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Sales Leader Interview Series – Justin Lawson

Getting in the Trenches with Your Team

Justin Lawson is the CEO and Co-Founder of JJELLYFISH, a global B2B sales consultancy that works with early-stage startups and new ventures. Justin has over 13 years of experience in sales and sales strategy, including roles at Apple, Intent Media, and The Muse, and has worked with over 50 startups since starting JJELLYFISH in 2016.

We sat down with Justin to get his take on the impacts of COVID-19 on the B2B sales landscape and what he sees coming for sales managers in the future.  

What are some of the obstacles that arise for a sales team suddenly in a remote setting?

The most obvious answer is communication. When you’re remote, you remove all of the magic that happens during the in-between moments. In the office, you can quickly build social capital and ask for support without feeling like you’re inconveniencing someone. In my experience, many sales managers rely on their eyes and trust what they can see. Remove that ability, and things start to change.

On the sales training front, maybe two years ago, I interviewed 50 sales reps and asked how they primarily learn sales skills. Nearly all of them answered, “by listening to high-performing peers that sit next to me.” You can read all the books and listen to all the workshops, but at the end of the day, reps learn most on the job from peers. They are learning from the people they look up to, by hearing them on the phone and the way they sell. When you’re managing a remote team, this is difficult to replicate.

What have been the immediate effects of COVID-19 on B2B sellers?

The world has changed, and so has the context of your buyers’ problems. New unmet needs have emerged alongside new value propositions. We’ve had to go back into customer discovery mode to help understand: is this person still the right person to be targeting? Is this a problem they still care about? How has this impacted their customers? The reality is that you may have to take a step back to take those two steps forward, which could mean changing parts of your business model.

Regarding quota, for most folks, you’d be lying to yourself if you believe it doesn’t need adjustment. It’s important to play the long game here. That means not overselling and exercising patience; not being tone deaf when prospecting; not being out-of-touch with reps on the front-line expecting them to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Put your focus into building relationships and listening to what the market needs now. That way, when the world changes again, you might be in a better position because you’ve prioritized that top-of-funnel work.

What about sales managers? How is COVID-19 affecting the role of the manager?

Short term, sales managers need to do anything they can to contribute to the bottom line, even if that means picking up the phone. A sales manager friend of mine put a quota on his head as soon as the pandemic began. He said, “right now, the most important thing is for us to be successful, and if that means I need to find and run some deals… so be it.” If getting in the trenches with your team helps you keep one more of your people, then that’s what you have to do as a manager.

Long term, with the macro-trend of managing remote teams, I can see a shift away from measuring performance on purely revenue to measuring performance on coaching behaviors. Helping reps to get to new levels of success is what sales managers should be doing with their time, but it’s rarely the case due to competing priorities. I believe the current situation will be a forcing mechanism that prioritizes focused coaching time, especially for those newly remote sales managers.

What do you recommend when implementing sales training?

One thing that’s been drilled into me is the Kirkpatrick Model, 70:20:10. That is, 70% of your learning comes from on-the-job work, 20% comes from your interactions with other folks, and then you have only 10% from workshops or formal training. Unfortunately, most sales coaching and training lives in this 10%, because it’s easy to check a box and say, “this is how sales should be and then that’s the end of it.” I think managers should focus their sales training on the 70%, though it is harder, especially in a remote environment.

Some great insights from Justin!

Many more interviews to come. In the meantime, check out the BuyerSight Blog for additional analysis and advice from leading sales experts.

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