SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with Jason Rushforth, GM and SVP, Americas at SugarCRM

A few of the most essential fundamentals to a strong remote selling culture -> self-discipline and continuous self-learning; in this chat with SalesTechStar, Jason Rushforth, GM and SVP, Americas at SugarCRM discusses more while taking us through his journey joining the SugarCRM leadership team just before this year’s lockdowns were announced:


Hi Jason, welcome to SalesTechStar! Tell us a little about your journey through the years, we’d love to hear more about a typical day at work in the new normal at SugarCRM…

I joined SugarCRM in February 2020. Yes, that’s right — about 45 days before we went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So it’s been a very interesting time as a sales leader. I effectively had two weeks of meetings and attended the company’s sales kickoff event and then everything shut down. Over the last nine months I’ve rebuilt the sales organization to better align to customer needs and our market opportunities.

I started my career in CRM as a consultant. Over the past 20 years, I’ve served in executive management and sales and consulting roles for various high-growth enterprise software companies in the salesforce automation and CRM space. During the early 2000’s I worked in a variety of sales leadership roles and eventually became president of CDC Software (Pivotal & Saratoga CRM), which we sold to Vista Equity Partners and later rebranded as Aptean. Following this, I moved to Eloqua which was then sold to Oracle for $1 billion. While at Oracle, I helped launch the Oracle Marketing Cloud running Vertical Solutions, Enterprise Sales and drove the global growth for SMS & In-App Push Notifications Globally. In my next post at Infor, I was the general manager for the global CX practice responsible for field sales, pre sales and sales enablement. At both Oracle and Infor we had very aggressive growth expectations which lead to rapid hiring and onboarding of new sales employees.

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What were some of the biggest challenges (and trends) you saw B2B marketing and sales teams face in the initial part of the Covid-19 lockdowns?

Obviously, not being able to have physical facetime with prospects has been a big deterrent from a sales perspective. But we’ve had to use this time to be the best we can be and reengineer our sales execution leveraging digital touchpoints and aligning sales and marketing efforts for maximum impact.

While there have been challenges, there’s also been a silver lining, however, in that COVID-19 has leveled the sales playing field. No matter what sector you are in there are mega vendors with deep pockets to support over-the-top sales activities — private jets to Metallica concerts and grand wine tasting tours. As a midsized vendor, it’s always difficult to compete with this. The vendors that have been impacted to a greater degree are these mega vendors with large budgets for extravagant events, and who have relied on these tactics for sales and relationship building.

Without the wining and dining, the reality is the vendor who wins is the one with the products that can stand on their own. And in this regard, I’m happy to say we’ve won deals going head-to-head with the mega vendors. 

One of the most common challenges marketing and sales teams face today is ensuring their data is not fragmented or distorted, can you share a few top best practices that can help teams streamline their data management process?

When I think back through my career, there was a lot of forecasting and reporting on Excel spreadsheets. Sugar solutions are all about a no-touch approach that surfaces relevant information and with a click of a button can populate these insights into the CRM system.

This is a tremendous paradigm shift that is finally going to get those who arguably most need the CRM system — sales professionals — to use the CRM system. You see, a lot of CRM systems have existed for the mere fact that you need to have them but the effort to populate them with relevant data has always far outweighed their utility. In a team selling environment, everybody has a picture of what’s happening with the customer and if you want to keep customers for life, having these critical customer data points in the system is imperative. I’ve seen a lot of companies struggle with this, and I’ve seen a lot of reps push back on data.

There’s that old mantra that for every piece of data a rep puts into the system, they should get three times the value out. And I still believe that. But the world’s changed in the past 20 years and integrating to third-party data sources – whether it be public data sources or internal systems — is paramount to create a holistic view of who your customer or prospect is. This is where technology comes into play to support the paradigm of less is more. In this case, less intense manual labor of entering data in the system, and yet more data made available to the sales rep to help them make better, faster decisions that result in revenue growth for the organization.

The most valuable thing for a salesperson is time, so giving them time back in this way is critical. 

In what ways are you seeing marketing and sales leaders revisit their tech stack or core processes to ensure a more effective approach in 2021 – can you share a few thoughts from closer home at SugarCRM?

I think 2020 has given a lot of people pause for reflection in this area. In most companies, sales and marketing are two distinct functions that don’t overlap. But today, businesses are asking, How do we optimize leads in the organization and ensure sales and marketing are aligned and tech stacks are talking to one another?

