On this week’s episode of Conversational Selling, we speak with Kristie Jones, the Principal at Sales Acceleration Group. She is an expert in the Midwest that helps SaaS startups build and scale their sales and customer success teams, also helping with sales processes, strategy, hiring, and implementation. Her 19 plus years as a sales leader in the SaaS space fuels her passion for helping business owners increase revenue and retain customers.

We chat about communicating clearly with our teams, as well as:

  • The objective ways we measure goals
  • Creating a culture of accountability
  • The requirement for managers to set the expectations and targets
  • Growing up in a family-owned business, and her “kitchen table education”
  • Learning the hard way that culture is critical
  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: You’re listening to the Conversational Selling Podcast with Nancy Calabrese.

Nancy Calabrese: Hello. It’s Nancy Calabrese, and it’s time for Conversational Selling the podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today, and it always starts with the human conversation. Joining me today is Kristie Jones, Principal at Sales Acceleration Group. 

She is the go to expert in the Midwest that helps SaaS startups build and scale their sales and customer success teams. Her 19 plus years as a sales leader in the SaaS space, fuels her passion for helping bootstrapped and PE funded founders increase revenue and retain customers. Her willingness to get her hands dirty and take no prisoners approach when helping companies everything from sales processes, strategy, hiring and implementation is what makes her so valuable to her clients. You know, boy, I’m really looking to get started and getting down and dirty with you, Kristie, welcome to the show. 

Kristie Jones: Nancy, thank you so much for having me on. I too am looking forward to our conversation today. 

Nancy: Yeah, so before the show, we talked briefly about the word accountability. I know you’re really big on it, especially on building the sales accountability culture, but the thing, and this is a real, especially of interest to me, I know you specialize in the SaaS community. But I think this is important in all sales sectors. Why is it so important to have a culture based on that? 

Kristie: You know, that I always say that sales, leading a sales team should be the easiest management job on the planet, because everything is objective, right? I mean, we measure everything by numbers, activity level, quotas, you know, number of appointments booked. And yet it yet it seems to be one of the hardest teams to manage. And so after having managed my own teams throughout the years, both net new and customer success team, I realized that, you know, it’s a it’s a unique breed of individuals that you’re managing. 

So, you know, extroverts super ambitious, you know, money motivated. And you think that you think a lot of times that those people would also be independent. But that is not always the case. And so, you know, really, I think, a lot of the reasons that, you know, I mean, we’ve all heard the statistics, it’s frustrating, right? Somewhere between 60 and 80%, hitting quota, you know, getting only to 60 to 80%, of quota, you know, only 70% of reps or 60% reps even making, you know, getting anywhere near quota. And I mean, so either, you know, a you can say, yes, maybe the quotas aren’t right, but I don’t think that’s the case in every situation. 

I think there’s a lot of sales teams out there that don’t have a culture of accountability and sales reps who are not being held accountable to everything from activity through quota. And you know, what I say to sales leaders who kind of wince when I have started to have this conversation, I said, I actually am here to make your life easier with this concept. Like, it really should make your life easier, not harder. This isn’t a dirty word.

Nancy: Yeah. Let’s start with the obvious so many sales, people just hate accountability. And they feel like there’s a noose around their neck, but yet I see it as a tool to help them achieve their goals, you know, a positive thing. What about you? 

Kristie: I completely agree. You know, I’m, I’m a, probably a little more direct about it. And I say, Hey, listen, like you’re getting a base salary was that base salary comes expectations. And so you know, your boss, and the company needs to know that in exchange for your base salary, you’re going to be willing to be held accountable to the following expectations. So I was talking to a client yesterday, and he has an at risk employee from the standpoint of she’s not performing. And he said, he said to me, she said, like, if you’re gonna let me go, please just give me 30 days notice, and I said, What? I go, she doesn’t get this. She doesn’t get to tell you how you fire her. I go, this is I go, this is insanity. 

