How to handle your A, B, C and D Reps

Tim Maloney Podkast

When people are your most valuable asset, you need to focus your energy on the things that are good. Tim Maloney, Seasoned Sales Leader, covers all the details in this week’s podcast!

Knowing what to do with your A through D players is key. Everyone is a star somewhere, it may just not be on your team.

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Read the Podkast Transcript

Speaker1: [00:00:00] Now. Everybody, this is Greg Reffner on the abstract podcast, and we have Tim Maloney with us today, director of national partner programs for North America at Zoom with us. I’ve known Tim for a handful of years now. He was my boss at or my boss’s boss. I guess you should say it act on software where I just I’ve really grown to think of Tim as a mentor, and so I’m thankful that he’s sharing some of his thoughts with us on our podcast today. Tim, please say hi.

Speaker2: [00:00:31] Hey. Hello, everyone. So, Greg, thanks for having me. And it’s always nice, you know downrange to have folks that you got to work with, reach out to you and ask to be part of something so excited to be here. This is this is great. Cool.

Speaker1: [00:00:44] Well, we’re going to dive into kind of part two of a conversation that we had at the top of a mountain in Sundance, Utah, while I think feasting on oysters and lobster and taking pictures with our wives. And somehow it evolved into a sales conversation about different kind of tiers of sales reps. And I specifically remember you kind of figuratively drawing out, you know, where your D, C, B and a players fit kind of in your sales kind of team and how you think about those. And so that’s really going to be our conversation today is what do you do with your D CBA players, how you are identifying them? Is it a revenue number or is it actions and behaviors? So that’s going to generally guide our discussion today. But before we get into that, I want to make sure our listeners have some basis of understanding of your expertise so that it doesn’t sound like you’re just kind of winging this and making this stuff up. So give us a little bit of background on kind of your sales career and kind of maybe some of the highlights.

Speaker2: [00:01:53] Sure. So thanks for having me here. And that was a lot of fun, that conversation. So a little bit about my background. So currently at Zoom for six months where I run their national partner program in all of Canada from a channel perspective. Before this, I came from life size, which is a different video collaboration company where I ran there. I was a senior vice president and ran their worldwide channel program about $100 million seventy eight global distributors around the world. I also gave that up and ran their North American sales organization. So when you and I were working together at Acton, I was responsible for sales in the mid-market world. And before that, I came out of Autodesk, where I started as an individual contributor, eventually ran their manufacturing channel program, traded that all in and got to be a part of a team that bought companies and then integrated them into Autodesk ecosystem. So as part of a team that about a $300 million plastic simulation company and $240 million simulation companies and got to run those on a direct sales basis globally. So my background has heavy channel and partnerships, but probably just as equally direct sales in the last bit is I had my own company with my brother. You know, I started an organization raise seed capital through angel investors, met with VCs. So I’ve run my own company. I’ve worked for large manufacturers on the channel side of the house and also the direct side. So slightly different background than I think the traditional channel person that you run into.

Speaker1: [00:03:30] Yeah. Well, I mean, going to market through channel and getting sales reps at partners to do what you want when you’re not the only vendor they’re representing is a challenge even in of its own right outside of just your direct sales team. But for our purposes today, we’re going to focus on your direct sales team. So I want you to walk us through. When you think about the different tiers of sales, reps within your organization kind of start breaking that down. What isn’t a player look like and walk us maybe down through, you know, I know we get rid of the D’s and F’s, so maybe we don’t have to go that far. But what isn’t a player B Player C player look like in your mind?

Speaker2: [00:04:10] Sure. You know, in a safe harbor statement what we’re about to talk about, there’s there’s more behind it. What I think the tenant that everybody should well, I believe in is that everyone is a star somewhere, but maybe just not here or in the role during so in two. This is my approach, right? Like, I’ve honed it so and I don’t say what I’m about to say callously or without feelings. But my job as the business owner CEO of my business is to run it effectively. So I look at sales people in one of four categories and we all got grades in school. So A, B, C or D. And the way I define that is you’re a players are your eagles. Those are the people that they’re almost like rebels. No matter how you push on them, they’re always at the top. And that’s whether it’s quota attainment activity. Based management leaning in, knowing what’s going on. They are the pinnacle of what you want out of a sales organization, and those folks kind of come in two flavors. There’s the unconsciously competent and then there’s the methodical way. And the first one, what I mean is we’ve all met people who are incredibly successful in sales and you’re like, What’s your secret sauce? And they’re like, I don’t know. I don’t know. And it’s true. They don’t know. They sense it. They can feel it. It’s all the things I dislike because I can’t quantify it.

