In this episode of SBI.TV we talk with Joe Vitalone, EVP and President of Mitel Networks. Joe is responsible for the $450 million Americas region, leads the direct sales force, and oversees Mitel’s 2,500 channel partner program.
In this episode, we discuss how to generate sales results quickly in multiple business environments. Joe’s experience navigating 5 successful exits offers valuable insights for igniting and sustaining stellar sales performance.
- What A VP Sales can do in his first 90 days to accelerate sales growth
- The 3Ps of fast sales results and how to apply them in your current situation
- How to rapidly assess your sales team’s ability without disrupting team morale and momentum
- 3 key communication steps Joe took to make sure his team was on the same page and plugged in with the strategy.
- The sales process pitfall that many organizations make and how Joe avoided it at Mitel
- The key insight you must have to craft an effective sales process…it’s not what you may think.
- How to transition from the honeymoon period to the day-to-day “grind” without losing momentum
- How strategic priorities change in a startup versus an established company and how you can succeed in either situation
- Critical mistakes to avoid when leading a high-growth sales team
This is just a sample of what we cover in this Episode.
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Greg Alexander: Welcome everyone. My name is Greg Alexander. I am the CEO of SBI, a sales and marketing consulting firm committed to helping you make your number. You are watching SBI TV. This is a monthly web TV show featuring guests just like you, executives trying to grow their revenues. By tuning in each month you can peek behind the scenes and watch your peers discuss their strategies for making their numbers.
On today’s show we have a very special guest. Joe Vitalone is the executive vice-president and president of Mitel Networks. Reporting to the CEO, Joe is responsible for the four hundred and fifty Americas region, leading the direct sales force in twenty-five hundred channel partners. Mitel Networks is a provider of unified communications platforms powering more than two billion connections per day in one hundred countries across sixty million end users. The company does approximately 1.2 billion in annual sales, has thirty-three hundred employees, and is listed on the NASDAQ.
Joe, himself, has an impressive twenty-five year track record. Two of the companies that he has worked for have gone public and three have been sold for above average multiples, creating lots of shareholder value in the process. In each of these five scenarios, two public offerings, three sales, Joe was hired by the CEO to do one thing and that was to generate a return for shareholders quickly, and he did it five times. I feel this qualifies Joe as an expert on today’s topic, which is generating results quickly. Without further ado, please welcome Joe Vitalone. Joe, how are you?
Joe Vitalone: Hi, Greg. How are you?
Greg Alexander: All right. Thanks for coming on the show.
Joe Vitalone: Nice to be here. Nice studio.
Greg Alexander: Have a seat. All right. Today’s topic, generating results quickly, okay? A board plans to sell the company in the future. Very aggressive timelines, so there’s no time to waste. You’ve been involved in five of these, five exits, which is pretty amazing.
Joe Vitalone: That’s a long time.
Greg Alexander: Don’t date yourself. This means that you know how to do this. My first question to you would be if you are hired to get results quickly by a board and its CEO and the goal here is to make money for all the shareholders, what do you do in the first ninety days?
Joe Vitalone: The first ninety days I think I focus on the people first, making sure that I’ve got the team that I want. The second thing probably would be my sales process, making sure that we have one sales process, not five or seven or ten, and that everybody on the team really understand the product, inside and out, and can present it back to me or my CEO or to a CEO of another company. So those three things, three Ps, people, process and making sure we know the product.
Greg Alexander: Let’s talk about those three Ps a little bit. People. You have a large team, both a direct sales force and an indirect sales force, right?
Joe Vitalone: That’s right.
Greg Alexander: That’s a lot of people to figure out do you have the right team or not. Help the audience understand if you land in a situation like that and you have to figure out the capability of your team in a pretty short time period and there’s a lot of team members, how do you do that?
Joe Vitalone: In the case at Mitel we had a very big team when I came on and so we had to do a complete assessment of the team. We had consultants that helped profile the team. Then after I profiled the entire team I went through and organized it in a way where I brought in new blood into the organization, I promoted four people from within that were very talented after assessment in the organization, and then I had four or five people that we got through acquisition that were very talented that we brought.
