SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with Adam Johnson, Senior Vice President of Sales & Customer Success at ActiveCampaign

If you can offer something of value, your buyers will remember that, even if they don’t buy in that exact moment shares Adam Johnson, Senior Vice President of Sales & Customer Success at ActiveCampaign while talking about other interesting sales insights and strategies from his journey so far. Catch the whole story:


Tell us a little about yourself Adam…you’ve had an incredible journey in Sales / Technology Sales and associated roles so far – we’d love to know some highlights…and if you can share some of your biggest (tech sales) learnings, that would be great!

I’m very grateful to have worked with some amazing people over the years at companies like Motorola and Salesforce. For the last three years I’ve been with ActiveCampaign, building a team and working with the founder to help build and scale his vision. I’ve had the opportunity to lead teams across sales, business development, channel and customer success, which has been incredibly rewarding. In my role now, I have to consider the entire experience our customers have with us, which isn’t something all sales leaders get the opportunity to do. Rather than just looking at what drives new revenue, I have to consider: what is creating the best experience for customers? What is driving the best results for the business?

As I’ve grown a deeper appreciation for the work it takes to not only capture, but also grow with an account, it’s become clear that it takes an entire organization to deliver on the kind of experience that wins customer trust. Each individual contributor is important, and we are all dependent on each other. Sales and Marketing can’t function properly if there is no product to represent, and Product can’t continue to innovate and build if the GTM teams don’t execute.

Across the entire company, success depends on putting people into the right roles and providing them with the tools they need to function.

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Given the current pandemic and its effects on the tech workplace culture (especially sales and marketing) – we’d love some thoughts on how you are or have been managing a remote sales team.

Businesses everywhere are leaning more on technology than ever before, so companies that already had infrastructure in place to engage their customers and their employees have a major advantage in this time. Technology creates efficiencies, and helps you see via data how efforts in one area impact other areas. That is always important, but especially critical when the external situation is rapidly changing and everyone is physically remote.

In order to stay connected, our leadership team moved from having a weekly sync to a daily huddle; this has been helpful to replace some of the quick interactions we’d normally have around the office. As leaders, we are doubling down on process and measurement, ensuring we have clarity into all aspects of effort and execution. We aren’t just looking at the factors impacting new business, we are looking at what we can do to help existing customers and ensuring that we can deliver value to them. The message we are sending to all of our teams is to double down on what you can do to help customers today. If you can be that critical partner that customers continue to turn to, even if they scale back in other areas, they will continue to see you as indispensable.

While we’re at it, a few tips on how to ensure a seamless customer success strategy (given the current theme of the moment due to the impact of Covid-19 and the need for empathy)…

ActiveCampaign has always made customers the focus. Even before the recent pandemic hit we offered an incredible amount of free resources, personal support, and published an updated Customer Success Commitment. In this time, we’re rotating even further toward ensuring the health of our customers. We’re shortening case resolution times, and have created digital versions of our most popular support resources, including our Study Halls, which we were doing live in cities around the world.

We’re in a unique position because we serve 100K+ customers all over the world. This has given us the opportunity to see many examples of how people are using technology to innovate and adapt, and we try to share those stories as much as possible with the hope that the stories of innovation and creativity will inspire, motivate, and encourage others. I am often inspired by how incredibly creative and resilient humans are. Our customers have had to pivot their business models very quickly, and business owners and leaders have been able to do some amazing things in a short amount of time.

Above all, now is not the time to stop talking to your customers. We all need to make sure we have a strong communication plan to maintain that personal feel even when we aren’t seeing them face-to-face as frequently.

Read More: 5 Ways To Integrate Emotions Into B2B Sales

When it comes to measuring customer success: what do you generally evaluate as a success metric?

As an organization, the metrics that matter the most are the ones that demonstrate customer success. These metrics include everything from NPS and product utilization to customer retention and growth. Customer satisfaction is probably the most important metric for us, and everyone up to the CEO reads NPS scores and monitors the trends there carefully. We also keep close tabs on our reviews, and know we’re doing a good job when we see top scores on sites like G2. Those metrics are the most important to us because they are a true reflection of our ability to deliver for the customer.

Could you tell us a little about your most recent or successful outreach/sales strategies: something other tech sales professionals can pick a tip or two from?

More than ever, taking a consultative approach is key. As the market conditions continue to change, focusing on the customer and how you can create value for them is the best way to ensure long-term success. Even if this doesn’t pay off immediately, it will leave a good impression and pay off down the road. Right now, many businesses are hurting, and business owners and leaders are only focused on what is most important to their customers, their employees, and their stakeholders. If your communication is not adding value in the short term, it will most likely be ignored.

If you can offer something of value, your buyers will remember that, even if they don’t buy in that exact moment. As part of our process, our team shares best practices, within our own teams and with our customers, and we do a lot to promote our free tools, resources, and digital study halls, even with prospects. Even though people are a little more hesitant to spend money, they do have more time and are looking to learn and find ways to solve their problems, so, there is a great opportunity right now to launch programs that drive engagement, with the idea that there will be long term pay off.

Read More: Four Quick Tips To Help You Succeed At Remote Selling

There’s always been a lag between data quality and aligning it to marketing or sales strategies: what are your top tips for alleviating this problem in tech marketing and sales?

