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Quotable Podcast Episode #52: “How to Keep Your Sales Team on Track" with Shannon McGovern

Host: Kevin Micalizzi, Colin Nanka
While always important, numbers don't tell the entire story for leading a sales team. Join Shannon McGovern, AVP, Commercial Sales at Salesforce, as she shares insights into how to keep your teams on track. Find a balance between art and science by using everything from tracking "the math" (forecasting), reviewing deals, identifying coaching opportunities, incentivizing behaviors, and developing your sales reps.

You can't always control what your ACV is at the end of any given month, but you can control the level of activity and rigor of logging things in Salesforce.”

Shannon McGovern | AVP, Commercial Sales @ Salesforce

Episode Transcript

Kevin Micalizzi: Today we'll be discussing how to keep your team on track with Shannon McGovern, AVP Commercial Sales at Salesforce. Welcome, Shannon.


Shannon McGovern: Thank you for having me.


Micalizzi: So Shannon, would you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?


McGovern: Sure, Kevin. I run our East Coast healthcare business in the commercial market here at Salesforce. I just celebrated nine years with the company, which is exciting. I started as a midcommercial, midmarket account executive, which means at the time selling into companies that were 200 to 500 employees as an individual contributor.

I did that for a few years and then was one of the founding members of our healthcare vertical in the commercial business team. I did that for two years, and then I raised my hand and wanted to make a move into leadership. So I managed one of our midmarket teams. I did that for a year, covered both San Francisco and Toronto, which was fun and challenging. And then I was in the RVP role for a couple of years. And then an opportunity presented itself to take over running East Coast area for healthcare in New York.

And so I made the transition from San Francisco to New York last year.


Micalizzi: Excellent. Absolutely love it. Can't wait to jump in. So I'm Kevin Micalizzi, Executive Producer of the Quotable Podcast. And I'm joined today by my co-host, Colin Nanka, Senior Director of Enablement at Salesforce. Welcome, Colin.


Colin Nanka: Thanks, Kevin. Happy to be here.


Micalizzi: So let's jump right into it. We've talked about different aspects of managing teams, of keeping your team on track.

But we've never kind of looked at it holistically in terms of what folks are doing right now. When I ask you what does it mean to you to be keeping your team on track, what comes to mind?


McGovern: Well, we're a sales business, so the most important thing that we can do is forecast accurately and close ACV. In order to do both of those things successfully, I think you need to ensure you've got adequate pipeline and coverage across the business.

You need to understand what the deals are and where the deals are and why they're going to close every given month. You need to be able to forecast that accordingly upmarket, so my AEs’ forecast to my RVPs, which forecast to me, and then I forecast up. So we need to be very accurate with those numbers. We need to manage the big deals appropriately because those big swing deals can make a big impact on any given month. And then we need to be able to measure what we did well and where we were successful and what areas we need to invest and improve in.


Nanka: So Shannon, I've been around for a number of years. And I know that the term "rigor" goes around the office in terms of having good application rigor or opportunity management rigor. How do you teach someone who's newer to have rigor or operational excellence in their business?


McGovern: It's a good question, Colin. It maybe sounds easier than it is. I think if we're asking our new hires to log activities in Salesforce and to use the CRM the way we're supposed to, then I think the expectation is that we as leaders are also using Salesforce.

So I think that that's really important. And we have to teach them what are those best practices around using the app successfully. And I think it's, one, logging your activities; two, logging your meetings; three, keeping your opportunities up to date by filling in the success field and the success criteria; [three], leveraging your — I guess maybe is that three or four — [laughs].

Leveraging your external team by being a part of that opportunity within the application and using things like Chatter to pull in the right people, to share updates on the deal, to collaborate on things like your deal spreadsheets and your presentations to the client, and to make sure that the strategy is sound around how you're actually approaching your customers and targeting your accounts to create and then close your pipeline.


Nanka: It sounds like you think logging activities in Salesforce is important. Can you expand on that for us?


McGovern: Sure. I mean, first and foremost, we're a CRM company. So I think we should practice what we preach and drink our own champagne.

