Episode #27: "Executive Alignment for Sales" with Stephanie Glenn

Hosts: Tim Clarke & Lynne Zaledonis

Want to rise rapidly in sales? Then follow Salesforce sales executive Stephanie Glenn as she explains how to connect with stakeholders at all levels, including the highest. Dive in to a wide-ranging discussion on the best ways to achieve trusted advisor status by partnering with customers on the deal — and far beyond it.

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Episode Transcript

Tim Clarke: Thank you for joining the Quotable Podcast. Before we get started, the best way to keep up with all things Quotable is with our newsletter. Sign up at Quotable.com/subscribe. Now today we'll be discussing executive alignment for sales teams of all sizes with Stephanie Glenn, VP of SMB Sales at Salesforce. Welcome, Stephanie.


Stephanie Glenn: Thanks. Happy to be here.


Clarke: Thank you. And for those who aren't familiar with you and your background at Salesforce, perhaps you can give a bit of background on some of the great stuff that you've been doing.


Glenn: Great. Thanks again.

I am coming up on six years at Salesforce, and I am based in our New York office, in our New York hub, which is expanding quite rapidly at this point. When I joined Salesforce six years ago, I joined as an account executive in our general business space at the high end of our midmarket, selling to across all industries. After a year and a half in that role, I moved to my first management role where I managed a small business team focused on financial services clients.

And then from there, spent two years as a regional vice president in our financial services space across customers across the East Coast, and then finally in February moved into this role, where I run our small business sales team for the East Coast.


Clarke: Perfect. Thank you. I'm Tim Clarke, Product Marketing Director at Salesforce, and I'm joined today by our guest host, Lynne Zaledonis, VP of Product Marketing at Salesforce. Welcome, Lynne.


Lynne Zaledonis: Thank you so much, Tim. And thank you, Stephanie, for being here.


Clarke: Let's dive straight in, and as I said, we're going to be talking about executive alignment today. Stephanie, let's just start off. What does executive alignment really mean to you, both in your current role and in previous roles?


Glenn: Sure. When I think about it as a sales leader, and even from the time where I was an individual contributor, this is this idea that customer relationships are really built on one fundamental thing, which is trust.

And our goal with all of our customers and prospective customers is to get to what we call sort of "trusted advisor status." And so in order to really get to that trusted advisor status, we need to build long-term, sustainable relationships with our clients, and that happens at all levels at the company.

And for me as a sales leader, really where I can sort of lend value is where I can help make those relationships at an executive level, where I can help bring value about the products and solutions that Salesforce has to offer, and also I think most importantly helping businesses think about their growth strategies.


Zaledonis: In your introduction, Stephanie, you talked a lot about your impressive, fast rise to being — from an individual contributor rep to being manager of managers running a whole region.

This idea of executive alignment or being that trusted advisor, how has that impacted your career path or the way you've approached selling over the last six to 10 years?


Glenn: I think in the end it really hasn't changed all that much, because I think at its core it's this idea of really getting to know your customers. Our selling process and our selling methodology is all founded on doing really good discovery, which comes to be about learning about these companies and learning about their businesses.

And as you learn more about the businesses and gain that trust, the better the alignment, the more ultimately they will probably buy from you, and I think the more value that they'll get out of the solutions that they're leveraging from Salesforce and other providers.


Clarke: And at what point would you say it's really important to start getting the alignment between executives? Would you say it's right at the beginning when you're creating the pipe? Or is it you hold off until it's the end and you're trying to close that deal down?


Glenn: It cannot happen soon enough, Tim. It is really — I mean at the end of the day if you are coming in as a sales leader at the end of a sale and talking just about financials, you've really missed the boat. And we all have been in sales situations in our personal lives where that's the case, and it just very much feels one-sided, where there's only sort of one goal for that person to be involved.

What I have found through events and through just meeting customers when there is not even necessarily a deal is that you can build those longer-term relationships and that it ends up being very mutually beneficial, so that those individuals can call you when they need you and you can do the same when you need them.


Zaledonis: Can you give us an example of that? I'm sure you've got some funny stories of perhaps where you haven't built trust early enough, and maybe there's a good story that will help illustrate the point of where it paid off to have put that investment in up front.


Glenn: Yeah. I think about one of the big deals that we did with a regional bank in my last role as a regional vice president in financial services, and I happened to be pregnant with my third son at the time. And so we started the process so early, and their COO — who's now a good friend of mine — we met at a Salesforce event and really built a relationship that — you know, the joke sort of along the way was that if it was a girl I was going to name my child Peggy.

