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Sales Leader Interview Series – Jason Lalk

Building Culture and Securing Buy-in from Your Team

Jason Lalk is the Vice President of Sales at CloserIQ, a talent strategy firm that’s recommended by top VCs such as Sequoia and DFJ. CloserIQ has helped over 500 companies build their sales and engineering teams. Jason joined CloserIQ as the very first employee in 2014, and he now leads the client and recruiting teams.

We sat down with Jason to get his take on the impacts of COVID-19 for sales managers, integrating automation into your tech stack, and more!

How has the role of sales manager been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Most sales managers know that part of their job is to play therapist. Everyone’s feeling more pressure right now, so it’s important for sales managers to be in touch with the mental health of their team. If managers don’t take care of their teams and their reps are not motivated, the team isn’t going to do a good job taking care of customers. 

When you’re in an office, you have the entire company creating the culture. However, when direct reports are only interfacing with their manager and other team members, the manager now has a lot more control over that culture. It’s really important for managers to understand that they hold more responsibility in fostering these “mini cultures” across their team. 

What tactics would you recommend for managers dealing with remote teams for the first time?

One of the things we’ve tried to implement is a “call-first” culture as a way to replace human interaction. In sales, we derive so much value from tonality and body language, and it’s really hard to get that insight from a text or instant message. We’ve made it the expectation for people to call other people. Additionally, for any kind of planned video call, we require the camera to be on. We’ve realized that creating that standard makes it much more inclusive and keeps people prepared to have virtual face-to-face conversations.

You also have to create a very easy way for reps to give you feedback. As a manager, you’re never going to feel the pain of the people on the frontline. Using an employee survey to ask specific questions allows you to do more root cause diagnosis and suggest some pathways to help people out. Even using something simple like Google Forms can give you a lot of valuable information and feedback.

What are your thoughts on the state of sales automation?

Thanks to automation, you can make small tweaks that have very large impacts across the team. Also, automation can create noise around proximate causes for things instead of root causes. With automation, there is a higher risk of people seeing things that are correlated and assuming causality without digging deeper. Especially when you’re using sales automation tools, it’s harder to get below the surface and figure out the true reason why something is happening.

When rolling out new sales automation, one tactic is to “measure twice and cut once.” Whenever you can, run small pilots with people who are active users on the team before rolling out sweeping changes. One, it’s important to make sure it actually works, and two, it’s really important to get buy-in from the people who will be the champions for the change among the team.

What are some best practices for sales coaching?

My framework for sales coaching and training starts with trust and credibility. In a coaching moment, it’s really helpful for reps to know that you’ve been in a similar situation in the past.  I think that breaks down a lot of barriers and opens the lines of communication and trust early on. 

It’s also really important that reps understand conceptually why something is so important. I don’t think sales managers spend enough time explaining why they’re coaching a certain way or why they’re giving someone specific feedback. Doing this will break down some of the barriers they may have in their mind when you’re talking through something.

Lastly, one thing I try to coach our managers is “tactful candor,” which is being very honest in a way that drives progress, as opposed to making someone feel bad about a mistake. This is particularly important when the conversation will include difficult feedback. Laying it out on the table and letting reps know what they’re getting into usually allows them to start digesting things early and opens up the space to have a productive conversation.

Thanks, Jason! That is some great insight about managing sales teams in the current environment.

Stay tuned for more posts in our Sales Leader Interview Series, and check out the BuyerSight Blog for additional conversations with sales experts.

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