podcast | June 1, 2015
Case Study: Developing Trust Between the CEO and the Sales Leader
Are you a CEO:
If so, click here and listen to this podcast. It is an interview with Chris Giglio, CEO of Aderant, a leading provider of business management software for law firms and professional services firms. Aderant has been in business for 30 years, in 30 countries, does business with 70% of the world’s largest firms, and has an amazing 98% customer retention rate.
By listening to this podcast, you will hear Chris discuss:
Most importantly, Chris offers advice to both CEOs and sales leaders on how to develop a solid working relationship based on trust and transparency.
If you are a CEO reading this, and are wondering if you can trust your sales leader, or if you are wondering if you have the right person in the job, click here and hear directly from Chris on how he solved this problem.
Speaker: Welcome to the SBI Podcast offering CEOs, sales and marketing leaders ideas to make the number.
Greg Alexander: Hello everybody. This is Greg Alexander, co-founder and CEO of SBI and welcome to the SBI Podcast, a weekly podcast series. Today I’m joined by Chris Giglio, and he is the CEO of Aderant.
Aderant is a leading provider of business management software for law practices and professional services firms. The company supports over 3,000 customers in 30 different countries to include 70% of the world’s largest firms in the majority of the Am Law 200 which is a ranking of the top law firms. Aderant has a customer retention rate of 98% and maybe this is the reason why the company has been in business for three decades.
Chris became CEO in 2011, and prior to this role Chris had a distinguished career at Surgical Information Systems McKesson Cerner and Fisor. He has 20 years of business experience and holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Villanova University. Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris Giglio: Hey great, thank you. It’s an honor to be with you.
Greg Alexander: Great. All right, today’s subject is a little controversial. The title of it is “Developing Trust Between the CEO and the Sales Leader.” Let me give you some context on this because we previously had this identical conversation with sales leaders and with HR professionals. We’re trying to get to a situation where the CEO and the sales leader can work better together and be in strategic alignment and as a result of that make the number on a more consistent basis. There seems to be a little bit of friction between the CEO and the sales leader on both sides of the fence. So your perspective today, speaking in general as a CEO, would be very helpful.
As a client of ours, Chris, you know that our firm works with sales and marketing leaders to improve sales and marketing effectiveness. However, personally, as the CEO of SBI, I spend my time with people like you, other CEOs. My focus is in connecting corporate strategy to functional strategy, particularly marketing and sales. Which, if done correctly, I believe accelerates growth. Increasingly some of my CEO clients have expressed to me a growing distrust of their sales leader. What they want is a true partner to collaborate with. And what they get instead sometimes is a lot of positioning for resources and political back-slapping. As a CEO, what advice would you give sales leaders in particular to earn the trust of their CEO?
Chris Giglio: That’s a great question, Greg, and very timely. We changed our sales leader about a year ago and during that transition I gave this topic a lot of thought, but from the opposite of what you asked me. Really, how do I generate a great alignment and great relationships with our sales leader as we contemplated who to add to the role and then how do we construct a team around them that supports the sales leader.
I think transparency is really important in the formation of trust, understanding why things are the way they are and kind of agreeing on what can be done differently was the basis really for how we went about our evaluation and selection of the new sales leader. I spent a quarter as the active sales leader myself, so I had a much greater appreciation for the challenges and the organization. The advice that I would give, and it goes to any relationship I have, is complete transparency and then clear expectation, setting an expectation management as things evolve over time. That’s how … I’ll give you more color if it’s interesting … how our relationship has evolved and I think it’s actually fairly strong today.
Greg Alexander: Yeah, I would like some more color on this. Your recent experience here would be very helpful to the audience members. I don’t know if you experience this, but I’m going to make this somewhat universal so we can have a broader conversation. What I hear is that the CEO says, you know, I want complete honesty and transparency. If I have that we can deal with anything and I’ll move beyond being judgmental of the person and get to root cause of problems and try to come up with solutions.