The biggest thing you can do is to have a common way of looking at things. Even though sales, marketing, and support have different KPIs, at the macro level, we are all connected, and should all be focused around the same problem – helping customers succeed.

In many organizations sales and marketing leaders will generate data that fits their narrative and miss the bigger picture. This is compounded when you have teams that aren’t regularly syncing about the data, and having those discussions about how each piece of data completes the bigger picture. The ultimate thing we all need to care about is growing new business and then helping customers grow with you. One of the things that I believe we’ve done a good job of at ActiveCampaign is creating baseline metrics that leaders across the business are aligned on. This allows us, as a team, to focus on what the data tells us and work together to address trends that are in the best interests of our customers and the business.

When it comes to building a skilled marketing and sales team in tech today, and given the constant evolving salestech and martech space – what are some of the strategies you follow when it comes to upskilling the taskforce or hiring/building a team that can adapt and evolve with the changing demands of the role and the tech?

This can be tricky and there is no silver bullet here, at least not that I have found. We have tried to build a leadership team that has a diverse background of experience and perspectives; the one thing they are all aligned on is the growth and development of team members. Since the beginning we’ve been very intentional about designing a sales organization that would allow us to also develop and promote our own talent. So, while we’ve hired many experienced people who’ve been great additions to our team, we are also building our own future rockstar sellers and leaders by hiring and developing great people.

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What are some of the biggest challenges you see tech sales teams in larger companies face, despite possibly having a good salestech stack: how would you advise them to overcome these challenges?

Part of the challenge that everyone faces is that we live in a ‘copycat’ world. Best practices and innovations are replicated and shared at lightning speed. As an SVP of Sales at a highly successful, recently funded company, I get a lot of sales emails, and I see the same tactics repeated over and over. When all the communications you get feel like the same thing, it’s easy to ignore. If you don’t have a sense of why you uniquely create value for your customer or prospect, your outreach will feel duplicative and stale, even if you have great technology and are using best practices in terms of process. So to stand out, you really need to help your sales team understand the people they are selling to, their motivations and challenges, and speak to them in a way that feels unique and personal.

In his book, Sell the Way you Buy, David Priemer talks about a concept of Experience Asymmetry; the reality that most sellers have never done the job of the person they are selling to. So, in addition to building a team that understands your product, processes, etc. you also have to build a team that understands your target audience and the ways they can get value from your product or service. This is critical because product knowledge without context of why it’s valuable isn’t enough.

What are some of the ways you’d advise tech companies/global organizations to help their remote sales teams stay motivated during these trying times?

We are in a fortunate position at ActiveCampaign in that customers are turning to our technology more than ever to stay connected with their customers. Knowing that we can make a meaningful difference for our customers is definitely helping our teams stay motivated. Even so, it’s important to remember that this is the first economic downturn many of our employees are experiencing. It can be scary, and sound, practical leadership is needed from all of us who’ve been through challenging times before. When leadership goes silent, that leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, worry, and disengagement, so it’s important to demonstrate that at the highest levels, there is a plan, and a belief in the value of the service or product you provide.

In terms of helping the teams stay positive, I’ve seen so many creative initiatives from our leadership team that try and capture some of the camaraderie and fun that we’d normally have together in the office: virtual huddles, happy hours, etc. Yesterday one of our managers organized a caricature artist to do drawings over zoom (see evidence below). It’s opening things up for a lot of creativity on the employee engagement side of things. We recognize that this situation is forcing everyone to be more flexible and adaptive, and that is something we’ve worked to prepare our teams for. At the same time, we know that everyone is being asked to contribute in new ways to navigate through these challenging times, and so it’s important to acknowledge those efforts, and be even more communicative than you normally might be.

Tag (mention/write about) the one person in the tech/startup/salestech industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read!

Ryan Barreto is the SVP of Sales at Sprout Social, he is a phenomenal person and leader, someone that I respect and who would surely have great thoughts to share on these topics.

Your favorite Sales/SalesTech quote and sales leadership books you’d suggest everyone in Sales reads

“Sales is the art of convincing someone to do what’s in their best interest.” This was shared during a sales training I was in many years ago. It helped me understand that in order to sell something I need to first understand what would be in the best interest of my customers, figure out how my solution could help them and then I would be in a position to do some meaningful selling.

It’s an oldie but I would recommend everyone in sales read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. Very early in my career someone that turned me down for a job recommended I read this book, which was a kind way of saying ‘you have some things to learn’. I took him up on it and I did learn some things. I think the depth of understanding and nuance have increased but the fundamentals of influence and persuasion are largely unchanged.

Tell us about some of the top sales/salestech/fintech/ other (virtual) events that you’ll be participating in (virtually, given the current global pandemic) (as a speaker or guest!) in 2020!

You can find me at Fireside Chicago, but I am sure there will be other events as the year goes on.

ActiveCampaign helps growing businesses meaningfully connect and engage with their customers. With their SaaS platform, businesses go beyond marketing automation to optimize their customers’ experiences.

Adam Johnson is the Senior Vice President of Sales & Customer Success at ActiveCampaign