You know, and honestly, he had never thought of it that way. He goes, Oh, and I said, Yeah, I go, it doesn’t work that way. I said, she’s been not producing for 12 months. And so you know, there, there are things that we can talk about, but we sure are not going to let the rep tell us how we’re going to manage it. But But if that happens, right, in fairness, that does happen. I think a couple of reasons. One, and I’m not a proponent of this, a lot of sales leaders came up through the ranks, right? So I call it peer to boss. Right. 

So you know, you’re still going out for a beer, you know, you still have met their family and their children and knew about their vacations and you know, All of those things. So we have a lot of peer to boss going on in our industry, which I do disagree with. But the fact the matter is it is what it is. And so I think that’s one of the reasons why accountability is a challenge for sales leaders. You know, and I think the other, you know, the other reason is we are we are dealing with very extroverted, gregarious, strong personalities, and right, you know, and even, and even to a sales leader that can be intimidating from time to time.

Nancy: Yeah, you know, you said something earlier, and it really, it’s so true. So few sales reps hit their quota. Yeah. And, you know, you just described a personality, that is it would sound they would be a driver and out there and focused. Honestly, why do you think so much of that exists?

Kristie: I do think it’s a couple of reasons in my world, particularly when when you’re dealing with a funded company, there’s an extreme amount of pressure, right. And so I believe that sales leaders aren’t comfortable having those conversations with board members and saying, that’s not a realistic number. And so, you know, a, it is part of just the beast, have you borrowed, you know, you’ve borrowed money, people are looking for a return. But even even in privately, I mean, I’ve worked for privately held bootstrap companies as well. And I help those type of companies too. And you get like, you can call it the halo effect, or the rose colored glasses effect, right? Like, right, you always think you know, you can you always I’m all about the BHAG right. I’m all about the big, hairy, audacious goal. 

But I think it has to be realistic. So here’s the thing people don’t do when I sit down with a founder to plan out 2021. Let’s say, I go the board, like I just had this happen. The board wanted a million dollars in net new revenue. I said, Okay, and we had two AEs, like, let’s not a lot of room for error. Right? Right. So in the average, there was $16,000. I mean, that’s a lot of deals. And so I said, let’s do the reverse math. Let’s do the reverse sales math and see what that would really require. And the bottom line is, there was no way that the two sales reps would be able to manage the pipeline as large as would be required at a 5x in order to hit that number. And so we had to go back to the board and say, and, you know, these are just conversations, but I don’t think people are running the numbers. 

And so we went back to the board and said, we’ll get you your million, but we need more people. So we need to spend more money on payroll. And we ran the numbers with them. And they said, fine, hire another person, you know, another BDR, and another AE. And so now all of a sudden, this feels more realistic, more doable. And but I sat down with each of the the reps and made them put their own business plan together for the year. And then I went over that with that they presented that to myself and the founder. And then I also had them hold a separate accountability meeting and expectations meeting. 

So even after they had even after they had presented their business case, we sat down and said everything, Nancy, from, you know, again, this, we’re still in pandemic, so what can we expect from you from a work schedule perspective? You know, it’s fine. If you’re homeschooling, it’s fine. If your kids are home, it’s fine that these things happen. But we want to if you’re going to be offline, every day between [2:00] and [3:30], I just need to know you’re gonna be offline between [2:00] and [3:30]. We can work around that that’s not a problem. But I need like I have, you know, like, it’s just communication situation. 

And everything from how do you want to be communicated with, you know, a lot of the clients I work with a lot of these reps are millennials, and they have a Slack addiction, as I call it. And so, you know, what’s your favorite form of communication? And they go Slack, and I go, okay, and I go ask me mine. And they go, what’s yours? I said, phone. 

Nancy: Phone. Oh, you know what, you know, that word resonates with me, right? Human conversation over technology. So all kinds of talk about activities, right? And I’m a big believer in activities, because activities, get us where we want to go. Do you have any suggestions or tools when you work with your customers? How do you recommend that they go about creating an activity chart or a workbook? How do they keep track? If they’re on target? 

Kristie: Yeah, so for account executives, I, you know, I mean, they’ve earned the right to some extent to not be held accountable to a number of, you know, emails and calls and social media touches that those type of things. So I tell them very upfront, I’m going to hold you accountable to results, but two ways. One, pipeline growth. So how many new deals are so and I’m a big, big proponent of self sourcing deals. So I expect all AEs to self source a certain percentage of their pipeline. 

