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Vision, Trust, & Technology: 3 Keys to Retaining Employees

Coaching is a Part of Sales Leadership

John: I’m CRO at Cendyn. I’ve been with Cendyn for just over six years and I’ve been in the CRO role about two years. In fact, I joined September ’19 into this role and obviously then March 2020 the world went into a little bit of chaos, and I’ll talk about that from a hospitality perspective.

Cendyn is a software company for the hospitality industry, and it’s something we’ve done for 20 plus years. My background, I’ve been in the industry 25 years and before that I actually came from being a professional tennis coach. I made that jump, that leap from the sporting world to business. And as I was saying to you earlier, Barry, it’s not a huge amount of difference in many ways.

And so going from that coaching into the business world, I’ve always enjoyed the coaching element of what I do. And even when I was an individual sales contributor and I learnt out from it a junior sales manager right then obviously right up to where I am today. So I’ve followed the sales career progress. I think every element of it, I’ve always had that piece of leading, trying to coach, trying to mentor, and I thoroughly enjoy that and I think that’s why I enjoy what I do right now at Cendyn.

Barry: That’s awesome. Hopefully, sweat a little bit less inside while coaching.

John: Yeah, it’s funny, I haven’t picked a tennis racket up for a few years. I did it for so many hours a day, seven days a week. I then gave it up and I actually took up golf because I thought, “I’ve never played golf,” and I wanted to learn something new and I liked the challenge of learning something new that I can’t do. And so I put the racket down and took up golf, and a number of years later, I’m still incredibly useless at golf. Yeah. But no, it was fun. Tennis is fun. It’s a great game, in fact. So yeah, here we are.

Barry: So my understanding of your path to CRO started from that coaching philosophy of a tennis coach but you’re mostly on the sales path. Is that correct?

John: Yeah, totally. And ironically, I was going to join the police and I did my police exam in London and right at the last minute, I was going to go and do my physical for the police and I saw this job advert in a local paper. This is before the internet, so this is when we still read newspapers, physical newspapers. And I saw this job advert in travel and I read this and I remember saying to my parents, “Oh my gosh, this sounds like fun.”

And so I applied for it and I was very lucky, I got the job. But that was actually in customer service, so I actually started, rather than selling something, I was in customer service, trying to manage hotels, and guests of hotels. And then I’d gone from there, and then from customer service I then thought, “I quite enjoy this.” I quite enjoyed the sales-y piece of it and so I went into the junior salesperson, and then my career just went through sales. I’ve never left sales.

And that’s the thing with sales, right? Once it’s got its hook in you, I don’t think you could ever get out of it. People would describe me and those who know me well, they just know I’m a salesman through and through. I think it’s in my DNA actually.

Barry: That’s awesome. So I’m sure that the passion of sales helps also the people that work with you to see and feed off that passion, like in sports in that sense?

John: Yeah, it does, you know. On the passion side of things, you’re right. If you enjoy what you do, you’re right, it’s much easier to do it well. And so if you have that motivation and you wake up in the morning and you want to go and do whatever it is you do, I’m a strong believer that you will do it much better if you enjoy it.

And that’s really, regardless of probably every role I’ve had, I’ve always really thrown myself into it and I’ve really enjoyed it. And I think I’ve had some pretty decent success in it. I earned decent commission when I was a sales rep. I wouldn’t say I was motivated by money, but commission does help a salesperson. It is what we do and how we earn. But I’ve always really been motivated because I’ve enjoyed what I do.

And with my team now, I always say that to the team. I try to speak to my team as regularly as I can and I say to them, “Have a laugh. Enjoy what you do. Okay, it’s business. There’s a serious element to what we do and we have the board of directors that we have to keep happy and the management, but enjoy what you do and have fun as well.” That is important. And I just feel sometimes people forget that fun element of the roles that we all do.

The Impact of the Pandemic on the Hospitality Industry

Barry: Absolutely. So let’s now go into our topic about the hospitality industry without going too much into COVID because you don’t have to work in the hospitality industry to understand that COVID impacted the hospitality industry. But maybe you could talk to us about how that’s affecting your sales team, how it’s affecting the sales cycle?

