Margo: 00:01 Welcome to Sales Leaders Talks brought to you by Callpage. This podcast is for sales and marketing leaders who want to lead their people to success, do more, better and faster each day. Our guests are experienced sales and marketing experts who share their secrets and strategies on everything from team coaching and leadership to marketing and sales tech solutions. Before we move forward, ask yourself this question, "Do you want to excel as a leader and help your company grow?" If your answer is yes, let's get started.
Margo: 00:02 Hello and welcome to the Sales Leaders Talks brought to you by Callpage. Today my guest is Mark Roberge, an employee number one and a sales leader for Hubspot. Mark grew the sales team from one to 200 employees in just five years. In those times, the company revenue grew by 6,000 percent. He is the author of Sales Acceleration Formula, a best-selling book where he described his experience of those times when he was working and growing a sales team in Hubspot. Today with Mark, we are talking about a perfect formula for hiring A-class sales representatives for any organization in the world. If you want to know what is the formula that will fit realities of your company and your field, and how to hire the best employees, how to reach them out, and how to ensure they contribute to the growth of your company, then listen to today's episode and welcome to the talk.
Margo: 01:41 Hi, Mark.
Mark: 01:42 Hey, Margo. How are you?
Margo: 01:44 Nice to have you on Sales Leaders Talks today.
Mark: 01:47 Great to be here.
Margo: 01:48 So I've recently had the podcast episode with Dan Tyre who was, I guess employee number three in sales in Hubspot, right?
Mark: 01:56 Yes, yes, exactly. I'm glad you connected with them.
Margo: 02:00 And actually I'm upgrading right now because I'm talking to employee number one in this sales department.
Mark: 02:06 Uh, I don't know about that.
Margo: 02:09 So Mark, you were the first person to establish all those processes for hubspot for sales department. You actually created the sales department from scratch and you were responsible for an enormous growth of this SaaS company that is now a well-known company all over the world. Everyone knows about Hubspot, right?
Mark: 02:28 Yeah, very lucky. Very lucky to be there early. And it was an exciting and stressful run to go through all that.
Margo: 02:35 Well, I've watched a lot of materials that appeared with your face on youtube, on podcast episodes, articles, and I was thinking what questions to ask you that are a little bit different and hasn't been asked before. And that question is, how did you feel the first day when you just entered Hubspot and you had your table and you had your tasks on the table, how it felt that time?
Mark: 03:00 How did it feel? That is a good question. It's never been asked before Margo. It was interesting just because you got to know the context was um, I had just graduated from business school a year earlier where I met the Hubspot founders and I had started my own company. Um, so I was essentially CEO, founder of my own company that had been running for two years during school and then one year after and uh, I had been helping Hubspot one day a week. Um, so I was very familiar with the business. I had been selling their software in the very early days before I even joined as the first salesperson and unfortunately I couldn't get the next round of funding for my business and fortunately Hubspot was recruiting me heavily to come on board to be part of the founding team and to build the sales team. So I guess it was a lot of mixed emotions my first day at the desk because I, it meant that I was done with my startup, but it was also exciting to be part of, you know, to finally be full time with this, this exciting thing that, that felt very promising. So it was, it was a day of mixed emotions.
Margo: 04:11 Alright. So when you don't know that you will succeed and that you will drive these numbers, how did you come to the idea of grading all those measurable processes and replicable processes? How did you come down to this very challenging task? I mean, every department has the same role. They have to create some processes that will be easy to replicate by other people who come to their organization and we actually want to measure success and it's not that easy. We have to approach it in quite mathematical way and also establish correlations between different indicators, different variables. Right. Did you need to know something about business to get down to excel and put those on boxes?