Speaker2: [00:05:35] I can’t measure it right? But they do it because they just have a keen sense. And I call that unconsciously competent. They just just you hear at all times like they just know what to do. They know what to say, right? So there’s that person on the other side of that curve, a player’s you have the methodical kid who bust their ass, who knows the data and the math and have got a strategy and know exactly what they want to go, do and measure the shit out of themselves. So those are your eight players and almost no matter what you drop on them. New solutions, new new partners, new new territories. Those are the people that get to the top right. So that’s your perfection. I call that an eagle, right? Feed your eagles, your B player. The difference between an eight player to B player are usually just one or two or three missing skills like, I’m amazing at closing a deal, but I’m a terrible prospector. I can. I can get someone on the phone like a wild person, but I can’t close them. I’m a shitty forecaster, like those kind of activities that are teachable and coachable, but you probably are just one. You know, you usually have a few of those little things that you need help on that is truly preventing you from being someone I would define as a top tier.

Speaker2: [00:06:52] Always going to hit it. Those people are going to hit around 85 percent of their quota. They’re right, always on the cusp of being amazing. You view them in your organization is really important. You would never not have them on your team, but they might not be your first choice. Ok, now we get into the second two groups the season, the deets. Now a C player in my mind knows there’s a path but has gone off it and they might be wandering through the woods, right? So there is is a journey. There’s a prescribed approach to how we want the job done and they have sort of left that. And then you go down to the deep players and they don’t know there was a path and there they are lost and they are missing now. I look at how do I measure them? The first is data performance. How’d you do against quota size of your quota? What was your territory right? Those things are important me because I always find bigger targets. More interesting. That’s harder to do sometimes. Then you get into the esoteric what’s their attitude, the impact on the team? One of the things that I coach in my organization is that I view every single one of them as CEOs of their business and as part of being a CEO, right? You’re part of my village and everybody loves to say, Hey, it takes a village.

Speaker2: [00:08:13] But what people forget sometimes great is that, hey, you’re part of that village and you need to help. You’re seeing D. Players tend not to be supporters of the program. You can pick them off in meetings, either making too many jokes or not speaking at all. Right, so your C player probably, you know, D players below 50 percent, your C player fifty to sixty five, fifty to sixty percent all the time. And then you have a gap, right? And and you’ll see clusters if you did some regression analysis of your people’s performance over time. You know, four quarters, five quarters, you would see clusters, your players always near the top. They’re usually unhappy if they’re not blown out. One hundred and two hundred and forty B players just below one hundred close. Maybe they hit it once, but then they’re back down there. But it’s like, Oh, it’s so there, but you’re seeing players, you know, they’re not going to hit it. Usually, a C player will get it if a blue bird lands and again, safe harbor statement. What we’re talking about are data and performance, not the individual is a good person or a bad person. We set all that aside. Our responsibility as business owners is to evaluate data and certainly people, right? But so those those are some of the categories that you look for, at least how I measure my organizations.

Speaker1: [00:09:33] Ok, got it. So I think you made an interesting statement. You use data. You also account for people. But at a large and a larger sales team. I mean, you almost have to think that the data is going to be the larger indicator because is there enough time to evaluate on a per person basis when you’re talking one hundred plus sales reps within an organization?

