Category: Sales

Putting out the biggest fires

I am usually a very regimented person, and crave process and structure. Some would even say too black and white, as I need to allow for some grey areas and unknowns. I agree with this feedback and take it to heart. It wasn’t until I started to build the inside sales team at Foursquare that I really saw it as a something to work on and something to watch out for that I realized its importance. To help with this I use an expression that I first heard from my former colleague and friend Dave Greenberger, now head of sales at Splash, which is; “put out the biggest fires”.

fire
Dave came onboard to help manage the inside sales team we were building at Foursquare and there was a lot to do.  During his interview process he brought up his methodology to handling things like; recruiting, hiring, churn, customer service, technology woes, everything really…
At first I was taken back as it went against my need to prepare and plan, but I knew my approach also wasn’t working. I went with my gut that this was the right approach – and seeing it in action it was.
Putting out the biggest fires has become a startup mantra for me because it goes well beyond inside sales. It is a more tactical version of the cliche of building a startup “it’s like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down” This phrase  is almost too glamorous and non-genuine as it doesn’t get at the heart of the matter. It doesn’t capture the actual day to day maneuvering that is necessary.
Putting out the largest fires is embracing the fact that there are fires in the first place. Everything is not perfect, and that is perfectly fine.  It is probably half the reason most people join a new startup in the first place.  Any attempt to sweep problems under the rug and hide from them isn’t a good approach, and this gets them out in the open.
You can’t prevent all the turmoil, but you can influence how you deal with it. This was WHEN someone comes with an issue (not if) you can process and fix vs waste time and energy on WHY. Doing a Post Mortem and placing blame are not helpful in the moment. They can help after, but if you are only focused on the end and the potential bad outcomes, you are not adequately preparing for reality. Things happen. Stuff will break. Fires will burn. By taking on the “put out the biggest fires” you are stating that you know things will go wrong but you are willing to do something about it.
So thanks Dave for making this part of my startup strategy book. As I work with teams and companies more and more this advice comes up, and writing it all down gives me a chance to reference it in the future and check myself with folks who have opposing views. Let me know if you have seen this work, or have a different approach.

The yin and yang of the engineering team and the sales team

There is a balance between developers and sales people that allows them to get along. This is sometimes the result of one team pushing the other to its limits, often the sales team pushing the limits of the engineering system already in place.  Its a dance that happens within startups everday.yin and yang

Through planning, brainstorming, innovation, and sales – these groups have  to work together in companies to get things done.

The power of the ignorance on the business/sales team side provides a childlike imagination that creates scenarios nobody has thought of, are not relavent, are overly complicated, and my personal favorite “computationally expensive” on the product.  Engineering can have the same imagination, but it is usually tied to the work necessary to complete the task and operates within the realm of possibility of the app. Vetting the technical feasibility ideas is the job of a strong engineering team keeps things in check.  They are always making room for innovation, growth, scaling, and constant  looking at security concerns.

The balance comes from the “asks” from each group that are constantly in flux.

On the one hand, the business team assumes anything is possible. Although technically this is true, engineering teams think in binary terms and all requests have a cost to other projects and future support.

Product planning is never easy, and prioritization is even harder. When you work on a web/mobile application either of those can change at a moments notice and a team has to be able to pivot in another direction at a thousand miles per hour.

Turn to fast and things get out of control. Turn too slowly, and you miss the mark completely.

I believe both teams need each other to stay in check. The ignorance of the business team to dream big, and the reality of the engineering team to keep things on the ground – and vice versa. It is not always the same balance, but the constant struggle between both groups is what breeds amazing products.

I have learned that these skill sets that can only be learned in a live environment which results in a win for users, customers, and the Internet at large as a result of this never ending storm.

Sales Machine: What is a roller coaster rep?

the-roller-coaster-526534_640

One of the best parts about my events series Building The Sales Machine are the great nuggets I learn from speakers.  The latest of which is the question of; “What is a roller coaster rep?” as told by Bryan Rutcofsky of Yext.

Below is my discussion with Bryan which goes into details.

Basically a roller coaster rep is a person that appears on almost every sales team Bryan has ever seen.  Its a person that works really hard and does everything they are supposed to – which yields real results and new sales.  This then results in the rep reaping the rewards of this hard work and effort.  After that point, they are basking in the glow of success and are at the top of the leaderboards – but without investing in the work needed to stay there.  This process can be tracking by using KPIs – expectations from reps on a daily/weekly/monthly basis as a way to see if the effort is being generated.

Watch the video for the full effect, but I love this term and have been watching out for it ever since I learned about it.

Building the Sales Machine Event: Bryan Rutcofsky from Yext

We recently hosted another Building the Sales Machine event at Foursquare HQ and it was great to see so many people working on building sales and revenue from NYC and other great places.