John: No, I won’t draw too much on COVID. I think we’ve all lived it far too long. For the hospitality industry and the travel industry in general, obviously something like a pandemic, it crucifies our industry. People stop traveling. People stop staying in hotels. And the impact on all the industries and companies who support an industry then are impacted by that. And the hospitality industry, it’s a very resilient industry and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a pandemic or an act of terrorism somewhere in the world or do you remember when we had the volcano and the dust and that grounded planes for a period of time?

So we’re impacted by a lot of things, things outside of our control that affect our industry. And over the years we’ve become very resilient to some of those affecting us. And I think COVID and the pandemic, we’ll look back on it and say, “Yeah, we had a really tough time.” And we have had a very tough time. I know some very, very skilled and talented individuals in our industry and hoteliers who are out of work, that had to go on furlough, and that’s tough.

But we’ll bounce back and we’ve already seen a bounce back. America, for example, opened up a lot quicker than some of the other markets around the world. We know Vegas, for example, which is a key market for Cendyn, they bounced back incredibly strong. The room occupancy was nearly 100% if not 100% down the whole Strip. So we’ve seen the market bounce back in certain territories. What we really need is for the world to bounce back and open up.

The challenge is, I don’t know, Barry, if you’ve traveled yourself in recent times, but some of those restrictions that you have when you’re trying to travel, they put people off. “What COVID test do I need? What passenger locator form? Where do I fill it in?” And it’s adding complication to something that is supposed to be fun, so if you’re going on a vacation or whatever, do you need all that hassle?

In the UK, I’m lucky, I live on the south coast of the UK and it is a relatively tourist-y destination. And in fact, we did very well because obviously people didn’t go abroad. So there are pockets where there are some nice success stories, if that’s the right term, as a result of this, but we really do need to get out there. 

Working from Home Leads People to Evaluate Their Life

John: The challenge the industry faces is that a lot of people working are remote employees and so they’ve changed the mindset of, “I have to go to an office every day.” Cendyn hasn’t opened up its offices again. We use some of our offices around the world for that meeting space and stuff like that and we obviously take precautions and make sure everyone’s tested and vaccinated and everything else. But just the whole workplace culture of working from home versus going to the office. I’ve worked from home for probably, I don’t know, 15, 20 years, whatever it is, a long time, and I’m used to it. I’m set up here in my home office.

But it takes a different type of discipline to work from home to working in an office. And I think the negative side of working from home as an example is people have missed out on that interaction with their colleagues, having a coffee, at lunchtime saying to a colleague at another desk, “Fancy grabbing a sandwich?” And I think we as just everyone in the corporate life probably didn’t appreciate how important that plays into someone’s role when they go to work every day.

And I think now what’s happened is a lot of the industries, especially the hospitality and I think we were impacted probably slightly worse than many of the others, are that people have gone, “Do you know what? I’m going to use this opportunity to take a look at my life, look at where I live, look and think, ‘Do I need to make a change?'” In the UK, there was an interesting article about how many people used the pandemic to make a decision about moving out of cities like London, Manchester and moving to the countryside just to get a better quality of life, to be able to just walk a dog if you have a dog, that type of thing. And that becomes, I think, much more important to people now than it previously did.

So people are now using this opportunity, this change in our lives, to make quite big decisions about what they want to do and how they want to get motivated in the morning, go to work. That’s left our industry with a resource shortage, with an employee shortage. I was talking to a hotelier and I won’t mention the name. I’ll protect their innocence. But they were saying, “We could fill our hotel 100% but we can’t because we can’t open certain floors of the hotels because we don’t have the housekeeping staff to do the change of the rooms.”

And they went, “We can’t hire people quick enough.” And we’ve had a similar situation. I hired a salesperson in the US and we’d sent the person a laptop and everything and literally 24 hours before the person was starting, they got a better offer of like 70,000 US dollars more base salary than we were paying. And good luck to that individual and I hope they go on to be very, very successful. But you can’t compete with that. That’s a difficult situation to try and handle.

For them to get a 70,000 base more, what are they going to sell and how much do they have to sell for the company to get the ROI? And so I think we as an industry certainly need to keep an eye out on that because I don’t want the bubble to burst and then there’ll be anything like a recession or anything else that may or may not happen as a result of that.