Speaker2: [00:09:56] You know, that’s where my leadership comes into play. Ok. Right. So let’s backwards engineer this for a second. What are my leaders doing, stack? Rank your leadership team. Where do your lead like this flows from the top all the way down. And so, you know, I want to evaluate my leadership team. Who are they? You know, tell me how they’re performing. Are they? What kind of morale do they have on their team? Esprit de corps, the feeling that I belong to something more important than me is a great indicator of leadership. Do your sub teams, do those teams rally around that leader or do they talk poorly about their leadership teams? And there’s a lot of reasons for that, but those are interesting things that I want to go look at. Yeah. Data is important when you’re talking large scale, but data only tells a little bit of the story. You know you want to evaluate people as an individual, the territory, the performance, the requirements. And that’s why that’s why you put so much time into the leadership aspect because we want the force multiplier. You’re right, Greg. I cannot interview 100 people, but what I can do is look at my top line leaders. How did they behave? What do they think? I can interview those people? All that? Yeah. And then move into my second round of leaders who who are developing. How are they coaching? Do they coach at all? Is it purely just, hey, make the phone calls and hit your number? I mean, I think it’s more to that sometimes, but that’s, you know, you’ve got to scale your view of what we’re talking about to the size your organization and you can’t get to everyone.

Speaker2: [00:11:24] That’s all right. The multi-inning game start with where you will have the biggest impact your core leadership team. Do they buy in? Do they get what you’re talking about? Because what you and I are talking about, this ABCD thing is the number one area where I start with my teams because most good people, you know, leaders, whether you’re a first time front line leader or noodle roll or just noodle company or like, my responsibility is to save everybody. And that’s what I will be measured. And my view on that is like, No, your responsibility is to make a number. If I could take a step back for a second. I knew my job at Zoom. I have two responsibilities make my number and take care of my people. If I focus on the latter, the former takes care of itself usually, right? So that’s an important thing. And too, after we, you know, finish this conversation about clearing out when you start to rebuild what’s important? Right. So for me, I’m just, you know, I replaced 80 percent of my staff and that period of time, six months, OK? I’ve got really good at assessing an organization pretty quickly based on key metrics that I look at and influence.

Speaker2: [00:12:42] But when I interview people, I only look for three things in every candidate chemistry, competency and character in reverse order. Notice I haven’t said anything about domain expertise. I haven’t talked about knowledge. We’ll get to it. But first and foremost, you’ve got to have a compass that points to north of my team. And I don’t care who you are. We waste so much time, especially in sales. The customer doesn’t believe you’re authentic. If the customer doesn’t believe you’re trustworthy, people buy and sell from people. You’re going nowhere. So. You know, character. Who are you second competency because I truly believe that I’m only grooming CEOs and every hire I make should be my own personal replacement. You have to be smarter than I am. You don’t have to know more. Man, I’ve been kicked in the teeth. I had failed a shit ton of times. I’ve had successes, but I’ve had the opportunity to learn. So knowledge is one thing, right? I could tell you that intelligence is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Knowledge is not putting it in fruit salad. Right? So you don’t know. But but intelligence wise, you have to be smarter than that. Ok, here’s my arm. And when I extended out, the tip of my finger is our CEO and the elbow is my most junior kid. And I don’t care title wise where you are.

Speaker2: [00:13:59] But intelligence wise, your ass better be on that curve that if you wanted to, you could go the distance. So I don’t want to hire anybody. My job is not to make myself look good. All right. I’m already the director. I already got here. My job is to build a winning organization, and so therefore I want to hire people better than on him who have better thoughts than I do, who see it differently than I do, who make the program stronger. And then the last one is chemistry. Physics tells us that when we get the wavelength right, amplitude goes up with no more energy. And most companies botch this. Do you want to hang out with this person? Do you want to do this? We’re going to spend more time together on a weekly basis than you will with your families. It’s a shitty trade, but it’s so it’s better matter. And if better, get it right, because if we’re going to come to work and do this where you start performing good to great is esprit de corps chemistry resonance, right? How many times have you ever gone to something and like, Well, that really resonated with me. That’s a real thing. Oh yeah. So physics says it’s real. So, you know, knowing that what I tend to do when I assess my organizations is I fire the dissonances immediately. You just get rid of them. Yeah, it sounds cold. But to my young managers or my new managers, I say this Listen, you have one a three BS to CS and a D..