The sales leader says that all sounds good, but if I don’t make my number I’m out of a job. The CEO gives me an unrealistic expectation, you know, I’m asked to turn water into wine. When I go into those meetings with him or her, my job is to secure the resources. I need to be successful and my CEO who’s never been a sales leader doesn’t understand what I’m dealing with. This is the authentic underbelly of this situation, which is unfortunate. I’m trying to bring light to this because it doesn’t need to be this way. What’s your response to that type of commentary?
Chris Giglio: As a software company I think the areas that tend to cause challenge for sales leaders tend to be what the product can do, the product capabilities today, or the road map with what the investments will be when those things are available. Then the other is the implementation or support experience that we create for clients. If there is any kink in the armor anywhere along the way then it becomes the objection that the sales leader can’t overcome.
As we went through this process onboarding our new sales leader we spent a lot of time with our product leadership and we looked in the mirror and found that we had opportunities to change our priorities based on the market conditions and the way clients wanted to buy. We adjusted our product roadmap and really the allocation of our development resources to support what the sales organization felt would be compelling in the marketplace. We did the same really with our service experience. Sometimes the sales team thinks the services organization’s trying to create a fight for them, and it’s important to the service offering. For us, a software dollar is much more important than a services dollar. But most importantly is to make good on the commitments we’re making for clients. So try to create balance in the sales leaders need to make their number with how we as a company make our overall financial targets and getting all that stuff to balance.
I think it begins with, again, looking in the mirror and understanding what your true strengths are and where you really need to make some adjustments and get an organization to understand that we won’t succeed unless the sales leader is successful and we allocate resources according to that. It’s been an evolution for us over the last year. We’ve made some significant shifts in our R&D process and we’ve really tried to shrink our services footprint while we have done … importantly focused on references at the end of that so we can sell the next opportunity.
Greg Alexander: Let’s talk about this relationship between sales and product and how the CEO sometimes plays referee there and has to interpret information and make sure it’s factual and make the appropriate resource adjustments as you have done. And my compliments to you for bringing that to the table. I find myself in these meetings and I see this refereeing happening. Sometimes the sales leader says, “I’m missing my number because the product isn’t any good and nobody wants to buy it.” And usually it’s a little bit of an exaggeration. Sometimes there’s some truth to it, and then the CEO has to pull out of the sales leader fact from fiction.
Then he or she goes to the CTO particularly in the software company and says hey, you know, this is the reality situation. Your product roadmap and the resources you have committed to this aren’t reflecting this feedback from sales. The product team says that’s by choice. I don’t think the sales people are really listening to customer. I don’t think they could understand a customer need if it hit them in the face. There’s this battle between the two. You’re sitting in the middle of that. How do you work through that?
Chris Giglio: That’s a tough one to balance. It often occurs when the development team sits in their cave and they contemplate with clients’ need and they work on that. Importantly it’s understanding what’s happening in the market with the buying that are of the client and really what value’s compelling. The sales teams tend to have a little more direct experience on a volume basis really. The development teams tend to have a much more narrow of a deeper understanding maybe of a couple of clients.
We spent a lot of time pushing our product management organization into sales calls, but into the field. We’ve created a forum for clients and prospects to give us feedback on what we think we have right. And, most importantly, to share with us what their big challenges are. We’ve identified new product solutions that we’ve been able to bring to market and, as I’ve said, modified some of the things that we thought were right. Our big bet was to make a deal really really large, and as a result it was hard for clients to buy it.
So we’ve taken some of our great solutions and made them easy to handle as stand-alones and we’re attacking the market differently. The sales leaders find they’ll have better success on a high volume of smaller deals based on the way clients want to buy today. I think that’s unlocking good growth for us. But it begins with making sure the rest of the organization from services and support get direct client feedback on what it feels like to work with us. For a small company like ours that’s grown we want to make sure that we are an easy company to do business with. That’s not the sales organization’s challenge, it goes across the rest of the org.
