Building A High-Performing Sales Engine With Kyle Coleman
There is no one standard in creating a successful sales engine, but there are key ingredients that sales leaders can incorporate to ensure success. Joining Rico Mallozzi to discuss the right recipe for this is Kyle Coleman, the VP of Revenue Growth & Enablement for Clari. Together, they share how to determine the right synergies to apply in a sales engine, how to always align core values to business processes, the attitude of embracing failures, and the best strategies for hiring people to the team. Kyle also talks about his experiences and challenges in today's mostly virtual setting by telling the story of their transition to remote work, as well as a few important tidbits in doing email marketing.
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Building A High-Performing Sales Engine With Kyle Coleman
This discussion is with Kyle Coleman, VP of Revenue Growth and Enablement at Clari. Kyle has had an incredible run as an enterprise tech professional. I asked Kyle to join this episode because of the phenomenal perspectives he shares on LinkedIn around sales, management and go-to-market strategies. I'm excited to have this conversation where we explore his ideas further. In the episode, we discuss the opportunities and challenges of executing an annual revenue kickoff during these strange times, the elements of a successful cold sales email, and how to adapt your demand gen activities in a virtual environment.
Kyle, I want to thank you for joining us on this show. Not only am I excited to jump into some of your experiences to share with the audience, but I'm also personally excited because you're a fellow Rhode Island guy. I'm happy to share the stage with you here.
It is a pleasure to be here, Rico.
Kyle, could you give a little bit of background about yourself and your experiences up to this point? One of the interesting things I saw that you post on LinkedIn was how your career has been more of a rock climb than a straight, in a sense. Give us your background to the point now at Clari.
I started my career in B2B tech in 2012. I was the sixth employee at a company called Looker. We scaled the SDR team from just a team of me to a team of about 65 people. The company itself grew from 6 people to about 800 and then was acquired by Google in the summer of 2019. From there, I jumped over to Clari to lead both SDR and enablement. Now, I lead our growth department at Clari, which is demand generation, SDR and enablement. It’s an interesting synergy of three related teams that are more powerful when they're all together. I'm excited about that.
Your comment on the rock wall though and this is important for any folks who are maybe earlier in their career, or even if you're a manager out there and you have folks that you're trying to develop their career. There's a missed expectation that career growth is a ladder that goes straight up. You land your first job out of college. You're at the same company for 50 years, you get your gold watch, you retire, you're on your way out and it's not the case. The way that I think about career growth is from my own personal experience, but also having worked with 120, some odd SDRs over the years, you have to take sometimes lateral steps or even a step back to find the right foothold in order to ascend the rock climbing wall.
The metaphor holds pretty well where if you're looking at a rock climbing wall and you step on that first little inset in the wall, you're not going to go straight up the wall right from there. You're going to have to look around, see what's best for you, feel it out and try a few different routes. As I said, step to the side, step down until you feel like, “This is for me. I'm now ready to start thinking more about growth from a seniority standpoint and taking on more responsibility and grow that way.” That's a more realistic way to think about career development.
I can only relate to myself. I started in a renewable energy company for a small family business and now I'm in technology and venture capital. I always say it’s not linear but one important thing is if you can keep writing that narrative of your career. It doesn't have to look linear on paper but as long as you can tell a compelling story about how these experiences connect themselves, that's the critical thing.
The guidance that I try and give people is to try and find the role that has the experiences that you'll find both challenging and fulfilling. If you can find that, you can think about the next role for you or your path in terms of the experience that you want and not in terms of the title that you want, you're going to be far more fulfilled and happy long-term. It's going to work out a lot better for you. That's the succinct way of giving advice.
When you talked about your role at Clari, it is pretty unique. I wanted to explore that a little bit deeper. These functions are either held independently. Some report up through marketing like demand gen and others may report up through sales. Sometimes SDR is one of the other. Can you explain why Clari made the decision and you made the decision to put this under one and you said you're extracting synergies? What are those synergies?
The synergies between our teams are interesting because we are responsible for both creating and accelerating revenue. A lot of more traditional demand generation, SDR, BDR or whatever you want to call them. We happen to call it revenue development because we're a revenue operations company and it sounds cooler. The more traditional approach to demand generation and to SDR is to fill the funnel. Because we have this enablement arm connected to us, we're not thinking about filling the funnel. We're also thinking about accelerating that pipeline and turning it into revenue. The programs that we create, the initiatives that we run and the strategies we pursue are all about both the creation and acceleration of our pipeline so that it turns into revenue.
