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"What Executives Need to Know" with Troy Kanter

The Selling Excellence Podcast: Season 1, Episode 1

On this episode, Tim interviews Troy Kanter, the Co-Founder and CEO of AuctusIQ. Troy has had an impressive career, including starting and transacting a business for $1.4 billion. He also ran one of the largest training companies and helped thousands of sales organizations. Troy will talk about the missing metrics to measure and manage a sales force’s success. You listen in on this, you’re guaranteed to learn something.

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Episode Transcript

Tim Geisert (00:06):
Welcome to the Selling Excellence Podcast for business executives. We all know B2B selling isn’t getting any easier and what’s worse, it’s getting a lot more expensive. I’m Tim Geisert. I’m your host. And I want to help you turn your sales force into an asset, not a pain in the asset. In this episode on Selling Excellence, we’re going to be talking with Troy Kanter, a very successful entrepreneur, experienced seller, sales leader, business executive, the list goes on and on, but the particulars that are really important here is that you took your first company Kenexa from startup to transacting it to IBM for $1.4 billion. From that you went into taking and running one of the largest training companies in the world and rolling that up. But in the midst of all that, you have been under the hood of thousands of sales organizations, hundreds of companies. Along the way, you’ve learned a lot. What have you learned from that journey?

Troy Kanter (01:01):
Thanks Tim. It’s interesting that as you’re… I sit on boards, like you said, I’ve built companies, I’ve looked at hundreds, if not thousands of organizations and what’s fascinating to me is that sales is the most measurable of all of your job families yet it has more missing metrics than any other function in the corporate world. People don’t run their sales organization as a business process, but yet when I work with executive committees or other boards, it was like they would never dream of running R&D without a really sound business process, wouldn’t even think about manufacturing or supply chain without a really solid business process, wouldn’t even consider a finance department without guardrails and systems and processes yet with the sales forces, so much is left to chance. And as you really study growth and study cost effective growth, there are just a few magical missing metrics that when you figure it out and you build systems around it, you can just so move the needle on growth and more importantly, cost effective growth.

Tim Geisert (02:12):
So at the root of it, is it those metrics? Is that the heart of what is missing that lets sales run on their own and not like a business process?

Troy Kanter (02:21):
Well, metrics are the outcome from really solid systems. So there are hundreds of things you can do with your sales force, but there are a few of them that just have such outweighed impact on the success of your organization. And so once you refine those few things, all of a sudden then you’ve got metrics that really give you daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly insight to how are we doing? How are we performing? What are the leading indicators that are really going to not only help our quarter come true, but help our year come true and then get us set up to scale even more into the future?

Tim Geisert (03:01):
Yeah. So thinking about when you were sitting in the executive chair and you look at those metrics, are they grouped in certain ways that can help our audience really understand what are those things you need to watch? What are those things you need to measure? What are those things you need to manage?

Troy Kanter (03:17):
Yeah, there’s a hundred, but I’m going to do the three, that if you get these three right, your life will be better, your revenues will be higher. First, it’s so many companies think of talent as an internal slogan, not a business process. When you think about your sales force, everyone one has their top quartile that they can just point at. That girl, that guy just quarter in, quarter out, constantly outperforms, but yet most companies don’t have a scorecard of readiness. And there are ways now at which you can understand rep by rep, where do they stand on all the important selling skills? Where do they stand on the industry knowledge that it takes to sell your product or service at excellence? And then where do they stand on their capabilities of actually demonstrating value with your product or service? Those are such straightforward, simple ways of growing a sales force yet it’s less than one in 10 sales forces that I ever been around actually have that dashboard, the readiness of each one of their reps to do that job at excellence.

Second, very few sales forces have… They track all kinds of things about their funnel. They’ve got CRM reports, just unlimited amounts of reports that can come out of their CRM, yet they can’t isolate those micro moments in the selling process, those seller actions, those buyer reciprocation, those things that really emotionally and intellectually engage the buyer that lead to deal velocity, shorten close cycles, deals getting done at target price or at target margin. We figure those things out, but yet very few companies have that dashboard deal by deal, rep by rep.