Speaker2: [00:15:22] Now, natural tendency is because people are good. I’m going to save everyone and I’m going to be heroic and I’m going to get everyone over the line. And that’s while that’s nice. It’s not the program that I run and we look at it this way. If you’re a player top of the like, so if we think of a house, right, there’s an easy this is what we talked about in the top of the mountain. When you look at a house and this house has a first floor, second floor attic and a roof. You’re a player on the roof. They are truly the pinnacle, right? And they are on top of it. Your B player who is missing those one or a couple of skills is in the attic, man. They’re just about to break out. They’re just right there. Now your C player, your C player is on the first floor, right, and your D player is no kidding. Down in the ground where the water table and and the reason I make it that dramatic is because when I talk to my leadership team, I say, like, Hey, I get, you’re going to try and save everyone. But let’s think about it this way. If your kid brought home a report card that had forays and 1F, what do you want to talk about?

Speaker1: [00:16:26] Greg natural tendency is to talk about the f right

Speaker2: [00:16:30] Right and and F takes as much effort to get as an aide does just in the opposite direction. You just don’t get it. F you have to work at it, right? Like you are not doing shit. You are skipping class, you are working

Speaker1: [00:16:44] Hard, you’re on tick tock.

Speaker2: [00:16:46] You’re right. Yeah. So how does a kid to get four A’s get an f first eight? You as a parent, you’re capable managers culpable too. Your kid gets an a in math, science, Spanish and art and an f in gym. Why are you going to crush someone about not being able to dunk? Who cares? That’s not what they’re good at. Yeah, so skip it. Focus on the A’s. Now back to the top of the building attic. First floor. Way in the ground. When our managers are leaders, focus energy on that D and you think you only have 13 weeks and a quarter? Four hundred and forty hours to make it, when how many cycles are you putting into that D player? And honestly, what do you get out of that is a D plus someone that’s probably going to go from 25 percent quota to twenty seven, twenty eight, maybe 30. Yeah, it’s a bad return. Your C player. Right. Same idea. You’re going to take a C player and potentially turn them in a C plus, maybe B minus. And I, you know, people argue as well as there, but then eventually get them. They’re like, Yeah, I get it. We don’t have that kind of time. Yeah. Now, on the other hand, what if we took all those cycles that you just spent on turning a D to a D plus and a C to a C plus and hit your B players? You turn all of those people in A’s because they’re only one or two definable skills away, measurable things away from being top performers.

Speaker2: [00:18:21] And this is where you get into thinking of like art. What is my responsibility? You know, I try to get my people to think about management and leadership of sales like a game of chess, dumb asses, play checkers. You go, I go, you go. I go. Maybe I get to go twice because I got lucky. Winners played chess in four moves. I’ve won this game because I’ve set the business up accordingly and evaluating people as a chess move. You know, where do you spend your time most precious asset time? So we want to make sure that our leaders are are wanting to have the fortitude to make this hard decision. But when you really look at and you parse out your folks on that curve, where do you spend your time and what’s been the result now about this edge case? I know your listeners may say I’ve got an edge case that proves him wrong.

Speaker2: [00:19:11] Awesome. Where do you draw the line? Your kids want to argue. Where have you draw a line in business? That’s where they’ll go. You know, when we were attacked on together, people like, what’s what is the line between mid-market and SMB 10000 users and how many times if people want to argue around the I was like, Good Lord, there are one billion other customers that don’t, don’t even come near this line. So let’s throw the edge for a minute. Right? We’re not like, Yes, we all have the unicorn that went with a little love, right? But what I’m talking about are the masses in the organization. Yet by and large, it does flow like this. Your regression analysis will show clusters of quote a table now map out where you spend your time. And I bet you’ll find that people are spending exorbitant amount of time on returns that are going to help you achieve your number. And so when we were talking, the visual helps because it doesn’t make you a bad person to say, I’m going to get rid of my season DS everyone’s to start somewhere. Empathy goes a long way. Hey, you’re in a role. It doesn’t seem to be working here. Maybe you have to leave the company.

Speaker1: [00:20:18] But for what customer success or something like that?

