Here’s how to spot an A+ sales candidate
Kimberly Dieter: No longer is it just sufficient enough to be a product expert, I think you have to be an industry expert as well.
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.
Sheena Badani: The past few years, we've seen a huge increase in job hopping. Think about your experience on LinkedIn. I'm always seeing tons of those little open- to- work badges on people's profiles. It's part of our work culture now. So we went straight to the source to get insight into identifying top candidates for your sales team. Joining us on Reveal for this episode is LinkedIn's VP of Sales Solutions, Kimberly Dieter. Kimberly shares takeaways from LinkedIn's latest Global State of Sales report and from her experience as a sales leader at a forward- thinking company. Let's dive in with Kimberly. Kimberly, you've had a fantastic career in sales and you had an interesting start to your career selling door- to- door, engaging with prospects face- to- face when you got started in your career. Tell us a little bit more about that experience and how that set you up for success in the future.
Kimberly Dieter: We definitely didn't have as many tools as we have now. So when I think back about it, the focus of my job was really quantity, not quality. We were sent out into the field, rain, shine, or snow to knock on doors of small businesses to see if they would be interested in outsourcing their payroll to us. It was an amazing learning experience. I would say it helped refine my drive for delivering good work, grit, determination, all the things that I think are important for sales people to have from a skills perspective or characteristics or qualities. But I would say that the world has changed a lot and when I look back at that experience, I think about how unproductive we were in our efforts to take down as many prospects as possible. But all in all, a great experience for me to learn from.
Sheena Badani: So you mentioned changes and, yes, things have definitely changed over the years. Why don't we walk through some of those changes? From your perspective, definitely technology is one of those and you touched on that. What else have you seen evolve from your perspective?
Kimberly Dieter: Yeah, the pandemic changed sales overnight for many organizations. And I think you're right, it's not just about technology, but it's how we use that technology that has changed the environment. I think there's also a new awareness of the buyer experience. I think that technology did allow us to potentially be more productive, but it also created a poor buyer experience. So I think every individual out there, buyer or salesperson, has received hundreds and hundreds of emails that were not applicable, did not help us solve a problem, and actually just filled our inbox. So although technology allowed us to reach a broader audience faster with more volume, it's not actually the way that buyers want to buy today. So that evolution, I think, is forcing us to think more about that quality and precision than we have in the past.
Sheena Badani: I love that a lot. Those are so necessary to be a successful sales professional, revenue professional overall. It's not just about the breadth, but it's about how specific, how personalized, how relevant can you make your message and your outreach. In addition to that, I'd love to hear your perspectives on what makes an A- plus sales professional today. What are some of the additional characteristics or qualities that are relevant and that you might even look for as you grow your own organization?
Kimberly Dieter: I think we're seeing our top performers, and this is not just at LinkedIn, but across the board, so really, anyone who's delivering more than 150% of quota attainment or better, really focus on a few things and have a few, I'll say, concise skills. The first would be a preparation. So they're spending more time and tools preparing for the call. They're not just picking up the phone and blind dialing anymore. So I think someone who almost has a new level of patience, it's not just, once again, about quantity, it's about quality. So it's ensuring that you are thoughtful enough and taking the time to prepare before that call. I think the grit and determination still stays. I think you still have to be resilient to be in sales. You're still going to hear no regardless of how much you prep. But I do think that desire towards precision is really important. I would also say that no longer is it just sufficient enough to be a product expert, I think you have to be an industry expert as well. So that really equates to building trust with your buyer and creating the best possible experience for them. So it's not just saying," I sell the best- in- class time and attendance product," it's," I sell the best- in- class time and attendance product and I'm also manufacturing industry expert and I work with all of your peers, so I want to help you be as efficient in that industry as possible."
Sheena Badani: That's super interesting, that last part on," Your job is not just to be a salesperson, but to be an advisor, a consultant, an expert in a certain area." How do you guide and coach your own team to develop some of those skills because that is definitely an evolution from where sales used to be some number of years ago?
Kimberly Dieter: I think, first and foremost, it's not thinking about the products' features and benefits that you're selling, it's about really taking the time to understand what problem you're helping your customer solve, whether it's with your products and solutions or not. So I think coming into a relationship and understanding how to ask the right type of questions and preparing yourself to gain deep knowledge around what they're trying to accomplish will always allow you to be a better partner for your customer. I think the second part of this is making sure that we are leveraging our existing customers in those industries as experts. And I think oftentimes, or at least in the past, sellers would close a deal with a customer, and then they would pass it over to an account manager or a customer success partner to support that account. I think now it's about maintaining that long- term relationship and really going deep with that customer so you could replicate that solution and experience for customers in similar industries.
Sheena Badani: I'd love to get your take on how this next generation, Gen Z, coming into the workforce continues to push the boundaries and continues to evolve what that A- plus sales professional looks like.
