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30 Minutes in Sales Nerd Heaven w/ Pete Kazanjy {Hey Salespeople Podcast}

The Hey Salespeople podcast hosted by SalesLoft’s VP of Sales Strategy and self-proclaimed sales nerd, Jeremey Donovan, just got even sales nerdier.

Episode four stars Pete Kazanjy, Founder of Modern Sales Pros (MSP) and Atrium.  While most of us know Pete for his work building the MSP community, but did you know he started a talent search engine that sold to Monster? He’s also one of the most well-researched sales experts we know.

In this properly dubbed “sales nerd explosion,” Pete and Jeremey discuss everything from the concept of “selling ice to an Eskimo” to a hiring pipeline to the necessity of sales math in modern sales.

Listen to this episode for answers you can apply today. Topics include:

  • Do you have to have a deep belief in what you’re selling in order to be successful?
  • Why should you approach hiring as a pipeline activity? (Hint: AEs aren’t for sale on Amazon)
  • How can you use sales talent development as a retention strategy?
  • What can Toyota Lean Manufacturing teach us about sales performance?
  • How can you get better at sales math?


Partial transcription:

 Jeremey: Welcome to the Hey Salespeople podcast, where we focus on delivering immediately actionable best practices for sales professionals. I’m your host, Jeremey Donovan from SalesLoft. Today, it’s my pleasure to have a friend of mine and our guest today, Pete Kazanjy, who is the founder of my favorite resource for learning about sales, Modern Sales Pros (MSP). We’ll talk more at the end about how to join that if you’re not a member. He’s also the founder of a very innovative sales analytics and insights company called Atrium.

Thanks so much, Pete. It’ll be fun. You and I always tend to have a blast, so I’m sure this won’t be any different.

Pete: Oh, yes. Nerd explosion.

Jeremey:  Yes, sales nerd heaven. I start every podcast by asking our guests to share their favorite sales or leadership book.

Pete: I could cheat and say the book I wrote on sales for founders. It’s called Founding Sales. But I think my favorite book… there’s one called The Goal. It’s this really cool operations research book framed in the context of a novel about a protagonist who’s trying to turn around the struggling factory. It was written in the 80s. It essentially takes Toyota lean manufacturing concepts and turns it into this really cool novel. So you can learn about running systems and running a factory, which is kind of how I think about modern sales organizations.

Jeremey: I did read that book back in business school when we were learning about the whipsaw effect in manufacturing. I found that quite useful; it’s a good book. I would definitely recommend to folks as well. Even though it’s outside of the world of sales, it will help you think better about sales.

Second question before we dive into the main topic of the day, which is all going to be about sales, analytics, and KPIs. All the things I know you are passionate about and super well-versed in. But first, what’s the first thing you ever remember selling?

Pete: I think probably the first thing that I ever sold was in Boy Scouts. We did fundraising by selling See’s Candy around the holidays. I remember doing that, and the awkward feeling of asking somebody to buy something and then kind of evolving it and trying to figure out, ‘Okay, why would they want to buy this?’ There’s obviously the ‘me’ there. That’s one motivation.

There’s also the fact that they need to give gifts to other people. Maybe they’re behind the curve on that. So I’m actually delivering a solution to them, where they don’t have to go to the mall and what have you. That was the first thing that I sold at any appreciable scale.

Then, of course, the first technology thing that I sold was at TalentBin, my recruiting software company. Similar to chocolate, but a little different.

Jeremey: You just reminded me of the school fundraisers and going door-to-door selling to all my neighbors. I remember feeling super uncomfortable about asking them to buy the stuff. Some people feel super uncomfortable doing that… and then some people become salespeople. What do you think it is that pushes them past that?

Pete: I think everybody’s uncomfortable with it – even salespeople. In one of the first chapters in my book on sales for founders, Founding Sales, I talk about sales mindset changes. I think it’s an unnatural thing to ask other people for resources, per se.