We had a very good cross-section of talented people from the outside, people internally that we brought up that we thought were stars, and then people that came in through acquisition.
Greg Alexander: Was that deliberate? Did you want that type of mix or did that just kind of happen as a result of the assessments?
Joe Vitalone: I kind of wanted it, because I thought it showed … It brought me in some fresh energy which we needed. We were forty years old at the time and we needed a little kick in the back. That provided that. Plus these were people that I had vetted for twenty, thirty years and knew and knew their track record similar to mine.
The people internally after review I felt were very, very … They were ready to take that next step and had that energy that I really was trying to create on the team. The people that we got through acquisition were very impressive individuals, so there was a very good cross-section of talent.
The thought leadership with a combination of those four different segments of our team profile really created a nice energy, which is why we got the lift that we got in a very short period of time.
Greg Alexander: New guy comes in, everybody’s nervous. The first thing you do, we’re going to assess everybody. Now everyone is saying uh-oh, I might be in trouble. How did you perform this assessment, energize the organization with this new talent, without kind of freaking everybody out?
Joe Vitalone: I think it’s my leadership style, so I met with a lot of individuals personally when I went through and they really understood … They read up on me and so they knew of my background. There was a lot of people doing back channel checks on the new guy, so I had plenty of people hitting my Linkedin.
People knew of me before I came onboard, and so I had a lot of support from people outside which allayed some of the fears that you’ve got with any new person that comes into a leadership role. After they met me and they sat down with me and we spoke and we talked about styles and we talked about the sales process and those things, I think people were generally comfortable.
I had an opportunity to speak to a couple of big groups. After they heard me speak, I think they knew I was a little more of a carrot guy and less of a stick kind of a person.
Greg Alexander: Did you manufacture those opportunities to speak or were they kind of on the calendar and you took advantage of them?
Joe Vitalone: In one case I manufactured it. I made sure that it was a group call that I did right out of the gate to everybody to make sure that they heard my voice and they understood what I was all about and they didn’t get it secondhand. The second one was set up and it was great opportunity. We had a partner conference and it was the second month that I was there. It was twenty-five hundred people and a real opportunity to not only address my own employee base and sales organization, but the entire thousand partners that were there.
Greg Alexander: I think it’s encouraging for our viewers to hear that you can do a talent assessment program that extensively in that short of a time period. Roughly speaking, and maybe think about all five of your companies because this sounds like this is something you’ve done your entire career, how long does that take start to finish?
Joe Vitalone: To really do a good assessment of your team it takes a a hundred and twenty days to really do a really good profile of everybody and get a good … So you can look at results, but there’s a lot more to it than just results. I mean that’s just one part of the scorecard.
You’re looking at leadership qualities. You’re looking at whether or not people can build rapport. You’re looking at reference ability, whether or not they can really move the needle quickly, whether they can handle the stress of the stress of the job, the demands of the job. There’s a lot involved in profiling your base.
Greg Alexander: The second thing that you mentioned there was sales process and you talked about having one standard sales process that everybody could follow as opposed to multiple sales processes.
Joe Vitalone: Very important.
Greg Alexander: Tell me about that. What’s your philosophy on that? You believe in one sales process?
Joe Vitalone: Yeah. One sales process. It has to be simple. It has to be buyer led, not seller led. You have to follow the buyer’s journey, not how you want to sell. It’s how they want to buy. That was key to us and we did that very early on. We had help and we relied on outside consultants to help with that. We had an internal team that were focused on it.
Then we implemented it not only to our team, the five-step selling process, but we implemented it to our partners, so we were all speaking the same language. That was key, so that when we sat on a forecast call on Friday there was a real cadence and a discipline. The nomenclature was all the same, whether you were on the West Coast or on the East Coast.
