Part 2 of the conversation with Rakhi Voria, from IBM.
We continue to talk about the impact of digital sales (which is really anything other than face to face) and how that fits in with each sales process, and LifeTime Value of customers.
We also talk about meeting your customers where they want to be as a way to trust you.
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As the Director of IBM Global Digital Sales Development, Rakhi Voria manages a team that is responsible for the strategy, implementation, and revenue of the Digital Sales Development (DSD) function globally. Within the DSD sales force, there are ~350 Digital Development Representatives and Business Development Representatives responsible for driving client engagement, deal progression, and closure of select deals. Rakhi previously worked at Microsoft and most recently served as the Chief of Staff to the Corporate Vice President of WW Inside Sales, where she played a key role in building a new digital sales force for Microsoft, growing the team to 2,000 digital sellers globally and the business to over $5B in under 3 years.
Rakhi has a strong passion for advancing women in sales and millennials in business and regularly shares her thoughts on these topics by speaking at conferences and writing publications in Forbes as a member of the Forbes Business Development Council. She currently serves as Executive Co-Chair of Women@IBM NYC, which is focused on attracting, retaining, and advancing women. At Microsoft, she was Co-Chair of the Women@Microsoft Board, a network of over 20,000 women across 15 regional chapters globally.
Rakhi has been featured in Geekwire, The Seattle Times, Vizaca, Career Contessa, Be Leaderly, and other publications and was named a Top Sales Woman to Watch in 2019. She earned her M.Sc. from the University of Oxford and her B.A. from Colorado College. Rakhi is based in New York City.
Women in sales documentary feature:
E217 – Transcript
Jason: Alright. Welcome to part two of my conversation with Rakhi Voria. Make sure that you subscribe. You can catch all these episodes. This is a four part series, so listen to all of them together. Here you go. Part two of my conversation with Rakhi.
Rakhi Voria: So I think there’s a lot of different ways that you can go to market. It goes to the type of company that you are, the type of companies that you’re trying to recruit to and also just trying different methods that work depending on what that audience looks like.
Jason: And I know for me in my beginning stages of my sales career, I don’t know if this was like it for you, but when I first started it was face to face sales. So I was in the mortgage business. The guy I worked for, he said okay when the phone rings, set an appointment as quickly as possible, meet them face to face and do that because it’s all about face to face, building, rapport, building trust, having a relationship and then you can move it to phone calls after that. And then I remember years later doing a phone-only-based sales thing and that was like a radical shift for me because I didn’t think that was possible based on how I was raised, where it’s face to face and reading body language and then shifting to this phone only. And I think that’s a valid point that you’re saying is, see that the world’s evolving and then also understand where your customers are at and that the old way of doing it might not be as necessary, right?
Jason: Like there’s people who literally right now are buying cars digitally better than being spit out by a vending machine type of setup, right? Where literally there’s just a vending machine stack of cars. This is in the U S and then cars are just getting popped out and then you go pick up your car and that’s it. Right? Versus the old model of this battle on a car lot with salespeople. So I think that’s a great reminder of kind of being adaptable and shifting. And if, obviously if IBM and Microsoft, some big beasts can do it, then most people if you want to, you can adjust.
Rakhi: Sure. And I think the reality is even if you’re a face to face seller, you’re probably segmenting your customers already. I saw a lot of people doing that in my sales roles, including myself. I mean even when I was a face to face seller, you can’t always touch every single customer. A lot of people adopt 80 20 type of rule. 80% of your customers you’re probably going to engage with via digital methods, 20% maybe some of the top tier opportunities. You’re going to have to focus on doing more of that in person, face to face. So even people who are face to face I think are faced with some of those challenges and tradeoffs that they have to make because the reality is your portfolio is probably getting bigger and bigger and you’re going to have to prioritize.
Jason: So for prioritizing. It’s interesting because obviously there’re the easy people who are responsive that you want to talk to better interacting well, like the easy people that you enjoy talking to, but then there’s the ones that make sense. What are some tips that you think as far as prioritizing for a salesperson for that 80 20 or how they break that down or somebody unaware of who that is for them? They’re doing it intuitively, but they actually don’t have a framework around that. What do you suggest for people to do?
