Sales Best Practices: The What and How with John McMahon

10/10 GTM Episode 2
Transparent sales process - working together
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Welcome to Season 1 of 10/10 GTM: The Podcast for Revenue Leaders!

This season, we talk to legendary leaders such as 5x CRO John McMahon and execs from 6Sense, JB Sales, Gong, and Chili Piper about how to drive consistent sales execution – leading to predictable forecasts (and better sleep). 

Our guest this week is John McMahon, former CRO and author of The Qualified Sales Leader. John’s background is equally as impressive as his book, with experience at multiple startups turned public software companies (PTC, GeoTel, Ariba, Bladelogic, BMC). 

In this episode, John talks to Ross about simplicity in sales leadership, the importance of training and development, and the value of sales methodologies and process.

Listen to the full episode here (this is an episode that you do not want to miss), and get the key takeaways from our conversation below. 

Simplicity when going from rep to leader 

A key takeaway from John is how so many organizations engage in activities that make them appear busy, but really do not contribute to success and how simplification and help with productivity and achieving goals. 

The backstory where “simplicity in sales” started for John: John’s sales journey began at Hewlett Packard (HP) as a sales rep in the early days of the computer industry. After a well-deserved promotion, John found himself in an office that was cluttered with file cabinets full of loose-leaf binders.

John believed in keeping things simple. His compensation plan was clear: sell a certain amount, and you get paid a certain amount. With this simplicity in mind, he saw no need to sift through piles of files and paperwork and decided to clear out all the papers that were delivered to his desk daily. 

Instead of his “inbox” and “outbox” being repositories for documents and memos, they became tools to assess a document's value. He adopted a ruthless approach, throwing everything from the inbox into the trash can every morning.

As colleagues confronted him about their missing documents, John asked a fundamental question: "How will this help me and my salespeople sell more?" If they couldn't provide a satisfactory answer, he knew the documents were likely irrelevant.

While John’s approach may have seemed extreme, it does highlight how so many salespeople or organizations engage in activities that make them look busy but don't contribute to productivity or revenue. 

By only focusing on what would help John and his team achieve their numbers, there was clarity for everyone on what was expected of them. 

Top 2 areas to focus for your sales teams to be effective

There are many strategies and tactics that can make for a successful rep or team, but there are two specifics that John highlights in detail: training and development, and understanding that no two reps are the same. 

Training and development: the fundamentals will always be key, and training and development is incredibly important when you are looking to consistently close deals. If you’re training your reps on the fundamentals, they don’t need to think of what they should do, they just do it. 

John uses some great sports analogies when it comes to development and training (in-part because he loves sports, especially hockey). If you think about drills for hockey players, they’ll be doing the same fundamental drills at four years old and 40 years old. This should be the same in sales – your reps should still be training on the fundamentals of an entry level rep. 

Customization: Your job as a leader is to understand the unique needs of each individual rep, as well as their strengths and weaknesses, so you can help them develop in the right ways. No two reps are going to be the same, so you need to focus on specific skill development for certain reps. A good coach or leader is intimate with the playbook and training for each rep. 

Increasing the productivity of your sales force: the 3 elements that impact PPR

When increasing the productivity of your sales force, you have two dials you can move: headcount and productivity. Generally you can’t control the headcount, so you need to control the productivity. 

John talks about how to increase sales by increasing productivity of the sales force you have in seat. Productivity doesn't just come down to individual reps, and you also need to consider the individuals that are leading and training those reps.

There are three elements that determine productivity per rep. The average of these three elements tells you if you can scale your organization profitably. 

1 - Ramp Time: How fast does it take to hire a sales rep and get them ramped til they are productive?

When considering ramp time, you’ll want to ensure you’re taking the following actions: 

  • Recruit the best people you can recruit. 
  • Have amazing onboarding and training. This all comes back to the importance of training and development.
  • Hire great leaders. It’s important to keep developing the people you’ve brought into your sales org with great leaders.

2 - Productivity: The faster you can ramp your reps, the more productive they will be. Focus on world class training, and ensure it's ongoing so your reps can be as productive as possible. 

3- Churn: Not everyone is going to make it. Some reps won’t ramp fast enough, and some reps are going to leave. A leader must ensure they’re doing the right things with productivity to limit the amount of churn, and have a game plan for when reps inevitably do churn. 

Lastly, ensuring productivity per rep isn’t cookie cutter – it’s very different from Company A to Company B. While there will always be similarities, as you look to build your company and team in the most effective way, you need to consider your ICP and persona you are selling to. Your persona will likely determine the people you hire. 

Just because someone does well selling to persona A, it does not mean they will be good at selling to persona B, and this can have a material impact on productivity. 

Rapid fire: John’s fast sales insights

In a rapid-fire Q&A session with John, we discussed the key aspects of revenue leadership. Let's dive into some quick insights:

What's the main reason most teams miss their ARR goals? Qualification.

Favorite resource related to revenue leadership? How about the book behind you? (Hint: it’s John’s book, The Qualified Sales Leader).

What's the number one challenge for revenue leaders in 2023? I don’t think it’s really different, it all comes down to the fundamentals. 

SMB, Mid-Market, or Enterprise? Enterprise, because I think that's where your skill set really shows as a seller.

Most important org: new business sales, customer success, or marketing? They’re all important, but customer success can be mission critical.

About John 

John McMahon is a 5-time CRO, board member, author of The Qualified Sales Leader, and co-host of the Revenue Builders podcast.