When I got to Mitel there were five or six sales processes that were all done by the individual regional directors and you didn’t know where the customer was in the sales cycle. Sometimes it was in the seventy percent area, sometimes it was fifty, but depending on what coast you were on, it was different. So we went to one process and that streamlined the way our forecast calls went on Friday, so now there’s a really nice cadence to it and our forecast accuracy as a result is one of the best in the industry.
We’re plus or minus two percent on our forecast accuracy, and that’s an indirect sales organization largely with the quarterly revenues in our channel area in the forty, fifty million range.
Greg Alexander: You said something there when I asked you about sales process, which was it has to be buyer based, sell the way the buyer wants to buy versus the way you want to sell. That means that you took some time to understand how your customers bought your products and services. Just looking at your bio, you haven’t been selling the same thing your whole life?
Joe Vitalone: No.
Greg Alexander: The breadth of what you’ve been marketing and selling is rather extensive. When you enter a new organization, Mitel or the other four that you’ve been with, how do you understand how buyers buy?
Joe Vitalone: You’ve got to go talk to them and you’ve got to interview them. You’ve got to interview not only how they have bought your equipment in the past, but how they’ve bought other things in the past and how they investigate the process. Today with the internet the buyers are so informed that forty to fifty, sixty percent of the sales process is done by the time you get to the zero moment of truth.
When you get that opportunity, you’ve got to be educated and really be able to know how they buy and how you’re going to be able to sell. It’s really important, so a lot of investigation, a lot of interviews with buyers to figure out exactly how they buy and why they buy.
Greg Alexander: The third thing that you mentioned in the first hundred and twenty days roughly is product. You assessed the team, made some talent changes, you built a custom sales process by understanding how the buyers buy, and then you made sure everybody understood the value proposition of their product and they could articulate that.
That’s a challenge because Mitel is … You have a very broad product set. You’re in a technologically confusing space, unified communications. You guys are innovating all the time and you have new offerings, so how do you keep the team trained on that big of a catalog?
Joe Vitalone: We built a very structured learning management system. When I got there, there was no sales education department. It used to have one at Mitel. When we got there, it was disbanded. We had a technical certification department, but we didn’t have a sales education department. Week two I opened up Mitel Sales University.
Greg Alexander: Week two?
Joe Vitalone: Week two.
Greg Alexander: You had high confidence that that was needed?
Joe Vitalone: Yeah.
Greg Alexander: I’m assuming that was based on your twenty-five years of experience, that you knew that that was needed in the sales force, right?
Joe Vitalone: Yeah. Education is really critical to success in any of the things that I did, whether it was startup companies, turnaround companies, whether it was venture capital backed or publicly traded. Having a very strong educational program in today’s economy and today’s environment is key because it changes monthly. Competitors change how they compete with you. The internet provides much greater access to customers, so you’re ability to be able to adapt to that change is key.
Then, like you said, we have a lot of products. To be expert at that you have to really be … If you show up at a gunfight, you better not bring a knife. We made sure that everybody was educated and knew a lot more than the buyer. If you go to buy a car, for example, and you walk into a high end car shop, that person selling you that car better know more about that car than you’ve learned on the web, or else what value is the sales rep?
Greg Alexander: Exactly. Before I walk into that shop I’ve done my homework.
Joe Vitalone: You’ve done your homework. You know what it costs. You know what it does. You know what the competitors look like. You know a lot of the features and functions of the car relatively speaking.
Greg Alexander: That’s kind of the first three or four months on the job, right?
Joe Vitalone: Yeah.
Greg Alexander: Now let’s say it’s month four through twelve. You’re still in your honeymoon period but it’s about to end and it’s going to take you to your one year anniversary. Now you’ve got these things in flight. There’s lots of motion happening. The challenge now is to get everybody to adopt all this stuff. How does your strategy change from say months four through twelve versus the first …
Joe Vitalone: Ninety days?
Greg Alexander: Yeah.
