How sales teams thrive through change
Susan Rothwell: When you look at companies that don't change, right? A lot of times they're not here, they end up not existing. And I think that becomes really more of a risk. I think a lot of it is you need to calculate how much of a change are you willing to make? You need to look at both sides of it, right? What's the benefits, what's the risk? You need to definitely be fueling your decision making with data all along the way, and making sure you're double checking, not only with yourself or with the leadership team, but as I told you with cross- functional partners to make the best decisions you can make.
Devin Reed: This is Reveal the Revenue Intelligence Podcast here to help go to market leaders, do one thing. Stop guessing.
Sheena Badani: If you're ready to unlock reality and reach your potential. Then this show is for you. I'm Sheena Badani.
Devin Reed: And I'm Devin Reed, coming to you from the Gong Studios. Consider the risk of change. I know many of us do this on a daily basis within our organizations and probably ask ourselves questions like, how do we manage risk? How do we get our team on board? How can we ensure a smooth transition? And what if it all goes wrong? Susan Rothwell is the kind of person who flips those questions around. She prefers to ask, what's the risk of not change. Currently, Susan is the CRO at Vericast, a company that fuels commerce, drives economic growth, and directly accelerates revenue potential for over 70,000 brands in businesses. As CRO, Susan is leading the transformation of Vericast business on a daily basis, but what empowered her to become an or organizational agent of change? Susan shares how her experience at Polaroid taught her the importance of embracing change and gives some actionable wisdom about how she enables her sales team to embrace new initiatives.
Sheena Badani: It's so wonderful to have you on the show today. Welcome to Reveal.
Susan Rothwell: Thank you. I'm really happy to be here.
Sheena Badani: I'm excited for our conversation today. But just to set the stage a bit, we like to look at the LinkedIn profiles and backgrounds of all of our guests. And I was just personally really impressed at the depth of your experience in a revenue function, leading a global organization at a well respected company. So I would love to just hear a little bit about your personal journey and your path to becoming CRO?
Susan Rothwell: So I have spent my entire career in sales or some variation of sales, whether carrying a bag or now leading a fairly large organization. And my path really came through different companies. I worked for a company called Polaroid, that did not evolve and transform and is really no longer with us. And, I've been with Vericast for 15 years. So I've spent a lot of my career really just helping teams be successful and transition and drive the business forward. So really have a passion for sales people. Have a passion to watch a company grow, and really feel honored to have had such a great career within the revenue world.
Sheena Badani: You've been a CRO now twice in your career. And I'm curious how you've seen that role of the CRO evolve. Has it evolved? And if so, how so?
Susan Rothwell: The role has some different definitions, of what a CRO is, right? In some cases there's organizations where it's a little bit more than just a sales focus or a customer focus. Within my journey I've had a CRO when the company was smaller and just really one or two divisions of the organization. And now I'm running the former four divisions of the organization. So my role has gone from leading a team of about 300 to now a team of over a thousand sellers within the organization. So it's been a fairly rapid evolution over the past couple of years, really just due to a lot of dynamics within our company, as we continue to evolve the Vericast story and the Vericast brand, I've been gone on the ride with them and taking additional responsibility. So it's been challenging, but also really rewarding. And I think particularly challenging right with everything we've been dealing with in the past couple of years with the pandemic. So a lot of learnings, a lot of pivoting and a lot of really having to make some really strategic decisions to move the business forward rapidly.
Devin Reed: So Susan, as you probably already know, we're big data advocates, data nerds, if you're Sheena, but we would love to hear from, why is data so critical in the way that you lead and conduct business as a CRO?
