The Radical Change

The Radical Change That Unleashed This Team’s Potential

The Radical Change

“I started a quiet revolution.”

This is what Kyla, a friend of mine, said to me when I asked her how she’d managed to nearly double the annual sales of her team.

Let me give you a little backstory. We were having a drink over the holidays a couple weeks ago. The last time I saw Kyla was the year before, for our usual holiday get together. Back then my friend was miserable. She’d recently been promoted to Director of Sales at a division of a mid-sized company. The promotion was something she’d dreamed of for years, but her first couple of months in the position hadn’t gone the way she expected. She was hoping to make a dent in some of the pre-existing problems on the team—flat sales, low morale, and the challenge to attract great salespeople. But those problems were still there.

Cogs in the Machine

As Kyla explained to me, she had thought she could make some headway with these issues by changing some of the ways the previous Director, Joel, had operated. Joel had been in the position for over fifteen years. He was a decent, well-meaning guy, but he was controlling. Everyone had to keep strict office hours and follow a pre-set process for selling—using precise scripts and hitting very specific metrics for things like calls per day. Joel would often refer to his team as running like a well-oiled machine. He meant it as a compliment, but it revealed that he saw his reps as cogs in the machine he had built—not very empowering to say the least.

For most of Joel’s directorship, sales grew—not at a spectacular rate, but modestly enough to keep the business leaders happy. When sales flattened out, Joel decided to retire, opening up the position for my friend.

Kyla was excited to get promoted, because she knew the team had potential that Joel had never let flourish. Kyla first thought she could tap into that potential by treating the reps differently, making them feel like they were all peers and teammates—instead of minions working for “The Man.” She started working closely with the reps, helping them on sales, coaching and encouraging them, and celebrating their wins. The mood of the team seemed lighter than under Joel, but nobody was really much more engaged, or more productive. In fact, the team’s overall performance remained flat. That was the picture Kyla painted for me last year.

The Revolution Begins

When we got together a couple of weeks ago, I saw a different Kyla. She was beaming, full of positive energy. Her team had almost doubled its sales over the previous year—a result the company didn’t usually see in any of its divisions. When I asked her how she’d managed to turn things around, that’s when Kyla said she’d done it by starting a quiet revolution.

When I asked her what she meant, Kyla told me that soon after we met last year, she’d had a revelation—she was never going to bring out the team’s potential just by behaving differently from Joel. And that’s because the main issue that was holding the team back—the element of control—was baked into the systems, processes, and structure of the team, as well as the larger company.

Systems of Control

The systems and processes for selling were all very prescriptive—they told the reps exactly how to sell. They didn’t allow for creative leeway and new approaches. All the metrics that Kyla had to report on demanded the reps spend their time in specific ways, which did more than just stifle creativity; it forced people to act in ways that weren’t necessarily driving the best results. Reps would do what it took to hit their activity metrics, rather than what they felt would create new and bigger opportunities.

The compensation structure was also controlling because it only rewarded narrow ways of working; it didn’t, for example, encourage reps to work together, which is something some of the reps knew would drive new sales growth. General business practices like office hours and performance reviews with their elaborate rating systems—those were controlling by nature.

Just changing how Kyla behaved as a leader had little impact on the team, because it didn’t change the fact that the reps had little freedom or choice in how they worked. To eliminate the element of control, Kyla would have to tear down the controlling infrastructure.

Let Them Fly

Kyla made the decision that she was only going to care about results—sales results and some broad metrics that she felt were essential stepping-stones to hitting the quota. She was going to let the reps handle the “how” part of their job. Nobody had to comply with old processes or work with the old systems. If some of them wanted to stick to how things were done in the past, that was fine. But if they wanted to try new ways, they had the freedom to do that. What mattered was results, and Kyla was there to help the reps, or get out of their way and let them fly. Kyla also revamped the comp structure so that it rewarded a variety of ways of working.

Kyla knew that getting the endorsement from above for this radical strategy wasn’t going to be easy. The company leaders weren’t prone to giving a long leash to their employees and trusting that they would actually help the business rather than abuse their privileges. So, instead of seeking approval first, Kyla decided to just go ahead and do it, knowing that when results improved, she would be in a position to defend the merits of her strategy. Thus her quiet revolution began.


