SalesTechStar Interview with Alex Kvamme, CEO at Pathlight
Constant surveillance or micromanaging a sales team are going to be counterproductive; both of these actions indicate a clear lack of trust. But when working remote is the new norm for more and more companies, how can sales managers and sales leaders ensure that their teams are self-motivated while also helping them drive productivity despite this downtime? Alex Kvamme, CEO at Pathlight shares a few thoughts in this interview.
Tell us a little about yourself Alex? We’d love to know about your journey in tech so far…
My journey into performance for sales teams started with my first company SeatMe, a cloud-based reservation service. When I founded the company in 2011, I was faced with hiring and managing people for the first time. That was when I started to get a taste for the challenges managers face today. We were then acquired by Yelp in 2013, and I went from managing a handful of people to now hundreds. This is when the problem really sunk in. We went from being a startup to now being responsible for driving change at a massive sales organization — and there was virtually an application for every business and consumer use case, but there was nothing out there to help manage sales careers and performance. That was the birth of Pathlight
Sales was a natural fit for Pathlight because the sales role had already become data-driven and objective back then — and this is still the case today. Fact is every person in the sales org is now a data person. But because sales has become so data- and KPI-driven, sales managers spend too much of their time going through reports and evaluating dashboards. The magic behind Pathlight is that it automates all that data gathering so sales can get back to the fundamental job of selling.
I always like to say that we automate data science so sales leaders can focus on the art of selling.
What are some of the challenges sales teams are going through on the performance and management side?
There are really two buckets of challenges. I call them BC (before COVID-19) and AC (after COVID-19). In BC, you had the “normal” challenges of getting individuals aligned on what they needed to do, and how to be more productive and better organized. Sales teams also found it hard to establish consistency, which is essential to being an effective salesperson. Sales management is also about consistency, but it’s more about getting it from your sales teams. Like I said previously, there was also the issue of having to deal with more and more data. Evaluating that data takes up valuable time that sales could be used to actually sell. That’s BC, in a nutshell.
In terms of AC, now all of a sudden we’re all working remote and every sales manager is expected to use the same playbook they were using in BC, but the pressure is greater given the circumstances. Everyone is expected to raise their game, and become more organized, more data-driven, and more communicative. The bottom line is that for sales managers, the goal is to hit the goal, no matter what is going on in the world. Everything is changing so fast that you really need to be sure that everyone on this rollercoaster ride with you is aligned on those goals.
How are your clients dealing with it and how are they using Pathlight to weather this difficult time?
Our clients are using Pathlight as their Command Center — their system of record for sales management. They’re using Pathlight to get the job done by turning data into repeatable behaviors. They’re turning the data they’re collecting into behavioral change in the service of hitting their goals. Pathlight is providing sales managers with intelligent assistance to answer their most important questions — i.e., How is my team doing? Who on the team needs helps and with what? How should I help them and are they responding to that help?
Salespeople are also using Pathlight to self-manage and see how they’re performing, how they can improve, and what they need to get done in order to reach their goals. In a nutshell, Pathlight helps sales managers and sales teams establish the direction they need to go in, and determine how they are doing along the way.
We’ve been hearing a good bit about companies applying surveillance tactics to “check in” on performance? Is that the right approach?
Absolutely not! Oversight tactics and technologies that enable surveillance and micromanaging are counterproductive. They also show a clear lack of trust, which will erode morale and lead to decreased productivity. What I recommend instead is shifting from a “command and control” mindset to “trust and verify.” Push leaders to the frontlines and empower them to self-manage. Deploy the right technology tools to verify that once your team is empowered to self-manage, tasks are completed and your team’s performance can be measured. In a nutshell, that’s what Pathlight is all about: democratizing, spreading, and empowering world-class management at every level. Our platform is data-driven. It empowers managers, gives them more leverage, saves them time, and helps them streamline workflows. Using Pathlight, leaders can manage more people and be more successful.
How has the role of salesperson evolved as a result of remote work in your view?
Today, every salesperson functions like a traditional field service rep. They’re out there on their own, self-sufficient and self-managing. And they need to be self-motivated.
A big part of being a successful salesperson comes from feeling motivated and being rewarded for a job well done. When you’re working in an office and surrounded by other people, a lot of that happens by osmosis. When something good happens, there are immediate rewards and kudos from your teammates. There’s also an inherent feeling of healthy competition in a traditional office setting.
All that is gone now so for a new salesperson, there needs to be a lot more self-management. From a psychological perspective, they need to motivate and reward themselves. From an emotional level, they need to be much more independent. You can get some direction and encouragement from a Zoom call, but it’s clearly not on the same level as working side by side with your peers.