Susan Rothwell: When you think about it, I really think about it in three different buckets, right? So that the first bucket is kind of what I call our internal data. And that's everything that has to do with what are customers buying from us? How much are they buying from us? What kind of metrics are we watching from a sales perspective? What is the pipeline build? What is our closed ratio, all those normal things you do when you're looking at a sales team and their metrics. And then even with our product, what new products, how are they ramping up? Are they meeting the plan we put out there? So that's kind of the internal focus. The external focus is what's happening with our customers? What's going on in their world? Are they launching new products? Are they opening new stores? Are they transitioning their eCommerce site? Do they have new leadership? So what's going on with them that we need to be able to lean in and help them and use our solutions. And then finally what's going on in the external marketplace and the economy with businesses. We've seen, particularly, in the past two years, so many rapid iterations of businesses having to react to different things going on with the pandemic. There's supply chain issues, there's labor issues. So they're the type of data points that we like to dig into to really have a full approach to how we attack and go to market with our business. So I think it's really that triangulation, there's three points that really help have a picture and not just an internal picture of how we should be using data to inform us to make decisions
Devin Reed: Totally makes sense. And I think Sheena, the first time someone's delineated that internal versus external focus, which was interesting. Susan, I'm curious... I have a hunch the answer is both, but I'm going to ask anyway. A lot of what you just shared I imagine, or I'm curious, like when you're looking at, I'm just call it dashboards data, do you lean more towards like, hey, I have a specific question that I'm trying to get answered and I'm looking at the data to see what it can tell me. Or sometimes are you looking at the data to see what questions you should be asking and kind of sparking some thought that way?
Susan Rothwell: I think I would lean towards the latter. I try to really push myself in my leadership position to have a lot of curiosity and to ask a lot of questions when we see certain things. So if I suddenly see, say a dip in our metrics on sales activity or RFPs or something like that will spark some questions for me to dig in and say what's going on here. Asking the leadership team. Maybe even picking up a call the phone and asking a seller, just to make sure that we can have some real time information about what's going on and how we react. Do we need to give some more support in some ways to drive some additional leads or is that seller not getting some of the help that they need? So we use that, look at those to kind of ask the questions of what does that mean. I think that data, it can be skewed, right? You use data, you look at it as fresh as form, right? But we all use data to tell a story. And so I think it's really important to take a step back and make sure that you're not putting your biased or your thoughts into that data and really asking some key questions as to what that could actually mean.
Devin Reed: So funny you say that. We have a monthly revenue metrics meeting and I coach a team on putting their slides together. And I always tell them, there's a story you can tell very easily. Like you can find a data point to kind of tell any story you want, but make sure you're telling the full story and learning from it versus like your point of... It's easy to pull the one stat that makes you look really good, or, hey, I'm running this initiative. So I'm going to point these two stats, but I'm going to leave these other out of the way because that muddies up the picture a little bit. So I can definitely appreciate that.
Susan Rothwell: We use a KPI dashboard, which I think is pretty interesting, in the sense that not just looking at revenue as a data point, but as we built the plan for'22, we have revenue goals on different pieces of the plan and those revenue goals. Aren't always just about sales executing. They're about making sure our cross functional partners, whether it's a product coming out on time, it's our sales enablement team being able to train up. All of that, everything everybody does across the organization does feed in to whether we can hit those revenue goals. So when we look at those KPIs, we look at it from who's supposed to deliver and how are they being able to deliver on time and things like that. So we have a real broad view, even though they're revenue initiatives. They're really broadly based across the organization.
Devin Reed: One of my favorite questions to ask Susan, and it might take you a second because it's not scripted, but I'm always curious, like as you're looking through data, has there ever been like a really surprising finding or something that just kind of shocked you maybe over the last year or two to consolidate all of your experience?
Susan Rothwell: This would be more of an external data point, but we have a lot of grocery customers that work with us. And when the pandemic first happened, they were one of the first of our customers to pull back, in the sense that they suddenly couldn't get supplies. There was all this concern about people going in stores, all these issues. And I think the data point that shocked me was two things. Like first of all, they quickly pulled back, like cutting back a significant amount of what they were doing. But they quickly saw that data point turned around rapidly because of what we provide for them. Their circular, their digital advertising and things like that, they needed to continue to be communicating to their customers and that they had to turn it on very quickly. Where seeing how their sales came down quickly, they had people coming in stores, not understanding what their hours were and things like that, how effective our solutions were. And really for them to be in front of their customers. They also had issues with some of their customers switching brands. And, so there was just this rapid increase again of making sure they were using our product and services very quickly because it hurt their business as well.
Sheena Badani: You've painted it a really nice picture of how you use data as an organization to give you the status quo. What's happening? What's going on with my customers? What's going on with my teams? What's going on in the market. Maybe you could talk about the next step from there. How are you using data, as a CRO, to actually make decisions and implement things within the organization?
