PODCAST 83. How to Operationalize Alignment w/ John Kaplan

This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with John Kaplan, President, Co-founder, & Managing Partner at Force Management.

John has over 20 years of executive experience in sales, leadership, and execution, specializing in corporate sales strategy and performance management. Before co-founding Force, he was SVP of International Sales Operations for PTC, a leading software developer for content, product life cycle management.

If you missed episode 82, check it out here: PODCAST 82: Be Fanatic About Connecting With Your Customer w/ Zvi Guterman

What You’ll Learn

  • Who is John Kaplan & Force Management
  • How to operationalize alignment
  • Building your sales process around your customers
  • Keeping the sales fire so you don’t flame out

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

Show introduction [0:07]

Sam Jacobs: Welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast. We’re incredibly excited because this show is coming to you from an event that we held in New York on October 17th, called The Revenue Collective Executive Offsite. We brought about 80 to 90 members of the Revenue Collective from all over the world together to hear and listen and learn from each other and from some of the speakers.

Now, this speaker, his name is John Kaplan. He’s the president and co-founder of Force Management. They’re one of the organizations that popularized the concept of MEDDIC, and of enterprise sales as a process, both as an art and a science.

John talks through how to drive organizational alignment and how to prepare your entire organization for delivering and executing against a difficult enterprise sales.

Now before we get there, we want to thank our sponsors. First off, Vidyard. Now email isn’t dead, but man is it boring. Add video to emails to stand out in the inbox, for free, with Vidyard. Vidyard helps you easily record, send and track who is viewing your video content in three easy steps. Go to vidyard.com/saleshacker for more information.

Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform that enables sales reps to humanize their communications at scale, from automating the soul-sucking manual work that eats up selling time to providing action-oriented tips on what communications are working best. Outreach has your back.

Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with John Kaplan from Force Management.

About John Kaplan & Force Management [1:57]

Sam Jacobs: We’re excited and honored to have our next guest. If you haven’t heard of or aren’t familiar with Force Management, besides being one of the partners of Revenue Collective, they are some of the folks that I’d always been told essentially invented or at least popularized MEDDIC as an enterprise sales qualification methodology.

Today we’re talking to John Kaplan who is one of the founders. Let me just quickly tell you about his bio. He’s a skilled consultant, presenter and facilitator, with over 20 years of executive experience in sales, leadership and execution, specializing in corporate sales strategy and performance management. Before co-founding Force, he was SVP of International Sales Operations for PTC, a leading software developer for content, product life cycle management.

I just gave the elevator pitch for Force, but quickly, before we dive into the content, tell us what is Force, what do you do?.

John Kaplan: Force Management is a sales effectiveness company. We started the business 16 years ago. The two founders, myself and Grant Wilson, are former PTC executives.

They were one of the most dynamic software companies on the planet. They went from zero to a billion dollars in less than 10 years. The stock split five times in seven years. What they were really, really well known for was their predictability on Wall Street.

They went 43 straight quarters without missing their number to Wall Street, and that’s double digit revenue and profitability. I just happen to be one of the sales leaders there.

But how Force Management got started was this: I was working in Europe. I had 3 children. We went over to Europe for an assignment. I wound up there for 5 years and I just wanted to come home.

My father had passed away the year before and he was an incredible human being. He knew how to make a life. I changed my measurement of success after his passing, and we started Force Management as a lifestyle company.

We just tried to replace our corporate incomes, and then we had a relevant point of view. We didn’t invent MEDDIC. MEDDIC was invented at PTC, but we didn’t invent it. We just happened to operationalize it and weilded it as a qualification criteria. Sales was drastically changing from an enterprise model to a more engagement model with multiple touches.

It was a great plan. We bootstrapped it, used our own money, got really, really lucky, and, 16 years later, here we are.

When you think about the principles we are going to share with you, it doesn’t matter what you’re selling, I don’t care if you’re selling water. You still have to differentiate, you still have to operationalize and put the right people in the right places. You still have to put together a plan to make the plan, and you still gotta have a great ability to attract and retain top talent.

Operationalizing alignment [12:08]

Sam Jacobs: When you talk about operationalizing alignment and driving functional alignment to align the sales strategy with the corporate growth strategy, how do you do that, why do you do that, and what questions do you ask?

John Kaplan: It’s rare to have alignment, and I break it down in 2 areas — the executive alignment and operational alignment.

Here are some of the challenges of being in a silo-based company:

  • Nobody agrees what the concept of an ideal customer is
  • Competing priorities

Executive alignment is big for us. Typically, executives run different parts of an organization, and those organizations then tend to become siloed because they’re personalized in some way.

The 4 questions that determine whether a company has alignment [15:05]

John Kaplan: We look for alignment in these four sets of questions:

  1. What problems do you solve for your customers?
  2. How specifically do we solve those problems?
  3. How do we solve them differently or better than anybody else?
  4. Where have we done it before?

