Female: Welcome to the SBI Podcast offering CEO’s, sales and marketing leaders ideas to make the number.
Greg: Hello, everybody. This is Greg Alexander, CEO of Sales Benchmark Index. Welcome to SBI’s Podcast series. Today we have a special guest, Samir Joglekar, who is the executive vice president of sales for Renaissance Learning. For those of you that are not familiar with Renaissance Learning they provide K-12 educational institutions with learning solutions. They have about a 1,000 employees and about a 110 sale’s reps. Prior to this role Samir lead sales at inBloom and eInstruction, spent ten years at Dell computer during it’s heyday, and he began his career with eight years at Apple so quite a career over a twenty-five year time horizon looks like. Samir, welcome to the show.
Samir: Thank, Greg. Thanks for having me today.
Greg: Sure. Samir you just joined Renaissance Learning as I understand it; is that correct?
Samir: I did. I had the benefit of joining earlier this year in the midsummer right at about the beginning of July as the company started it’s third quarter.
Greg: Okay, so you still in your honeymoon period? Is that over?
Samir: Well, I think honeymoon periods these days get shorter and shorter. I would say from a corporate point of view absolutely. I’m still learning a lot about the company. I think the company is learning a lot about me. From a executional point of view I think for any new sale’s leader coming to a role your honeymoon period’s pretty short. It’s time to get going relatively quickly but all is going well. I’m really enjoying the team I’m with and the organization I’m with.
Greg: All right. At this point in the show we’d like to ask you for a fun fact about yourself that the audience probably doesn’t know about to humanize you as a guest.
Samir: All right. A little fun fact, well, I guess two quick fun facts. I started my career, so to speak I think you talked a lot about my technology background in my career, but I actually started my career, working career working for a paycheck, teaching little kids how to swim. That was the beginning of making a paycheck and making a little bit of a living and helping myself through school and earning some money for college. At the same time when I was in school not only did I spend a lot of time on the technology side of the house but also spent a lot of time on the healthcare side of the house. I have a lot of experience in those two areas. I don’t know. I’m a pretty boring guy otherwise. I’m not sure I have a ton of fun facts but just a little bit of background about me.
Greg: Well, teaching little kids how to swim is not boring.
Samir: Yes, no definitely not. The beauty of teaching the youngest kids is they have no fear, so it makes it a lot easier to get them into the water and get them comfortable with the water.
Greg: I’ll share a little fun fact with me. In 1992 I won a national body building championship at the University of Massachusetts. The guys in the studio right now are laughing like crazy because I got three chins and I ate four donuts this morning. They’re saying no way, but I can show you the pictures.
Samir: Well, you’ve done it once before, so at least you’ve got it in you to do it again, right?
Greg: Yes, right. All right. Let’s jump into the content of the show. I’ve got a couple of topics that I thought your knowledge would contribute to our audience quite a bit so the first is around sale’s structure and the second one is working inside of a private equity firm for the first time. Let’s start with the first one which is you take the job. Your company, Renaissance, grew quiet a bit and then was sold from one private equity firm to another private equity firm which resulted in investment capital and growth expectations so they hired you to lead the sale’s team and grow the company. You hit the ground running. How do you decide what to do first, what to do second, etc.?
Samir: Yes, that’s one of those things where I think any sale’s leader regardless of whether you’re new to an organization or been with an organization I think you’re always evaluating this every single sale’s year and trying to determine what’s the next thing that we need to work on or you need to work on as an individual, as a team, to keep the ball moving in the direction you want to go. I think, Greg, you’re right. I was brought into the organization right when the change of ownership happened or right about just past the change of ownership to another private equity firm. As you indicated they really wanted to make sure that we were now capitalizing on the opportunity in front of us to continue to grow the business. We’ve done a great job of growing business, but I would say we weren’t necessarily doing it in a mindful and planned way.
To a certain degree we almost stumbled into it. We were growing the business really because of we had great people. We had great products and to a certain degree that gets you far enough, but you come to some point in time, and I think every company comes to some point in time, where it’s not just the product. It’s not just the people.
You’ve got to really ensure you’ve got the plan on how you start to put these things together. I think I stepped into the role where the objective and my initial objective was how do we build a plan to help capitalize on the talent that we already had, the human talent we had as well as the product that we had in the marketplace, and help us achieve really the growth to the next level over the next several years.