And then the third, so much of what we do is focused on that seller, but such a critical, more important job family is this world’s becoming more sophisticated and more complicated is that frontline sales manager, and so much of the motion and energy of those frontline sales managers go to non-productive activity. And there’s a way at which you can come up with the metrics that really okay as a leader, how do I really focus those individuals so that we’re really optimizing the rep experience, the rep readiness, deal by deal, focusing on those really important behaviors that are leading to wins at the end of the quarter. And there’s a way to simplify all that and just make it a nice, simple one pane of glass that as a CEO, it can transform your ability to have an impact on your sales force.

Tim Geisert (05:59):
So now, knowing those three, let’s drill down into a little bit, because you have practical experience. You’ve been there, you’ve done that, you’ve built these organizations. Let’s talk about talent. And I’ve heard this many times from CEOs where they’ll say I just got head faked, which is a great football term. You get head faked when somebody does a really good interview. How do you really identify the talent? What is it about them? And what have you done in the past to really find talent that fits the business that they become successful in your organization?

Troy Kanter (06:31):
Yeah, well, you got to get through the basic myths and how people recruit and onboard sales people. You go to any sophisticated sales organization and it’s just time and time again, the sales managers, the sales leaders are like, “I need five years of experience in SaaS,” or “I need seven years of experience in analytics and I need them to have gone to one of these schools.” And so all of a sudden, you start by asking the wrong questions. And then all of a sudden, you see that on paper, whether that’s their resume or their LinkedIn profile, and then they show up and they’re a perfect 43 long right off the rack, handsome, got the five years of experience that you’re looking for and all of a sudden, the natural biases set in and you’re completely enamored with the resume and the appearance and you miss out on what are all those intangibles, the things that actually determine, will someone do this and do it at excellence, day in and day out, 50 to 60 hours a week for the next five years?

Those are different factors than have they worked in your industry for five years. The easiest thing to teach and train is product knowledge and industry knowledge. It’s impossible to train responsibility and work ethic and grit and determination and relationship capacity. And so I think as I’ve built my companies and worked with other organizations, it’s like start with the person, who are they naturally? And there are tools now and we build them and some other folks have them that you can really figure out what are those intangibles, then let’s isolate it. What are the skills that it takes at this company to do this job at excellence? And then what are the points of knowledge that you have to have to do this job at excellence?

And then let’s have a very measured way at which over the next 90 days, that’s what that rep owes us and here’s what we owe that rep, because again, you simplify it, but most organizations, they do themselves such a disservice because they bring these people in well intended and they just throw them into the fire, but yet they haven’t done the things in a structured measurement based way to really get them ready to do that job at excellence.

Tim Geisert (08:51):
And these tools are available like never before. They’re specific to understanding those intangibles. So that’s number one, that’s talent, really looking at those intangibles and understanding them. Don’t get head faked by the resume or the school they went to. I think I got that, right?

Troy Kanter (09:07):

Tim Geisert (09:07):
So let’s talk about the next thing, which is how to manage deals, how to work that through. You talk about the seller actions and the buyer reciprocation and this micro little decisions along the way. Why don’t you expand on that a little bit?

Troy Kanter (09:22):
Sure. Like you mentioned in the intro, that I oversaw the largest sales training company in the world. So some of those brands were spin selling and Miller Heiman and strategic selling and customer centric selling. I mean, the list goes on and on. And there are a bunch of other really good solid training programs or methodologies out there, but what’s missing… And all of them are similar. The language is slightly different, but yet you’ve got to figure out the basics of selling. Who is the buyer? Who are the influencers? How do you figure out how to get all those influencers on the same page? How do you figure out your win strategy? What are the risk factors in the deal? How do you overcome it? What are those rhythms and cadences and processes to get a deal done and done on time and done on budget or done at target price?