And the timing of the deal was all about sort of when I was going to have my child. So there are those times where you sort of — if you can get in early enough — that that personal relationship just becomes that important to the overall sale, that you're joking about naming your children after them. The opposite, again, I think whether it's buying things in retail stores or wherever, where they bring in the manager to give a couple points of discount, and I think we're all sort of past the point where that's really valuable.


Zaledonis: I love that story, and it reflects on something that you talked about before, which is like relationships that you have. It sounds like you have a personal relationship with this woman, but probably also a professional one that you could call on her in the future. What's the importance of — I think you mentioned it before — building a rolodex?


Glenn: Yes. So this whole idea of building a long-term rolodex, I have found in my new role running small business sales for the East Coast to be super important.

And I think the key reason for that is that we find that many of these clients of ours move on to different opportunities over the long term. And so this idea of being able to call on people wherever they are, I think for Salesforce has become really important because we talk a lot about Trailblazers at Salesforce, which is this idea of building community, and what we're finding is that these Trailblazers end up being these big champions for us, even as they move on to new companies.

And so I think sort of in summary it's this idea that if you can build these long-term relationships — which is hard because we're a SaaS-based business and we do have a monthly cadence — but if you can really balance that out, these people will end up being champions for you in many companies.


Clarke: I'm interested in your perspective on what relationships need to be held by the individual contributor versus the RVP or the exec.

I think a lot of the time we come to the end of a quarter, and the execs kind of walk in and they try and close the deals, but sometimes that can damage the credibility of the account executive. So clearly you've held both roles. What sort of balance do you think you need here?


Glenn: Yeah. It's a great question, and I think there is a lot of finesse to that specific question. And I do think at the end of the day it is customer dependent, so it really does depend. We want to empower our account executives.

A big part of my role and the role of my managers in our small business space specifically is that we're trying to develop these account executives. And so we want them to have autonomy to be the CEOs of their own territories, as we call it, and go out and feel comfortable calling on individuals of all levels. So I think we naturally want to defer to our account executives. What we try and do is have those relationships end up being complementary.

And what I mean by that is as we go wider in accounts because we have more solutions to sell across companies, we think about what — if the account executive has a relationship with the VP of sales, maybe the manager has a relationship with the chief operating officer, and then I develop a relationship with the CEO. And so that we're not sort of stepping on each other's toes, but we're actually creating a wider net of relationships because we've gone wider in that account.


Zaledonis: So you're building a strategic plan as to who is going to align to whom and how you're going to manage that account?


Glenn: Absolutely. Similar to account planning that you do at the enterprise level, right? We probably don't have time in the small business space to do full-blown account plans, but that's really how this pans out, and those are the skills that we're helping develop for our account executives.


Zaledonis: Let's dig into that a little bit more. You think about some of the best salespeople you know, how they have this natural ability to connect with people, to understand problems, to help solve problems. Are you able to teach that, and how are you teaching that to these reps who are young in their career?


Glenn: I think it's a combination of things. We talk a lot about across my leadership team around modeling the way, which really comes to play as both showing them how it's done — and so sort of showing them what good looks like — and then also letting them own those relationships, but having the managers be part of those conversations so that there can be real-time feedback and coaching that happens, sort of right after that meeting or that call takes place.

And again, so that you're continuously helping these AEs develop those skills as they move upmarket and continue in their careers.


Clarke: We've seen a whole variety of different research, particularly from CB, that says there are more and more stakeholders involved in a purchasing decision. I think the latest number is 6.8. So when we really talk about executive alignment, do you have any best practices in terms of whether you focus on just one stakeholder or multiple stakeholders, how you really prioritize, who is the budget holder, who has final sign off? Any best practices for our listeners?


Glenn: Go as wide as possible. [Laughs] It's never enough to have a relationship with one person. I think the beauty of how Salesforce has grown up is that we really do well selling low and selling high, and really sort of everywhere in between. And so this idea of building champions and Trailblazers and having those Salesforce admins in an account who can help you navigate the waters and introduce you to new individuals.

And then also — I think probably mostly because we can be associated with the revenue-generation side of the business, and so as a software company we have sort of a unique advantage. I think about my days at IBM where we spent most of our time in IT, right? So it's a unique advantage for Salesforce, and again sort of gives us this ability to develop relationships low and high. But to answer your specific question, Tim, I think you have to go as wide as possible.

I agree with the research that there are more and more stakeholders, even in small business where there aren't as many people involved. But it's really important for us in the discovery process to figure out what's important to each of those individuals, and the more discovery we do, the better insight we get into who's actually going to make that decision.


