Friday, August 17, 2018

What would you say... that you do?

I leave it off my LinkedIn profile because of how long ago it was, but I started my professional life as a corporate recruiter in New York City. It was a tough, high volume recruiting role sourcing and screening telephone operators, office assistants, and office managers for a commercial real estate company that managed temporary offices, a sort of WeWork before WeWork. These were the pre-historic days of recruiting involving local newspaper ads, fax machines and phone interviews. In an average week, I would interview 30 – 50 candidates. I was a recruiter for about a year before being promoted to an HR Generalist, and later continued my progression through HR Manager and Director, Corporate HR, but interviewing remained a key part of my work.

Flash forward to the last, well let’s just say decade, in software-as-a-service and Customer Success. Recruiting and interviewing continues to be a cornerstone of my role building, growing, and leading post-sale Client Experience teams. This year alone we have added more than 20 extremely talented individuals to our CX organization and I am proud to say I interviewed every single one of them as well as many of the other talented individuals who applied.

Over the course of my career, and the many thousands of interviews, my interviewing style has definitely evolved. I learned early and continue to believe strongly in the behavioral based interview style. My favorite questions in my HR roles were always, “Tell me about a time when …” Over the last couple of years, I have started to rotate through some new favorite interview questions that focus more on my role as an executive conducting near final interviews with candidates. Here are my current favorites and what I am looking for. 

What is your marquee moment?

The question is, “If you think back over your professional life, what is the one moment or accomplishment that you are most proud of, your marquee moment, and what were the challenges that you had to overcome?”

I like this interview question because it gives the candidate an opportunity to highlight the story they are most proud of that may not have come up in the prior discussions. This is a question candidates are often well prepared to answer. What I am most looking for is candidates that highlight a customer story, showing a focus on the client while discussing how they coordinated, partnered and/or rallied internal resources to help overcome the business challenges. In software as a service it is rarely the work of one person that delivers a customer’s success, so I look for those candidates who talk about how the team delivered results and highlight the specific role they played on that team. Classic “we” versus “I” answers go a long way. 

What would you use a do-over on?

The next question is, “If you think back over your professional life and you could get one do-over, maybe a project, initiative or decision that didn’t go well, what would you use your do-over on and what have you learned, either because of the failure or since, that you would do differently?”

This might be my favorite question of all. Candidates are well prepared to talk about their success but often take a long pause to think about where they would use their do-over. The lack of prep and pre-polished interview answers often results in candor that I might not otherwise see in an interview. I look for candidates that demonstrate honesty and humility in their responses but put a heavy emphasis on the learning coming out of failure. I admire the candidates that offer up a very genuine failure and talk not only about what they learned but how they applied that learning to better handle a similar situation later in their career. Again, I look for candidates that talk about customer stories, customer impact and talk in terms of customer satisfaction and success.

Have you started using Degreed?

This is not intended to be a gotcha question but, unfortunately, it is about half the time. Degreed is both an enterprise and consumer application, meaning consumers (in this case, applicants) can create a Degreed profile for free to experience the product and start tracking their lifelong learning. About half the time candidates have created a profile and offer some immediate feedback on the experience. I love the opportunity to hear this feedback and candidates who have taken the time to explore the product are often excited to share their insights. The follow up question I ask is, “Did you use Degreed today to track your learning?” This question serves to identify the candidates that are truly passionate about learning and Degreed versus those going through the motions. Candidates will tell me they are passionate about lifelong learning, love Degreed’s mission and the product but… did little more than look around after creating a profile. This explanation often includes a long awkward pause. While not a deal breaker, taking the opportunity to use Degreed to start tracking their lifelong learning is an easy differentiator in a very talented pool of applicants. 

Degreed is a lifelong learning platform, so my interviews today focus on that: what people learn from success, what people learn from failure, and how people adopt Degreed. Over the last few years I have continued to rotate the specific questions I ask to keep the interviews interesting and challenging (and fuel my own learning). So the next time you’re across the table from the Bobs, more than just answering, “What would you say… that you do here?”, be prepared to tell them what you’ve learned.

About David Verhaag 

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives in Park City, Utah.
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Friday, August 3, 2018

View from the Other Side

I spend a lot of time on webcam working from my home office in Park City, UT, my sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA or wherever else I am calling home. It is not always fun appearing on video but it is a small price to pay for the flexibility of working remotely. Over the years, I have actively encouraged my teams to turn on video for every meeting. It is not a popular request and it isn’t quite the same as meeting in person but video helps to bridge the distance and establish and maintain remote relationships.

