SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with Jon Irvine, Head of Business Development at Blueboard

Should sales leaders only be focused on the numbers or should they spend as much time focusing on building a culture? Jon Irvine, Head of Business Development at Blueboard weighs in:


Hi Jon, take us through your experience in sales through the years and how you’ve seen the role of sales evolve?

In my first sales job, I was given a phonebook and a phone and told “good luck”. Today, sales is far more integrated with Marketing. There are many more tools available to create qualified leads, and those leads tend to be much warmer. While cold calling does still exist, it’s largely not the norm in many companies.

Another thing I’ve seen evolve a bit is the view of sales as an honorable profession. I believe that has occurred largely due to the actions of the sales community itself. Just about every sales organization I’ve dealt with in recent times has, as one of its objectives or strategies, to become a Trusted Advisor to their clients and prospects. It’s that kind of thinking that has changed the actions and behaviors of salespeople over the years, and thus the clients’ perceptions of salespeople. This is a trend I see only growing in the future

Lastly Sales used to be highly relationship driven, meaning person to person. Over the years, with the emergence of Procurement departments and online Procurement tools, that has been somewhat intentionally diminished by many companies. That said, there’s an old phrase that I still find holds true. “All things being equal, people buy from people they like and trust. All things being unequal, people buy from people they like and trust”. Thus, sales is still about relationships, but what’s critical is that those relationships must be grounded in adding value: doing the right thing for the client and having that client understand that that’s the salesperson’s goal. I’m finding that all of this is even truer in today’s virtual world. 

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In today’s fast paced environment, what should sales leaders do to drive better team spirit and sales cultures that lead to better ROI?

This is a topic of extreme concern for just about every Sales leader today. With many people still remote, building culture and a team spirit has been, and remains, more challenging than ever. That’s why leaning into the entirety of the person has become a critical strategy.

Good leaders have always genuinely cared about their people, but it’s now critical for the Sales leader and the entire company to embrace the reality that there is more to the Salesperson’s life, and ability to contribute, than raw numbers. The more the relationship the salesperson has with the company transcends the transactional, the stronger that relationship will be

How can sales leaders draw better sales rep output with unique incentive programs?

It’s first vital to recognize that incentive programs should never be confused with compensation. If it looks and smells like a cash bonus structure, then it’s compensation – and will be viewed as such by the salesperson. A good incentive program will be intuitively separate from compensation. That’s due to the concept of Justifiability. If you give a salesperson a cash bonus, they will feel compelled to do something responsible with the majority of that money. If you give them a reward, there is no guilt. A salesperson might not feel comfortable buying themselves that bucket-list trip to Iceland, but if that’s one of their reward options, they’ll go to Iceland guilt free – and be connected to their employer on a far deeper level than a bonus could achieve.

Why should sales leaders today be more attentive about team or rep burnout and how can they prevent this?

If you’re working from home, you’re always at work. Many people have traditionally complained about their commutes, but if your commute is ten feet, it’s hard not to walk over to the computer and do something – especially for high performers. This, combined with an increased sense of professional isolation, can lead to burnout.

Companies are great at transactions, but have never been very good at emotions. And burnout is an emotional phenomenon. It’s largely impossible to address an emotional challenge with a transactional solution. So, companies need to vector into their entire relationship with sales teams differently. Everything from how they’re communicated with, and how frequently, to how they’re coached, to how they’re rewarded all must be done with the salesperson’s whole person in mind.

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What are some of the top sales predictions you have in mind for 2022?

I see the hybrid reality continuing on. It would surprise me to see most companies bringing their people back to the office full time in the near future. Thus, all of the challenges and concerns that come with remote or hybrid teams will continue.

From a Sales and an Account Management perspective, work from home has in some ways, compressed relationship building. How long would it have taken a salesperson in 2018 to see their client’s dog? If ever? Now, it’s entirely possible that you’ll see their dog, or kids, or significant others, in the background on a first sales call – and you might even be introduced. Learning how to effectively, appropriately, and genuinely navigate through new realities such as those is becoming an ever more critical skill for today’s salesperson and sales leader. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Some last thoughts and takeaways before we wrap up?

Sales leaders can easily get caught up in the numbers. And make no mistake, the numbers absolutely matter. But as we, as leaders, are presented with ever-increasing data points, it’s easy to lose sight of the most important part of the term sales leader. And that is the word “leader”.

Now, more than ever in recent history, a leader must ensure that an emotional connection exists between the salesperson and their company. that cannot be accomplished with commissions, bonuses, or cash spiffs. At the very best, those tools might allow you to trap an employee with the proverbial “golden handcuffs”. But that’s most certainly not an emotional connection.

Rewards are a critical tool in building strong sales culture and driving relationships, and I truly believe most sales leaders don’t give them enough strategic thought.

Sales leaders need to rethink how they’re rewarding and recognizing their salespeople. Rewards cannot be one size fits all. Rewards should be emotional, personal, inclusive of the salesperson’s significant others, and, most importantly, have a lasting emotional impact following the reward. There must be a meaningful memory that is inextricably connected to the company. That, combined with ever more personal communication and coaching, is one of the more powerful ways sales teams can grow and flourish in the new normal.

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blueboard logo - WorkTech by LAROCQUE, LLCBlueboard is the experiential rewards platform of choice for the world’s most loved employers. We make it easy for companies to give experiential employee rewards, incentives, and gifts—from one-of-a-kind to once-in-a-lifetime experiences (think skydiving, dining through Michelin stars, learning to blow glass, or chasing the Northern Lights). We support enterprise workforces across 70 countries and partner with hundreds of Best Places to Work including Abbott’s diabetes care business, Mixpanel, Segment, Glassdoor, Shake Shack, GoPro, and Ubisoft to help them celebrate their people in a more meaningful way. 

Jon Irvine is the Head of Business Development at Blueboard

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