But besides that, I actually think it can add value. As a new employee or as a seasoned AE within the business, we track things — dashboards called AMP. So in Salesforce world, what that means is Activities lead to Meetings. So calls that you've having and prospecting efforts that you're doing with your install base or your prospect base should then lead — those conversations lead to meetings. When you have meetings and you bring the right people and the right resources, those meetings should lead to Pipeline.

So Activities, Meetings, Pipeline. And so we track that on a weekly basis. And it's important that our account executives know that it's something that I care about and that their RVPs care about, and that we're looking at the end of every week, at the end of every month. I think there are certain things that you can control as an account executive. You can't always control what your ACV is at the end of any given month because you don't have 100% control over whether your clients buy or not.

But what you can control is the level of activity in the rigor that we talked about of logging those things in Salesforce to be able to show, at the end of that month, if you don't show up on the dashboard in ACV, you showed up in other areas that show that you're doing the right things and you're exhibiting the right behavior that, in time, we know, as a business, will pay off in ACV.


Nanka: That makes a lot of sense. I've heard around the office and around Salesforce a lot, "Control what you can control." And that really seems to be what you're pointing to. So really giving the new AEs the ability to control their inputs and, over time, they will grow toward their pipeline and close business.


McGovern: Absolutely. I mean, let's have something to talk about, and then also something to coach. So if we have the activities in Salesforce, an RVP can sit down with his AE and say — or her AE — and say, "Tell me about this meeting. What happened at this meeting? What did you learn from this meeting?" or "I participated in this meeting. Let's go back and talk about and coach to what you did well and what are areas you can improve in." So it's building out all the key elements of — it starts as basic as picking up the phone and dialing for dollars with your clients and trying to figure out and create demand.

And then once we create that, bringing the right resources in to have a successful and productive meeting that hopefully drives and creates pipeline. And then ultimately, that should lead to putting you on the dashboard in the future. But it's all of those activities. And if you're not doing any of those, it's hard to have a conversation, because I think an RVP sits back and goes, "Well, what are you doing in any given week?"


Micalizzi: So I'm curious: You mentioned the AMP dashboards in reviewing weekly. Is that kind of the cadence you follow, or do you have different levels of review at different points in time?


McGovern: So with the AMP — Activities, Meetings, and Pipeline — we have a cadence. I look at it at the end of every week or try to. And I certainly take a look at it at the end of every month. I like to recognize people who are doing the right behavior by either highlighting those achievements through our group Chatter, or recognizing people on our All Hands calls as we roll into any given month. I've started to this year, and I think it's made a world of difference, of actually having calls at the beginning of every month that talk about what we achieved in the month prior.

What our goals and targets for this month are so that the entire team is really aligned on the direction that we're heading, and it's not just management that has this number that we're putting out there to the executive team as to where we need to get. We want everyone to rally behind and understand what the target is, where it comes from, and what we're marching toward together as a team. And then recognize the performances, right, and being able to call out where AEs were doing the right types of things in terms of this person had really high activity and meetings, and then subsequently created a lot of pipeline.

We like to showcase that behavior and keep it top of mind for everyone. So in terms of rigor in the cadence, I do think it's important that RVPs should be looking on it on a weekly basis. And I try to make it a point to run the AMP dashboard and pay attention to it weekly, if not every other week.


Nanka: So you mentioned incentivizing the right behavior. How do you actually reward or show how people are doing the right behavior? You mentioned a few different ways, but kind of if you look at a monthly basis, what are the different ways that you would highlight that behavior?


McGovern: So we did a handful of different spiffs in Q1 to highlight pipe generation and keep it top of mind for AEs. And I think we saw quite a bit of success around that. And we try to keep it different every month. We do a theme for the month. And then I will usually post in our Chatter group on a weekly basis how people are doing, and the people that are at the top of that weekly dashboard for activities. And then we reward. And in some cases, it doesn't always have to be monetary rewards. Some of the things that we had fun with in the first quarter were we gave little trophies.

