Episode 6 - WeDisrupt Sales Podcast - We sit down with SAAS veteran Adam Kay, VP Sales at Paddle.
Adam has spent the past 15 years refining his approach to building the right sales culture and is going to be sharing his views on:
- How to approach a culture shift when joining a new organization
- Why the A* CV shouldn’t be your biggest priority in talent selection
- Why working towards a common goal is the number 1 ingredient for a rocket ship business
Hello and welcome to a short sales podcast. My name is Will Chivers. I'm driving my cars for sale calm. And we're here to interview some of the world's most influential sales leaders, revenue officers and executives on the planet. Wm episode six we disrupt sales podcast, who do we have on the show today? What are we going to talk about? Today we have Adam Kay is the VP of sales or one of the fastest growing SaaS startups pattern, Adam has helped scale the likes of Converse social shout outlets, and meltwater. Adam has spent the past 15 years refining his approach to building the right sales culture. And there's going to be sharing his views on how to approach a culture shift when joining a new organization. Why the a star CV shouldn't always be your biggest priority on talent selection. And the reasons why working towards a common goal has got to be the number one ingredient to building a rocket ship business. Brilliant. Let's get into the show. Adam well Come to the way disrupt sales podcast. It'd be great if you could kick off with a little bit about yourself and what got you into sales? Yeah, sure. Hi, everyone. My name is Adam Kay, I'm VP sales at a company called pedal, which is a London based startup or scale up, however you want to define it. I'm one of the fastest growing software companies in the UK. And how did I get into sales? Well, I've been in sales for about 12 years now. And actually, if I'm being honest, it was a complete accident of fluke how I landed in sales. I actually started my life as a lawyer qualified as a as a solicitor at one of the big city London firms hated every minute of it. I knew I didn't want to do that, but still didn't know what I wanted to do. And recognize that regardless of where it is, I wanted to go and what I wanted to do in the future sales was a skill that I was going to need, whether I stay in law or do something else and services, what products etc, consultancy. And so I found actually, as a startup that was recruiting grads into a management training scheme. company called meltwater, which is one of the first sass companies and is now a global, very, very large business probably around about $200 million a year. And but they hired grads taught them the ropes about sales as an inside sales role. So you know, high activity levels, low value, and it was a media monitoring my immediate monitoring solution. But I just fell in love with it. From day one, I fell in love with the fact that it was a meritocracy. That, really you had a chance to get exposed to all these different business leaders and conversations so early in your career where from my experience in law, you had to kind of wait eight, nine years to be at the senior level to even kind of have those interesting level conversations. So the back room. So Adam, you're in the SAS world since the beginning, right? We all agree that such a key component of a successful SAS organization is the sales culture that they build. So, as a starting point, I'd love to unpack from all the different experiences you've had different sass companies, how do you define the right sales culture, both Based on the different experiences I've had the different organizations I've been in, or teams that I've led, I think the first part is to really think about the target customer, how you're selling, is this kind of a real enterprise cell? where, you know, most of the time the sales people are out in the field that traveling that that with with clients? Or is this kind of an inside sale where it's very much phone driven activity leads everyone in the same room? And of course, those two types of organizations, sales organizations breed a different culture. I think the common denominators between the two Of course, I think that making sure that everyone is goals driven, you know, I don't really care about the inputs, I can much more about the outputs, right, and, you know, reading articles around KPIs, are they good? Are they bad? And, you know, there's an argument either way, but I think, you know, if your focus is on, Hey, your target is a million dollars a quarter, and if somebody is getting to that target, quarter after quarter, I'm not really that bothered about what that To get that, of course I am because I want to improve it. And I want to share that best knowledge. But actually, that's not really where I'm going to focus my time with them. If they're doing something, well, it doesn't really matter to me how they get there. I think there isn't a one best way when it comes from a culture perspective. And I do think, however, that collaboration is absolutely key. And we hear about all these sales organizations where, where reps have got kind of nicknames of sharks or sharp elbows or these types of things where you know that they're waiting for an account to pass a certain number of days of inactivity, so they can snatch out of another person's territory, that there's no room for that in my sales organization. I don't tolerate it at all. I don't think it yields the right culture doesn't yield the right types of results. So I always celebrate collaboration. I don't find much celebration when somebody goes and closes even if it's the biggest deal we've ever done. They've gone off and done it on their own, without asking for any help without any insight. You know, nice, always