Ways to Retain Employees During the Great Resignation

Barry: It’s interesting to think that this Great Resignation isn’t just affecting you, it’s affecting your customers. Besides offering a higher salary or better compensation package, what are some effective employee retention strategies? What is the recruitment process?

John: Yeah. It’s a good question. Money is important obviously, it pays the bills. And anybody that tells you anything different is, respect to them, but most people do have mortgages and have bills to pay. And in the UK, we’ve got the energy price crisis going on where energy’s going to go up significantly now, and that hurts people. And so money does become an important thing.

What we do, what we’ve done at Cendyn, and we’re still going through this, it’s nowhere near complete, Barry, but we’ve actually been using something called Culpepper to help us, an external report, to help us benchmark every single person in the company against similar roles in other industries and whatever so that we can actually look at what we pay our team. Not just sales teams, every team we employ, we look at what they’re being paid, what are they against the markets. So that we can then make informed decisions as a leadership team about how we address some of the big outliers where someone is clearly underpaid.

We’ve also looked at the organization and we think about all of us in our own respective areas and look at who’s absolutely critical. Every employee’s important, don’t misunderstand me, but who are those absolute critical people that we must look after because they do an outstanding job? They’re clearly underpaid. And so how do we address them in the immediate term?

So there’s a number of activities or initiatives that the senior leadership team at Cendyn are looking at in order to balance better and be more fair to our employees. That’s not to say everyone’s just going to get a massive pay rise because that’s not reality either. But it’s to provide that fairness.

The other thing, Barry, that we’ve done, well, first of all we hired a chief HR officer. That’s a role we never had at Cendyn before and HR was something we all had an element of that within our roles. But we invested in hiring a chief HR officer to really help us focus on how we can address the challenges our staff are making. And already Jenny has made a significant impact, positive impact on the business.

From looking at where we are as a global company. We’re not massive. We’ve actually just done an M&A, but before that I think we were about 350 people. We’re going up to about 500 people. But it’s like what can we do to really help our employees across the globe? And so one of the initiatives we’ve done is we’ve looked at the benefits of everybody. Obviously in America benefits are like 401(k) and stuff. It’s very different to how we are in Europe, for example, relating to pensions.

But one thing we identified was actually we’ve moved to an unlimited holiday allowance, PTO allowance. And a few people I’ve said that to have said, “What do you mean unlimited?” Even my brothers, who are both in corporate life, were like, “Really? You get unlimited?” And reality is, we’ve done a lot of research and really what that’s doing is shifting responsibility for your work-life balance back to the employee, saying to that employee, “Do you know what? We’re not going to be the ones that stop you from getting that right balance for you. Yes, there is an absolute need for you to meet your objectives.” And I’ll touch on performance objectives in a second if I may, but absolutely. But you take responsibility. You’re accountable for what you do.

So, you know what? If you need to go and take a few days off, go and take some days off. We’re not going to judge you. We’re not going to criticize you. None of that. Now, there are some caveats around that, some rules. You can’t just decide, “I know. I live in the South of France. I’m going to go and take two months off in July, August.” It doesn’t quite work like that. But you have that flexibility, Barry, of making your own decisions. And you know what? If you need to spend time with your family, go do it, because that’s really, really important. And if you look after that balance, you’re going to be so much more productive when you are working at your desk or in meetings or whatever it may be.

So that’s just one example of what we’ve implemented for 2022. And the feedback that I’ve had so far from those that I’ve talked to has been nothing but positive. But it’s a shift in mindset. I was chatting to one of my colleagues in Europe and he was like, “But I get 30 days today. That’s my allowance.” Yeah. “So do I still get 30 days?” “Well, you get 30 days plus whatever else you want.” Now there is a minimum amount of days you can take based on your legal requirement in that country. But what happens if you take 32 days or 33? Would that help? So it’s that shift in mindset from, “I’ve got to be protective of my 30 days,” to, “Oh, so actually you are empowering me.”

