The Sales Hacker Podcast
The Sales Hacker Podcast

Episode · 1 year ago

168. How to Take Risks and Fail Fast w/ George Donovan


In this episode, Sam talks with George Donovan, CRO at Allego.

One, two, one, three, three. Hey everybody, it's Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the SALESACER podcast. Today on the show we're excited to bring you George Donovan. George is the chief revenue officer of a Lego, a really cool company coming out of Massachusetts that's building sales engagement technology and sales enablement and learning technology for sales people, and George himself is a career salesperson. He started off selling fax machines on the streets of Boston and has since done a number of really interesting things. So it's a great conversation. Now, before we get into the conversation, we want to thank our sponsors. We've got three sponsors for the show today and this week. The first is outreach. Outreach has been a long time sponsor, in fact they've always been a sponsor of this podcast, and they just launched a new way to learn outreach. On outreaches the place to learn how outreach does outreach learn how the team follows up with every lead in record time after virtual events and turns them into revenue. You can see how outreach on account base plays, manages reps and so much more using their very own sales engagement platform. Head on over to outreach, Doo forward slash on outreach to see what they've got going on. PODCAST is also sponsored by Pavilion, the community formerly known as revenue collective. Pavilion is the key to getting more out of your career. Our private membership connects you with a network of thousands of like minded peers and resources where you can tap into leadership opportunities, training, mentorship and other services made for high growth leaders like you. With a pavilion membership, you'll build deep connections with peers to expand your expertise and unlock growth of access a full suite of training and certification programs like frontline manager school for sales, marketing customer success, and unlock over one hundred different job opportunities every week, shared between members in a trusted and private setting. Unlock your professional potential with a pavilion membership. Now joined today at join Pavilioncom and finally linkedin. Today's virtual selling environment demands a new kind of approach, one that prioritizes the buyer above all else. As the world's largest professional network, with seven hundred and twenty two million members Linkedin is the only place where buyers and sellers connect, share and drive success for each other. Every single day, find new ways to connect with your buyers virtually with linked in sales navigator. You can learn more or request a free demo at business dot linkedincom. Forwards sales solutions and without further ado, let's listen to my conversation with George Donovan. Hey everybody, it's Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the sales hacker podcast. Today on the show we're excited to have George Donovan. George is the chief revenue officer to Lego, responsible for achieving the company's customer acquisition and sales goals. He's approven sales leader with over twenty years of sales, marketing, operations and management experience. George is a sales enablement enthusiasts who loves tools and systems that empower people. Over the past decade, he's worked with many of the world's top brands to help them achieve their sales and profit goals. Prior to a Lego, George served as the chief sales officer of compete, the world leading expert and helping clients grow great brands. In this role, George aided the exponential growth of the company from thirty million to a hundred and ten million previously. He is the principal owner of a sandler training franchise in Marble Mask for nine years. He holds a be a in psychology from St and some college. He was also voted father of the year twenty times by his family in a contested election that many say was rigged with fraud. George, welcome to the show. Thanks, am I'm honored. We're excited to have you. So we start with your baseball card, which is really a way of giving you the opportunity to, in your words, tell us a little bit about what a Lego does. So I read a little bit about what they do, but in your words, what does a Lego do? The company for which you're cro the formal definition, we're a sales learning and enablement platforms or software company. But to simplify and put in Layman's terms, what does that mean? We're a platform for sales people to go to to help them do their jobs, so to gain knowledge, to collaborate, to seek coaching, anything that's going to empower them to be more confident and more successful. That's a Lego. That's the go to place. Wow, how long have you been at the company six years.