We're still thinking about filling the funnel and leads and meetings still matter, but stage one opportunities and stage two opportunities matter. We design comp plans and goals for our SDR and for our growth marketing team that are not about creating new opportunities but advancing them into different stages. It’s that focus on creation and acceleration that makes us much more intertwined with the sales team who care about qualified opportunities and pipeline and at the end of the day, revenue. It’s that focus that allows us to get further down the funnel and have a strategic working relationship with our friends across the aisles and in sales.
If I'm hearing you correctly, by bringing these together, you're actually in your opinion, improving the quality of the pipeline because there's better alignment between demand gen, SDRs and what's being quantified as a sales-qualified lead?
There is no doubt about it and a lot of that alignment is because the division of labor is a bit more blurred and that may sound scary for folks like, “How do we know who does what?” We don't care who gets credit for what. Attribution is important as it relates to understanding where we should allocate demand dollars and things like that but ultimately, who creates and advances that opportunity. It doesn't matter. We can never prove it because everything is so intertwined. Our account-based programs are going, our sales development team is building groundswell with the lower level less senior people. Our AEs are working the power base. They're working in the buying group. They're doing those things. All of these things are factors in why opportunities get created and why opportunities advance.
We know the metrics that matter, which is qualified pipeline and revenue and how we get that. As long as we're hitting our revenue targets, everybody's happy. We design our comp plans in a blended sort of way for our SDRs, for example. That gives them credit both for creating a net new and for opportunities that they have created advancing down the funnel. That's an important distinction because it incentivizes them to care. It incentivizes them to be more about quality than quantity or a high quantity of high quality. We want to make sure that they don't hand off the baton and then forget that the rest of the race is happening. We want that baton handoff to a matter for an end goal. It's things as simple as comping on down funnel results for SDRs and for marketing teams that make a difference and connects everything.
When I originally reached out to you for this show, you said you were head down on your sales kickoff. If there was any year where sales kickoffs were probably different than the typical sales kickoff, it was this year due to the virtual environment we're in. Do you have any learnings from hosting your first virtual sales kickoff as an enablement leader? What was the experience like?
First, I'm going to play a little semantic game with you, Rico. We call revenue kickoff and the semantics are what they are, but it's an important distinction because it's not our sales team who attends our kickoff. It was virtual and one of the virtues here of the virtual environment was we can invite everybody. The feedback that we've gotten from the event has been very positive. If anybody is skeptical of what I'm about to say, reach out to some of our sales leaders. Ask them what they and their teams thought. A few principles that really helped us. Day one was an entire company event. Every single person across the world who works at Clari was invited to come. It was two hours of high production quality keynotes from our execs.
The reason that I emphasize the high production quality is because we didn't want it to feel like a long all-hands. We wanted it to feel different. We got a production company. They did all the COVID-friendly things for the folks that they filmed on site. They set up remote shoots for our remote execs and they had the different camera angles and all this stuff. It was much more engaging. The other thing is that we gave the guidance to our execs to say, “This is not an all-hands meeting. This is not tactical, what are you working on this month or this quarter? This is visionary. What are we as a company hoping to make happen this year in the next five years, next ten years?” It was an inspirational day one and it was a nice introduction to a lot of new folks who started at our company at the beginning of the fiscal year.
Days 2, 3 and 4, were all not full days and not half-days. It was somewhere in between. It was maybe 5 or 6 hours of content. It was never more than 90 minutes straight of content without a break. There has to be a break. You have to give people time to go take their dogs out and take care of their kids and do the stuff that you need to do when you're working at home. That was super important. We also had a high-energy, high-velocity presentation that had a lot of different speakers. The longest monologue that any single speaker had was maybe 5 or 8 minutes. In between that and the presentations, we had people jumping on stage, getting booted off stage, coming in and out, telling 1 to 3 minutes winning stories basically about their experience at Clari.
After those presentations, we had breakout groups and breakout working sessions. Something that we did well with these working sessions was we predesignated groups that were going to work together for the entire kickoff. All three days, 2, 3 and 4, the same 10 to 12 people were working together in these groups. We designated in advance a captain of that group to make sure that the conversation was happening and that they could then come back and represent their work when we reconvened to talk about what we talked about at the workshops. A lot of times people set up workshops and they're like, “The groups will take care of themselves and it will all work itself out.” If we randomly assign people into groups, no, you’ve got to be more thoughtful about it than that.