Kimberly Dieter: There's never been a better time to be in sales. It allows you to have that work- life balance I think we all crave, especially those employees that we're hiring that are in Gen Z. And I think it's also one of the few industries where you don't necessarily need accreditation to step into this role, but the continuous improvement over time will help you be more successful. So I think it's a gateway career in the sense that you can graduate with any degree that you might be interested in and then step into this type of opportunity to both have that work- life balance, but also have a career in something that is extremely fulfilling and something that allows you to help others, not just yourself. It goes back to my comment about helping your customers solve their biggest problems, not just selling a product or a service. I think it's really a fulfilling environment and one which would help people have the balance that they're seeking.
Sheena Badani: It's interesting. When I was coming out of school, there was still a misconception that sales is coin operated and there was not this understanding that sales is actually a very strategic function at how you are going in and solving problems alongside your clients. So I'm really glad to see that shift in mindset and how we're educating the next generation on what the function is and what it really can be. And I hope that really continues and that they start to educate folks who are still in school about the function and the opportunities that it opens for you even after you have a few years of experience selling.
Kimberly Dieter: So initially in my career, I'd got into sales because I was interested in having freedom and flexibility to have that work- life balance. I wanted to take half Fridays. I didn't want to be in an office all day. I wanted to be out in the field. Later on in my career, what was important to me was earning enough so that I could purchase my first house and pay off my debt. So I was money motivated at one point, but it wasn't the long- term motivation for me. And then it was about career agility. I wanted to do other things in companies and potentially be a CEO. And when I really looked at that path, having sales experience would allow me to accelerate my career path in that way. So I think it's a great profession. Regardless of how you're motivated, it will evolve with you and allow you to reach those goals financial or otherwise.
Sheena Badani: Kimberly's team at LinkedIn recently put out their Global State of Sales report for 2022, and it's filled with tons of insights around how you can identify top candidates. The number one takeaway? you ask. 76% of top performers reported that they always do research before that initial outreach to a prospect. In fact, sales professionals spend only a third of their time actually selling. So keep in mind when you're hiring sellers that selling is really only part of the job. Now, Kimberly shares some more advice from her team on how they approach what they're calling skills- based professions.
Kimberly Dieter: We have a program at LinkedIn called UnLock where we take individuals who are interested in career transformation and we put them through a sales skills training program and then transition them over into our sales force. And the background of these individuals can be everything from dentist to truck driver. We even had a kicker from the NFL that had retired. And what we're demonstrating is that with the right set of skills, this is a profession that anyone can step into and the earning potential is incomparable to other roles. So it's been a really great program that we've had at LinkedIn for some time. And I'm really proud of our individuals that go through this UnLock program tend to out- attain employees that haven't gone through that program who had a traditional sales background. So it just shows when you lean in on skills development, really anyone with the right desire and motivation can step into sales.
Sheena Badani: That's amazing. And the results just speak for themselves. How has having this program changed how you hire and what you look for as you are bringing folks into the organization?
Kimberly Dieter: I think it's allowed us to unlock opportunity with candidates that maybe we didn't think could do the job in the past. I think it's also allowed us to be more open- minded about how we get people from point A to point B. And I think it's also helped us with our onboarding program. So the training for UnLock should mirror replicate the training that all employees are going through if it's allowing individuals to perform at a higher level once they graduate from the program. So I think it's really helped us open up a lot of channels for hiring that maybe we wouldn't have in the past. Although, like I said earlier, you could get a group of 300 sales professionals together and not a single one will have a professional selling degree. It's more about the willingness to learn and commitment to development and evolution once they step into the role that allows them to over- attain.
Sheena Badani: Why don't we go a little bit deeper there on folks that over attain. So even if you look broadly outside of folks who have participated in the UnLock program, what are those skills and those characteristics of reps who consistently exceed their quota?
Kimberly Dieter: So based on our State of Sales report that we did recently, and I mentioned this earlier as well, our top performers across all organizations that are attaining 150% are better, we're really seeing a few key behaviors from them, which also equate to certain skills. Those behaviors are preparation. So they're spending time at least once a week in a sales tool that is allowing them to prepare for their calls and prepare for cold or prior to cold outreach, warm outreach. We're also seeing those top performers spend less time selling and more time multithreading and preparing for that initial call. So that's quite a change. I think when I started in sales, if we were to tell our leaders that we were going to spend more time in preparation than actual selling, it wouldn't have been accepted because our responsibility was quantity, not quality. It was how many cold calls could we make in a day? We were dialing for dollars back to back and we couldn't even leave the office until we made a hundred dials, right? That was definitely not about precision, that was about mass connect. So I think our top performers are spending more time on that preparation and they're thoughtful about the interaction that they're creating and they're really working to build trusted scale by multithreading into that account and making sure they have as much information as possible about that buyer before the first reach out.