Yeah, Oh, wow, awesome. And then roughly, I mean again, obviously there's numbers that are confidential. Never reveal anything that's private, but how big is the company, either from an employee perspective or a rough revenue range? You know, where are you on your journey? We're about almost eight years old and we're coming up on two hundred employees and and as far as revenues, you know, just subfifty. Awesome. Cool. Well, that's really interesting, I guess. You know, to start off, the place that I like to start personally is just understanding a little bit about your background and how you came to be a crow. Many of our listeners are earlier in their career and they're always thinking about career paths and what are the ways that they can navigate their career and make the right decisions about which job to take in order to make it to the curo position. So what's your background? How did you get into sales? I mentioned that you graduated from Sant ansome. I mentioned that you were a trainer at Sandler rent running your own franchise, but tell us in your words, how you came to be the cro of a Lego. Yeah, it's probably an interesting story because it wasn't my path. From a young age, Sam people always told me the same thing was you have the ability to get people to open up and talk and say things that they don't necessarily say at other people, and I had so many people tell me that throughout my youth that in my head I thought I need to get into some sort of a career where I'm going to talk to people. So it was either maybe a bartender or a psychologist, right, and so I went down the psychologist path and I was an undergraduate in psychology. I was going to get my Ph d in psychology and at the last minute I got cold feet. I didn't want to keep going to school. So I decided I'm going to go to work for a year and then see if the if the psychology calling is still there, and I went into sales and I'm announced to me was just like, okay, what am I going to do for year? I could get a sales job. So I was selling facts machines, and this was the early days of fax machines in downtown Boston, knocking on doors trying to convince people to buy this magic box that, by the way, it was enormous back when fact machines first came out and they were twozero a piece and you put this magic piece of paper into one end, you know, let's say in Boston, into this machine in Boston and New York the paper would come out on the other end. So it was like something black magic a little bit to people and it was tough. A lot of lessons learned there in rejection and endurance and just waking up in the morning with the right attitude, so that that actually hoped me on sales. I fell in love with the game and never look back at going into the psychology field. From there went on to sell software, hardware and software, and had a great career as a salesperson and then, a relatively young age, I think I was twenty nine or thirty, I've got my first opportunity at management. It was during the thecom bubble and the company I was with raised a hundred million dollars from soft bank and we were doing all sorts of cut and back then that was there's that name again, Soft Bank. They've been there throughout, I guess they have been. Yeah, and a hundred million back then and write late s was probably like a half a billion today, so that was a lot money and as a first time manager, I was given forty or forty five head count and empowered to go start a new division within our existing company, and that's how I get into management, leadership coaching and my first endeavors there. Made a ton of mistakes and then we had an exit which afforded me the ability to start my own business, which was the sailor franchise that you mentioned, and I had three young children at the time and was on a lot of planes, trains and nomobiles. So I had a nice lifestyle business with owning my own business for, like you said, just under a decade. Wow, let's pick through that a little bit. You mentioned, because it's it does. It... an interesting story. When you were selling fax machines door to door, just having decided to get into this after, you know, abandoning your psychology degree, it must have been a shock to hear so much rejection. Or maybe it wasn't a shock, maybe it was to be expected. But what were the key lessons and principles that you taught yourself and told yourself in order to kind of move from a probably like a loss of version, negative mindset to a more gainseeking growth mindset. We're looking forward to the day because you mentioned that you loved it. So what was it about it that you love so much? Yeah, it was bottomed me out fast. It was the first time I learned the lesson of fail fast. Today, that is one of our operating principles at a Lego that we teach every employee who joins the company to fail fast and make a lot of mistakes. You can take risks because the sooner you do that you gain more confidence because you bought them out. You've experienced so many things early that then you feel like you can't go any lower. It sounds funny right, but I remember the day vividly. I got hit over the head with a booklet in a law firm by a office manager throw me, literally threw me out of the office, hit me over the head with a stack of books and I get on the subway a home and started to cry. I had hit rock bottom in my sales career. I I wasn't doing well at the time and now I've been assaulted. How could it get any worse? But that was the day I decided okay, this is the bottom. I have nowhere to go but up, and that empowered me and gave me some strange sense of confidence, which I think was the most valuable lesson I ever learned as a young seller. That's amazing. And how about this, because you dropped some really interesting nuggets. You mentioned that you were at the you know, the start up in the in late S, maybe ninety eight, ninety nine, and they gave you forty five people to manage the first time you were manager. Tell us about that journey. That sounds really interesting. And what did you learn and and what were some of the key mistakes that you made that you that you're teaching people not to make now that you've got some experience? Yeah, first one was so obvious, but I had two goals. One was make a number. Okay, the second goal US build this team as fast as you can. So your audience is probably laughing because they're they're competing goals. If you're going to try to build a team too fast, you're going to make mistakes, you're going to hire the wrong people, you're going to put the wrong people in the wrong roles. So I was actually paid to build the team quickly because we wanted to get a fast start. But that really incented me to make a whole lot of mistakes which conflicted with the other goal of making a number. So that, looking back, was a huge mistake from day one. The other was just not really paying attention to we were selling in pods back then. Okay, putting three people in a unit, in a sales pod, and not paying attention to people's individual strengths and weaknesses and styles and trying to, you know, compliment one another in these pods instead just haphazardly throwing three people into a group, which is not the right way to approach it. Right you really need to have some consideration for the varying degrees and styles and personalities of the people in a work group. So that was another mistake. And then, of course, there was all sorts of mistakes around hiring the wrong people, bad incentive plans in the beginning, you name it, I think I made it. What do you think the keys to great leadership and management are? Put It? Let's put leadership aside. When you're coaching first time managers, what are you specifically focused on teaching them in order to enable their success? The first thing you teach them is to be selfless, and that's hard because a lot of first time managers are coming from individual contributor and as an individual contributor it's often about yourself and your goal. Yeah, of course you care about your teammates, but now, as you step into leadership, you are second. Your team is first, your team takes priority. Your needs go to the backseat and that's a hard transition to make...

