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Adapting to Changing Market Conditions as a Sales Leader

Mark Lerner:

All right, everybody, welcome to this episode of the Revamp podcast. I am joined by a very special guest today, James, and I am really looking forward to chatting with James about sales leadership and this current moment. Before we get into the questions, James, why don’t you give the folks at home a little bit of background about yourself, your role, your career, and how you got to your current position?

James Eaton:

Sure. Well, thanks for having me on. Appreciate it. My name is James Eaton. I’m currently VP of sales at Dozuki. Dozuki provides a SAS platform for digital training for frontline workers in the manufacturing market. How I got here: Well, I’ve been here for a little bit over two years, but I have been in technology, of course, my whole life as an individual contributor, mostly for enterprises and a variety of different SA companies. But really, for the last 12 to 14 years, I’ve been focusing on doing series A turnarounds for a variety of startups.

Mark Lerner:

That’s interesting. So when you talk about a series A turnaround, maybe you can give a little bit of how you define that, what actually that means?

James Eaton:

Yeah, I mean, traditionally, I come into the companies that have either pre-series A or series A funding, and they have the same goals that most of the SaaS ecosystem wants, right? We’re at, hey, 3 million, we’re at a single-digit ARR, and we want to grow to 50. And so that’s really the turnaround, might. PO is the wrong word, but maybe there’s flat growth and or limited growth, and they really want to accelerate that company into, of course, that 50 million threshold.

Mark Lerner:

So it’s got to be interesting to jump into that kind of role at this moment where we, over the last, I know, many years, four or five years at this point, we started with covid, and that turned everything upside down, and there actually was a tailwind for a lot of SaaS companies on the back of that. And then, as Covid ended and the economic headwinds have developed and caused all sorts of other changes, and it almost like whiplash, it must, I wonder, the playbook that you might’ve had previously, did you have to rewrite it? Did you have to reassess things based on how things were?

James Eaton:

Yeah, that’s a great question, and I think about it all the time, especially in this current age where we’re in a situation with high inflation and a little bit higher turnover and things like that. So yeah, I’ve tried to keep the core of my playbook the same, but I think that I’d say prior to the Covid area, I’d probably run the same playbook with 80% static and 20% variability as I went from company to company. Now, it’s more like 50 to 60% static, 40% variability. We really have to adopt and adapt, maybe that is the better word, not only to the changing market trends, but just how people are buying these days. It’s completely different than it was five or eight years ago.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, I mean I think a trend that we’ve observed too, which, and it’s hard to quantify, but it does feel like the pace of change has increased, meaning not only is it changing, but it’s changing faster than it was changing before.

James Eaton:

Hundred percent. Hundred percent. I mean anywhere from hiring to just running a different playbook. I mean, ten years ago, we were so heavy and prevalent on SDRs and BDRs and things like that to really drive inbound outbound growth, and I even see that paradigm changing as we speak.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah. Maybe we can double-click on that. What’s your view of that paradigm and how it should be?

James Eaton:

Yeah, I mean, it’s funny. I read something last week, and I want to give credibility and credence to this person. Chris Orla from PC Club mentioned that he was talking to a CRO who said we’re no longer in this demand-positive framework. Are we really in this demand neutral or demand negative, and what does that mean for sales? It means that we have to do our job exponentially better than not to say that we didn’t have that opportunity to do it five or seven or eight years ago, but it’s definitely that paradigm has shifted; it’s harder for SDRs and harder for BDRs to go and call out anymore. Nobody picks up the phone, and everybody gets bombarded with emails. Everyone’s getting bombarded on LinkedIn InMails, so how do you reach this target audience of yours? I mean, you really have to be more thoughtful and, I think, descriptive of your value proposition; you really have to start on that value chain earlier than maybe what we did in the past, which was, Hey, let’s just get a meeting and then we can go and start doing discovery that way. So I think my sales team has evolved to be more industry experts, but also focus more on pre-discovery so we actually can get on the phone and talk about some of the challenges that we’re seeing in this market and educating our prospects that way versus I think it was just a traditional outbound method of, Hey, let’s just get ’em on the phone, and we’ll build the value as we go. You have to build that value on day zero of that prospecting call.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, for sure. I agree. The channels are very noisy. I think all of our inboxes are inundated. 99% of the emails I get on LinkedIn are from someone trying to sell me something I don’t need, doing very poor enrichment or targeting. I don’t need SEO services. I don’t want it to hide. It’s crazy. Yeah, I don’t want to buy a McDonald’s franchise.

