How to Grow Sales in a Virtual World (with Kat Cole, Salesforce, & Brex)
Kat Cole has been called the ‘Erin Brockovich of the restaurant industry.’ She’s the former President and COO of Focus Brands, and is now an advisor, investor, and board member of companies like Milk Bar, Fleiss, and HumanCo, speaking on leadership development and tactical sales strategies.
Recently, Kat caught up with Ashley Kelly, Senior Director of Sales Development at Brex, Bobby McDonald, SRM at Salesforce, and Patrick Ewers, Founder of Mindmaven to discuss how to grow sales in a virtual world.
Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
How to use software to build customer relationships
Kat: This is a special edition of Crossover Club with our friends at Brex and Salesforce. We are talking about growing sales in a virtual world, from selling and relationship-building strategies, mining networks, building culture, and specific tactics to make sales teams more effective.
Bobby, from the perspective of Sales Leadership, how do tools like Salesforce help execute on cultivating customer relationships?
Bobby: When you’re trying to gain trust, it’s about making sure you come to the conversation with the best point of view possible. I think that’s what a solution like Salesforce does—at the end of the day, it’s about trying to look back through the data we’ve developed from our customers and understanding what makes them tick, what business-impacting conversations we’ve had, and how we can leverage what we call our Customer 360, which is really impacting every part of their business with the solutions we offer.
You can bring that point of view to life in so many different ways, and that’s what we try to do when working with our customers and prospective clients.
The benefits of dogfooding your own product
Kat: Ashley, can you share Brex’s policy of using your own product internally, to live the experience of your customers so you can know not only what you’re selling, but also give feedback?
Ashley: One thing that makes Brex unique is our ability to dogfood our product. From Day One, every employee is issued a virtual card, a physical card, and depending on their role, a vendor card. We recently just began to bring the team offsite back, so my team is using their vendor card constantly to book hotel rooms and flights.
For a sales team, it’s so nice for a rep to be able to use the card and consider how it made their day easier—they don’t have to keep track of their expenses, as it automatically uploads into the dashboard and makes the entire employee experience that much better.
Enabling reps to use the product on a daily basis just makes it that much easier to convey value to our prospects as well.
Kat: It makes me think of this idea of leveraging your resources in your company to build a stronger product that sells.
How to leverage internal relationships to improve sales
Kat: Patrick, could you share some tips on leveraging particular roles in a company, like Executive Assistant or Chief of Staff, to think about their impact on relationships and sales?
Patrick: Of course.
The idea is to invest more into relationships, making people feel more connected. Relationship-building internally makes things more efficient, for example, in learning about the needs of the EAs and Chiefs of Staff you already work with. We’ve found you can:
- Free up about 8-10 hours of your time each week— almost a full workday.
- Almost 10X the ability to interact in a meaningful and thoughtful way with the people around you.
Kat: That’s great. No matter what your company is, talk to the entire company about a sales culture. Make it easy for them—refresh them on the talking points, the latest competitive advantage, and so on.
When I was a waitress, one of the greatest things we did to drive sales and build relationships was give every waitress a tab, a comp code, to lower the barrier to entry to trial for someone— up to five beers a shift. It’s this kind of personal link that takes someone from a customer to an advocate.
How to foster involvement within your teams
What’s one tactic you’ve seen a sales leader or team do to drive awareness and empathy across the organization and build a sales culture?
Bobby: Pre-pandemic, part of my brand was ‘high-energy.’ When we went virtual, we were doing weekly check-ins, Mondays and Wednesdays, and then a fun Friday afternoon Zoom. Soon, we started to feel Zoom-fatigued, so we recalibrated—we started what we call ‘players-only meetings.’
That’s when our sales reps get together, with no management present, and can just riff and figure out what’s top of mind for them.
We also found there wasn’t a feeling of connection to the team or the business—as we were often in our own little world—so we tried to find a way to bring people together through ‘accountability.’
We give people CXO titles, like Chief Enablement Officer, who speaks to the gaps we want to cover or get better at; the Chief Career Officer, responsible for bringing people from other parts of the business to talk about their job and role. And the Chief Fun Officer, who makes sure everyone feels like they have a responsibility to give back.