...for a lot of people and not put themselves first and to check the EGO at the door. The other is take off the Superhero Cape. You've probably heard this or seen this before, but you've got great sellers who then become managers and they continue to want to be great sellers and they want to swoop in with their Cape on and better their salespeople and sell for their salespeople. So they're not teaching the sales people and coaching the sales people how to sell better, they're actually doing it for them. Now you have to do the little bit of that, but I see that as a huge mistake for first first time leaders, first time managers, is that, you know, selling for people instead of empowering them to sell. If you're in a one on one or talking to somebody and they say, George, I'd love to be able to do that, but exactly to the conflict that you just articulated. As a first time manager, I'm being asked to hit a number and you know I'm scared if I don't hit the number. I'm worried I'll get fired or that I'll be seen as a failure as a manager, and so I just feel compelled to come in and help my wrap close the deal, even though in my heart I know I want to let them fail. I just can't let that money go when I see that it's possible we might get it if I help and and and likely to lose it if I don't. Yeah, it's a good one. I think there are point in times where we all have to jump in and bail out a cellar right as managers, as leaders, but it happens way too often. So it all comes back, Saym to company culture and the type of organization you want to run and teaching people to play the long game, not being looking for that quick sugar high, not thinking myopically about making each month's number, but really building a team for the long run and ingraining that into people from day one so that they understand that it's okay to fail. It's okay to make mistakes you're playing the long game. If you miss a month, a quarter or two, it's okay so long as we're building for the long term. That's a big part of our culture to Lego, and I think that helps alleviate that problem that you were talking about. I love it. So a question I have. I mean, you've been doing this quite a while and you've even taught sales methodology as a franchise Z for Sandler. Do you think sales is changed since you started doing it? You think? What's your point of view? And and certainly, I guess related, you're both selling software for sales people, but also just the proliferation of tools like sales engagement software like Outreacher, Sales Loft coaching software or revenue intelligence software like Gong or chorus. So much technology as entered the sales space. Has the core elements or have the core elements of selling evolved or shifted, and if so, how? What have you seen change over the last, you know, twenty thirty years? Yeah, this is very interesting and deep question. Do we have an hour? No, I'm just kidding. The answer is yes, especially in the last twenty four months and I'll give you some examples. I would say that the pace of change over the last twenty years was very slow. Selling didn't change dynamically, but the last twenty four months has, you mentioned, a whole bunch of great technologies right a Lego, I believe, is one of them, and we're seeing this consolidation of technologies that empower sells people right around sales learning, sales enablement, and there's lots of them and there's a lots of great technologies out there and they are helping people. But what we're really going to capitalize on now, Sam, is virtual selling. The pandemic helped to magnify this and the way that sales is changing and it has prompted organizations to do studies around how do people want to buy now that virtue will selling is more prominent, how effective our salespeople at selling in a virtual sales environment? And...

