Secrets from the C-suite: How to unlock your potential
Devin Reed: Welcome to the show. You are now part of 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. It's an unfiltered view of your customer reality. In other words, making data driven decisions based on facts instead of opinions or guess work.
Devin Reed: It's made up of three success pillars, people success, deal success and strategy success, the things all revenue teams need and care about. Every week we interview senior revenue professionals and they 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: Scaling a business is hard, scaling a business rapidly is even harder and scaling a business rapidly as a senior executive, well, you know where I'm going there. That's why, in this episode, we're sharing a panel discussion from Celebrate, Gong's revenue intelligence summit that happened just a couple weeks ago. It's hosted by Craig Rosenberg, distinguished VP analyst at Gartner and he's going to chat with three go- to- market leaders, Dannie Herzberg, partner at Sequoia, Kelly Wright, president and COO at Gong and Olivia Nottebohm, CRO at Notion. This group has been there and done that when it comes to scaling businesses successfully. They share their tried and true principles with a focus on clarity, alignment and data informed decision making. They also remind us why people are the number one priority for every business, whether you're scaling a startup or leading a global team. Now let's jump into the discussion.
Craig Rosenberg: I have to say, I'm so excited to be here today. It's not every day that I get to sit there and talk to some of the best go- to- market operators in the world and just have a conversation about what works and what doesn't work. Today's topic is secrets from the C- suite, how to unlock your potential. Look, there is a lot of information out there. You can get it anywhere on how to build a world class company, but we want to know what really works and we want to talk to people that have been there, done that multiple times and hear their stories and guidance from what they did to scale their businesses. We want to focus today on clarity, alignment and data informed decision making, but everything's on the table. Let's start with having our guests introduce themselves. Just give us a brief introduction about who you are. Let's start with Kelly.
Kelly Wright: Thank you, Craig. My name is Kelly Breslin Wright and I'm the president and chief operating officer at Gong. Prior to Gong, I was the executive vice president of sales at Tableau software. After that, I sat on a number of public and private technology company boards. I also teach a class called go- to- market strategy at the University of Washington.
Craig Rosenberg: Dannie?
Dannie Herzberg: Thank you, Craig. My name is Dannie. I am a partner at Sequoia Capital. I have the privilege of partnering with companies like Notion, like Gong and many others. Prior to Sequoia, I was an operator for the last 15 years, so I spent five- and- a- half years at HubSpot from the very early days building the company ground- up, scaling sales and most recently as director of platform. Then, over the last four years, I joined Slack where I oversaw self- serve, SMB, mid- market and enterprise sales and had four incredible years before becoming an investor.
Craig Rosenberg: Okay. Olivia?
Olivia Nottebohm: Thank you for having me. Right now, I'm the CRO of Notion and am responsible for the go- to- market functions, so sales, marketing, customer success, customer experience and operations. Before that, I was COO of Dropbox. Before that, I was over at Google Cloud building out Google Cloud, so head of the SMB business there as well as responsible for go- to- market strategy and operations. It's a topic that's near and dear to my heart. Before that, I spent 13 years at McKinsey, always in tech and always in go- to- market, so a lot of really interesting learnings there as well.
Craig Rosenberg: Olivia, I'm actually going to start the whole process with you. From your experience, what's top of mind when scaling a go- to- market organization.
Olivia Nottebohm: I'll keep it brief because, as long as you keep to these principles, I think you're good to go. It's not that it's easy, but it's very focusing. The first is world class talent. It all rests on the people and who you bring on to the team. Those early hires are very defining in terms of the trajectory and the talent that you can hire and attract later on. The second is purpose and plan, so very clear purpose. People resonate with why they're there. The why is incredibly important and the plan, equally as, so they have to be able to follow the thing you're asking them to do in a very clear manner. The third, and I'm not sure everyone would say this, but the third is constantly anticipating scaling blockers, so constantly thinking one to two years out about what your scaling limiters are going to be as you build out that go- to- market function and almost playing out that chess game in your head in advance and then making the moves now to make sure that those scaling blockers don't actually happen to you. A lot of first principles problem solving to make sure that you never have to slow down your go to market scaling.
Craig Rosenberg: Dannie, what would you add to this conversation?