Greg Alexander: Yeah. All right, we’re going to take a quick break. When we come back from the break we’re going to talk about hiring a new sales leader. What types of competencies to look for in handling that selection process, so come back after the break.
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Greg Alexander: Welcome back everybody. This is Greg Alexander, CEO of SBI. Today I am with Chris Giglio who is the CEO of Aderant. We’re talking about the CEO and sales leader relationship and how to improve that relationship to help all of us accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish. Right before the break we were talking about selecting a sales leader, and Chris shared with us that they recently hired a sales leader about a year ago.
My CEO client sometimes confide in me and express concern and doubt that they can make that decision correctly. That’s usually caused because they’ve mishired in that role before and they feel as if they can’t afford to make another mistake there. Now what’s difficult about hiring a sales leader is he’s a sales leader, and he’s selling his number one product, himself. At a job interview everybody looks like they’re ten feet tall. When you went through this process how did you go from everybody to your guy?
Chris Giglio: That’s a great question. I would say I hired a bad sales leader. I created a challenging sales organization with a different design principle the first time than we executed a year or so ago and actually worked with SBI as we went through this transition. I have to give you guys credit for helping us through that. As a growing organization that had been internally focused we developed a lot of product to serve our existing clients. We designed a sales organization that was early career high-potential and lower cost profile. It worked fairly well as we were selling back into our base, but it was challenged in how we were acquiring new clients. As an organization I think that design principle was great for the smaller growth that we wanted but our market has significant new business growth opportunity.
As we went through this quarter in the field the CR sales team was performing how the clients were responding to the profile of the rep that we had targeted. They were talented and high-potential, people that were really well positioned to learn and digest new information. We were having hard time with credibility, convincing clients to say yes to a significant change in their business. As a result we’ve hired a more seasoned leader from our industry who knows the space, and we’re able to tap into a network to fill our sales organization with a different talent profile. These are people that have not only great process skills and great interest in understanding and using data to drive their decisions, but they have relationships and awareness of the challenges of the clients in our space are feeling today. And that’s a little bit of the unlocking our product adjustment that I mentioned earlier.
We have a more informed sales organization. And yes, it’s a higher cost, but our results show that having talent and strong process skills and a group that’s driven by data is a better profile for our unique market and maybe the profile of the sales organization that I identified we implemented the first time. Going without saying it you have to have somebody that’s an inspirational leader and a great recruiter and gives clients a courage to say yes and all those attributes that are classic about great sales people have to present. They certainly are in our sales leader.
What is different I think is the design principle and the kind of talent we had in the organization and the focus on where we had those talented people, what kind of relationships we wanted them to focus on. Not CIOs and CFOs, but in our case managing partners and the CEOs of law firms. That required a different talent profile and that’s what we have today.
Greg Alexander: Let’s talk about that, the design principle. I find that fascinating. I’m going to paraphrase what you said, and if I do so incorrectly please correct me. What I heard from you was you had a business model change. You had a product change. You were going after a different type of customer that required a different type of sales person, somebody that had a lot of credibility because you were asking the customer to make a commitment to this new product offering. That drove the need for this talent profile. Is that an accurate summary?
Chris Giglio: Absolutely. Yep, absolutely.
Greg Alexander: Okay, all right. Now, what came with that was an increase in the cost of sale. This is where CEOs usually hit the pause button. The reason why they hit the pause button is they say, “I get it. The business case is obvious. I’m willing to invest more in sales if I get the return, but I don’t know.” So they pull the trigger and they hold their breath. They hope the results come in. That requires courage. How did you develop that courage?