Joe Vitalone: Okay. Four through twelve, I focus now on forecasting because your forecast tells you everything. You have to have an early warning system if the number is looking soft so that you can react in time in order to recover. I think a lot of people get in trouble because they don’t forecast well in week five. They forecast great in week ten. It’s too late. You really need to know in week five where you stand and where you’re going to be. In months four through twelve I focus a lot on the forecast discipline, in our case on the sales force .com implementation and making sure that we got those right.
The third thing is really top grading the team so that when people resign or more to a different part of our organization or we determine from performance that they’re not capable of doing the job, then we top grade that talent to make sure that we’re constantly bringing in really inspiring people that make the team even better, where one plus one doesn’t equal two. It equals three or four.
Greg Alexander: Now let’s say in our little case study here that we’re at our one year anniversary and you’re doing your strategic planning process for year two. Again, coming back to the environment here, which is you were hired to generate results quickly. The plan of the company is at one point to sell the company for a healthy premium so all of the shareholders generate a nice return. Does the strategy change in year two or is it more of the same as in year one?
Joe Vitalone: It changes. I speak in phases, so phase one was the first ninety, phase two would have been months four through twelve, phase three in my case at Mitel, I’m here two years this month, in the second year it changes a lot.
Now what we’re looking for is to really make our partner community stronger. When I got to Mitel it was a series of lifestyle business partners largely, fifty million dollar partners to five million, somewhere in that range. Now we’re looking at companies that are publicly traded that have the same quarterly bias that we do, the same quarterly sense of urgency that we do, so you’re looking for a different, more strategic partner that can take you to that next level in your company’s life.
That’s what we’re doing right now in year two and have done a really nice job of bringing on what I think are some really talented partners across the Americas, not only in the United States, but Canada, South America, Mexico, et cetera.
Greg Alexander: The phases are establish the fundamentals that carries you through the first year. Now you have a capable organization. Then the third phase, I guess, which would be the beginning of year two, it’s dialing it up, going after bigger partners, doing bigger things, because now you have a solid foundation in place.
Joe Vitalone: If you get the results like we did in year one and everybody starts noticing you because now you’ve got a buzz you’ve created, the talent’s gone up, the results are there, stock tripled …
Greg Alexander: People believe.
Joe Vitalone: People believe, so all of a sudden you have access to a stronger partner community, so now you’ve got to go out and take advantage of what you’ve built in year two.
Greg Alexander: Okay. Great advice. We need to take a short break, but stick around, because when we come back I’m going to ask Joe to reveal his leadership approach. Leading a team in an environment expecting a lot quickly can be a challenge. Stick around. You won’t want to miss this.
Matt Sharrers: So we get hired to transform organizations and it’s incredibly gratifying to see our clients go from where they were to where they can be by the solutions that we can implement and it’s definitely a one plus one equals five.
Scott Gruher: I get to work with clients and change their lives. It’s not doing some tactical work, but literally we change the way companies operate number one. Number two is the people I work with I actually really, really care about their success and that motivates me every day. It’s not like I work hard and feel like I work all these extra hours. I’m working hard for people I really want to work with and that are friends of mine.
Matt Sharrers: When you can work with your friends, when you can have clients who become your friends and you are helping them, you get this beautiful intersection of things, and to me that’s what it’s about.
Scott Gruher: The playbook isn’t always defined. Every company we work with is different. We’re problem solvers. We go in and we figure it out. We have to solve a different problem for every single client. There’s not something that says this is what you do, follow step one through fourteen. There’s guidelines, but you have to use your own creativity and apply it to each client.
Speaker: This is not a table. It is a stage where you’re performance is measured in numbers. If you reach them, you get an encore. If you don’t, it could be curtains. That’s why you need the well-rehearsed proven sales and marketing strategies of SBI.
Greg Alexander: Welcome back. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the CEO of SBI and you’re watching SBI TV. I’m joined today by Joe Vitalone, the executive vice-president and president of the Americas region for Mitel Networks. Before the break, Joe and I were discussing the specifics of his remarkable ability to generate results quickly, which led him to five successful exits.