So every week when there are people in their region that were at the top amongst their peers on their team. They were the leader in the number of activities, meetings, and pipe [generated]. We would call them out and we would drop a little three-inch gold trophy on their desk, which they now have for bragging rights. It'll be sitting there for the duration of the year or however long they want to keep it. Some people acquired a handful of these trophies. And it's just sort of a fun way — it wasn't tied to money, because while money is great, I don't always know that it's the most motivating factor.

And then what we did was we gave a Terminator bust to the top AE in each hub. So in New York and Toronto, which are the two regions that I cover or hubs that I cover, we gave them a bust to keep on their desk for the following month. So I think it's just coming up with things that get people excited and a little competitive and keep them focused on doing what's really difficult, which is prospecting. Prospecting's really hard. It takes a lot out of you. So how do we make it a little bit fun?

And I think keeping our eye on that, we actually overachieved our pipeline goals in the first quarter. And I will say that I think part of that has to do with the fact that we prioritized it and we thought about it kind of each and every day that we came into the office.


Micalizzi: I think from a leadership perspective, it's clear why it's so important for the activity logging and for all — I don't want to call them administrative tasks — but all the additional work that needs to happen so that you can sell as a team.

I was curious, from your perspective, would you help clarify why it's so important, even at the AE level. We're not just doing this so that managers can report. There's a lot more that goes into it.


McGovern: Sure. Well, I mean, I'm certainly not the person that came up with this formula at Salesforce in terms of how we measure the success of our pipeline. But we typically talk about it needing anywhere from a two-and-a-half to four times — depending on what segment you're in — pipe, in order to deliver against your quota. So we prioritize it from top down because pipeline is what fuels our business.

Pipe is what turns into closed ACV, and that's how we grow as a company, and that's what's really important as a high-growth business. But at the AE level, I've got a number I need to hit. And if I don't have subsequent pipeline and coverage myself, then I don't know how I get to my number, right? And so I think that's the conversation that you have with an individual contributor: What are your goals for the year? What is your plan to achieve those goals? What do you think you need to get there, how much pipeline?

If you have a million-dollar number, do you need two point five? Do you need three? Do you need four million dollars? Is your goal really only getting to a million? Or is your goal personally to get to 150% of your number, in which case we often talk about what is needed in order to — and we look at close rates. So what is your close rate specifically, or what are close rates based on the segment in any given quarter to come up with kind of what those ratios are? And I think it's important that they understand that this is an investment that they're making in themselves and their own success, and that it needs to start early.

And in Q1 and Q2 is when we do a lot of that pipe building, and we continue to do that. But that's what really sets us up to make sure that as we close the year, we're doing it really strong and we're getting to the growth numbers that we need to.


Nanka: Shannon, are there any other metrics that are important to you in addition to the AMP — the Activities, the Meetings, and the Pipeline — that you just talked about?


McGovern: Sure. So when I come in any morning, and this is feedback given to me by my leader, and I think it's the right way to manage the business — he was doing it for a really long time and was very successful in it, so it's something that I've adopted.

But every morning over my cup of coffee, I sit down and I look at things like what is the daily pipe gen. So what did we produce as a team, as a region, in the prior day? We have daily targets. If there was a dip in the creation, I usually try to figure out if this is a trend or if we just had like one team that was in territory yesterday so they weren't maybe on the phones. So staying on top of that to make sure that it doesn't become a systemic problem, because if you go two weeks where your pipeline is below your target, you're in trouble.

So I think keeping an eye on that is really important and that comes back to the AMP that we talked about. But also looking at what the math is. So we talked a little bit about forecasting and how critically important it is to forecast accurately within our business. And a big way that we do that here at Salesforce and have an understanding of the art and science of the forecast is the math. And what math comes back to is what are the stages of the opportunities in any given month that our AEs have, what percentage of that kind of makes up ….

Our pipeline stage is about 25% close rate. Our best case is about 60. Commit is 90, and so on. And you kind of run that formula across the larger number, and you start to understand, okay, where is our most likely [of] where we think we're going to end the month, and where does the math, which is actually where the deals are and what stages they are according to the AEs, how do those two numbers line up and match? And oftentimes what you'll see is that our number is out ahead of the math at the beginning of the month. But we close that gap as we move through that month because the idea is that we're progressing deals from stage two to stage three to stage four or five.