Rakhi: That’s a tough question. It truly depends on what your business goals are at any given time. So I think that’s why it’s so important to work with your manager or to understand what are your targets, what are you being goaled against, et cetera. So for some people it might be as simple as revenue, and so you obviously want to get as much revenue as quickly as possible and you’re going to gravitate to some of those largest opportunities. For other people, like companies like mine, you might have different metrics and KPIs around new customer acquisition as an example or customer success types of things where you’re trying to actually expand a company’s footprint versus actually targeting someone who could be a new client for the company. So I think in general it’s really important to understand what your personal business goals are for your division, for your organization so that you can prioritize accordingly.
Rakhi: But I mean at the end of the day, I think revenue tends to be King for most sales then that’s the reality of it. I would encourage people to think about things from a longer term perspective. One of the challenges that I see with sellers who are obviously motivated by targets and attainment and everything rightfully so, is sometimes they’re unfortunately more focused on the short term game. And the reality is, I mean there’s so much data out there that obviously shows that one purchase leads to two leads to three leads to four, etc. And so it’s important to harness customers as quickly as possible. But at the same time I think it’s also being okay with managers coaching sellers to maybe take the brakes off a little bit. Take your time, really build kind of a left to right 360 view offering for a customer because if you actually ended up taking that time you might end up with a larger deal and something that’s a lot more strategic for your company.
Jason: And selling to that person in the proper way for them, not just for you, not just for your pressure, not just your quotas and numbers and goals cause you can really I wouldn’t say destroy, I mean that’s possible but you can really like harm or cause a deal to either not be as good or not happen now because of that pressure. If somebody’s thinking short term, they’re thinking, okay I need to meet these numbers or I need to make this commission or I have this kind of inherent incentive that’s going on or this pressure from my managers. It can make people make poor decisions in the short term like you’re saying, which I think is a great reminder versus long term. Right. Long Term is about referrals. It’s about more farming versus hunting, not just hunting as in killing, but like hunting is how do I eat today? Farming is what do I plant so that in a year from now or in six months from now, like literally I’m just pulling fruit off of trees instead of having to run around in the wild and hopefully find something.
Rakhi: For sure. And I think it matters even more for people who are typically in business development, sales development types of roles. So the organization that I’m responsible for is the digital sales development organization as you mentioned. And the sellers within my organization are often the first line of contact that a customer will typically ever have with IBM. And they’re catching a lot of the inbound responses that are coming through our digital channels and their prospecting. And because of that, they’re really the custodian of the IBM experience and we get to shape whether or not a customer chooses us versus another solution. So with that becomes an even more significant amount of responsibility to ensure that we’re engaging with the right touch at the right time. As I had mentioned and now it matters more than ever because digital seems to be one of the only ways that we can engage given the environment
Jason: And then the long term thinking is interesting and when you talk about it, right? Like I think a lot about referrals and what you’re talking about is true as well, which is one sale leads to another, not just referrals but with that same client. And I think one of the important things obviously from business owners and managers too, help sales reps think long term is the lifetime value of those clients. What that’s worth long term instead of just worrying about, okay, what can I get today? Like what is somebody worth? And not just like monetarily but when it’s set up right and the relationships because somebody is thinking too short term like you’re saying and their first interactions or the conversation or the pressure or they’re pushing someone to buy, then that person might not stay with the company very long or might not have a great experience. And that could be actually worse than getting the sale. Like not even getting the sale in the first place. Sometimes you can bring people on board in the wrong ways that will actually hurt you as a company.
Rakhi: For sure.
Jason: So let’s talk about your global experience, which I think is fascinating cause I don’t have that. So I have experience working with some companies consulting wise internationally, but not selling like you do. How do you see that? Because I have people listening to this podcast all over the world. What variations you see the way maybe it’s done in America versus other countries, whether it’s digital or things like that. Is there things that you see that vary, there’s some things that you know pretty much consistent from your experience?