Speaker2: [00:20:21] People are valuable. Yeah, people are realizing, you know, how many of the season D’s come to office every day are like shit like socks. I’m terrible at this. I’m going to get hammered. I’m living with this tension. I don’t want it right because if you really wanted to be great, you wouldn’t be a D player. Because because you’d be leaning in, you know, if you when I look at folks, are you do you know you need coaching? Are you open to it and can you act upon it? Do players that answer those three things that the players those are, those are BS that we’re going to save and we’re going to make. But in general, you got to bring discipline to the program.

Speaker1: [00:21:01] So let’s talk about the number one responsibility, no, no, to take care of your people. You take care of your people. No one will take care of itself. It could be made. An argument can be made that like you get an inbound demo request, you don’t want that going to your D player or C player. You want to give it to your B player. Maybe you’re a player. And in doing so, you help them get to their number. They’re going to have a higher propensity to close that deal at a higher ACV, at a faster velocity. And so even if you’re looking at this, the the tactical day to day items, what it takes to hit your number, you know, outside of just spending time as a leader, coaching those people, you want to deliver those those blue birds, those return customers, those inbound I’m ready to buy now chats to your your top performers anyways because they’re going to felt taken care of. And in turn, they’re going to take care of that lead and it’s going to turn into a way to hit your number.

Speaker2: [00:21:56] Yeah, exactly right. Sales people buy and sell from people by and large. Yeah. So, you know, it’s it’s what you just talked about is the reputation that you build with your customer, their experience, right? Southwest Airlines did a study on their passengers, and weirdly, people in Southwest Airlines believe that when they put the tray table down, if that tray table is clean, they associate it with the engine maintenance being top notch. It makes no sense. It is what it is. So say to your customers if the person on the phone. The first time I talked to is a top tier person who’s responsive, understands my needs, takes the time to understand, takes the time to engage with me. Boy, I think that whole organization is top shelf and you might be a top shelf organization, but you may never get that shot if the front end of the program that you’re trying to save nobly. Get you kicked out. Right, so it’s just what are you trying to solve? What are you trying to accomplish?

Speaker1: [00:22:54] Yeah, I love that. So let’s one more topic, then we’ll wrap this up. So I love the character competency chemistry. You don’t talk about domain expertise. It’s almost like that famous quote from the CEO of Porsche. I think, you know, hire for character, train for skill, right? Look for who that person is. Are they coachable? Do they have, I think, in sales intrinsic curiosity and a desire to question everything and be curious about the world around them? When you go in and you mentioned wiping out the majority of your staff within a relatively short period of time, is that the first thing you look terrible? Well, OK. Well, a relatively short amount of time is character. The one thing you’re really kind of leaning into when you’re making that decision.

Speaker2: [00:23:48] Yeah, I think performance and character go hand in hand. People who are struggling but are awesome people, you’ve got to take a hard look at like, you know, in the ABC thing right now, we’re in the edge case. But that’s, you know, people being, you know, being a leader. Really understanding. But yeah, I think if you’re leading in in a good person, then you’re stars somewhere. Let’s figure out how we keep you on the team and get you to a role that plays to your strengths. Like, be happy, be excited. I’m passionate about what I do. But yeah, but if you’re not hitting on all your cylinders and you’re a crummy teammate, you know, the reality is you just make it easy for people like me to. I have to make decisions we have. I am not here because it’s it was crushing it. I was recruited to solve problems and build a winning world class program. Let’s make sure we recognize that and we are for profit people. I pay my folks well, so I expect a lot. But you know, are you a good person and does your data back it up? You know, are you doing the things that we need? You know, when I when we have meetings, are you driving the initiatives or are you the person? Tell me why not? My favorite thing is when my teams tell me what they’re not going to do when pressed, like, Hey, you know, for someone not make you their number, maybe leading with no isn’t the way to go.

