How customer-centricity boosts sales
Devin Reed: Welcome to Reveal: The Revenue Intelligence Podcast powered by Gong. We're your hosts, Devin Reed.
Sheena Badani: And I'm Sheena Badani. Revenue intelligence is a new way of operating based on customer reality, instead of opinions. Making data- driven decisions based on facts instead of opinions or guesswork.
Devin Reed: And it's made up of three success pillars, people intelligence, deal intelligence, and market intelligence. The things all revenue teams need and care about. Every week, we interview senior revenue professionals and share their stories and insights on how they leverage revenue intelligence to drive success and win their market.
Sheena Badani: You'll hear how modern go- to- market teams win as a team, close revenue with critical deal insight, and execute their strategic initiatives. Plus all the challenges that come along with it.
Devin Reed: What's up everybody? Devin here, and I'm really excited for this week's guests because we're talking to Jill Rowley, she's a growth strategist, a go- to- market advisor, an investor and an all around fantastic sales person. We brought her on the show so we could talk about how to have a customer focused mindset. You might hear things like, being customer obsessed or customer centric. Sometimes these buzz words can take away from the meaning and actually become cliches. But for this episode, we really dive into what that means and how you can apply it to your role. We talk about what steps leaders can take to become more customer centric, how organizations can ensure their go to market strategies are customer led. And how exactly can you build around the voice of the customer? I'm really excited that we got to talk to Jill because I've been following her on LinkedIn for quite a while. She has over 250, 000 followers. So plenty to learn from her. She's been around the block a couple of times, she's very successful and I know that you'll get a lot out of this episode. Let's go hang out with Jill
Sheena Badani: Jill, we are super excited to have you here at Reveal. Just a little bit of backstory for the audience, Jill and I were actually conversing on LinkedIn. She sent a really friendly, great message that made my day about how she loved one of our episodes and was enjoying the podcast. I checked her out, I was like," We have to get Jill on the podcast." So hence there was that invitation to bring you onto Reveal.
Jill Rowley: I love it. Yeah. LinkedIn.
Devin Reed: Sheena shared the message in Slack and I was like," The Jill? Jill knows that our podcast is happening and likes it? That's great."
Sheena Badani: Exactly.
Devin Reed: So yeah, it warmed all of our hearts and we're very grateful, and even more grateful that you're spending time with us.
Jill Rowley: Well, I'm excited. I listen to the podcast largely on my bike rides and on my walks with the doggie and it just makes everything brighter.
Sheena Badani: Great. I love that.
Devin Reed: I love that.
Sheena Badani: So for those who may not know you or want to learn a little bit more about you, maybe you could just give us a little background of what you're up to today? I think of you as giving back to your communities at this stage, you've done so many amazing things over your career, and you're really at a place where you can give that advice and that guidance and investment into spaces that you're passionate about. But I'd love to hear it from your words.
Jill Rowley: Yeah. So I've gotten clarity on my purpose over the years and it's really to enrich other people's careers. I would say initially it was really focused on elevating the sales professional and the sales profession and really working also with marketing leaders to become more revenue focused. I've spent so much of my career building categories, doing category creation, working with startups through being employee number 13 at Eloqua, being there on the NASDAQ when we took the company public, being there when we were acquired by Oracle four months later. Backing up, even farther working at Salesforce as one of their first 100 employees. So I always say I was like born SAS, social, mobile, data, just all of those things that come about with technology and sales tech, MarTech. I think you're right, most of my time today is spent on giving back and trying to stay active in the go- to- market communities that I really enjoy participating in. Coaching, I love doing... unofficial. I'm not an official coach. I'm not in that profession. But yeah, a lot of time learning too. I listen to tons of podcasts and still am an active reader and just keeping my network fresh and even still expanding my network with you all, as an example.
Sheena Badani: I love that, never stop learning, always be growing. So one of the common threads that we talked about over your career was really around this thread of the customer's first, and you will always have put the customer front and center for all of the work that you've done. So I'd love to hear from you, what does a customer- focused organization look like and how do they behave differently from anybody else out there?
