SalesTechStar Interview with Will Hayes, CEO at Lucidworks
Using the Covid-19 downtime to focus on R&D and innovation is a good way to keep up with the competition and stay ahead in the marketplace. In this interview, Will Hayes, CEO at Lucidworks shares his thoughts on pivoting during a downtime and what sales teams should do to accelerate business outcomes.
Tell us a little about yourself Will? How has your transition from a software engineer to more of a business development / technology sales person and now CEO at LucidWorks been? What are some of the things you miss about the former and some of the things you love most about running the show at LucidWorks?
My background is in Software Engineering with an emphasis on analytics and distributed computing. I have been at Lucidworks for seven years and was brought in by the board to lead the company through a transition from an open source support and services company to delivering proprietary solutions on-top of search and AI. In 2005 I was a part of the founding team at Splunk where I started as a software engineer then transitioned into technical business development. I spent eight years there leading the efforts around technology integrations, ecosystem development and go to market expansion. Prior to that I worked as a software engineer at Genentech and built solutions that supported the sales and drug development teams in their field activities.
As a CEO, one of the biggest differences I’ve realized is that if you’re doing your job well, you rarely make any easy decisions. As a software engineer, day to day decision making had a smaller impact on the business at large; the decisions are much more clear cut (and popular) when the problem you’re solving is clear cut. And I do miss being engaged at a deeper level in any given initiative, be it a feature, a release, or a product. However, one of the perks of being in a leadership role is that it’s never boring, you’re constantly moving between multiple modes and environments.
Given the current world situation: we’d love your thoughts/tips on managing a remote workforce and especially managing a remote sales team at a time when meeting sales targets during a recession is a challenge: what are your takeaways for our readers?
Luckily for us, many of our team was already accustomed to working remotely. We’re based in SF but distributed around the globe so the transition wasn’t as abrupt as it could have been. Priority number one was ensuring that our employees were given time and space to adjust to a new normal. I think that blowing through the shift, even though we are a remote team, creates unnecessary stress.
Our Chief People Officer, Ellen Petry Leanse, is a major proponent for acknowledging the anxiety and fear that comes with this kind of major change and our first role was to ensure we weren’t adding additional stress to our now completely remote workforce. We know that we have to support our employees first, so that they can better support our customers. We also increased the frequency of our employee all-hands meetings. It’s fun to spend the first minute or so checking out everyone’s creative Zoom backgrounds and seeing friendly faces across all of the teams. Plus, we asked everyone to hold on scheduling internal meetings on Fridays to avoid video call fatigue.
Once our employees were in a good place, we immediately began reviewing our programs and spend to find places to reduce expenses, including hiring. We’re choosing to look at this time as an opportunity to reduce technical debt and bolster knowledge sharing among the organization. Now more than ever, we’re focused on commanding our own destiny, and asking each other how we can get ahead of anticipated impacts that our customers and prospects are feeling as businesses reopen.
Could you tell us a little about some of your biggest/most impactful Sales/Business Development strategies from your time in the industry so far?
One of the most important things I’ve learned is to lead with real product, not a slide deck. If you can actually demonstrate a working prototype or end result, you can unlock the imagination of the prospect or target, even if it’s only a limited view of what they want. It’s much easier for the person you’re pitching to to connect the dots if you start with a real thing, not an idea. I’ve found that starting with a demo that integrates your solution with the prospect’s company, helps the conversation move forward a lot faster. Especially in Silicon Valley, people love to pitch big ideas but it isn’t until you get down to the specifics that decisions are made, so start with what’s tangible and save everyone time!
There’s always been a lag between data quality and aligning it to a specific marketing or sales strategy: what are your top tips for alleviating this problem?
We’ve expanded dramatically over the last few years, from under 100 employees to almost 300 employees spread around the globe. We’re learning as we go on best ways to coordinate in real time. We keep the process of onboarding new customers as transparent as possible among the sales organization and marketing team to ensure we’re not learning the same lesson twice in a silo. I’d say this kind of communication and transparency is an important component of being creative and effective and delivering the best value to our stakeholders.
What are the top 5 tips you’d share with technology marketing and sales teams today, (given the current world situation due to the Covid19 pandemic): how would you advise them to tide over the current business challenges due to the pandemic?
1 – Listen to your stakeholders. Everyone is being affected differently by this moment and you have to understand where they’re coming from first before providing value.
