PODCAST 02: The 25-Year Evolution of the Sales World

On this episode of the Sales Hacker Podcast, we talk with Steve Denton, President and Chief Revenue Officer of Collective[i].

What You’ll Learn

  • How to adapt in a sales world that is constantly changing
  • How to avoid wasting your existing opportunities and close the deals in front of you
  • Why you have to be the most prepared person in the room
  • The three biggest decisions you can make in your career

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

1) Show introduction [00:48]

2) Steve Denton and the baseball card [1:30]

3) SDRs and SDR Development [3:51]

4) Steve’s history of sales and getting started [5:15]

5) Social selling and effective buyer research [9:08]

6) What’s the definition of an opportunity [14:07]

7) The future of CRM [17:22]

8) Navigating your career and the critical decisions [20:20]

9) Moving your career forward and managing risk [28:36]

10) Quick-fire questions [33:20]

11) Sam’s corner [37:55]

If you’re more a reader, here’s a crisp transcription of episode 02.

Sales Hacker Podcast—Sponsored by Node

Sam Jacobs: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Sales Hacker podcast. I’m your host, Sam Jacobs, founder of The New York Revenue Collective.

Before we start, a quick thank you to this month’s Sales Hacker podcast sponsor Node. Node’s AI discovery platform can understand the meaning, context, and connection between any person or company by proactively surfacing opportunities that are highly relevant and personalized in real time.

Node is creating an entirely new paradigm for sales and marketing professions to grow pipeline and accelerate revenue philosophy.

Now on with the show.

Welcome back to the Sales Hacker podcast for episode two. I’m your host, Sam Jacobs, founder of the New York Revenue Collective, and today I’ve got a very special guest, Steve Denton, who is also a good friend and member of the New York Revenue Collective.

Steve is currently president and CRO of Collective[i]. He’s got over 25 years leading fast-growing private and public companies in a wide set of industries, including experience at eBay, GSI Media, Link Share, FedEx, and Pepsi.

Steve Denton: Hey, Sam.

Sam Jacobs: Welcome, and I’m glad to have you. We’re going to have a great conversation. First thing we always want to know is your baseball cards stats, Steve, at the very top of the interview. Your name’s Steve Denton. You’re president and chief revenue officer of Collective[i]. Give us the rough revenue range of Collective[i].

About Steve Denton and Collective[i]: Baseball Card Stats

Steve Denton: Sure. I wish it was my rookie card, but I think this should be a veteran card. We like to call it experienced and aged. Collective[i] is headquartered here in New York City. It’s an AI company for sales. Offices in the Bay area and globally. Revenue is anywhere between $10 and 25 million. Privately held. We have about 125 employees across the globe, and I look after the revenue functions here at Collective[i]. Think about that as sales and services.

Sam Jacobs: How big is that sales and services organization?

Steve Denton: Anywhere between 21 and 24 folks.

SDRs and SDR Development

Sam Jacobs: How does it break out in terms of function? You have SDRs, you have enterprises? Walk us through that really quickly.

Steve Denton: We have a large outbound SDR group, various titles, different things. We have around 15 folks that work in the SDR group right now, and then they support five enterprise sellers. We target companies that have 500 or more sales professionals within the organization.

That’s our sweet spot, so working a variety of functions there to personalize that outreach. Then, we have another group of SDRs that work in a stage that we call development, and the way we think about development, think about sales pursuits that a seller might engage in, or an opportunity.

Steve’s History of Sales

Sam Jacobs: What do you think separates good from great 20 years ago versus good from great today as you think about some of the folks listening today being young sales professionals trying to become a Steve Denton one day?

Steve Denton: Whether I was with Pepsi or I was with FedEx, when I came to talk to the buyers and prospects that I was selling to, or my customers, they found out about FedEx from me, right? There was no internet to do research.

That’s why your sales team back in the day carried big briefcases with lots of brochures in there, because you couldn’t just zip up a pdf file or send a video over. You had to be complicated, you had to advocate value, you had to be a trusted consultant, someone that you would buy from that you would trust.

You were also doing ton of product education. Those were the qualities of an SDR. You weren’t as positioned when you came into a sale. You weren’t already predisposed because the research had not been done.

Social Selling and Effective Buyer Research

Sam Jacobs: How do you move from being that to being a smashing SDR today?

Steve Denton: You can’t show up uninformed, so you need to be the most prepared person who walks in that room. With today’s sales tools and technologies, there’s no excuse for a sales professional to walk into an opportunity ill-informed and not educated.

You should be following that buyer on Twitter and understand what they’re doing in LinkedIn. You should have done your research—aka prepare for social selling—to get an understanding as to who they are, what they do, what they care about.

What’s the Definition of an Opportunity

Sam Jacobs: I think of an opportunity as the situation where we are mutually agreed that we are in an active commercial conversation. How do you define it?

Steve Denton: In the most part I agree with the definition—are we talking to the right people that can take the decision, or are we speaking to people who are going to influence that decision and are going to introduce us and guide us to those people in short order?

Not to cast blame on any particular application or tool, but I don’t know that CRM is helping us with that. It is a database. Let’s all agree we need a database to archive and hold our stuff, but what is it doing to help you close more deals? It’s just archiving items you already know. If I said this sentence, if it’s not in Salesforce, how would you complete it?