You have to be thoughtful of who's working with whom and make sure that there are some adults in the room who's going to rein things in taking the notes and then present the work back. It was a long way of saying. It was a four-day event, two hours the first day, about half to three-quarter days for the next three days. The last closing session we had was a conversation with a couple of our board members, which was awesome. It was like being in a board of directors meeting. That's the feedback that we got. It was our CRO moderating a conversation with two of our board members and they were talking about the vision for Clari and the impact that Clari has on the industry, their portfolio companies or whatever it is. It was great. If you can hit on some of those themes, keep it fast-paced, provide breaks and food, you will be in pretty good shape.
I like the two things you’ve touched. There was good diversity in the way the content was served. Also, ownership by doing that captain's group set up. It created ownership on the delivery of content and the outcomes. I liked that. You mentioned, glass-half-full, you were able to encompass a lot wider group of the company to participate in this. Do you think moving forward it will stay virtual even when we hopefully get back to normal sometime soon?
This is a difficult conversation with our finance team because the kickoff in 2020 was twice as expensive than the kickoff in 2021 and we involved more people. We tried our best to capture or manufacture the relationship-building that happens at kickoff by having little networking groups and coffee talk in the morning, DJ sets and hangouts in the afternoons and night. It's not the same as sitting around a fire outside and shooting the breeze with people that you meet once a year, maybe four times a year, if you're traveling for QBR. You can't replace that face-to-face contact. I feel like as well-received as this event was, it's always with the caveat that's for a virtual event, this went well. Nobody is saying we need to do well. Nobody except finance is saying we need the virtual event from here on out because people still miss that interaction.
One of the things I appreciate is you put a lot of thoughts out there. I've heard people call this putting bread crumbs out there. On your thoughts on SDR strategies that you put out there on LinkedIn, can you dissect for me what the perfect elements of an SDR outreach are and then how do you coach and encourage that behavior?
If folks are interested, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I try and share the best work from our team because they deserve it. They're doing incredible work and they're writing these impactful emails that are getting responses from executives. If you want to see examples of a team that's doing it right. I take a lot of pride in the work that our team does. I share a lot of their work. The elements of a great SDR email are it needs to be short and sweet, 125 words are the max. The subject line needs to be short, somewhere between 1 and 3 words is the sweet spot. Ideally, if your subject line bleeds into that first line of your email, you're doing something right.
The first line of your email is super important because you can see that in the preview before even opening that email. Don't waste time with the hope that this note finds you well or crazy like, “These times are unprecedented.” Cut that nonsense out and get straight into the personalized bit that shows the recipient that you've done some work to research who they are or what they care about. Immediately start using the you and your type language instead of the I and we and our type language. This email should not be about you. It needs to be about them and their challenges. Once you show them that you know them, then you can get into how your company, your product service or whatever solves those challenges for them. A short subject line, an intro that's personalized and the thing that I think our team does well is they'll take the research that they've done and transition it into Clari’s value prop in an artful and intentional way.
What I mean by that is sometimes you'll see people, and I got a note like this where it was like, “You're an avid runner. Have you ever done these trails in Colorado?” I was like, “This person read my LinkedIn profile.” To transition to their prop, they said, “Anyway, here's what we do.” I was like, “No. You're so close.” If they would have taken just a line about running and say like, “Like running a race, our company is so and so,” and transition that way. What our team does well is they'll find ways to transition from research to value prop. Your second question was, how do we help our team do this better? The myth of personalization is that every email needs to be 100% bespoke or unique every single time you send it and that's simply not the case.
What we do is we have a Slack channel where every time somebody writes a note that they're proud of, whether it gets a response or not, they share that note. What our managers do is they take that transition line and they add it to a little glossary that we have. We have this glossary now of like 100 different transitions snippets for when you find that somebody likes basketball or lacrosse, or is from Nebraska or went to this university, whatever it is. Next time you're doing research you find out that somebody is a youth basketball coach or whatever, we have an email for that. That is the means of scaling personalization. It's a different type of templatization that still requires you to do research, but also requires a lot of teamwork and a lot of working together so that everybody understands what options they have at their disposal and understands what's working and what isn't.
