Brandon Jones spoke to us about the varied career journey that led up to his current role as PAAY's VP of Revenue, and how organizations are recognizing the need to take 'full-funnel responsibility' for every revenue-generating touchpoint in the customer journey.
The whole interview is awesome, but here are some particular highlights:
- Revenue leadership vs. traditional sales leadership: key differences
- What's driving the connection of sales ops and sales enablement
- Changing customer expectations and the buyer journey
- Recreating those watercooler moments
- The continuing evolution of revenue operations and leadership (and a football analogy)
- Brandon's top career advice
Q: Can you share a little bit about the career journey that led up to your current role?
I've had the full gamut in terms of journey. I started off in sales, I was an SDR and worked my way up to becoming an AE, had a closing role for a few years, and got to sell a lot of really cool things like data provider software before that was really hip and cool.
I got to sell online booking, point of sale software, lots of different industries that were coming up at the time and made the transition into a more operationally focused role for a few years. I really enjoyed that in terms of leading the operations function and sales.
That helped me transition into private equity and venture capital and helping marketing leaders and sales leaders think of different ways to run their organizations and get the most out of their efforts and initiatives.
That's kind of brought me back here, so now my role is VP of Revenue. I'm responsible for meeting our revenue targets. So I have a team of AEs, and we have an account manager, and we're really just pushing and doing our best to hit those targets. So that's been my journey. Strategic revenue enablement is the way forward
Q: You're a revenue leader; how is this role different from traditional sales leadership or sales enablement?
A: I'd say it's different in that when you talk about sales enablement, this is only one part of leading a revenue team. You may have a team that's evolved where you have someone specifically focused on enabling the team to be repeatable, you may have someone focused on ops, and that person is helping to build the scale and the infrastructure and the tech.
You may have others where you've got your AEs, your SDRs, you've got lots of different folks kind of working and rowing together to keep the ship going. I'd say the difference is my job is now to captain that ship. So instead of a sub-specialty within the revenue organization, it is now to lead the revenue organization as a whole and make sure everyone's working together so that we can hit our targets.
I'd say it's different in that traditional sales-only leadership usually was siloed, and didn't touch into what marketing was doing at the top of the funnel. So there wasn't traditionally a lot of orchestration between that. Marketing would essentially throw something over the fence to sales, sales would be responsible for closing it, and then sales would then toss it over to a customer success team to deliver on the promises.
What I would say about my role, and more specifically, this trend of revenue leaders, is you really have a full-funnel responsibility. You're responsible for top of funnel, lead generation, demand generation, and making sure that's consistent with what sales needs, which is consistent with being successful on the customer success and for renewals, Net Promoter Score, customer health. So it's exciting, but it is a full-funnel responsibility.
Coming soon... The Rise of Revenue Enablement Report, learn from brands Spekit, Juniper Networks, UserZoom and IBM, learn how to generate consistent, predictable revenue streams.
Q: Are revenue operations and revenue enablement a kind of evolution of sales ops and sales enablement? And if so, what's driving this?
A: Yeah, I think that's probably fair to say, because I think most people traditionally thought of that sales ops role as only focused on the tech and the infrastructure. So that may have been the person building Salesforce for you or your CRM, that may have coincided with other tech tools that the team was using, and administering those tools and making sure they work and they are optimized for how sales need to work them. You may have thought of that person too as your sales comms, admin, other things that person's doing, maybe maintaining and building one-pagers and collateral, etc.
I'd say now there’s now also this shift with sales enablement really growing from what I've traditionally found it to be, which was focused just around training.
So a sales leader would say, "Hey, we need the team to get better at discovery, or we need the team to get better at negotiation," and traditionally, sales enablement would go out and train the team to make sure that they know how to do those things. Then furthermore, would provide either product marketing materials or marketing materials that would help the team deliver on those at the right times.
I'd say now it's evolved to where those two distinct roles of sales ops and sales enablement have kind of merged into this mega function, which is great, of a person that can handle all of that, and not just focus on the tech and the scalability and the infrastructure. But that person can also help coach and guide and train the sales team beyond just the technology but on the soft skills and the execution of the sales process.
So I would say that the evolution from what I've seen has probably been driven by some of the tools that are out there in the market, either consolidating or coming together. And some of the tools that were siloed before, some of the things that a sales enablement person would use, like a CMS, but not a sales ops person, like a cadence tool, are kind of coming together and saying, "Hey, we're a tool that can do all of those things".