Mark: 04:53 Yeah, I mean, I was lucky to join sales at that time. So the question was how did I come up with the idea to have that measurable approach to selling, you know, it wasn't really like, oh, this would be cool to do. It was really just trying to survive in a very tough business. And, and it's, it's how I get comfortable with things. You know, I, I'm an engineer by training. I studied at MIT. It's just kind of like the foundational lens that I've had for my career. And even like, like I mentioned, I was, I had founded a business before coming on board. Even like we did a lot of marketing into Craigslist, with Craigslist posts and I put little tags in those, in those posts to, to track their effectiveness. Right. It's just, it's just how I was trained as an engineer to test and measure and iterate everything.
Mark: 05:50 And so when it came to sales, obviously I want to do it even when I was the only seller. I'm just like, okay, how many dials lead to a, an appointment, how many appointments lead to a demo, how many demos lead to a close and how, how can I improve on that? And I got very lucky to be able to, to come into sales at a time where that was an opportunity, you know, because right at that time it was a shift from most sales teams being outside in the field doing face to face meetings and at that time crm adoption was an enormous challenge. You know, all the, all the sales reps didn't want to fill out the crm. They were just out there doing meetings and in paper or in their head and you know, I joined the function, right at the time were inside sales was becoming popular.
Mark: 06:42 I almost think like, we, we helped to pioneer that way of selling in a way and, and all of a sudden CRM adoption wasn't a problem because these, these reps were, you know, at their desk, on their computer, on their phone, they just needed like, it was like trying to sell without a phone, you just needed a CRM and that enabled tremendous amount of measurement. So it just got really lucky that I'm total serendipitous that I had this foundation as an engineer, that I'm just a measure everything and came into the field at a time where that was finally possible. And, and so that's how it, that's how it all unfolded.
Margo: 07:20 Yeah. Every sales leader wants to nail this excellent formula of a great salesperson who hits numbers and also an overachiever to some extent. So what variables did you put on your tables in excel?
Mark: 07:36 Over time? We had 100 slides, uh, in that measurement, but I would say, you know, I probably answered that question by saying like, where do you start and because I get that question a lot in this, in the startups and companies that I help and you know, you really got to start small and then, you know, slowly kinda of drill and drill and drill. And so, you know, I really did at the beginning, I think we just kinda measured call, email attempts, you know. So every time I made a call and every time I sent that email the, you know, opening appointment, which was largely a discovery call, we did measure connects. So how often did they, did I get them on the phone or did I, did they respond to my email? Uh, that led to an appointment and then that led to a demo and then that led to a close.
Mark: 08:24 That's pretty much what we tracked in the beginning. And that's something like that is what I'd recommend people track in the beginning. And then as you start to see the trends and measure that week over week, month over month, quarter over quarter as you can start to see predictability, you'll start to see deficiencies in certain areas relative to peer benchmarks and that represents opportunities for improvement and you'll get curious about measuring things on a deeper level and so then you can start drilling into certain areas to measure more deeply and then you've got that instrument that you can have it forever, so, so over time it ended up being quite a robust analysis, but in the beginning I wouldn't overengineer it and just start with something simple just to get going and seeing where you're performing.
Margo: 09:09 Yeah, exactly. You can just go further and improve those, those tables and improve the variables. Also add some new delete others. And when you were just starting out in Hubspot, you had to hire more people to replicate your work as well as as an effective salesperson. Who did you look after that time and how did you choose your sales representatives?
Mark: 09:34 That really ended up being the most critical piece, you know, when you're building a team... Yeah. And especially in a startup, you, you can imagine what it would be like to do an A+ job hiring an A+ job training in a place, an A+ job managing those people. And unfortunately you just have to, if you did an A+ job in all three of those in the early days when it's just you, it'd be like a 200-hour week, you know, it's just not doable, not doable. And so you got to cut corners somewhere and you, you know, I thought a lot about it and I said, you know, the last place I want to cut corners is hiring, you know, if I, if I do a, a, a, B- job on training and, and managing, even if I, you know, and an A+ job at hiring, I'll get rockstars and they'll figure it out.