During this segment I would like to turn or attention to Joe’s leadership approach when the mandate is to grow, and grow fast. Joe, I understand that you give of your time to USC, University of Southern California, and you teach students about human networking and leadership in general. Tell us a little bit about your work with USC.
Joe Vitalone: Okay. It’s one of the most rewarding things that I’ve had an opportunity to do. Dr. Steve Martin teaches a class on sales and marketing strategy there. He heard me speak at Berkeley and liked the way the students responded to my lecture. He was there teaching at UC Berkeley and was also teaching at USC. Then he went full time at USC at the Marshall School of Business and invited me to guest lecture in one of his classes.
I did it my first year and it was so well received, I was invited back every year after that. I teach a full class. My topic is Human Networking. It’s the number one attended class at USC. It won the Golden Apple Award for best class, so compliments to Dr. Martin on creating an environment that kids are inspired.
What it is is a real, practical class about real life when they exit USC and what to expect in the job market. It’s not just academia. It’s about the real world and what they’re going to face.
Greg Alexander: Knowing you the way I do, you’re a pretty busy guy, and yet you make the time for this.
Joe Vitalone: I do.
Greg Alexander: Why?
Joe Vitalone: Because it’s important to me. It’s what I found really important to the students. They get a lot out of it, I get a lot out of it. I stay in touch with all of them on Facebook. My Linkedin is … I probably have over a thousand students now both at USC and at the University of Texas on Linkedin and they keep in touch with me and I keep in touch with them. I just make time for it in my schedule. I fly to LA. It’s a long trip and a long class, but it’s worth it.
Greg Alexander: Good for you. I’m pleased that you give back and it’s kind of you to do that. In the context of today’s subject, which is generating results quickly, what I have found is that the only people that can do that well are great leaders. Having been around you, I think you’re a great leader. You’re very inspirational. When you ask people what Joe V’s leadership style is they all can say it like that, which means it’s real. It’s so real that a world-class learning institution like USC has you come in and teach it to them.
Within that early time period, let’s say year one, what is the proper balance of the carrot and the stick?
Joe Vitalone: I think it’s individual, but for me it’s definitely more carrot than stick. I think in today’s economy and market, I think there’s a fine balance between inspiration, motivation, and what I think is constructive criticism. I lead from the front, so I’m one of the people that likes to get on the horse out in front carrying a flag, climbing a mountain with the team versus … So they see that. I don’t think I could describe my style. I think they could better than I could. For me, what I’ve been told is that’s what inspires them.
When you get that kind of feedback, you accentuate what you’re strong at, you try to mask your weaknesses, and you build an environment that people are inspired and motivated to do more than they normally would. When you do that to a wide body of people it’s really powerful. A fighting force of a hundred when motivated will behave like one twenty. A fighting force of a hundred when demotivated will be eighty. The difference is forty. It’s a big percentage.
To have a dynamic sales organization, which is what we run, running at a hundred and twenty percent capacity, which is what we do … Our CEO always says, “Sprint the first lap and then pick up the pace.” We do that at Mitel, and as long as I’m out there picking up the pace everybody else is picking up the pace. That’s the best way I can explain it.
Greg Alexander: What do you say to a board who buys a company, let’s say it’s a private equity board, they have an investment hypothesis. They want to drive results out super quick. They and the CEO recruit you to come in and do that because you’ve done it five times. Part of your secret sauce is leadership and they say I don’t believe in that because you can’t quantify leadership. Leadership doesn’t correlate directly in some number to job performance. What do you say to that?
Joe Vitalone: Leadership counts. It absolutely counts. It’s absolutely quantifiable. I don’t think you can do it in ninety days, but I think you can do it in a year. I think you could take a look at all of the companies I’ve been at, pre-me and post-me, and looked at the leaders that have taken over after me, some of which I have put in place, and you will see that they respond to strong leadership.
