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Developing a sales culture comes down to a science, it’s important to work with people you can win, and have fun with. We look at what a successful culture looks like to attract new hires.
Vendasta’s VP of Revenue, Neal Romanchych, joins us this week to talk about sales culture. We take a look at the science of selling and the structure of it, and he breaks it down to three points: People, Pitch, and List. Digging into the People piece, Neal uses the PAF approach: Performance, Accountability, and Fun. While president at 411, he found great success in his search for new hires and keeping a high performing sales team.
Neal comes with 30 years of senior sales and management experience, having been a founding partner in 411.ca back in 2006 and served as their president for the last five years. His experience includes six years at Motorola, 11 years at Sprint Canada, and has been a founding member in 5 start-ups. In total, Neal has over 35 impressive years of experience in the telecom and media sector. Neal holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Trent University and an eMBA from The Ivey School of Business.
George: It’s another edition of the Conquer Local Podcast. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of meeting sales leaders, and sometimes I get the privilege of meeting sales leaders at organizations and then bringing them into our company and our next guest, Mr. Neal Romanchych has been in the sales business for a number of years, led high performing sales teams, built startups, and I met him when he was the President of 411.ca, which is about a 110-person organization, helping local businesses in the Canadian marketplace. And that organization was shut down and Neal was looking for something to do, and we were able to connect over the COVID period and work out a deal where he is joining the Vendasta organization as VP of Revenue. And I’d love to get him on the podcast to explain some of his philosophies on how to build high performing sales organizations and what some of the most important things we should consider when we are building out a sales motion. And we are going to dig into Neal Romanchych’s brain when we come back, on the Conquer Local Podcast.
George: Neal and I have known each other for a number of years, had the privilege of working together and being involved in the sales business, and thank you for inviting me into your past company to work with your sales team. I noticed very early in our interactions that you have been an expert in sales, and building out sales organizations for quite some time, could you give us a little bit of that background, and some of the organizations that you’ve worked with over your career?
Neal: Sure, I started working with Motorola as a sales rep selling two-way gear, and then very quickly branched into the cellular world when it first came on the market. I then got into the telecommunications world back in the very early ’90s with a company called Call-Net, which became Sprint Canada, always in sales or business development type roles, both direct and indirect type selling using dealers, and agents, and third parties, and then kind of branched out from there onto my own, got involved with a couple of startups, I was involved with a startup called Riptide for about a year, a couple of others that failed miserably, but there are great lessons in failing, and kind of bounced around from different projects that I was working on and landed with an old business associate and started 411.ca back in 2006, and we built out a salesforce there of about 100 bodies, and sold small to midsize businesses across Canada, all sorts of online digital services, so that was a ton of fun too.
George: It’s interesting that you brought up, and I can tell a true entrepreneur, you brought up the failed miserably part and then you punctuated it with the lessons. Do you think you learned more from the failures than you did from the successes or what’s your take on that?
Neal: I think there’s a bunch of ways to learn. I learned a ton when I was at Sprint Canada just because they were some really awesome folks that I worked with, and worked for, and some fabulous leadership, and learned a ton from watching them do a lot of really cool, really smart things. I had a few others where we made some mistakes and I watched some people that maybe weren’t quite so proficient at what they were doing, and you learn from that too. And then when you’re on a startup and you’re making stuff up as you go along, you find out very quickly what works and what doesn’t, and when you do have a failure, you can go back and learn from what went wrong and hopefully in the next venture you don’t go make the same mistakes twice.
Vignette – People, Pitch, and List
George: We’re gonna talk today about, again, with context, we’ve known each other for quite some time and we’ve had some spirited discussions at Conquer Local conferences, usually involving the odd beer and we really have bonded over the science of selling and building out high performing teams, you have a couple of what I call really cool vignettes, so let’s cover the first cool vignette, and I love how you do it with just a couple of words.
Neal: Yeah, there’s a structure that I use when approaching any sort of market if you will, and the structure is pretty straightforward, it breaks down to three simple balls. And I wouldn’t say any one of them is any more important than the other, although some are definitely more difficult than others. So the three balls are people, pitch, and list. So, people, you wanna make sure you’ve got the right people selling to your target audience, they have to have the right kind of skill set, they’ve gotta have the right type of motivators behind them. In some cases, you go out and find these people, in other cases, you find the raw material and have to be able to build them. Pitch, it’s simply everything to do with your product, where it’s positioned, and how you present it, and how you get your value proposition across to your prospect. And then list, which in my opinion has always been the toughest nut to crack, which is kind of funny given, at 411.ca, we are a directory and we had intelligence on pretty much 80, 90% of the businesses in Canada yet we still struggled with list, but that’s the third ball is making sure you’ve got the right list, the most targeted at the type of businesses or the type of audience that you’re trying to attack, and I’ve always kind of worked under that structure.