Zaledonis: A core thing you keep bringing up again is this idea of being a trusted advisor or building trust. Also adding value.

That the reason why you're able to do these executive alignments is because you and your team are bringing that to the table. How do you build it? Are there any tactical tips you can offer people on how to build that level of trust?


Glenn: Yeah. I think it's a great question. It's where I have the weight of Salesforce behind me to help, because our event strategy is such a key part of that. And I've talked about this before. But I don't think you have to be as big as Salesforce to get the event strategy right.

And this really comes in this hybrid approach, where yes, we have Dreamforce every year, and even though I run the East Coast teams we make a huge push to get executives of our customers and our prospective customers to Dreamforce because we know that if they make the investment to go out to San Francisco they'll better understand not just Salesforce but cloud and our entire ecosystem. And so we spend a lot of energy on that.

And then also having sort of hyper-local events, whereby these executives are developing relationships with one another, and them having the ability to network oftentimes is where they start to see value from Salesforce because they know it's going to help their business and that's where we can build those relationships.


Clarke: And clearly Salesforce runs so many different types of events. For our listeners, whether they're a startup or an enterprise company, do you have any best practices around what really makes a good event?

Whether it's the format, the size, the location, the content type …do you talk about your own product? Do you do thought leadership? Maybe you could share some insights there.


Glenn: Sure. I think one of the things that Salesforce does best is that we really do minimize talking about product at our events. Obviously if you go to one of our world tours or to Dreamforce, there are obviously product sessions there. But my favorite kind of event is the CXO roundtable type event.

And I think it works whether you're focused on small business or all the way up to the enterprise, but it's sort of keeping it pretty intimate. I think 10–15 executives is the sweet spot. Picking a topic that's relevant to that geography. So if you're in the Midwest it might not be "What's the future of SaaS?" but if you're in Boston we spend a lot of time with SaaS companies and startups in Boston. So that's a very relevant topic. So picking sort of a thought leadership topic that's pertinent to the geography.

And then navigating and leading the conversation so that you yourself are providing some thought leadership. But again, letting these customers talk to one another.


Zaledonis: As you know, I was in sales, too. You and I have worked together here at Salesforce in the sales organization. Customers selling to other customers is probably your best tip you could do, and it sounds like that's a key to success in your events. How often do you use that in your sales cycles, too, or processes? Are you leaning on this rolodex?


Glenn: Yes. Very, very, very often. And that's where if you really can get to the point that it is the rolodex, that you know your top five people that you can call in a pinch. Because reference calls can elongate a sales cycle, and they can be tricky if you don't have a great relationship and you don't know how to coach that individual. But if it's the right person who spends a lot of time — sometimes we call them groupies, and they actually sometimes like that name — but people who spend a lot of time with us who we know we can rely on.

They, A, can do the best selling for us, and B, they actually can help accelerate the sales cycle because it's obviously a very authentic source because they themselves are using it in their organization.


Clarke: You've referenced trust a couple of times throughout the conversation, and clearly that's a core value for Salesforce. Why do you think the element of trust is so important to really help with building this alignment?


Glenn: When it comes to trust, I think it really comes down to a couple of things, which is — number one is — can this customer rely on you from beginning to end? From through the sales cycle, but also going live and realizing the ROI that you've worked with them to build. Are they going to be able to grow their business because they're leveraging your technology? So I think it comes down to being able to build that trust so that they know that we're going to deliver the results that they need.

And then the other piece is that we're running mission-critical business data for them, and this idea of can they actually trust the provider that they're working with because we have their customer data.


Zaledonis: So the segment that you particularly sell into is the small business, and I know that that's very transactional. People have hundreds of accounts. They might be on the phone with 10 different people during the day. How do you build trust at that small level?

I think some of the people listening to this today would actually think, "Oh, this isn't for me. I'm not selling to Coca Cola where we're building relationships for a year." How do you build that executive alignment if you might only talk a couple times?


Glenn: That's a very good question. We have a very healthy balance of transactional business and strategic business. The account executives need to prioritize their time, and we do go through an exercise where we're tiering accounts and helping understand what that opportunity looks like.

But the account executives do own that full lifecycle with our customers. They are with them from presale all the way through post-sale. We don't pass them off to a customer success team. They do stay with them. And so this idea of building trust happens both when they're in the sales cycle but also happens in that these are the individuals that they're going to be relying on for all of their account management as well.


Clarke: And from your experience, how do you really get that balance between still hitting those monthly numbers as well as looking at the longer-term relationships and strategy? It's kind of the spinning plates example. Any top tips for that?