...all the studies are showing that buyers. A matter of fact, it was just that there's a new study out by Bain and company, I think, at the title something like is virtual selling here to stay, or is it now just selling? Right? Is that just the norm? In other words, and the first data point they had in the study. I might get this wrong, but something like ninety two or ninety three percent of buyers prefer virtual buying rather than live interactions with salespeople. So, right there, that tells you something, right, they have woken up and said, okay, I like this, I like the new virtual aspects of buying. The other stat that's interesting is that buyers are doing sixty two seventy percent of their research before they ever talk to a salesperson. And I'm talking be, to be selling here right be. TOC's even worse. The the numbers are even higher, but for be to be seventy percent of the research done before they ever talked to a salesperson. So this is really magnifying the importance of having strong, capable sales people, because the time you get facetoface with a customer or prospect is so limited now that you've got to capitalize on it and you have to add value or else you're done. So it is definitely changing and I could, you know, I could go on for a long time about virtual selling methodologies, and we're building something called digital sales rooms where buyers and sellers can engage in interact digitally. So really cool stuff on the horizon, Sam and I think it's it will never go back, will never go back to normal selling the way we do it. Well, what skills are you know, there's always these shifts and I was just reading a book about a guy from your neck of the woods, guy in Paul English, that started kayaks. Just whole section about how when computers came around, it's sort of you know, it was an evolutionary shift in the sense that there were certain people that were just predisposition to be great software engineers and maybe they hadn't had an opportunity to utilize those skills a hundred years ago, but now, because of the rise of software, this group of people was all of a sudden shifted into the limelight. Similarly, I'm sure that over the last twenty four months, with the rise of virtual selling, there's a group of people that were in the prime of their environment in facetoface conversations, flying on planes, and now maybe the balance of power has shifted to a different kind of personality type or different kind of mentality. What kinds of people do you think are thriving in this world and what are the skills that people need to develop in order to be effective virtual sellers. Wow, another deep question. I would say there's always going to be some portion of sale those jobs that you've got to be facetoface. Right. They're just, they're just will be. But, especially in technology, virtual is more and more important and the shift in skill set is I'm seeing that the people who are more organized, more analytical, are excelling in the virtual selling world. Okay, what I mean by that is you mentioned a whole bunch of great technologies, right, and people who engage in those technologies, master those technologies, take advantage of them and they also are watching how buyers behave, and meaning call recording. Conversational intelligence is here, right, a Lego, has it? You mentioned gone earlier. We're learning so much from analyzing call recordings and live I call it game film, Game Film where customers are talking to salespeople and we're learning so much about how they respond to each other. What words are resonating, what words aren't resonating? How many filler words can you get away with? When to talk about price? How many questions to ask? When to ask the questions? What's the switch rate between the conversations? There's so much to learn here.