Dannie Herzberg: That was really well said by Olivia. I'm just going to underscore what she said with some different words. Number one by far is the people which means attracting, coaching, retaining A players at every single level of the organization. For anyone on here who is in a leadership position, I believe recruiting is the most important area where you can spike. Luckily it's a learnable skill, it's not innate. I highly recommend that everyone invests in making this your super- power in your brand. Then part two is creating a culture that is intentional. The way that I think about culture is it's a shared set of principles that drive how people make decisions and how to behave with one another and with customers. What I would suggest is putting pen to paper about the aspirational attributes and your operating principles. The best example to use of this would be HubSpot's Culture Code. That's a document that everyone here can search. An operating principle that you find in something like HubSpot's Culture Code would be as simple as a three word phrase, use good judgment. Keep it really simple but create some puristics that help all of your employees as you scale figure out how to behave, how to make decisions and how to show up.
Craig Rosenberg: I love where we're headed here. Kelly, let's close it out with you and see what you can wrap around on all these amazing things that we just heard.
Kelly Wright: I so agree with Olivia and Dannie. It's really putting it all together because it does come to the people and the culture. Where I like to think about it is the culture and people being unified with a sense of purpose really comes from having a clear, cohesive vision and mission for the company where everyone can rally around that same purpose, know what the North Star is. Everyone in the company knows what you're building, where you're headed to. What is the essence of the company and why does it matter? What is the company's why? This is a common mistake. Oftentimes execs will ask me," What should I do when my teams aren't aligned? Sales and marketing are going in different directions, or go- to- market wants to sell this, but that's not what product wants to build." The first question is, is everyone aligned with what the mission is and where you're going? You can tell. If you go ask everyone on the executive team or even your individual contributors and your feet on the street what is your mission and you get a whole bunch of different answers, then that's what your challenge is. We need to align everyone on a very clear vision and mission and that is important not only for employees, but it's also important for your customers to know why should they do business with you. It's important for your investors, it's important for the analysts, it's important for the communities in which you serve. That unifying purpose helps to provide clarity and focus, but at the same time that is the core and the essence of your company culture as well.
Craig Rosenberg: I am going to call the big bullet point header here unified purpose. I love that. I think we heard that throughout the different commentary here on this topic. Kelly, I want to ask you another question, which is, as companies go out and build their sales and go- to- market team and scale their team, what are some of the biggest pitfalls? I think you just named one, but what else would you add to that?
Kelly Wright: Craig, it does come from the mission and vision, because that helps to provide the direction, but the next layer underneath that is focus. Especially for those of us who are on the call where you're in a hyper- growth situation or there's a lot of complexity and there's so many different things to do, we can only do so many things at a time, so we need to have very clear focus. That mission and vision will help to provide some of the high level focus. On top of the focus, there tends to be a lack of visibility. People are operating on opinions and hunches and not the real clarity of the data. What is the truth of what is happening so that you're not chasing in the wrong direction because you have some hunch that isn't validated? You want to have the focus, you want to have the visibility. We already talked about clarity of the unified mission. All of those together will drive alignment. Think, if you don't have a mission, you don't have focus, you don't have visibility with data and you don't have alignment, all of that will be very difficult. What you want to do is nail down on the focus using data, make sure that you're really tight with your communication to your team so you can drive that alignment and that makes everything much easier.
Dannie Herzberg: I want to build on what Kelly said because I think that is so spot on, the mission orientation. Any candidate should be asking you, what is the company mission? They should be able to feel it. I've seen customers sign up for a product because they want to be part of what that company stands for. Yes, to that. My addition is an org within a company can have its own mission in service of the greater one. Let's say you are the leader of just the mid- market sales org or just the enterprise sales org, I would actually spend some time thinking about your org's why. How do you work in service of greater go- to- market and in service of your customers? Put pen to paper to spell that out so the people understand what they're joining.
Craig Rosenberg: Dannie, I want to jump into a meaty topic here with you. When you think about fully unlocking potential to enable our go- to- market teams, we need to be thinking about leadership. What are your top leadership best practices for managers and execs now that you work with so many of them and what can individual contributors do to drive leadership even when not in a manager position?