George: Let’s talk about list. List is the prospects or the existing base of customers that you’re trying to sell into and an upsell, why do you think that that’s such a struggle? Because I do agree that your experience around struggle, we could put any startup, agency, media company, managed service provider, and they would probably say the same thing. I need more leads, and how do I work my customer base? Why is this so hard?
Neal: I think that there are so many moving parts here, and that word alone, moving, not only are there so many moving parts, but they are continually moving. So it’s data, you’re trying to find the most accurate data, then you’re trying to get it refined, and getting accurate data is not a cheap venture. So whether you’re building it on your own, or whether you’re scraping it from somewhere, or you’re buying it from a data provider, it is a very labor-intensive, expensive proposition. And then you’ve gotta try and take that data and make it A, accurate, B, complete, so you wanna make sure you have, not only the basic data, which is name, address, phone number, but it would be great if you had more information around, the type of businesses that you’re attacking, the size of the business, whether it be anything in terms of revenue, or its number of employees. And then there’s, do you have accurate right party contact information, so when you call in, you know who you’re looking for. And all those things are very, very mobile, they’re changing all the time. And then you wanna make sure you’ve got enough of it. So getting five or six leads might be one thing, but when you need five or 600,000 leads, that’s something completely different.
George: And we’re talking about the scale of an organization where we’ve got these large organizations, large sales teams need to be able to feed the team with the list, it seems like it’s insights that you’re referring to when you talk about how deep the data is on that list of prospects or potential accounts, it seems to be a challenge as well that a lot of organizations are trying to overcome. Have you found any tactics through your career that are better than others when it comes to getting those better insights on that list?
Neal: What we found was, you start with raw data, and there’s no substitute for the time and the effort that you go through to touch the data. So we had the luxury, especially in our later years at 411, that we had enough people and bodies that we could touch close to 1,000 businesses a day. And not just reach out to them, but actually touch them, and talk to them, and update them and whether or not they bought from us or not, we would update the data, and then put it back into a process where we would touch them, in most cases a quarter later. So, three months later, we would turn around and touch them again. And it’s just having the systems in place to make sure that you can update the data, making sure that you have the right business rules in place that you don’t overwrite the data with something else. And this is one of the challenges when you’re using third-party data providers. They have their own business rules, and if you allow them to overwrite your own data, it can be very problematic. Other than that, it’s just staying on it, staying organized, and keep working it.
George: So I think that if we were to unpack that around data, just for one last piece in that list because it’s such a vital part. We’ve got a sales organization, we’re calling on the customer, we’re talking to the prospect and what you’re saying is making sure that you’re keeping that, augmenting the data and keeping the changes because you may want to assign it to another rep or you may wanna take another swing at it, or you may, is that what we’re referring to is making sure that, that list continues to live and breathe, and is that where we’re going?
Neal: Definitely, and there’s a number of different other things the possibilities, like maybe you shouldn’t be reaching out to them again, maybe they’ve asked you not to, there could be changes within your own product portfolio that all of a sudden make that particular prospect a viable one to sell the new product to. There could be any other types of permutations that kind of come into it. I would be remiss not to say, the best type of lead you get is a customer-initiated action where the customer turns around and does something, whether they pick up the phone and call in on a 1-800 number, or they fill out a form online, or they start clicking your digital ad somewhere, those are the best leads. And when you have someone who performs one of those customer-initiated actions, you wanna make sure you can record that, and utilize that in the best way possible.
George: And respond to it in a timely manner when they raise their hand.
Neal: Absolutely, yeah, there’s been reams of data on your conversion rates, and how they double and triple if you can get to them within the first 10 minutes of them actually performing that act.
PAF: Performance, Accountability and Fun – Establishing a Sales Culture
George: One thing I noticed when I first walked into your organization and started to meet some of your people was that you built a hell of a culture there. How, as a sales leader, president, vice president, whatever the position might be responsible for the sales organization, how did you do that? How did you build that culture?