Susan Rothwell: One of the things that, as I've led the revenue organizations I tend to lean into is, I believe in constantly evolving the organization. That the status quo is not necessarily the best thing. And in order to be able to evolve or realign or go to market strategy or realign how our sales team is going to market. I think you really need to use data to inform that initial decision point. So for example, we just went through an evolution of the sales team and really it's part of the company at the end of 2021. And I used some of our data to really start to develop the business cases to why should we do this? Right? Because, change can be disruptive. People don't like change and it can be perceived as being negative, where I think it's can be very positive for the organization. Our businesses aren't staying the same, customers aren't staying the same. How can we stay the same? So, one of the things that we did was we took a look at you've had pre- pandemic world and then you have post pandemic world. And we took a look at the customers and we said, okay, so what has happened in 2021 with what are they buying from us? How much are they buying? Are they buying more products, less products, things like that. And then what do we think is going to happen? What we're going to forecast for'22 that we think is going to happen with these customers. We looked at the data and then we started to bucket the data and we said, okay, some customers are what I call, we want to bear hug. They're going to be maintained customers. They're perhaps not going to grow with us. There's customers that are growing. There's verticals that are doing better than other verticals. And by the way, there's some new opportunities and new categories emerging. So once you take a look at that, you take a step back and say, okay, how does this data help inform us for a strategy, a go to market strategy? And the way that I looked at that was where do we double down and defend and protect the business and where do we really mean in to grow. And, it even would happen at the seller level. Is that seller really a seller that's better at that kind of relationship selling or is that seller really better at leaning in with our analytics and our intelligence and having those really high end sophisticated solutions type of conversations. So what ended up happening is we used all those types of information to really inform and realign how we would go to market. And we launched that in December of 2021. So we're in the middle of implementing that right now. And initial indications are we're off to a good start.
Sheena Badani: I can understand like the mixed feelings within the organization when there's any kind of change. And of course there's massive change in the world overall, and then there's additional change within the organization. So I'm curious how you communicated that to the team. How was it received, and how do you keep folks focused on that positive side of things that you talked about earlier?
Susan Rothwell: I think there's a real formula and playbook to being able to take an organization through any kind of change. And that playbook is really about bringing people with you and also letting them be a part of the conversation. And, so what I mean is as I talked about all that data that we used, right, to kind of look at the business and know where we should, and shouldn't be. I also opened it up to many levels of leaders within the organization, as well as cross- functional teams to get together and talk about what was this business case telling us, and having a lot of input into really how and where we should align. And having that kind of full circle of people involved in understanding the data, what is the story telling us, how should we react? You end up having them turn and go and run with where we're going. Take the lead for and get their teams aligned to what the vision and the strategy, is as we move forward. And I have an example of that we did a couple years ago, we had went through an evolution where we brought print and digital together under one team, they were separate divisions at the time. And in a room with sales leaders, kind of real lining how are we going to put this person here or that person there, why should we do it? And I got a phone call and I had to leave the room. And I came back in the room and there was a leader that was very opposed to what we were trying to do. And I stood in the back of the room and heard all the other leaders convince that person and give them the case for change. And I didn't have to say a word. So I think that's when you really know that you've got everybody leaning in. And one of the other things is I always tell people, there's only a certain amount of ways you can reorganize or you can evolve a company. So what's old is new again, and with a twist, right? We kind of always keep certain things or certain things come back, but you just have that nuance that makes it fresh and has a better perspective as what's going on in the business. So I just encourage leaders to be curious, to lean in and really understand their teams have a lot of great information that can really make that change. Not only happen with a more agreement, but be better, be more powerful, be were informed. So I think that's something that's really worked and continues to work, even with this current alignment that we've done.
Devin Reed: Susan, I think I have to steal that play, which is next time I'm in the midst of change, just pretending I have a phone call and leaving. And if I come back and I have consensus, I'm in a good place, or maybe I come back and it's like the groups are even more separated and now it's like 50, 50 versus 80 20.
Susan Rothwell: Yeah. You never know. That was truly an amazing moment to me. I was like, wow, that's right. You want to be in a sales call and you want the customers be selling each other. Once you're done, you kind of sit back and they're like, yeah, we should do this. Yeah. We should do this because of this. And you just sit back and say, all right, I'm done. Right. Same idea.