Dannie Herzberg: Let's start on the leadership front. As leaders, I love to see when the executives of our portfolio companies create space to step out of the day- to- day and zoom out. Frankly, it almost feels impossible because there's more to do than you could possibly ever do and so it almost feels indulgent, but I guarantee you, it's not, it's very strategic. I'll get a little bit tactical, but I am a big believer in off- sites. Twice a year, carve out time with your team, step back, anticipate what's around the corner. It almost goes to the blockers question that Olivia, or blockers point that Olivia was mentioning earlier. In a high growth company, a great framing for getting into this mindset of zooming out is acknowledging that what got us here will not get us there. What are the next one to two years all about? If you're designing a space for this, to make it count I encourage a couple of things. First of all, I encourage change the scenery if you can. It might sound silly, but there's this book Moonwalking with Einstein, I don't know if anyone's ever read it, but it introduces this concept of a memory palace. The idea is that memories and thoughts are most accessible when you can physically visualize them in a unique location. I'm really a proponent of actually changing your setting if you can to be able to have big conversations about what's around the corner. Then next I make the zoom out moments as much about building trust as they are about talking shop. The truth is they're totally intertwined, our personal and our professional. I really encourage an opportunity for people to check in with where they are in their personal lives so that everyone else on the team has a richer context for what's happening when they show up to work every day and they operate with a lot more empathy. Especially in a remote first environment, I think vulnerability and bonds can fuel an org for the remainder of the years. I would carve out meaningful time to do that. Then introduce a common language when you zoom out. You want a set of phrases that remind people that you're marching toward the same thing and how you're going to show up in the journey. I suggest you spark this by either devising your own set of values or you can borrow from someone else. For example, at Slack, we brought in Brené Brown to speak to our executive team and she introduced a few concepts that influenced how we communicated. The phrase that stands out is clear as kind. We kept saying that every time we had real talk with one another. In the absence of budget for Brené Brown to come in physically, watch a TED Talk that sparks a bigger picture conversation and introduce that into your common vernacular. Then the last thing I would say is set annual priorities and limit it to two, which is going to feel impossible. To acknowledge that impossibility of doing that, discuss what is tempting that you are going to choose not to emphasize so that everyone in your organization can recite back what the annual priorities are and how to make decisions there. Set your organizational rituals and celebrations around what you've decided really matters for the year. Then Craig, the last question I think was how do ICs show up as leaders or what can they do within a scaling org. Leadership is not limited to people managers. That feels like a really important concept to me. If each person can think of emergent leadership opportunities, it's basically figuring out what super- power reputation do I want to own and be known for in this company that is creating fertile breeding ground for all the next companies that are going to be created? You can be that go- to. You could be the person who is known for being proud of giving up their Legos and standing up a function and then handing it off without any ego associated with that. You could be the person, you can be the IC who is really good at qualification and you lead all of the sessions on qualification. Whatever it is, own it and present it to management and make it your thing.
Craig Rosenberg: God, that was great. When you talk about annual priorities, are you talking about big strategic initiatives that they want to do, or is there a range? As you think about, as folks think about the two, do they think about it by the swing that'll have in their business, or any comments you'd have on that?
Dannie Herzberg: It must connect to the swing you have in your business. It's almost misleading in sales where you're like, hit the number is pretty black and white. I would be distinctive about what any given year is all about. One chunk of the sales org at Slack one year had its priorities as enterprise selling in the mid- market, basically how do we start being more strategic in the way that we approach customers. The other priority was culture as a competitive advantage and that was a framework for encouraging every IC to be their own recruiter of referrals for the way that they show up for them to be emergent leaders like we just talked about. I think two simple phrases that embody how you want to operate as an organization that year as individuals and collectively as a team. It should be strategic, but it's not quite the same as OKRs, if that makes sense.
Craig Rosenberg: Makes total sense. All right. Let's talk about growth and coaching. I actually wanted to ask Oliva this. What recommendations do you have for those who want to progress in their career and into the next level? Just from a growth mindset and coaching perspective.