We’re seeing this more now than we have seen in the past 10 years. And that’s because in an uncertain business environment leads are more valuable than ever, so your speed to response, effectiveness of communications, the hand offs between the BDR organization to the sales organization, are all becoming more critical. This is teaching many organizations the value of good solid business management. They are ironing out processes they probably should have resolved previously, but business “as usual” was working just fine – or so they thought, and so there was no impetus for change.

In the current post-pandemic environment, businesses are being forced to relook at things to create a more efficient and better way to speed the path to revenue and to create a seamless customer experience.

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The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the kind of technologies needed to boost efforts of sales teams in this new normal; can you talk about some innovative ways in which you’ve seen sales teams get creative with their prospecting and outreach and salestech to create more impact during this time?

In the current environment, prospects are very “down to business” – there’s not a lot of time for small talk. Vendors that win are those that can deliver the best results and solutions to their business problems.

We’ve changed how we operate in regards to outbound prospecting to gain top of funnel activity – aligning marketing content, outbound campaigns and programs tied to lists where a rep is calling into an account about a certain topic and that topic is then reinforced through ABM campaigns and nurture programs through the marketing organization. With this approach, we’ve been amazed at what we can achieve in a week or so and which previously took weeks and months in the pre-pandemic world. Sales and marketing are now aligned to the same endgame and the results have been unbelievable from a pipeline execution and revenue generation perspective.

Sales reps need to be subject matter experts like never before – it’s not just about pushing a product; it’s about helping the organization understand the path and the journey they are going to take to get there. You create relationships by asking tough questions and challenging the status quo to assure them you are the vendor that can take them to the next level. COVID has done more than change sellers’ behavior, the pandemic has changed buyers’ behavior and that’s going to stay with us for years to come. There is a new buyers’ experience where they are looking to vendors to understand the business problem and show them the path forward. Sales organizations must seize this opportunity to reskill their field sales organizations with the skills and the tools to cope with the situation at hand, to find a path to success in this arena and via Zoom.

As sales teams plan for Q1; what are some of the top of mind thoughts you’d share given the current business climate?

I start every all-hands call with the mantra: “Pipeline Saves Lives.” As trained sales professionals, we have to focus on the task at hand, which is to generate revenue. I tell my team that, while you’re grounded, use the time at your computer to build your pipeline to make your numbers. Continue to show your customers how much you care and how much you appreciate them and everything else should fall into place. But you can’t do that without pipeline.

How according to you will sales and marketing teams need to upskill / reskill (including those at leadership levels) in the new normal; to meet changing business needs?

The discipline of selling is far more important than it was a year ago to be able to close business in a virtual way. I have looked at this as an opportunity to create a sales enablement and training program that allows for the continuous improvement of every individual in my organization. To me, sales enablement goes well beyond product training. We’ve brought in experts to provide training in key sales milestones such as qualification, closing, uncovering business pains, etc. We are reskilling team members far beyond product education; our sales enablement and training program covers all aspects of the job to help empower them so that they successfully sell in a virtual environment.

Can you share a few success stories in sales from your 2020 campaigns and the biggest learnings?

Customers that use our products are continuing to invest, and our pipeline is better than it has even been, so it’s proving that the changes we have made have been the right ones. As I mentioned previously, COVID has leveled the playing field, to our benefit. No more private jets to sporting venues, no more backstage tickets to the Foo Fighters concert, etc. We have embraced this opportunity to dazzle and amaze our prospects with what our product can do, now that the marketplace has been stripped of the ancillary sales theatrics.

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A parting thought on your biggest marketing/sales/ leadership goof-up and the learning that came from it!

We acknowledged where there were gaps in our own sales and marketing process. I think we had these gaps before COVID, but COVID provided the opportunity to close these gaps. All those hours that I had previously spent on 150 flights a year has given me more time to dedicate to focus on solving these challenges and we’ve done this.

SugarCRM’s time-aware sales, marketing and service software helps companies deliver a high-definition (HD-CX) customer experience. For mid-market companies and anyone that wants a CX-driven platform, Sugar gives teams the time-aware customer data they need to achieve a clear view of the customer and reach new levels of business performance and predictability, and increase customer lifetime value. We bring innovation, transparency, integrity, value and passion to all we do to cultivate customers for life. More than 5 million users in over 120 countries rely on SugarCRM. Based in Silicon Valley, SugarCRM is backed by Accel-KKR.

Jason is the GM and SVP, Americas at SugarCRM

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