SalesTechStar Interview with Ken Ferguson, SVP of Global Sales at Visier

Ken Ferguson, SVP of Global Sales at Visier joins us in this QnA to share his thoughts on the changing Sales and SalesTech landscape while also generously sharing his experiences and tips on Enterprise Sales tactics.

Tell us a little bit about yourself Ken and your professional journey so far…

I have been in Enterprise Software Sales for 20 years now and have managed to operate my career from my hometown of Canton, Ohio. Canton is the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and one of those great small cities in the Midwest. My wonderful wife Susan, and my two teenage children keep me busy and enjoying life. I am also an active musician / guitarist which is a great way to blow off some steam and keep the mind fresh.

I have spent the majority of my career working for and around disruptive technologies and applications. I’ve spent the last 9 years in the HR technology space as an early employee at Workday, then transitioning to join Visier a couple years ago when the People Analytics space truly began to take off. I have carried a bag, managed small teams, and managed large teams, but at the end of the day, no matter the role, it has been about helping customers and prospects solve complex problems, and helping sales people be the best they can be and perform at the highest level at which they can perform. I have been part of helping grow some of the most influential business application companies in the Enterprise space and that experience has been such a fulfilling journey. Every step of the way I have learned something personally, hopefully left a deposit with the people I had the pleasure of working with, and left a significant positive impact on my customers and prospects. It’s been a great run thus far, and the best advice I would give anyone is stay humble, stay connected to a close network of people you trust, and be a learner. To be successful in this industry requires you to learn from your mistakes, take measured risks, and do your part to make those around you better by investing in people and relationships.

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Given your time in Enterprise Sales, what are some of the top sales takeaways you’d like to share with the readers

Here are 3 takeaways I believe you have to live and embody to truly be successful in Enterprise Selling.

  • Trust is the “currency of sales”. People buy from people they trust. If there is no trust built with your prospects and customers, you may get a single transaction, but you won’t build a partnership on which long-term value can be built. In the SaaS economy, customers get to choose how long, and with whom they do business, in a way we had not imagined even a decade ago. If you haven’t built trust with your customers, you risk becoming a transactional salesperson who isn’t building a network of trusted relationships that look to you for advice and guidance, but simply an event marked with an exchange of time and money. I have also found this to be true within your sales organization. The best performers build trust within their own team. They understand that they not only need to look out for their own well-being, but also for the good of the company and their colleagues. People buy from people they trust, and sales leadership tends to reward and place their most precious customers and territories with those that show a high ability to be trusted. Be a person not only of performance, but someone worthy of trust, and you will do well in Enterprise Sales. Trust is the “currency of sales”.
  • Execution trumps activity. Simply creating lots of activity or checking boxes in a process in the hope of a deal coming out on the other side is a recipe for failure. Simply creating steps or interactions to try to get a yes has never, and will never, make you successful long-term in Enterprise Sales. Success comes from executing on helping a customer solve a problem or helping build a fully realized plan to solve that problem. If you aren’t helping solve a business problem, then you are essentially loitering in the lobby of your prospect. They will let you hang out for a while, but they will eventually ask you to leave. Be a problem solver. Be a person who knows how to execute on a plan. Don’t simply run around chasing tennis balls being thrown at you by a prospect or asking for meetings that don’t have a clearly defined outcome. People buy from people who know how to execute.
  • Find what you are good at, and a rhythm to how you sell, and be disciplined about it. Salespeople many times are stereotyped as being A.D.D. or having a lack of discipline because they often move fast and don’t get into the details. In my experience, the reality is that the highest performing salespeople have identified what makes them successful and developed the rigor and discipline for those key behaviors and daily disciplines. Whether it’s working their network in a methodical way to build pipeline, or the process you take your prospects through, or simply the rhythm of communication you have with your clients, pick a lane and be disciplined about it. Identify your core skills, your playbook, your sales ethos, and make it a discipline, not a reactionary approach to a sales campaign. Be intentional about the daily activities, processes, and disciplines you invoke. High performers do consistently what average performers only do occasionally.

According to you, how will HR Tech transform the workplace?

It’s very clear to me now, after over a decade of selling in the HR Tech space, that the transformation everyone is seeking is being realized and having its greatest impact in the employee experience realm. In the workplace we are giving people the tools and capabilities to have a different experience, and helping them manage people and their work in ways we couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. If we can make the workplace function with tech the way the rest of our lives function with tech, we will have created a workplace experience that is both efficient for how we do our work, but also pleasing to the employee. The more we can make work like the rest of our lives from a tech perspective, the happier the employee will be, making for happy customers, thereby making a better workplace.

What would you advise first-time adopters of HR Tech/Tools?

Optimize for speed of implementation (getting the tools in the hands of the user quickly to make better choices) and focus on quick achievable wins. Don’t try to boil the ocean right out of the gate. Focus on quick wins to gain adoption and buy-in.

When it comes to Enterprise Sales, what are some of the biggest sales tips that have helped you sell better? Can you share a little about your best performing sales campaigns/best performing sales strategies?