The Key to Employee Retention is Trust

John: And that’s the key to employee retention though, it’s empowering people to make decisions for themselves, to be accountable to themselves and stuff like that. There’s a book that we read by Patrick Lencioni, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, and it’s all about having that level of trust. And then when you trust each other, you can then have healthy conflict and then you can have commitment, accountability, and results.

We adhere to that religiously as a leadership team within Cendyn. And that really comes down to we trust our staff. We trust each other to do what we say we’re going to do when we say we’re going to do it. And it’s built from that then. It allows you to be more flexible with your teams and with the organization to create a better working environment.

You may also be interested in: How Revenue Leaders Can Ride the Wave of the Great Resignation

Barry: What was the name of the book again?

John: It’s Patrick Lencioni – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He writes a few good books. It’s just something that we bought into as a leadership team. We bought into that at a senior leadership team level. That really becomes the first team. I think Jamie talked about that in a previous podcast you did where he talked about, when he became CRO, he’s now in that team and maybe not necessarily the sales team. Because the sales team is actually different.

And again, it’s that concept of your first team, who is your first team? It’s an interesting read. So it changes you in how you trust people and you build that trust. You obviously have elements of vulnerability and stuff like that. And so we do research and surveys to get employee feedback on how are we doing. Because unfortunately, through COVID, we’ve had to make layoffs. We acted quick and we sat down in probably, I think, the most stressful time in my career, for sure, having those tough conversations with someone to say, “I’m sorry, but we’re going to need to lay you off.” Or, “We need to put you on furlough.”

I’m going to be honest, I had to google what furlough means. I didn’t even know what furlough was at the start of COVID. But you’re having those conversations with people and it gets incredibly tough. But you have belief and you have trust in each other that we’re doing it for the right reasons and we deliver it in the right way. We obviously compensated people as best as we could rather than stick to the traditional rules of redundancy or whatever it is.

How to Retain Sales Talent – Communicate Your Vision

John: So we always took the highest line and said, “No, actually, we’re going to try and look after these people. Even if we’re letting someone go, let’s try and look after them as best as we possibly can to help them through what would be a challenging time.” The other thing, if I may, when we talk about the employees and really trying to prevent resignations, and I wouldn’t say we’re perfect. We’ve got our own fair share of people who are leaving for new challenges in life. But one of the things that I believe is people need to know what the direction is, what the vision is. Because if you can believe in that then you’re more likely to buy into it and stick with it.

And so, something that’s from a Cendyn perspective, and we’ve been through quite a significant amount of M&A activity. We’ve done acquisitions, we’ve done two mergers, we’ve probably got some more that we want to do over the next year or two, if there’s a lot of change. And with a lot of change, there’s that uncertainty. What happens is you have that moment of change and then it goes down. You have that uncertainty. And really then your human nature is you then rebound back up.

It’s trying to limit the impact of that change and bring someone back up to feeling comfortable with the change as quickly as humanly possible. So one of the ways we did this, and if I recall correctly it was something that Amazon did right from day one, is we actually created what we called the Cendyn flywheel. And that is, we as a collective group, not just as senior leadership, we involved other people from across the organization. We sat and spent a lot of time talking about who we are, what we want to be, and so that everybody in their area knows what’s important for them and what they’re contributing to the Cendyn flywheel.

And in the middle of the flywheel is team Cendyn, it’s the growth of the company. And then you have the build, deliver world-class products, implement solutions quicker, grow profitable revenue globally, improve customer experience. So everybody knows what their part is of that flywheel. And the idea of the wheel is everybody does their bit, the wheel keeps turning and it keeps turning, then you have the team Cendyn in the middle.

And so we present that pretty much every single time we have a company all-hands call or I’ve got the commercial call this afternoon with my whole organization and that slide will be one of the first slides I show and it will reiterate, “This is how we as a sales team, as a commercial organization, this is our element of how we participate in the Cendyn flywheel.” But we just keep repeating that and it’s ‘communicate, communicate, communicate’. You can’t over-communicate and it’s that being able to tell everybody how they fit into it. The idea is to get everyone to buy into it as I said before and then know how they are contributing to that.

And I think that’s quite motivating personally. As I said right at the very start, you have to be motivated to be successful in whatever you choose to do, and I think it’s about that.