great to close deals, but I'll always celebrate the acts of collaboration a lot more specially when it's kind of cross departmental collaboration. So if you're working with product engineers, Executive client success, whatever it might be. I do think sales always has to be rewarded. And you know, rewarding is a broad term, I think people often associate salespeople with kind of money hungry, you know, desktops as it were. And you know, being driven by financial reward, there's no shame in that. I think a salesperson who says they're not driven by financial reward always makes me a little bit kind of uneasy. But I think reward also can be in terms of progression in terms of development as well. And most importantly, reward has got to be aligned with business goals, right. So if you're paying out to a commission, to x, what the business is seeing and value, then you're going to have some sort of friction that's developing there. And it's not really a great long term strategy that the the sales reps to the A's really need to know that, you know, their rewards comes when the business sees reward. And that's really helping aligning behind the final culture, which is kind of that, that mission and that's what we're working towards. Everyone's got to be on that same mission and driving towards the same goal. You know, I, again, a topic that's come up a lot in recent years is around Diversity and Equal Opportunity in sales organizations. And you know, it's a challenge that many organizations struggle with. And it's certainly something we've been deliberate about in terms of how we've grown our business. And it keeps coming back to the same point around, I don't care who you are, I don't care what your background is, your your age, your gender, your ethnicity, what I care about is that you buy into the mission and the vision that we have. And if you don't, there's no room for you in the team, right? Because that really leads to disruption and leads to break down in terms of what we're trying to do. But if you buy into that vision, if you really believe Yes, I'm solidly behind this, and I'm excited by this. And this is going to galvanize me to get out of bed and really go 110% every single day, then it doesn't matter who you are. And that's really what I'm looking for is people who buy into that vision as well. So yes, you've obviously built up specific way that You want to lead your team? So how do you typically approach coming into a new organization and trying to get buy in from the team to adopt this new way of working? Because typically that that can be challenging, right? Yeah. It's interesting. And I've been through this a couple of times where I've landed in a new role. And I've really questioned where I am in notes. I haven't recognized the culture. This isn't the sales organization that I'm used to. I think the first question is, just because I'm used to something just because I expect something. Does that mean? That's the right way for it to be. So it's about me keeping an open mind it's me being open to new ideas, me being open to change. And again, remember what I said first, which is, it's about the output, right? If we are able to deliver great growth, great results, a great culture, you know, a buzzing team, then maybe my way isn't the right way. And I shouldn't be dictatorial about that. I think that's really important. So I think open mindedness is good and of course, breeding the right culture of showing compassion. Right. I do have a way that I like to sell. I like to Managing how I like to run a sales organization. But if somebody is open to challenging me, I've got to show that there is room to challenge me, right? I'm open to it, I'm very, very much open to it. And I'm always encouraging my managers and my team to really cool me out. And part of that is around the behaviors that I do. So yes, of course, asking for that, and insisting on that, but still, probably not enough. But then there are kind of more discreet things I can be doing, such as not having my own office, or, you know, coming in at the same time and leaving at the same time showing vulnerability. So that, you know, I'm just part of a team here, I have a role to do. And together, it's our joint responsibility to get this right. That flat structure is really, really important for me, you know, I think it's very important as a sales team, we work together and it all kind of at the same level as it were. But really, how I get people bought in together is to focus on that journey. Again, there's that like that vision, the mission, the journey, you know, why are we here? What are we doing? And you know, if I've got the right data set behind me, I'm able to prove or disprove that every month, every week, we're getting closer to our journey or moving further away from it. And if I can prove that with data, then people can say, Hey, you know, we're working on this mission that we've bought into the data is proving our performance against it. Perhaps we can keep an open mind as well, if Adam can about changing our ways so that we can align around this culture around the new way that we should be working. So that's really interesting that you mentioned data there. And I think as I've matured as a salesperson have I really began to sort of understand the value of sales ops and but but also understanding the numbers within the business, right. So what is my what is the company's average order value? What is my average order value? What is my target? How many deals Do I need in my target? What is my close rate? And as I've matured, I started looking at my boss as somebody that that isn't necessarily there to manage me, but he's there to help me understand, Well, look, these are my numbers. These are my ratios. You know, if