The important thing here for the managers or the sales marketing leaders out there is you have to let your team write their emails. I know that some people may be a little apprehensive about that, but it's important for people to sharpen their skillset this way. You need to trust and train them to be able to do this work. You need to hire people to use their brains and not just hire them to hit send or to make dials. This skillset is super important and they know how to do it better than you do because you're not doing it.
I'm always wary of offering my advice because I haven't been an SDR for many years or whatever it is. The folks that are doing it now teach me how to do it. I can teach them principles and things that I have worked on in the past, but they're the ones that are constantly evolving the process in a bottoms-up sort of way. They are ensuring that the work they do is related to but not the same as the work they're doing next month. They're always the ones that are the change agents. Empowering them to be thoughtful and to be the ones that are evolving your process, that's the secret sauce to having an engaged team.
I love the knowledge base you've created with those email templates because personalization is key but it takes a lot of work. If there are ways you can shortcut that without degrading the value of the email, that's brilliant. That knowledge base sounds like it's a good way of doing that.
One other little secret there for folks out there is to standardize your research. What I mean by that is looking for the same 5 or 8 things about a person or a company every time you do your research. If you know that you have solid 5 or 8 emails written for those things, you're going to be good. You're going to be good to go. It doesn't have to be different every time. When I'm teaching and training people how to do this well, I say, “Go to somebody's LinkedIn profile.” Look at how long they've been in the role where they went to school and what their company's growth is year over year on Sales Navigator. Those kinds of basic things because we have emails for all of that and cut your teeth on the easy sort of research. Once you get used to doing this, then you can go a little bit further afield and you can check them out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Clubhouse or whatever it is. You get that more nuanced perspective of who they are as a person, but standardizing your research from the jump and proving to yourself that this is something that’s repeatable and scalable is an important first step.
This advice is valuable whether you're in an SDR role or not. I often tell groups when I do talk to them that the written word is one of the most powerful things you can learn as a skill. I consider myself a novice but writing a powerful email, even though people say email is dead, can go a long way in getting outcomes that you want or getting the actions or the collaboration that you need. The other thing about sales development roles is it is a job that requires resiliency and dedication. You're going to oftentimes maybe not get a response or hear no more than you would like. How do you motivate your team and have them persevere through some of those challenges? It's incredibly rewarding the results, but to get there can sometimes be challenging.
First of all, we make sure that people know that failure is not only okay but it's also inevitable. It's something of a rite of passage, even for our team. If you're not failing then you're not experimenting enough. You're not trying enough stuff out. If you're only failing 98% of the time, you're doing something pretty right. A 2% success rate here is damn good. Setting those expectations and providing some levity here like, “Yes, this is important. We are running businesses. We are at the top of the funnel. We’re the engine and in a lot of ways, we’re the heartbeat of the revenue engine, but we're not curing cancer here.” You don't have to take yourself super seriously. Be professional, yes. Don't be super formal. Don't kill yourself over the results that you get. Enjoy it.
If you enjoy the process, if you can find ways to enjoy doing research, writing and those phone calls. Again, if we talk about the career path and growth type of mindset, if you're enjoying those experiences that you're getting in this role, I'm learning a lot about how to communicate, write, talk on the phone, convince people and how to be persuasive. Those skillsets stick with you forever. I know I would not do what I do now if not for my SDR experience. I try and make sure that as many people as possible recognize that they're not an SDR. I hate it when people say that, “I'm just an SDR,” or if you're an AE doing outbound prospecting, “I'm just outbounding. It's not that big of a deal.”
Take it seriously and take pride in this work. This is the foundational fundamental skillset that's going to serve you well for whatever you do in your career inside or outside of tech. Giving people that perspective that the work they do matters, making sure that everything they do is contextualize and it's connected either to the team, department, or company goals and making sure that they know they're playing the long game to develop a set of skills that are going to stick with them forever. If you can do those things and constantly beat those drums, that's how you keep a team engaged and that's how you keep them motivated.
I also liked the point you made at the beginning there, which is expectation setting because oftentimes they're not set. You think what you're doing is drastically outside the norm when it's probably right in the norm. I’ve read and listened to a few of your discussions and thoughts around the danger of micro-managing as a manager. Can you describe what you mean by that? We all know what micromanaging is but we all have a different definition of it. You've avoided maybe potentially falling into that trap and what it's enabled for you.