Barry: Let me get three Ts: transparency, trust and maybe teamwork we could go with.

John: Yeah, that’s not a bad idea. We should lock that down. We could make fortunes on royalties. Yeah.

Barry: All right, deal.

John: Yeah.

Empowering Your People Drives Success

Barry: There’s a huge demand for sales teams, there’s a lot of opportunity at other companies. Did that shift you to make these decisions to give the unlimited PTO? Or do you think that would have happened even if everything was standard and everything kept on going? Because that’s just an employee benefits initiative. As a company, you always continue to try to improve employee satisfaction and morale.

John: That’s a good question. I don’t know if I necessarily know the answer to that question. I’d like to say these things would have happened anyway. The reality is, I don’t know if they would have happened as quickly as we implemented them. Obviously we, like anyone else, react to market conditions. We react to the challenges we face as a business. And the senior leadership team, we meet twice weekly for an hour and a half each time where we just focus on not just challenges, the opportunities.

We have a strict agenda for these leadership meetings, and the number one item on it is people. It’s right up there, top of the agenda. So because we identify the people is what makes us who we are and we have to do everything in our power to look after the people and, as I said before, empower the people and motivate the people and drive success.

So I don’t know if we would have done it or not. To be honest with you, we were acquired outright by Accel-KKR not very long before the pandemic hit, so we didn’t really have much of an opportunity to work out what we wanted to be as a leadership team before we were thrust into one of the biggest challenges the industry’s ever faced. I’ll give you an example. Brad, who’s our CTO, I’ve still never met him in person and we’ve worked together for two years now. I’ve never met him because I’m in the UK and he’s based in Florida. We haven’t had the opportunity because of COVID and everything else, I couldn’t travel.

And so we’ve had to build up that working relationship, that working trust between us completely via video conference. And I’m just talking about us. That happens across every level of the organization. We’ve got salespeople and sales engineers who have never met yet they rely on each other to be successful. And that’s a challenge that I don’t think is unique to Cendyn. I think everyone faces that challenge. But it’s a different way of working and we have to adapt and figure it out, but it is difficult.

Sometimes I messaged a hotel company in Dubai, a large hotel company, and said, “I’d love to come to Dubai and meet you.” “We’ll have to meet outside the office because we can’t have any visitors to the office because of COVID.” Well that’s, again, how do I come with your key accounts director to do a quarterly business review if I can’t come in and present? So we have to think outside the box. We talked about motivation for the sales team. I’ve talked quite a lot generally about people, but just think about from a sales perspective, we’re about convincing someone to buy something and that’s what we do.

So we have to do that in a different way to how we did it before because we’d normally go in, we’d pitch, we’d present, we’d have the PowerPoint. We could read body language and all that sort of lovely stuff. But you can’t do that necessarily as well in a video-type environment. And so I know some of my sales team have really struggled with that. One of them often says, “But I’m about reading body language when I’m pitching. I know what to change in the pitch based on the room, what’s happening in the room.” And I get that. I totally get that. But obviously when you’re on a Zoom call and you’ve got 10, 15 people dialing in, you lose that ability. And so, from a sales perspective, it becomes that much harder. So it’s a challenge for sure.

Technologies to Help Empower and Retain Employees

Barry:  With regards to an employee retention strategy for your sales team, you mentioned now they have to sell differently. Are there any technologies that have helped improve job satisfaction and staff retention?

John: Absolutely. Just take DealHub, right? Take a CPQ tool for example. One of the things that I did, well, first of all, I introduced a department within the sales and commercial organization called commercial ops. It was something we didn’t really have before, but it was something I think is absolutely critical to sales success by having these commercial operations teams.

And as part of that, we used Salesforce CRM and we implemented DealHub as a CPQ tool. The reason why I was a strong believer in having a CPQ tool was that I needed to streamline the sales process. We believe in the MEDDPICC sales methodology. That’s what we train our sales team on. We spend a significant amount of money on external training around MEDDPICC. 

What is the MEDDPICC Sales Methodology?

