Successful B2B sales can be an indirect, multi-step process.
Who are the decision makers? What metrics do they care about? Is there a particular communication style I should adopt? How can my product fulfill a need for this organization?
Collecting this information will usually involve research, discovery calls/emails, and a healthy amount of LinkedIn stalking.
While preferences and personalities will naturally vary, getting to know someone who’s been — and currently resides — on the opposite end of this sales equation is a huge advantage.
Interview with Aircall Vice President of Marketing, Jeff Reekers
Many essential business decisions — including the purchase of B2B products — fall under the scope of VP level executives.
Aircall’s VP of Marketing, Jeff Reekers, is an experienced marketing (and sales) professional. Here, he grants me an opportunity many sales professionals would fight for: A candid perspective on his responsibilities, goals, and purchasing process, as well as industry norms.
This information can be used to successfully maneuver deals with VP level employees and perhaps even Jeff Reekers himself…
What does it mean to be VP level in an organization? What does the job entail?
That’s a good question. I think for one, your vantage point at the VP level has to be two-way. You have to think three-to-five years down the line, and you have to think backward in terms of managing the day-to-day. Then, you need to connect the two together.
VPs need to strategize long-term and provide creative direction for the department. This funnels up to the overall vision.
At the same time, you need to execute — structure the team, align targets, get everyone to function together on a daily basis, enable and guide your team’s career development. And in the end, produce a specific and quantifiable result.
Would you say that running daily operations is the main function for most VPs, or is direction usually given from a higher level? That is to say, are VPs in the trenches with the troops or sending direction from up on a hill?
There are probably different philosophies to this. Personally, I don’t think if you’re always up on the hill you can lead a team particularly well. You have to be involved, but in a way that avoids micromanaging. If you aren’t there with everyone you can’t really empathize with what they’re doing.
So the job is about being able to run back and forth between the two. My main focus as a VP needs to be on long-term strategy, but I want to be an enabler for the marketing and sales teams. That is to say, I need to configure operations so if I were completely hands-off for two, three, even five months, everything would run completely fine.
Is there a common trait or mindset amongst VP level employees? What makes the difference between a successful and unsuccessful one?
A VP has to stay focused on the main objective — creating a noticeable bottom-line impact for the whole company.
The unsuccessful VP gets too wrapped up in the particulars. A lot of times I hear my counterparts across the tech industry talk about how they’re worried whether specific projects are going to succeed or fail. They’re too concerned with their team’s ability to execute.
And this is completely fine, up to a point. Certainly, you have to assure your projects are successful. But project success is a function of great hiring, trust, and aligned communications. You have to trust the team. If this trust isn’t there, one can easily be distracted from the long-term priorities. You hire your team to execute on the tasks that they have, because they are skilled to do it, and your role as VP is to advance the whole operation.
The ones who struggle never really make the jump from the individual tasks they were concerned with before the VP position. They were really great directors, managers, or even individual contributors, and they had something of an artistic passion for what they were doing.
VPs, however, need to readjust their professional lenses. In a morbidly funny way, this switch means significantly less focus on the passions that got them from point A to B. They have to focus on strategy and moving the team forward.
Relating it back to identifiable traits and mindsets, what does this transition look like?
On the analytical side, you need to know your numbers and the numbers of every other department. The goal is to understand how they work together.
Ideally, the VPs should know a company’s numbers better than any other function. How else can you know if your efforts are impacting the rest of the business?
The switch to this businesswide analytical approach is difficult for some people, as is the more human side of communicating with other executives.
When you’re focused on an isolated area of a business, you don’t get a lot of experience negotiating through conflict or trying to persuade another leader to your point. Disagreements will happen, but if not seeing eye-to-eye prevents meaningful progress, that’s something you need to overcome.
Learning how to work in a collaborative environment is a must. And if — for whatever reason — you can’t persuade effectively with soft skills, that’s where the analytics become important again. Where words fail, use numbers.
When you log into your computer at the beginning of each day, what do you care the most about accomplishing?
It’s pretty clear for me. The company goals sit right on my desktop, right next to the marketing team’s. I look at those — and the progress towards those — every day.
I understand those precise objectives don’t always move forward every single day, but I’m a big believer in the OKR method. Even if we don’t necessarily employ those methods here, we have a key number, a key result that we want to achieve. Every employee fulfills a role in achieving that result.
From a VP standpoint, I look at the top-level measurements, then I have everyone’s priorities on my dashboard. I think about what I can do to help everyone along so that our end goal is attainable.
More specifically, what do you care most about from a KPI standpoint?
Right, of course! Our main ones, on the marketing side, are pipeline and leads generated. On a quarterly basis, we’re looking at efficiency metrics and sales-efficiency ratios. We essentially want to know how quickly we get dollars back when we put them in.