I was real fortunate in the fact that I stepped into an organization that already had a very strong management team. My team that I inherited was very strong. Our CEO, Jack Lynch, who I believe that you’ve also had the opportunity to talk to or interview in the past, he’s been building a great world class management team for Renaissance Learning for the last year or so. I had the benefit of walking into that. Really the first thing that I looked at is I don’t want to go break what’s already working, so let’s go assess what’s already working today. What do we got that’s happening well? We have a great affinity with our customers. Our customers speak very highly of us. Our MPS scores in the marketplace are fantastic. We see great renewals of our products as a result of that. We don’t want to necessarily break what’s already working.
What I tried to do is take the time to just step back look at where are the rough edges that we can now start to improve and start to really optimize. Therein, began the plan that I put together for really my first six months here at Renaissance Learning to build out that plan and start to execute on that plan on how we can prepare our sale’s team to really take advantage of the 2015 sale’s year. It’s how we attacked the problem and how I started to go after the problem.
Greg: Okay. We need to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.
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Greg: Welcome back everybody. Let’s continue our conversation. One of the first things that you did which I found fascinating was you stood up new channel, an inside sale’s team, fairly quickly. When you look back on that now, how did you know it was the right move? Were there any worries that maybe you were doing this hastily? What was your thought process there?
Samir: Yes, that’s a great question. It was a little bit of a risk/reward scenario. I think the risk was somewhat of a calculated risk with huge up side reward potential for us in the long run. The thing that we wanted to do is really to determine how can we touch and connect with more customers in a more efficient way. A K-12 environment I’m not sure how familiar your listeners are to what the K-12 environment looks like. It’s nothing like your typical B to B environment or B to C environment. It’s a very different set of buyers, very different set of personalities and buying patterns. One of the things about that K-12 environment is they really value the personal connections that you can start to build from a customer to a representative, a sale’s rep in our particular case. We felt that the risk/reward of standing up this inside team to really now start to be another direct connection to our customers, to start to build and develop more relationships, deeper relationships, with more and more customers it just felt like that was the right thing to do.
I’ve done that in the past in prior lives selling into the K-12 environment. Many other companies in our space do that. The risk wasn’t too high on making it happen. I think the biggest challenge was determining just how do we make it work within the confines of a company that’s been around for thirty years and been doing very well for thirty years. How do we fit this new mode or this new channel into the way that Renaissance Learning is going to be moving forward. I think that was our biggest challenge. That we’re still tweaking it. We’re still working through it. We still have a lot to learn. I think we’re already starting to see some green shoots of how well this is going to work for us in the long term.
Greg: You said some things there I want to call out and that is the company that you just joined has had an incredible run. They’re a leader in their space. In the times that I’ve talked to Jack the stories that he tells about what the teachers say about your product and how it improves the learning experience for the kids it’s moving. It really is. You guys are doing meaningful work. When you think about that environment and you think about inside sales, especially guys like me that been around for a while, you have this opinion of what inside sales is and it’s probably dated, so how over the phone, over the web, over e-mail can you build relationships with buyers?
Samir: Yes, that’s a great question. I don’t know. The way that I think about it really gets down to what are your buyers going to value the most in terms of that relationship? What do they really care about? Coming from the tech industry, I think as you mentioned early on I worked at Dell, I called on and then managed teams that were calling on the global 500 segment of customers and then also state local government customers. They really value the person to person touch. They really value the time and the connection that B to B relationship, so to speak, is valued in terms of that personal face to face connection.
In K-12 while I’m not going to diminish there is an aspect of face to face which is important but the bigger aspect is for that customer to know that you’re there for them when they need you. They just want to know that I can reach out. I have somebody that’s looking after my back somebody that knows the challenges I’m having, whether it’s adopting new standards whether it’s understanding how to progress monitor my students whether it’s understanding how much testing is too much testing, all these things that are top issues in the K-12 marketplace today. Our customers just want to know that they have somebody that is there to support them that understands those challenges and that can be a consultative help to make sure they’re doing the right things. I think the expectations of those customers they’re varied based on the size of the customer don’t get me wrong. I think we have seen in our marketplace and we strongly believe that you can still very, very handily service handily represent and take care of those customers with an inside selling model, again, depending on the size of the customer.
Greg, I don’t want to try to say that every single customer is that way. I mean the largest districts, school districts, across the country whether it’s a New York City Public Schools or LA Unified or Chicago Public Schools they are not the ones that respond the best to the inside only selling model, so we had to segment our business and say there’s a certain size of customers where the complexity of the district the complexity of the selling process really warrants someone to be there face to face often to understand those nuances. That’s why we still have an outside field force that calls on those customers. They’re a number of districts across the country that have 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 children per district. The complexity in that district model is not as great. What they really look for is someone to be available for them, can help them quickly, respond to their needs quickly, and suggest and recommend the right thing quickly. I think that’s where an inside selling model gives you huge advantages if you do it right and if your team really understands what that customer’s looks for.