And you kind of need a skillset of someone who can administer and understand how a tool works that can do a lot of different things. I think that's what's been driving that connection of sales ops and sales enablement into what we see today.
Q: Is enablement evolving to focus on enabling each team throughout the customer journey?
A: Absolutely. It's a great point you bring up because it seems like organizations are shifting, as you say, from a just sales enablement focus to revenue enablement, I think because customer expectations are changing.
Before customers may have said, "Hey, I can buy this thing from you. It is a software [let's use as an example] that I buy a license for, I take it and I go off and use it”. And they don't really keep a continuous relationship with my salesperson or with the revenue or customer-facing team.
Now that's turned into everything being software as a service. Very, very heavy touch in terms of customer experience, and making sure that you can either retain those customers or get them to upsell or cross-sell and buy different products and offerings that you may have.
So I think the evolution of that has turned into the sales cycle never-ending really for the customer: you don't just sell to the customer once and send them out the door.
I think a lot of it is just a product of technology changing and subscription models changing and how revenue is generated in the SaaS world. And it's necessitating this need for an enablement person to focus on how they can enable not just sales, but how they can enable all the customer-facing functions.
Q: What's been the steepest learning curve or unexpected challenge in your career?
A: The biggest I'd say the steepest learning curve was going into venture capital and private equity. I did that intentionally so that I can really see a lot of movies and I wanted to see the good movies, and I wanted to see the bad.
I won't mention the bad but, I mean, some really good movies I've got to see where companies like Gainsight, SalesLoft, Smartsheet, and others like that, how they really went to market, what made them successful, what made them grow really fast, how their sales team was able to outperform and continue to meet and exceed their targets.
So the steepest learning curve for me, I think, was coming in and saying, "Okay, I want to learn everything I can from really smart VPs of Sales and CROs". At that time, I had worked with about 44 different companies, and gotten to see how they did it, what their playbook looked like, and help them with pain points in areas that they were struggling with, or areas that they wanted input on.
It helped me to better understand at what point in the cycle of your growth do you typically have certain questions or things you need to tackle? So the steepest learning curve for me was going into that, seeing that, drinking from the firehose, essentially, and then coming out and applying that back into being an operator, which is what I do now.
I think you mentioned the unexpected challenge. I think the unexpected challenge has been the past year in this new environment that we're in, and where traditional things that you may have done in the past, the playbooks and the value prop, and how you essentially covered the market have all changed in a way that I think is good, for the positive, it's really forcing a lot of us to re-evaluate our playbooks and re-evaluate old paradigms of what works and what doesn't work.
I think it's a great opportunity and some really strong companies and smart leaders are going to figure out different ways to take advantage of the deck being reshuffled in terms of how sales teams can be successful and using technology to stay ahead of that and make sure you can leverage your time.
Q: What's been your greatest career success so far?
A: Greatest success, so far, I would say is in being people’s manager, or being their coach and mentor. I won't name them personally, but I'm big on people development and some of them have gone off to do some really, really amazing things.
One is leading her own sales team right now. Another is getting an opportunity to do some really interesting consulting and work on some really challenging sales enablement problems and sales problems. Others have gone off to work for NBA teams and get to kind of bring that sort of operational sales focus to an NBA franchise and see how they can become more efficient and things like that.
So I would say the biggest highlight and success of my career has been developing people that have reported to me and making sure of their next step or the skills that I was trying to get them to focus on.
Not only to set them up at that company and in that role, but to be successful going forward and to really make an impact, and help other teams really grow at scale too.
Q: How has the way you interact with your team changed over the past year?
A: It's interesting because I didn't expect this to change very much, but it's changed a lot and one of the things that a typical day looks like now that it didn't before, is I do a lot more - I think we miss the human check-ins, just seeing how someone's doing as a human and what's going on in their life.
I think that's in part because we don't have the in the office watercooler conversations that happen, or really organic conversations that happen when a meeting ends and everyone's still packing up that laptop and you can just walk back to your desk and have a laugh about something, or walk to lunch and talk to someone.
So what I would say is different is I make it intentional now where you join Zoom and as soon as you join it's all about the meeting and there's very little room unless you're waiting for others to join to talk about other things.
I try to make space for that in the first five minutes of the Zoom, and just talk to someone in a one-on-one before we get into anything, just make it about what's going on with them, and what may be new in their life, etc. I think it helps people to feel more connected.