Glenn: Yeah. I think it's really understanding the deals. We have the technology — that we use the technology extensively to really understand what your pipeline looks like. You need enough pipeline of both types of deals, right?

If you have an account executive who is only focused on long-term strategic deals, they will never make their monthly targets and probably will miss their annual targets. And so it's in our world about having sort of the pipeline coverage to be able to have enough of both types of deals that they can spend the time that they need on the long-term vision-setting, transformation projects, but also develop enough short-term pipeline that they can meet their monthly goals.

So no magic there, Tim, except to say that obviously I think using Salesforce is a tremendous help for us because it helps the management team really understand sort of what type of deals are in the pipeline, to understand if we have the right coverage.


Zaledonis: I'm going to go back a little bit to my question earlier about being tactical, because I want to make sure people listening to this feel like they can walk away with some things to actually do to employ this in their daily sales cycles. You talked about events being really important.

Are there any other resources or tools or things that you and your team do to help build these relationships?


Glenn: Yeah. The beginning of every year for us is really a process for our top accounts and certainly as you move upmarket into — looking back to my days when I was managing very high-end, midmarket customers — is going through an account planning exercise.

And that really is a joint process of understanding both where is this business, what goals do they have for this fiscal year — and that's a conversation obviously with the customer. And then what are they using of our technology so that we can really, as an extended team with our solution engineers and all of the resources that we have, really having sort of a true account plan.

And then once you have that account plan, a lot of times we also sort of early in the year go through a health check or an account review with a customer to understand where do they need help from us, right? Before they're going to buy anything, what do they need to consume? What technology have they not deployed? Where are they struggling? How has their implementation gone? What is their partner relationship? What apps are they using off of our AppExchange?

So it's this account planning activity, it's a health check or an account review-type activity, and then finally a roadmap. Right? Because they're not going to buy everything from you day one, but if you understand where they are in their life cycle both as a business and then from a technology perspective, you can then map out "Okay, they want to actually do CPQ with Salesforce, and here are the milestones that we need to get to."

And you then can deploy the resources needed to have them evaluate that technology, build the business case, and then actually get to purchase.


Clarke: Perfect. We're nearly up on time, so I want to really focus on the results of what happens when there is really good executive alignment. Could you give us an example or talk to us about the impact that you've really seen in your business from when you've done a really good job of getting that executive alignment?


Glenn: Yes. I was actually just working on this yesterday.

So literally my favorite New York sporting event is the U.S. Open, in tennis. The marketing team at the beginning of this year said to me, "Sporting events don't tend to have great ROI." It's a West Coast marketing team that I work with, and I'm like, "Guys, I promise you. The U.S. Open in New York is THE event." I also spent 10 years at IBM and we were a big sponsor. And so I had to really build a business case for why the U.S. Open was the right event.

And I was just going through the metrics yesterday on what the return was. We didn't show up at the U.S. Open with people who were ready to close opportunities the next day, right? But I literally went back and looked through the executives who attended the U.S. Open, and it is a pretty elite experience. And our return has been absolutely phenomenal. I should give you the numbers right off the bat but I don't have them in front of me.

But it's this idea of now, six months later, looking back and understanding that those types of alignment and those types of events really do matter, because when you need to call those people to actually close the deals, it is sort of looking back at those experiences and knowing that you've really built trust over the course of several months.


Clarke: Perfect. Before you wrap up, any final closing thoughts from yourself, Stephanie?


Glenn: Having sold enterprise all the way, now focused on small business, I think there are snippets of this that are applicable no matter what market you're in. You're obviously going to tailor it, and if you're covering huge enterprise customers, your U.S. Open experience might be the finals in a suite and all of that. And for us, it was a little bit more roll-up-your-sleeves and get some seats and kind of go rogue.

So I think dependent on what market segment you're going after, to Lynne's earlier question on how do you balance the tactical and strategic, that's where that finesse comes in. But I do think overall it's worth it. I had another boy, so I didn't name my third child Peggy, but it's a good example of those stories that you remember forever because you've really spent more time with these people than anyone else in your life. [Laughs]


Clarke: Perfect. We really appreciate your joining us for this episode of a Quotable Podcast, Stephanie, and thanks also to our guest host Lynne.


Zaledonis: Thank you so much, Tim, for having me on this call today. Stephanie, I loved hearing your words of wisdom. I'm sure a lot of people will be thinking about their own careers and restructuring their sales teams based on this advice.


Clarke: Thanks to all of you, our listeners, for listening in. And if you like what you hear, please take a minute to give us a five-star rating and feedback on the Quotable Podcast. And please share this episode with anyone you think would benefit. Thank you.

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