James Eaton:

Yeah. Gosh, by far my favorite. James, you have so much time on your hands, not that we’ve ever asked you a question. We have so much time in your hands with four kids, a dog, and working a series, a startup, or whatnot; you have so much time, and you deserve a franchise below. I mean, did they take a look at my picture? Blowing out hair is probably the last franchise I should be targeted with, so I get it.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, so it is both a challenge and an opportunity, I think, meaning it is an opportunity for those of us who can think creatively to write a new playbook that positions us, it shakes up the board, the incumbent’s things are in flux, and that’s the opportunity to make moves. You mentioned that. Currently, it’s like 50-50 in terms of what’s variable and what’s static; what is the variable part of it, how does it vary, and how do you think about it?

James Eaton:

Yeah, I mean, I can even talk about it. I’m not a big tech stack guy. I don’t have 50 tools. I don’t have that kind of budget, especially in pre-series A or startups in general. You have to run pretty lean from a tech stack. We have the traditional Salesforce outreach things like that. But I always kind of brought the same toolbox with me. But to your point, now that we have to be much more creative in the way we approach prospects and the way we engage with them in every step of the opportunity lifecycle, we have had to be a lot more creative.

We use a tool on the front end called User Gems that does champion tracking. That has been massively effective for us. We use, especially in manufacturing, they’re very interested in more ROI assessment, ROI calculators, but that’s just not like a salesperson building that on an Excel spreadsheet that’s actually sitting down with a prospect and working through the metrics and the KPIs that are really important in core to that business. So, we use a tool called Minoa for that. They’ve been phenomenal. And here’s the shameless plug that I alluded to going and presenting a proposal, InfoSec legal, and, of course, our order form, too, which has been really critical. How can we compress our sales cycle? And we use Deal Hub, of course, for that. Otherwise, maybe why would I be here? But I really, that’s the way I’ve approached this 50% variability: how can I get Wiener smarter and compress my sales cycle that much more so we can increase our pipeline velocity? We are also increasing the size of our deals. And I think graduating up to this next level of the tech stack has really been effective for the team.

Mark Lerner:

And thanks for the plug. We appreciate it. We would’ve had you on as a guest regardless, but we’re happy.

James Eaton:

That’s true, that’s true. Either way, no, it really has been an effective solution, and downstream, it’s paying off in a huge way for both our private equity and for our leadership team, and the fact that we can get where our Salesforce accuracy is that much better. We can carry through some of the notes, which makes my job exponentially easier without me having to go and explain every single opportunity. So yeah, I think those are type of some of the things that I’ve had to pay more mind to. That might be the better way of saying that during this kind of, how can we get faster? How can we reach our target audience that much better?

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, usually, I ask folks about the trend that I’ve noticed, such as when there was a proliferation of individual point solution tools, and it was getting out of hand. And now, with budget constraints, there’s been consolidation. It sounds like you’re kind of not a tool that you.

James Eaton:

Don’t have, not too heavy at all. Maybe I would be if I had a bigger budget, but I don’t think so. Every year, maybe every day, every screaming moment I wake up at night is how I can optimize and get better. And so when you’re looking at our tech stack, I think five or eight years ago, it’s like, okay, we have the whole budget. Let’s just keep throwing in these tools because it’s going to make our salespeople, our marketing team, and our customer success team that much more effective. And if anything, I think there’s a heavier burden that’s carried with that where you’re forced to use all these tools, but are these the right tools for your solution? I am not throwing shade at anybody’s applications or anything like that. But I took a step back this year and said, or really two years ago and said, how can we get better with less?

