SalesTech Interview with John Norton, Chief Revenue Officer at Calabrio
Tell us about your journey into technology and growth. How did you arrive at Calabrio?
I’ve been an executive in the technology industry for over 30 years now, and it’s really been a journey of adapting to change. I started in the telecom and contact center space at companies such as Cross Telecom, Ardent Partners and Fujitsu Business Communications Systems, and I was responsible for developing and growing the Sales and Marketing teams at Arrow Systems Integration.
After the acquisition of Arrow Systems Integration by ConvergeOne, I was the Senior Vice President of growth where I drove strategic technology solutions and managed services growth within the business. ConvergeOne has been a long-time Calabrio partner and I was always impressed by the customer-focused culture and the value the company delivered. I was thrilled to join the team when the opportunity came about.
How did you prepare yourself for the competitive landscape of Sales Tech and MarTech?
If you’re in this business for 30 years, you’d better love the technology space. If you’re not fascinated with all the possibilities that exist in technology, you’re not going to be able to keep up with the pace of change, and the last two years have moved at a faster pace than the previous 20. But if you are genuinely interested in how businesses operate, how they make money and how they take care of their customers, it can be exciting to leverage what I know about how technology can be utilized to transform customer experiences, and how we can help our customers create sustainable competitive advantage in their markets.
Companies are typically focused on either gaining this competitive advantage by innovating, or they’re trying to do more with less. Either way, we can always apply technology to solve the business problem. And for me, technology has always been fun. I keep up with the latest innovations and always try new things. Over the last few years, you can see that technology at the consumer level has even begun to outpace the technology that is commonly deployed in businesses, so we all — through what we experience in our personal loves, are starting to drive change in the enterprise.
Right now, I am starting to really become interested in home automation technology. I think it’s really just baked into my DNA.
What is the sales culture that you represent? Why is it important to build a sales-focused culture for any business?
For me, a sales-driven culture is the foundation of delivering value to your customers and realizing your business vision, and there are three key elements to this. It starts with regularly communicating to everyone in the organization how critical each person’s role is in getting a sale done. I always make sure that the people who are two or three levels back from our customers understand how important what they do every day is to the overall customer experience.
Next, a world-class sales culture is a learning environment where everyone has the attitude that they need to get better all the time. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be Tom Brady, but they do need to ask themselves on a regular basis, “What can I do to become a better version of myself?” There isn’t anyone who can’t find a good answer to that question.
The third thing is a commitment to sales success, not as individuals, but as a team. There is an appreciation across the team that while not everyone is going to “make a play” in any given business quarter, some member of the team will do something superhuman to make it happen. That’s what makes the job fun, when you see people going above and beyond and not just thinking about themselves. It’s about the team winning and all gaining momentum from the experience.
How do you achieve this culture balance at your workplace? What percentage of this is driven by the application of technology, reporting tools and coaching?
Technology is driving more and more of what we do every single day, but there is a huge risk of turning salespeople into administrators, and many companies are not spending nearly enough time in front of customers. Yes, we leverage CRM tools such as Salesforce, and I want historical data, better forecasting, and better revenue linearity, but not at the expense of speed and productivity, not at the expense of less time spent in front of customers. So, every step we take to improve our business through data also has to add speed from the seller’s perspective.
Tell us how you achieve Marketing-Sales alignment. How does it impact your targets?
I have a strong marketing and sales background, and when I engage with our Head of Marketing, I’m always asking what we can do to get more actionable leads into the hands of our sales people. What we’re using here at Calabrio is account-based targeting (ABT). That’s extraordinarily exciting for a selling organization, and it’s a great recruiting tool.
Also, we understand the buyer’s journey has changed significantly over the past decade, and today, by the time a salesperson engages in an opportunity, a customer is typically 60% or more on the way to a decision. On the one hand, this means customers are comfortable self-educating themselves in preparing for the sales cycle, so we need to focus marketing on making sure they can easily find what they need.
But the paradox is that the internet can also provide so much information that customers can easily become overloaded and stuck. So, we also have to ask ourselves, what can marketing do to help customers get unstuck. Can we predict where they might be getting stuck and help them along the way through sales contacts or webinars or the like?
Tell us about your Product Strategy and your vision into building high-performance data-driven teams.
There’s no doubt the companies that use the best data most effectively will win, but in most organizations, teams can’t access the data or make sense of it. This is where Calabrio’s own solutions for contact center analytics are coming into play for us because with the right data, it’s always much easier to drive new revenue through existing customers than trying to land new customers. And as we continue to develop new products, it’s going to be easier and easier for us to achieve success by going back to our existing customers and helping them be even more successful.
How do you differentiate Customer Success and Customer Service? How have these changed in the past 5 years with Cloud contact centers and chatbots?
