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Sales management strategies: Leading from the trenches

Russ Hearl built a sales team from three 'lone wolves' to a fleet of 40-plus reps. How? By taking a Henry Ford approach to sales management strategy.

In a "Do as I say, not as I do" business environment, leading from the trenches may seem like a relic from another...

time. But for Russ Hearl, motivating a sales team to reach higher and exceed its quotas can't be done from one's desk. It requires a different sales management strategy.

As the vice president of global sales at San Francisco-based DoubleDutch, a provider of software as-a-service-based conference and events software, Hearl has been in sales for two decades and got his MBA at Santa Clara University to bring his career to the next level. But he thinks it's important for managers to get back in the trenches with team members and do as they do.

Hearl grew up in Cleveland and began his sales career cold-calling for Rolling Stone magazine. He has held several roles in sales and led teams at CareerBuilder.com, the job site; Salesforce.com, the cloud-based CRM provider; and FedEx, the next-day shipping service.

Today, Hearl presides over a team of 40-plus sales people that he built from "three lone wolves" just two years ago. He's also shaped his team with an eye toward a division of labor to get the most efficiency -- and higher sales -- from his reps. But Hearl built the sales team by creating a separate offshore research unit that could support the sales staff and use technology tools and processes to feed solid leads to his sales reps. Hearl's research team combs through online contact data using sources like LinkedIn and other databases, then verifies the data with other tools. Once the research team vets the leads, a sales rep can make the sale.

Hearl talked about his career and his approach to building a sales team from scratch.

You moved to Silicon Valley at a young age. Was that a risk?

Russ HearlRuss Hearl, VP of global
sales, DoubleDutch

Russ Hearl: I was working as a sales manager at a hotel company in 1999, and I came out to San Jose. At that young age, I don't even think I knew where Silicon Valley was on the map, like so many before and since have. I packed all my stuff in a U-Haul. A lot of the people I hire at DoubleDutch, people who come to San Francisco from all over the country with $200 to their name, are in exactly my situation when I came out here. I packed up all my stuff and never looked back.

Why did you get an MBA?

Hearl: Seven or eight years into my career, I felt I was plateauing in terms of my knowledge and accomplishments. A lot of times, salespeople don't go on to get a master's. But it rounded out my skill set. I think that has a little to do with how I approach and articulate things.

What is most important in leadership capabilities?

Hearl: Leading by example is the most important thing you can do. This is particularly true when you're leading young professionals. You have to demonstrate that you're willing to do what you're asking them to do. That's how you inspire people to act. If you sit off in a corner and analyze data and look for lower performers, it doesn't take much skill.

It takes skill and leadership to say, 'I expect you to make 60 cold calls a day and it's not beneath me to make some cold calls myself to demonstrate that I'm not afraid to do it.' In so many organizations, you see a 'Do as I say, not as I do' mentality. I set out from Day 1 to make sure that it wasn't the kind of place I was trying to build. The most effective way to inspire action is to create an environment where we're all in it together.

Why is working at DoubleDutch career-defining for you?

You have to demonstrate that you're willing to do what you're asking other people to do.
Russ Hearl

Hearl: We have acquired more than 2,000 customers in two years. I'm responsible for putting in place the machine that has made that possible. When I started, there were three lone sales reps who were catch-as-catch-can, trying to take down new deals, sending out random emails and trying to find their own leads.

What I put in place was a Henry Ford approach to the sales organization -- an assembly line. That has allowed us to raise more venture capital and hire more people and grow at 200% year over year.

Why is your approach different from most sales teams?

Hearl: At Toyota, you don't have the guy putting in the dashboard also putting in the engine. If you don't apply the same separation of labor to the sales function, you may generate a tremendous amount of waste, where reps are doing tasks that should be done by someone with a different skill set. You don't get the velocity of deals that you would have if you specialized. I've had some notoriety for bringing that here, but I'll continue to be an evangelist for that approach.

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What's your sales management philosophy?
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For our sales management, we have a "Three P" philosophy. This stands for Professionalism, Personality and Punctuality. We expect the sales management team to maintain professionalism at all times while keeping their personality approachable, friendly and positive. As professionals within our sales management team, when something is promised at a certain time and date those must be met, no exceptions. We feel that by maintaining the "Three Ps" we stand above other companies out there.
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