Sheena Badani: So for managers in that old way of selling, I think it was maybe easier to identify red flags based on activity level, like," Okay, you didn't hit the 100 calls, you are at 80." And if that's consistent, then it's an opportunity for the manager to step in and coach and guide that individual to more success. What are some of those red flags that leaders should look out for now with this new more precise way of selling?
Kimberly Dieter: That activity can always be mirrored, so I think it was sometimes a false indicator that a rep was working or working well in the field. I will say now, and this is not just a pitch for Gong, but I think our ability to shadow and understand how our reps are presenting to our clients and communicating and creating quarterly briefings and executive meetings has changed. And that visibility into what they're doing allows for a different level of coaching, one in which helps them evolve faster and really get to that point of their career where they have mastery. So it is exactly what you say, less about just the pure activities and more about the quality of those precision- based calls and interactions with the customers.
Sheena Badani: That's great. And not just because you were talking about Gong, but that's fantastic advice. What should leaders focus on as they develop their team members who are just getting started in their careers?
Kimberly Dieter: I think it's meeting the individuals where they're at. I'm a big fan of situational leadership and if you're not familiar with the model, it essentially allows you to identify if an individual needs more direction or more encouragement. And I think oftentimes when you have new employees join your organization, they're at different stages in their career development and skills. And a lot of times leaders lean in, in the wrong area. They'll over- encourage and give too light of direction or they'll over- direct and not give enough encouragement. So I think understanding where your seller is at from a skills development perspective and how they're motivated and then understanding how much encouragement and direction you should give would absolutely help you accelerate their path towards performance.
Sheena Badani: We've been talking about technology throughout our conversation today, but to get a little bit more specific, how have you seen sales technology change in the industry over the last few years?
Kimberly Dieter: Sales technology is a double- edged sword. It's really interesting. In one hand, it can make sellers more productive. It can make their outreach higher quality. It can make the interaction with the prospect or customer better. It can allow them to learn more about their customer in the way they make decisions and their goals for the future. On the other side, it has created, in some instances, an opportunity to create more cold outreach, which is creating up for buyer experience. I also often talk about tool fatigue. Sometimes there are too many tools in a tech stack, which means that it's a kind of seller's choice on which tool they're going to use. So without perfecting their use of one, they often use many in a very mediocre way. So I think we have to be thoughtful of the way that we use technology, choosing maybe one or two that we think are best- in- class, and then helping our sellers understand how to use those tools at an expert or mastery level as opposed to adding every single tool off the tech stack and watering down the productivity of our sellers, and then also creating a poor experience for our buyers.
Sheena Badani: So you have experience working in more traditional industries and have worked with clients that are coming from more traditional industries. What would be your advice for those folks who may be slower or more hesitant to bring on new technologies for their teams? What would be the best way for them to get started?
Kimberly Dieter: First, recognize that what got you here won't get you there. Adaptability to change is a key component and critical for all businesses to succeed in the future. I think there's a fear in change from time to time, especially from customers and companies who've been successful for a long period of time, which is what most traditional industries have seen. So I encourage them to try, right? As leaders, understand the technology and how it can help your business and your sellers be more successful and then step into a pilot approach. It's very low risk. It would allow them to take a subset of their sales organization and give them this tool and then look at the outcomes. You will likely see an improvement in productivity and revenue gains. And then you will know confidently that it is the right approach for your organization. So a little bit of the old try it before you buy it, but I think no adoption of technology is a surefire way to fail in today's industry. We all have to be more agile than we have in the past.
Sheena Badani: Do something, it's better than doing nothing at all-
Kimberly Dieter: Yeah, correct.
Sheena Badani: ...to support our teams
Kimberly Dieter: Correct.
Sheena Badani: Kimberly, we end all of our conversations with the same question, which is, how would you describe sales in one word?
Kimberly Dieter: Passion. I think you have to be passionate for solving your customers' problems. You have to be passionate about the products and services that you represent. You have to be passionate about your team and your peers and your partners. If you are not all of those things and more, you'll likely fail in this career because it comes through in the way that we sell. If you are not passionate and you do not use the product that you represent every single day, how do you convince others that it is the right tool and resource for them? So I'm passionate about sales. I will continue to be for the rest of my life. I feel so lucky to have found this profession and I hope others do too. It has absolutely changed everything for me.
Sheena Badani: I can hear that passion and see the love for what you do in just our conversation today, so thanks for sharing that with all of our listeners too.
Kimberly Dieter: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Sheena Badani: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Reveal. If you want more resources on how revenue intelligence can help you create high- performing sales teams, head over to gong. io. If you like what you heard, give us that five- star review on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
Kimberly Dieter, LinkedIn’s VP of Sales Solutions wants you to make the right hire every time. Here are the surefire tips for identifying incredible candidates, right off the bat.
Kimberly shares tactical insights from LinkedIn’s 2022 Global State of Sales report and her personal experience as a sales leader at a forward-thinking company.