Greg: Yes. I mean it’s comforting knowing that help is just a phone call away right?
Samir: Absolutely. Help is a phone call away. It’s interesting, Greg, even in something simple like tech support where we all have personal both great positive experiences and negative experiences about tech support. The thing that I found really interesting when I joined Renaissance is while we have an amazing set of data metrics that show that we typically answer the phone in seven seconds, right? We have a little bit of over capacity in order to go do that. That aside I think what we found is the usage of our instantaneous chat feature. The thing that we always see when we go to a website and they say, “Hey, chat with me here.”
We actually get a lot of customers that do that. I think the reason why they do that is they know that when they’re in the heat of the moment they’re trying to use their products, a teacher has a class of thirty kids in front of them they need to figure something out, it’s real easy for them to just click that chat button, get an answer real quick, and then get back to their work. We’ve received just unbelievable rave commentary from our customers just saying they love that. They love the fact that they can get to us. Being there for them I should say as you said, Greg, is the critical thing. We see that in tech support, with sales, with everything and that’s really what our customers seem to really value.
Greg: Yes. We’re talking with Samir Joglekar, EVP of sales for Renaissance Learning, about sale’s structure. He’s been on the job here for what is it let’s call it six month and he made a significant sale’s structure change, set up a new channel, inside sale’s channel, and he did it very intelligently. He worked backwards from the way the customer wanted to be served and opened up a new channel and served the customer the way the customer wanted to be served and as a result is growing his business.
Okay. Let’s pivot a little bit here to one more question about your honeymoon period as we were laughing about earlier. When you look back let’s say, I don’t know, in the first ninety days or so there’s all this excitement of us starting a new job. There was an interview process where there was a mandate given to you by the CEO. You probably made some commitments so there’s been expectations that have been set. What did you do to get off to a fast start? If you were to do anything differently in the first ninety days, what would that be?
Samir: Yes. It’s one of those things where you always try to reflect on your first ninety days and determine what did I do well? What could we have done differently to improve the situation? Let me talk about two things that just come to mind really, Greg, just chatting about this and thinking out loud. I think one of the things that I mindfully started with, and I learned this from some of my mentors over the years people that I’ve worked with over the years, is first and foremost don’t be afraid to jump in feet first which is don’t over commit yourself. Now, what they mean by that is I think a lot of people, at least I’ve seen and I’ve tried to make sure I don’t do the same thing, when they start a new role they have a mandate of what they’re excepting to be done and what they’re looking for of their organization. Yes, you want to step back and watch and observe for a while, but you can’t be too disengaged. I believe, I firmly believe, it’s important to engage immediately but engage at the proper level such that you’re involved, you’re being seen as being involved, and you’re being seen as being responsive and truly attentive to what your organization needs, but be careful in not having to make too many quick rash decisions without a lot of data, without a lot of information. I think that’s one thing that I set out mindfully with the help of Jack, our CEO. We laid out a plan on how we were going to do this. I was able to do a really good job of getting to that point.
I tell you I was joking with one of the associates that works with SBI that I’ve known now for a little while and nothing like jumping in feet first in the since I think it was day thirteen on the job for me. It was up in front of our entire sale’s organization at our sale’s kick off actually presenting and speaking to everyone about everything we’re going to do in the next year. It was nothing like trial be fire, get yourself involved in this, and don’t be afraid to get engaged but just be mindful and careful about what you do. I think that’s one thing that I know has served well for me. I would encourage your listeners encourage anyone that I ever chat with that’s something I would encourage them to go do.
I think the thing that you got to be careful about though, and I would say I probably was 80-90% successful in this particular area they’re always better things you can do, is just be careful about the expectations that you set for your team because I think anybody that’s going to be walking in as a new sale’s leader they’re team, they’re team underneath them they’re team that’s part of their organization your first line management team that’s working for you or this part of your team, they’re going to look at this as their opportunity to say, “Hey, now this is my chance to get my wish list out there. These are all the things I been looking for”, whether it’s for personal needs or for their team needs or for organizational needs or whatever, here’s the wish list. I think you just got to be careful of not over promising on what you’re going to go able to deliver and then making sure that you can deliver some quick wins to the organization of things that you know are going to help the organization in the long run.
I think we did a pretty good job. I think I did a pretty good job of getting to that point without over committing. It may have been a couple things I over committed on that we weren’t able to get done but we’re working on them. I genuinely feel that overall the team is real happy with the progress we’ve made in the last four or five months that I’ve been here, but more importantly I think the road map that we’ve laid out for the next year on what we’re going to get done and how we’re going to get it done.