A big thanks to Bryan Rutcofsky from Yext for coming out for a great Q&A session about the early days, and getting tactical for the audience about how to build and retain a sales team.

We covered a broad range of topics including;

Validating a sales model
Going from 1 salesperson to 2 and scaling up
When the right time to outsource a sales team
Where to spend time
Deciding who to sell to
What sets top performers apart

Any many more!

We are trying something new this time and editing the videos breaking apart each question into its own piece of content.  Taking the nod from Gary Vaynerchuk we are putting out a TON of short form videos from the events with each question and answer being the content.  Instead of having to sit through the entire thing we can go deeper on each question and share short form Q&A (usually a minute or so) which is better for everyone.

Starting with; How do you determine KPIs set milestones for your sales team?

Here is another one about how to develop a comp. plan for sellers

Here is the full playlist

As always this is an experiment and we hope to learn a lot from this strategy and feedback is most welcomed!

Big thanks to Dave Greenberger and Evan Bartlett for their help

 

Building The Sales Machine Event: Bryan Rutcofsky VP of Sales SMB – Yext

Our next Building the Sales Machine event is happening and this time I am happy to welcome Bryan Rutcofsky from Yext.

These events are open to anyone who is building the sales and revenue machine at a startup and wants to hear from others in their position, meet like minded people, and solve real problems.

Bryan has been working at Yext since the beginning and we are going to spend time talking about selling to SMBs and partners relevant to their business

BR

 

As with other events the format is;

1/3 Networking and coming up with questions for Bryan
1/3 Myself and Bryan talking about what has worked, tactics for the audience, and answering Q&A
1/3 Back to networking with others in the crowd and with our guest

Checkout our previous event with Steli Efti from Close.IO

Unlike other events, the purpose is to meet others who are experiencing your same challenges by inviting sales leaders and their teams.  If you are interested in a non traditional format focussed on getting you real takeaways and an interview focussed on tactics vs. backstory then please come out to our event.

Our goal is to make sure this is time well spent and you walk away from the time with real actionable insights and things to try.  Register today!

Huge thanks to my co-hosts David Greenberger and Evan Bartlett as well as to Foursquare for the space!

 

Eventbrite - Building the Sales Machine: Bryan Rutcofsky VP of Sales SMB - Yext

 

Building the Sales Machine Event: Steli Efti – CEO of Close.IO

Every quarter or so I help co-organize an event called Building the Sales Machine focussed on getting together the people in NYC who are building great sales organizations.  Whether its a small startup or a scaling sales enterprise, we cover a wide variety of topics.

I had the pleasure this time around of hosting Steli Efti who is the CEO of Close.IO.

I got the pleasure of meeting Steli by becoming a customer, getting the Foursquare local team up and using his software.

Our events are really focussed on tactical advice and a “no fluff” style of interview that I hope you enjoy.  Comments and feedback most welcomed!

Big thanks to my co-hosts Dave Greenberger (I used the wrong name in the video – oops!)7 and Evan Bartlett

 

closeio

Thoughts on Facebook Slingshot

(cross posted to Medium to see what happens)

Yesterday Facebook put out their latest app about temporal photos and video with the launch of Slingshot. At it’s core, it’s a photo and video messaging tool that lets you very easily create content to share with friends. However there are a few interesting things that are notable about a new app from Facebook.

nofacebookFacebook is not required. Upon signing up for Slingshot you are greeted with a prompt to enter your mobile number, confirmed with a code, then on to create a new username. Noticeably missing from this process is an easy signup with Facebook button that would connect you to your FB graph. You can easily create an account with just your phone + username. Privacy aside for the moment, this is a shift in how I have seen most FB products create a first time experience for users.

Permissions walkthroughs. Intelligent walkthroughs that ask permissions along the way. The holy grail for most apps these days is to ask for ALL THE PERMISSIONS up front from a user, giving the app immense powers should they decide to tuck it away into a deep folder in their phone. Things like push notifications, syncing contacts, location services — all make the apps better but its hard to get someone to say “yes” before explaining the value exchanged. Slingshot does this by showing you the benefits, and hoping you will concede to the system level permissions (at least on iOS).

Forced participation. Slingshot makes you “pay-to-play” by requiring you to “sling” (slingshot?) a photo or video to a friend to get started, and subsequently sling another to see someones response. Unlike the world of text messaging where you can read the message before responding, this flips the model on its head and makes you create a message before responding to the original message. In trying this out with a few friends who signed up last night, I found myself slinging pictures of my dog to unlock the pictures a friend had sent me. This continued as their responses were unreadable until I Slingshotted back. I could see how this perpetual engagement model creates a virtuous cycle of participation.

