SalesTechStar Interview with Sam Zayed, Chief Revenue Officer at Conga
It’s clear that the business and software technology worlds will be changed forever as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Sam Zayed, Chief Revenue Officer at Conga discusses a few of these long-term shifts in the tech marketplace while diving into his biggest sales highlights from his journey so far.
We’d love to get to know you Sam! Can you tell us a little about yourself? What are some of the top sales leadership stories / highlights from your journey that you’d like to share with us today?
Sure! I’ve been married to my beautiful wife Lena for 23 years and we have three beautiful daughters. I started in the technology industry over 40 years ago by going to work with my dad, who ran a mainframe data processing company in suburban Chicago.
I’d say that among the top highlights has been my fortune of having incredible mentors throughout my career. They were thought leaders in both the art and science of sales and marketing, which are table stakes for CRO success in a digital first business. They led by example and reinforced the non-negotiable foundation of operating at the highest ethical standards as we work to get it done and do it right.
My journey has also taught me to focus on our employees and customers. We don’t sell a widget or physical goods, so our single biggest asset is our employees who look after our customers and other stakeholders. This is especially true in the subscription-based software business, where focusing on “customers for life” is about selling what you can deliver and not asking the company to deliver what you sell. Our sales team is oriented around not just acquiring customers but making sure we can exceed expectations in order to retain (and grow) customers for life.
From a CRO objective and point of view; what have been some of the biggest challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up in the tech / B2B segment? And what are some of the innovative methods you are seeing CROs in tech adapt to in the new normal?
COVID-19 has really been a game changer, both in the short and long term. At the top of the list of challenges is the fatigue and change associated with being by yourself at home and working through a screen the entire time. This is especially challenging from a sales perspective because people buy from people. People also recruit and hire through people so no longer having the opportunity to get to know someone in a more personal or intimate setting is incredibly difficult.
I mean, just look at Conga. We’re the sum of two previously independent companies that came together at the beginning of May. Today we have over 1,400 hundred employees – there’s over 300 in the sales organization alone. We’ve successfully brought these two companies together and I’ve met a total of six people in person from the team of the company we acquired. It was incredibly challenging and unique to integrate the two companies and assimilate the cultures all in a virtual, work from home world.
The key to being effective and staying productive is anchoring on the people. One thing that has worked for me is setting up a whole series of recurring meeting types – company wide, departmental, team meetings, individual meetings, etc. Even doing skip-level meetings across other departments so that the company can hear from different leaders and different managers from different departments. It’s important that a consistent message about the company strategy, vision, and mission is reiterated by different voices.
What are some of the top thoughts you’d share with Sales leaders and Revenue Managers during this time- how has your experience been dealing with business activities (or challenges) during the pandemic?
Overcommunication during this time is critically important. I’ve done something where I open my calendar for folks to join me, completely voluntarily, for a meal. Sometimes it’s breakfast for those in Southeast Asia, Australia, and Europe. The point is to have an hour where no more than five employees can sign up so we can break bread together over a Zoom call. In doing so, we get to know each other by talking about anything, business related or not. And it turns out that in most of these meetings I do zero talking because it’s mostly about having co-workers meet and catch up in a manner that’s productive and casual.
How can Revenue leaders and sales leaders use new technologies (salestech / martech) to realign their core processes during this downtime and to adapt better to the new normal?
I have to admit that I started off by saying we’re not going to introduce any new technology because we’re fortunate enough to be in a position where our sales and martech stacks are pretty robust and modern in terms of the portfolio that we have at our disposal.
That being said, I don’t think it’s necessarily about using new technologies. Rather, it’s about embracing the technology that we currently have. How can we weave our technology into a very different work sequence in the work from home and virtual environment? For example, this is where something as simple as LinkedIn sees a lot more usage as it offers a very public, and for the most part free, view into companies, leadership, and personas.
The other thing is to focus on is providing a playbook that folks can use for technologies where they will be overwhelmed quickly without the right amount of enablement and learning. We inspect tech usage then share best practices and lessons learned that we think will improve productivity and ensure the team doesn’t plateau. Providing enablement in an environment that encourages them to climb the productivity mountain will power them through.
To beat the challenges arising due to the pandemic, what balance of sales/marketing techniques and revenue models would you advise B2B teams to put into their mix?
Typically, we relied on in-person events, conferences, conventions, and shows that we either put on independently or sponsored through partners. But with all of that gone, the demand gen and marketing model has changed. Most companies set an annual target that drives the demand gen pipeline by source, type, channel, method, etc. However, we can no longer do this annually. The current state of the world requires that we move to a weekly cadence to make sure we have our finger on the pulse and can determine what works and what doesn’t. That we can quickly react and stop things that aren’t delivering on the pipeline or put gas on the fire that is working. In this environment, innovation happens in the field at the point of sale. We stay very close to that by encouraging out-of-the-box thinking, messaging, and approaches that can help us learn and create something scalable.
What according to you are some of the long-term effects of this pandemic that will stay with sales and marketing and B2B?
I foresee two long-terms effects:
- Persona-based everything. A persona-based everything focus means that the precision of the message, including how it’s constructed and who it’s delivered to, must be more pointed than ever before. Whether by industry, segment, geography, or maturity you need to know who you’re targeting and what that persona profile looks like. For example, you must know the challenges and opportunities that persona is dealing with in their business then deliver a laser guided myth missile. To do this successfully, you must truly understand the value prop of your solution within your target market.
- Credibility is king. Adding value along the way every step of the customer journey is critically important. In our world, it’s about what you know and being subject matter experts adds value and builds credibility. In the long-term, it’s important for sellers and companies to drink their own champagne. If you’re selling an acceleration of outcomes and business value through a digitally enabled solution, you also must consume and operate in that way.
We’d love to hear about your most memorable marketing / sales moment from your journey so far as a parting thought and a parting quote on sales!
I’ve had a ton, but I’ll share my most recent one – I recently flew to San Jose to meet with the president of Nokia for the first time in order to set up the solution expectation around how Conga can help Nokia accelerate their penetration market share within the 5G trend. And just the other day, Nokia announced that it digitized 100% of its 5G deployments around the world. Knowing that our solutions helped Nokia win business and become 100% digitized in the era of work from home and COVID is a cool thing to see!
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Conga is a leader in end-to-end Digital Document Transformation. From collaboration and creation, through contract management and negotiation, to agreement and e-signature, the Conga Suite has set the standard for automating business productivity and CRM investment through end-to-end Digital Document Transformation. The Conga Suite, which includes Conga Composer, Conga Collaborate, Conga Contracts, Conga Grid, Conga Sign, Conga Orchestrate and Conga AI, drives segment-leading ROI by simplifying and automating intelligent data, documents, contracts, signing, and reporting outcomes.
Sam Zayed is Chief Revenue Officer of Conga, where he is responsible for driving revenue growth and customer expansion on a global scale. He brings more than 20 years of experience building and leading high performing enterprise software sales teams.
Prior to joining Conga, Sam was a member of the Apptio leadership team that completed a successful Nasdaq IPO in 2016 followed by a PE-led private transaction in 2019. At Apptio, Sam led sales teams as SVP, Americas and SVP, Global Account Management. In his career, Sam has held various sales and consulting leadership roles at PwC, Commerce One, Hubwoo, Perfect Commerce, and Bank One Capital Markets. Sam holds an MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and a BA from DePauw University in Greencastle, IN.