Q: How do you see revenue leadership transforming over the next few years?
A: I think I see revenue leadership evolving in a way that is shifting more toward, I would say, full-funnel accountability. I think it's already been going in that direction as we've talked about.
But what I mean by that is, traditionally, I think sales leadership has been focused specifically on sales performance, but leaving things at the top of the funnel, and optimizing marketing spend, or having the right demand gen programs, or even the right demand gen tools to set sales up to be successful. A lot of that has really just been treated as different parts.
So I kind of look at it like a football analogy, it's traditionally been an offensive coordinator, and a quarterback coach, and a running back coach, and then a defensive coordinator. So everyone's been able to be siloed, and evaluate their performance just on what they specialize in and what they do.
Marketing being separate, account management maybe being separate, customer success, all of those things. I think the evolution because the customer needs are changing in a SaaS business model, I think the evolution is going to be probably seeing fewer sales title leaders that are just focused on sales and performance being evaluated there. But being asked to be thought leaders and experts in their company on how you can do the whole funnel.
So you have a sales number, you have a revenue target you have to hit but what can you add to working in concert with marketing, that is going to get you to the top of funnel lead generation? And then what does that look like for retention?
I think sales leaders are going to need to essentially make sure you have the leads to hit the sales number, and then you have the account management and customer success to hit your retention numbers, whether it's net or gross, to then make sure customers have a good NPS score, accounts are healthy, they're able to be up-sold, crossover, etc.
So it's a lot of responsibility shifting to the full funnel and I think that's a trend that we'll start to see. And I think it'll be good for customers. Because instead of getting different leaders that have a different focus as you move along your customer journey, I think you'll start to see consolidation and you'll have one person really focused on your experience and your journey throughout.
Q: If you had to go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice for your career, what would that be?
A: I got really good advice one time a few years ago from one of the partners at the venture capital firm I worked at. I didn't go to business school so I always joke with people that I got rejected from business school and I'm also a law school dropout. So I fit all the boxes there in terms of grad school, I should just stay away from that.
His advice to me was about reading books of leaders, whether it's a George Washington, or a business leader like Phil Knight, or Jack Welsh or whoever it may be, but reading biographies of really good leaders like a Winston Churchill or someone and emulating a lot of what they do and how they handle a crisis or how they handle challenges.
Taking that and applying that in the day to day, because what would end up being more pertinent and separating the really good VPs of Sales and Revenue from the ones that struggle is not the kind of things you learn in business school, a lot of it is the, “How do you respond as a leader? How do you motivate your team? How do you navigate and keep everyone rowing in the same direction in order to be successful?”
So that would be the advice I would give my younger self, but then also to anyone else that may be thinking about either pivoting in their career or how they can grow in the revenue organization. I would strongly advise leadership biographies, really good leaders, and how they probably navigated through things, and it can really teach you a lot.
Q: Do you have any particular biographies that you'd recommend?
A: I would say Winston Churchill's biography is very good. Some of the George Washington ones floating around.
Then Steve Jobs; I know he's controversial sometimes in his leadership style but I think there's a lot that you can learn about what motivates people and also what may not work and what may get you in trouble and what may cause you to be a less effective leader at different times. I think he had a lot of realizations in his career of change.
So I would say those but honestly, also make it personal. Because if you don't have a lot of interests, or not really as excited about learning about that figure, you may not take away as much, versus if it's someone that might pique your curiosity or a company that you really admire you can look at the leader of that company, and you might not have known who that person was and then you can work backward and say, "Wow, this is really thoughtful".
Another example could even be, and this is a tangential example, but like a Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger, a lot of their focus has been on investing but they look at certain attributes in the companies that they acquire and put into Berkshire Hathaway, leadership skills that they then instill in those and make sure it stays maintained in those leaders too.
So they have really good principles about what they look for in leaders that are leading companies and how those companies can be successful going forward. So that would be my advice on that.
Q: It's being able to relate to someone's personal experience and journey rather than just learning about the theory, isn't it?
A: Absolutely, yeah. It's the personal experiences that'll help you. What I love about it is you can go back and read someone's list of mistakes and challenges and anything that they did and you can essentially avoid it by almost committing it to your own memory and thinking about it and pattern recognizing when it comes up in your life.
So it's a great way to see what others would have done differently if they could go back and then being able to use that in the present going forward.