my current average order value, let's say hypothetically is a million, how do I push that to 1.2? And how can my boss help push me to push my customer to get that To 1.2 so it's really interesting you say that and I guess my my sort of follow up to that is, though, as you mature as a leader, you know, what, what is your reliance on data? And what what sort of data points are you using to help your reps be be more successful? Yeah. Spot on. I mean, I think I've gone through that same trajectory, as you were at first, it was like, Well, you know, next school, we're better than the last one. So what does this dark data tell me? No, I am entirely reliant on that one, not entirely. I'm very highly reliant on data I'm very highly reliant on on really an incredible commercial operations sales operations team a paddle. And one of the things that's blowing my mind about paddle is how data drives every single one of our decisions. So pedal sales to software companies, we sell a checkout solution and billing stack to software companies. And one of the great things that we've done in our in our operations team is to really map out the entire software universe and not just identify every software company, but start segmenting them, start segmenting them by industry by size, by billing model by geography, etc. And we measure and monitor every single activity, every email, every cool every stage change in the CRM, so that we can start determining where to things work well, where things not work. Well, we can get even better and say, where does this rep work? Well, and when does that rep work? Well, let's focus on that territory for that Rep. Because we can see historically, they've done really well there. And this one there, so we're continuously analyzing things. But this comes back to the culture question as well. Right? Then it's not just the data, it's the people responsible for the data. And I push and challenge the commercial operations, the sales operations team to say, find out where things aren't working, you know, come to me and show me problems, right? They're not this isn't a hierarchical organization, you have a responsibility and your job is to find ways to optimize and make more efficient the way we're growing. And they do you know, it's not just waiting for me to say, Hey, can I have this report or that dashboard? It's actually empowering them to come and saying come to the sales management meeting and say, Hey, this thing is broken, you need to fix it because if we follow this through, it's going to have an impact of x, y, and Zed. So again, really facilitating and fostering that culture of everyone can challenge everything. Nice, nice. And I guess that leads us nicely into sort of attracting the right talent, right? Because, in one sense, you kind of need to build that culture, but the culture itself is underpinned by the people. So, you know, for you as you as you mature as a leader, you know, what do you look out for when you're when you're trying to build a team and attract talent at what are the real qualities that are really important? Yeah, and again, may not surprise you to say that the starting point, but any talents, whenever we're hiring is around can we match them to the values that we have? You know, again, culture First, I'll look at somebody and every CBI will look at for a sales rep role is I hit quarter after quarter to hundred percent presidents Club attained attained detail never missed a quota, which I find it remarkable that every candidate on the job market has never missed the quota. Hey. So that's the thing, I let the trade Tigger experience. And again, this perhaps is a bit more of a personal point for me. Because I recognize when I first got my first sales job, I didn't have any sales experience. But the people that hired me, were the ones who said, Hey, we can see from his personality, from his behaviors from his ability, that he'll be good at sales, or we'll take a punch that he's good at sales. So this is something that I've really tried to carry through my sales careers. Just because somebody's got a really glittering sales career doesn't mean they're going to do well in my business. And I've seen that right. I've seen startups versus large businesses, there's often very different ways in different types of success rates within sales reps, to the extent where I've actually got to a point now where I'd, I'd really hesitate to hire somebody from one of the software giants because I think they're really struggling in a startup environment. But I think Yeah, I think for me, it's around ownership. And I think this is what I really like to see in a candidate is somebody who takes ownership and has accountability. So, to that point I said earlier about every sales rep I've interviewed never missed a quota. Obviously, that's an exaggeration. But, you know, it's those sales reps who come in to those interviews and says, I missed q4. But let me tell you why. Let me tell you what I did to make sure that I'm not going to, that's not going to happen again. So it's showing the human side yet we all miss grocers, we all lose deals. Everyone happens, right? sales is a numbers game. I don't know anyone who wins 100% of the sales opportunities they go into. If there are anyone out there, please, we're hiring, please come and approach me. But you know, the point is, if I can take accountability for my development, for for my learnings for my failures, then that shows me that they've got an open mind to work well in this collaborative environment I'm trying to build. I'm also working in a company where no one's really done what we what we are doing. We're not following. We're not like that. To CRM and we're like, well, let's follow the trajectory of Salesforce. And if we do what