One of the benefits of meeting via video is that you can put reminders just out of view of the camera. I have found this to be a great trick to remind myself of where to focus and what to pay specific attention to. When presenting remotely to large groups this has proven to be a very effective way to remind myself to smile (not one of my habits), or to project energy and excitement and to have fun. I may feel those things organically but projecting them over video requires a little bit of extra effort and a short reminder goes a long way.

The picture above shows my default reminders - smile, be calm, be the leader you would follow, be the inspiration you want to feel and perhaps most importantly, have fun and look at the camera. It may seem intuitive but looking at the reminder during a long video meeting has helped me correct bad posture, reduce nose picking and demonstrate to my teams, the company and our customers, the passion, energy and excitement I truly feel about our work. 

About David Verhaag 

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives in Park City, Utah.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Stop Talking

I keep this little card on my desk as a reminder. It was a gift from a former employee of mine who, I hope, intended it as a bit of a joke. The rumor is that I can be a bit of a curmudgeon and it was intended to inform people approaching my desk of that fact and alert them to my preference for silence. The card represents a fond memory of a great team, but is also a good reminder of an important leadership characteristic that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. As leaders, we need to stop talking.

Early in my career as a professional services consultant, I learned the hard way about the benefit of practicing active listening. Like many young professional service consultants, I made the mistake of making up for my own insecurity by talking more. In my earnestness to impress clients, and to make up for my lack of experience and feelings of being an imposter, I jumped in to answer questions before they were fully asked. I over explained simple concepts and generally just talked too much. After a long meeting, I would sometimes ask myself, what was I even talking about? It was an awkward phase of my career because I am normally reserved, and talking too much didn’t suit me. I needed to stop talking.

After many years as a professional services consultant and customer success manger, and after much “constructive” feedback from clients and leaders, I learned the hard lesson that many successful consultants come to learn, and made the shift to listening more than I talked. Not just listening but active listening, building on other people’s ideas and engaging them in a way that gets them talking and owning the conversation. It has taken years of practice, and a little card on my desk as a reminder, to stop talking.

There are a lot of things that we need to learn, or re-learn, when we make the shift from individual contributor to manager and eventually to leaders. I think one of the ways to start making the shift from manager to leader is to simply stop talking. Like a consultant to your team, it is important to practice active listening, to engage in the art of leading a constructive conversation without dominating it. It is important to inspire and challenge your team without personally controlling the conversations that translate your vision to action. The difference between a manager and a leader might just be that leaders know when to stop talking.

Experienced consultants and leaders know that great things happen when they stop talking. The awkward silences, the gaps in the conversation, the vacuum that is created when a meeting room goes silent is not something to be feared; it is an opportunity. It is not a problem to be solved with your own ideas, opinions or noise, but an opportunity for others to emerge. Individuals will be challenged to step up, speak up and contribute their ideas. Individuals who are typically more reserved, the introverts, the marginalized, will feel the pressure to engage. They will feel the space to engage and, if the leader is doing their job right, the support and genuine encouragement to contribute. Out of the silence new leaders can emerge, out of the silence innovative ideas can emerge, out of the silence we can all learn something. But first, leaders need to stop talking.

About David Verhaag 

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives in Park City, Utah.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Points not Yardage. What are your Top 3?

Points not yardage. It was one of the values of SuccessFactors that has stuck with me. The meaning is simple: activity is important but results matter. Points not yardage is what separates high performing teams and high performing individuals from the pack. Are you just busy or are you delivering results? As simple as the idea of “points not yardage” sounds, it can be difficult for individuals, caught up in the hustle of their day to day activity, to lift their heads up and answer for results.

Every week my Client Experience team at Degreed posts their Top 3 Objectives for the week and the Top 3 Results from last week in a dedicated Slack channel. It is one of the required Monday activities that help us perform better as individuals, as a team and as a company. By articulating what we plan to achieve this week, and posting it publicaly for the company, we not only clarify our objectives for ourselves, we create cross functional awareness and accountability.  

It’s not about your activity for the week. It’s not about yardage. Everyone on the team is working incredibly hard for our customers, with conference calls, project planning, and meetings. This type of yardage is important, and we work to ensure everyone is focused on the right activities, but the focus is on results, points on the board. It is not just meeting with your customer, but gaining buy-in from your customer to try a new communication strategy. It is not just a customer on-site, it is introducing new sponsors to the platform. It is not just hosting an internal Learning Forum, it is ensuring that everyone on the team understands a new product feature and its impact on our customer’s business.

It can be a tough exercise. I have followed the same process with my Customer Success teams for several years now. I post my own Top 3 to start my Monday morning and require that everyone, including the other leaders on the Client Experience team, do the same. I personally read every Top 3 post every week, adding an emoji to show that I have read it, and I actively encourage everyone on the team and extended leadership team to do the same. For me, it is a great way to understand what everyone plans to achieve this week and to ensure that everyone’s objectives are properly aligned, week in and week out, with our top-level team objectives. It also provides me with the visibility to objectives and results to monitor team performance and ensure that I can help unblock issues where planned objectives weren’t achieved.