2 – Connect on a personal level. The line between work and personal lives is blurring as we enter our 4th month of remote work in SF and globally. You have to make space for personal lives impacting day-to-day operations.
3- Introduce a new level of transparency. We’ve lost some of the informal information exchange that we enjoyed in the office. Transparency has to be a conscious effort.
4- Learn how to operate more efficiently. Maybe you’ll debunk some of the myths around what you thought you needed to get work done.
5- Break down organizational silos to leverage knowledge, creativity, and ideas across the organization as a whole.
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?
Constantly reevaluate leadership. If you’re doing the same thing you’ve been doing with processes and people without any evolution, you’re missing something at best, potentially failing at worst. Business is evolving so it’s logical that people need to evolve as well.
When recruiting leaders I always want them to demonstrate their evolution, “Tell me about a time when you had a strong conviction, but then realized you were wrong” or “Have you ever executed something that you later realized was wrong, and how did you respond?” I want to know how you turned things around after that moment of enlightenment. The headstrong personality that always needs to be right, instead of prioritizing what’s best for the business, doesn’t work.
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?
One of the biggest challenges I see for tech sales teams is getting lost in the noise and not leveraging your differentiation. Don’t fall into the trap where you sound the same as everyone else. From a customer standpoint it’s extremely confusing when your company’s offering is being described in the same way as your competitor. One of the ways we differentiate ourselves at Lucidworks is by being very clear on our value drivers.
Tag (mention/write about) the one person in the tech/startup/salestech industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read!
Brian Halligan, CEO at HubSpot.
Your favorite Sales/SalesTech quote and sales leadership books you’d suggest everyone in Sales reads
One of my favorite leadership books is Crossing the Chasm; it defines challenges that almost every tech company faces at some point in their growth. Also, Brian Signorelli’s book, Inbound Selling: How to Change the Way You Sell to Match How People Buy.
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!
Our annual Activate Conference is going virtual this year! Definitely excited to hear from some of the leaders in search and AI.
We’d love to know a little about your future plans, and if you’d like to share any last minute business tips to help teams sustain themselves during this uncertain time.
One of the big things we’ve been thinking about in the past year is the move to cloud. COVID challenges aside, many of our customers are heavily concentrated in industries that have been around for over a century — healthcare, financial services, retail. A lot of institutional information is still trapped behind in-person conversations, and these companies have historically been on the later edge of adopting new technologies. Now digital transformation requirements are being accelerated by about 10 years.
In recent enterprise conversations with the Global 2000, all of the focus has been on cloud. It’s exciting to see the acceleration of this transition to the cloud happening before our eyes. And because a portion of the business we assumed would be on prem is now moving to the cloud, we’ve adjusted our product roadmap and vision to be reflective of this larger market shift.
I’m also excited about a feature that we launched a couple months ago. One of our Lucidworks values is “Champion Customers.” We started realizing back in February that we would need to reprioritize features and roadmap to provide relief and leverage to our customers who would be impacted. We understood the increased support challenges facing customers during the COVID-19 crisis with newly remote workforces and the importance of digital touchpoints. In response, we pushed up the release date of Smart Answers on Lucidworks Fusion. Smart Answers enhances chatbots and digital assistants to provide better answers to the people our customers serve to relieve overburdened call centers and help customers and employees self-solve.
As more began to close down, everything around the world slowed down. We quickly pivoted from the rapid growth cycle and reactive decision making we’d been experiencing, and took this as an opportunity to invest in R&D and accelerate innovation. We’ve been able to start longer tail R&D research projects, address technical debt, and expand the R&D team now that field demand has slowed. We don’t get a lot of time to try new things on a hunch, so we’re enjoying this opportunity to test new ideas and better respond to shifting customer needs.
Catch more tech sales trends and tips on dealing with change during a global pandemic on the SalesStar Podcast!
Lucidworks builds AI-powered search solutions for many of the world’s largest brands. Fusion, Lucidworks’ advanced development platform, provides the enterprise-grade capabilities needed to design, develop, and deploy intelligent search apps at any scale on top of Apache Solr. Companies across all industries, from consumer retail and healthcare to insurance and financial services, rely on Lucidworks everyday to power their consumer-facing and enterprise search apps.
Will is the CEO of Lucidworks