Mark: 10:23 But if I do a b minus job, hiring an a plus job training and managing, that's just going to be an uphill battle. And so the hiring was really the most important piece. And even when you look at startups or building out teams, that's, that's the biggest ingredient to success, you know, I think what I was looking for initially, I think I was just looking for, I was always looking for like curiosity and the ability to ask great questions and dive into pain. And I was always looking for a track record of success in some level intelligence. But as I went through the process of hiring these folks, you know, I was nowhere near perfect. I mean, some of them were great and some of them weren't. And I was surprised that by some of the people that weren't great. I mean, I, uh, I, you know, you read in the book that, that early on I hired the number one person from a large 800 person team and they didn't work.
Mark: 11:17 They didn't do exceptionally well at our small little company. And that made me realize that I couldn't just cut and paste and copy what other people were doing. That every sales environment is different as a different context and requires a different type of seller. And it made me want to sort of engineer my own formula of success and that's when I kinda in that first year, I kind of wrote down the criteria that I thought would be important for our environment. I started hiring people and correlating my assessment to success and starting to learn from that as to what was actually correlating and what wasn't. And eventually that, that, that honed in on a formula that worked well and that was very comforting years later when we're hiring 50 people in a year. Right? So the five things that rose to the top during that, that scale up journey where coachability, curiosity, work, ethic intelligence, and prior success, those are the five that that really rose to the top for us. But the process was the important thing. I'm trying to figure out what the top items were.
Margo: 12:32 Yeah. You mentioned that in our acceleration formula in your book, it's a bestseller. I guess so. I also know some people who are in sales and they share their experience with me and say I would have never thought I would be in sales because maybe 10 years ago or you could associate sales with this telephone and you are calling someone and you make someone buy those products. And what you've described in in your book is that sales reps are not those traditional people from sales. They are consultants, they are doctors, right? When a doctor prescribes something to our patient, patient doesn't question it's wrong a drug is too expensive and they just grab it, go to the pharmacy and buy this drug. The same goes with a sales rep. Sales reps can usher this person through the process and show the right solutions. Then a buyer is just going to buy everything that's a sales rep suggests. We are entering a different era in sales and it's different. So how did you coach your sales reps to show the right directions to clients? Did they have to know everything about Hubspot? Did they have to know everything about inbound selling and inbound marketing? How did the whole process of coaching in Hubspot look like those times.
Mark: 13:51 Yeah, I mean you're correct, Margo. That was a, um, another big change, not just, you know, when I came into the environment, we had the environment more conducive to a data-driven sales process. It was also conducive to a smarter sales process, you know, a more helpful, you know, like you said, the doctor type sales process and that was largely because what the Internet had done to our society and enter the buying and selling process, which prior to the Internet you had to work with a salesperson to evaluate and buy a product. There was no other way to do it and the Internet allowed you to do all that on your own. And so a really changed what a seller needed to be and that that was something that we didn't necessarily foresee. But through the data, through the analysis, it kind of cropped up in the data.
Mark: 14:48 Right. So, you know, it's funny because the analysis that I talked to you about, things that we often correlate with successful selling, like objection handling, closing ability, those things ranked at the bottom of success. And so it was sort of like an illustration from the buyers that they wanted a different type of seller, they didn't want someone who was going to arm twist them into buying something, etc. So, and I think that's proven out over the years. So how do we respond to that? I mean, so much of the sales process is about education around busIness problems and like how to think about that as opposed to what a product does. Right? So like what the product does is like secondary, especially in the context we were doing at Hubspot, which was really trying to sell a new way to generate demand. Right? So you know, what we essentially had to do was every single one of our seller training most of training was not like what does that button do and what does that piece of the product does.