I think there’s too much noise already. I don’t need to go down that rabbit hole, but there is a lot of noise. And what I’m trying to get our sales team to do is prospect effectively and efficiently. I want every step of our engagement, internally and externally, to be as optimized as possible. The more I can free up the team, the more I can have them focus on the things that work. And we measure that. Now, I don’t think that happened five or eight years ago, at least from a sales leadership perspective. We didn’t measure these tools effectively enough. And so now I look at it on a monthly basis, we have to because it’s like, am I missing a gap? Should I bring in something else? And I will if there is that gap that’s omnipresent. But yeah, we’re constantly testing, trying to get better with all of our solutions, and making sure that that frees up the salespeople to do what they need to do in order to close more deals.

Mark Lerner:

How do you think about that give and take between empowering them with the tools and processes they need and not overwhelming them with not hierarchy, bureaucracy or rigid processes that end up may seem nice from the outside, but actually just add more friction to the process?

James Eaton:

A hundred percent. There’s always that, I guess it’s two different economies of one is, Hey, let’s give ’em every tool that they can use a data aggregation tool, they can use LinkedIn. I mean, there were just so many things, and I just think it was polluted. The whole process was just polluted. One of my goals, especially coming into series A, is transitioning them from traditionally an SMB to mid-market, and then we will get enterprise-ready. I mean, that’s the goal of taking a company from $5 million to 50, which is, at some point, you’re going to have to build in some enterprise processes in order to go up the market that much more effectively. And so the one thing I noticed, and I was guilty of this as an IC too, is that prospecting as an enterprise AE is generally not always their strong suit.

They’ll do it, but what they’re not going to do is they’re not going to use ten tools to do it. They’re going to do it how they’ve always done it, or they’re going to look at doing something a little bit more efficiently. That’s when we brought in this user gems application. It’s like, Hey, it’s champion tracking. You can’t have a warmer outbound call than this. And we just had them incrementally start to do that, and then all of a sudden, it’s like, oh my gosh, these people are really warm and open to talking with me. So that’s the big barrier right there. It’s like, Hey, you can increase your pipeline. Now we do some compensation methods too to drive that behavior more effectively, but I really do think that I, that previous dichotomy of like, oh, let’s bring in every tool possible, and we’ll try everything out, and we’ll see what works that can’t work with a startup.

There’s just too much noise. That’s what we’re really trying to block out. So yeah, I mean, I could go on all day about it, but that’s just one part of the toolkit, or are these applications, but we were sending out Word doc proposals or email proposals, which everybody just how can you pass an email proposal onto your leadership team and say, Hey, this is something that’s effective. And so shameless plug number two, that’s where we brought in the deal hub to be like, you know what? How can we handle this procurement process more effectively and compress it? We shouldn’t be doing these things in silos. We shouldn’t make a proposal in a silo and then have we go to an order form in a silo and InfoSec and silo. It just didn’t make sense to me. And now that we can encompass that in one solution, it’s been awesome.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah,

James Eaton:

That’s the last shameless plug I’ll probably do if that helps you.

Mark Lerner:

And again, it’s a wonderful to hear and we definitely appreciate it, and we love seeing the value provided by deal hub for our customers. Dovetailing on that a little bit, you mentioned the need to adapt to be adaptable to changing environments. How have you done that in your current role if you’re able to situations that required being adaptable and how did you go about adapting?

James Eaton:

Well, I mean, I guess that’s a bigger question than I probably could answer on a 45-minute podcast because everything’s changing. And it goes back to that. Let’s just even call it, to Chris’s point, that demand a neutral environment. I think you have to sell; you’re a kind of hybrid of marketing and sales and maybe a little bit of customer success because walking them through more of an enterprise-wide implementation. I think what we’re discovering is that there are so many more people who are involved in the decision-making process, and galvanizing that across all these lines of business is so important. That goes back to sales methodologies of customer success and medicine and things that are really effective today. And I’m sure we’ve been saying it; I know I’ve been saying it for eight to 10 years or if not longer, but it definitely feels like maybe before it was just, Hey, they’re a part of a buying decision. No, now they’re a part of it. It’s like a shared responsibility among the executive buyer. There’s not just one executive buyer anymore for an enterprise opportunity. I think there are many more people who have an influence on that than just one. So anytime a rep comes to me, he’s like, oh, I had a great meeting with the executive buyer today. I’m like, you mean buyers? Because that’s what we’re seeing, right? Its six-figure or seven-figure-dollar solution is going to require much more oversight than ever before.