For Kyla, things were chaotic in the beginning. Some reps had trouble adjusting to the new freedom and felt paralyzed. One eventually left. But most of the reps embraced the opportunity to generate ideas and actually have the chance to implement them. Within a few months many of the reps were rolling with completely new methods of selling. Some had jumped into social media, leveraging it in innovative ways to prospect—something that had never been able to flourish under Joel. One rep focused on automation technology to qualify leads and move a sale along. A few reps paired up to collaborate on larger accounts. A couple chose to work remotely, or during different hours. Most of the reps didn’t comply with Joel’s traditional processes, nor hit many of the metrics Joel had tracked, but they were getting results. A few saw staggering improvements, and were largely responsible for the lift in the team’s results.

Playing Defense

While the team worked away in this new world, Kyla played defense with the VP she reported to, often making excuses for not sending along the usual reports or submitting things like formal performance reviews. As Kyla had hoped, the demands for her to comply dwindled as the team’s results ramped up.

An added benefit to Kyla’s approach was that her reps began to spread the word among their friends and peers about how they were thriving, which led to an influx of strong candidates and a few great hires.

As of our conversation, Kyla wasn’t sure how long she’d have to operate under the radar, but she and the VP had plans to get together in the new year to review how she’d pulled off such a spectacular year. Kyla’s belief was that the VP would have little choice but to embrace her approach and help bring it to other divisions in the company.

The Heavy Weight of Tradition

I loved my friend’s story because it’s a wonderful example of a story that is happening in small and large degrees all across the world. Leaders everywhere are realizing that in order to unleash the potential of their people they have to make not incremental changes, but radical changes to the ways their businesses operate. These are leaders who understand that many business practices have lost their relevance and value and are only held in place by the heavy weight of tradition, and that it is up to them to find the courage to remove the dead weight.

As Daniel Pink writes in his bestselling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, “On the edges of the economy—slowly, but inexorably—old-fashioned ideas of management are giving way to a newfangled emphasis on self-direction.”

Some of those stories are found at companies like Adobe, which has ditched the traditional performance review for informal check-ins. Or at Valve Software where there are no managers, and where—as Forbes has reported—“each member of staff is able to choose the project he or she is working on.” Many of these stories are about companies moving to something called a ROWE—a results-only work environment, akin to what Kyla achieved with her sales team.

As Pink describes in Drive, “In a ROWE workplace, people don’t have schedules. They show up when they want. They don’t have to be in the office at a certain time—or any time for that matter. They just have to get their work done. How they do it, when they do it, and where they do it is up to them.”

One such story is found at the corporate offices of GAP Inc, which—after becoming a ROWE a few years ago—saw a “significant increase in employee engagement, a decrease in voluntarily turnover, and an improved work life balance.”

Seeing as it is the beginning of a new year, which offers us all the opportunity to make this year dramatically better than the last, I hope you find some inspiration in the story of Kyla and what she was able to accomplish in a single year with her quiet revolution.

All the best for 2016!

If you haven’t already read What to Why, the free 20-minute eBook changing how leaders build top teams, which I coauthored with ClearFit founder and CEO, Jamie Schneiderman, you can download it here.



One Sales Lesson That Saved Christmas and Sparked a $100-Million Company

One Sales Lesson That Saved Christmas and Sparked a $100-Million Company

This post “One Sales Lesson That Saved Christmas” appeared first on Inc.

When Michael Litt came up with the idea for Vidyard in the winter of 2011, he knew that his concept—video management and analytics software—had the potential to be massive. But he also knew that to realize the full potential of his idea, he would have to avoid the mistake he’d made with another company he had started.

Learning the Lesson the Hard Way

In 2009, Michael and a friend, Devon Galloway, started a video production company called Redwoods Media. In 2010 they set themselves a goal to generate $50,000 of revenue by Christmas—Project Christmas, they called it. If they failed, they would have to find jobs.