Devin Reed: That's such a funny, such a nuanced sales scenario, which is true. Which is like, at least for me selling mostly over Zoom, even before the pandemic was like," I think I should just go on mute right now and say nothing." Because, the conversations you usually don't hear because they're behind closed doors. You're a fly on the wall. So it's like, okay, I'm just going to let you guys do it out. And hopefully it swings my way. I'm curious too, if you've ever... I know that obviously kind of half joking, but clearly effective in that scenario. If there's other ways where maybe you lean on data to get that buy- in right. So maybe same ish scenario, but not leaving for a phone call. Like having a couple people. Susan, I just don't see it. I don't think this is going to work. Is there any times or like, is there data that you rely on? Is there like you said, a framework maybe like, hey, here's the type of data points I show to get people to see the other perspective?
Susan Rothwell: When business is going well nobody digs into the data quite as much as you normally would. Like, oh things are going good. Okay. I think when you see a blip is when the data becomes really dialed in and you really are focused in on what is that data telling you? And that could be something like where we launch a new solution or a new product. And we have these expectations of, this is how it's going to take off, and this is the revenue it's going to drive and things like that. I always say it's always takes longer than we think. I mean, it just does because there's a lot of aspects to getting that done. And I think when taking a look at what is happening, digging that into that product, using dashboards, are how many times has something been presented? How many times have we RFP'd it? If we're losing who are we losing to? What capabilities do they possibly have and we not possibly have? So using the data, the dashboards to kind of say, okay, this is what's going on broad base, but what is that telling us, asking those questions, Devin, that you talked about earlier about what is that really telling us? Are we not launching this as quickly because there's things going on and we haven't asked the questions, but the data is kind of pointing out that there might be some things we need to address in order to get something moving more quickly.
Devin Reed: It's encouraging to hear Susan's perspective on change, and how she uses data to mitigate risk and large organizational changes, especially within her sales team. And Susan is definitely on the forefront of this shift. Because according to Gartner's Future of Sales 2025 Report, 60% of B2B sales organizations will transition from experience and intuition based selling to data driven selling by 2025. This is going to be a much bigger lift for organizations that are slow to embrace change, compared to those already figuring out how to gather and take action on data. If you feel your organization has a lot of data at its fingertips, take some time this year to figure out how it's being used and acted upon. Because we know that data is most powerful when you empower your teams to take action on it. Sheena asks Susan a great question regarding how to get your teams on board with data driven change.
Sheena Badani: So really it seems like the route to transformation and to change at the heart of it is the data. And then there's other aspects, right? It's not the data alone. There's no possible way that's the case. It's the analytical skills and the critical thinking that you bring to that. It's also the people and collaborating, getting that buy- in, building those champions internally, and even part of it is storytelling. Maybe a lot of that, the people and the storytelling is the art of how you can help drive some of this change. But I think for some companies it's still hard. It's really, really hard to drive change in establish organizations. What do you think makes it tough for some of these companies?
Susan Rothwell: I think there's always risk, there's comfort in the status quo. We know what's going on. We know how it's working. We know what questions they ask with the data. It's the same data we always look at, right? I mean, it's the same go to more market strategy. People are in the same position. We don't want to make a move because people might not like it. And then you create unhappiness within your sales teams or with your people and nobody wants that, right? You want a good positive culture. So I think there's a lot of risk that people think about when it comes to changing anything in an organization. And that, I'm talking about a go to market strategy, but it could even be as small as how you launched a product and you decided to change a product or something like that. But I think if you look at data, and in the data, it's telling you a story that clearly there's areas that you need to be focused on, that you're not, or areas that you shouldn't be focused on. Maybe that business isn't there anymore, or maybe that business isn't worth investing in anymore. And if you don't take the time to step back and take a look at all of those things, and there's so many pieces of data that you can have on any given day, I think there's more risk in not changing. I mean, when you look at companies that don't change, right? A lot of times they're not here. They end up not existing. And I think that becomes really more of a risk. I think a lot of it is you need to calculate how much of a change are you're willing to make. You need to look at both sides of it, right? What's the benefits, what's the risks? You need to definitely be fueling your decision making with data all along the way, and making sure you're double checking, not only with yourself or with the leadership team, but as I told with cross- functional partners, to make the best decisions you can make. And you know what? Most likely it's not all going to be right, and then you can't be afraid to make the change again. Three months from now, with our sales organization, if we decide something's missing in the go to the market strategy, you can't hesitate to say, well, we made that decision. You've got to say, Hey, we've got to make some changes because it doesn't help. So I think it's really takes some experience in being able to do it. And I would say that you need to look at what's the risk, and not to convince yourself why you need to make the change.