And as we do that, the math increases. So that's another metric that I pay attention to, and I run that report on a daily basis. And I will constantly be having conversations with my RVPs as to, "Hey, you are math. You're rolling $300,000 for the month, yet your math is putting you at 150. There's a big gap between that. So either are your AEs not updating their pipeline in real time to move deals forward, or is there risk around that most likely that I need to be aware of and we need to manage and mitigate to.


Nanka: That's really great. I think that's a really deep look at forecasting. And it sounds like you can get some early indicators early in the month that things may be trending in the wrong way so you can make those course corrections if that happens.


McGovern: I mean, that's certainly the hope, or figuring out what we need to create and close in month to close some of that gap. But I found over my course of time here in a leadership position that the math pretty closely usually aligns to where we think we're going to end up.

And if it doesn't, oftentimes the math is more accurate than potentially our forecast is. So I think it's important as a leader running a business to have [sort of] some formula. That's kind of the science of things. And then there's the art of it like what are the specific deals and some of the nuances and the things, like depending on which region, I may know that one of my RVPs has a higher probability, or a region that produces more organic growth. So like a little risk in the math is okay because he usually closes the gap. Or I have an RVP over here who — she may be — sandbags her number just a little bit and always over-delivers.

And that's where you kind of apply the art of knowing your people and how they produce. And you balance all of those factors as you look to manage that number up.


Micalizzi: So we've talked a lot about the numbers involved and tracking the dashboards and the activities around it. But I know from our conversation before that enablement is important and needs to be ongoing. I'm curious what you do in terms of enablement to help your team stay on track.


McGovern: Sure. We really prioritized enablement coming into this fiscal year because we can ask our AEs all day long to pick up the phones and create pipeline and close deals. But if they aren't comfortable and confident and having the right types of conversations, or when they get someone on the phone, being able to really uncover what the business impact is or the problem we're trying to solve or what the potential return would be if they made an investment, then we're not really arming them with the right skills to be as successful as possible and to capitalize on every opportunity that they have.

And I think, unfortunately, in this market today we don't have as many opportunities as we did five years ago in the world of Salesforce. So we really need to make sure that when we get someone on the phone, we make the most of those conversations. And so one of the things that we focused on — and also just enabling them with the skills to create the pipeline — that we have high demands around what we expect pipeline to be. And we ask our AEs to focus on it every day.

But if we're not giving them the right skills to be successful in doing that, then I think we're sort of shooting ourselves in the foot. So we decided that we've got a really amazing enablement team here at Salesforce. But they support a lot of people in a lot of different areas of the business. And so my management team in our first QBR, we were all somewhat new to working with one another but rolled up our sleeves and said, "What are the areas that we really think that we need to reinvest in for our people?"

And so we focused on things that were less industry specific because we sell into a vertical, and I think that that's important to speak their language. But we focused on really what were the sales skills that we thought were important to move deals, one, to create pipeline and then to move those successfully through the funnel here at Salesforce. And each of us owned it. So each RVP raised their hand and took a topic. And that way it wasn't on one person to deliver against this. And I think that made all of us a little bit more invested in it. And so for the first three weeks of the month on a weekly basis, we run an enablement session with our AEs.

And we've done topics that range from research — account research on how to get in and figure out what are the right accounts to target, how to run successful discovery sessions with your prospects or customers, how to really get to value and qualify deals and understand what makes a customer buy and how to move things through the process, how to create a strong and solid mutual plan and what does that look and feel like and who do you do that with?

How do we get to and uncover value and business impact and ask the tough questions that once we identify the soft returns, what are the hard returns and how do we actually put dollars to that, because our biggest competition here at Salesforce is really no decision. So how do we arm our folks to be able to hopefully avoid no decision because you're actually tying real true dollars to an investment with Salesforce? And how do we schedule things like EBCs, so Executive Briefing Centers, and leverage all the events and resources that we have at Salesforce to make you more successful?