Jill Rowley: Yeah. I mean, it starts with being customer led, right? Literally thinking about things through the eyes of your customer. To look at things through the lens of the customer, you have to really know your customer. I think, a lot of times what we do is we don't have enough focus on the business that makes sense for what we're building, what we've built and what we continue to build. In marketing, it's called the ideal customer profile, and that really has become now a marketing, sales and customer success term, which is amazing. Because if we're not laser focused on who our ideal customer is, then we're getting customer needs that don't fit who we best serve. So I think the customer led is, is again, always making decisions through the lens of the customer. I think just a wonderful example, Jeff Lawson at Twilio, I've listened to many of interviews with Jeff, the founder, and one of the things that he talked about that was really striking was they have these, I think they're red tennis shoes for their ninja advocates. That's the coveted thing to get from Twilio. And one of the things that they did is when they send that pair of red Twilio tennis shoes, then that customer needed to send a pair of their shoes. What Twilio did is they literally hung, and may still have, the customer shoes all around their office. So that the customer was literally in the room with the employees. So you were surrounded by always thinking, and what you saw is that the shoes are different, they're not all the same, right? So one of the things I talk about, really important in terms of especially sales, is context and putting things in context of your customer. So you have to have truly a deep, deep understanding of the customer. That can be at an industry level, at a stage of growth level, it could be at an individual stakeholder within the organization, it could be at a geographic lens, it could be all these different elements of knowing thy customer. So I think, one of the examples too, is okay, when you onboard new salespeople, do you train your salespeople first on your product? Or do you train your salespeople first on your customer? What is the focus? For me, I think, especially in sales, you definitely have to have sales acumen, that's like table stakes and that's doing discovery and objection handling and aligning value to customer needs. You have to have business acumen. Because we've got to quantify the value and the impact, the customer outcome, right? So you've got to have some business acumen. But I think really, really incredibly important is customer acumen. So the customer has to be all throughout the organization, everybody has to understand the customer, the customer journey and make decisions that are in the benefit of the customer.
Devin Reed: Well you know I'm a fan of any sneaker story if you follow the podcast. That is a really cool example though. I really love that. It's an ignorable reminder, like," Hey, the customer is here," with those shoes. That's really cool. I'm not even a client of Twilio and I want those red sneakers. So how's that for inaudible. Jill, where did your passion for this come from, right? Was there maybe a moment or a certain experience where you were like, " Hey, this actually is what I should be prioritizing versus maybe some other stuff I've been trained on, hearing around." That sort of thing?
Jill Rowley: I think the passion was rooted from the very beginning. Given the fact that my first quota carrying sales job was in SAS, right? Software as a service, it's a recurring revenue model. It was back at Salesforce, it was literally a 30 day contract. And every 30 days you had to renew the customer, month to month, quit at any time was one of our differentiators of Siebel. Which, in terms of competitive intelligence, we knew a whole lot about Siebel and how complicated and expensive and how truly unsuccessful many of the Siebel implementations were. If anyone's young and you don't know client server, on premise, it's just awful and it's expensive and you pay so much money upfront and you're not guaranteed any results, and there's no regular subscription renewals. Back then too, social media didn't exist and so there wasn't as much voice of the customer traveling in every channel. There weren't product review sites like G2 and TrustRadius and Capterra. So the customer's voice wasn't as loud, if you will, and amplified in social channels. Salesforce, Marc Benioff, he's just a different human being. At Salesforce, customer success wasn't a function that was named until many years later, but we really did, at Salesforce, from the beginning, root it in understanding that we are a subscription business and we have to serve the customer. So then at Eloqua, one of the advantages I think I've had in my career is that Eloqua, our customer was marketing. So I always say I'm a sales professional trapped in a marketer's body. And that I've read more books, if not the same amount of books on marketing as I have on sales. That really goes back to knowing thy customer, right? So I have to know marketing so that I can be a value to my marketing customer. Selling into marketing and really understanding the industry and the different roles and the jobs and seeing how customer marketing and community, which we had an amazing community at Eloqua, and customer awards, we were one of the first companies to do a customer awards program back in 2007, we launched it and we called it the Eloqua Markie Awards. And literally, the physical award for our customers was a five pound, designed by the Oscars, looks like an Oscar. That was back in'07 when not every company was doing customer award programs. So I think my rooting and my focus and my love, I love marketing, I love marketers so that just natural desire to want to know more about my customer. Then over time, just seeing companies that were more customer focused were more successful and more fun. And now from a financial perspective and looking at things from a venture capital investment perspective. At Stage 2 Capital, the first metric we really look at is net dollar retention, net revenue retention. We look at not top line growth from an investor perspective, but how well are you doing maintaining your customers and then expanding the wallet share of your customers. That's number one. So it really is about how well are you doing to deliver value to your customers, that they continue to pay you for that value?