It's incredible. And the people are really diving into it and learning these news to statistics and capitalizing on it are the ones that are excelling. Another fact is through these digital sales rooms at like I mentioned the Lego and some other few firms have, you can put assets that you're sharing with the customer into these digital seals rooms. So it might be an introductory video of me introducing myself to you, Sam then we have our live meeting that I give you a recording of that live meeting that I share in this virtual sales room, my proposal to you and a copy the power point that we went through. And as a seller, I can now see you as a buyer, engaging in that virtual sales room. So are you looking at these assets? If you are, which ones are you looking at? How much time are you spending on them? Are you sharing them with other people in your organization? And the good sales people are the ones who understand these statistics and are watching the trends. So they know what's hot with customers or what's not, and they're doubling down on what's hot and they're backing off on what's not. So it takes more analytical skills and more attention to detail. So that's what I'm saying. Yeah, makes a tremendous amount of sense. Do you feel like, you know, I hate to sound like you know, the stereotypical kind of old person here, you know, lamenting, lamenting the future, but does some part of you lament the loss of kind of human interaction? You know, it just feels like, if this is I guess we've shifted to an extreme because of the pandemic where we're all, you know, in our bedrooms and in in our personal spaces, and selling and business itself used to be the act of interacting with other humans in the same physical space, and now it is less and less. So is that a good thing, a bad thing or just it's just is what it is and we all have to adjust to it. I think it is what it is. I mean me personally. I'm an extra Rt. I like people. I've been in the office lately and more and more people are coming in and I love it. But I firmly believe that virtual selling is here to stay in most industries and it's only going to go more and more in this direction and we got to get used to it. We've got to learn these technologies we've seen capitalize in these technologies and we will. It's going to happen. It might force some people out of selling, but the one thing I keep coming back to is the time you get facetoface with buyers is less and less every year. Studies keep showing it and that trends going to continue. So what does that mean? You've got to be super sharp. You've got to add value, you have to know your shit when you're in a live engagement with a customer, because you cannot blow it. It might be fifteen minutes, it might be thirty minutes, but we're not getting two hours sit down facetofaces anymore. We're not even getting an hour. So you've got to be sharp. Absolutely couldn't. I couldn't have said it better. George. We're almost at the end of our time together. I have two more questions for you. The first is, you know, we send around a kind of an interview questionnaire to our guests and one of the things that you wrote in terms of one of your guiding principles, as you wrote, small lies become big lies. I'm super curious tell us what you mean by that. Yeah, this is more of a a dad thing. Truthfully, but I also play it in the workplace. So when Mike. I've three daughters there now, eighteen to twenty five, but from the time they were a little I always had this mantra with them that was, you know, if little kids they do something wrong and they tell this little white lie, and most people think I was nothing wrong with that. They're just trying to get out of stealing the cookie or whatever. It was right. But my line to them was, hey, that's a little lie. I know people say it's a little white lie, it's okay, but it's not, because little eyes turned to big lies. Big lies turned to stealing something, then stealing something bigger, and then stealing turns to jail, jail turns to prison, and it was kind of you take that cookie, you're going to jail. Yeah, you're going to prison, but like a terrifying childhood. And I wasn't that strict, but it...