Just trying to galvanize across that is going to be much more important. And if you’re trying to sell one way to A CFO versus a COO or a plant manager or A-C-H-R-O, you’re not going to win. Your closed percentage is just not going to, it’s going to plummet. Everybody has different stakes, they have different responsibilities. And I think that’s the other thing too, is adapt quickly, optimize constantly get better.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, totally. And I have this sneaking suspicion that some of the companies, some of the bigger companies that quite publicly kind of fell in this period, the ones that really negatively impacted were the ones that weren’t able to adapt. Maybe their process, their viewpoints were just too rigid, or they couldn’t; it seems like they were the ones that collapsed because there was this notion that the zero interest rate money falling from the sky was the norm and that this is just some sort of blip and will revert, and that’s not true. This is the norm. That was the deviation from the norm. We’ve reverted to the norm here, and I think there’s a need to get used to it.

James Eaton:

We’ve been talking about it for years, and I agree with it. And I read probably every article about how the buyers at these respected companies or buyers are much more educated. It’s not even so much that it’s so much more educated on this now we have companies that outsource their procurement to procurement specialists that just go, they’re being just as judicious about their tech stack as we are, but we expect them to be completely different, a multinational or anything like that. No, I think they have much more oversight about what solutions they’re trying to bring in. How often have I spoken with A CTO at a Fortune 500 company, and they’re talking about how they bought seven different LMSs? So it’s like, why didn’t we just buy one that could handle everything? But I think because a lot of these companies have decentralized p and ls and decentralized just kind of buying units and things like that, they constantly have this proliferation of the same solution. They just don’t know they have it. So I’ve seen that, which is scary to me because I’m always like, listen if we can sell in here, it’s their job to know how many different competing software applications there are or what gaps we’re trying to fill. But it’s a little scary to know how much smarter they’ve been in the last couple of years about how to acquire software than there has been in the past.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, I mean, I think that there’s just been a lot more focus and consideration of budget in every way possible. I think the easiest was headcount, which came first. Companies did that, and I think then it came to, okay, let’s take a look at these tech stacks. And they’re like, whoa, every team has 30 different tools. We need to; this needs to change. And I think we’re seeing that across all companies, which is very interesting. Yeah,

James Eaton:

I don’t think it’s necessarily just Fortune 500. Every company adopts these same practices. And the scary thing is that they’re all talking about it now. I liked it when they were all siloed, and nobody ever really mentioned how to procure software or anything like that, so it was like a net new experience for everybody. Yay, how exciting. Now, they all talk to each other so they know what the best practices are for this. They’ve gotten smarter, and they want to make sure that is good for them, but we have to adapt to that selling methodology now, which is like, Hey, these guys know how to procure software. They’re not going to put one over on ’em or anything like that. They know how many users they need. They know the land and expand the model. They know all the things that we’ve been talking about for years. And so, really, this is so cliche, but it just really nails how you should be selling value. That value chain has to really start on the first interaction you have with them and carry it all the way through. Otherwise, they’re not going to procure.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, that’s actually true. Maybe I can focus on that a little bit. Given the changing nature of the buyer and that they’re much more informed, they’re much more considerate of every penny being spent. There’s a lot more focus on it from different departments. What does that mean for empowering your sellers to be successful in this kind of new environment that’s very different from before, where you have a buyer that’s much more informed and much more critical of any sort of decision?

James Eaton:

Anecdotally, you and I were speaking prior to this recording about how much, well, maybe it was even during the recording, about how much noise we’re getting from LinkedIn and emails and everything like that. And I don’t know about you, but well, this probably shows my grumpy old age or old man kids get off my lawn type of mentality. But it drives me nuts when I get emails that are just pitching the whole time. They’ve never asked me a question. They make assumptions about everything. It goes back to my franchise anecdote below. That’s probably not the target market that I want to have a franchise in, and for everybody listening to this call, I don’t want to own a franchise, so please, neither Mark nor I want to own a franchise right now. So please don’t take that. But that’s the thing that’s driving me nuts, and I feel like it’s ruining it for the rest of us. Is everyone just pitching constantly, but who wants to open that email?