Juking the stats

“…you juke the stats and majors become colonels…”

In slingin’ with my friend Adam, we both wondered if this was the ultimate Dark Pattern. However I wonder if this is a new pattern on the journey that should actually be called forced engagement, or simply juking the stats. As described, you need to create a photo or video and send (sorry sling) back to a friend to unlock that persons content. As startups are constantly measured by either sales or engagement, this is a metric that will make Slingshot look to upend the rules of engagement of web audiences. Having everyone who uses the app be at 100% participation is a new model for any social stream or mobile app — something I have not seen successfully done before.

To further bring this to light, imagine if folks in other industries did the same thing;

I am excited to follow the progress of Slingshot as I think its a unique approach to gain adoption and engagement from users. I can’t help but put on my sales hat and think about monetization opportunities for Slingshot and wanted to brainstorm them here.

Monetization ideas for Slingshot

Scrooge

Promoted Slings — ok this is the low hanging fruit, but you know someone has already approached Facebook about doing these. I could imagine a a brand needing to come up with a story of “slings” that are unlocked only when users interact with them. If someone makes it through the entire funnel (thinking 3 tops) then a brand could show they engaged a user 3 times telling them a photo or video story.

Slingbacks — Not interested in creating content and becoming a part of the 1%? Watch these promoted Slingbacks instead! CPM based ads that unlock friends content without you having to create content. Friends get notified that you opted out of playing “the game” and got to see their content anyways.

Stickers/add-ons/in app purchases — this is the obvious choice so I am putting it last. This would be the ability to add some “flare” to your slings by purchasing digital content, either from brands directly or just a monetization path for Facebook.

In conclusion I have a few messages waiting for me to reply back, but I am not sure if I am willing to get back on the content train — most of the payoff has not been worth it yet as my friends are just experimenting (sorry Matt I may never know what you sent me!)

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Talking Brands

I was reminded last night while watching the Super Bowl that more brands are talking.  They are not only speaking directly to people on Twitter and Facebook, but also to each other.  All were trying to capture real time moments in their prose, hoping to capture mindshare.

Hashtags also were essential in messages, and there are some great scorecards of how brands did here and here.

This was definitely not always the case and even remarkable when it occured – back in 2008 Boxee was talking to Pandora

Here is a updated snippet of what happened

I love that brands of all sizes are given an equal platform on Twitter to communicate.  Obviously customer service has become a central use case for Twitter, but it affords anyone with access the ability to communicate.

These platforms allow the smallest startups to build trust, evangelize their products, and hopefully build something valuable over the long term.  I don’t know of a case where a brand has invested in this type of customer community building and it has not been helpful.   Sure there are gaffs and folks that don’t get it, but once its happening correctly its invaluable to the company or service.

There are many ways to communicate with brands you love, and take action with brands you have issue with.  I think this type of communication is great and whether or not the brand has a small personality or millions of followers.  Being able to actively speak to your customers when they are not on your site, in your store, or using your software – but at a moment where they need you is critical.

 

“Where did my Google Drive Go?” – Trouble with Google UX

Sometime last year Google changed the way folks access the “apps” within Gmail and Google Apps for Business accounts.  My summary of the change; everything now takes two clicks instead of one.  The official response shows the feature, and the product forums tell us “…simpler design lets you focus on your in product experience but switch to other Google products when you need to.”

Here is the new design decision that has resulted in folks actually asking me what happened to Google Drive.

Screenshot 2014-01-19 10.09.31

If you dive into the feedback from users and customers its almost unanimous too; why would you change it to two clicks instead of one?  I have heard this from my team internally, and many other friends as well.  Folks have come to me asking “why did we remove the links?” as if it were a corporate decision.

Others gave up on using Drive because they could no longer find the link.  If a design decision yields lower usage of a product, I believe you should change it back.  Of course I do not have any data to backup my claim that usage is lower, but I know Google collects and analyzes such data.

Gmail is also making other changes to the previous default way things are handled.  Fred recently highlighted the changes with regard to attachments within gmail noting that the default to “open in drive” is now gone.  I also don’t love this change, but you can still preview the contents of the email by clicking the title.  This “lightbox” approach is not great for me as I am distracted by the email happenings going on behind the document.  Perhaps this is just a temporary moment in time between the old way and the new, but almost 6 mos. in I still want the old way back.

I use a lot of Google products.  I use Gmail personally, and Google Apps professionally, and pay for extra storage.  I only caveat with this information as I believe in the platform.  I want things to work better.  I am heavily invested in the network effects of Google.  As I have said before, once a behavior stream is happening its hard to change.

However all these negative changes make it a little easier to look at other tools and solutions instead of Google, whereas before I would not even entertain giving them a chance.

 

 

Some thoughts on Calendars and Meetings

A lot of companies are trying to “solve” calendars.