One of the things that you do as a leader is create a really good succession plan so that when you move on you take care of the people that have taken care of you along the way and those people go on to be great leaders. I’m fortunate I think to have had … I’ve got at least eight or ten people that have gone on be CEOs, probably fifty that have gone on to be executive vice-presidents and have gone on to do some amazing … Some startups, some are in private equities, some have gone to public companies.
Greg Alexander: So not only have you had these five exits, but after you’ve exited the people that stayed behind with the new ownership team have thrived?
Joe Vitalone: Oh, yeah. At almost every one of the companies in the ones that we’ve sold have gone on to run those. I typically leave … I like the smaller companies. Mitel is a large company. You highlighted it nicely in the opening, but that was a challenge for me because it’s thirty-three hundred employees, it’s a big organization. We have two hundred and fifty quota carrying salespeople just in the Americas.
Greg Alexander: Plus all the channel partners?
Joe Vitalone: Six hundred to eight hundred channel partners, depending on which products we’re looking at, Cloud and Premise. It’s a challenge. I think if you’re the board you’re looking for somebody that can lead and inspire. It depends on if it’s a startup company or a public company. It’s a little bit different in terms of who you hire, what kinds of individuals and so on.
Greg Alexander: All right. We’re going to take a short break, but you’re going to want to come back for our last segment with Joe. Why? I’m going to ask him to turn all this great advice into an action plan for you. If you want to generate results quickly, you’re not going to want to miss this. Come back after the break.
Steve Loftness: We hire players that can go out on the field and score a touchdown right away. It’s not let’s get you ready, the rookie has to work his way up. No, you’re out there. You’ve been hired as an A player so get out here and perform your function.
Mike Drapeau: Nothing substitutes for experience. In our world we combine high level experience, interacting with CEOs, chief financial officers, chief sales officers, marketing vice-presidents and so on.
Mark Synek: I was a vice-president of sales of a large company so I know what that person is really dealing with and I can talk to them in a way that some consultant that has spent their career in academics couldn’t do.
Mike Drapeau: If you’re going to be around the LeBron James of our industry you better be making sure you’re shooting extra foul shots the night before because when the game comes down the ball may be in your hand and you better stuff it to the hoop.
Speaker: Your finish line is your number and the only way to reach it is to make certain everyone is pulling their weight and headed in the same direction. That’s why SBI uses proven techniques to bring everyone on your team onboard with successful standardized sales programs, enabling victory at the turn of every quarter.
Greg Alexander: Welcome back everyone. I am Greg Alexander, CEO of SBI, and you’re watching SBI TV. Today my guest is Joe Vitalone, executive vice-president and president of the Americas region for Mitel Networks. Before the break I made you a promise and that promise was to have Joe give you an action plan for generating big results fast. What is an action plan? In the context of this show, it is the one to three things to do immediately after watching this show to make your number, so let’s get to it.
Joe, let’s have a hypothetical. The phone rings tomorrow and it’s an executive recruiter. He opens with the sentence, “Joe, you got another one in you?” They’re representing a board. They want to ramp sales quickly. They want to exit in a two to three year time period and they offer you a pile of stock with all the right preferences to get the job done.
I know you’re not going anywhere, but if you took the job hypothetically what do you do immediately?
Joe Vitalone: You have to assess the money. Let’s say it’s a startup company, which this would sound like. You have to assess the capital that you have and you have to control that burn rate. It’s a fine line between growing and then burning the money that you have because if you have to raise more money that’s a problem. You have to do a real assessment for what you’re going to be capable to do based on the money you have.
The second thing is you’ve got to bring on a great team. The team that you’re going to bring on for a startup that I have had the privilege of working with is different than one that you would have, for example, at a company of our size today. Startup people are a little different in that they’re more focused on equity, less on salary, bonus and those kind of things. They work typically for that opportunity to grow that company into something material for not only themselves, but for their family and investors and so on, so people is really, really key.
