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Insights into the mind of UK’s Top SaaS Sales Leader Jeremy Straker

What does it mean to be recognised?

Firstly and foremost it was very humbling to be awarded such an accolade especially amongst such a talented group of sales leaders.

Being a SaaS Sales Leader in a high growth tech company is a hard job. The pressure and increasing expectations year on year from your Venture Capital partners to deliver growth make for an intense environment. You become very focused on making the business successful and only come up for air every few years to see what is happening in the rest of the market.

There are very few external points for validation. So it was a very proud moment to see myself voted number one by colleagues, peers and other leaders in our industry.

What still inspires you about NewVoiceMedia?

There is yet to be a real leader emerge in the Cloud Communications space as we have seen happen in other technology sectors so it is still all to play for.

Considerable vendor consolidation has been on the cards in our sector for some time now and therefore while the recent $350 million acquisition by Vonage was excellent recognition for the successful execution of our business plan over the last 18 year, the real success story is only just starting. Along with the Nexmo platform that Vonage acquired two years ago, we now have the most complete communications stack in the market and have a huge opportunity to capitalise on that from a first mover advantage perspective.

If you look across every negative experience you have in your life, whether it be with a business, a colleague a friend or family member the route is most often related to communication. As we think about how businesses need to compete on Customer and Employee experience, and the role communication plays in this, there is a lot to get excited about.

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great talks about ‘first who and then what’ get the right people on the bus, then figure out where you are going to drive it. We have focused on higher top talent and therefore I am inspired by the people around me every day.

Within your business what are you known for?

Hiring people better than me is absolutely my strength. Being able to find talented people, and enabling those people to do great work has made me successful. Early on I recognised that experience was not the most important factor in success. Some relevant experience is important, but talent and culture-fit are something I aim never to compromise on. Across Talent, Experience and Culture, I’d take Talent and Culture fit every day of the week.

How do you interview for cultural aspects?

There are two frameworks I use to assessing cultural fit, each of which have a playbook for extracting the right insight from a potential candidate.

One of these is presents itself as a venn diagram with the three circles being Hungry, Humble and People Smart (Emotional Intelligence). This is an adaptation of a model from Patrick Lencioni’s booked called The Ideal Team Player. When hiring I am looking for all three. If you think it through, a Hungry sales professional with strong Emotional Intelligence and a big ego isn’t great. Likewise someone who is Humble with strong Emotional Intelligence but is not Hungry for success is not great. It applies however you look at it and I look for people in the sweet spot of the venn diagram.

Hiring is a very conscious process for me and the robust framework that I have evolved over the years has proven to serve me and my leadership team well.

I will save the second one for my 7 minute slot on 20th March in London…the clue is ‘there are three things that you cannot teach anyone’ so if they do not exhibit these at their very core there is nothing you can do about it.

How would people describe your leadership style?

I try to be as rounded and diverse as I can in terms of my style as one size does not fit all. I certainly buy into the notion of Servant Leadership, a philosophy that puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

I would say I’m widely regarded as a grafter. When the pressure is on the team know that I will be there to support them. I’m willing and happy to roll up my sleeves and find a way to support the team to get a deal across the line. Typical support involves establishing executive relationships early  on in a cycle and ensuring a persistent dialogue and level of executive sponsorship of the deal from both parties. Please don’t try and set me up a call with the CEO on the last day of the quarter when the deal is about to slip and expect me to work miracles!

The team would say I have high expectations when it comes to following our sales methodology and delivering a robust deal review. I will make myself available and be on call day and night but when you come to the table be prepared!

As a team we are very good at getting our heads together and establishing the right course of action on a particular transaction. Often challenges stem from a lack of access to power, whether that be testing ourselves whether we have truly identified and developed a Champion versus making a ‘temporary best friend’. Whatever the challenge the sales manager or sales person is facing I will provide council, impart expertise and help solve challenges – I will get close to understand how best I can be helpful.

I’m also very self-reflective by nature. Working within the sales organisation means there is a lot of high-pressure activities, conflicting priorities and towards month end emotions can run high. Conscious self-reflection enables me to ensure situations are handled in a considered way and I always make sure difficult conversations as a team are had face to face. Understanding why something is important is critical for success.

How do you view your pipeline?

A passion of mine, and something I feel particularly strong and comfortable with is the mechanics of running a SaaS business. Perhaps it stems from my passion outside of work where I have spent the last 25 years building and maintaining my own competition cars and competing successfully at a high level within my chosen discipline.  There are certainly parallels between building a well oiled SaaS sales engine and the preparation and execution that goes into motorsport. A weak or failing component part in the mechanics of a SaaS sales engine can have a dramatic effect on performance. My father used to say the race is won or lost in the workshop – to finish first, first you must finish.

At a high level I think of the sales funnel as three distinct sections:

Top –territory planning and strategy to opening doors for meetings – building pipeline and executing Discovery calls/meetings

Middle – getting high and wide in the account, creating value and building champions

Bottom – getting to preferred, commercial negotiations, developing mutual close plans and accurate forecasting.

Each is consciously broken down, understood by our team and the machine built around the elements that help us deliver against our objectives. We map Competence (Skills and Knowledge) across each of these three and identify where we need sales enablement to support. We know who is strong and can coach other members of the team and where sales leadership are best deployed to get the best out of our people.

What does Sales confidence mean to you?

It is important that we celebrate every success on the way to the big successes. Not just when we close a big deal, but when a new SDR books their first new business meeting for the field.

Sales Confidence is about being the master of your craft and coming to work every day to put in your best performance.

Let me give an example…time and again I have seen sales people working out the commission on a deal way before a deal is closed. This leads to a weakened position and conflict in commercial negotiation as in their minds they have already spent the expected commission.

The example I use with the team is that “Olympians don’t go to the Olympics to win a gold medal”. They go to deliver a world class performance and know that if they can do that then the gold medal will follow. The same applies to sales, just focus on delivering a world class experience to your prospects and the rewards will follow.

Focus on the steps to success. That is why I encourage my team to celebrate that meeting booked, the confirmation of a next stage, access to a senior decision maker, all of these smaller activities build confidence.

About Jeremy Straker

An accomplished Sales Leader with 19 years in enterprise application software. The last 15 years have been spent scaling smaller more embryonic SaaS based software businesses in the UK and EMEA with high double digit growth year on year – notably 7 years at RightNow Technologies through to a $1.5b exit to Oracle in 2012 and 6 years at NewVoiceMedia through to a very recent exit to Vonage in November 2018.

Strong operational mindset and highly analytical by nature. Fascinated by the science behind selling, both in the execution of the sales process but also in terms of understanding what success looks like and building a frame work to hire the right team, ramp them through to productivity and continually increase breadth of performance.

About Newvoicemedia

NewVoiceMedia’s cloud contact center and inside sales platform delivers more successful conversations. The leading vendor’s award-winning customer contact platform helps organizations worldwide build a more personal relationship with every customer or prospect. It joins up all communications channels without expensive, disruptive hardware changes and plugs straight into your CRM for full access to hard-won data. With a true cloud environment and proven 99.999% platform availability, NewVoiceMedia ensures complete flexibility, scalability and reliability.

NewVoiceMedia is part of Vonage, a business cloud communications leader. To learn more about Vonage, visit www.vonage.com

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