442: Mastering Predictive Sales: Data and Instinct | Chris Bondarenko

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In this episode, George Leith and Chris Bondarenko discuss data and instinct and their role in mastering predictive sales. Chris is a software sales leader and self-proclaimed “math geek” with over 15 years of experience, currently responsible for leading Docebo‘s North American sales organization. Previously, Chris held sales leadership roles at high growth start-ups BERA Brand Management and Maropost, in addition to nearly 10 years with Vision Critical (now Alida); where he built best-in-class sales teams, consistently led significant client growth, and played key management roles in Toronto and New York office locations. Listen to George and Chris discuss data-driven sales; how to ensure your sales tech stack is all working together (Salesforce, Outreach, Gong, etc.), understanding predictive data, and your intuition’s part in it all.

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George: Another week, and another edition of the Conquer Local Podcast. Thanks for joining us. My name is George Leith. This week, we are going to go into the software business. We’re gonna bring in a VP of sales at a very successful software organization in the learning space. Docebo has become a Canadian tech success story as they started in Canada. They IPO’d on the TSX, and then most recently had a second IPO on NASDAQ. Chris Bondarenko is the VP of sales at Docebo. So over 15 years of sales experience, where both of us are inside what’s now called Pavilion, the Former Revenue Collective. And I’m really excited to have him on the show and learn some more about data-driven sales leadership, and how Chris has doubled the size of the Docebo salesforce during COVID. And we’re gonna get him to look inside his crystal ball and tell us what he might see in the future, and how they’re using data to grow the organization and grow their revenue and more happy customers at Docebo every single day. Chris Bondarenko VP of sales at Docebo coming up next on the Conquer Local Podcast. Chris Bondarenko joining us from the Docebo headquarters. Is that the headquarters or are we, no, you’re working remote, aren’t you?

Chris: This is my second bedroom, AKA Docebo Toronto lakefront.

101 On Chris Bondarenko

George: Well, it’s great to have you on the show, and Docebo is just, you guys are a rocketship. Congratulations. I know a few folks that are on your team, and I’m excited to have you on the show and learn more, but let’s first unpack, Chris, can you give us the 101 on Chris Bondarenko and how you arrived there as the VP of sales at Docebo?

Chris: Yeah, for sure, for sure. It’s really great to be here. I’m grateful to be speaking with you, thank you. Yeah, so how did I get here? So about 15 years sales, sales leadership. Was introduced to my now boss, Alessio, probably a few years ago, kind of under the guise of helping me from a mentorship perspective. And after a few conversations, kind of started thinking about running North American Sales for him. At the time, Docebo had just filed it’s perspective to IPO on the TSX. I joined at a very interesting time, and probably three months before the lockdown with COVID.

George: Well, it is interesting. And as I was reading through just doing some of the research, I of course know about the story because you guys have done some legendary things there, but the one thing I’d love to unpack from you is, at this time, you’ve been there about a year and a half, but also during this time, you’ve doubled the size of the sales team. And I’m in the middle of living that right now, it’s hard. How’d you do it?

Chris: Yeah, it’s especially hard when you’re all of a sudden now forced to compete with companies in Silicon Valley, New York, and their respective budgets. And you’re looking at a broader talent flow, right? So how we did it, I mean, we just doubled down on the profiles of folks who are most successful at Docebo. You know, picked our story to tell. And we were very active in recruiting through network and through connections. It was a tough job to do, but yeah, we managed to get through and we’re still growing today.

How Did You Get Into Sales?

George: That’s incredible, and congratulations ’cause it is a challenge as the competition heats up for top talent. I’d love to understand a little bit more about your career because you’ve been, you know, this whole 15 years, you’ve been in sales and sales leadership. How have you seen things evolve over your time?

Chris: Well, yeah, that’s a great question. So to date myself back when I first got into sales, there was absolutely no specialization, and the concept of virtual or online selling was pretty non-existent. It was a day when I could call up the EA for a CMO of a large healthcare or global health organization, introduce myself and asked to speak with that CMO. And oftentimes, I would get through. So very different type of selling scenario back then. But it was interesting, you know, from managing your own account mapping to prospecting cold calling, managing your own deals, and then even performing what you consider now to be account manager or a CX responsibility. So it’s very unique back then. I was lucky enough to land at a phenomenal organization at the time called Vision Critical, now Alida CXM, but I spent about 10 years there. It was an awesome learning experience. My career took off. Spent a lot of time in New York, they actually relocated me there for three and a half years. And then I came back to Toronto, friends, family and had a few awesome high-growth startups. And then I landed at Docebo. A lot changed in those 15 years. I remember probably about seven, eight years ago when that whole concept of, oh, there’s this emerging tech stack that’s going to help the sales organization sell to the right people. And you know, that was right around the time ABM was kind of becoming popular and, you know, look at how far we’ve come and where we’re at today.