Then there’s this whole teaching and advising and being of service and being of value. That’s an incredible methodology and it doesn’t matter which methodology you adopt. There’s a general overlay there, but what we figured out is on each one of those constructs, what are the really specific seller actions and what are those buyer reciprocation that actually validate, have you accomplished each one of those key constructs in the sales process? And it’s like guided selling. And as you’re onboarding reps, for the first 12 to 24 months, you are so under optimizing that rep if that rep isn’t getting measurement and looking at his or her game film every single night on every deal that they looked at. Where do they stand? What are the risk factors? What’s getting accomplished? What isn’t? How do you figure out how to coach them up real time to overcome that? Because when you study successful sellers and again, you talk to that top 10% in any industry, and you say, tell me about how did you get so good at what you did?

And there were two things I always say, oh, I got thrown into the deep end of the pool. I was tasked with doing something I wasn’t sure I was able to do. And then secondly, and more importantly, somebody invested in me. I had a sales manager or a sales leader that just helped me more than I’ve ever been helped real time, deal by deal. It’s this, that real time coaching, that real time feedback when you’re in the heat of the battle just goes so far in terms of helping shrink time for the growth and development of these reps.

Tim Geisert (11:50):
So let me summarize, and you tell me if I’ve got this right. So instead of a training program where you go off to an airport Hilton for a day and a half, what you’re talking about is really a way to work. It’s a way to ask the right questions at the right time and it’s a process within a process of the buying and selling elements of B2B market, right?

Troy Kanter (12:10):

Tim Geisert (12:11):
And that’s really key. So if you think about, you’ve got a business process for talent, you’ve got a business process for deal management. Let’s talk about the business process for the sales leader. That was the third thing you talked about. So what is it that is their business process to drive success?

Troy Kanter (12:28):
Yeah. So if you look at the data and the research, because we’ve studied this a lot, it is depending on the organization, it’s about 25 to 35% of a sales manager’s week is wasted chasing down data, trying to get to the bottom of reports, trying to get to the bottom of where a deal is in the funnel, chasing something down for a rep, chasing something down for the CRO. That’s wasted motion, wasted energy, wasted capital. Sales people, just like business leaders, have to have a plan. You have a quarterly plan. Most sales people don’t have a quarterly plan. They have a quarterly number to hit, but yet they don’t have a plan on what are all the things that whether I get to that number or not, I leave the quarter bigger, faster, stronger. I’m more effective. So that’s what we do.

How do you put the systems and processes in place for the sales managers that simplifies their life and gets them focused exclusively on all the high value activity? And that’s rep by rep. How do you know where they are in their readiness? They get one or two competencies that they’re working on. There are leading indicators that make sure you’ve got the appropriate coverage levels at every stage of your funnel. You need that data weekly. And the rep has to be accountable for that on their quarterly plan. And then you’ve got a quarter a hit. And so once a week, what most sales leaders spend chasing their tail just a 30 minute, one to one with each one of their reps, because if you run a business, you owe your CEO a 30 to 60 minute check in every week on all of the leading indicators of your PnL.

Your reps owe your sales manager a 30 minute check in. And within that 30 minute check in, you’re working on their skills. You’re working on their product knowledge. You’re getting inventory of where they’re standing on all of the leading indicators and the coverage ratios that they need. And most importantly, you’re getting a range on where they stand for quarter and you’ve highlighted the one to 10 deals for the next 90 days that you’ve got to help them ensure that you get them in the boat. So all of a sudden, if an average sales manager has anywhere from six to 10 direct reports, literally Monday, your job of data integrity, focusing on the important things, teaching and coaching and ensuring that each one of your reps is getting better. You’re done on Monday. Tuesday through Friday is nothing but working those deals with your reps, being able to break down the game film, strategizing around how do we shrink time on connecting the dots inside these organizations and getting these deals done?

I know it sounds overly simplified, but it’s so incredibly liberating to your sales leaders and what it means to your likelihood of hitting the quarter. It’s just transformational.