Neal: Yeah, culture is a very interesting topic. The first thing I would tell you is we built it on purpose. So we sat down and had a conversation, and deliberately decided on what the culture was going to look like and what the attributes would be. And was it going to be a sales culture, or was it going to be something different? And I think you have to take that step and actually make that decision before the group, or the team or the culture takes on a life of its own and goes in a direction that maybe you didn’t decide you wanted it to go. So that I would say, would be the first step. Where we landed was, we wanted to drive a sales culture, and we kind of nicknamed it PAF. And we branded a lot of our internal communications with this PAF logo, and it stands for performance, accountability, and fun, so we wanted to build a team, a culture that was very performance-driven. So not that you do anything to drive your performance, but almost, and in doing so, you had to be accountable. So you had to be accountable to yourself, you had to be accountable to your teammates, you had to be accountable to your team as a whole. And then nobody wants to come to a place that’s not fun, so we had to inject a little bit of fun. So we wanted to make sure that although we’re all working hard, and we’re all driving performance and we’re all holding each other accountable and being accountable to each other, you had to make sure you’re having fun along the way. And it’s funny how sometimes that piece gets lost, although everyone wants to play with the fun, they always wanna be the one that’s organizing or having fun, but it’s the one that sometimes gets lost because you’re so myopically focused on performance. But we tried to balance those three components in our culture.
George: When I walked in the door and started to meet these folks, I realized that they believed in the goal that you had put forward for the organization, which was helping those local businesses. How hard is it to instill that into the culture, that it’s not about just selling the thing that you’ve been asked to deliver, it’s more about having that true helping motion when you’re working with the customer and really being concerned about the outcome that the customer is going to have? I was fascinated by how every single individual that I met had that focus.
Neal: Yeah, that was, again, that was a conscious decision. What we saw early on was if it was all about driving commission dollars, that the top reps would potentially bring in sales that were not necessarily good for the company or doing things that were not necessarily in the best interests of the customer, but just to drive a commission dollar. And then the worst part about it was the minute they found someplace that served a better commission dollar, we lost them ’cause we didn’t have anything tangible to keep them but when we sort of injected a little bit of purpose in their life, and the way we went about it was messaging that kind of went like this, it was like there are 115,000 small businesses that go out of business every year and there’s another 115,000 that start, and our job is to help those businesses survive and thrive. And every day you wake up, you need to save another business, it’s not unlike a healthcare worker going to their job at a hospital because there are people that need their help and need to be saved, there are these businesses that if we don’t save them, they may not be around next week or tomorrow. So they need to have their online presence fixed, people are looking for them online, they need to have the ability to maintain their online presence and make sure that if there are reviews that are up there that aren’t great, that they are on them and that they fix them, and they know how to do that. And most of these small businesses are really excellent at what they do. So if you’re a plumber, or a painter, or a construction company, you paint things well and you might be a great plumber or whatnot, but they don’t understand how to fix their online presence. And for us to be able to go out and help them with this, and save them with this, and make it dead simple for them was what gave our people purpose. And then, we used to walk to the office and asked them, “How many businesses did you save today?” And that was a different way of saying, how many sales did you get? And that was fun.
George: And it’s a different focus. It’s a focus on the outcome for the customer rather than the outcome for the sales rep and for the organization.
Inside Sales – Culture and Location
George: We’ve had some great discussions in the last couple of days because you are now inside our organization. The one interesting insight was the other day where we were discussing how did you find all these really smart people? The Toronto marketplace, just to give a little context, Neal lives in Toronto and commutes in, and the Toronto marketplace is massive, the GTA is six, seven million people, very, very competitive when it comes to inside sales. I know that that was one of the struggles, was how do you find the people? How do you get them trained? How do you… We have a little, we have a captive audience here to be able to find talent. How much harder is it moving from that large market to the smaller market, when you were trying to filter through that talent and find the right people?
Neal: Yeah, there were advantages and disadvantages, both ways. When you’re in a large market like Toronto, you would filter through hundreds of resumes to find a handful that were worth pursuing because there’s just such a large market. And then when you did nail down and you went through the interviewing process and your selection criteria, and you nail down with this handful of candidates that you wanted to move forward with, extremely competitive. And because we would be looking at a candidate saying, “Hey, that’s a great candidate, we wanna make an offer to them.” Meanwhile, that candidate’s already interviewing with 10 other companies, and six of those are sitting there in the exact same position wanting to make offers. So it got very competitive and we would try and compete with items of culture and how great it was to work here and fun, and all that wonderful stuff, but at the end of the day, we had to compete on dollars as well. Whereas what I’m seeing here in Saskatoon is, first of all, like we don’t have to filter through hundreds of resumes, and the ones that are coming through seem to be very, very qualified, at least the small ones, the small number of ones that I’ve seen so far. And as I mentioned to you, George, in the office was, like I’m just so impressed with the quality, the level of intelligence, and the professionalism of the crew that is there. And I’ve done probably, I don’t know, close to a dozen interviews so far, and I would say more than half of them have been really, really solid candidates. And so, yeah, there’s pros and cons both ways. I wonder, can we fill all that we need to fill using just Saskatoon, or will we have to branch out into other geographies? But so far, we seem to be doing it.