On an organization-level, we focus a lot on our MRR. Although it’s far from my immediate purview, I’m also curious what our NPS scores and churn rates look like. I want to know what the main metrics across the company look like, because they all are impacted by the way we operate in the marketing team.
Based on what you’ve told me, would you say a VP of Marketing needs to be more analytically-focused?
Yeah, and I think it’s traditionally not viewed as one. The main shift in B2B marketing is that it has a very quantitative focus. Creativity is definitely important, but you can’t succeed without leading with data and thinking analytically.
And what pain points or blockers keep you from achieving these targets?
The hardest things, and I think most marketers would agree, are the components that you can’t track.
I don’t fundamentally believe when people say things like the art of marketing or the art of sales. If you have a complete picture in terms of data, you could solve almost any problem.
What’s difficult for the marketing world at large is that investors, boards, etc. want to know individual channel performance and the revenue that comes out of each one.
But, when you’re considering an enterprise sales model, this concept is kind of nonsense. It’s not really accurate to say, “oh, this person clicked on a paid ad and that’s the one contributing source,” when there were many touch points along the way, across multiple personas and influencers within an organization. The buyer journey is far, far more complex than we often give it credit for.
There are software products that help you try to better track things like this, one we’ve recently installed is called Bizible. Gaining a clear view of all the touchpoints that go into an account — and not just a lead source — is difficult, but then you have to use this information to make budgeting decisions.
The aim for marketers should always be to make the most data-informed decisions as possible. To do that you need to be able to aggregate the data and view it in a way that can drive decisions.
Let’s talk about you as a sales prospect. When choosing SaaS business tools what do your discovery and vetting processes look like?
For the most part, my big purchasing decisions are years in the making.
As an example, we just bought advertising software from DemandBase. When they look at that sale internally, they may think it was a record-breaking, 14-day deal! But really, I’ve known about the product for two-and-a-half years, I’ve seen demos, and I’ve kept up with product updates. I’ve even gotten personal demos from peers who weren’t affiliated with the company just because I was interested in it.
Finally, the timing was right. We had an account-based model, we had the need, and we had the budget. Everything was lined-up.
Meanwhile, DemandBase — I assume — knows nothing about this. I call them up one day, and they’re surprised. I’m like, no I don’t want a demo, just give me the software!
Bizible was a very similar process. I’ve known about it for three years — long before I was trackable through my position at Aircall. The timing was right, and I was a one-week sales cycle from their point of view.
So much of it is about waiting. For instance, a lot of companies will hold events and be discouraged if they don’t see a return on their investment in 30- or 60-days, and that’s pretty ridiculous when you think about it, because sometimes it takes years for the timing to be right. Without that and an actual need, there’s no way I’m making a purchase.
I’ve never been persuaded to buy something from a cold-call pitch that I didn’t think I needed before the call began.
So no cold-contact attempt has ever gotten through to you?
Well, they’ve gotten through — I’m definitely interested to learn about products!
When I first heard about DemandBase it was through outbound tactics. I’m interested in watching demos and seeing how a product works, but I’ll usually be pretty upfront about my intent.
This isn’t to discredit outbound. It absolutely can drive quicker sales, but the other components of timing and need have to also be in place. Good outbound operations involve a large degree of filtering and looking for companies that have intent or that truly have a need for the product.
And once you make a purchase, how do you prefer to implement a new system? That is to say, is there any way to ease into a product that would make you more likely to buy in the first place?
To be frank, I’m not a big fan of trials. I think anytime I use a trial, I’m not fully invested in it. Although, the more SMB you are, the more valuable a trial becomes. It depends a lot on the market.
I like to see a really organized sales process — that their team has a clear plan for post-purchase. What’s the implementation period, how long will it take, what requirements and personnel will be required on our end? What happens if we need troubleshooting help? How long will that take? Etc.
I also have a very long vetting process. By the time I make a purchase, I know what I’m buying and exactly how we’re going to use it. I’ll even dedicate people on my end specifically to the implementation of the new product. For example, Bizible and DemandBase are top priorities for two Aircall employees at the moment.
Key Takeaways: Selling to a VP
To recap, there seem to be two actionable points to remember when selling to VP-level executives.
1. Take an Analytical Stance
Despite all the responsibilities on a VP’s daily agenda, the main goal is a measurable impact on the company’s bottom line. The target word here: measurable.
All pitches, demos, and nurture content — if possible — should include statistics that prove how your product saves time, increases sales, tracks leads, etc.
2. Prepare for a Long Sales Cycle
VPs know their targets, budgets, and needs better than almost any other employee in an organization. Your product may pique some interest, but unless the timing is right, immediate action is unlikely.
This doesn’t mean you should give up though. Take the time to answer questions and give a quality demo. Budgets change, strategies evolve, and VPs take jobs at new companies. If your product is memorable and you politely stay in touch, deals will eventually come full circle.