Why Is Data The Absolute Truth In Sales?

George: Well, it is interesting when you think about, oh, there’s this new silver bullet and we’re gonna hit all our numbers if we just do this one thing. You’re a data-driven a sales leader. I don’t know if you could be a sales leader today if you’re not. The imposters will be called out pretty quick, but let’s talk about that a little bit around data and how you can use it to make the right decisions in leading a sales organization.

Chris: Yeah, for sure. So, I mean, a lot of the challenges I faced as a young leader or executive throughout my career is how do I know I make the right decisions with confidence and where do I turn to for support and guidance, right? And I always lean back to data. My background from an education standpoint is finance, so it kind of makes sense for me where I like to live within an Excel sheet and look at data and numbers. To me, data is honestly the absolute truth. That combined with instinct, which certainly comes from experience, are to me, the two key inputs to help make the right decisions. And throughout my career, like I mentioned, I’ve always focused on, well, what is the story in the data? And then what is the context around it that I’m also observing?

George: I wonder if you’ve ever, I wanted to definitely ask you this question, because based on your experience, do you ever find that maybe we got too much data or maybe we suffer sometimes as organizations from what’s called analysis paralysis?

Chris: Totally. I mean, every piece of technology that you can buy today in a sales tech stack has a tab that shows data visualizations, insights, or some sort of access to that type of intel. So yeah, there’s data everywhere. And I think that the key here is understanding, well, what is the right data to hone in on? And what is the right data to answer your specific questions or to make the right decisions, right?

Mastering Predictive Sales Data

George: I noticed when we were putting together the show notes, you talk about input metrics and you talk about lagging measures and predictive data points. Do you have, you know, can we talk about some examples of that where you’re seeing, in the last six months, I was looking at this number and it helped me to lead towards that predictive model?

Chris: Yeah, for sure, George. So first off, I am very grateful that I have a phenomenal rev ops team and an engine here at Docebo that I’m able to rely on to help me identify the right pieces of data. And to first off, know that that data is accurate, right? So leveraging that team and working closely with them has allowed me to look both rear view and see, okay, what worked, what didn’t work, but then look forward and say, well, what does next quarter or the quarter after that look like? How are we trending? So for me, there’s different data that I look at to help to respond or make certain decisions or to respond to certain questions I withstanding. So there’s a few here that I’ve kind of preemptively identified that I’d love to be able to share and kind of take you all through, if that sounds good to you?

George: No, that’s great. I’d love it.

Chris: Awesome, awesome. So, you know, I think there’s this first one, when you look at a sales organization, and for Docebo, we’ve gone from roughly, in terms of sellers, as I mentioned, we doubled. We went from about 20 to about 50 now. You know, you look at it, the growth opportunity. How do you inform, how much can you grow, and where can you hire? And for that, I look at what does my new seller and my established seller team look like? And that’s really just comparing what’s been sold or signed against quota. That also helps to inform how effective we are at enablement and onboarding when I do compare those two cohorts. So new sellers, we like to look at it less than 12 months in the business. And usually they’re in some sort of a ramp period. Established sellers, any seller over 12 months in the business. The second big one is around attainment there. Particular one that I look at is around conversion rates, and that’s conversion through the sales pipeline. So just to define that for those who maybe aren’t familiar, sales pipeline, everything from early stage, all the way through to late stage. Early stage, usually you’re looking at a discovery framework or you’re looking at a needs identification and kind of like a solution fit. Whereas late stage in your sales pipeline, you’re looking at dealing with procurement, negotiating final commercial terms, and those kinds of things. So how successful you are at and transitioning from each stage is your conversion rate. And that helps to inform just how effective we are as a sales team. Is our message resonating early on, anyways? And then as we go later on, it’s how high of a quality is our solution that we’re proposing? Is our pricing in line with market or with budget? But those are like really big considerations. You know, obviously leads and opportunities do cost money. So we wanna make sure that we’re converting at a high rate. The second component of that is the one that most folks look at is win rate. So win rates defined as, you know, when you first accept that opportunity for marketing as an MQL, for example, or market qualified lead, to when it signs. And that can really help to inform a lot as well too.

