In between the regular interview episodes until the book is published you’ll find a sample story like this one. You can either listen to the episode and hear Phil read his story, or read the full text below.
F*@# the Status Quo – Do You
By: Phil Terrill
Selling technology can appear, to most, like playing in the Super Bowl or explaining Quantum Computing to your grandparents – it is high pressure and requires a level of finesse unlike many industries today. Selling at Microsoft may be even more complex, given our commitment to the cloud race and empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. Our CEO, Satya Nadella, shared a powerful quote when taking over as Microsoft’s third company leader in that “our industry does not respect tradition – it only respects innovation.” As I started to reflect on this quote, I realized that executing against such an idealistic assumption would be more inspiring than I imagined three years later. Scott Ingram’s Sales Success Stories podcast actually provided a fantastic opportunity to rationalize what I could not see so long ago by thinking about what made me successful as a seller at Microsoft.
F*@# the Status Quo – Do You
At first glance, given the above title, this may not be a welcoming part of the book. However, I wanted to be honest with you as this piece of the story unfolds. When I started my career at Microsoft, I was selling cloud services to small and medium (SMB) sized customers looking to make a really small, yet significant dent in our total share of the market. A year later, I found myself sitting at the computer screen in Fargo (North Dakota) trying to figure out how I was going to manage a new territory and grow my $8,422,814 quota. It was not about the number or the 168 accounts, but the reality that Microsoft was investing in my abilities to deliver value back to the company by truly empowering customers to achieve more. After a little bit of time, I realized that the path forward was really simple – do you!
Now, before you keep reading, ‘do you’ does not mean just go completely rogue and forget you received a fantastic upbringing that embedded common sense into your DNA. However, in the sales game, sellers really have to figure out how to differentiate their value versus a predecessor. Customers really cannot stand the turnover associated with the sales industry, but sometimes, this is actually a positive moment for you to make an immediate impact. When I started my business/territory planning process, I realized that I needed to figure a few things out rather quickly that would help me to win and do it my way.
Run Your Business (or Territory) Like an Entrepreneur, Not an Employee
This might be the most critical lesson, albeit one of many I learned, that will ensure you are approaching your business the right way. Early on in the year, I had to figure out how to filter through the massive amounts of data aligned with each customer. I am sure you have to do something similar each year when assessing your book of business. The challenge at Microsoft is that there is usually a lot of data and a plethora of sources. To make it even more complicated, this might be the first time you have ever done this type of research. Treat running your business like you do your personal hygiene or finances. Each component of the process is critical, so take the time to learn your business. Many sellers think of this as territory planning – the time spent to meet your new accounts, assess gaps to quota, and then go sell to your customers. In the corporate space at Microsoft, I found my planning to be similar to running a business or building a new company. For example, think of a startup. Every startup or new business requires resources, the ingestion of capital, an intelligent plan, and customers. To help break this down, I am going to share seven steps that I leveraged to support my efforts in being a top-selling rep. These few tips will help you make it through so you can start selling at a high level:
Step 1 – Evaluate Your Annuity Business
The annuity business is very critical, as these are existing customers on current contracts that are either providing annual revenue or have a propensity for greater upsides at renewal time. Take these accounts and relationships extremely seriously, as annuity customers have typically committed to your company’s solution. That commitment could be an opportunity to expand your solution penetration into the account. In addition, these customers are great advocates or influencers to other prospects that you may be pursuing in your territory. Be sure to identify whether or not the relationship is strong enough to have that discussion, because it never hurts to have your customers talking to other customers about your great work.
Hint: A huge chunk of my quota attainment resulted from high-growth and strong relationships with my annuity customers.
Step 2 – Identify Gaps to Target for Net-New Deals
Gaps in your business research or territory planning may be very difficult to solve immediately, but knowing that they exist is critical. This type of information will help provide a direction to navigate when approaching customers. My process included identifying “white space” or non-annuity customers, evaluating current technology investments, understanding product utilization, and many other factors to help solve for these gaps. What became very clear was the fact that I now had a blueprint for success. I knew where recurring revenue would flow from my annuity business and now could visualize the opportunity in my business for growth. Net-new deals are the key to success in any sales organization. Pipeline coverage and health are important when forecasting over the course of a fiscal year. Consider where you can take a risk and pursue some big bets, which we will discuss in Step 3. These larger deals will be risk-reward scenarios, but will be worth it if you can pull them in on time. During my time as an account executive, my territory finished with close to 44% YoY growth (the business target was 30% growth) due to net-new deals. Go after them relentlessly, as annuity business alone cannot help you hit or exceed your quota target.
