Whether you're an established company bringing your product to a new market or a start-up looking to scale, you’re going to have to build out a crucial business function – Sales.
To kick off our new podcast series, I was lucky to be joined by Wendy Harris from CarGurus. Wendy’s no stranger to Sales having worked as Head of UKI Mid-Market Sales at AdRoll, Director of EMEA Core Enterprise Sales at Dropbox as well as a whole host of other household brands such as Facebook, Goldman Sachs and Davy before joining the CarGurus team as VP of European Sales in January of this year.
What follows, is a lightly edited transcript of the episode:
Andrew Sheehan: Wendy, welcome to the show this morning. It's great to have you here.
Wendy Harris: Hi, nice to be here.
Andrew Sheehan: So, at RECRUITERS we're all big fans of CarGurus and all the work you guys are doing to scale your team here in Dublin. For any of our listeners who might not be as familiar with CarGurus, could you just give us a quick feel for CarGurus mission as a company and the problem that you're ultimately trying to solve?
Wendy Harris: Sure, so we're in a mission to build the world's most trusted and transparent automotive marketplace. I'm sure many of your listeners are familiar with TripAdvisor, so our CEO was the co-founder of TripAdvisor and he brought the same concept of trust and transparency to automotive shopping.
So when you search for a car on our platform, we will coordinate the search results by the best deals, meaning we have the secret sauce called the IMV, and we basically rank every car against that, whether it's a great deal, a good deal, or a fair deal. And second to that, we also let car shoppers do reviews of the car dealers. So we're essentially on a mission to show you the best deals from the top rated dealers.
Andrew Sheehan: Great. And you've had a pretty interesting and diverse career to date. I'd love to hear how you got into sales and software and ultimately the leadership role you're currently in at CarGurus today.
Wendy Harris: Yeah. I've got a very weird background, which is definitely not the average path to this sort of role, but basically I did business and French in Trinity College and while I was there, the investment banks were all coming in to do the "milk-rounds", which is essentially where they come and lure you with drinks and whatnot and show you what they have on offer as an employer.
So I ended up doing a total of 32 interviews with Goldman Sachs starting in October of 2000 and finishing in March of 2001 and I got offered the job and I joined the week after I finished college and I stayed there for 11 years. I absolutely loved it, I was a trader and I worked in London and Chicago, so it was a pretty cool first job. But ultimately, I wanted to move home to Dublin and I wanted to change industry.
I knew I didn't want to work in finance Dublin and that I wanted to work in tech. My two brothers actually work in tech: one works for Facebook and the other in Google and I saw that they love their jobs and that that industry was expanding and so I made a very conscious decision to try to move into technology.
So I did a digital marketing course and then I took a contract role at Facebook. After that, I ended up moving to a company called Adroll, which is one of Facebook's retargeting partners, to run their UKI mid-market sales team. I spent a year and a half there before moving to DropBox and I spent two and a half years there running their European sales team from Dublin, which was a great experience, but ultimately CarGurus came knocking and the opportunity was too good to pass up. So I joined CarGurus in January of this year.
Andrew Sheehan: You've touched on the number of really interesting companies you've worked at and I guess they all have unique ways of working. What have you learned from the way their sales teams operate and how has this pushed your own sales thinking to date at CarGurus?
Wendy Harris: Yes. So I think that the one thing I've seen, and when I think about my time at Goldman, AdRoll, Dropbox, here; the one common thread throughout is that we are better together. What do I mean by that?
I mean that when a sales team has a will to win across the team and everyone wants each other to do well, then the ultimate results are overall much higher because when the whole team has a will to win and people genuinely care about the person sitting next to them and, it's not just a lone wolf environment, then you can be so much more successful and you can take it to the next level.
Andrew Sheehan: Talk to me a little bit about the state of the CarGurus team when you arrived here. What were the struggles or any particular tensions of existing teams that you had to get over or get across?
Wendy Harris: So CarGurus was set up in Dublin by a good colleague of mine, Henry Spitzer, he moved over here in June of 2016. He essentially built the team from scratch, so tremendous kudos to Henry. But what he did was, he hired loads of young hungry people: Some from the automotive industry and some from the tech industry.