Devin Reed: For our listeners who aren't watching this on YouTube, Jill just held up what looked exactly like an Oscar, which is this Markie trophy she had on hand, award. Which, for a moment I honestly was like, did you get that from a pawn shop? That looks like someone's award. Like, where did you get that? Yeah, it looks very much like it.
Sheena Badani: Has her name on it.
Devin Reed: Yes. I want to go back to something that you had mentioned, Jill, which was Salesforce and you knowing Siebel really well. I think a lot of times that falls under competitive intel, but it sounds like you took it a step further, which is, yeah, there's knowing what your competitors offer, features, functionality. The next level was, well, how does that actually serve or neglect what clients actually want? Right? Which is the actual experience like," Hey, I know what Siebel does, and I actually know what they don't do. And because of both of those, I know you, Mr. and Ms. Customer, what you're struggling with, right? And how we can help." Are there any other examples like that, that maybe from a selling perspective where being so customer minded gave you an advantage?
Jill Rowley: Yeah. I think it's all about credibility and trust. During the course of my 10 years at Eloqua, I really was in an individual quota carrying sales rep role for the 10 years that I was there. But what happened over time is, because I was so deep in it with my customers, from being in the Eloqua community and actively participating in our online community, being at every awards ceremony and being the one to be so crazy, giddy when our customers want awards, being active in social networks and really shining the spotlight on our great customers and being a champion of the customer, but more broadly, building relationships with the industry analysts. That is oftentimes looked at as a no- no, salespeople, industry analysts, that's marketing's job. But I nuzzled up because I was learning from all of the analysts about my customer and sharing their reports and the awesome research that they published. I would go to conferences. I remember being at the Serious Decisions Conference and they didn't want salespeople in the sessions where their marketing customers were learning because they thought that they were going to try to sell within a learning environment. And I'm like, I don't hang out at the booth waiting for someone to come by. I go into the sessions and I learn where and what my customers are learning. So it's really being where your buyers are, being where your customers are, being visible to them, being valuable to them and really understanding things through the lens of how can I serve, how can I help my customer achieve her goals? And a lot of times, for me, that was, okay, what do they want from a career path perspective? We, at Eloqua, functions like demand generation didn't exist. The term demand gen didn't exist. Marketing operations was not a function. And we not only had great technology back then, but we also helped create and really develop new functions within organizations, career paths. So helping someone with their career is one way to also earn the advocacy and the long- term loyalty from your customers.
Sheena Badani: Social selling may sound as easy as sending a connection request with a brief sales pitch targeted to your buyer. But when you take it a step further than cold outreach, you can actually break through the noise and really get your prospect's attention. LinkedIn reports that 62% of buyers respond to a salesperson who provides relevant content and insights. This tells me that the most successful reps are interacting with buyers by giving information, rather than just asking for a meeting. These reps are posting and interacting with content to build real relationships. This makes buyers more willing to give them a shot because they represent themselves and their company in a way that really shows they're there to help the buyer achieve their goals. As Jill says, make more digital deposits on social media, and don't just give information.
Devin Reed: I am a huge advocate of being where your customers are, understanding them deeply, what their challenges are, how they feel about them and your story clearly shows that that's what you're all about. You've also taken it from those in- person interactions and you have a quarter million followers on LinkedIn. So you've obviously cracked the code from a digital standpoint as well. So how has growing that digital presence continued on your legacy, if you will, of being customer minded and how does that helped you connect with your audience?
