result you can take advantage of that as an operator. If you have the right sales structure and training, you can outperform your competitors. I think, particularly in the tech industry, there is a belief that salespeople are not intelligent enough to present software, which to me, especially if it’s user based software, is a bias of the tech or engineering industry. If you train your salespeople to be able to talk and present intelligently about the product as well as all of the other things they are supposed to be doing like listening and understanding customers needs, then you’ll have a competitive advantage.

You’ve had incredibly low turnover on your sales team. Why is that?

JL: We set achievable targets. We have a heavily leaning commission structure, so the high performers can consistently over-achieve their targets. We have a relatively low price point [for the average sale] from $5,000 to $20,000 so our salespeople are writing a couple of hundred orders per year. It’s the consistency and predictability of their earnings plus the autonomy over the whole sale. They do the sale from soup to nuts. Plus, we have a lot of inbound leads. Inbound is 90% of it. For any salesperson it’s a great environment to work in.

Was it a conscious decision to leave the full sales process to the rep and avoid the more common “solution engineer” role?

JL: When I sold ERP software it could take 3 days of demos, and I would do them myself. Firmex has a product you often can demonstrate in under an hour so there is no reason we can’t do that without sales engineers. In fact sales engineers, and I have witnessed them, do a terrible job generally speaking because the “show-up and throw-up”. I never for a minute at our price point considered sales engineers. It is not that complicated because it is such an easy business software to use.

From a KPI perspective what has been important to you?

JL: That’s a simple question with many answers. I mean when it pertains to sales, closing percentages are an indication of competitiveness. That’s a key KPI for us. The other KPI is a simple demand generation. That’s the marketing and viral function of our product. If the demand isn’t coming in, then we know the bookings aren’t going to flow through. To that point, in our business, automation is a key part of keeping our cost of sale productive. That’s another one: cost of sale. What is the cost for me on the sales side of acquiring new revenue. We try to get more productive each year. As the business scales that’s an important point. Have you maxed that out or can you keep going?

What do you look for from your sales people?

JL: The myth in sales is that good sales people talk a lot and impress people. Our salespeople are the opposite of that stereotype. They are quiet and listeners. They are respectful of other people and pay attention to their prospect. They don’t have to be highly experienced but they have to have the right personality and be willing to learn. We are prepared to take chances and hire people for what they are and don’t look at their resume. We look at who they are as people.

When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur or a business leader?

JL: I was always, even as a kid I had little businesses. I think I always had the instinct. In my university days I thought I was going to be a professor; I studied history of philosophy. But then I decided I didn’t want to live in a library. The only job I could get without any qualifications was sales. I ended up being pretty good at it. I started as a bra salesman for Playtex. I don’t know many other people who have sold bras. I worked for entrepreneurs after that. My first company I started when I was 32 did not succeed, and then I started here at 39.

What about culture?

JL: People ask me what I do to drive the culture and I tell them: I don’t do a lot I let it breathe. I let it have its own autonomy. If you’ve done a good job of hiring, you should not have to worry about motivating people. You should just have to worry about demotivating people (laughs).

What’s the secret ingredient to determine if a salesperson is also going to be a strong manager? Is there something they have that is different?

JL: People always ask me ‘what does it take to become a manager?’ First of all, you need to be thinking about the company over yourself. As an an individual contributor you have to worry about one thing; putting up the numbers. It’s about your paycheck and your success. It’s a tough change. It’s about helping others- you’re only as good as your team. You really have to think broadly about the operations of the business. If someone’s like that- and a good coach and leader- then they will progress.

You start to see it early because they are coaching before they are in a leadership capacity.

JL: Are you going to be a ‘culture carrier’? Are you showing leadership in the company whether its the social committee, etc. You are showing leadership in other areas of the company. Can you be a respected leader or culture carrier in the company? Can you contribute to company culture? That’s an important factor in leadership in a company.

Let’s talk about technology in sales. How do you analyze the thousands of different tools that are out there right now? How do you decide what to use, and who does that?

JL: That’s something your sales manager has to do. They have to be technology savvy, fans of tech. They make the decisions. They have to be always looking for tools to make their teams more efficient. Your sales leaders should be the driver of technology to know what’s useful. You’ll never have adoption of your CRM platform if it’s not implemented by the VP of sales.

Any last advice for any sales leaders to create a successful sales infrastructure? What would be your biggest tip?