they did, then, you know, the theory goes, Well, we'll be following their paths. What paddle is doing? No one's done before. So no one's got the answers, right? Even I'll see how he's got the vision and built the business. There's a lot of problems and challenges we face on a daily basis. So I'm looking for smart confidence, but also people who take accountability to kind of say, Hey, here's a problem. Let's get in a room. And let's figure this out. And the people that typically are successful in this process are the ones who say, I'm aware of the challenges we're facing. I don't have the answers but let me demonstrate a my eagerness to try and help solve those and be part of that because you know, a lot of people don't like, operating in the great they like clarity. I want to know my compliance, not going to change. I want to know my territory is not going to change. And if I do this, and then that will happen. But there are other people say I like figuring stuff out. I like building and that's the stage we're in. So showing evidence of that is one of the key criteria as well. Have you been able to work Different ways that you can test the qualities that you're looking for an interview process, because, obviously, sales reps or sales reps. So, you know, you ask us a good question. And we can answer it really well, because that's what we're trying to do. Right. But how do you test the reality around it and be greater if you've got any processes that you've got in place to be able to do that? Yeah. So that Yeah, and just to kind of preface this as well, this is always going to be a work in progress. I would always say, you know, hiring is a skill. And it's a skill that, you know, I think, is one of the most important skills as a sales leader. Thankfully, again, I'm backed by an incredible talent acquisition team at peddle. I work very, very well with them. And you know, we've worked very, very closely now for a year and a half, for them to really understand what it is I'm trying to find, and so that we're kind of seeing off the same hymn sheet. But yeah, it's it's a tough one, right? Because, yes, everyone's going to come in and start showing off their credentials. And it's an interview, right, that they're clearly interested in the role, and I'm clearly interested in the candidate. That's why we're meeting her. We've done the press Meaning whatever processes you've gone through first and quite right, they, you know, candidates want to put their best foot forward. For me. However, what I've learned and probably one of my biggest learnings in hiring the right people, and from a culture perspective, is to not oversell the role. In fact, I actually speak to many candidates who've interviewed with me, they'll probably often say that he is refreshingly honest, and I downplay the excitement of it, because pedals great, you know, panel is an exceptional company with gross, you know, triple digit growth year on year, and people live from the outside and say, hey, I want to be part of that, you know, we're going to be a unicorn, I want to get rich or you know, whatever it might be. But what we don't tell people in all of our marketing and then press releases is how much work there is involved in how challenging this environment is. Yes, the results are true and accurate. But the work and the kind of effort that goes on behind them, the failure that goes in to get those results is often very, very challenging for people. And it's the motivating and I feel it's my duty to make people aware of this before they started the business to say Just want to be really, really clear what life is like a panel, this is not a nine to five roll, this is not a, if you follow this process, then this output will happen type roll, right. And we're trying to get there, we're trying to make it more scientific. But that's what I'm looking for. I'm looking for people who say, I am going to fail, I'm not scared of failing, I'm going to learn I'm going to share those learnings and I want to be part of finding the solution. And I think people coming in and having their eyes open to the fact that it's hard work, it's a lot of failure. It's not just come in and you're going to hit 200% of your of your quota, you know, quarter after quarter, and you're going to take, you know, six or seven digit kind of P 60. It's, it's, it's really about laying the groundwork there. And I find when I do that people reciprocate, and they're honest and upfront with me and they showed their vulnerabilities as well, which again, I like because it's I don't anticipate anyone coming in to be a robot and 100% perfect. The human, everyone's got faults, everyone's got areas that they want to work on and develop and if they can showcase them to me, it doesn't mean they're going to be disqualified from the process. It means Hey, I know what I need to work on this person to get to that to get them to that next level, which is hopefully what they want as well. That's brilliant. I think it's refreshing in a world where interview processes is full of office beanbags, office dogs and endless snacks, that the purpose behind getting a new role seems to just be mystified. So. Brilliant. Thank you, Adam. It'd be great to finish off with a few kind of quickfire round questions. And the first one would for me would be for the for the people starting their career in sales. If you could go back in time and be equipped with one piece of advice, what would it be and why? So I would say, you know, for me, the most important thing for any salesperson is be hungry to learn, be curious, you know, you might have grown up being that kid with your mates, the gift of the gab, the one who could talk their way out of any situation, and that's how people have told you and you've