Tim Geisert (15:35):
Yeah. And in some ways what you’re talking about in that business process, you’re really working the people, working their talents to competencies, helping them grow, you’re working the deals and you’re working those leading indicators that as a sales leader, you’re seeing the marketplace, you’re seeing the opportunity and you need to take advantage of that, right?

Troy Kanter (15:51):
Absolutely. And when you talk to the reps and you ask, do you get weekly feedback? 10% will say yeah, I get weekly feedback. The majority of them, what they get is funnel inspection. And so their funnel gets inspected seven different ways. But yet in those conversations, very few reps will say, I can do my job better because of that funnel inspection. And so again, there’s ways at which you teach your sales managers how the “funnel inspection” turns into funnel nurturing and funnel acceleration learning and growth and development for your individual reps.

Tim Geisert (16:35):
Yeah. As we wrap up this session of this, I’ve been wanting to ask you this question. You sit on, what? Half a dozen boards, you’ve built the company from nothing in Kenexa, run the sales organization. You’re speaking to CEOs. You’re spending a lot of time with them. What is the single most important thing they need to know to get this going, to transform their sales organization into a business process?

Troy Kanter (17:03):
Yeah. I think when people start, most of the time, complaining about it or speaking with fear because what they used to do isn’t working, it’s getting harder, more expensive. I mean [crosstalk 00:17:14]-

Tim Geisert (17:14):
That’s a pain in the asset.

Troy Kanter (17:15):
Pain in the asset. I like to go back to, is your sales force a competitive advantage? Can you look at me and can you bang on the table and say, my sales force is part of my value proposition? And if it’s not, you’ve got a lot of work to do. And that’s the standard. When your sales reps are interacting with your prospects and your customers, is that interaction so good that if we called that prospect up and said, would you pay $500 for that? Would you have paid for that sales call? As crazy as that sounds, that’s an incredible leading indicator of the likelihood of you winning that business. And that’s where you got to start. What does it take to get your sales force to a position where the sales call is so effective, your prospects would’ve paid for it, that they learn so much in that interaction and they can do their jobs so much better because of your sales force. That’s how it becomes part of your value prop.

And to solve that, it’s those three things, the readiness of the people and a nice clean dashboard on it, the readiness of your sales managers, and then a data driven way at which you work every single one of your major opportunities. You solve for those things, you’ve solved for significant value creation.

Tim Geisert (18:32):
And what an amazing enlightenment for a CEO. When they think about, I’m just going to put some guys and girls out there and let them sink or swim, that old way doesn’t work anymore. For them, it’s actually pretty easy. When they start thinking about their sales organization as a business process like they do the rest of their business, it actually is pretty liberating for them, isn’t it?

Troy Kanter (18:53):
You can sleep at night. You may only sleep three hours, but at least-

Tim Geisert (18:56):
At least you’re sleeping.

Troy Kanter (18:57):
It’ll be uninterrupted three hours.

Tim Geisert (19:00):
Well, hey Troy, thanks for your time here today. This has been extremely valuable and hopefully our listeners have learned something. That’s what we do. That’s a big part of what Auctus IQ is about, is helping sales executives and business executives become smarter about it. And as we hear, sales excellence is about running it as a business process. So thanks for coming today.

Troy Kanter (19:19):
Yeah, it’s been great. Thank you.

Speaker 3 (19:20):
A [inaudible 00:19:26] Media production.

AuctusIQ means smart growth.

“Auctus” is Latin for growth. “IQ” means smarts. Combined, AuctusIQ means smart growth. AuctusIQ is a sales data and science company. Our mission is to provide the right data, on a technology platform that allows you to put talent in your tech stack. Doing this solves your three biggest challenges: selecting and retaining exceptional talent, coaching to ensure readiness to meet or beat quota, and most importantly making sure everything you do is tied to winning more deals.

If you’re looking for a proven way to energize your sales force, let’s talk.

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