Greg: That’s good advice. It really is. I mean day thirteen standing up in front of everybody that’s the very definition of jumping in with your feet.
Samir: Exactly. It’s funny I reflect back on that day it was a little bit … It’ funny. There’ve been other people in the organization, other parts of the organization I think as you said earlier on. I mean we’re a company of about a 1,000 people. My organization the whole org. is maybe just under a 150. They’re people that I got e-mails from literally two weeks ago saying, “Hey, remember we talked about this back in July.” I’m like, “Hey, that was day four on the job for me. I don’t remember all of that.” It’s great that people are drawing affinity back to that time because it means that the impression was made and people were genuinely looking for the leadership that Jack wants me to provide.
Greg: Yes. Okay. We’re going to take a quick break here to make our audience aware of a new offer.
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Greg: Hope you found that useful. Let’s dive back into the dialogue. You have a new strategy. You’ve bolstered about it. You roll it out. Here’s the million-dollar question, I guess the billion-dollar question in your case, how do you make sure the team can execute it?
Samir: Yes. That is a billion-dollar question. Let’s be honest, right, sales is part science and part art. I would say art a lot of that art comes from experience and gut feel and experiences that you’ve had in situations you’ve been in and how you see people react to those situations. I think to be honest with you you start to do things early on in your tenure within a new role or new organization that’s where at least I started drawing upon just gut feel and instinctual experience. Again, as I said our sale’s kick off was pretty darn early. I had a chance to meet face to face and engage and interact with a lot of my team pretty early.
Not only engage and interact with them but then watch how they engaged and interacted with their teams. That gave me a pretty good gut feel of the team that I had, their ability to internalize and drive their teams to our objectives, and more importantly their ability then to go execute. I think that’s what gave me greater confidence in our ability to go execute some of these structural change at least from a macro point of view. Their still a lot of micro things that we’re doing to optimize, but I think a lot of that, Greg, just gets down to experience and feel. Being an engineer I hate to say that because I like data but sometimes it is all about experience and feel. That’s really how I had to make those decisions when I joined.
Greg: Yes. It is a judgment call. That’s why hiring somebody with all the years of experience that you have in important. Every organization could only consume so much change at one time and balancing that can be tricky at times.
Samir: It is. I will tell you, Greg, you always hear people say, “The one constant in life is change.” Yet, when an individual is brought to the edge of that change and it’s thrust upon him, for a lot of people that’s still a very difficult thing to do. It’s not natural. It’s not a natural human emotion to want to deal with. I think naturally most individuals that you work with like things when it’s somewhat status quo when things are familiar when they’re within they’re comfort zone. The great sale’s people, as I know I’ve seen and I’m sure you’ve seen and I’m sure your listeners know about and they have them on their teams, the great ones are those that can adapt to that change and still be great over time. That’s what I think we all seek. We’re all looking for the best people out there.
Sometimes watching people as they adjust to that change gives you a real sense of what you have to work with and how well they’re going to work as the company continues to evolves. Because the change that I threw at them when I first joined or the company threw at them a couple months before I joined, that’s not going to stop. I think the pace of change is only going to continue to increase as demands on businesses increase and as competition increases in the market. My goal is really to make sure I’ve got the right members of the team that can adapt to change and work with the ambiguity that comes with change. I think that’s a pretty important quality as well.
Greg: Okay. Let’s move towards another topic that I want to discuss with you. When I was reviewing your bio, you have many years in big public companies as well as some years in some smaller organizations. It looks like and correct me if I’m wrong here that this is first time that you’ve worked inside of a portfolio company owned by a PE firm; is that true?
Samir: Actually, no it’s not. This is the second organization that I’m working for a portfolio company. A little bit earlier in my career I worked for a portfolio company at eInstruction which was acquired and then sold. What is this? It sold about sixteen months ago, seventeen months ago.
Greg: Okay. Very good. There’s people that are listening to this in both camps those who work for big public companies and those that work for what I would call mid-cap PE firms and it’s a different environment, and operating as a sale’s leader in those two environments can be very different. Help the listeners understand the contrast there. How would you distinguish those two capital structures?
Samir: Yes. That’s a great question. I would say to be honest with you and I think I probably fall into the camp of a lot of your listeners. Where I was in my career five years ago I really didn’t understand the difference five years ago, five, six years ago. When I joined the portfolio company that I joined at the time this was at the very end of the heyday where a lot of deals where getting done especially a lot of deals were getting done with a lot of debt tied to the deals. With that said let me talk a little bit about some experiences I’ve had. I think first of all in a public company and depending on the level of leadership that you have and more importantly the level of exposure I would say you have to the overall financials of the public company … I at that time in my career the largest company I worked for and the highest up in the organization I was in was when I was with Dell when Dell was still a public company before they went private. I was not in a position where I had enough responsibility that I was privy to a lot of information prior to earnings’s announcements.