George: So just a bit of a lesson, and thank you for bringing up is we have sales leaders and organizations out there thinking, I’d like to do inside sales, it’s a place that I wanna go, and I’m gonna put that thing right in downtown Austin, Texas, and might be one of the most competitive markets ’cause I know some people who lead sales organizations there. So deciding from a geographical area where you’re gonna place that sales organization is a really important consideration. And then I also would be remiss if I didn’t ask this question was, trying to attract that talent, is that a big piece as to why you need to build this culture, and you need to have the process in place and so that when those people walked in the door to interview, they found a home or they looked down the hall and said, “Yes, I could see myself as a part of this organization, I can believe in the purpose of the organization.”
Neal: Yeah, I would say that’s a huge part of it. I mean, you’re never gonna get away from the topic of money. Salespeople are inherently driven by money and at least the good ones that I’ve seen are. So they need to make sure that they have the income potential that they think they’re worthy of. But when a salesperson, a high-caliber salesperson walks in and sees a fun atmosphere that’s humming with high energy, and they just feel like, I wanna be a part of that, as opposed to something that might be contrary to that, that’s maybe quiet and slow, that’s not gonna fire up the real high performing sales professionals.
George: So you’re definitely a veteran in the space. If you were to offer advice to somebody that was in sales, what would be the top couple of pieces of advice if someone was looking to build their career or to expand their career?
Neal: Looking to expand their career, I would say, and I’m just thinking back to my own process, I would say, the product itself or the industry itself is less important than perhaps the crew, or the environment that you’re working with, but I do think, at the end of the day, you have to be selling a product that you can get jazzed about, you have to be selling a service you get jazzed about, but I think, probably more important is you need to work with a bunch of people that you know you can have fun with, that you know you can win with, and I think if you’re trying to advance your career, I think you also wanna work with a team that you have a high level of comfort that says, they’re going to invest in me, they’re gonna coach me properly, they’re gonna mentor me along, and I would be looking for that type of an environment if I was gonna give someone advice on moving their career forward.
George: It’s interesting to me in the sales business, have you ever felt this way over your career where it’s an industry where you make a lot of money, and yet there isn’t really a course that you can go to take at a university or a technical school on how, they don’t even teach it in high school on how to be a salesperson, why is that?
Neal: Yeah, I think, I can’t speak to high school, because I know that they do not, I’ve got two kids who’ve recently finished high school, that, that’s not something they offer. I know community colleges, and I know some universities are now offering courses that are related to sales. I know that there are, I think, York University in Toronto has one that is sales focused. And so it’s evolving, it’s coming. It is an interesting question, though, because it’s a profession that is ever-evolving, yet the core basic principles have not really changed that much. And if you look at the core basic principles around marketing, the four simple P’s of marketing, they haven’t really altered that much, yet marketing has altered radically in terms of how things have moved away from old traditional media, like print and radio to digital advertising. And yet the universities and colleges have been having degrees and courses and whatnot in marketing forever, but not in sales, I think they’re just starting to dip their toe in it. And I think it is kind of an interesting question as well, because if I look across an organization, any kind of organization that has a large presence, typically 50% of their staff are in customer-facing or sales-type related positions, compared to people that are in marketing or finance, they represent a much smaller percentage, but yet the universities and colleges have courses in marketing and finance, so it’s a funny question.
George: What about this switch from the transactional sale to the consultative sales approach? I’m glad that you brought that up ’cause it spurred this question. I remember being taught needs analysis and customer focus in 1988, but yet it’s like this it’s this new thing, we’re gonna go on, we’re to consult the customer, it’s fascinating to me is how the industry hasn’t really changed that much.
Neal: Yeah, the actual content of a sales presentation or sales call, I don’t think structurally has changed at all. So a good sales call begins with some form of needs analysis and understanding what the customer either needs or wants. And then being able to take whatever it is you’re offering and satisfy that need and want, and be able to tell the customer what’s in it for him and why he or she should part with some of their hard-earned money to buy whatever product or service you’re selling. That part hasn’t altered, the ever-changing part is kind of the way it’s delivered and whether it was, in the olden days you’d knock on the door, and deliver it face-to-face, and then we went through a period of time where people were delivering these types of messages through the telephone and now we’re using all sorts of screen sharing technologies where we can deliver very elaborate presentations and do all sorts of wonderful demonstrations, by taking over a customer’s computer screen or on their phone or whatever. So I think the way that we delivered has changed, but the actual structure of the call and the messaging really hasn’t, it’s pretty, pretty consistent.