Olivia Nottebohm: I would say it's four things. I'll list the four and then I'll go into each of them in detail. The first is put in the work early. The second is find advocates, different than mentors, I'll go back to that. The third is share what your goals are. The fourth is life is long and tech is small. I'll go into each of those. Put in the work early, there is real truth to first impressions matter and count. Those early efforts that you do as you start a job and that first year in a job, whatever role it is and whatever number of jobs you've had before, really does matter. People notice you as a standout, people note that you're collaborative or they note that you can get things done. That first year really matters and I firmly believe sets the trajectory for the other roles that you're offered later on, the amount of trust that people have in you, the amount to which people want to bring you in. Again, I would put the work in early in any role that you're in. The second is finding advocates. Here, there's this delineation between finding a mentor, who is someone who gives advice, and finding an advocate who is someone who pounds the table for you. I would say that my journey has been very much affected by people who pounded the table for me. I think this is a really interesting area to think deeply about because people pound the table for you often because you've worked on their behalf, you've helped them, you've really impressed them. It's very hard to find an advocate or someone who will pound the table for you until you've proven yourself to them. That's straight talk, I know, but it's really important to understand that relationship because it's rare that it's not some sort of quid pro quo where both people can benefit heavily. The third is setting your goals and sharing them. Often the career conversation I have with people who come to me is, what is the mountain you're trying to climb? They're asking me," Should I take this next job?" I first have to understand, what is your greater goal? What do you want to be one day? Will this give you a new set of skills that contributes to that goal that you're aiming for? Without knowing that answer, I could give really bad advice, so it's always what I start with. What is the goal that you're striving for? I would recommend that people are very open about that. It's very admirable to be clear about your goals and your career goals and to share them. Then the last one is life is long and tech is small. You keep on meeting the same people in tech over and over again. Your experiences from 20 years ago affect how you engage with them later on a board, or whether you'd even want to join a team or join a company. Don't burn any bridges. Whatever decisions you make, you'll still be in the same flow if you decide that tech is something that you love and something you're passionate about. It ends up being a very small community who can help each other and support each other and the same people will be around 20 years later, so just keep that in mind.
Craig Rosenberg: That was an amazing answer. We've got to talk about data informed decision making and I'd love to start with you, Kelly. Why should companies be data driven? What are the challenges when companies are not data driven?
Kelly Wright: Craig, I'm just so passionate about data. I've built my career on tapping into data, whether it was when I was a consultant or then at Tableau and now at Gong. There's an interesting thing, because right now there's a perception that everyone thinks that they're data driven. Here's the difference. Just because you go collect and store a whole bunch of data doesn't mean that your company is data driven. I think the main important part is how can you build a company where it's not just data driven of collecting data, but you actually are really permeating a data driven culture? Here's what happens, and this is a challenge when companies aren't data driven, so many companies collect so much data, they collect it, they store it, but they don't even know what to do with it. If you roll the clock back a couple of decades, 20 years ago or so people didn't even really care about data. Then you had people collecting data. Then it was empower people to be able to have some self- sufficiency to tap in and access that data and ask their own questions. This is one of the things we focus on at Tableau. Now the problem is there's just so much data that people don't even know what to do with it. There's a risk that companies have of they're collecting the data and not really tapping into this as a data asset. Data should be used to inform your decisions. They can help you to understand what's truly happening and they can actually be used to make people and your team so much better, how you interact with your customers, how you're developing your product, how customers are using your products and services. What ends up happening is, because companies collect that data and they don't tap into it, they end up relying on hunches and opinions. Hunches are great. You want to be able to have that hunch, but then it's important to go validate it by data, not just make decisions based on your opinions alone. You want to be able to base your decisions on facts. If you think about how companies are doing that, you should be asking yourself, what are you doing to tap into your own gold mine of data? At Tableau, we talked about it, eat your own dog food. At Gong we talk about Gong on Gong, leveraging your own data. To make this really tangible for companies and individuals to say, how can I be able to have more of a data driven culture? First, ask yourself, have you built a culture of data? Are you tapping into your data in a way where you can democratize the data and empower people to have access to information that helps them do their jobs better? Then lastly, are you maximizing the potential of the gold mine of data that you're sitting on to be able to understand what is happening, to understand the interactions with your customers, the interactions with your team and to help everyone on your team get better? That's really what we're all trying to do, to build a better data driven culture that taps into reality to make better decisions.
Craig Rosenberg: Olivia you've worked at three different companies. If you were going to add best practices to what Kelly just said on driving data driven decision making, would you add anything there?