JL: I think fundamentally you’ve got to invest in your salespeople internally. Hire salespeople for who they are as people and if you have the right systems in place you can have a great repeatable process. I think the attitude to take is one of respect. Unfortunately the sales cultures in many large organizations is one of stick and carrot. There’s great pressure to hit monthly numbers. There’s a lot of yelling and screaming and huffing and puffing. A lot of stress- it just makes a lot of noise.

I think that culture of respect is really clear in every answer you’ve had about delegation of people, how you hire, what you hire them for. Obviously Firmex is a really impressive organization. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I hope everyone that listens learns something because I know I did.

JL: Thanks Jamie, cheers!

For more interviews in our Great Sales Leaders Know series click here.

Five things I learned in my first year as a Sales Manager

Sonya and her SDR team at the 2017 STA holiday party

Sonya and her SDR team at the 2017 STA holiday party

by Sonya Meloff

In 2017, I embarked on a journey to build a sales team for Sales Talent Agency. Prior to that, we’d never had one, as I had been the only “dedicated” sales person.  This worked well for many years but by the end of 2016, having grown to approximately 60 people, we recognized the need to build a proper sales department to ensure consistent growth.  We also realized that if we could get it right, we had a huge opportunity in front of us.

Though I’d always been a strong individual contributor, I’d never been a sales manager before and it quickly became my job to figure out how.   For a second, yes, I was terrified. But then instantly excited!

We decided to run with an SDR model to see if we could replicate in a service business what we’d seen software companies do so successfully.  That is, we’d break up the sales process in to fragmented segments, hire and train high-potential/low-experience talent, and train them on how to master the earliest and toughest part of the sales process: finding the right opportunities and booking high quality meetings for the senior leaders to carry forward. We also ramped up our marketing efforts to drive inbound opportunities, but that is for another article.

We first test-piloted the idea of an SDR team in the summer of 2016 with a university intern. With a bit of trial and error, we proved quickly that the model worked and pushed forward to build a full-time sales team. By the end of 2017, our team had grown to five full-time sales people and it proved to be a year of tremendous learning and great results.  We hit 107% on an aggressive target, brought on more than 100 new clients, and solidified our team as a critical part of STA’s future growth strategy.

Five key things I learned in my first year as a sales manager:

1. Hire the right people

5 years ago, we developed our DNA/PRO™ methodology for analyzing sales talent for our clients. The most critical of these are the first 3: Drive (are they ambitious, with the work ethic and resiliency to meet their goals?); Nature (are they emotionally intelligent and able to connect easily and authentically with customers?); Acumen (are they bright, curious and able to become a business expert?). Using this methodology we hired 3 high-potential sales rookies who have all excelled (all met their 2017 targets) and have since been promoted. Never have we been more convinced of this methodology than after using it for our own hiring.

2. Pick 3 KPI’s

Starting from scratch, we needed to figure out the basics of what we would measure: how many companies was it reasonable to contact on a daily basis, how many calls should the sales people be making in a day, how were they going to find who to call, do emails work better and how many emails to send, and how many conversations could be had, and meetings booked?

We set and revised daily activity targets and recognized what we could only measure that which we could control - specifically, who we were calling (did we identify the right contact), how often we called them, and what exactly were we saying.  

There is no doubt that the right activity leads to the right results and, with the help of a strong internal Salesforce partner, we set up dashboards and reports to help measure everything.

3. Training must be ongoing

Beyond our training manual with the basics on both sales and product training, I quickly realized that training for sales is an ongoing thing, often in real-time after or before calls are made, emails written, etc.  

I set aside weekly 1-on-1 meetings with each rep to review deals in play,  opportunities stalled, and to complete a thorough pipeline review.  This allowed for pin-pointed and effective knowledge transfer and ensured effective pipeline management.

As a team, we also met daily to review achievements based on the previous day's goals. This has since been modified to a Monday and Friday meeting only.

4.  Tech for Sales has arrived and it’s great!

We discovered and tested great tools like Lusha, Pitchbook, ZoomInfo, Boomerang, ConnectAndSell, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Calendly, Vidyard and others which helped us get sales insights on our prospects quickly and saved time with tough tasks such as finding key contact info (aka mobile numbers!) for prospects.  Time is money, and we continue to trial and explore new tools that can help drive efficiencies for our team.