How do we work well with our co-primes and strategize and focus on getting wide within our accounts? How do we build appropriate close decks to be able to get in front of executives with a point of view and a message? So those are some of the trainings that we've done over the first and second quarter. And I think, one, it's investing in our AEs. And I think it's been really positive in terms of their level of interest and engagement in those sessions, and we've been tweaking them along the way. We did some role play this morning, which gets them a little bit more engaged and in the content.

So we look for feedback as we go. But it's something that I think we're pretty proud of. And then we start to showcase where people are doing things well. So we started to in our groups post really great mutual plans that some of the AEs have gotten commitment on from their clients, right? So then kind of paying it forward of sharing those best practices across the team and showing everyone else how to do it successfully and what a great example looks like, which then gives AEs the recognition to feel like they're doing the right things.


Nanka: Shannon, if a sales leader hasn't started into enablement or really hasn't started self-enabling, what would your recommendation be for them, whether they're starting into a new half or a new quarter, how do they get started?


McGovern: I mean, I think you have to try to keep it simple. If you try to bite off more than you can chew, so to speak, and commit to more than you may be able to deliver, that's very quickly how things fall off and nothing gets done. I got buy-in from my team that they believed that this was something that we should invest in. So I think that certainly helped.

We delegated, so each person took some ownership on it, which makes it a little bit easier, because when you just have to do one session in a quarter, it's hard to tell your leader that you're not able to deliver against that. And then we collaborate, so everyone feels that they have a voice or a point of view on topics that they think are of interest or where they can add value. So I think that's a good way to start. And we did that and we all got together in a room and we said, "Let's whiteboard this thing out and let's make some commitments around who's going to own what."

And then you ultimately need to probably be pretty organized because it's very easy, and there have been some days where we've had to push those Tuesday meetings to Thursday because we're maybe not as ready as we had hoped. But we don't ever cancel them.


Micalizzi: These have been great topic areas. For leaders who haven't started down this path, what would you recommend? Like there's always so much research, always so many things you could learn. How do you approach staying on top of things?


McGovern: So QBRs are this like buzzword in sales. And I think that sometimes they can be really valuable. I think what I've learned from my QBRs and something I'm trying to stay away from this year is I'm not really asking my guys to spend a bunch of time putting a deck together of like what did the business do last quarter and what are we doing this quarter. It's important to have a plan. It's important to reflect. But I asked them as we came into Q2 to kind of think about that, summarize it at a high level, and then let's talk about things that are top of mind that are going on in their region as a group, because I think that that collaboration can actually help us all get better and share best practices.

But I bring up QBRs because I think it's just a really interesting opportunity for you as a leader to get together with your team and actually put all of us in a room. I manage part of my team remotely, so I don't have the luxury of being able to sit down with all of them face to face every day or have team meetings where we're all sitting in a room. So I use that opportunity to put us all in a conference room like this, face to face, and do some whiteboarding and brainstorming.

And one of the great things that came out of not only the enablement sessions we talked about in the first quarter, but an area of how do we continue to develop in our — like invest in ourselves and develop our own personal skills, not just those of our AEs. And one of the ideas we came up with was doing a business book club. So in the first quarter we chose a book that all of my leadership team read. And as we get together on a quarterly basis we discuss what we learned from that book. We incorporated some of it, actually, into the enablement trainings.

And then we pick another business book that we're all maybe interested in reading that we maybe wouldn't do if it were just on ourselves, as busy as our lives are and things like having a family.


Micalizzi: Yeah. I always have a stack of books that I mean to get back to, but nobody's holding me accountable for it.


McGovern: Yeah.


Micalizzi: That's a great way to do it. If you don't mind my asking, what book did you pick?


McGovern: Well, I — you'll have to give props to one of my RVPs, Nick Partington. He chose the book, and it's been great. But it's called Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play.


Micalizzi: Okay.


McGovern: Which we've actually used in our value qualification trainings for our AEs because there're a lot of really quality learnings to be had.


Micalizzi: Awesome. Thank you so much for joining us, Shannon.


McGovern: Sure. Thanks for having me.


Micalizzi: And Colin, thank you for co-hosting.


Nanka: Thank you. It was my pleasure.


Micalizzi: And for those of you listening, again, the best way to stay on top of all things Quotable is to subscribe at Quotable.com/subscribe.

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