Today’s sales reps also need to be more organized. They need to start the day by firing up their computers, scheduling their days and then getting after it. It’s very similar to what their manager is doing every day, and quite frankly, what the best sales reps are already doing. It means always being intentful on where they’re spending time, self-motivating, and setting a high bar for themselves. It can’t just be the overachievers doing that now; every salesperson must do this.
New sales reps in today’s remote world need to understand that their jobs just got harder. Not impossible, but harder. They’re going to need to push themselves to grow and mature in their jobs quickly to be successful. Developing resilience is also going to help them and will be valuable over the long term for the rest of their careers.
Given the current pandemic, what do you feel are the top qualities that every salesperson and sales leader in tech needs to focus on more today?
Sales leaders who learn to trust their teams will be amazed by what they see in their people in terms of their professional growth and ability to overcome obstacles and challenges. I’m sure everyone can agree that petty micromanagement is beyond annoying when everyone is together in the office. It’s positively soul crushing when everyone is remote. Managers need to take the opposite approach by giving their teams very clear objective goals, the resources needed to achieve (or exceed) them, and then trust that they will get there. The best part of objective, data-driven goals is that they can be monitored remotely without interruptions or counterproductive micromanagement. Remember, a sales team leader can always step in when they are needed.
There’s a famous quote from Ernest Hemingway that’s appropriate here. “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
How do you see sales management evolving in the coming years?
I see sales management becoming a science — a measure and manageable science. Just like you can measure a salesperson or a customer support person’s effectiveness, you can now do the same with sales managers to the point where it becomes teachable and repeatable. Being an effective leader is a skill that has to be developed over time to the point where it becomes a science with platforms and tools available to get the job done.
The move to remote work has accelerated this evolution significantly. People need to become even more objective and scientific in today’s remote setting.
What is your approach to enabling remote sales teams and keeping motivation high?
Ensuring that our sales team is productive and happy while working remotely is my top priority. Self-management is also extremely critical now. I believe that all sales leaders should be speaking with their younger salespeople about its importance and helping them develop this critical skill. Be sure to emphasize how much it will serve them well throughout their careers.
Starting with the basics, I make sure our salespeople can deal with working from home providing access to the right infrastructure and logistics — the hardware, the applications, etc. — to help them sell most effectively. Then it becomes all about making sure our salespeople have the right tools, communication channels and support structure to be productive and efficient. If I’m doing all of that, I feel confident it will boost our sales team’s morale and make them believe everything is going to be ok as we work through this crisis together.
Lastly, it’s on me to help them embrace the “new normal” by emphasizing the new benefits, capabilities and efficiencies that come with it.
What tips do you have for a sales manager / leader getting their start in the industry today?
I would say that above all else, establishing alignment across your team should always be your number one goal. Think of it this way. Let’s imagine there’s a power outage or some sort of unforeseen event that prevented your team from communicating with you or anyone else on your leadership team for a day, a week, a month, doesn’t matter. If you’ve got everyone aligned the right way, your sales reps would still spend their days working on the right goals and know what’s expected of them. You create that level of independence through alignment.
You also need to be prescriptive about time management. There’s a natural rhythm to every day. Wake up, get dressed, start work, have lunch, maybe grab a coffee in the afternoon, call it a day. You need to help your teams establish that rhythm and also understand when they need to be online and available to be communicative, and when they can be offline focusing on their work. The goal here is to reduce the stress of message notification. One key way to do that is to set up expectations on response time and on what channel. You don’t want someone on your team sitting at their desks waiting for the next notification.
I would also say that one-on-one time has never been more important. We’re all missing those connections and communicating with our teammates. And I think it’s safe to say many of us are suffering from Zoom conference call fatigue and most of us can’t get off them fast enough! So make those one-on-ones a top priority. Connect with your teams, ask them questions, push to understand how they’re doing and feeling. It’s always been important, but even more so now.
Finally, be as objective as possible in goal setting. Establish objective goals and then get out of the way. Let your team get there. Empower them and encourage them to take control. Once they hit that first goal by driving themselves, that feeling of accomplishment will allow them to do it month in month. This goes back to establishing that consistency I mentioned earlier.
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Alex Kvamme is the CEO of Pathlight, the only team management platform that brings data and people together to power team performance. Pathlight empowers large, customer-facing teams to achieve their goals by bringing performance intelligence, coaching, and communications tools together in one place, thereby increasing transparency and creating accountability at all levels.