Driving alignment around positive business outcomes [17:10]

Sam Jacobs: So, what is the process by which you drive that alignment?

John Kaplan: There’s something called the value framework, and the value framework is a positioning to focus on creating a customer experience, which really understands the before state, before you even call on a customer, what those problems and challenges are and what the negative consequences of those are.

Then we align it to positive business outcomes for customers. Then what we do is we teach them to take those positive business outcomes and interlace them with what we call required capabilities, and those required capabilities are the differentiated technical capabilities of your firm that are from the customer’s point of view.

Then we make sure the customer knows how you are going to measure success.

Most of your sellers haven’t made the leap from their technical capabilities to the business issue facing the customer, but all the data tells us that customers care, number one, that you understand their business. Your customers care, number one.

Our methodology takes the technical capabilities of a company and links them to the positive business outcomes of their customers, and then creates a framework, an operating rhythm.

Aligning around business objectives versus rev or sales objectives [21:44]

Sam Jacobs:One of the things you talk about when you’re talking about alignment is aligning to business-level objectives that are differentiated from revenue or sales objectives. What do you mean by that?

John Kaplan: Most of the companies have some other objectives, but everything gets trumped by revenue or profitable revenue or EBITDA. But it’s all about creating a positive customer experience. If your company doesn’t have it in the top 3, you might be in the wrong company. So that’s what we mean by aligning to priorities.

What every sales process is missing [30:21]

John Kaplan: 99% of the people write up a sales process, but it’s missing one thing — the customer.

Why guts are important to the sales process [35:14]

Sam Jacobs: You’ve talked a lot about guts in our conversations, about leaders that have the guts, and the urgency and the courage to drive change. What do you mean by guts, and how do we get there?

John Kaplan: At the end of the day, the people I see who are the most successful in these roles in sales and marketing are the ones who believe that they own it. When they show up in front of the boards, when they show up in front of the executive teams, when they show up in front of their troops, they own it.

There’s a lot of reasons and excuses why things don’t happen. You own it. You got to own the good about it, you got to own bad about it.

The other thing that I think is gutsy is you have to focus. It’s hard. You’re tired, you’ve got your family’s stress, and you’re under stress.

You got to focus on the why. The greatest leaders that I’ve seen, the gutsiest leaders that I’ve ever seen are the ones that come to their organization and say, “This is why we’re doing this.” Because for any great why, it makes the what and the how a lot easier.

The last thing I want to do is just give you a little encouragement to have the guts to take care of yourself. One of the biggest reasons why we don’t last in these jobs is we flame out.

3 ways to keep the sales fire burning [39:15]

John Kaplan: There’s 3 things I’ve learned over the last 20 years I’d like to share with you:

  • The practice of gratitude
  • The practice of flow
  • The practice of service

The minute gratitude is introduced, it takes over everything, and I’m telling you, not only you, but the people on your teams. If you can have an environment of grateful people, the results are just astounding.

Then the next thing is the practice of flow. Flow state is just some kind of mental state that you can get into where you completely lose yourself. Some of you bike, some of you read, some of you fish, whatever it is. If you’re not doing that in that 18 months stint or whatever, and you put that on hold, you become unhealthy.

The last one is purpose for people; so, it’s the practice of service. I’m not going to get too preachy, but I’m just trying to give you a little spirit. The healthiest people I’ve met in your roles are the ones that realize they’re doing things for others, and they think that way.

We have a mantle at Force Management that says, “We’re helping people at Force Management that can’t help themselves in both the business world and in the community.” And it creates unbelievable results in the organization.

Sam’s Corner [46:32]

Sam Jacobs: I really hope you liked that interview with John Kaplan, president and co-founder of Force Management. He spoke about this concept of white collar prison.

A lot of different folks always have this story of going around and asking 10 different people in an organization, what is the company’s missions, what are its values? And everybody gives a different answer. It may seem trivial, or, it may seem unimportant, but it really is a critical feature of well executing organizations on the go-to-market side.

Their ability to align messaging, to understand who their buyer is, to understand what is the ROI, what is the return that the buyer can expect based on their ability to solve that business problem.

Lastly, think less about features and what you’ve built and what you’re so proud of, but more about features as a means to an end of solving somebody’s business problem. That will never steer you wrong in the game of sales.

What We Learned

  • Who is John Kaplan & Force Management
  • How to operationalize alignment
  • Building your sales process around your customers
  • Keeping the sales fire so you don’t flame out

Don’t miss episode 84

I hope you enjoyed the show. Before we go, let’s thank our sponsors. Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform and Vidyard. Vidyard helps you easily record, send, and track who is viewing your video content in real time in three easy steps. Email isn’t dead, but it sure is boring. Add video to your emails to stand out in the inbox with Vidyard.

If you want to reach out to me with feedback, you can reach me on LinkedIn. If you haven’t rated the show, please give us five stars on the iTunes rating system so that we can remain in business and continue to bring you this show.

As always, thanks so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.

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