Scaling through hiring, onboarding, and training sales people – Anton Phung Q & A Part II

Building the Sales Machine’s Q & A series is focused on sales leaders in the real world actively building and scaling high tech sales teams. We aim to bring you the most practical and operational tips from down in the trenches.

For today’s Q & A, we’re publishing the second part of our chat with Anton Phung, recent head of training and development at Yotpo,a customer content marketing platform that generates reviews, social Q&A and rich media and uses this content to drive traffic and increase conversions.

Best tip for sales teams that are scaling?

If you’re in the early stages of building out a sales team/org, don’t focus on the numbers. I know this can be sacrilegious, but revenue numbers, especially in the early going, can be misleading and an easy trap to fall into – it’s great to spend all day admiring revenue graphs when your sales org of 5 people is hitting 250% of the goal. Instead, you have to focus on making sure the people you have in place are selling the right way. Are they only going after low-hanging fruit and discarding perfectly good leads out of laziness or inability to properly work a (longer) sales cycle? Are they making promises the product can’t deliver on and suffering months down the line from chargebacks? Are they weak in their negotiation skills and giving concessions on rates, term length, and billing frequency? Either they should find ways to improve their style or you should provide the essential training. Consider different solutions to negotiation challenges and lack of motivation affecting your employees. If none of the training and support makes any improvement, maybe it is time to reconsider them. You have to remember that future employees will be surrounded by these people. They’re going to hear them on the phones all day and develop and mold their own sales styles off of the existing people you have in place. Prioritize building a strong core foundation where everyone’s sales philosophy and approach are aligned. Don’t forget the basics as well, like background checks. A company like Health Street can follow the Georgia background check laws, for example, and find any red flags regarding future employees. It’s important to hire staff that you can trust.

Think about what type of culture you want your sales org to ultimately have. Do you want to have the type of org where it’s taboo to offer a discount or are you going to be all about doing whatever it takes to get someone across the line? Are you going to promote healthy competition and rivalry? Are you going to be the type of org that celebrates every small win or one that simply keeps on with the work and focuses on getting the job done? All of these things start early on with your first hires and are disseminated from them.

I’d extend this mindset to hiring as well. Especially early on, I’d rather hire someone who is raw, hungry, eager to learn, and has the potential to be good, as opposed to hiring someone with an impressive resume and loads of relevant experience who is going to hit the ground running.

In the early days, focus your attention on how the work is being done. Once everyone is on the same page, the revenue will follow.

What traits do you look for in a sales person?

The first thing I notice when interviewing candidates, essentially their “first impression”, is their ability to communicate. Personally, I look for people who are able to articulate their thoughts clearly and succinctly – the less fluff, the better. I hate sales reps who love to hear themselves talk. I also care about their voice. I don’t want someone who sounds young, or sounds like a bro, or a cheerleader. I want someone who speaks like a mature, well educated adult. Like it or not, your voice is how you’re being initially judged by your prospects. If I got a call from someone who sounded like a kid trying to raise funds for his toga party, I’d probably hang up on him too.

After the candidate’s voice and communication level, I look at their ability to consistently uphold three things:

1. Work hard
2. Stay positive
3. Implement feedback

These things may sound cliche, but they run much deeper especially when you’re hiring new college grads with little to no prior work/sales experience.

1. I want someone who is going to work harder than their peers not for the immediate results, but because it’s going to make them a better rep in the long run. I want someone who is going to make more calls and run more demos than their colleagues because I know that means they’ll also fail more often than their peers. But every time they get hung up on or lose a deal, they learn from the experience and improve. And over the course of time, their work ethic is going to translate to the clip at which they’re developing their sales skills.

2. With the level of rejection that sales reps face every day, I want someone who is able to brush it off and pick up the phone again. I don’t want someone who is going to take it personally, vent to their colleagues, and waste time.

3. Finally, as Director of Training, I think the quality I look at the most is the candidate’s ability to implement feedback. I don’t mind if they’re completely raw coming into the role. It’s my job to shape and mold you, but if you can’t implement change when you’re told, you won’t get better.

If you’ve built out a training team, what was the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Patience. Every class is different and will develop its own dynamic naturally. I’ve had large classes that were shy and quiet, and small classes who were all social butterflies. Every class will have it’s own strengths and weaknesses – some classes will have sales experience but have zero understanding of the industry they’re now selling in, while classes of new college grads won’t even know how to conduct themselves in a professional working environment.

While the content of the training remains the same, my delivery is always changing. I’m always looking for different ways to present the material so that it is easily digestible to all employees from all professional backgrounds and levels of experience.

Best technique for helping new sales people ramp in your organization?

Don’t be afraid to fail fast and fail often.

Whats the best piece of advice you’ve received from a mentor?

As an individual contributor, I was only ever motivated by competition – being the best in my class, being the top rep in the office, etc. Early on in my sales career, I was going through a pretty rough patch where I was missing my numbers and getting caught up in how well my peers and colleagues were doing, and how poorly I was doing in comparison. I remember my manager pulling me aside and telling me to remember two things:

1. This game is entirely mental – If your mindset isn’t right, you won’t be able to perform. If you’re hungover, in a bad mood, distracted, or stressed about hitting your number, it will affect your performance and prospects will be able to hear it in your voice on the phone. Clear your mind before going into work every day and before picking up every phone call and treat it as a fresh opportunity.
2. Only you can control your outcome – Don’t get caught up in who’s booked the most revenue, or running the most demos, or winning all the sales incentives. At the same time, don’t be distracted by who’s going where for lunch or what happy hour plans are for that night. Instead, focus on controlling the controllable. Pick up the phone as many times as you can and make sure you’re completely dialed in to every conversation you have with a prospect.

I think about that advice any time I’m struggling or one of my reps comes to me asking about how to get out of a rut, and I figure out a way to mentally reset and then determine what variables I can isolate and focus all of my attention on.

Anton Phung is Head of Training and Development at Yotpo, where he oversees the onboarding process for all new employees as well as ongoing learning across the Sales and Client Services teams. Before coming to Yotpo, Anton spent nearly seven years at Yelp where he started off as an SMB Account Executive in their New York office, moved onto their Enterprise sales team in their headquarters in San Francisco, took on a leadership role in opening up their first international office in London for three years, and ultimately brought things full circle and transitioned back to their New York office and oversaw one of the top sales teams there. Anton also spent two years working abroad in Japan as a high school teacher.

Through his various experiences, Anton has identified his passion in helping early stage start ups build out their sales processes and scaling their sales orgs to maturity.