5. Celebrate the small wins and have fun as a team

Working in sales can feel like getting beat up a daily basis.  Putting aside the slamming down of the phone, the crass replies to emails, there are prospects that will commit to a meeting, then not show up, never to be heard from again. If that’s not ego-bruising, I don’t know what is!  But with every no, it’s one step closer to a yes, and along the way we enjoyed celebrating the small wins, including: finding an important number, having a good conversation, getting a referral, etc.  We reviewed and celebrated these small wins daily.

We also celebrated big wins - hitting targets and team promotions - and most importantly we had fun along the way. We learned to laugh at ourselves and had fun laughing at and with each other.  Most importantly, we learned that sales is a team sport and nobody can do it on their own.

Because we help companies hire salespeople for a living, our standard is to be the salespeople our clients want to hire.  We set a high standard for each other and, as a team, held each other accountable.  This included work activities and personal goals, and basic expectations around showing up on time, using proper grammar, and being accountable to do what we say we are going to do.  We set a bar to not be late for meetings, to always be prepared and not miss targets,  while recognizing that nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. By stating our expectations clearly, it set the tone for how we wanted our team to be perceived, both internally and externally, and ultimately I think helped us achieve strong results.

The profession of sales is one of constant growth and learning and this couldn’t have been more true for my first year as a sales manager. Our theme as a sales team for 2018 is: Always Be Growing.  The definition of growing is to become greater over a period of time and I’m looking forward to continued growth for me, my team and everyone on it.

For the love of Sales!


These 6 things helped me achieve success as a woman in business


Let’s jump right into it!

Women in Leadership luncheon by Salesforce

Women in Leadership luncheon by Salesforce

171122- 6ThingsWomeninBusinessBlogGraphics-20.png

The first thing that has helped me as a women in business is that I really never think about it. I’ve always just taken the view that to be the best me in business, you really just have to be the best in business, regardless of gender.  Competition in business, unlike say .. professional sport, is not segregated by gender, so in whatever it is that I was doing, whether selling for an ad agency, or selling recruitment services,  I have always focussed on trying to do it better, smarter and  faster than anyone else.  It’s not my gender that determines if I put in the extra effort, and I’ve just always been told that if you do the best job, you will win every time.   

So I wake up every day, prepared to go to battle, and never do I think that any of my successes or failures, wins or losses, are based or influenced by gender. Out of sight, out of mind, and I believe winning in business is gender neutral and I just never think about it. Focus on being the best and it wins every time.

171506- 6ThingsWomeninBusinessBlogGraphics-21.png

You have to be scrappy and fight your way to get in the door, or a seat at the table - and that may not happen overnight - but once you are there, it’s your shot to build your reputation and build your credibility.  Nobody expects you to know everything, but come prepared and be ready to ask good questions.  If something doesn’t make sense to you, be prepared to speak up and don’t be afraid to ask ‘why’ or ‘how’. You will never look bad asking good questions, and chances are if it doesn’t make sense to you, then it doesn’t make sense to someone else who’s also afraid to speak up.  

One of the best ways to earn credibility is by having strong expertise in whatever it is that you are doing.  So no matter what your profession of choice, focus on becoming an expert because if you can become an expert, people will listen and you will be the person that people look to for advice and solutions.  Expertise is not gained overnight and it comes with time and repetitions.  

171506- 6ThingsWomeninBusinessBlogGraphics-22.png

The first thing that everyone needs to understand is that we are ALL in sales. Every day, we are working in sales. Whether it’s selling an idea to a classmate, selling yourself to a potential employer, selling an idea internally within a company, selling students to come to an event, or actually selling a company’s product or service, we are all in sales, everyday. Point one.

Point two to understand is that sales solves everything! Knowing how to sell is incredibly important and sales skills must be learned and practiced.  There are lots of misconceptions about what it takes to be good at sales, primarily around personality types, but we know that if you’ve got an engine, have high emotional intelligence, and a sharp mind, whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, amiable, aggressive, male, female, everyone can be good at sales.  And a company will always need sales.

So whether or not you actually work in sales, having the ability to convey a value proposition, and learning the skills of resilience, are critical whether you are a scientist trying to get a grant, or a founder of your own next-gen game changing app. See yourself as a salesperson!

171506- 6ThingsWomeninBusinessBlogGraphics-23.png

If you want to set big goals, then you have to be prepared to fight for them, get bloody, and not let excuses get you down.  It is very easy to set big goals, but unless you are prepared to overcome any obstacle put in your way, it really doesn’t matter. So be prepared to go through the wall, over the wall, or under the wall in order to achieve your goals.  That is drive and drive crushes ambition every time.