Speaker2: [00:25:07] It is just too early and quick, right? So rapid assessments, you know, are they trying? Effort matters to me because the one thing that I did not talk about in chemistry competency character is drive, because what you just said is, I agree, like the person from Porsche, I draft the talent, coach the skill. But you get out of the bed in the morning and you want to light it up or you do not. And you know, we can screen for that, but I don’t think you can coach drive. It’s like what we haven’t figured out yet. Yeah, I think so. But when you find a driven person who is super smart, smarter than you has a great moral compass that points true north and fits with the team. What you are building is a pro sports team that if the quarterback is thrilled at the wide receivers, the best in the league and that the defensive offensive line is the best and they’re excited that you’re linebackers number one, but they don’t compete with each other like, you know, Brady with Tom Brady, it’s like it’s all about like, I do not. I’m not here for accolades, I’m here for rings. What’s the purpose? So those but attitude makes a big difference because I think it defines who we are. That’s why we screen for it. Because when it’s easy, all of this goes out the window, right? But what hard? That’s where you peel all this stuff back and you find out what you have.

Speaker1: [00:26:35] To that point, if you have one a player to be players and you consistently make excuses for keeping the key players and players around, it starts to erode trust and leadership. It starts to you start going like I’m not part of a winning team anymore. I want to be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be surrounded by winners like you’re you’re almost inviting your A players and your B players to leave because you are OK with mediocrity and you’re almost rewarding mediocrity.

Speaker2: [00:27:08] That’s right, Greg. You know, my teams, so my team that stayed with me and the new people that are leaning in with me, you know, I think they value that. I’m consistent that that if everyone’s special, no one is. Yeah. And to that that I’m consistent like that. Hey, I get accolades for being top performance. And man, that man, he hammers data and he holds people accountable. So I’m sure I’m going to keep pushing your like example if you have a team based quota. There you immediately define who your players are and your players are by one simple question, what do you think about the team quota? Your eight players will hate it, they will heat it because I never get the money, I never get the accolades because I’m a top ass kicker for you. And man, if we were an individual quotas, I would I would own it. Your players are going to give you the answer of I love team quotas, baby. Love it. I can hide the corner. I’m pulled along and no matter what I do, I know that Billy is going to make it happen. Susan, she’s amazing and I am going to be in the back. You got to figure out who’s who in the zoo. If you’re on a team quota, ask that who is who are. Think you get real close around those things and and so you kind of look at what what are you look for because I know what I’m doing, right? That pro sports team? Yeah, I know how I’m going to coach it.

Speaker2: [00:28:31] I know I’m going to run it. I know the kind of the DNA the person I want. But domain expertise, that’s a plus. But you know, when people send me resumes, people reach out like, Hey, I got all this experience in this market. You should hire me. Like, Fuck, if you were really good, why you still at where you’re at? All right, like easy. I run the show. And so for me, like my favorite question in an interview is Greg Kelly. Time you failed. What did you learn and what were the consequences? Because everybody in the interview wants to tell you how they brought water to kids in Africa and how they prepared for it. And you fast for that question. That’s somebody. You now get into more about who they are. Do they give you shitty answers like your D player will give you this answer? Well, yes. Let me tell you about this failure. Had a deal, right? Amazing deal. Got us in there, man. And the company companies price and sucked. The company did do something right. You know, it’s terrible. I’m going to call that a loss. I think I really feel like we did something together, but know the company did this shit.

Speaker2: [00:29:30] Yeah. Thanks. What you just told me, you never take accountability for your own shit out you go. The best answer I got, though, was when I hired a very junior person way below the radar for the national program at my current employer. And her answer was I started my own company at 24 and I did real well, and then I ran into the ground and I made all these mistakes and it was awful. And eventually I had to sell it for just the IP and I lost all this money and it was a train wreck. And like, would you learn about that? And her answer was that I could do anything that I’m not afraid of failure. And I was like, You know what? I’ll make you better. But that attitude, you either had that shit on you or you do not, right? So I know what I’m looking for and that a b c d thing works with my chemistry competency character overlaid by drive. It works for me if I take care of my people, my number usually takes care of itself. Philosophy the you have to be smarter than I am because I expect you to be a CEO. For me, that inspires people that I’m looking for. We use behavioral interviewing, right? So we put a lot of effort into finding those characteristics and assign behavior like how a lot of companies interview.

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