I just quickly delete everything that pitches. Nobody asks a single question other than, Hey, can I get on your calendar for 15 minutes this week? Or, Hey, and that blows me away. I feel like we’ve lost this art of asking the right questions to provoke some interest. Give me something. Do 15 minutes of research per prospecting, and I guarantee you you’ll have much better results than anything else. But that’s the thing I keep telling my team, which is that we can’t pitch. You have to ask questions and provide value to them on trends that you’ve seen in the market, or, comparatively, let’s talk about some of their competitors and how we’ve helped them succeed in critical areas. That type of edification might not seem like selling, but it’s far more selling than, Hey, this is what my solution does. Very boring. So we’ve just gotten a lot better about discovery, but there’s discovery when you’re talking with a prospect, but there’s pre-discovery.

Look at their 10 K, look at their annual reports. Look at their m and a strategy. Look at how they procured software before. Look at what they’re talking about their annual report, and I did an interview a couple of months ago where somebody’s like, oh, those are just fluff. They’re all the same thing. No, no, they’re really not. They’re actually giving you the keys to it, but if you don’t hone in on those trends that they’re trying to solve in the next year, you’re missing a massive opening. You’re missing a massive goal for that company. But it blew me away that somebody thought an annual report in 10 K was fluff. No. This is what they’re telling their board and their investors on what they’re going to do to make this company even more profitable in the next year. But yeah, that blew me away.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, it lays out their goals and what they’re focused on. So it’s

James Eaton:

Sorry if my old man is grumpy and going off on a tangent, but you asked.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, the me and the Simpsons old man yells at Cloud.

James Eaton:

That’s right. That’s right. But no, listen, I think for the majority, I really do see a lot of salespeople getting better in that, but I do worry about the minority who’s like, well, I’m just going to pitch. I’m going to send out, I’m going to do, what is it? The parade and spray method. I think that method has been antiquated for ten years, yet we continue to hammer on it, which I think goes back to the core of where I see some companies and sales teams fail, which is that they’re still way too antiquated on their KPIs.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah. I mean, it’s never been easier to spray and pay for the right spray with the AI tools you can send at scale, customized, personalized. That’s right. People are, but it’s not; like you said, they make assumptions. I’d have one where it’s like, oh, hey, mark, I see you’re in charge of hiring. It’s like not. You made that assumption and just threw it out there; that is not the case, so excuse me.

James Eaton:

Yeah, that’s my dream. Mark is actually having a problem. Well, I know I’m not going to start a podcast, but maybe we could someday divert yours into more best practices on the spray and pray and just give them some advice that way. Right? It’s either, James; I saw that you’re the CEO. I’m like, no, and nor do I want to be. So it’s just those simple things, especially when you’re pitching an AI tool, and you’re 100% wrong, and all your assumptions do not give me the warm and fuzzies of like, yeah, let’s go procure this tool.

Mark Lerner:

James, time really flies when we’re having fun here, but as we kind of wind this down as is there somewhere the folks at home can maybe learn more about you and what you’re doing or your company or some resource that you like that could be helpful to them?

James Eaton:

I feel like this is a shout-out or a call-out on me. I need to post more on LinkedIn. I have a naturally smart Alec. I think I’m funnier than I am personality, which doesn’t always bleed well into LinkedIn, at least through the written word, but Dozuki.com, I think we have a Voices of Manufacturing podcast. If you’re ever interested in how we’re solving some connected worker training issues for manufacturing, I think it’s phenomenal. But listen, anybody can hit me up. I’m always open to conversation as long as it doesn’t revolve around a franchise. But yeah, I appreciate this shout-out. But yeah, I probably should post more on LinkedIn. Thank you for nagging me about that. Mark. 

Mark Lerner:

It’s what I do  – this as all of this an intervention for you to post more on LinkedIn.

James Eaton:

That’s right. No, I think, listen, I read a lot of the same that everybody else does, like the Scott Leases of the world. I follow Chris or Lab; I plugged in on this. I think they have a lot of great content out there, too. Of course, your podcast is by far the best, best, and I wouldn’t go; I would be remiss without saying that, too. But no, I really appreciate the time today. I love talking about this stuff, so yeah, I appreciate the 41 minutes.

Mark Lerner:

Yes, James, thank you so much for joining us, and have a great day.

James Eaton:

Thanks. Bye. Appreciate it.