When I entered the technology business, the Internet didn’t exist, let alone the cloud. Sales was about capital budgets, long sales and deployment cycles, and a final cut over, after which customers were pretty much on their own to get all the value out of the solution. “Customer service” was about the quality of service, not customer ROI. Cloud-based SaaS with its low barrier to entry, has shifted the risk of adopting the technology from the customer to the service provider.
Quite simply, if the cloud service being provided is not adopted, the return on investment never materializes and the customer will simply turn down the service. Customers can easily do proofs of concept and start with just a few seats, so the SaaS vendor succeeds only if “customer success” —ROI — leads to full adoption across the organization. It’s now up to vendors to ensure customers get all the possible value out of their solutions.
What are the core strategies you focus on for global business development? How does it impact your revenue channels?
As we continue to grow globally, one of our biggest challenges is changing our mindset. It’s easy to get distracted in how we operate in just the US. But, we must also strategically plan for growth globally — and as a software company, we must also plan and account for all of the different feature requirements that exist in countries all over the world. The goal is to make sure we deliver the same set of value across the globe for all customers and channel partners, even though there may be some different rules to follow. It can be heavy lifting, and it can take some time, but we are making it happen, and we will be accelerating our global channel partner strategy this coming year.
Expertise with Automation and AI
Which Sales Tech Automation and tools do you use? How do they make your work easy?
I’m really excited about how we are using Salesforce here. We use it not just for “sales automation,” but really for “all company automation,” more like an ERP system. It goes back to our culture of involving everyone in sales and the customer experience. It’s our single source of truth for the customer experience and how we care for them.
Lead generation, CRM, account planning, configuration and quoting tools, service delivery — everyone inside the company can view any service-related issues a customer might be having and when key events like renewals are coming up. This keeps everyone that supports our valued customers “married up” and on the same page.
How do you see the competition from other Marketing Automation and Workforce Automation technology providers? Where do you see the landscape heading to?
We know who the big players are and we know we have work to do to better our position in the market. But that’s OK. By virtue of how we have built our software, it’s a more elegant solution and easier to use. Also, we’re a more agile company and can move at a faster pace. This is critical because we’re better able to adapt to the changing buyer’s journey.
A customer recently said to me, “Look, we’re counting on you as a technology provider to innovate like we have never seen before. The things we need in our new location haven’t been invented yet.” I believe Calabrio is in an excellent position to meet this challenge. Our ability to roll with the punches and to “find yes” to the innovation challenge, is a huge differentiator for us.
What are the major pain points for sales-driven companies in leveraging traditional CRMs and Data Management platforms/ technologies for their own benefits and for business development?
As I mentioned before, there’s a risk of burying yourself in data and turning your salespeople into administrators — so they are unable to do what they came here to do, engage with customers. CRM is important, but leveraging a CRM tool must mean value not only to business leaders, but it must also mean speed and agility to our field sellers.
What are your predictions and observations on the “Role of Chatbots and AI Conversations” in influencing sales journeys?
There are a lot more ways than chatbots to truly elevate the customer experience, but they are certainly a good place to start if implemented properly. If not implemented carefully, they can just turn out to be another distraction for customers that leads them to a dead end. We’re looking at ways to use Artificial Intelligence in our solution to make chatbots self-tuning, self-learning so they can become more intuitive and more effective and more valuable over time.
My Sales Magnifier
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Sales Technology leader?
From a sales leader perspective, what I need to do is make sure that our sellers have a very clear vision of what AI is and how we can start to apply its capability creatively with our customers and prospects.
AI often gets talked about like it’s the be-all and end-all to everything, but for a lot of people, the concept is just sand that slips through their fingers. My job is to help our sales team really understand what AI means for Calabrio and Calabrio’s customers. Going forward, we can then broaden the insight we can deliver in our solution and help our customers understand how they can benefit.
Thank You, John. We hope to see you again, soon.
Calabrio is revolutionizing the way enterprises engage their customers with Calabrio ONE, a unified workforce optimization (WFO) and employee engagement suite—including call recording, quality management, workforce management, voice-of-the-customer analytics, and advanced reporting—that records, captures and analyzes customer interactions to provide a single view of the customer, and improve the overall agent and customer experience.
John Norton, Chief Revenue Officer at Calabrio, is responsible for driving global revenue growth across Calabrio’s entire suite of software applications and building a world-class sales culture. John joined Calabrio with more than 30 years of executive experience in the technology industry.
Just prior to joining Calabrio, John was Senior Vice President, Growth, at ConvergeOne, a leading global IT services provider, where he drove strategic technology solutions and managed services growth within the business. Prior to ConvergeOne’s acquisition of Arrow Systems Integration (Arrow SI), Norton held multiple executive positions at Arrow SI and Arrow S3, where he was responsible for managing, developing and growing both sales and marketing teams. Norton also held executive positions at Cross Telecom, Ardent Partners, Inc., and Fujitsu Business Communications Systems.
John holds a B.S. degree in business administration from St. John’s University