Mark: 15:56 All of our training was how does inbound marketing work, right? This was a new way of marketing. And how is it different than how people market today and how what's going through the heads of these, of these business owners are going to sell to and what's going into the heads of these marketers that are going to go through. So most of our training was, you know, Margo, welcome to our sales team. You're going to do a month of training and most of it is going to be come up with some sort of idea for a blog and start it right, like write, start writing articles, start posting messages on social media. Put up some landing pages to collect leads, set up the measurement tool, set up an email nurturing tool, an email marketing, all using the Hubspot software. And yeah, you're going to learn how to use the software, but more importantly, you're going to learn how to blog and generate leads through social media and rank in Google. And that's going to be more important to help you engage and educate with these, with these leads and prospects that you're eventually going to sell to.
Margo: 16:58 So how did you measure success of effort of salespeople as they were applying all this in practice? Did you measure, let's say, speaking to listening ratio of sales reps or did you measure how many introductory calls they did discovery calls they did? How did you do this all?
Mark: 17:17 Yeah, I mean I wish the tools existed that exists today because I would have been going crazy with the data. I mean we've just seen an explosion of sales software back then I mean really all you had was a CRM. Um, and we, we really souped up that CRM pretty sophisticated way for the time to get these measurements, but we couldn't do things like how often they spoke versus less than I would have loved that data and now that it is really easy to get to. So it was really the basic stuff we talked about earlier, you know, how many calls, how many emails, how many connects, how many appointments, how demos, how many customers. that's where we started. And, and that was measured in success. But to your point, one thing we learned over the early years, which is more evident today, especially in the SaaS business, is the success.
Mark: 18:01 We measured success based on revenue production and that's very, very standard mindset within sales, but it proved out to be incorrect because especially in our business, are a SaaS business subscription business. It was less about revenue and more about lifetime value. It was less about getting the contract and more about getting the customer to be successful and stay for years and I think that's important for every business today, even not even just subscription businesses like ours, just because every customer has this big megaphone called the Internet and social media to talk about good and bad experiences and when you are producing a lot of good experiences, people hear about it and they come and buy your stuff. When you're producing a lot of bad experiences, you can have the best sales team in the world, but I wasn't going to google you and find out that people had bad experiences and it's gonna be an uphill battle to grow your business. I've really changed my mindset around sales and at the time we did, which is sales is not about revenue production, sales is about creating customer value and revenue is an outcome of that customer value production. And so we started to change the way we are measuring sales based on that outcome.
Margo: 19:16 Yeah. So over time when the company is growing a new challenges appear this measurements and the whole approach to sales changes. I remember reading one part of your book that says that's the worst time when you had to change like rewards program for a sales reps. So you found out that when you set this target that if a sales rep, acquire a customer that doesn't churn after the first month, then he gets this and this reward. But afterwards you see that this customer that was acquired by this rep churns, not, not after one month, but turns up to the second or third month. And you were of course interested to keep customers for longer. Not just for one month or for let's say for half a year or four years. So I was questioning myself and I was quite curious about it. How did sales reps managed to find customers who churned after the first month? How dId they manage to find them?
Mark: 20:17 Sure. So, so you're kind of asking a deeper question on the point I just made, which is, you know, we came to the revelation that this is less about getting the contract and more about trading a customer for life. And you know, this has become a very... I think most business owners are. If you don't realize that, think hard about whether that should be outcome and many do you feel that way today? They're realizing that, you know, I've got a really work on my customer to customer success, a conversion rate. I've really got to work on that. And when you first started working on that, you think that it's about like your product or your onboarding process or something like that. But in my experience most of it is about how the customers sold. And so you're asking like, well how like the seller's not even involved in that part, the seller hands over the customer at that point.
Mark: 21:12 How could they influence it? But most of that success is driven by how they're sold. And, and so to your question, Margo, it's really about the customers that the salesperson seeks out and it's really about the expectations that they set with the customer. So let me give you an example. Like, you know, a salesperson, we talked early on around, um, you know, getting to the decision makers before we started this webinar and that's what sellers do well, get to the decision-maker for a lot of products. You can sell it to the decision maker but they're not necessarily the user, right? So, so you sell it to the decision-maker and then the decision-maker, hey, hey team, go look what I bought, start using this thing. Right? And if you go through one sales process and you get the decision maker all excited and they buy it or you never talked to the users, a lot of those sales ended up failing because the user just never bought it.