Then you’ve got to make sure that the product gets into the hands of the right partners, that you target a customer audience and you don’t try to boil the ocean. You really focus on segments, establish beach heads, and you go in and get some wins quick. The key is is to get cash flow positive before you run out of money.
The thing that I have had the opportunity to do is do that and create growth, create a really good go-to-market model, control my burn rate, and in many cases had money left over before we even got acquired or went public. That’s a fine line between over spending and burning. It’s akin to riding a horse where you’re pulling the reins a little bit and kicking with the spurs. You’ve got to know how to balance that to get there.
Greg Alexander: So in a startup environment it’s come in, figure out the money right away, right? Because you don’t want to run out of money. You have to raise more money, which takes up your time and dilutes your stock.
Joe Vitalone: Right.
Greg Alexander: Get the team in place, which is a different type of individual, people that are motivated by the equity event versus the salary and the title and all of those things. Then figure out where you’re going to take that product, because as a young company you can’t try to sell to everybody. You want to sell to people that are most likely to receive your message quickly, right?
Contrast that just a little bit for me. If you went into an established company, maybe it was something that was bought by a private equity firm, and you add scale now, maybe it’s a billion dollar organization … It’s the same thing however. The plan is to sell it but it’s a different scenario of course. What would you do differently in that scenario?
Joe Vitalone: I think in that scenario you’re now focused more on team assessment. On the people side you’re focused more again on education, making sure that you’re educating. You’ve got to grow, but you’ve got to grow profitably. What you want to see is growth and you want to see your margins start to rise. Then you spend a lot of time on the partner piece if, in fact, you are an indirect selling model. You have to say what is your go-to-market. Is it direct or indirect? It might be both, but a lot of times it’s one or the other.
Then the key I think is to really go get some marque wins and to make sure that you’re growing your partner community profitably. If those things happen, you’ve got growth, you’ve got profitable growth, you’ve got a really dynamic team, your go-to-market model is good, you then are very attractive to somebody that may want to acquire you because then they can take that product, drive synergies into the organization so you save money, get economy of scale, and you can take those products and put it through that channel. You get I think a lot of economy out of a multiple sets of products.
We’ve done that successfully at Mitel, where we’ve acquired four companies in the last year and a half, integrated those companies, drove synergies nicely out of the organizations, saved a lot of money, and yet maintained our revenue rise and growth and margin.
Greg Alexander: You said something in both scenarios, which is to get some big wins, some big marque victories. I think I know why you want to do that, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Why is that so important that early?
Joe Vitalone: I think when you win marque accounts like that it gives you that cache I think in the market and people start to notice. If you continue just to have … Lifestyle business partners are really good and they can drive your business, but you also need marque partners that are publicly traded, that have visibility, that do a lot of marketing on their own, that are also publishing their customers and their testimonials to the market, whether it’s on a blog or on social media and so on, and then there’s a lot of press and the public markets follow the larger companies because our releases will be on their site and vice versa. To win big in the customer area and win big in the partner area is really important. You need to grow your core business, but to strengthen yourself in those areas.
Greg Alexander: Put me in the seat. I take the job. I’m in the seat. I’m laser focused now in getting these quick big marque wins. Do you go to the immediate forecast and see if there’s anything in there that you can go make happen? Do you go and say who are the top twenty accounts that we want to open that we’re nowhere with? What do you do?
Joe Vitalone: You really focus on the top twenty deals. If you looked into any of our forecasts by region, you would see the top ten deals in each one of the markets. Then you make sure that your best leaders and your best sales people are working those deals so that you close.
Bigger isn’t better, Greg. Better is better, and it’s been proven innovation wins. You don’t have to be Cisco to be successful and have a big name. You can be successful with a lesser name publicly if you out-innovate and you can outsell, but you have to have to be focused and you got to have a strategy. When you win, people notice.