Rakhi: Yes. I mean being in a global role has really taught me a lot. Basically I’ve had a chance to see how different cultures do business, how we’re able to conduct business in different places and I really encourage people if they have the opportunity at some point in their career, especially in a sales organization to try to get a global role. Because I think as much as you want to drive global consistency, standardization across tools, processes, playbooks, etc, when you actually go into the geographies and have a chance to spend time with your sellers, your managers, your customers, even you really see that there is a lot of variants and rightfully so. So we have to really be thoughtful about what are the things that we need to truly mandate across the globe to ensure that we have some level of consistency, but where do we want to localize our offerings, our go to market, the way we engage with customers so that we can actually approach them in a way that makes sense for them.
Rakhi: So I’d say that there are a lot of different things that we see, especially in Asia. There’s some interesting things. For example, in China, a lot of people do business over we chat, so it’s basically their version of kind of WhatsApp. And a lot of my sellers engage with each other on WeChat. I have a manager who every day sends trainings, tips and tricks, etc, on the WeChat group, for our inside sales team at IBM. I see people texting their clients on WeChat as well. So that’s obviously very different than what you might see in another geography. One thing I found was interesting as I had a chance to meet my team in Bangalore a couple of months ago, and they were saying that basically the culture of doing business in India is typically on the third time that you engage with a customer, they typically want to meet you even if you’re a digital seller.
Rakhi: And a lot of that is because there tends to be some false advertising in India where people are pretending to be other companies or maybe they’re a business partner or something like that. And so there’s all kinds of challenges. So I think because of that mentality, there are certain customers who just don’t feel as comfortable moving forward and having deeper discussions unless they’ve actually face to face, perhaps met the representative or the seller from your organization. And so for those reasons, we have to really be thoughtful and think about, well, where can we afford to maybe put a person face to face versus where do we want to continue to have a digital conversation? And really just sort of making sure that you’re understanding the climate and culture of every place. Because the reality is, even though I’m Indian, I spent my whole life living and working and growing up in the United States. And so I have to really rely on my local teams and managers to educate me on how to do business there.
Jason: Right. And if you guys had built a process that says like, no face to face meetings, digital means digital, that’s it. Then you’d have this segment in India where you probably lose a lot of opportunities in business because you’re trying to do it one way instead of meeting the local needs of people. And I think it’s interesting too, when you balance that where, you know, a lot of times sales reps have this idea of they need to do like, I gotta do this, or I gotta send emails. That’s how I close deals. Balancing that as a leader and a manager of, okay, so when is sending emails or meeting someone face to face necessary to get the deal done? Or just the sales reps excuse for the way they do it instead of moving deals forward.
Jason: So let’s talk about the sales experience. So obviously that’s the name of my show, it’s the sales experience podcast and we’ll talk about big enterprise sales because that’s what you’ve been doing for so long and are familiar with. And digital sales. What does a great sales experience look like?
Rakhi: Wow, that’s a great question. I would say that a great sales experience looks like helping a customer achieve their business outcomes, whether or not it’s what we wanted to sell them. So I think there’s so many times here where we go into conversations and we think, Oh, this person came and talked to us about X, Y, Z. And so we naturally want to sell them a certain offering or whatever. And then the more you unpeel and have conversations with their line of business owners and the CTO and the CIO and sometimes even HR and other resources that you might not naturally connect with, the more you realize that there’s actually more of a holistic discussion that needs happen. And that might end in closing of a sale, which ideally like that’s what my favorite sales experience would look like, but it might lead to something else.
I mean it might lead to them introducing us to another company where we could help at my open up an opportunity where we’ve helped a certain division and then they open up the doors for a different division that you want to support. So I would say that ultimately, I mean ideally we would really want to help customers achieve their own business outcomes, but we want to do it in a way that is as seamless as possible for them to engage with us. And I think the more barriers that we can remove in terms of getting out the information to them as quickly as possible, tailoring the conversation to them as much as possible, showing them as many references, use cases that are actually relevant to the industry that they’re in. I think that’s really what it means to support a customer.
Jason: Alright. That’s it for part two. Again, make sure to subscribe. You can go to the cutterconsultinggroup.com and find the transcripts and all of Rakhi’s links. As always, keep in mind that everything in life is sales people. Remember the experience, you get them.