By late fall, they were nowhere near their target. The problem was: although they had a well-designed website and an impressive portfolio of videos, hardly anyone was visiting their site or expressing interest in their services.

Michael knew there was only one way to salvage Project Christmas—get on the phone and start selling. So he and his team did everything they could to find people to talk to—asking for referrals, running events to get names, and cold calling companies. They spent as much time as they could on the phone, and on Christmas Eve, they made a $12,000 sale that put them over the edge.

In the months following Project Christmas, Michael noticed that many of his clients were asking him for a place to host their videos and for a way to tell if their investment in video was paying off. This is when Michael began to think that he could sell hosting and analytics services on a monthly subscription basis—and not just to his clients, but to the millions of companies around the world that used video. YouTube for corporate use was taking off, so he thought maybe he could catch this huge wave early. Michael and Devon would co-found Vidyard based on this new business idea.

Start Selling—Right Away

As Michael thought about the vast potential for Vidyard, the lesson from Project Christmas lurked in his mind—he’d waited too long to start selling Redwoods. So, when it came to Vidyard, instead of building the service first and then selling it, Michael would start selling Vidyard right away. Yes, even before a launch! Michael would apply this sales-first approach throughout the various scaling phases he has taken Vidyard through. How he did that is something every entrepreneur can learn from.

Phase 1: Find Potential Customers Before Launch

While Devon focused on building the alpha version of Vidyard, Michael began following people on Twitter who had expressed an interest in videos for business. Michael also used a web crawler to scour a massive online business directory looking for businesses that had a video embedded on their homepage. From these and other tactics, Michael built a list of over a 100,000 prospects.

Phase 2: Generate Qualified Leads Before Launch

By actively engaging with the Twitter audience, Michael drove 500 people to a landing page where they signed up for the upcoming alpha version of Vidyard. He drove another 700 signups by emailing and cold calling people from the crawler list. As Michael had learned while cold calling during Project Christmas, the key to a successful call was to educate, not to try to sell. While calling about Vidyard, Michael would talk about the coming trend in video marketing and what Vidyard was trying to achieve, positioning his company as a thought leader. Lots of people wanted to be on top of the trend and eagerly signed up.

Phase 3: Establish a Customer Base

After the launch, about fifty people starting using Vidyard. Michael began to onboard them by getting on the phone. Just as he did during his cold calls, Michael took an educational approach. But this time, he focused on what his customers could teach him–about how they were using the service, what they hoped to achieve, and what they felt was missing. Michael took what he learned and built that into the product. Sell it, then build it! Then repeat.

Michael then called the other 1,150 sign-ups and encouraged them to use the service. During this phase, Michael was making upwards of 100 calls a day, and within a few months, several hundred customers were actively using Vidyard.

Phase 4: Leverage Sales Success to Begin Scaling

Michael wasn’t selling just to generate sales. He was selling so he could prove to potential investors that Vidyard was viable, which would help him raise the funds he needed to scale the business. During a Demo Day at Y Combinator, Michael impressed potential investors with the solid growth in sales from the initial cohort of users. The result: $1.6 million in funding.

Now Michael could begin scaling in a serious way. Sticking to his sales-first strategy—instead of building out marketing, support, or customer success—he started hiring salespeople.

Phase 5: Create a Sales Engine

Once this initial team of sales reps was up to speed and generating business, Michael built out the marketing team. Their main purpose was to supply sales with a steady stream of high quality leads. Michael envisioned the two teams working together as one unit–a complete sales engine that would drive Vidyard’s growth. Eventually, the stream of leads would reach the point where the sales reps no longer had to cold call. In most organizations, this is the point where the ability to make outbound cold calls disappears from the organization. But not at Vidyard.

Michael knew that the loss of the ability to cold call would leave Vidyard vulnerable if the flow of leads ever dipped. So, junior sales people would continue to cut their teeth with cold calling. Even if they never had to resort to it, the experience of getting on the phone with cold leads would give the sales reps more confidence when talking to warm leads.