Mark: 22:09 Versus if a seller is focused not just on the contract but is focused on success, they will talk to the users or a user before they make the sale to make sure that that user is also bought in to the software or to the product and you sell to the user in a very different way than you sell to the decision-maker. The decision maker is, is all about like cost savings or reaching a goal or you know, generate more money. The user is often around saving time, making their job easier, right? The decision maker doesn't care about that stuff, so that's where the salesperson ship comes in, is appreciating the person on the other side of the phone and getting them engaged so you don't have to sell to the user to get to the contract and that if you just have a decision maker, your likelihood of generating customer success is a lot lower.
Mark: 23:01 But if you sell to the user and the decision maker, you're likely of customer success is much higher. And so that's an example and that we can extend that example to getting IT involved for getting this set up. You know, there's, there's just a lot of situations where we set expectations, like salespeople lie about like how effective the tool will be. They'll lie about like how much effort is going to be. And so there's, there's a long list of things you can do during the sales process to make a post sale experience successful or not. And, and to your point from, from the book, the compensation plan is the best way to incentivize sales people to do the right thing and set these deals up for success. So, so those are examples of what, what happens in the sales process that yields customer success.
Margo: 23:52 Okay. So the next point to make about sales reps. So after some point you had to basically accelerate hiring process. So you had to hire more and more people. Uh, how did you manage to, to hire more people? Did you just post more advertisement on different boards? Did you use Linkedin for that? Did you get some recommendations from your colleagues from other company? What was your approach to that?
Mark: 24:22 Sure, so initially I posted ads on Linkedin and Monster and Career Builder and, and those types of places. I remember when I first did that, I got like 100 applicants. I probably interviewed 20 of them and I made zero hires from all that work and I realized that, um, you know, if you want to hire great sales people, great salespeople are never looking for a job. They're just not like every great sales person. I know their ex-bosses, they're ex-CEOs, their ex-sales managers are constantly keeping in touch with them, seeing if they're happy and ready to scoop them up the moment they get any hint that the person's not happy, they're constantly making them job offers. You're always welcome back, Margo or, hey Margo, let me tell you about this new company I just joined. Would you, are you happy? Do you want to join our team?
Mark: 25:24 So when you realize that, you realize that if you are sourcing approach to finding candidates is only finding people who are actively looking for a job, you're not going to get the best talent in sales. You have to be proactively reaching out to people who aren't in the market, making them aware of new opportunities that are hot that they should consider. And so one mentor early on put it well to me, which was um, if you're going to do that, you know when you hire, so you want to hire a recruiter. So, so if you, if you use an outside agency to find that talent for you, that's good because outside agencies actually proactively look for talent. They're cold calling good people and trying to educate them about your company. The problem is outside agencies don't work just for your company. So when they find a hot salesperson, they're thinking about which of their 10 clients, they're going to send it to.
Mark: 26:26 So you're competing with those 10 clients and oftentimes they'll send it to the person that's paying the most money. And so now if you hire an internal recruiter, a lot of internal recruiters don't do that. They don't proactively cold call. What they do is post the ad on Linkedin and get resumes. So we don't want that either. So the mentor told me you want to build a recruiting agency in your company so you got all the benefits of the outbound sourcing, but they just work for you and they just know your context. And, and so that's what I did. I found, uh, I found someone that was about to start their own agency because they came from the agency world and I was like, hey, just do it here in Hubspot. Don't start your own agency, just do it here and I'll pay you a market rate for what an agency recruiter makes. And so you, you have to step up and pay them differently because an agency recruiter makes more than an internal corporate recruiter. So that's the, that's the strategic change you have to be willing to make is you have to set up a compensation plan that's more in line with that model, but it's worth it. And so they went out into Linkedin and look for good talent and um, we had a lot of different methods to try to engage top talent and bring them in.