George: I noticed that in your narrative from, again, great answers, by the way. I noticed in your narrative, you talked about is the message resonating? How important is that talk track or the story that’s being told around the product in your eyes to effecting that win rate?

Chris: So I think it’s big, right? So how effective that story is, first off, early in that sales funnel is really many inbound leads or how many leads or opportunities are you attracting or bringing into your pipeline? So that’s a big one. And then you’re looking at it, are you attracting the right type of opportunities where you’re seeing a strong value proposition fit? We call that ICT. But our ability to have that strong story resonate within our ICT, which is a defined customer profile that we believe we deliver the most value to, that means that we’re going to be able to convert at a very high rate.

George: I already know the answer to this, but I’m gonna ask the question for our audience. How important is your sales intelligence tools to help you scale across those 50 reps?

Chris: Extremely important. I mean, early stage, you can really get a good grasp of a handful of sellers, but as you grow, it’s very important to have that. And what you end up starting to do is you start to build an engine, or kind of like a well-oiled engine where you can look at a seller’s performance or the performance of your pipeline or a team’s pipeline and get a good sense of, is there something wonky here? Is there something not quite right? Or is it performing at a very high level? So that’s very important. The other part too, which is outside of data, but it’s making sure that your ratios are right. You know, we try to employ at Docebo between six to eight sellers aligned to every manager. That allows us to look at and support each seller properly, look at the data, and make sure that we’re performing at a high level, but then also to coach and support that seller as they’re growing their career here at Docebo as well.

George: So if we were to look under your tech stack, what are you running as a tech stack for CRM, sales intelligence?

Chris: Great question. Yeah, so I mean, I think like most folks, at the core of it, we’re running Salesforce as our CRM. It’s been a phenomenal tool for us to really centralize and bring together a single source of truth. Tied into that, and I’ve always said, hey, look, if you can’t really plug in the Salesforce, we can’t really use it. So we also have additional tech stack, like Outreach, for example, Gong. We’re looking at some other interesting tools like Sendoso. But there’s quite a lot there that we leverage. And I’ll be honest, when I first joined Docebo, I was speaking with the team, I said wouldn’t it be so awesome if we had all these tools? And sure enough, we already either had those tools or we were investing or reevaluating those tools. So there’s a lot there. And at the end of the day, that’s allowed us to really grow in scale quite a bit.

George: I wanted to interrogate the one thing you said there and just really call it out. It all has to work together though.

Chris: Yeah.

George: And is that an efficiency thing or is that a, if it doesn’t work all together, what’s the alternative if it doesn’t all work together?

Chris: Yes, I mean, the alternative is you’re really stuck and you’re going to treadmill quite a bit. The key to it all working together and all plugging together, actually for me, it goes back to data. It improves the data accuracy and reliability so you know what’s really going on. It’s really difficult if you’re having to pull visualizations or dashboards out of Salesforce, Outreach, Gong, as well as Looker, and you’re looking at all these different dashboards. And if the data looks a little bit different across those, it can be really quite challenging. The other part of it too, which is really unique is we’re only looking at it, George, through the lens of the internal side, the team. That actually provides a superior customer experience or journey if you have your tech stack all synced up. It really makes it easy for a prospective customer to evaluate you, make the right decision to invest in you as a vendor.

George: It really comes down, I think that some people are myopically focused on my seller logging into one place, but it really comes down to a better experience for the customer if that tech stack is actually working correctly.

Customers Remember Less About What You Said And More About How You Made Them Feel

Chris: Exactly, exactly. I mean, 95%, there’s a quote that our global head of enablement, Vanessa, is sharing with me the other day is 95% of what the customer remembers is how you made them feel. It’s not the steps, it’s not the features or functionality. So if you have a really positive experience evaluating a vendor, you’re very likely to go with that vendor.

George: How often do you find yourself fighting against some fake news inside the organization? Because we can draw our own conclusion from data. How often are you defending making sure that it’s the real story and not a fake story?

Chris: Well, I think honestly, everybody within an organization from an individual contributor or a new seller who has just joined the business to tenured leadership or sellers, they’re entitled to have their own opinion and perspective of things. It is our job to arm management and leadership with data and with the tools to support a healthy discussion. And whether that discussion is to support an opinion or perspective, which turns out to be true, or to demystify it or, you know, we have a myth busters section of our monthly all-hands section is, you know, is how do we educate these individuals or share more insight with them so that in fact it might be a myth or it might be a misconception?