George: What do you think happens in the next six, eight months as we evolve from this post-COVID world and digital transformation is something that it’s not nice to have, it’s not something I’ll do six months from now, you just have to be doing it?
Neal: Yeah, I think there are a couple of things that are already, the tide is turning. I mean, you see how e-commerce has been just exploding. So if you’re not, if you haven’t presented the ability for customers to access your products and services and buy them online, you better do so quickly because I don’t see lineups of people lining up to get into stores and storefronts, and malls, and whatnot. And I think, from a sales perspective, I think you have to figure out how to do business over the phone, using screen sharing technology over a computer line, and possibly even remotely because in certain parts of the world, they haven’t opened offices up for people to come into call centers, or large sales centers, or whatnot, and actually work so that they need to be able to figure out how to lead, motivate, and track people’s sales and activities from a remote perspective, as opposed to having them right in your office. So I think it’s forced us to be able to figure out how to do that. And some of the technology providers have really benefited from this. I think it was a bit of a shot in the arm for them, it was great for companies like Zoom, and whoever, so that’s where I think things are gonna keep progressing, but that’s really not all, that’s not all that radical of a thought.
George: Well, Neal, welcome aboard the rocket ship Vendasta as the new VP of revenue. And when you’re reaching out to the Conquer Local Podcast, you can actually reach out to Mr. Neal Romanchych right inside the Conquer Local community. So feel free to pick his brain, if you’re looking for sales ideas or his wealth of knowledge with a long career in working with organizations to develop high-performing sales function, and looking forward to his fighting the good fight together here in the weeks to come, so thanks for joining us in the studio.
Neal: Thank you, this was fun.
George: I love vignettes, and Neal’s got a couple of great vignettes, people, pitch and list, and he didn’t say this in the podcast, but when he first told me those three words, he was like, “I probably stole it from somebody else or heard it from somewhere.” Which is where all great ideas come from, you just take them from someone else and make them better, but it really distills down what a successful sales organization is all about. There’s a lot of things that go underneath it, but without the right people, and without the right presentation and value proposition, and without the right list of prospects or customer base, you’re really dead in the water. And then that ability to build out a culture and an organization that is focused on performance, focused on accountability, and has some fun in it. Our CEO, Brendan King has a great line, you spend, what is it? Three-quarters of your life at work? Wouldn’t it be great to have a good time while you’re doing it? I have another really good friend of mine who said once, he goes, “You know, we’re all gonna make a lot of money, wouldn’t it be great to make a lot of money with people we like?” I think that that’s one thing that people forget, work sometimes is not a lot of fun. It’s important that we remember that it has to be challenging, but at the same time, it has to be something that you enjoy doing. And what Neal is really getting into is giving those people a reason to believe. And a lot of times it’s not about selling the widget, it’s about solving problems, and it’s about helping people. And I think that that really is one of the biggest ways that sales has changed, is be focused on the customer, be focused on solving their problems, be focused on understanding them, be accountable to them, and at the end of the day, you end up getting that great organization that you feel good about going to work in the morning and feel good about going home at night and telling people about what you do. So thanks to Neal Romanchych, got him for just a few minutes, he’s a busy guy, but got him for a few minutes here in studio. And as I mentioned, if you want to reach out to Neal or Producer Colleen, or sound lounge guy, Brent here, or T Bone, our sound engineer, you just reach out to any of us right here on the Conquer Local community, and we would love to get your questions, feedback, comments, concerns, debate, yelling, screaming, whatever it might be, we’re looking to hear from you, and we have that conduit now, the community where you can reach in and ask questions, and there are a lot more people than just the three of us answering those questions, by the way, we got a lot of smart Vendastians that will help you out if you have any questions. We’re working on Season Four, and we’re excited about Season Four. And we would love to get your feedback and your comments, and maybe some ideas, so if you have some topics that you would like investigated, if you have some things you would like us to work on in our Master Sales Training Series, just reach out to us on the community, address it to Producer Colleen and then she will make sure that we are pointed in the right direction to come up with some great episodes in Season Four. My name is George Leith, I’ll see you when I see you.