So you know, God love them, if they have BDRs, great if marketing providing decent inbound leads, even better, but I believe that they have to self source. So every month they’re going to have a self source goal at a minimum, and then and then I call it the water level, right? So again, if you need to sell 10 deals, you know, throughout the year at 5x because you have a 20% close rate, then you have to keep 50 deals in your pipeline rolling at all time. And so I say to people, whether it’s closed won or close lost, it’s out of your pipeline. How are you replacing that? 

Nancy: Right.

Kristie: So we get all excited when we close a deal. And yeah, so something, I go and I go great, let’s take it, you know, let’s take a half a day and celebrate, and then tell me how you’re going to replace them. My son called me I call myself a realist, he called me dream killer. 

Nancy: All right, so basically, um, maybe your son should be on the program. But what makes you different and sets you apart? 

Kristie: I think it’s my direct communication style and kind of no nonsense situation, I grew up in a family owned business. Okay, so I tell people, I said, I got my business degree around the kitchen table. Because my parents every I mean, you know, in the event, both my parents were home for dinner, which was not always the case, because we owned a real estate company, you know, that, like, I knew exactly what was going on what houses were being listed and sold, and what commission’s were being paid out, and whether my dad was taking a salary or not as the, you know, owner-broker of the organization. 

And so, I think, you know, I mean, like, in really growing up, I didn’t really understand until I got older, probably into my 30s how, what an education that my brother and I received around the I call the Kitchen Table Talk, and what an education we received. And so I think the other thing that makes me different is that I am empathetic to the small business owner, if you will, or to the, you know, founder starting out, because I knew when my dad wasn’t taking a salary so that he could make payroll, you know, when the real estate market is up and down, right. 

So I mean, I knew there were times when, when he said, I’m not taking I’m not taking salary right now. And so I’m super sensitive to that. And so I have a little bit of lack of tolerance for employees who don’t really understand and I said, Hey, listen, like, if you want to complain about the situation, then why don’t we try putting your mortgage up against this business? 

Nancy: Right.

Kristie: Yeah. And I just don’t think people under you know, I just I come from, I think, a different perspective. And, you know, it’s not that I’m not here to support the sales reps. I am. I mean, I’ve been a sales leader, I’ve managed teams directly before I started my own consulting business. But at the end of the day, I’m really tied to the owner and the founder and the goals of that individual. And I, I tell those individuals, I’m here to make sure that you retire the way you want to retire. This is your retirement. This is your retirement plan, and I’m here to help you get there. 

Nancy: Yeah. Well, I am certain you must have a story that my audience would find interesting. Share it!

Kristie: Yeah. So the reason why I’m so passionate about accountability goes back about 15 years, to I was the VP of sales at a small privately owned bootstrapped company, somewhere around six or 7 million. And I had about eight or nine sales reps. And over time, I had three women that kind of rose to the top of the food chain, and really started making some demands of the company and started kind of setting their own priorities and setting their own activities and, and kind of going rogue if you will. And so I really, you know, I was a little taken back in, I mean, these were my top three reps. And over time, finally, the owner of the company pulled me into his office one day and said, You’re being held hostage by them, like, you’re allowing that revenue to hold you hostage, like you’re no longer managing these individuals. 

Nancy: Right. 

Kristie: And I just like it was a real slap in the face. I mean, it was a lot of cold water, right? And I was just like, I was just stunned. And he goes, I need you to think about this and come back tomorrow. And so I came back tomorrow. And he’s like, what’s the plan? And I said, I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sure how to get back control of the, you know, of the inmates. Look at your right, like, I have lost control the, like, the inmates are running the asylum, and I don’t know what to do. 

Nancy: Right. 

Kristie: And so I did sit down with who I thought was potentially the ringleader of the group, and had a conversation and suggested to her that maybe that, you know, maybe this wasn’t a good fit anymore. You know, I tried to help her self select, if you will. And she refused. She was like, nope. Love it here. I mean, life had gotten a lot easier for them, right? They weren’t working super hard. Like I say, if you can stick it out in a new sales role for three years, life gets a lot easier at year 4. The first three years, if you put in the work and do everything you need to do, year four gets a lot easier. And so you know, they were at that point, right? There was a four and five year mark each of them. 