How Do You Know You’re Making The Right Decisions With Confidence? Data and Instinct

George: Well, I love that, myth busters. Gotta get that in our all-hands. That’s awesome. You know, I’ve had the privilege over the last four years on this show to interview a lot of sales leaders. And what I find is one common thread. If you’ve been doing this for a while and you’re successful, there’s usually a lot of learning and a lot of networking that’s gone on behind the scenes. And a little birdie told me that you’re always reading and you’re always networking. Can you give us some tips on some of the things that you’re doing to be in those loops?

Chris: Yes, absolutely. So to peel it back a little bit more, you know, when you look at growing your career, how do you make the right decisions and know you’re making the right decisions with confidence? Data is a big part of it, but the other part of it is, look, any challenge that myself or anyone else as a sales leader encounters, objection or a hurdle or a strategic path, someone else has most likely already successfully gotten over that or successfully accomplished the task at hand. So I think it’s really important to immerse yourself in communities and networks and to meet all the right folks. You know, we were just literally speaking about, before going live here, about one of the organizations that I’m a member of, Pavilion, which has been very valuable for me. And not only networking, but also understanding around strategic initiatives, how to hire the right people, and there’s a lot of other elements there. So Pavilion’s been great. There’s a few others, like Modern Sales Pros is a great network as well too. But yeah, networking and belonging to communities of like-minded individuals who are going through the same challenges, but also have the same opportunity to take advantage of.

George: No, I’m also a member of that. And I find it to be enormously valuable. You know, I was explaining it to a colleague the other day, it’s as simple as going in a Slack channel and asking a question. I have this problem right now, and I’m thinking about ways to solve it. And you get 30 people that are dealing with the same thing or have dealt with it or are considering it. And you get either validation or you get suggestions. It’s a pretty powerful tool to belong to a community.

Chris: Exactly, exactly. So, yeah, Slack’s awesome. Slack’s actually, I forgot to mention, another tool that we use for internal communications here at Docebo. But there’s a lot of other elements too there. I’m big on continuous learning. I’m big on reading, as I mentioned. I’m reading “Trailblazer” right now and probably for the fifth or sixth time, “The Sales Boss,” which for any new or experienced leader is just a phenomenal book and a great reminder of some of the key elements to build into your leadership strategy. But from a continuous learning perspective, you know, I just actually completed the CRO School with Pavilion. That’s been really beneficial. Again, we talked about where I started more than 15 years ago and, and how selling has evolved. And especially going through the pandemic here, there was a lot of new ground being broken, and the cycle of selling virtually and inside sales, but also, you know, dealing with new technology and leveraging that. I mean, we’re constantly growing. So I think it’s a huge opportunity there that you can leverage communities, networks, and other programs to stay sharp.

George: If we were to live a day in the life of Chris Bondarenko at Docebo, and you’re talking to the sales team, maybe a sales all-hands, what’s some advice that you’re giving sellers and sales leadership right now as we deal with this, what they call the new normal?

Chris: For sure. So I think, to add some contexts, and I think it’s sort of, we’re mid day here. This is my ninth meeting of the day. So to live a day in the life of myself, you’re on Zoom quite often. And Zoom is a phenomenal platform. It’s really helped us get through this pandemic, but the all-hands, the all sales that we do on a monthly basis, a lot of it is really be curious, stay open-minded as a seller. As a leader, do the same thing, right? Leaders that come in and think they know everything and want to impart their wisdom without really understanding the landscape or the space or the organization, that’s a good way to set yourself up for failure. So my advice is go find your data, go speak with your team, go speak with your peers and really understand what’s going on. Get a picture and get a story of the organization, the sales engine, like we talked about. That’s what I rely on, anyways.

George: What do you think, if you were to look in your crystal ball. You know, all good revenue leaders have a crystal ball. What do you think’s gonna happen in the next 24 months as we continue to evolve in our organizations, and as selling evolves because we had a big evolution during COVID. I’d love to understand what you’re looking at in your crystal ball, Chris.