The reality is that you get over it with practice and repetition. If you don’t get over it, you don’t have success and there’s a natural outcome there where you cease to progress. If you do get over it, you just become completely anesthetized and kind of calloused to it.

That’s just part of going through the process of going from being somebody who is not a seller to somebody who is a seller. It’s essentially getting comfortable with asking and getting comfortable with rejection. Whether it’s 80% of the time or 60% of the time or 50% of the time, you’re going to be rejected.

Jeremey: Do you think you have to have a deep belief in the product in order to be a successful seller? Have you ever seen sellers who were great at their jobs who you don’t think believed in the product they were selling?

Pete:  In the modern sales environment, I don’t think there’s a reason. Given the scarcity of salespeople, the demand for salespeople – and I’m framing this in the context of technology sales – I don’t really think there’s a need for somebody to be a seller for something they don’t believe in.

Moreover, do they believe in it? And are they excited about it? And then there’s the second, more important version of that which it does it work and deliver value? If you have a situation where somebody selling something that doesn’t work and doesn’t deliver value… the prototypical example of this is selling snow to Eskimos. You know, ‘Oh, that guy’s such a great salesperson, he can sell snow to Eskimos.’

My response to that is that that’s actually immoral and that salesperson is a terrible human being. In a modern sales environment, a salesperson is really a business consultant. They’re a consultant that just happens to have a predilection for a particular type of solution.

My response to you would be, I would hope that people wouldn’t be selling things that they’re not excited about. And moreover, I certainly hope that they wouldn’t be selling things that don’t deliver utility and value to their customers because they’re destroying value in the world.

Jeremey: I had never really thought about that separation, which is, there’s the ‘Does it work?’ And ‘Am I passionate about it?’ It makes me think back to my time at Gartner, where I spent most of my career. I definitely believe it worked for our customers on the vendor side and on the technology end-user side.

In the majority of my career there, I also was super passionate about the product. I was excited by the product. Then towards the end, I still believed at work, but I lost the excitement personally for the product. So yeah, that’s a really good distinction.

A big motivator for me for where I’ve gone subsequently was really to ask myself that question – ‘Is this product something that I would feel proud selling to a friend or a family member?’ That’s my test.

Pete: There’s a really amazing conversation thread going on on MSP on modern sales right now about SDR to AE career progressions. I think there’s an S-curve where you start hitting points of diminishing returns.

There are actually two going on right now on MSP. There’s one about SDR to AE progression and another one talking about retaining AEs past an 18-month or 24-month interval. I think the important thing is to make sure that people are always learning and they’re advancing their career goals. In the case of an SDR, it’s becoming a more talented SDR with a better skill profile and progressing along the path to becoming an Account Executive. In the case of Account Executive, it’s selling more complicated deals or bigger deals that have a more complex sales motion, or incremental products or, or what have you.

Obviously, there are some people who feel like, ‘No, I work for the purpose of earning money, and then my fulfillment and challenges at home.’ And that’s fine. There’s no dirt on that. But I think the important thing is to make sure that people are learning; they’re developing their skills and they’re challenged and excited.

You’ll have a feedback loop where if somebody is at the top of an S-curve and kind of plateauing, you’ll see it in their motivation. And then it shows up in their metrics and in their performance.

You could have somebody who is at the top of the S-curve, and they’re really good at what they’re doing. But if learning and progression are important to them, there’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. It may impact their performance – even though they’re an expert as they’ve ever been at selling that thing – by virtue of the fact that they’re bored, I suppose, it impacts their ability to sell that thing.

Jeremey: If you’re a sales leader, you need to think about the skill and the will of the individual. And that’s going to wax and wane based on not just the extrinsic piece, right? Not just their quota attainment, but also learning and development and opportunities. I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone who, above a certain income level where you meet the needs of yourself and your family, doesn’t have a need for actualizing in themselves in some way.