Chris Giglio: Maybe by catching a few of the arrows directly in sales calls with our previous sales team and our current sales organization. The ride along and seeing how people approach a meeting as a sales leader is a little different than as a CEO and spend a lot more time in the field. Then I looked at the opportunity in the marketplace. While it might have been uncomfortable or felt like it was a courageous move, it isn’t courageous if you see all the opportunity in the marketplace you’re not getting. I had to look in the mirror. Is the product the problem or is the service experience for us the challenge? It really came back to we had the wrong decision makers that were advocates for us in the firm. And to get the right decision makers that could be advocates for us we needed a different level of approach to make sure that the managing partner was comfortable with us.
We needed somebody that was credible instantly with those people because you don’t get a second chance. As I got educated and much clearer picture of the marketplace it didn’t really require a lot of courage. It was obvious we weren’t going to be successful the old way. When I came to terms with that then making the shift wasn’t really that difficult.
Greg Alexander: Your source of that education, because you referenced educating yourself, was when you were in transition between sales leaders you were the acting sales leader for a quarter or two. You sat on the seat, went on calls, met with customers, and you witnessed it firsthand.
Chris Giglio: That’s a good bit of it, and I’ll also say we had large deals that stalled. Trying to understand the behavior of these large deals and I mentioned new business was a growth opportunity for us. We were seeing great progress. We were winning vendor of choice, and then we’re losing to no decision. That kind of indicated we were either at the wrong level of decision making or, as we peel these back, we didn’t have the person who could say yes. We didn’t give them courage to say yes. Again, we needed different level of access to make that happen.
Greg Alexander: One thing I thought interesting about your answer when I asked a question regarding hiring mistakes. You corrected me and you said, “I didn’t make a hiring mistake. We had the wrong conditions.” We had some product challenges. We had some service challenges. We went and addressed those things. We needed to be calling at a higher level in the account with a different type of person. Even at that moment in time, even if you had the world’s greatest sales leader, he or she might not have been successful because of those conditions.
If I’m a CEO and I’m wondering. If business isn’t growing as fast as I want it to be or, god-forbid, it’s retracting, and I got a board to keep happy. It’s very to get the groups happy, and I’m wondering the question is it the environment or the person? What advice would you give that CEO to answer that very tough question?
Chris Giglio: That’s a great one. We did an organizational 360, a 360 review. This is for me as well. I think it’s a healthy process to go through. While you think you have confidence in people, if you get a different view of really what strengths of people are, that was an insightful process for us to go through, to see how the product teams thought about the sales organization. That was a great source of insight.
I think it comes down to seeing how people work and what the indicators are of their success. Are those things happening? If they are try to find what root cause might be. In our case it came down to calling on the wrong people and to get to the right people we needed different talent profile. Again, I think the 360 review, the process we’ve been through, has been a great way to fill out my perspective with maybe a broader view and make a more informed decision.
Greg Alexander: That 360 process, was this done via interviews? Was this done via survey? How did you execute that?
Chris Giglio: It was interview. We had an outside firm come in and help us construct unbiased, unvarnished view of ourselves. As I said, it’s hard to look in the mirror, but if we don’t have that courage to see what’s looking back at us then we’re going to obviously never get to the problem. So we used an outside firm and it was a pretty helpful exercise.
Greg Alexander: My compliments, again, for having the courage to look at yourself. I mean, I’ve been through organizational 360s in my previous life when I sat on your side of the desk, and it’s never pleasant. Right? You don’t hire somebody to come in and have them tell you how great they are. You have somebody come in and point out the things you need to work on. I always tell people never read the output of that on a Friday because you’ll have the worst worst weekend.
Chris Giglio: I spent a few hours in the fetal position but I soon recovered. Eventually you realize that even the bad things can be solved, you just have to wade into them and over time you can knock them down.
Greg Alexander: All right, we’re going to take another break here. When we come back I’m going to get Chris’ opinion on the same line of questioning, but we’re going to focus on marketing. So come back after the break.
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Greg Alexander: Okay, welcome back everybody. We’re discussing developing trust between the CEO and the sales leader. I’ve got a working relationship between the CEO and functional leaders all in the pursuit of growth. And up to this point in our show we’ve been focusing on the relationship within CEO and the sales leader.