Olivia Nottebohm: 100% everything that Kelly said resonates so deeply with me, not surprisingly. We all, as leaders, make a lot of decisions and Kelly's elements about making data part of the culture is so important. The reason I love data is that it enables unemotional decisions. We are making decisions constantly, as are managers, as are individual contributors and it's a really good practice to anchor in data. Why do I say that? The beauty about data is that it has no emotion. As you go to make a decision, if you really get yourself to outline the options for each option, include the pros and the cons and then include data and anchor those pros and cons in data, you'll find you'll get out of some of these more emotional group think decisions and really open up the aperture about different paths you can take, different timeframes you can consider and, frankly, really make sure that you're making it on something solid versus hunches, as Kelly said. I would say the second piece is a counter tension to that. This is preventing analysis paralysis. Data is very special, it's very important, however, if teams spin because they're constantly searching for all the data, you do potentially fall into letting perfection be the enemy of good. You also need to apply this judgment of what is the amount of data you need to make a decision. Once you have that data and outlining it in advance, this is the data that I would need to see to be able to make a trade off between these two options, making that decision. Really making sure you have a time window during which analysis occurs and then making a decision and going. That was something that I found really important when I was at Google Cloud when we were in hyper scale and now at Notion also when you're trying to pace over 100%. There is as much damage done when a decision doesn't get made or prolonged as a decision that's maybe 80% but you're executing strongly against it. It's this beautiful balance for which you hold data. You need it to make decisions, it's incredibly important and then you have to make sure to cut yourself off and just make the decision and run.
Craig Rosenberg: Let's go around the corn quickly. If you don't mind, why don't you drop a go- to- market best practice or tip as we say goodbye quickly? Why don't we go, start with you, Dannie?
Dannie Herzberg: My parting tip to anyone, a leader and an IC alike who is listening today, go- to- market is well beyond go- to- market, which means, to be really good at it, make a friend, build a deep relationship with someone and multiple people in another function. Finance impacts sales, product impacts sales, operations impacts sales. Your careers are long and tech is small, just like Olivia said earlier, so take the time to ask someone from the product team to dinner, learn about who they are as a person, learn about their professional priorities, swap notes about what you're both working on and thinking about, make that a regular occurrence. I promise you, for the sake of your role as it stands today and your future career beyond, that will be a really worthwhile investment of your time, for your sake and for the sake of your customers.
Craig Rosenberg: Love it. Olivia?
Olivia Nottebohm: First of all, it's been a delight to be here with Kelly and Dannie, so thank you to you both. I can't wait to go out to dinner, grab a drink, what Dannie was just describing, soon. First and foremost, I would say building trust. It's very much a thread that I've heard from Kelly and Dannie throughout this. Working with your teammates and your peers is not just about work, but it's about personal relationships and building trust. The same is true for your customers and your users. As you engage with your peers or the outside world, always be thinking about how you can build trust.
Craig Rosenberg: Perfect end. Kelly?
Kelly Wright: Craig, I feel so inspired hearing Dannie and Olivia. They have so many great tidbits and it's so motivational and inspiring. Actually, as we wrap this, I'd like to circle back to some of the focus areas that Olivia and Dannie talked about at the beginning.
Craig Rosenberg: Perfect.
Kelly Wright: I think many leaders focus so much on operational improvements and we've talked about things you can do to go build your company, scale go- to- market. There's so many things that we can do operationally that sometimes companies and people don't focus enough on the best, most important asset in your company which is our people. People ask me all the time," What are your top three priorities?" Thinking it changes when you're trying to scale to 100 million or you're already public or you're going global or you're trying to drive more operational efficiencies. For me, my top three priorities, regardless of company, regardless of stage, they're literally always the same. Number one priority, people. Number two priority is people. My top three priority is people, because people are our top asset. People are the ones that build the company. People engage with our customers. People are selling. People are the ones who are making decisions. People hire your other people. People manage those people. If we get everything else and we have the wrong people, then that can be a challenge. If you have the right people, they're going to be the ones that are going to solve all the problems, be able to help drive growth, be able to foster the best culture. Number one takeaway from me is just always remember to focus on your people.
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Craig Rosenberg, Distinguished VP, Analyst at Gartner, has been bringing products to market long enough to know the importance of advice from others who have been there -- done that.
Craig helps bring that advice straight to you in a discussion with this panel of go-to-market leaders:
- Dannie Herzberg, Partner at Sequoia
- Olivia Nottebohm, CRO at Notion
- Kelly Wright, President & COO at Gong
This heavy-hitter panel shares tried and true principles with a focus on clarity, alignment, and data-informed decision making. Whether you’re scaling a start-up or leading a global team, these insights will allow you to unlock your potential.