To $100 Million and Beyond

By the end of 2013, the sales engine was firing so well that it was consistently growing the number of customers by 15 percent month over month. Based on this sales success, Michael raised $18 million in a series B round in 2014, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, put the company’s valuation close to $100 million. One of the first things he did with the money: develop a sales training program to ensure the sales muscle that took Vidyard to the $100-million mark carries it to the next milestone and beyond.

The Secret to Building Sales Teams: Lessons from 3 Entrepreneurs Who Achieved Roaring Success

The Secret to Building Sales Teams

This post “The Secret to Building Sales Teams” appeared first on Inc.

Sure, maybe YOU can sell, but can you scale a sales team? If you want your business to grow, you have to figure out the scaling part. For a lot of entrepreneurs, that’s the barrier that keeps them from growing an organization beyond their own ability to get customers.

To search for the secret to scaling, we began interviewing leading entrepreneurs who have all built wildly successful sales organizations. After over a dozen interviews, we discovered something they all had in common. However, before we get there, let us share the lessons from three of them.

The Engineer: Mark Roberge, CRO of HubSpot

HubSpot is the world’s leading inbound marketing and sales platform with 11,500 customers. That’s today, but back in 2006 when there were no customers, the founders brought in fellow entrepreneur, Mark Roberge, to do the selling. Working part-time for a year, he helped make the first 50 sales himself. Then came the job of scaling a sales team. With zero experience doing that, Mark turned to his MIT training as an engineer to guide him.

Mark started by putting his own sales process under the microscope, analyzing every step. From there, he developed a repeatable model that others could easily follow. After hiring his first sales reps, he obsessively measured their activity and results, and analyzed the traits of his top performers. As the team grew, so did the data, and so did Mark’s ability to optimize. With his relentless focus on analytics and metrics, he would grow his team to 450 by 2013, achieving a $90-million revenue run rate.

The Developer: Paul Jackson, Founder and CEO of Method:CRM

Today, Method:CRM, a cloud-based customer relationship management software, is the top rated app in the Inuit App Center. But back in 2010, the year he founded the company, Paul Jackson was trying to figure out how to build his sales team. He was an entrepreneur and developer, one who followed a philosophy that stresses rapid adaptation to the customer’s evolving needs. So he decided to scale Method’s sales team like a developer. For Paul, this meant that how the team operates, what type of salespeople to hire, and what their roles are would constantly evolve according to what the customers needed, when they needed it. It’s a strategy that has resulted in Method garnering the most reviews in Inuit App Center.

The Marketer: Mike McDerment, Co-Founder and CEO of FreshBooks

In 2014, FreshBooks, a cloud accounting solution which has helped more than 10 million users process billions of dollars, raised $30 million in funding. Flashback 10 years earlier and we find the CEO and co-founder, Mike McDerment, a year into running the company, operating out of his parents’ basement, and serving 10 customers that all-told generated $99 a month.

Not the hottest opening year, but FreshBooks was doing something that Mike believed would eventually drive massive sales, and that was always, without exception, delivering an extraordinary experience to the customer every time they interacted with the company. This fanatical obsession with customer service came from Mike’s days of running a design firm, when he had personally seen that if you wow your customers, they’ll tell others.

To ensure that the whole company revolved around this commitment to service, no matter how large FreshBooks got, Mike insisted that everyone who joined the company–yes everyone, CMO, junior developer, copywriter, everyone except the company canines–spend a month on the support team, learning the product, taking calls from customers, understanding their pain. The policy has created a company culture focused on serving the customer. In 2014, FreshBooks won the gold Stevie award for sales and customer service. And no surprise: referrals are, and always have been, the number one source of new business for the company.

The Discovery

As you may have guessed by now, the common element across all the entrepreneurs we interviewed is that each of them propelled their business to unrivalled success by looking at the problem of scaling sales through a highly personal lens. Some of them had never scaled a sales team before, but they all really cared about finding a solution that worked for their customers, and they had the courage to draw on their unique strengths to do just that, despite a lack of experience. None of them borrowed someone else’s way of tackling the problem. That’s the big lesson we took from their examples—not to do it the Roberge way, or the Jackson way, or the McDerment way–but your way. Keep it personal.