But Chris, as you know, the B2B world, revenue growth now is as much about marketing effectiveness as it is about sales effectiveness because the buyers have changed the way they buy. The internet is changing everything and marketing is more important than it ever has been. When you think about this, you were very insightful in talking about creating conditions for your leaders to be successful. You did some very deliberate things to enable your new sales leader to be successful. What about marketing? What’s your thoughts there?
Chris Giglio: That’s another great question. We’ve had an awakening in marketing, and maybe this is my personal awakening. We spent the first few years growing. The size of the company’s doubled and we kept marketing flat.
Greg Alexander: Wow.
Chris Giglio: I look back and think about why and we were controlling costs. As I mentioned earlier we were trying to sell back to an existing client base that knew us very well. We had high MPS scores, high retention. So we had continued to invest in new products to serve them, and as I spent time in the sales organization it was pretty clear to me the clients didn’t really know our strategy, didn’t really understand what we offer today relative to where we have been over the last 30 years of our existence. So we expanded our product portfolio and our mission is very different. We hadn’t really communicated that effectively. Our brand hadn’t been explained to clients in a coherent way.
I looked under the marketing organization and we had people that had been with us a long time that were really good at doing the same things over and over again and we had moved away from print advertising thank God. We had still really an event-driven marketing strategy. We didn’t have the skills in the organization to change that, so we’ve turned the whole marketing organization over, went for a marketing leader that understood B2B marketing and not kind of the direct adventure of marketing that we’ve done lot of in our past.
We spent a lot of time clarifying our brand, our value prop, trying to create content and building a network to get our content to our clientele and to our market. Now we’re running into the account-based marketing activities that are going to unlock and our very small number of target opportunities in the legal space. We have a manageable market to address from a marketing perspective and account-based marketing makes a lot of sense. We’ve pivoted really our strategy. We’ve changed the talent to give us the skill with more fidelity, to have compelling content that will allow our buyers to have a greater appreciation for what we offer and why we’re the best solution provider that they should consider for the solution.
Marketing has been an evolution over the last year and a half as we’ve transferred sales structure. We’re just getting to the point where we’re seeing significant output from Alegion and marketing having material impact on driving a sales rush.
Greg Alexander: I’m sitting here listening to you talk, and I’m so impressed. The reason why I’m impressed is because I mean most of the CEOs that I work with don’t even know what the term account-based marketing is. You’re rattling things off, you know, account-based marketing, one weight footprint, these reasons increase lead generation and the tactics that you did to make that happen. I mean, your knowledge of marketing surpasses the knowledge of most CEO’s knowledge of marketing.
Chris Giglio: I feel like a marketing dinosaur. But we’ve fortunately had some smart leaders in that organization that have educated me and really had a good impact.
Greg Alexander: I was going to ask you about that. How did you educate yourself? Because if I look at your bio it’s not clear to me that you rose up through marketing. Is that correct?
Chris Giglio: That’s correct. I did not.
Greg Alexander: So how’d you learn it?
Chris Giglio: Over the four years here we spent the first couple years internally focused, trying to create discipline and process. We had good process there. And the last two years have really been about growth and we looked at the way our clients perceived us. We did some market surveys as we contemplated brand adjustments and weren’t impressed with the way our clients understood our strategy. We saw a stall in deals because significant decision makers don’t really know us very well. We don’t have brand recognition relative to the conglomerates that we compete with as a relatively small-focus software company. We’re not going to out-market them. We’re certainly will not brand them. But with some targeted energy I think we could have them recognize us and we could position ourselves to be compelling.
We have a lot of compelling things about our story that if clients knew I think we would have an easier time convincing them to select us. This contextual education piece was really important and it became clear that clients didn’t know the truth about us and we might have been trading it a deficit to our performance which felt very much like a marketing problem for a cave-man marketing guy. As a result, we started to interview people that really understood marketing. It was clear that we needed a talent turnover.