I would say in that situation while you know, and I had great visibility to how my business was tracking, it was real difficult to have broad context on the entire business just because there’re constraints put around that. As a result of that while you know what your objectives were sometimes it was hard to see the forest through the trees, so to speak, of how the overall company was performing and as a leader how you can provide that context back to your teams of what we’re doing and how we need to go execute. I think at the same time and I don’t think anyone is going to … Probably your listeners are going to nod up and down when I say this. Let’s be honest publicly traded companies you operate on a thirteen week cycle. Everything’s on a three month cycle. That’s what folks care about.
When you’re in a different financial structure though and in the private equity world, it’s been my experience in prior lives and certainly my experience so far with the firm that we work with, their view on the business has got a much longer horizon. Don’t get me wrong that doesn’t mean that it takes the pressure off the thirteen week cycle or the three month cycle. The pressure’s a little bit differently because really what they care about is the long-term value creation that’s part of whatever the thesis was as to why they invested or why they’re part of the capital structure. What my advice to listeners would be those at least that have a potential of moving into a smaller equity based firm or something is really get to understand what that thesis was, really get to understand what the private equity firm that you’re working with the firm in general you’re working with what they care about, and really the perspective they come from. Whatever their history has been understand it and get an opportunity, seek an opportunity, so try to really have an honest conversation about what they’re hoping to gain and where they’re hoping to take the business. I think the more context you can get for yourself the better position you’re going to be able to parlay that context down to your teams and get your teams to execute towards where you need to go.
We’re in a position here at Renaissance Learning where we’ve had a great run so far. By no means do we anticipate it’s going to stop. There’s still a lot of value that we can extract from the company and a lot of opportunity in the marketplace for us to serve our customers. That’s what this is all about for us. How do we continue to grow the footprint we have? We serve almost 1/3 of every K-12 student in the United States today. Some may look at that and say, “Hey, that’s a great market share. That’s 33%.” I look at that and say, “Hey, I got 66% to go.” I think that’s part of the investment thesis with us as well there’s still untapped potential in the K-12 world in the United States and also outside the United States. That long-term view is what the PE firm that we work with really cares about. I’m not sure, Greg, if that really answered your question.
Greg: Yes, it did.
Samir: I’m hoping it gives your listeners some insight as to at least what I’ve seen without getting into gory details of financial.
Greg: Yes. I’ll add to that. About a third of our firm is dedicated to the private equity world. We do a lot business there. They’re large consumers of consulting services in general. We’re often in the board meetings and having conversations with the owners. What I love about it and why I think it’s so refreshing is that it is a long-term horizon. It’s focused on value creation and what to do with the value once it’s created. How does that benefit the owners? How does that benefit the employees? How does that benefit the customers? It’s all around what investments do we want to make which is exciting because those lead to growth. Growth leads to opportunity for everybody inside of a company. Sometimes in the big corporate environments which we do a lot of work in that space too it’s not necessarily about investments that lead to growth that lead to opportunity sometimes it could be just a cost conversation. How do I do this a little better for a little less? That’s a little different. You’re right it’s every ninety days is a new lease on life for sure.
Samir: Yes. Absolutely. In a prior life we used to always joke at the end of the quarter we celebrate for about a nanosecond and move onto the next quarter that’s about it.
Greg: Yes, for sure. We’re going to take a break here to make you aware of something I think will be helpful. We’ll be right back.
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Greg: All right. Well, listen we’re at our time window here. This is a very insightful conversation. We’re really pulling for you. We love what you do. The product that you deliver and who you deliver to makes an impact on our youth which is the future of our country. We’re really pleased and tickled to be associated with you. We’re thrilled that you’re there and you’re owned by who you’re owned and you’re led be Jack. I think it’s going to make a big impact. I mean every day it seems like we’re reading something else in press about how our educational system is failing. I’m getting a little tired of it and by going with Renaissance hopefully we can turn that around. Thanks for all that you do.
Samir: Well, thanks, Greg, appreciate it. All of us, yourself, myself, and even your listeners of this podcast, I think we all play an important role in education. We just happen to be maybe at the focal point of that as a company that plays in that world. I think it’s up to everybody to help challenge our entire system and challenge our society here to help improve education for us. That’s what we’re all about. That’s what our mission is about. We’re happy to be doing that.
Greg: Okay. Great. Thanks again.
Samir: All right. Thanks, Greg. Take care.
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