Step 3 – Establish “Big Bets”
Now that you have identified your annuity and non-annuity targets, let’s focus on the importance of “big bets” in your business. These are customers that you want to see massive change or growth for who have a high potential to close in the current year. This approach is about going very deep and across the organization in order to identify complex challenges that could lead to a shift in their processes or operational footprint by leveraging your solution. Identifying these opportunities can be challenging as well, but I will share how I simplified that process. Take an inventory of your largest customers, most disruptive related to industry, recent mergers/acquisitions or those you just really want to take a chance at building something special with as your targets. My best practice for each half was to target two or three large customers, through which I could drive “digital transformation” or extremely disruptive change that positively impacted the future direction of that organization, based on their technological objectives. At Microsoft, digital transformation is about partnering with the customer to build a long-range, high-impact technology strategy that aligns with their business priorities while favorably impacting their bottom line. Big bets are very risk-oriented, as you never know what the outcome might be, except a huge propensity to retire a lot of the quota while making a great impact with your customer. Take these opportunities to partner and collaborate with your customer(s), the outcome could be incredible for everyone!
Step 4 – Build an Account Relationship Map
Relationship mapping can seem like a very mundane or tedious exercise, but the payoff is tremendous. I am sure you are thinking about LinkedIn, but that is a support mechanism to a legit mapping of all the relationships that align to your accounts. The value is that you understand the players in your business. This exercise gives you the opportunity to establish awareness to influencers, decision-makers, advocates, time-wasters and anybody else that appears to have a positive/negative impact on your business. My parents always told me that “people like to do business with people they know,” and that is what enables the mapping to deliver immediate value. The power of relationships and genuinely building connections with your business is critical to scale while generating influence at the same time. One of my early lessons as an account executive was that it didn’t matter how much I knew, but how much I could build a rapport with people. It was about building a rapport or connection that was instantly received as genuine, so conversations leading to digital transformation could start to move forward. The other lesson is that with influence and a better understanding of the relationships in your business or territory, a better line of sight can be created to new opportunities leading to revenue attainment. Get started and stay connected!
Step 5 – Understand Business Priorities to Reduce Administrative Work
This might just be a pet-peeve or because I really found success in reducing the administrative noise in my day-to-day grind. I knew that without the noise, I could go have meaningful conversations with my customers. Building administrative rigor is extremely important as it relates to time management and utilization of energy. These two things should be put into “revenue generating activities” and not “non-revenue generating activities” such as excessive meetings or social time. When I was talking to Scott, my commentary on this was very serious. I truly wanted time to sell and not do administrative work. My process to achieve this was very simple – I asked my leadership what information was absolutely critical for them to make decisions and have a line of sight into my business. Once I understood those requirements, my pipeline hygiene increased, and the level of administrative noise decreased significantly. The ultimate results were that I was retiring quota and returning value to the company. Think about ways you can reduce the noise and you will have more focused time to build value with your customers.
Step 6 – Go Hustle & Win
Sales is a grind! Every salesperson I have encountered will tell you that if you are not hustling, you aren’t eating. This step is simple – do what makes you great and sell! Each day I approached my territory or business as an entrepreneur and not an employee. I knew that I had already received my startup capital in that the company gave me a territory. That territory has value and my commitment was to grow that business. Each engagement with a customer was about providing a high-level experience they could share with a peer or colleague. I established clear deliverables and relationships with virtual teams (v-teams), such as partners or internal resources, in order to accelerate deal velocity in my portfolio. Running a sales territory is about agility and scale. Leverage the experiences, talents, and relationships of others to help you win. No one person can win the war!
Step 7 – Take Time for Gratitude & Self Reflection
The last step is about staying mentally aligned and managing your energy. This business is hard, and each win (or loss) requires a moment of reflection. Take time each day to recalibrate, so you can win the marathon and not just make it through a sprint. What contributed to my success was that I knew how to recharge my grind to match my desired outcome of being on top of the board. Think of professional athletes or anyone at the top of their game – they train their mind and bodies to be prepared for the whole game, not just a quarter. The other element of gratitude is being thankful to your customers. Allow me to explain this in more detail – customers are extremely critical in ensuring that you are successful!
Be aware of that and be gracious to them (and others) that helped you achieve a win. You will thank me later for sharing a non-tactical tip!
As you leverage these seven steps, take an inventory of what worked (or not) for your business. Consider how you can evolve and iterate against these tips to maximize the value in your territory. When you do encounter success, I challenge you to share the learnings with your peers and management in order to make an even larger impact. I look forward to hearing about your future successes as you learn from this book of Sales Success Stories.
Want more from Phil? He was the star of Episode 39.