A definition of micromanagement is trying to manage people by what worked for you. This is a trap that a lot of SDR, sales and marketing leaders fall into because they graduate out of the individual contributor ranks into management. While I had success as an AE this way, so every other person is going to have success the same way as me. I know that this is a trap to fall into because I fell into it. I was a darn successful SDR. I did things well. I tried to impart my process onto a team of 6, 8, whatever it was SDRs at the time early on in the Looker days to do things exactly how I did them.
People kept banging their heads against the wall. I was like, “Why can't they do this right? Why can't they say these words on the phone? These words work.” I know they worked for me. It's because there are a lot of personalities, style and psychology that goes into it. I find that to avoid micromanagement, you need to provide a framework for what works, but within that framework, you need to provide a lot of room or allow a lot of room for autonomy so that people can say, “I gravitate toward this style or mode of outreach because I'm better at it. I'm more effective at it. I find it more fulfilling. I have more fun doing it. I want to be the one who's evolving the way that we do our cold calling or we evolve the way that we do our negotiations or whatever it is.”
If people are gravitating toward the things that they find are strengths of theirs, then they're making sure that those strengths make their way across the rest of the team and the process as a whole evolves. To avoid micromanagement, understand what everybody's strengths and weaknesses are on your team. I use the word ‘team’ very intentionally because it gets overused. What I mean by that is most teams are not teams. They're groups of individuals and there's an important distinction.
A team is a group of people who understand what they're all good at, what they're all weak at, and who to go to when they need help with something versus a group of individuals or just a group of people that happen to work together. If your team is a team, then they'll solicit feedback and ask for help. They will be willing to help others and mentor each other. That's the kind of thing that rising tide that ensures that A, everybody's more engaged and B, your team finds more success. If you can do those things and you as a leader and manager are more focused on unlocking people's strengths and allowing them to be vulnerable about their weaknesses, that's way more effective than you trying to browbeat them about how many calls they need to make every day or trying to make sure they're doing something the same way that you did something. Those are my general thoughts.
I like that hiring with the intent of improving the team, rather than looking at that kind of job spec in a silo. As you said, we oftentimes think, “This is the way I did it and it worked so well. This is what everyone needs to do,” and that can also bleed over into hiring. You start looking for people who can emulate the characteristics that you used previously. You definitely can resonate there. I wanted to shift the conversation over to one of your focuses, demand generation that we talked about. I think demand generation has significantly changed over the last 12 to 18 months as a result of some of the macro impacts and healthcare impacts that we've seen. How has this changed your demand gen strategy? What do you see working in this environment and how are you evolving that strategy as a result of things like events no longer being a demand gen activity? There are virtual events, but from what I've heard anecdotally is they're a little bit tougher to get and extract the same value from them.
Who would have thought that a plague would affect in-person events? It's crazy. We used to lean heavily on in-person events too because we sell to salespeople, and sales folks like the interaction and getting together for happy hours and drinks. Talking shop with people that are doing something similar, going through the same trials and tribulations as they are. A big strategy of ours was those regional meetups. Those have fallen by the wayside and then things like Dreamforce. Those types of tradeshows were always big for us as well. We've had to forego that, but fortunately, we haven't had to change our philosophy too much because our philosophy, even before the COVID era was all account-based.
I mentioned already that integration that we have across sales and marketing and being hyper-focused on the same set of high-value accounts or high priority accounts. All the work that we're doing now and the energy that we do from a demand gen perspective are all about penetrating the right accounts. We need to be intentional about which accounts we're reaching out to or which groups of accounts we're reaching out to because not all of our efforts are one-to-one, they can't all be but we do a lot of one-to-few type of things at key industries. We do the one-to-many type of things to key personas that are all within the same universe of the right accounts. We've taken that kind of secret sauce of the in-person events and we've shifted that to a virtual sort of round table strategy where we do webinars.
We do larger, hundreds of people are coming to these types of events, but our more successful events are the smaller scale ones. The ones that only have 6 to 8 people there and everybody's talking to each other. It's being around a table except you're virtual. A lot of demand gen marketers would look at that and they'd go, “Eight people at an event? No, thank you and that's once a month. I have to do all the landing pages, the event coordination, the emails, the invites and all that stuff.” It's like, “Yes, you do and it's worth it to do it.” We had an event at EMEA in 2020 in London, our London team. Six people came and four of them were customers.