Jill Rowley: Yeah, thanks for the question. I mean, I was an evangelist for, and still am, social selling. I believe in social networks. I don't think that salespeople should be out there using social media. I think salespeople should be leveraging social networks. They're really the same thing, but the use case is different, right? It's contextual to the role of the sales professional. Marketers use social media to do more reach and salespeople leverage social networks to be more relevant and to build better relationships. So I, over time, again, I think the advantage was selling into marketing and understanding the role of social and digital and understanding the change of who the customer trusts and how they're influenced by their peers, way more than they're influenced by our marketing messages. Also by understanding that the old process of customer references and holding those to the end of the buyer's journey and gating your customers from your buyers, because you had to qualify them to a certain point, no. Actually what I think you should do is have deep, meaningful connections with your customers. So what happened at Eloqua is I became an evangelist for B2B marketing, for marketing technology. And that happened by, at those physical events, watching someone speak and present on a specific topic, then sending them a personalized invite to connect on LinkedIn with relevant about them. I took this note from your session and I'd be honored to be in your network and delighted to have you in mind. So building your network over time. Then from a sales perspective, when I then moved into social selling and I became an evangelist for social selling, which is just using social networks to do research on your buyers and their industries, to be relevant to your buyers, to build relationships that drive revenue, but ultimately customer lifetime value and advocacy. But my view has always been, if you want your customers to be your advocates, you have to be the best advocate of your customers. A way of doing that, that has a lot more reach and visibility, is through digital and social channels. It didn't happen overnight. This was a slow roll of building a network through creating and publishing and engaging with valuable content.
Sheena Badani: Yeah. I think it all comes back to really putting that customer, in this case it's your audience, front and center. Yeah, sure, you may have learned something or read about something from an analyst, but now you're putting it in the words and terms that make sense for your audience and how they should interpret that information.
Jill Rowley: Yeah.
Sheena Badani: So you have been so many different things, as an IC, as an advisor, in all your different roles of keeping the customer first, what advice would you give to sales leaders to make sure that they and their teams are super zoned in and focused on their customers and putting them first? Maybe your top three?
Jill Rowley: Yeah. Actually the advice first I would give is to the chief executive officer to bring an extra seat into every executive leadership team meeting and leave that seat open for your customer. I would say that's a visual of every strategy and execution meeting we have as an organization, we're going to bring our customer into the room. When our cross- functional leaders are arguing or debating, we're trying to set our product roadmap, we come and we look at that chair. I mean, look at the seat that our customer sits in. That's actually the role I got at Marketo. I was not a C- suite executive. I was an individual contributor, then an industry evangelist a professional speaker. I was never a manager or director or a VP, I didn't have direct reports. So Steve Lucas recognize that if Marketo wanted to win against Eloqua, even though that had already started because of the acquisition of Eloqua by Oracle, Marketo was going to bring someone in like myself to really be the customer evangelist. Not in an operator role though, but more in a strategic, sit in the room with the executives and always think about the customer's point of view. So as for sales leaders, what I would say is from a training and onboarding, I mentioned this earlier, the customer training comes first and really teaching the sales organization, and especially if you're hiring reps from outside of selling into that function. One example would be, you've got someone who's sold into sales, and you hire them in a company that sells into HR. That's a completely different buyer. If you hire someone who's sold into B to C and then you bring them in your a B2B company, that's a completely different sales motion and a completely different customer profile. So that focus on the customer from a training and onboarding. I would say, bringing customers into your QBRs, to your sales kickoffs. I think many companies are actually doing that now. But really having customers be represented. From a marketing perspective, I just saw a press release about a new product launch from a company and all about their new, crazy product that's going to do all these amazing things and not a single customer was mentioned in that release. There's not a single mention of a customer getting value from that new product on their website. So you launch a new product, who cares, who are your customers that are actually getting value from that new product launch? Because hopefully you had beta customers and they actually validated that this was a product that actually created value. From a sales, you can even look at compensation models. One of the just striking things, Mark Roberge, who is the chief revenue officer at HubSpot, he grew the company from zero to a hundred million, wrote a book on sales, is a professor at Harvard Business School on sales. One of the things he talked about in the early days of HubSpot is he noticed that there was high churn, right? There was a lot of churn, it was a small business, SMB, high volume business. And his assumption, he's a very data- driven person, which is amazing and that's one of the reasons why he's been so successful is the science of revenue growth. But what he noticed was, he thought that it was going to a correlation of customer success manager to churn. What the data showed him is that the correlation of churn was to the original sales rep. So what he did is he re redesigned the comp plan to basically have a different variable for sales reps, with high retention and a lower variable for reps with medium and an even lower for reps with low retention. Trained them on how do the best performing reps have high customer retention, right? Show them what great looks like. Then as that rep did better and better with their retention, move them up in that commission model. So if we really want to put the customer first and the long- term lifetime value of the customer, then paying your salespeople to do the right things upfront is really important. So it's just bringing more of the customer, the data about the healthy customers and the unhealthy customers, into the sales organization to create more focus on what our most ideal customers and the value creation looks like.