Chris: For sure. So I say there’s three things, George. The first one is really looking at the health of your sales team or the culture of your sales team. As things are slowly starting to open up more here, we’re starting to see folks, you know, they call it the great resignation. You’re starting to see folks looking for their next career step. And if as an organization, you’re not providing that, or you’re not providing that growth ability, you are going to lose folks. And so I think that’s one of the things you’re gonna see a lot of change within organizations where star performers, managers are moving, and they’re looking to take the next step in their career. So as a leader, you’re going to see a lot of folks doubling down on compensation, running internal audits. Are we paying at market or better? Are we retaining our top talent with compelling compensation programs? That’s a big one, I think. I think the other one tied to that is career development and progress. Are we providing opportunities to coach and grow these stellar or these high performers? So that’s the first one. So any tools or any organizations that are within the business that can support that, I think you’re gonna see a lot of focus there. The second one is the, I don’t think it’s the return to normal, but it’s the return to normal as a sense of generating opportunities and lead sourcing. So how do you get back into the swing of healthy and responsible events, conferences, moving them from virtual to in-person, and how do you get back into the swing of things? So I’ll give you an example. We’ve doubled in size through COVID. More than half of my sales organization hasn’t been with Docebo through a conference or an event experience. And we’re actually just starting to promote our Docebo Inspire customer conference. So it’s getting folks back into the groove of how do we run a conference, how do we do it onsite or in person and be very successful there? So I think that you’re gonna look at an increased focus there. The third part of it is getting back to the data side, and I call it the economics. It’s your average sales cycle, your average deal size, your attachment rates of products. It’s making sure those are all holding, if not improving as you’re going back to the new normal and folks are starting to come into office and so on. I think looking at that. So tools like Clari, even Looker Data Visualization there. You’re gonna see a lot of sales leaders doubling down on that to make sure the teams are still performing at a high level as we’re getting back to the normal.

George: Awesome. Great insights from your crystal ball as we se sales evolve in the coming years. And Chris, I really appreciate being a meeting number nine today on your very busy schedule and giving us some of those learnings. And congratulations on all the success that you and your colleagues have had at Docebo. It’s definitely a success story that we look to and learn from, and you guys should be very proud of what you’ve built there.

Chris: George, thank you, I really appreciate it. Grateful to be on, and I appreciate your time too.


George: So Chris is sales leader, is the data person. And he prides himself on that, but I think that there’s more to it than just that. As you’ve heard me say a number of times, I don’t need a lot of data to know my wife’s mad at me. But he really honed in on the right data. And when you build out a tech stack and you can take this if you’ve got 50 sellers or you can take it if it’s just you and you’re running your own a solo preneur organization, having everything in one place so it all talks to each other is paramount. And then that gives you the ability to look at the data over a period of time and have context on that. Because what the data allows you to do is to make data-driven decisions and know what to change or what to adjust to get a better outcome. A lot of talk about leading indicators, lagging indicators, win rates. Again, all of these data points go into the day-to-day of Chris Bondarenko and his leadership team on how they make those data-driven decisions. So we definitely need to know what the numbers are and know what our levers might be to improve the performance that we have. And I don’t think this is something that we just need to know to run a sales organization. I think it’s the same message that we have to give to our customers when we prescribe a solution. We say here are the data points that we’re going to be watching, and then we’re going to show you how this thing has performed. That is what we’ve been talking about around insights-based selling, showing them what good might look like, showing them where the gaps are, and then being able to show proof of performance down the road as you continue to evolve the customer. So Chris lives that as the leader of a larger sales organization, but there’s also learnings in there for us if we’re even just dealing with one of our customers on how we can utilize that data. I found it interesting that there’s really two paths here. Data-driven sales leader, there’s a lot of takeaways from what Chris was discussing in his learnings in running and building the Docebo sales organization, but then he talks about the communities and where he goes for inspiration or learnings or mentorship. And that constant learning is a theme that I hear from any top sales leader. They don’t have all the answers, and they’re the first to admit it. And they actively seek organizations, communities, content, thought leadership all the time. They’re always looking. If you go to the browser history, you’re gonna find searches for this topic or searches for that topic. Usually mapping back to a challenge that they have. So I love the fact that Chris talked a lot about his mastermind groups that he belongs to, the communities that he is a part of, the networking that he makes just part of his daily habits so that he can stay on top and really fulfill that goal of being a lifelong learner. Always appreciate getting somebody that is doing it on a day-to-day basis at the level that Chris Bondarenko is doing it inside Docebo, and loved talking to colleagues that have a lot of the similar challenges that I have on a day-to-day basis because it never ceases to amaze me that I learned something on every one of these episodes in speaking to those folks. So thanks to Chris for taking some time out of his day to teach us today here on this episode of the Conquer Local Podcast. My name is George Leith. Thanks for giving us some of your time. I’ll see you when I see you.

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