There are many startups that are building calendar apps, desktop apps, and combinations of the two.  Some even try to also manage your to-do list. Integrated features like knowing background information, lateness notifications, and notes on important details about people or places – all part of the race to “own” your calendar.

The goal of course is that you are weened off of the standard/default calendar that comes with your phone/tablet/computer/OS and you use their app instead. This of course is a great lock-in for the app makers for it increases the switching costs to another calendar or service.  If you are tied to the “extra” features of a calendar like to-dos, notes, cumulative info – it can be hard to switch to something else.

I believe a missing thing they should be going after is solving scheduling. Whether it be meetings, calls, reserving times that work, or anything else you need to do involving blocking time off in your schedule.  It has been said many times elsewhere, but the best way to see someones priorities is to look at their calendar.  Its almost like a to-do list with your time and some even say that if its not scheduled in your calendar its not important.  Blocked time in your calendar visually shows your priorities.

Most calendar apps miss showing the simplest thing for me – showing free time on a day view. The benefit of this for me is that I am constantly adding/removing meetings and things on the fly and need to know the windows of time I have available.  Either checking while on the phone, in a discussion, or in real time trying to reschedule something viewing the free time is critical.

I am using the Google calendar system of record and pushing that to my iOS view.  This does make things easier and in some ways it means that Google “owns” my calendar.  I have heard that this also means switching back to native Android would be that much easier.

Knowing that this free time view is crucial, I always look to see which apps provide it; either on the desktop or mobile. Perhaps it is just not as important to others but many simply do not have this view built in.  All shows you when things are booked, but not when you have time.

My workflow is always to open my email in the morning, open another tab with my calendar, then dual wield between the two all day. Through the rats nest of Google Calendar settings, I have figured out a way to manage and edit both my work and personal calendar – no small feat.  It means that I can view my personal and professional calendars together and still invite people in both worlds to events.  I have reached a point where if I do not put something on my calendar I may forget about it, so I try to put every meeting in it.

Calendar App Wishlist

  • Desktop app – Having a calendar open in another instance of Chrome is a pain.  Opening the two and switching between them all day seems like a waste, but without the free time view, I don’t see another way.
  • Mobile app – syncs flawlessly with work + personal and shows free time view
  • Background info – Rapportive style background on people.  Refresh does this today, but its background on the people and secondary to the Calendar itself, not a replacement
  • Simple sharing\editing granting permissions – As mentioned above Google allows this, but its a nightmare of settings and sharing functionality
  • Default meetings times = 30 minutes.  Simple enough request, but Google Calendars makes this fixed to 60 mins. (Ideally I would get to choose the time for the default meeting)
  • Weather/Foursquare Location/Distance to travel <–easy metadata to make any appointment that much easier
  • Future proofing; interior location monitor if I am not where I am supposed to be, notify someone automatically that I will be late, ping me if I am not moving towards my next meeting, sync up latest emails with that person into cal., oh and lasers

My calendar workflow for meetings

1. Setting up a meeting via email

The best add-on I have found for managing meeting requests without all the back and forth is Boomerang Calendar (free!).  It automatically lets you click times that are open (in 30 minute intervals!) and inserts them into an email to someone.  Its one of the biggest time savers possible, and avoids a ton of back and forth that usually happens with scheduling.  I wrote about appointment setting etiquette, but I respect the fact that everybody is different.  I get multiple “can you meet this week?” emails often and always follow my own rules to respond back with 3 times/3 dates.

2. Logistics

Picking a time or place can be cumbersome, so I always throw out a dial in to the group.  I use TextExpander (paid but worth it) to have my info ready, and this way I always know my own dial info and code.  This way no matter where I am, I know I can dial into the meeting with the right info.  I used to use FreeConferenceCall.com but have found the latency is just not worth the broken conversations.  Investing in a rock solid conference line is worth it.

Pro Tip: You can program in your own conference call info into favorites, program in pauses with “,”‘s and have it automatically dial you in, enter your passcode, as well as the admin code.  This probably saves me the most time each week next to Boomerang Cal.  To put it another way, I can click “Conference Line” and my phone will automatically deal with the prompts/codes/admin code for me and get me dialed in fast.

3. Locations

When meeting someone in person outside my office, its best to know/pick a spot nearby.  Perhaps its just a personal peeve, but going back and forth on a place is hardly worth 4 emails – I cut to the chase and offer up nearby coffee shop/diner/other.  I am clearly biased, but using Foursquare is honestly the best way to find a place that accommodates meetings.  Lots of people leave great tips at coffee shops letting me know whether its good or not.  Here is a great tip at Grey Dog in SOHO saying exactly what you want to find for a good location.

This post is a bit of a rant, but I am trying to get back into the drivers seat of writing more blog posts in 2014 🙂