Pete: So one of the things that I’m super blessed to have in my life is modern sales because I have so much surface area with all these amazing sales organizations that I constantly get to learn from. One of the sales organizations that I have a huge crush on is Greenhouse, the applicant tracking system, hiring software company. They’re based in New York.

Their CEO is a buddy of mine, Dan Chait. His co-founder, John Stross, is also a friend. They’re a human capital company. They build software that helps other organizations attract and hire and onboard and retain high-quality human capital. They certainly don’t have a situation of the cobbler’s children have no shoes, where they do a bad job of hiring and onboarding. Insud the organization they do a phenomenal job as well.

Atrium just hired a new head of sales to replace me as our head of sales. His name is Aaron Melamed. He was at Greenhouse for four years, and he was at Namely for two years before that. One of the things that I was super fired-up about when I was recruiting him to come work at Atrium was he had done all these different roles at Greenhouse. He ran the SMB sales team, but then they needed somebody to build and run the SDR team. So he took that on and packaged up this SMB team and handed it to somebody else. Then for a while, he ran sales operations. After that, when they were creating their Greenhouse CRM product (a new product line), he pivoted and went back to being an individual seller to pioneer it.

That is a great way of making sure that you retain very high-quality talent. Make sure that they’re building different muscles that are going to make them more of a five-tool player. As you can see, he’s now our head of sales, which was a role that is one step beyond what he was doing at Greenhouse.

The reason why he was so attractive as a candidate was because he had built all those muscles by virtue of the investment that Greenhouse made. I see that I’m like, ‘Man, something that I’d like to be able to do in my sales organizations is to make sure that people are constantly building new muscles and excited about things.’

If you can retain people for an extra six months or an extra 12 months, with all the institutional knowledge and sales motion/muscle memory baked into them, that’s really powerful for your organization. It really can be a source of advantage. It can be like a secret weapon if you do a good job at it.

Jeremey: The productivity of your organization is going to be so much higher as your average tenure increases and the institutional knowledge and so on increases. Help people achieve their goals and get paid, but also make sure that they have exactly the right skills they need to hit the ground running as an AE.

Pete: All of these have virtuous feedback cycles, right? Because you do that and now your quote-unquote, cost of candidate acquisition is down. One of the things I always talk about is how hiring is the pipeline above the pipeline. Do you have enough butts in the seat? And are they executing?

Hiring isn’t magic. You can’t just go to Amazon and say ‘I’d like three Account Executives, please.’ You actually have to hire them. To the extent that you have inbound leads, you have high NPS, you have good referrals going on – all those sorts of things that indicate that this is a place that people want to come to work. And this is a human, this is a leader, or sales manager, who I want to come work for – that is a powerful asset and a source of advantage to your organization.

This was front and center to me recently. Atrium is hiring a bunch of Account Executives right now. Throughout 2018, I was iterating our sales motion and driving us towards product-market fit and then go to market fit. Now we have that we have a very repeatable sales motion, where you just plug a sharp Account Executive into it, and then boom, they’re on their merry way, we have a three-month ramp, etc, etc.

I was putting together a deck on why it’s great to be an Account Executive in Atrium, and one of the slides I put together was all of my former staff from TalentBin who are now sales leaders in various capacities. It is a great slide to show people that, yes, we invest. I invest in my staff, and they go on to do great things.

Jeremey: That is a big thing with people wanting to join particular organizations. They know that having that organization on their resume is going to serve them incredibly well. I think that’s also a great selection criterion for people who are looking for jobs. Go find those companies who have reputations for developing excellent talent. It doesn’t have to be a Google or an Apple.

THERE’S A LOT MORE AFTER THIS! Listen to the full episode for the rest of Jeremey and Pete’s foray into sales nerd heaven.


If you have a passion for the art and the science of sales, are looking to further your career, or just want to hear some great, practical tips, ‘Hey Salespeople’ is the podcast for you. Subscribe so you can follow along as he interviews the brightest minds in modern sales to bring you immediately actionable advice. Listen and subscribe here.

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