Margo: 27:49 To which extent should you rely on referrals from colleagues? Do you trust your colleagues and do you consider these referrals as some that you have to consider or basically people who know their friends, they will always recommend them and they will not say bad words about about their friends. So what, what approach did you establish here?
Mark: 28:09 Referrals are great for sourcing, great for finding talent, but you are correct. You tend to overlook weaknesses when you have a referral from someone. You've got to be careful. all right, so. So on one hand, yes. Lean into referrals aggressively and we had this technique we called the forced referral where yes, just like everybody else, we paid like $5,000 or something if someone referred to an employee and we had incentives, but that only works to a certain extent. The thing that really worked was our corporate recruiter would um, you know, if you had joined our company, Margo a few months ago, then what we do is say, hey Margo, I'm going to put 20 minutes on our calendar tomorrow and we're going to go through the people that you know, that might be a good fit for Hubspot. And what I'm going to do tonight is you and I are linked together on Linkedin.
Mark: 28:58 I'm going to go through your 250 connections on Linkedin and I'm going to kick out the 20 or so that look like they're a good fit for our sales team. I'm going to come to our meeting with that list. That's what I call the force referral is when you. When I say margo, hey, do you know any that's good for Hubspot? You're like, ah, I'm not really Sure, but if I come to a meeting with you and I'm like, hey Margo, here's 20 people I found that you're connected to. Do you know them and would they be good? And do you know enough to introduce us? That's when it's like you get 10x the productivity, right? So that that works really well. Now, to your point, you have to be great for sourcing qualified people. You can't just because it comes from someone and someone refers their friend, you have to put them through an equal due diligence process.
Mark: 29:51 And, and I have fallen in that trap many times and I'm sure other people have where had the person not come from one of our employees, we probably wouldn't have hired them, but because they were referred by a friend, the friends that are really nice things, they overcame those negativities and we decided to hire them. You know, you shouldn't do that. Use the referrals to get to qualified talents, but make sure you put them through an equal assessment and don't over rely on, you know, that certainly ask them about things, but don't just say "are they good?" because they're going to say nice things. You got it. You got to say things like, hey, here's, here's five attributes. Can you, can you rank them from top to bottom for that person? That that's a more meaningful assessment. Um, uh, around, you know, a friend evaluating a candidate.
Margo: 30:38 Yeah, definitely. And as a final question, what advice would you give to all sales leaders who are hiring new employees? Just one universal advice that will feed to an organization.
Mark: 30:50 So I think the biggest mistake I see when you go into that is copying what worked for you in your past company or copying someone at another company what's working for them. That is not a good idea just because what you have to do is appreciate, as we talked about in the beginning, the difference in context, right? If we take extreme examples and we talk about three different products, a nice suit jacket, a jet and software. Imagine the seller that's going to succeed in selling those three different products. They're very different sellers now. Those are three extremely different products, but you know, just appreciate how your context is different. Everybody is selling to a different buyer. They're selling a different product, they're selling in a different country, they're selling at a different time. You just have to really appreciate the context that you're selling and map your ideal seller to that through some of the process that we talked about. So that would be my number one advice is don't copy and paste what worked for you in the past. Don't copy and paste what your friend from companies is using. Figure out your own formula.
Margo: 32:02 Yeah. That's a great takeaway for this podcast episode, Mark.
Mark: 32:06 Thank you, Margo. I enjoyed it.
Margo: 32:09 Thanks for listening to this podcast episode. If you enjoyed today's talk, please leave us a positive review on iTunes. It will help us reach more people with sales and marketing strategies. In case you want to enrich your knowledge with more marketing and sales tapes, click the link in the description and download our free materials for this episode. Thank you and goodbye.
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