When Extreme Networks of San Jose, Calif., acquired competitor Enterasys Networks of Salem, N.H., in September 2013, no one expected a difficult transition. On paper at least, the two companies seemed like corporate twins: Both were network switching companies. Both had a little over 650 employees, and both reported just over $300 million in annual revenue.
But that’s where the similarities ended. When it came to their sales operations, the differences soon became painfully apparent, says Kelley Steven-Waiss, who became Extreme Networks’ senior VP of global human resources the following March and helped oversee the company’s cultural integration.
“The sales culture was very different in each company and so were the go-to-market strategies, Steven-Waiss recalls. “We needed to reform the way that we were approaching our strategy for sales, and from an HR perspective,” she says, “This was going to be a tall order.”
The two companies’ very different approaches to making the number made integration much tougher than anticipated. “Enterasys followed a direct and partner-led sales model, which emphasized greater deal volume over revenue numbers, and because it was privately held before the acquisition, margins were just as important as revenue, if not more so,” Steven-Waiss says. On the other hand, Extreme Networks, which is publicly traded, relied more on its partners and used a less-standard methodology for the sales process. Additionally, the two sales teams differed on their degree of emphasis on the services side of the business.
“When the integration plans were drafted, we didn’t really address the cultural differences and risks up front. It caused a lot of clashes within the sales force,” says Steven-Waiss. “The two sales cultures were servicing our customers in different ways and ‘running at each other rapidly.’ It was creating a lot of confusion and cannibalization within a pitch as if we were still competing organizations.”
Extreme Networks first hired consulting firm SBI after the merger to conduct a search for a Chief Revenue Officer, and its consultant stayed on to help drive the sales transformation. Steven-Waiss worked closely with the sales team to define a new go-to-market, sales strategy and org design, as well as implement SBI’s five-step program for talent management.
“SBI brings with them a framework to guide a go-to-market that is aligned to the corporate strategy and ensures you have the right talent to win,” Steven-Waiss says.
She was confident SBI’s approach would make a difference because she’d already leveraged their talent solution at a former employer, Integrated Device Technology, Inc. (IDT), a semiconductor products manufacturer in San Jose, Calif. Here are the five steps Steven-Waiss and the sales team are in the process of initiating:
- Profiles and compensation: Determines needed competencies, whether compensation is competitive, and whether the company is providing incentives for those skills. SBI has a framework for tying incentives to behaviors and strategy, which clients like Extreme Networks tailor to their own sales commission needs.
- Talent Assessment: Assesses team members for competency at their jobs and asks what gaps still need to be filled and what training programs are needed.
- Sourcing: Determines the company’s time-to-fill metric and whether programs are in place to shrink that time frame.
- On-boarding: Asks how long it takes a new hire to get up to speed and what mentoring and classroom training is needed.
- Succession Planning: Examines how the company is developing future leaders, as new positions open up. Lets your employees know you are thinking about their career paths at your company.
Profiling is an important starting point, says Steven-Waiss. Being able to target the right skills and attributes and on-board talent more quickly and efficiently means that those employees become productive faster too, contributing to corporate revenue sooner than they might have otherwise.
“What gives every new head of sales heartburn is the risk in hiring new account executives,” Steven-Waiss says. “You’re wondering, ‘Will I see the ROI in this hire?’ and ‘How long is it going to take for them to ramp up?’” A big help: SBI worked with Extreme to identify ideal new hire profiles which align to the new sales culture and go-to-market and for which the company can customize and use to shorten training time.
Next came talent assessment, which allowed Extreme Networks to identify the gaps in skill sets and competencies and figure out which sales style was most appropriate for their operation and what skills/attributes would close that gap. Farmers, Steven-Waiss explains, are more thoughtful, more deliberate salespeople who get to know the subtleties of customers’ ecosystems. Hunters, in contrast, will walk into a customer’s environment ready to sell on the spot.
“Neither approach is preferable in all situations. But for a sales solution that entails a whole platform of services, the listener-farmer is the better choice,” she says. At IDT, the company concluded it really needed more farmers. “Our business was getting much more complex, going from digital, to digital and analog, and adding a lot of power management products.”
Salespeople don’t always successfully transition from hunter to farmer, or vice versa. “You can’t always reform a salesperson from their style of selling,” Steven-Waiss says. “There’s something different about an individual who has the patience to sell through a longer sales cycle and the ability to understand the technology in depth. We need our sales teams to be able to listen and recognize opportunities to satisfy our customers’ pain points.”
Sourcing also flows naturally from the information gathered during the assessment process. “At IDT, we definitely decreased our time-to-sell because we knew whom we were chasing,” Steven-Waiss says. “We had very specific skill sets we were looking for.” They also used LinkedIn to search for individuals with certain capabilities and past experience.
On-boarding of account executives improved dramatically at IDT, dropping to 90 days from six months. Likewise, succession planning got easier because of SBI’s push to reach further down into the organization to identify talent. This approach gave HR a clear picture of each employee and what skills they needed to reach the next level. It enabled Steven-Waiss’s team to address readiness and close training gaps. In addition to training, she used approaches such as rotating talent in and out of key roles.
Although Extreme Networks has not yet completed the five-step process, Steven-Waiss says working with SBI has already helped the company answer some key questions: “Who are we and how do we sell to our customers, and how do we structure sales appropriately to make that work? What’s the discipline in sales to understand our customers and the way they buy?”
The five steps are challenging, she says, but well worth the effort. “It’s a lot of work, I’ll be honest,” she says. “It is not for the faint of heart.
The New Buyer's DNA Decoded
In this edition, we present practical advice from CEOs, heads of sales, marketing, finance and HR. We take a look at how to adjust the hiring profile, demand generation programs, forecast and pipeline management process, sales management coaching cadence, sales methodology and the big deal inspection process.