Back to Podcasts

The Value of Being Personal in Sales Leadership w/ LinkedIn’s Alyssa Merwin {Hey Salespeople Podcast}

June 11, 2019

Have you checked out the Hey Salespeople podcast is hosted by Salesloft’s VP of Sales Strategy and self-proclaimed sales nerd, Jeremey Donovan?

Episode two is with Alyssa Merwin, VP of Sales Solutions, North America @ LinkedIn.  Alyssa has had a rocket on her back throughout her career, but it hasn’t come without a lot of hard work and learning to be receptive to feedback. In this episode, Jeremey and Alyssa talk about personal development and dive into the two hallmarks of sales (do you know what they are?).

Alyssa learned the difference between being directive and co-creating and began to see wildly different outcomes. That translates to sales, too.  Her team focuses on working with customers to provide them with the best solution for their needs.  During the conversation, Alyssa shares the way she teaches her team to demonstrate the value they can uniquely bring to each prospect.

The Value of Being Personal in Sales Leadership w/ LinkedIn’s Alyssa Merwin

Listen to this episode to learn how they practice what they preach at LinkedIn, as well as answers to questions like:

  • What advice did Alyssa receive about developing high performing teams at LinkedIn?
  • How do you show a buyer that you truly know them?
  • Does the number of LinkedIn connections within a target account affect win rates?
  • How do you show a prospect the value you bring specifically to their business?
  • What is Alyssa predicting to be the next wave in sales innovation?

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 be joined by our guest, Alyssa Irwin, who is the Vice President for the LinkedIn Sales Navigator business in North America. Welcome, Alyssa.

Alyssa: Thanks, Jeremey. It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Jeremey: It’s truly an honor. I always like to try to get to that immediately actionable value by asking our guests what’s their favorite sales or leadership book or other type of resource?

Alyssa: Oh, gosh, there’s so many. I’ll tell you one that really has been a backbone of how I’ve thought about leading sales organizations, and it’s actually really synonymous with a lot of the work that I’ve been doing the last few years – The Advantage.

Jeremey: Patrick Lencioni. What is it about that book? What did you take away from it?

Alyssa: He talks so much about how to build teams and build trust. How to think about, when you’re in a leadership role, who your team is. So many of the things that he outlines are practices and tactics that, as leaders, we can adopt within our teams to create psychological safety in our teams. It’s how to get rallied around and focused on the right behaviors, and to build commitment and shared vision. Those are such critical components of building a high performing team. They’re all things that I’ve incorporated into how I lead.

Jeremey: I love one of the phrases you use there, which is who your team is. One of the interview questions I pretty much always ask when I’m hiring new leaders, first line manager or above, as I asked them, what’s your definition of your team? The answer I’m looking for right as it’s not just the people who work for you, right? It’s your team, it’s your peers, it’s the overall company, and it’s your stakeholders. So, I found that people who are hyper-focused on just the people who work for them, sort of overly guard and protect those people in ways that are even detrimental to them,

Alyssa: We all have to just be really conscious of where we’re operating. So both in terms of the peer group and the individuals that we’re connecting with. I found that I was getting some feedback that I was great at building high performing teams and really investing in building my organization. But I was not as much of an interdependent leader.

I got feedback that I needed to be thinking across working with my counterparts in other parts of the world or other parts of the business, to do a better job of making sure that we were collaborating and finding opportunities to work together and share ideas and best practices. That was a really important moment in the way that I started to think about who my team is, and leading the individuals who report to you versus working with your peers and those that are above you. That part really resonated with me when I read it in the book.

Jeremey: I always like to push when I hear the what and the why. What was the how? What did you change in the way that you did that actually allowed you to be successful in making that change?

Alyssa: Let me start with it’s a journey. We have ingrained behaviors and ways of working together norms that we get used to. It hasn’t been an overnight switch. But I have tried to be much more cognizant of both bringing my peers along and reaching out to get their input on the things that I’m doing. I’m trying to be more conscious of doing that upfront. Starting from a place of interdependence, as opposed to starting from a place of independence.

Jeremey: You just took me back to one of my greatest lessons, I was having an incredible struggle with a peer of mine. He was actually my boss, and then I got promoted to be his peer. He was hands down one of the best managers I ever had. I don’t really want to call him a manager – he was a leader, a developer.

Once he was my peer, I was having this incredible friction. So I asked our mutual boss for advice on what to do. He gave me that exact advice. He said, ‘Jeremey, your problem is that you’re trying to bring the solution to other people, and not putting them on the bus early enough,’ especially with that peer of mine. Once he was a co-creator, then obviously, things began to work out much better. So I think that’s a huge lesson.