171506- 6ThingsWomeninBusinessBlogGraphics-24.png

Sometimes I get frustrated with the negative doom and gloom stories that I hear and read in the media about how bad it is for women in business. Dare I say fake news. If you look around, there are so many unbelievable women leading some of the  largest companies in almost every sector of the economy.

Here are just a few examples:

And if you’re interested in the business of politics, it’s actually amazing how many countries have elected female leaders, including presidents, prime ministers, and heads of states.  Again, a good news story can be found.  Even in Canada, we’ve had our female Prime Minister, Premiers, Mayors, and Governor General.  For those with an interest, there is inspiration that can be found everywhere.

171506- 6ThingsWomeninBusinessBlogGraphics-25.png

If there is anything that I would recommend to women in business, it’s to understand that if you want something, you’ve got to ask for it. Make your intentions known, put your hand up, and be clear and direct with your request.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella got himself in some hot water a few years ago when he first advised women in business at a conference that if they wanted a raise, it would come with good karma.  He later walked back those comments, but let’s all just re-iterate, that that ain’t how it happens.

Asking for a raise is but one example where it helps to speak up and ask for what you want. Speak up and ask for what you want and need. If it’s more flexibility once you’ve had a child, ask. If it’s a raise, ask. If it’s wanting a meeting with an executive, ask.  If you don’t ask, you don’t get.  And not everyone will say yes, all the time, and that’s ok.

Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook CFO and Founder of LeanIn.org, along with McKinsey, one of the worlds largest global consulting firms,  published a study which found that women aren’t getting promoted as fast as men. What’s going wrong she asks?  They found that women are less likely than men to feel that their managers give them opportunity to grow, and  the higher up the corporate ladder you go, women just seem to get promoted less, despite asking.  

I think there are a lot of factors that go into this, and I don’t believe that gender parity in the workforce should be a goal, but I believe Sheryl Sandberg is accurate in her findings that many women remove themselves from the workforce, even mentally, well before they need to because they foresee eventually removing themselves from the workforce when they have kids. Therefore, because they know they’ll be leaving, they don’t fight to get as high to the top as they could early in their careers. Leaving on mat leave is inevitable, but it’s better to leave and be as valuable to  a company as possible.

So my advice to women in business, the advice that I will give to my daughter, is that you can’t change your gender, so just get on with it and don’t think about it too much. Remember that credibility is earned, you gotta learn how to sell, ambition is not drive -- how hard are you prepared to go through the wall to achieve your goals, choose to see inspiration everywhere, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Happy Women’s History Month.

For the love of Sales!

Is there any value to your value proposition?


While our job at Sales Talent Agency is to help companies hire sales people, we spend a huge amount of our time ensuring our clients equip their hires for success. After all, if a salesperson we introduce does not perform well, our own value to the customer drops.

One of the most common issues we find is that a company is not clearly articulating a compelling value proposition consistently throughout their sales team. If your salespeople do not know what makes your company and its products unique and important, every cold call and customer engagement is weak.


Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 2.54.20 PM.png

Quick exercise

Ask all of your salespeople and leaders to write down your company’s Value Proposition. If they come back uninspiring and varied, you need to fix this before making another sales hire/fire.

How to fix this

So what should your sales reps be saying about you? Here are 3 simple “beats” that have to be covered:

1. What problem are you solving?

As B2B salespeople, we are problem solvers. A company needs to make more money, be more efficient, retain their customers, inspire their employees… Our products must solve a business issue. The first part of your value proposition should clearly explain the problem you are solving.

2. Why are you uniquely better at solving this problem?

We have to show how our company provides a better solution than any of the alternatives (i.e. competitors, legacy practices, or doing nothing). Typical advantages show cost savings, improved performance, and/or better customer engagement.

3. What proof do you have that you have solved it for others?

We can say anything, but can we back it up with evidence? Examples of proof can include: specific names of current customers, performance metrics, awards, our own revenue/customer growth.

Once you have these basics worked out, you can add depth to your value proposition with some return-on-investment projections or historical data. You can further support it with reference letters, testimonials and case studies. But without the basics, your sales people are going to battle completely unarmed.

For the love of sales!

9 tips for presenting a job offer to your preferred candidate

Not every entrepreneur is a born recruiter, but hiring the right people is essential to making your business a success. And identifying great candidates is only part of the problem. Once you’ve found them, you’ve got to get them through the door.