We’re getting the team to feel like they’re part of the process of building out the company, part of the motor that gets this thing going—it’s about the bigger picture of responsibility and connection.
Building a brand identity for yourself & your team
Ashley: Bobby, I love that you mentioned the word ‘accountability.’ I think that when it comes to culture, everyone should be accountable for that.
Tactically, one thing I do with my reps every quarter is an ‘identity session.’
I’m big on internally building a brand for yourself, creating an identity that your team has.
Three questions that I ask the team:
- How do you think we’re perceived?
- How do you want to be perceived?
- What are some goals to get there?
It goes to the accountability factor: if they’re the ones coming up with what they think the culture should be, it’s much easier to hold everyone to that.
We also recognize someone every week in our meetings for contributing to our culture of winning and constantly improving.
It’s about figuring out ways your team wants to be recognizing and creating a culture they’ve wanted to create, then holding people to it. That’s probably the most important thing as a leader.
Kat: Having a recognition system that is authentic, peer-driven, and leader-advocated in the way Ashley described is a best practice across any team but is absolutely critical for sales teams.
The importance of honest feedback
You’ve been at differentially sized organizations—are any of these systems different at earlier-stage or smaller sales teams, vs. larger tier-layered teams?
Ashley: I think the faster you’re growing, you need to check yourself and make sure you’re recognizing your people. Having solid foundations. One of my favorite books is ‘Radical Candor,’ and I think having those kinds of relationships with your team can make sure you get the hard feedback you may need to hear.
Kat: I love Kim Scott’s book. ‘Radical Candor,’ for anyone who hasn’t read it, is a staple in the leadership library.
The tools that Brex, being this number one business card and banking solution, and Salesforce, a behemoth and beloved company and brand, and the backbone of other sales organizations—and yet the tools that both of your companies build and sell enable and sales of other companies, but you are building sales teams yourself—it’s very meta!
How to seamlessly transition into closing the sale
When a relationship has been formed, how do you shift to transaction and buying?
Patrick: It can feel cringey when the timing is off. But if you’ve done your work truly listening to your customer’s needs, getting to know them in some form, you will find a natural transition to the point of being able to say, “Hey, you would really benefit from this product.”
The point I tell salespeople when I work with them is that if you are convinced of the value of your product, your only job is to figure out how that product is good for the individual you’re talking to. That should often be a very small step, and relatively natural.
How your sales team can take the initiative and innovate
Kat: You have all mentioned alternative virtual but intimate relationship building, such as virtual lunch-and-learns, virtual coffee, even old-school things like phone calls and check-ins.
What now is the sales team’s role in building relationships, re-sell, and mining existing customers?
Bobby: One thing is that we really try to ‘be value first’ in our sales conversations.
We do account reviews where we can look at how they’re using SalesForce, but more importantly, how they’re not. With that opportunity comes more value, and more value means it’s stickier.
As far as how we’ve gotten creative with our current customers, we’ve tried lots of things over the last year and a half—we have DreamForce, as you may know. But we’ve had to ‘re-imagine’ events.
I hosted a pasta event with some of our CEOs. What was interesting was after following up with the people who came to the event, 10 out of the 12 said they came to the event because they were thinking about doing something similar with their customers.
We’re all trying to see how other people are getting creative. We all want this, we just need to figure out how we can connect in different ways, events where we aren’t necessarily pitching, but just getting folks together to have conversations about what’s top of mind—even if I’m in the background making really bad pasta.
That was something for me that I didn’t see coming out of that event—seeing others looking at whether this was something for them, and then the connections across customers that happened organically.
Kat: It brings back this idea of thought leadership for your company as a brand, leading as an individual across your company to advocate for what your customers need, by taking the initiative.
And a reminder: if you don’t do these things, the competition will.
There are people figuring this out. There are companies using great tools like Brex and Salesforce, building those foundational relationships—these tools also enable bringing people together if you use them in an authentic way.
Thanks so much. Stay tuned on our social media handles for updates on the next Brex and Salesforce summit on Fundraising, coming soon!