Greg Alexander: Interesting. Very interesting. All right, we’re going to take one more break. When we come back we’re going to wrap all this up. I’m going to offer you my two cents on if I was listening to this what I would do immediately following listening to it. Then I’m going to ask Chris to do the same. So please come back after the break.
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Greg Alexander: Okay, welcome back everybody. This is Greg Alexander with SBI. I’m joined today by Chris Giglio who is the CEO of Aderant. We’ve been talking about really Chris’ leadership and his direct active involvement in growing the company through sales and marketing effectiveness. It’s striking. I’m summarizing that way and being dramatic for a reason, because he’s certainly not passive as it relates to getting involved in sales and marketing. Unfortunately many CEOs are, so we want to follow Chris’ lead. What do we do with all this information? Here are my closing comments here to wrap this up in a call-to-action, if you will.
If you are a CEO listening to this and you’re wondering if you have the right sales and marketing leader in the organization, it’s a huge decision. It’s very disruptive to turn these people over and I will tell you that the track record here is really bad. I mean the benchmark on tenure for B2B sales leader is about 18 months, just to give you an idea.
That cycle looks like this: you make a change. You hire a new person. New person comes in, spends six months kind of figuring out what’s going on. Honeymoon period’s over, the board and the CEO said, “Okay, what’re you doing?” Then he spends six months trying to implement his plan. Well six months isn’t long enough and the six month honeymoon period was too long. So now we’re a year in and everyone’s like where are the results? So what does he do or she do? Starts looking for the next job. It takes them about six months to find the next gig, and here we go again with the 18 month cycle. So we want to break that cycle.
What I would advise you to do is, and this is selfish but I believe in it, is I would tell you to go to our website, salesbenchmarkindex.com. Click on “About Us,” click on “Our Services,” and in that you’ll see a service offering titled “Sales and Marketing Assessment.” This is our approach to answer the most important question when you’re faced with this decision, and that is, “Is it the environment or is it the person?” We believe we have a compelling value proposition here to talk about how to answer that question. So that would be my two cents.
While you’re reading about that we also offer tips, tools, methodologies, templates that you can do this on your own. Sometimes it does make sense to do this on your own. You don’t always need to hire a consultant company like ours. So there’s lots of free tools there available to you.
Let me turn my attention to you, Chris. If you were to speak directly to a CEO listening to this who’s dealing with this issue, not growing quite as much as I want to grow, I’m not 100% sure if it’s the environment or the person. I need some way to answer that question and objectively evaluate both, what would you do?
Chris Giglio: As I look backward, when this started to move in a positive direction, it’s when we defined this problem. We weren’t where we wanted to be and the evaluation was awful. I looked and realized we weren’t positioned the way I wanted to be positioned, and so I asked for help. I started talking to my peers and other companies, people that were successful selling and I found some people and worked with SBI to really understand the alternatives. So I think it is important to ask for help if … obviously the organization is the way it is for probably a reason. As a CEO, a lot of it was my limitations and to improve it’s important that you do something different and look outside for some assistance to help us figure that out. Look in the mirror and evaluate. Then you have to be ready to adjust things.
Greg Alexander: Great advice. If you do all those things hopefully you won’t have to get into the fetal position.
Chris Giglio: I try not to go back to that but occasionally it gets me.
Greg Alexander: Well listen, hey, on behalf of everybody at SBI and all of our listeners Chris, this was fantastic. I really appreciate you letting me ask this question that I know many CEOs are asking, but they’re afraid to even bring it up. Your honesty about your personal experience and your recent experience was fantastic. I wish you much continued success and again, thanks for being on the show.
Chris Giglio: Thank you Greg. I really appreciate joining you.
Greg Alexander: Okay, take care.
Chris Giglio: Bye-bye.
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