Alyssa: That’s an area that I probably get a lot of feedback on because I like to move quickly. It’s less about wanting to do it all myself, but you feel like you know where you need to go and you want to just go execute. You can really overlook those really critical steps of bringing people along. I spent a lot of time with my team on this. You might be very clear about what needs to happen and how to do it, but being directive versus co-creating with your team gets you such wildly different outcomes.

I am trying to do more of that myself – co-create and be part of the process. It might take us a little bit longer, but we’re likely going to be a lot more successful. In the long run, if we come together with ‘this what we need to go do and let’s go get it done’. Again, work in progress. But it’s such an important leadership lesson.

Jeremey: I think another lesson in there is that co-creation does not mean creation by consensus. Co-creation means that you, as a leader or as a decision maker, apply a consultative leadership style. You seek input from others but ultimately make the decisions.

Alyssa: Absolutely. We’ve got to be the person that moves things along. We are creating space for everyone’s input, but ultimately you’re still going to need to be the one to make the decision and move forward.

Jeremey: What is the first thing you ever remember selling?

Alyssa: I grew up in a really small beach town called St. Augustine in Northeast Florida on the Atlantic coast. And every year there was is a craft fair downtown. When I was maybe nine or 10, a girlfriend and I decided to sell greeting cards that we created using our fingerprints. We turned those little fingerprints into animals and all sorts of fun little cards, and we called them Pinky Prints.

Jeremey: You had branded them. Wow, that’s clever at nine years old.

Alyssa: We had branding, we had great packaging, it was a really fun experience. It was my first exposure to being a salesperson, and the challenges and the rewards that come with it.

Jeremey: That’s amazing. I love the fingerprint greeting cards – Pinky Prints. I gotta remember that one.

So what I would love to transition into is understanding your perspective on how the sales landscape is changing, and what people need to do to react to that. I find one of the best ways to do that is to walk through your own career progression. In each one of those steps, what did you notice? How did things change? Perhaps things that stopped working, or things that started working and that you learned along the way? You started out in the early 2000s as a fresh young sales associate after graduating with a degree in political science. What was that transition like?

Alyssa: Probably like a lot of us who are in sales today, I stumbled into it not really knowing what I was getting myself into. It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened. When I started out, I thought I was going to a consulting firm with CB Insights – who does best practices research and some consulting-ish services. The entry-level job was a BDR role, a sales tough role. That as my very first job out of college.

Growing up, I didn’t think I was a very competitive person. I played tennis rather competitively for most of my childhood and through high school. I loved the sport, and I loved the game. But I did not actually like playing singles. I liked playing doubles, I hated playing singles. I was actually quite a good player, but I kept getting into my own head. I’d be up 5-0 in the second set about to win the match, and then get in my head and throw the whole thing. Not on purpose, of course. But I would just psych myself out. I realized I don’t like the zero-sum outcome where one person wins and one person loses.

Maybe subconsciously, I would have rather been the loser than the beating someone. I actually don’t think I would have thought sales would be good for me. But what I realized in that first role is that sales is not a zero-sum game at all. In fact, we can all be successful. We can help each other and we can all benefit. I absolutely love that and found that it was one of the things that made me fall in love with sales.

Jeremey: I think it’s so much the dedication as an individual sport athlete that you have in enterprise sales. It is a team selling motion. But so much of what you do as a salesperson, especially as you’re coming up as a salesperson, is very individual, right? There are the challenger sellers and lone wolves and so on. So much work in sales really does come down to you winning the deal. It even has that language in it.

Alyssa: I would say so much of success in sales comes down to individual dedication and accountability to the inputs that matter. If you’re not disciplined enough to put in the extra work, to make the extra call, or whatever that that extra step is, I think that’s what really ends up setting people apart. More so, in my opinion, than your sales skills. It’s really the behaviors on the front end that I think dictate the outcomes. I can see where that corollary between folks that are in sports that are more individual, where you only have yourself to rely on. That makes a ton of sense.

Jeremey: Yeah, we won’t go through your incredible progression at CB from account management to Senior Director of Sales, but I’d love to hear about that nine-year journey. How did you see sales evolving? 

Alyssa: When I started right out of college, CB was a really well-oiled machine. We had a really strong, clear sales process. As a BDR, probably like a lot of others around the world, we were smiling and dialing. It was all about cold calling. We were selling a product that we had to create a need for and, in a lot of cases, that prospects weren’t necessarily aware of it – the solution we were offering. It took an enormous amount of cold calls to try to get a foot in the door. I don’t know that we had dial minimum per day. But we were certainly making 100 dials a day and needing to schedule for at least 30 live meetings a month for the account executives.

Let’s call that the face-to-face era. Cold calling was the currency of a sales executive and held a lot of the value…

THERE’S A LOT MORE AFTER THIS! Listen to the full episode fo the rest of Jeremey’s conversation with Alyssa.

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.