You take Blackberry for example. They didn’t have a big name and they took over a market for a long period of time and then all of a sudden what happened? They got out-innovated. So again, bigger isn’t always better. Better is better, and I think you’ve got to be able to convey that. You need the wins to validate what you’re doing, and we’ve done that at the company that I’m at.
We’ve shown that we can go up against the big guys and win the big deals, and that’s attractive to a lot of people, not only people that may want to acquire you, but people that would want to be acquired by you, which is what we’ve done. We’ve been very acquisitive in the market, for example, not the acquiree but the acquirer, so as a result we’ve been able to attract some really nice companies because they see the economies and they’re attracted to our go-to-market model and some of the wins that we have, and we can leverage that.
Greg Alexander: The last piece of the action plan … Since you’ve done this five times, I’m sure you’ve made some mistakes. What do you avoid at all costs?
Joe Vitalone: If you’re a startup, you avoid running out of money. That’s the death blow. You’ve got to control the burn. Number two, you can’t afford to make a mistake on the product segment of the market you’re going to go after. Don’t go after Federal Government if you know certification is a key thing to getting into the DOD and it’s going to cost you more money than you have. You burn a lot of money and you get nothing for the effort. That’s an example of a mistake that I made and won’t make again.
Really pick your spots, be successful, don’t boil the ocean, and make sure that you’re spending on things that can win, and build a pipeline. It’s all about building a pipeline, generating leads, building a pipeline because your pipeline is everything.
You can move your closing ratio variably plus or minus five percent if you’re successful, but if you have a really strong pipeline it will sustain you for a long period of time and it will keep you from running out of money.
Greg Alexander: That’s an action plan for a startup. It feels like to me that’s almost an identical action plan for a private equity owned company.
Joe Vitalone: Yeah.
Greg Alexander: Am I wrong there? Is it the same thing?
Joe Vitalone: Private equity, you’re not going to run out of money per se and there’s not going to be that dilution or the risk in the back of your head of that happening, but the other elements are very much the same. I think with a private equity company that’s a little more well funded you’re focused really more on team, building the pipeline, getting into new markets, developing a better channel and go-to-market strategy and generating more leads for the business because you want to fund the partners that you have to help them grown.
If your partners are growing and your partners are happy and your employees are the same, you’re going to have a really successful business model. You’ve got to measure that. You’ve got to measure partner satisfaction, you’ve got to measure customer sat, you’ve got to measure employee sat, and we do all those things.
We’ve seen a big change in our company of, I’ll just take my own group, an employee satisfaction from the sales side. When I got there it was not good. Now it’s world class because people are having fun, they’re inspired, they’re making more money than they did a year or two years ago. The company is growing. The stock is going up. We’re winning bigger deals, and winning is fun. When you create a winning environment, whether it’s startup or private equity, it’s a lot of fun. When I stop having fun, that’s when I’ll probably talk to that executive recruiter, but right now that’s not going to happen. I’m having a blast.
Greg Alexander: It’s funny, employee engagement goes up when everyone is winning. Isn’t it amazing what happens?
Joe Vitalone: Winning is contagious, it really is. It’s a lot of fun. It’s fun to get up and go to work in the morning and you get opportunities to do things that you would never get to do and travel places that you’d never … So that part of it, it’s rewarding for everybody. It’s rewarding for families. It’s rewarding for employees. It gives people an opportunity to grow their careers, which is neat.
Greg Alexander: This is wisdom that can only come from experience. Joe, on behalf of everyone at SBI and all of our viewers, thank you for coming on the show and contributing to the field that we’re in, sales effectiveness. At the rate that Mitel is going, my guess is that the big boys are going to be knocking on your door here shortly and maybe this is number six in the making.
I would also like to thank you, our viewers, for tuning in. If you enjoyed this show I suggest you subscribe to SBI TV at salesbenchmarkindex.com/tv, or you can find us at our SBI YouTube channel. That might be a little bit easier for you. We have some outstanding guests like Joe confirmed for future episodes that you will not want to miss. Until then, I wish you the best of luck as you try to make your number.