But I went back to the you know, the owner, I just sat there and he said, I think we need to to cut bait. And I was just I mean, this is his This was his retirement plan. Right. And so I was just shocked. And I just said to him, like, I gotta sleep on that again. So she went the next day and I said, Okay, I’m in. And so literally the next morning, we picked them off one by one as they came in the door and terminated them. And I and I mean it was the worst feeling Nancy, it was it was just like the feeling in your stomach was so sickening. And you were so upset, I was so upset. And I went back to my office after that and I thought I will never ever ever do this again. 

First off, I first up I completely disagree with terminating anyone without notice unless they’ve done something unethical. Like that is not in my DNA and I have ever done that since. But it was it was the hardest lesson learned. And I mean, I’m like, as you know, I’m still talking about it today. And honestly, I’m grateful. I, I’ve gone back to the owner since then, because I worked for him for 10 years. And I went back after that, and I said, Why didn’t you fire me? Right? I mean, thinking back on it now, 

Nancy: You know, what a great question. Great question. 

Kristie: Yeah. And he said, I believed in you. And I believe that you would learn from the experience, and that it would never happen again. And I mean, I’m grateful. Because when I look back on it now being at the age I am now versus the age I was then, I’d have fired me.

Nancy: You know, what, I don’t know what I would have done. But you know, to your point, it’s very hard to have to terminate anyone, especially, you know, if their revenue makers, but yeah, you know, you learned, you’re, you’re known now as the accountable queen. And, you know, you’re passionate because it worked. And I’m just curious, going back to that company, after you terminated them, what happened to the rest of the sales team? Did you hire additional people? 

Kristie: We did. We did hire, we did replace, we did hire additional people, but it changed the complete the complete culture and dynamic of the team. Right. And I call it addition by subtraction. And it wasn’t and again, you know, I’ve had this happen a couple times over my sales leadership career. And it’s, it’s also the worst feeling when you terminate somebody and one of your other like, great reps, walks in and closes your door and looks at you and says, it’s about time.

Nancy: Oh, yeah. Yeah. You know, as sales leaders, your staff evaluates your ability to aha culture. Right. copacetic, if you would, and, you know, our motto here is there are no cancers in the company, right? It doesn’t matter how good somebody is, if there’s any kind of attitude shift, it doesn’t fit here.

Kristie: Yep. Correct. And yeah, it’s embarrassing when it’s embarrassing when an employee walks in and says that to you. But as I was referencing a client yesterday, who’s a little bit being held hostage about how he gets to terminate someone, I, you know, I said to him, I said, You’re always the last to know, right. I mean, like, like that, nobody comes to you and says, like, hey, like so and so is like, sales, management’s always the last to know, but we need to figure out how to how to at least be like the second to the last to know what’s going on. 

But you have reached your point, I have a responsibility to the entire team and to the company. I mean, we are helping make payroll, right, the sales team, you know, it without the sales team, there’s no payroll. And so I have a responsibility to the team and to the company, to bring the right, like, in everybody’s replaceable, right. I mean, I truly, I’ve always believed that I believe I’m replaceable, I believe other people are replaceable. And so you can replace people with people who have a better attitude, who are going to mentor new people who are going to bring ideas to the table who are going to support each other who are going to be you know, create a supportive environment, instead of a competitive environment, or, you know, a toxic environment. 

So I can I can replace that revenue with someone who’s better fits the culture. And you know, and really, I, you know, I call it I don’t call it cultural fit anymore. I call it cultural add. Okay, so I’m looking for people who add to the culture who don’t just fit the culture, but who add to the culture.

Nancy: Yep, culture makes or breaks a dream team. You know, in order to build a dream team, you need to have the right characteristics in the staff that buys into what the company is trying to achieve, right? How many times and we’ve all been there, we just make bad hiring decisions. And so I want to spotlight something on your behalf. What would you like me to spotlight?