Posting the Top 3 for the week is a simple but incredibly effective way to understand what you are personally planning to achieve this week, to track and ensure that you are delivering results week after week. It has also proven to be an effective way to align a team behind delivering results in a collaborative and transparent way.

Points not yardage.

About David Verhaag 

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA.
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Friday, May 26, 2017

Stop Being an Asshole and Put Down Your Phone

I get it. This meeting is beneath you. This discussion doesn’t rise to the level of your eminence. The slides that they took hours to prep are not even worth a look. You’ll catch the basics of the talk track they rehearsed and worried over for hours and days if you glance up occasionally. That’s how you roll. You are big time. Your full attention is too much for us. You are simply too important to concern yourself with the little people around you. We can't possibly understand your incredibly busy can’t stop for a minute fast paced big decisions gotta check my phone I am the big cheese life. Or wait, is this not true? Well then …

Quit being an asshole and put down your phone.

There is no excuse for it. If this sounds like you in a meeting, you’re an asshole. I am not talking about someone else. I am talking about you. We all see you. We all notice that you are so hyper focused on your phone or laptop that you barely look up to acknowledge us. We are going on anyways because that’s what people do. We all know that whatever you are so busy doing during our meeting can probably wait. We all know that if we are having this meeting and spending the time together whatever is on your phone probably should wait. But here’s what you should know ...

We ALL think you are an asshole.

You are not fooling anyone. No one sitting across from you is seeing your behavior and thinking “Wow! Bob sure is burning it at both ends,” or “Man! Mary just doesn’t stop working hard for a minute. She sure is super." Nope. Sorry to break the news to you Mr. Big. We all know that whatever you are doing while you multitask through the meeting could wait. If it couldn’t, maybe you could act like an adult and step out of the room. We all know that it’s not a reflection of how important you are, rather how unimportant you think we all are. We all know that you are probably checking email, LinkedIn, or Slack, simply to see if there are updates that will pacify your insecurity. It’s insecurity that is warranted since …

We ALL think you are an asshole.

I hope the clarity prompts a change. We all held such high hopes for you when you joined the project, team, company. Unfortunately we are all starting to give up. “Oh [fill in your name] is just an asshole. He is always on his phone during meetings.” Tough to hear. I know. But you can fix this. It may seem overwhelming at first. Putting down the phone is like leaving the pacifier behind. It’s tough. I assume you don’t have a pacifier in your pocket. I hope you can drop this childish habit too. Go ahead, dig deep, leave the phone at your desk. Turn it over. Put it out of reach. Give it to a sponsor to hold. You’ll be surprised how much more important you feel when you actually earn the respect of your peers by paying attention to them. You'll be surprised how much richer your relationships are when you're engaged and present. You’ll be surprised how much smarter you will become when you actually show up.

Go ahead … put down the phone!

About David Verhaag 

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Surviving and Thriving in a Sales Culture - 6 Lessons from SuccessFactors' Dynamic Culture

“Everyone is in Sales.” I understand the point of this famous business quote but for many it is simply misleading. We are not all in Sales. Yes, we are all responsible for enabling Sales. Full stop. But Sales, capital S sales, is the role of the Sales Team. Customer Success Managers can often be confused by the difference in roles. I have repeatedly told my teams over the years, who often have deep engagement and occasional friction with Sales, that if you want to carry the bag and live by a quota, go for it. You can make more money. You can realize greater organizational recognition. You can go to Hawaii or the Caribbean for Club. But Sales is really hard work. Really hard work. From the outside it looks like bigger budgets, increased latitude, greater organization influence and recognition. From the inside, it’s stress, anxiety, pressure… It’s an all or nothing world. You either sell it or you don’t. And if you don’t for a quarter or two in a row you start over somewhere else. We are all responsible for enabling Sales, but we don’t all feel that pressure. 

In some organizations, that pressure to sell is felt more broadly than just the individual Sales rep. In organizations with a Sales driven culture, that pressure to succeed in selling is shared across teams. It creates the foundation of the organization’s values, relationships and operating model. I had the good fortune of working at SuccessFactors from about $10M to $300M+ in revenue, spanning the time from pre-IPO through IPO, and for a year after the acquisition by SAP. Throughout this incredible growth one thing remained consistently true. SuccessFactors was heavily influenced by a Sales culture. Led by Lars Dalgaard’s remarkable executive leadership and driven by Dave Yarnold, Greg Nash, Jay Larson, and Phil Carty, among others, SuccessFactors was led by a highly capable and influential Sales team. As a company we were passionate about customer success, we had a fantastic marketing team, and it was disruptive technology leading the market at the right time, but we were led by an incredible focus on winning the market through Sales. 