For our listeners, the MEDDPICC sales methodology is six steps used to qualify customers during the sales process. MEDDPICC stands for:

John: When you’re looking at an opportunity, you look at the metrics in MEDDPICC. Within that, the P for example, the paper process, that’s a frustrating area for sales because you can work the opportunity and then it gets to the bit where it’s the contracting piece and yes you’ve got the verbal, “Yeah, I want to buy your product, John.” Great. Now you’ve got to do the whole lengthy contract. And so, I was very motivated to try and streamline that process as much as I possibly can. And with the help of Emma and her team, who’s my head of commercial ops, we rolled out DealHub. We put our contract in there. We used the DealRoom functionality. We have our MSA and data processing agreements online through a link.

And so what that did was, and there was some skepticism from some sales team, I won’t lie. But what that did was that took what was a very lengthy legal process with customers and it’s starting to bring it down. It’s not perfect, I won’t lie. But it’s bringing that time down as we spend on the legal process. What that does from a sales motivating perspective is it means you can get deals closed quicker which means I can get my commission quicker and I can move on to the next deal. And it’s the adrenaline of winning deals which is what I want the salespeople to experience.

So that was a major, major milestone for us to roll out the CPQ tool. The other thing we wanted to do is simplify pricing. And again, you can do that when you’ve got the technology in place between the CRM and CPQ. You can start to make life easier to price the opportunity. Because you think, okay, at the moment COVID, hotels don’t have the luxury of having loads of money in the bank that they can just go and pay, write a big check for a configuration or one-time fee.

So we thought about that and we thought, “Okay, how do we change that, then? How do we make it easier for a hotel to buy our technology? Well, let’s get rid of configuration fees, those big one-time fees, and let’s move to a true SaaS type pricing, which is a subscription model, and just make life easier.” Well, you can do that. You can implement that when you’ve got the right technology in place to help you automate the processes that you’re trying to introduce.

I think that’s the big area that we focus on, so the MEDDIC training for sales and then implementing the technology to streamline our sales process. Just a final point, Barry. Jamie mentioned, again, in a previous podcast, about forecasting. (See Jamie Mellalieu: The CRO’s Role in Acquisitions) We had a real challenge to forecast that correctly because obviously one day you’re working with someone to sell them a technology and the next day you found out they get furloughed. It screws up your ability to forecast. Again, by using the methodology and the process, the technology to have that process, you’re taking out less of the guesswork. So what that’s done for us is that allowed us and enabled us to much more accurately forecast what opportunities are going to close and when they’re going to close.

And that’s been, during the pandemic, a massive help to our business, because it means I can go to the leadership team, the board, and say, “Right, this is what we think we’re going to do this quarter, and this is why I think we’re going to do it.” And I’ve got the data coming from the systems to back that up, which has been a tremendous help for us. It allows us to then carry on investing where we need to invest, which is important.

Making Smart Sales Enablement Technology Decisions

Barry: Not all of our guests are DealHub users but I think I’m going to have to invite more of them on because thank you for the kind words and I appreciate it. I specifically love the word adrenaline that, since DealHub or any technology that helps you close sales quicker, keeps the motivation up and keeps the spirit up. And then that also is important for a sales rep, not just to make the money but also they get that adrenaline and receive the, I guess, that snowball effect where it starts going and then you get another one and another one and it keeps up the excitement and employee morale. And hopefully that will also be helpful for employee retainment, then, and excitement.

John: Yeah. But Barry, just on it, it wasn’t an easy decision to go and buy technology such as DealHub. There were those that were, “Do we really need that right now?” If I’d go out across the organization stakeholders and I asked them now, “Do you think that was the right decision to buy that technology?” I am pretty confident sitting here right now that I would get a unanimous, “Yes, it was the right decision.”

And I think anybody out there that is thinking about and struggling with some of the processes they may have, I would encourage you to just be open-minded and think about the technology that’s out there. And there’s other technology as well. We talked about CPQ, but there’s other things out there, things around account management, for example, that can help account management with salespeople.

But it can really help streamline processes and you get the return on investment in bucketloads. Just keep an open mind to it is what I recommend to those that are listening.

Barry: Amazing. We’ll do another one, a three letter thing. MPT: methodology, process, technology. That’s the key to empowering salespeople.