Kristie: You know what, because accountability is my passion topic, along with with my day job, if you will. I’m also an expert on the Sales Experts Channel. Okay, hosted by BrightTALK. And so I’m starting a four part series on accountability. The first part is going to drop on February is going to be on February the 11th at 1pm Central time, so your listeners can go out and then there’ll be three others I’m doing them about three weeks apart. So we’re going to run into April will be the last won’t be in in April, but your listeners can go out to BrightTALK and they can search for me, Kristie:, K R I S T I E, and those series that those four webinars will come up and they can register it’s free. 

So you know, I I’m really excited to do this, I’m really going to break it down into kind of, you know, digestible steps. So creating a sales accountability culture, we’re going to take, you know, two or three steps every webinar until we’re through all eight of them and, and I’m hoping again, I’m hoping for some some nice discussion, like you said, like, you know, we have an interactive platform so I can take q&a throughout. So I’m looking forward to sharing my philosophy on accountability, but really hearing other how other people are doing things is one of the things I want to do is spread best practices, right? I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have all the best practices. So I love it when sales leaders come to webinars like this and share ideas with each other. 

Nancy: Yeah, and accountability is such a hot topic, and I’m going to be there. So somebody else join me. 

Kristie: Nice. Nice. 

Nancy: Yeah, tell me something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on. 

Kristie: I honestly, like I think a lot of people agree with me, but don’t want to execute. Okay, sometimes, sometimes I find, sometimes I find that’s the case. You know, one of the things, particularly in my world that’s super popular is the concept of player-coach. And again, it’s because of a limited amount of resources. And they’re trying to, you know, get the best bang for their buck. So somebody can, you know, have a quota and manage a team of three or four. And I truly believe that from a DNA perspective, those are completely different individuals, someone who is a leader, manager, and someone who has an individual contributor and hunter. And so I wrote a blog post a while back that said, if player-coach was such a great idea, then why isn’t the NFL doing it? 

Nancy: Yeah. Good point. 

Kristie: Oh, yeah. It’s not super popular with the board members and the VCs, for sure. They don’t like they don’t like me speaking up about that.

Nancy: Oh, okay. So we promised not to tell anybody you spoke about it, okay? We’ll keep it between us. 

Kristie: Sounds great. 

Nancy: No, I can go on and on. But we do have to wrap things up. And what is the one takeaway you’d like to leave the audience with?

Kristie: You know, I think the story that I shared, I hope will never happen to anyone else. So I share that story openly, to help prevent that from happening, because it really was probably the worst day in my sales leadership career. But I never want anybody to go through that. But But I would say not holding people accountable will truly be harder than holding them accountable.

Nancy: Yeah. And I guess if you back into it, it’s really identifying those people that buy into the accountability system. Right, that that makes it so much easier. So I know you shared we can find you on the Sales Expert Channel by BrightTALK. But how can my audience get in touch with you?

Kristie: I would love for people to connect with me on LinkedIn. So I’m, I’m easy to find on LinkedIn. I’m out of St. Louis, Missouri. So if you send me a connection request with a quick note that you found me during the podcast and tell me, I would also love to know what your one takeaway was. So I’m always curious, as I share best practices and advice, what really resonates?

Nancy: Sounds great. You know, you are fun, and I really hope that you’ll come back and we’ll continue our discussion about accountability because I know it’s a topic that won’t go away and shouldn’t go away at all. I thank you so much for being on the show. And we’ll talk before you know it again Kristie.

Kristie: Sounds great, Nancy, thanks for having me on. 

Nancy: Yes, and everyone jot down Kristie’s information. Happy selling. Until the next time.

Voiceover: The Conversational Selling Podcast is sponsored by One of a Kind Sales. If you’re frustrated that you don’t have enough leads, or your sales team complains that they just don’t have enough time to prospect, we can help. To work with Nancy and her team one on one to help you manage your sales team, install her proven outbound sales process and create more bottom line results, email her now at Nancy@oneofakindsales.com. To learn more about Nancy and her outbound sales secrets, grab your free copy of her book, The Inside Sales Solution at oneofakindsales.com/book.