Q&A With Carl Eschenbach: How To Lead A Successful Sales Team

Sophie Grais

Sophie Grais

Q&A With Carl Eschenbach: How To Lead A Successful Sales Team

Carl Eschenbach is a partner at Sequoia Capital and the former President and COO of VMware. In his tenure at VMware, Carl took the company from $31M to $7B in revenue and from 200 employees to 20,000. As part of Carl's webinar on sales leadership, we spoke to him and Clari CEO Andy Byrne about building successful careers in sales and sales operations. 

Companies often define sales operations differently. In your opinion, what are the main disciplines or responsibilities of the sales ops team?

Carl Eschenbach: This can be very controversial. I think it varies — let’s start with Sales Operations itself and where it sits. I believe they should sit within Sales and be functionally aligned with the sales organization. But they're also a conduit, and they need deep, meaningful relationships with the legal, finance, revenue recognition, and product teams. You do need some separation of church and state; for example, you can’t have Revenue Recognition sitting under Sales Operations, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work together.

Deal Desk also comes up often: should it sit in Sales Ops or in Finance? Usually, when I've seen it in Finance, it’s because the working relationship between Finance and Sales Ops isn't good. I believe it should sit in the Sales Ops organization.

What advice would you give to a young rep or manager who’s starting out and looking to build a career in sales?

Andy Byrne: We hear this classic notion: Be the CEO of your own territory. Be the CEO of your own patch. The good reps aren't just looking to close deals this quarter. They're carving out time for the next 90 days and the next quarter out. They're working with the marketing team to drive events and marketing activity. They think about the business holistically, beyond closing deals to get a great W2.

CE: First and foremost, I fundamentally believe your attitude will determine your altitude, both in life and especially in sales. It’s a very communicative profession, where you need high IQ and even higher EQ. Being collaborative and engaging with customers is critical.

I always encourage young salespeople to make sure they know the technology — not as deeply as a systems or sales engineer — but understand how it drives business outcomes for their customers. Be educated on the technology and the business outcome, and you’ll gain a lot more respect from your customers.

Lastly, drive consistent and predictable results every 90 days. I’ve never been a fan of people who say,  “I’ve made my entire year,” and close one deal in four quarters. In your first few years of selling, if you can always think about predictable, consistent results, you have a tremendous career ahead of you.

You’ve both seen many sales leaders in your careers. What are some of the key personality traits and core competencies of a sales leader?

CE: It’s so important for companies to find great sales leaders, especially at the front line. That’s where the rubber really meets the road and where you’ll teach newer reps what to do. I think about the qualities in context of S, K, and Qs: 

  • What are the skills of the sales leader?
  • What is the sales leader's knowledge of their target industry?
  • What are the qualities of the sales leader — their characteristics and traits?

For skills, they have to have a good understanding of managing a sales process. They have to do sales forecast analysis, manage the funnel and pipeline generation. They have to understand the skills required to lead a team.

They have to be knowledgeable about the industry. If they aren’t, they have to work hard to become knowledgeable about the industry and their competitors, so they can add value to their sales teams. Then come the qualities of the person. 

I fundamentally believe people want to work for great people. Salespeople who focus not on themselves or their companies, but on their people first, are the ones who drive the most predictable outcomes. If you stop and think about it, great people build great companies. Great companies don’t build great people.

The last thing is to make tough decisions. Everybody, myself included, has always struggled there. When you do make that toughdecision, it’s probably six months late, and everyone else but you could see it. You can be decisive; it doesn’t mean you’re not caring for your people or that you won’t always be there for them. If someone isn’t performing, they most likely already know it. Make the tough decision, and you’ll get more respect from your people.

AB: The only other thing I would add to those qualities is tenacity. Tenacity of the salesperson in driving top of funnel, in understanding and profiling the customer, and driving the deal to close. If you’ve earned the right, done great things for your customer, and put them in a great position, you should be politely aggressive to close that deal. If the rep has that tenacity all the way through, you’ve got a special person.

CE: That absolutely does matter, and you have to do that throughout the entire sales campaign. A lot of deals get done because of people and relationships.

Everyone thinks they want to work for a sales leader that’s very motivational. That’s true, but motivation is about pushing people and driving them. You want to be a motivator, but more importantly, you want to be someone who inspires people. Inspiration pulls; motivation pushes. If you can balance those with a slight advantage toward inspiration, people will really build loyal teams around you.

Listen to the full webinar here, and learn more about Carl's sales leadership philosophy in his eBook, Sales Leadership Lessons From The Former COO of VMware.

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