Over the course of the more than 8 years I spent with SuccessFactors in a variety of roles partnering with and enabling Sales through Professional Services, Strategic Consulting and Customer Success leadership, I learned (sometimes the hard way) that the following characteristics are critically important to not just surviving, but thriving in a Sales driven culture. 

Surviving in a Sales Culture

Your work must be connected to Sales outcomes 

To get and stay on the radar in a Sales driven culture, your role, regardless of what function you are in, must be connected to Sales outcomes in a clearly defined way. If you are in Professional Services that means supporting Sales calls while ensuring that customers realize quick time to value and become ready references. If you are in Finance it means the Sales team proactively partners with you to creatively price and negotiate deal terms. If you are in marketing it means leads, market awareness and compelling events that create the perception of market leadership and scale. There is little time and patience for talk that doesn’t drive opportunities or for process that doesn’t enable Sales execution. Surviving in a Sales driven culture starts with understanding this dynamic and ensuring that when Sales comes calling, your answer is "yes and ..." with a focus on making them, and by extension the company, successful. 

Slowing down the Sales process is a cardinal sin

I learned this lesson the hard way on several occasions. In Sales driven cultures there is an 8th deadly sin: slowing down the sales process. Whether you are in Professional Services and take too long to scope a project or can’t commit resources fast enough to meet the Sales Rep’s discussed timeline, or you are in Finance and require additional approvals on special pricing, slowing down the sales process is a sin in Sales driven cultures. You might be right about the process, the thoughtful approach to review and approval, but it’s not going to matter. It's about "points not yardage". 

Sales is paying your salary

A common frustration in many organizations is Sales compensation. It is hard for individuals without context on compensation structures to hear the rumors of outsized Sales pay days. Often the broader teams don’t connect the dots between the big deals that are paying the rent and their pay checks and the big Benz in the parking lot. Surviving in a Sales culture requires understanding that Sales is a hard job and the reps earn their big pay days through risk, hard work and persistence. To my earlier point, if you want the Sales pay day go take the Sales risks. Otherwise, to survive, accept that the sales team closing deals is going to make more money than you and you should be happy about that. They get paid, you get paid. Period. 

Thriving in a Sales Culture

Enable but don’t confuse your job with that of Selling

Sales meetings can be great. I have thoroughly enjoyed attending meetings with great salespeople like Dave Haskell, Payntner Higgins and Marty Pitkow. It is easy to get caught up in the energy of the moment and confuse your role with that of the Sales person. To thrive in a Sales driven culture you need to remember that the salesperson is playing long ball in a thoughtful and planned way and your job is to share your expertise, insights or project/product plan, not to close the deal. Often, junior resources get caught up in the moment and feel like they have something really valuable to say that will help land the deal for the rep. Well intentioned as it may be, it is often not helpful. Thriving in a Sales driven culture requires understanding your role and enabling the salesperson to do his/hers. 

Understand the Sales process is made up of incremental steps

This applies to every organization but is especially important in Sales driven cultures where the methodology of selling is fully baked and the Sales leaders are building on a proven model of success. Selling enterprise SaaS is hard work and deals take time to come together. Thriving in a Sales culture requires maintaining perspective and appreciation that while you may have quoted the services work a month ago, or helped the rep with a product discussion weeks ago, deals take time to come together. Sales is an incremental process of moving the ball down the field to put points on the board, not just taking hail mary after hail mary for the game winners. 

Coffee is [not just] for closers

One of things that I loved about the Sales culture of SuccessFactors was the shared success mentality. While the organization was biased toward Sales effectiveness and execution, success was shared. Coffee was not only for closers, but those individuals who supported, enabled and accelerated closing, whether that was the product team who helped innovate with the prospect and prioritized the critical features, or the support team proving their effectiveness with impromptu conference room calls to the support line. As Lars notes in his excellent post on Thoughts on Building Weatherproof Companies “A company that is truly grateful to the people in all of the constituencies it works with — investors, customers, partners, each other — will almost always be a great company and a great place to work.”

Every company has a distinct culture that defines the organization’s values, relationships and operating model. Often the culture of a company is not a deliberate choice but a reflection of the values of the Founders and early employees. Sales driven cultures can create an intensity that doesn’t exist in a Product or Engineering centric culture. It can be the cause for anxiety and frustration or it can be an intoxicating mix of growth fueled by deliberate and focused action. Surviving and thriving in these environments is dependent on your attitude and understanding and embracing the role you play. 

About David Verhaag 

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA.

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