It’s that type of thing that if you're intentional about who you're reaching out to, you’re confident that the message that you have is going to be useful for them, or even the message they have for each other is going to be useful to one another, then get them together. That kind of human-to-human interaction, even though it's via video is still very valuable. Shift your mindset away from the more traditional success criteria for demand generation leads, meetings, volume and more toward what matters now to your sales team, which is the right people at the right time and the right accounts. If you can do that, you're on to something good.
I'm sure finance loves that as well because it's much cheaper than sponsoring Dreamforce or a big event like that.
It is because it does add up. There is more internet sort of account-based things that you can do that can get a little pricey. For the most part, not having to spend however many thousands of dollars on a Dreamforce booth is a nice thing.
I want to touch upon the last vector of your oversight which is sales enablement. There are tons of methodologies. I know we touched on it about coaching around SDRs but I imagine enablement is enabling the whole revenue function. What do you find is most successful for programs? Oftentimes sales executives view enablement programs as sometimes more of a nuisance than a productive manner for them. How do you overcome that?
It’s a difficult thing to overcome. The pain is real. We’re very intentional about a couple of things. First and foremost, the enablement programs that we do always have to be revenue-impacting in some way. We always think of them as revenue-impacting, but we need the field to think of them as revenue-impacting. Every time we do an enablement session, we lead with, “This is why this matters to you. This is how it's going to help you close more business,” or whatever. Here is how this training or this mindset, this philosophy or whatever is going to help you. We always start with that. We design around that main thesis, what we do.
Like your email blueprint, you start with the you.
That’s what people care about. They don't want to come to competitive training that's super remedial and they learn the things they already know about a competitor and they feel like it's a waste of time. We need to say this competitor came out with this new feature and you need to be able to respond to it and show this feature so that you're moving your deals through the funnel. We're always very intentional about the framing of those things. Secondarily, we never want our in-person training to be remedial. We're intentional about a structure that's been useful for us. This was true for our kickoff that we did as well, where we take care of the vocab type work, the definitions and the basic stuff. We take care of all of that in mandatory pre-work.
Completing the pre-work for kickoff, for example, was your ticket to come to kickoff. You had to do that. A lot of our kickoff was around things like understanding what a private equity company cares about because we sell it to a lot of private equity companies. We didn't want to go and have a live presentation where we were reading a definition off of Investopedia.com about private equity. People would not have been happy. We take care of all the foundational stuff in pre-work, we say, “Go learn about these concepts. Here are some supporting articles, podcasts and videos. Take as much time as you need to have a baseline understanding of what we're talking about so that when we're in the live session and telling stories about how we've sold to PE-backed companies, you get it. It makes sense to you. It's contextualized.”
The live sessions, therefore, almost always, as I mentioned before and the way we did our kickoff is high energy, fast and never more than 45 minutes. If you can make it that short and about 30 minutes of presentation, content and minutes of Q&A. It’s always narrative-based, always story-based. The less you can make it about reading off of a slide about messaging, positioning or whatever it is, the better. You want real people coming in and telling stories of how they've done this in the past or how this has affected them in the past or their experience with this concept in the past. If you can focus on that, you're in really good shape. The third component is post-work. Pre-work, understands the concepts, live session, pressure test those concepts with folks who have done it before and post-work, apply what you learned to your book of business.
Tell us about how you're going to use this principle in an active deal that you have. If you can do those three things, then from an instructional design standpoint, you're hammering the concept home and you're ensuring that people find value in all the different segments there. There's accountability baked in at the beginning and the end so that the managers can know who's taking this seriously, who's completing the work, who do we need to be worried about and who needs to spend more time on this concept. It's a much more comprehensive way of thinking about things.
What I've seen a lot of enablement folks do is, “It's Tuesday morning. Our enablement session is at 8:00, we’ve got to tell them something.” They come in and they kill 80 or 90 minutes. Everybody walks away like, “What the heck did we just do in there?” Be more intentional. I mentioned the phrase before, but if you can think about or learn about instructional design type concepts, you're going to have a much better understanding of how people learn, how people don't learn and you can then apply those to your enablement processes.
Do you have a competitive market team under you that helps fill the pipeline on what you're going to enable over the next six months or so?