Let the customer talk. Many times we are so excited to tell the prospect or the customer what we do, or how we do it, that we can miss the opportunity to have the prospect tell us what problem they are trying to solve, and how to solve it. In Enterprise Sales we are truly selling solutions to business problems. Instead of coming in to talk about what you do, ask the customer a series of questions that allow them to tell you the real problem they are facing. It’s likely not a technology issue. It’s likely a business outcome they need to change. As sales professionals if we can get to the pain, to the business problem, to the real problem that needs to be solved, then we can spend more of our time solving the problem and less time convincing them we have the solution. I have sat through many sales calls where the sales rep has artfully blasted through a 30-minute opener only to turn the meeting over to the demo, and never identify the key business problem that is driving the meeting to start with. Enterprise selling shouldn’t be product selling, it should be problem solving. What problem are you trying to solve? What business outcome are you trying to influence or change?

The most successful sales campaigns I have been a part of started with not focusing on being better than the competitor but being different. Prospects don’t always remember better. What they do remember is different. If early on, we can create a sense of how we are different from our competitors, we can create a moment where the prospect actually remembers what we said. They may not remember that your solution is cheaper, better, or faster. I guarantee they will remember what is different. That goes for interactions too. When we use creative selling to make a point, or we use references or stories that talk about how we are different, we create moments that matter. You obviously need to back up these things with facts, and proof steps, but much of selling is influenced by the emotional experience as much as the intellectual experience. Use both emotion and logic in your selling campaigns.

We’d love to know what your smartest sales/prospecting hack is!

 The most compelling and easy way to get meetings has not changed in 20 years. A simple email titled, “Coffee with Ken”. I send a simple note to prospects with that simple title and ask for 15-20 mins for a coffee to connect on whatever item I have in front of them. No more than 2 or 3 sentences. But the key at the end of the email is, “what are your thoughts”? The header of the email will cause them to open it, the simplicity of the message ensures they read it, and the question at the end makes typically elicits a simple response. I don’t do this with true “cold calls”, but for people who I don’t know well, who have been hard to engage with, or have been stubborn about taking the time. It’s not fool proof, but it’s an easy way to get someone’s guard down. Who doesn’t have 15 mins for a coffee with Ken?

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What are some of the sales technologies you’d say are a must-have for today’s B2B/Tech Sales teams?

Here are some super practical technologies for great productivity.

  • Slack – I know it’s not a sales tool, but it is the best way for sales teams to collaborate in real time and drive efficiency. Whether it’s simple communication, document sharing, or team feedback, it’s a must in today’s selling world.
  • One Note or Evernote – Having your notes with you on any device at any time is a must. I can’t tell you how many times I have been able to quickly revert to notes from a meeting, pull them up, and send them to a colleague. Or in a meeting, I’ve been able to pull up details I needed in that very moment.

Can you share 5 best practices for global teams to adapt and build strong sales cultures?

1 – Daily Communication – keeping the communication lines open on a daily basis. Even if it’s a quick note on Slack to say hello, always keeping everyone tethered to the team

2 – Celebrate the little wins – whether it’s a meeting with a prospect that you struggled to get, or a million-dollar deal, find ways to celebrate the little wins as well as the big ones. Be a team that finds things to be excited about.

3 – Talk more about the team than the individual – try to recognize the efforts of the sales team and not just the AE or the sales leader running the campaign. It takes many hands to close a deal, and do your best to highlight the work of the team and not just the closed deal.

4 – Celebrate transparency and trust – make it easy for your team to give you bad news or share hard things. When you create that environment, you can solve problems early. When you don’t, people fear giving bad news and it can cause people to hide from things that could be solved if transparency was rewarded and not scolded.

5 – The Golden Rule – help create an environment where people treat each other how they want to be treated. Sounds simple, but many sales teams don’t do it. If we can create a culture of respect, transparency, and fun…. those teams win more often in my experience and they stay together. Weed out people who have trouble being kind and have trouble with the truth.

What has been your best hack(s) to solve the constant friction between Marketing and Sales in your career?

This sounds simple. But do your best to align the metrics on which sales and marketing are being measured. And what you say in private team meetings should be the same thing you say in public when Sales and Marketing might be together. In my experience, if you can align what you are measured on, and operate from a principle of shared accountability, those partnerships win in the end.

A key learning for upcoming sales leaders to stay ahead in the race.

The best thing I can tell upcoming sales leaders is to do your job, not the rep’s job. A mentor of mine once said, “If you are doing his job, who is doing yours?” Hold your team accountable to do what only they can do, and you do what only you can do. You don’t have to be a super rep to be a great sales leader. Be a super leader who makes it easier for your reps and team members to do their jobs. Don’t create work for them, direct the work that they do by coaching them to do the things that move the ball. The best leaders know their lane, and they don’t get out of it often.

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Visier was founded by business analytics leaders to focus on what matters: to answer the right business questions, even the ones you might not know to ask. Questions that shape business strategy, provide the impetus for taking action, and drive better business results.

Ken has nearly 20 years of Enterprise Software sales experience. He has built successful sales teams that enable the largest and most complex businesses in the world transform their HR, Finance, and Analytics functions through strategic, and innovative technology solutions.

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