determined you're going to be good at sales, but that's not sales. You know, there are people who've done Before there are people who've got more experience from you, and most importantly there are people with different backgrounds and experiences from you learn from them, I promise you your your way isn't going to be the the best way. And so if you are open to learning if you're if you're demanding learning, and I would say that's going to hold you in really great stuff for the future. Brilliant, and talking of hunger, and definitely, definitely one role is is probably the most hungry is the SDR right and, and, and we all know that every SDR after hitting a number of targets really assumes a kind of successful transition to a sales role. And we'd be really interested to get your perspective. Do you believe that a good SDR means a good sales rep. And how do you typically try and find out how and if that's the case without costing the business? a ridiculous amount? Yeah, no, absolutely. So I think Firstly, I do believe that you know what, and again, when I'm interviewing SDR level, I do want to see somebody who knows what's next. Is who knows what they're getting themselves into, and has a desire to follow a career into sales. You know, somebody who comes in for an SDR says actually I want to be an engineer. It doesn't really make sense to me. You know? So there is a relationship, obviously between SDR and sales rep a, whatever it might be. And do the skills overlap. To a certain extent, yes, but there are very different skills for an ad than there are for an SDR one of the things again, that I'm really proud of that I've done a paddle because no one wants to be an SDR forever, right? Or if they are, again, please let yourself be known to me because I've never met anyone who says I just want to be an SDR. Typically, if you've got that kind of drive to be in sales, you want to become a fully fledged sales sales rep. Or perhaps you want to go into management and they know that's an alternative route as well. But you know, and that's fine. And that's, that's first It's on me to show that part out of being an SDR. What do I need to do to prove to you, Adam, that I'm ready to step up into the role. So it's on me to create that environment that it's absolutely clear what needs to be done. And yes, attainment of sales quotas is clearly going to be part of one of those and working to targets. But one of my most proudest achievements of paddle. And again, I can't take full responsibility for this, but it was around defining with the sales managers. What is a good SDR? What are the characteristics that make a good SDR? What are the characteristics that make a good ad? And what we then did is we expanded that we then said, Okay, can we put every single characteristic I think we find seven characteristics for each role. And we scaled them levels one to four, one being the best for being the worst. And we explained what level one at this skill meant, what level format and it was very much we off the back of that we then built these career development plans. And we assessed every single person every single str every single ad against these seven characteristics and said, Okay, today you're afford that you're too at that you're one at that. And of course with evidence right, we had to pull in kind of we use Gong for our call recording analytics Gong excerpts and outreach snippets and you know, different examples to show evidence. It's not just gut feels really to make this as objective as possible. But that led to people saying, Okay, I'm an SDR. I know I'm really good at this. But I'm very bad at, I don't know, account planning, for example, one of those skills that you need to be a level two out in order to think of being an A, because that was the next level of state promotion happens when you hit these scores in the progression plans. So it's clear for everyone it's clear for the SDR to say where they're strong and where they're weaker. And these plans are built with them. They're not given to them. We discuss those scorings. And we come out of the realm of green. But it's also even more importantly clear to them what they need to work on what skills they need to work on in order to get to that 80 level. It's done on managers to help facilitate that training and development. Right. So if it's around account planning, just one of the things that I always push and query my managers on and be that on a fortnightly or monthly basis when we look at the progression plans, when we look at the future of the sales team and who's coming up for promotion, is what have we done to really work on that Skill deficiency that we identified for that SDR, you know, where show me evidence of how you've helped them account plan. Now this could be through one to one. So they've worked on it, the manager panel, we have a really generous learning and development budget per person as well. So they might have identified some courses for that person to attend, or an external trainer as well, or a book. So I think this is stuff that I'm always looking for evidence of is how are you working on the skills that we've identified as missing in order for that progression? So again, everyone knows where they stand. There's transparency, there's buy in, and there's absolutely a determination and a vision of how I get to that next level. That's great. Adam, it's been an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. And for anyone that is keen to reach out, is that okay, and where can they find you? Yeah, please do. You can find me on LinkedIn. Or you can email me it's Adam peddle.com, or I'm on Twitter at K one. That's amazing. I didn't thank you again, though. Thanks, guys. Really enjoyed it. Thank you. Transcribed by https://otter.ai