None, until you give us another round of investment. We've got dedicated folks on our product marketing team who are our subject matter experts for different competitors. We have a couple of sales engineers who are also our SMEs for various sets of competitors. What our enablement team is meant to do is to herd the cats and corral and tease out the best insights from those folks and apply that pre during post-work framework to the work that's presented to them.
I want to touch on one last topic as it revolves around talent management. Can you talk about how you evaluate great talent when you're hiring?
We built an SDR team in Santa Cruz, California. For the uninitiated, Santa Cruz, California is technically in the Bay Area, but it is not the same as being in Mountain View, Palo Alto or San Francisco. Let's be generous and say it's a little more hippie and more laid back. Building a sales team there was a challenge because I thought it was going to be a challenge because you didn't have the traditional sales talent. I was raised in SaaS tech, thinking differently about what talent is and isn't. I came to a few conclusions. One is a team of people that have varied experiences is valuable and they don't have to have sales experience.
That's a silly thing to require an entry-level salesperson to have. What they need to have is an ability to talk about their past experience and relate it to what, how, and why it will make them successful in a sales role. If you look for people like that and as a result, we had people that were philosophy majors and English majors, used car salesman and radio producers. We came and we saw them. We’re like, “Yes, you're the type of person who will work well with the team, who is not afraid to fail, who is helpful to others, who's willing to ask for help, who's coachable, who's willing to change their mind and who's able to change other people's minds.” If you're looking for that type and in the course of your interview, you're assessing for that type of mindset, you're going to be in much better shape.
To put a final exclamation point on this, a lot of interviewers will ask their interviewees to pitch my product. Somebody is coming in to interview a Clari and they say, “Sell me Clari. Give me the elevator pitch.” I've interviewed thousands of people. I used to ask this question and every time I asked this question, I was like, “Why the heck did I ask that?” They read what's on Clari.com and what did I expect? Did I expect them to know the product better than me or to impress me? I'm like, “What am I trying to do here?” I no longer ask that question. I find it completely useless.
Instead, I ask people about a passion of theirs inside of work, outside of work or whatever. What's a passion of yours? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What's exciting to you? Tell me about it, pitch me on it and convince me it matters. If they can convince me that their passion is cool, it matters, it's impactful, they have the energy and I can see the fire in their eyes, then I know that they have what it takes to sell my product. I just have to get them excited about my product. The folks who do that well and can sell me on them are the ones that we hire. It's no secret. It takes more time and more energy to vet people that way.
How many people in your SDR team for Looker also served?
100%. We had showers in the office, so people would come in with their wetsuit half down, just walk right into the shower and then come right out to the pod. It’s like, “That's a dream.”
At the end of the interview, I'd like to ask a question totally irrelevant to anything business at hand. As I mentioned at the beginning, we are both from Rhode Island, the small but mighty State of Rhode Island. If someone was going to visit this state for 24 hours, what are the things you're telling them that they should do?
It's got to be in the summer. If you're not going in the summer, you're doing something very wrong. The summer is a tight window. It's June through August. Falls are nice and springs are nice too, but it's cold, so don't get tricked. I say go in the summer because my answer is two words, Del's Lemonade. Do you know Del's lemonade, Rico? It’s this little truck that pulls up to the beaches. He's a business tycoon now. They pull up to the beaches. It's just lemon, sugar and water, but there are also sometimes lemon peels in the cup. You're like, “This is kind of gross but awesome.” I don't know why I like this so much, but there is nothing better on a hot day. As a teenager with a little vodka in there, you can't go wrong.
I highly recommend Del’s lemonade as well. Kyle, I want to thank you for bestowing your knowledge, not only on enterprise technology sales but also on Rhode Island fun facts. Hopefully, we could do it again in the future.
It would be a pleasure. Thank you so much, Rico.
About Kyle Coleman
Kyle’s foray into B2B tech sales started in 2013 when he joined Looker as the 6th employee. Over the next 6 years, he grew the SDR team from 1 to 60+ as the company scaled from $100k in ARR to $100m+, and was acquired by Google for $2.6b. Kyle is now the VP of Revenue Growth & Enablement for Clari, an AI-driven revenue operations & sales analytics platform, where he leads Growth Marketing, SDR, and Enablement.
He’s an avid runner, a proud corgi owner, and is always looking to talk shop & trade best practices.
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