Sheena Badani: That's so amazing.
Devin Reed: Very much.
Sheena Badani: I think that's such a unique idea and one that a lot of organizations should really consider to help align all the way from the first touch point that the customer has with sales through the life of their time with any company. So really interesting point on the compensation piece. So Jill, we ask all of our guests one question, which is the same question every time. And that is how would you describe sales in one word?
Jill Rowley: In one word? The one word is context. But if I expanded on that it's context around the customer. But sales is very contextual.
Devin Reed: Yeah, that's great. I was going say, Sheena, she's prepared for it. Because she said she listens to Reveal walking the dog and on her bike ride. So usually I'm like," Okay, we're going to put you in the hot seat." I'm like," Jill knows it's coming. She's prepped. She's done the research."
Sheena Badani: She knows it.
Devin Reed: What I love about it too, Jill, I didn't mention this earlier, but you were going through, how you reach out to people on LinkedIn to provide, I saw this thing and I would be delighted to add you to my network. Hopefully I can add value. You said it earlier, that's exactly how Jill got introduced to the team here. You reached out, you said," Hey, you got this thing. I really enjoy it." And you didn't even make an ask. You're like," Would just love to be a part of your network." And that led to the intro here, a great podcast and a fantastic interview with tons of advice. If anyone on the video is seeing my eyes wander and typing, I've got a page full of notes and great takeaways, Jill. So thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your stories, there are some really good ones in there.
Jill Rowley: Yeah. I appreciate the opportunity to be on the podcast. I just have so much respect for many of the guests that you've already had on the podcast. I didn't make an ask because I didn't reach out to be on the podcast, but I'm just really honored to be among the leaders that you have interviewed.
Sheena Badani: Thank you. Well, the audience I'm sure appreciates every single thing that you've shared here today. So really grateful to have you.
Devin Reed: Awesome, Jill. Thanks again.
Jill Rowley: Thank you.
Sheena Badani: Every week we bring you a microaction something to think about or an action you can put into play today. Jill speaks highly of the benefits of social selling. Social selling is a hot topic that can be polarizing, but after listening to Jill, there are some ways you can tastefully improve your craft. This week, take a look at the way you and your reps are using social networks. Then ask yourself questions like, am I taking more than I'm giving? Am I putting my unique thoughts and experiences in the open to drive conversation? And am I visible and active? This approach will give you a more buyer- centric approach to social selling, allowing prospects to warm up to you. So you don't go in cold. Remember, don't just get information you have plenty to give to.
Devin Reed: Did you like today's episode? Subscribe now so next week's episode will be waiting for you on Monday. And if you're not ready to give a five, check out another episode and see if we've won you over by then.
Ready to bond with your prospects like never before? Jill Rowley spent 20 years in B2B SaaS with stints at Salesforce, Eloqua, and Marketo and is passionate about “knowing thy customer”. Widely-known as customer-centricity, this concept has the power to move the needle forward on mission-critical business metrics. Listen to the episode to learn the power of meeting your buyer where they are.