...was my line. was just my motto with them and at the time I didn't realize how impactful it was, but I could pull my twenty five year old in here today and she could recite that verbatim and she still says she thinks about it in decisions that she has to make. You know what, sometimes when you come across challenges in life and it might be easier to tell that little white lie and they they don't. I like to think that they don't for the most part because of that lesson. I love it and and also it's sort of part of the point that you're making is your daily habits are who you are and that there is in some other part of your that you can sort of ascribe meaning to. It's what you do every day, it's how you treat people in the moment, it's how you treat the waiter and anyway, I resonate with with that. Yeah, thanks, and I think it it, you know, obviously extends on into sales as well. Teaching self fills people not to tell those little white lies because it just gets you in trouble. Makes Sense. So we're almost at the end of our time together, George, and what we like to do in this last little bit is sort of pay it forward. Figure out who are the people that you think are inspirational or that we should do a little bit of googling on or Linkedin research on, people that have had a big impact on you, people that you think we should know about people that that you just like. When I phrase it that way, who comes to mind? I would say couple people. One is Dave cancel. Dave is the founder and CEO of Drift Company in Boston. Do It's booming, doing really well at known day for a long long time, but he found it performable before drift and sold that tub spot. He founded compete, which is a company that I had worked for previously. Sold that to TNS. So he's just he's one of those rare visionaries who also is one of the kindest people and you'd love to have a beer with and just sit down and talk about life with. So I would encourage people to meet Dave, allowing their journeys, and then my currency Eo as well. You Chun Lee infamous for two things. Super Bright human being. He built and built UNICA and took a public and sold it for half a billion. But prior to that he was on the MIT card counting team for six years and every weekend went to Vegas and made a lot of money doing that. Learned a lot of life lessons doing that. So He's a very unique and interesting person that people can learn from. I love it. That's awesome, George. If folks are listening and they want to reach out to you, maybe they want to work for a Lego, maybe they want to just talk more, learn about Sandler and learn about sales methodologies. Are you open to them reaching out and, if so, what's your preferred method for for communication? Yes, I am absolutely open. Linkedin is great or g Donovan at a LEGOCOM. Awesome George. Thanks so much for being our guest on the salesacer podcast and we'll talk to on Friday for Friday fundamentals. My pleasure, Sam. Thank you. Thank you. Hey everybody. Sam Jacobs as Sam's corner, another really good conversation. We've only had great conversations here on the salesacer podcast. George is a career salesperson and I just loved hearing about his journey ditching his psychology degree back in the day and going door to door selling fax machines and hearing about you know, inside all great sales people, all great leaders, is a sense of determination and commitment that just powers you through and I think coupled with a mindset shift. You know, there are people that are just inevitably focused on the negative, focused on all of the bad things that have happened to them or could happen to them. And there are people that reframe the narrative in their minds towards a positive outcome and and to those people sometimes rejection is only the fuel that lights their fire, that pushes them to move forward, and George sounds like one of those kinds of people. We also talked a lot about the changes in selling and how digital tools and virtual selling is now just selling. In fact,...

...he rattled off a really interesting statistic. Ninety two percent of buyers prefer virtual selling, and it makes sense to a certain degree. If you're sitting in your living room or your Home Office, do you want to do that or do you want a stranger to come into your room or maybe into your work office? Some people really really want to meet people in person, but many people don't. Many people don't. There's a lot of introverts out there. There's just a lot of people that want to mitigate and manage their interactions. One of the things that's great about virtual selling is inevitably the meeting always ends on time. Everybody's got backtoback meetings and there's no opportunity for downing or lingering, and so you can kind of regiment your schedule in a much more discipline way and, frankly, build in time for yourself in an easier way than whenever one all of selling was was in person. And so the point is, are you working on the tools that are going to help you get better in this virtual selling environment? Because using technology, being analytical, understanding data, all of that's going to become even more important as tools like outreaching, Gong and others proliferate. So it's a really interesting point and when I enjoyed thinking about and talking about. Now, before we go, we want to thank our sponsors. As you know, we've got three sponsors on the show. The first is outreach. Everything outreach does is at outreached on outreach, so head on over to outreach out. I forward slash on outreach to see how outreach does outreach. Our other sponsor is the company I work for. It's a company called Pavilion. We used to be known as revenue collective. We just changed our name to accommodate the fact that we're creating communities for all kinds of functional areas, not just revenue. If you want to learn more and unlocked your professional potential and get that promotion, go over to join pavilioncom and apply. And finally, linkedin. Find new ways to connect with your buyers virtually with linkedin sales navigator. Learn more or request a free demo at business dot linkedincom. Forward slash sales solutions. If you're not a part of the sales hacker community yet, you're missing out. Go over to sales hackercom to sign up. If you're listening right now and you like what you heard, hit that five star review on your podcast listening platform of choice. It really helps us get this message out to more ears. And if you want to get in touch with me, you can linkedincom forwards, last word in for its lash mf Jacobs, or email me Sam at join Pavilioncom. I'll talk to you next time.

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