Sheena Badani: With the change it's uncomfortable, talking about the status quo. It's easy to stay in the status quo, but it's hard to evolve and change and do something differently. I'm curious how you personally handle some of that uncomfort and being in a place where there's unknown, how do you feel confident in the decisions that you're making and that you're recommending for a company?
Susan Rothwell: I sometimes ask myself, like knowing the business really well, like I do, right? I've had a lot of experience in the business, making sure I have all the information I need and then sounding a lot of sounding boards. Making sure that's not done my head or in a silo, getting a lot of feedback, being very open to that feedback, listening. And when you do that, what I call like a 365 view of your decision making process. Checking all those points, taking your ego out of it, taking the fact that, well, this is my thoughts, my plans out of it. And really, really I love listening to people's opinions and things. I think I learn. It's so interesting to me to see how people think and come to conclusions and not feeling like letting that ego get in the way. I think that really creates a healthy environment that most likely you're going to make the best decision. Now things can change, right? Like we were headed down one path prior to pandemic, and then we had to change the whole thing. And then that's a whole different ballgame and decision making. Decision making in a crisis situation. But when you have time to sit back and really plan and really think about it, you just need to be very thoughtful and very pragmatic in your approach, emotion out, what's the facts. What are we trying to do? What's the strategy? What's the angle? And what are all the pieces that I need to put in place to get there? And again, making sure the whole team is aligned every step of the way. Because nobody wants to be hit over the head. Oh, by the way, we're now doing this. If people understand what the journey is and where we're trying to go, it is much easier for people to handle change.
Devin Reed: When discussing change, sometimes we see, what if we make this change and it fails? My reply sometimes is what if we don't make the change and we become blockbuster.
Susan Rothwell: Right? Well, in my history, I worked for Polaroid and it was a company that would not evolve and change and it died, you know? So it's definitely something, it might be one of the reasons why I tend to lean into changes. I remember I was not high level in the organization, but I remember sitting there thinking, what are they thinking
Devin Reed: To head towards wrap up here, Susan, I've got a question for you, but really for our audience, what advice would you give to CROs who are planning their next big strategic initiative?
Susan Rothwell: First of all, make sure you have the data and the facts and the business case. Really understand that it's rooted in facts and data. Again, a pure data and not the story you want to tell with that data. You can tell the story once you figure out where you're going, but you need to look at the data. The second thing would be to absolutely be very inclusive in the decision making process. Aside from, with the executive team or the senior leadership team, making sure that you are going into the organization to understand at the customer level, what is this impact on customers? You know, sales people involved and things getting input as well as cross- functionally. Because, just because we make a change to a sales organization, there's implications about that change across the team. And then you need to be really clear. What is the strategy? What is the path we're going to get there? What are the steps to make that strategy come alive? And, oh, by the way, if something's not right, let everybody know that you'll fix it. And I think that sounds pretty simplistic, there's a lot to unpack there. But I think those types of just playbooks in a way really will help CROs get there. And again understanding what's the risk to not change. And I think you need to weigh it all in
Sheena Badani: Great, great advice from somebody who's been through significant change and multiple different companies. So thanks Susan for that. So, we're heading into the wrap up now. We ask all of our guests one final question and really look forward to hearing your response to, how would you describe sales in one word?
Susan Rothwell: Belief?
Sheena Badani: Ooh, I love it. I think it's the first time we've had the belief as a descriptor.
Devin Reed: I think so for the first 20 episodes, I was really good at knowing if anyone repeated, like a 20 now I think belief did spark like new. We've heard a few times over, which is totally fine, but I like that a lot Susan. Belief in your team. If I'm taking, taking notes from today's session, belief in the data, and belief in the decision making process that you shared. So I like it. I had a great time with you, Susan. Thanks for stopping by the show and sharing your knowledge and wisdom and experience with us.
Susan Rothwell: Well, thanks for having me. It was really great. So I appreciate it.
Devin Reed: If you are ready to start making smarter data driven changes within your organization, head over to gong. ao for more resources on how data can fuel your sales strategy. And if you like what you heard today, give us a five star review on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you're listening.
Susan Rothwell is CRO at Vericast, where she’s leading transformational initiatives on a daily basis. Her experience at Polaroid taught her about the importance of embracing change – and she’s here to share what she learned.
You’ll get actionable advice around how she empowers her sales team to embrace risk, and how to put data at the center of organizational change.