The Future of CRM

Sam Jacobs: Your company is about AI and machine learning. My whole concept has always been you do something over here and then you always have to log it and record it somewhere else, meaning this database or the CRM. Obviously, the future is going to be everything you do is automatically recorded, transcribed, digested, and analyzed.

Steve Denton: I agree with you 100%. We already experience that.

When we use driving navigation applications like Waze, we just punch up our destination, right? Everything else is logged for us, our speed, our location, inferences from the drivers around us, new routes get populated for us, an arrival time gets calculated for us as we continue to drive so we can make decisions, right?

I see that exists in our personal lives and in many of our professional functions, like marketing and HR and fraud protection, but when we still look at sales, in many cases, man, it is like 1984.

Navigating Your Career and the Critical Decisions

Sam Jacobs: Walk us through some of those decisions that you made on the way to selling three companies and being president and CRO of Collective[i].

Steve Denton: Sure. I’m working for Pepsi. I’m down in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a 23 year old guy. I don’t know anyone in town, and I’ve got these eight stores I’m responsible for.

As a result, right, it was challenging, and traffic’s bad and there’s a ton of people in the store and even though you’re wearing a Pepsi shirt people ask you where the bread is. It just becomes a very frustrating, challenging place, but you spend a lot of time at grocery stores.

Work faster and smarter

I just asked my store managers, “Could I work your store at night? Could I merchandise it at night?” That allowed a couple of things for me.

I got the job done in half the time.

That Pepsi section was perfect. Everything was spaced out, everything was perfect. Then, that allowed me to come into that store later in the day not wearing a Pepsi shirt with soda stains all over it but in a suit and actually deal with them more on a professional level. Because I was taking care of them, they started taking care of me. I started selling more stuff to them, getting incremental displays, making my numbers.

Make hard choices more often

The second one that I’ll tell you real quick was I was a district manager at FedEx. I was down in Baltimore having a great run, and this New York metro region opened up.

This place was a death trap.

They asked me, “Would you consider moving to New York and taking the New York metro region?” I mean, I know it could be a career killer, but I also knew at the age of 28 I wasn’t going to get an opportunity to be an RSM for about another 12 years, and I felt comfortable enough that I could do it. I had a supportive family, so I took that job.

We had a great turnaround. We won region of the year the next year, and that set me up to become a director at FedEx and that set me up to go be the VP of sales at Link Share.

Check out Risk vs. Reward: 3 Secrets That Will Change the Way You Think About Your Career in Sales

Moving Your Career Forward and Managing Risk

Sam Jacobs: How do you choose between startups and which startup, or the big corporate route?

Steve Denton: I made that decision when I was leaving FedEx. I was a managing director at FedEx. There were 16 of us. I had a great career going, 1000 sales people working for me in the northeast, and I took a calculated risk with a young family to go be an SVP of sales for an early stage internet company in 1999.

That could have been disastrous.

The good news is, right, we built a monster there and we sold that thing to Rakuten for half a billion dollars in ’05, so what do you look at?

Fundamentally do you think this is smart, and do you believe in that business? Because you can’t fake that. Everybody can smell it.

The second thing is is the leadership team a team that has a history of getting people to better places and of success? Are you aligning yourself with winners there?

Is the technology sound? Is it in market, or is it alpha? Do they have customers?

Quick-Fire Questions

Should SDRs report to marketing or sales?

Steve Denton: Depends on the sales goals you’re carrying, right, and your sales cycle. If you’re closing a lot of sub-90 day or sub-45 day deals, a quarterly quota makes sense, or even a monthly depending on your sales cycle and the size of your deals.

What are the tools in your sales + marketing stack?

Steve Denton: There’s a little company that is out in the Bay area called Accompany.

Think about it like Owler. It does a really nice job surfacing for me when those folks are in the news or when those folks are mentioned or when those folks are speaking on a panel.

It’s delivered to my inbox every morning, and I find that to be a great use of technology to synthesize that for me.

If you’re doing some SDR work and you need to have a lot of conversations, you plug into ConnectAndSell. You’ll have 20 conversations in two hours, because somebody else is doing the dialing for you, and someone else is doing the navigating of phone trees

How to get in touch with Steve

Steve Denton: Yes. Personally I am looking for two enterprise sales professionals who have anywhere between five or more years of enterprise sales experience.

Preferably one in New York and one in the Bay area, but like I said, I’m geographically agnostic. I’m personally looking for those roles right now; sdenton@collectivei or hit me up on LinkedIn and we’d love to talk to you about it.

Sam’s Corner

Hi, everybody. What a fantastic interview with Steve Denton!

He’s insightful and he’s got great insights for people that are looking to manage their careers in the right way. So Steve talked about taking on risk/reward profiles for going to a big company versus a small company that I would really encourage everybody to do.

It’s the biggest mistake I see sales managers make that want to be a VP of sales, and even VP of sales make this mistake.

Don’t Miss Episode 03

To check out the show notes, see upcoming guests, and play more episodes from our incredible lineup of sales leaders, visit gtmnow.com/podcast-subscribe

You can also find the Sales Hacking podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. If you enjoyed this episode please give us a share on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Finally, a special thanks again to this month’s sponsor at NodeIf you want to get in touch with me, find my social handles in my bio below.

See you next time!

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