I joined then, as I said, in January of this year. So really the concept behind it was, Henry was moving back to the states and as with a lot of companies, what they like to do is they like to put someone on the ground who has great sales acumen, great sales experience, is willing to go out and close the big deals and then I came in to build on what Henry had built here.
The main idea of bringing me in was to bring a level of operational excellence and structure and sort of the inside sales methodology to this business, which involves obviously KPIs and forward planning, prospecting and pipeline build and all of these sorts of mechanics of sales on the operational side. So it's really building upon the great work that Henry did and taking the sales team to the next level.
Andrew Sheehan: CarGurus was already a well-established company in the states. It kinda sounds like Henry, bringing it to Ireland, it was almost like starting a startup. What would you say to those startups or those US companies that are starting out or coming to Ireland for the first time, when's the best time to bring on a sales leader and why?
Wendy Harris: I think the first thing if you're bringing your business to Dublin, which I feel really passionate about, is that we have such an amazing tech community here and we have such incredible talent. There's a huge pool of talent in Ireland and I think we've probably got Google from all those years back to thank for that - so thank you Google!
But in terms of when you're trying to build or bring in a more senior sales leader, it's when you're looking to take the business to the next level. The reality is that a team that is a startup team as you suggested, which is coming into greenfields where nobody has ever sold to any of the dealerships and it's completely day one and the sort of experience they have versus the experience the team two years down the line has is very different. All of the low hanging fruit is gone and you have to bring in a lot more processes, a lot more structure and a lot more forward planning.
Ultimately, I think it's when you want to bring your business to the next level of operational excellence that you hire a senior sales leader for your inside sales team.
Andrew Sheehan: What in your opinion, is the role of sales in what's predominantly becoming a self-serve world and in that I mean the ability for consumers to come across your product online and sign up with potentially no sales intervention at all.
Wendy Harris: So the last two companies I worked for, CarGurus and Dropbox both had a free product and I think that's a great model. I think the world has evolved, people do 70 per cent of their purchases before they ever interact with someone. However, I think that the reality is as the product gets more complex or less B2C and more B2B, I do think you need a sales team.
I think sales has evolved over the years so that actually the role of field sales has changed and the role of inside sales has grown. So what I would see now is more of a hybrid role whereby, for example, our inside sales teams here, they travel to the UK once a month and the reality is that often when people are making a big purchase decision, they want to know there's a person at the end of the line and they want to ask the questions that they might not find answers to online. So, I do believe that there will always be a place for sales as a product gets more complex because it's human nature to want the interaction.
Andrew Sheehan: Yeah, so salespeople have moved away from that perception of a hard sell into more of a sales and support kind of role. Getting customers over the line and happy with the product and once they're over that line.
Wendy Harris: Exactly. It's sort of like a consultative sale, making people feel comfortable and objection handling, leading people to feel comfortable to take that final step and sign on the line.
Andrew Sheehan: So for some of our listeners who may not be hiring managers but are looking to develop their own sales careers as sales professionals, what do you believe the first step or focus area for a new person in the sales team should be at a new company?
Wendy Harris: I would say shadow at the top performers. be a limpet to the top performers, hang out with them, figure out what it is they do, how do they structure their day? So I would suggest they spend time with a few different styles and then adapt what they learned to their own style. They don't need to mimic the top person because everyone is individual and unique, but they should learn from them and see what the best are doing. Too often, people try and get stuck in straight away without actually learning the trade from the people who are best at it.
Andrew Sheehan: Great advice! Let's just take a step back and drawing on some of your own experience at the various companies to-date, what does or should a sales culture really look like?
Wendy Harris: So for me, recognition is key to a winning sales culture. All of the best sales reps like recognition. And so, at GarGurus, for example, we have a gong. When a deal closes they hit the Gong and they say what the size of the deal is and the story behind it. And we also have a leaderboard so everyone can see how everyone is doing.
Our top performers from every month also get brought out to a nice dinner, they get priority for any external events and there's also a wall of fame too. So people are very much celebrated here. Top performers, individual achievement and also the celebration of the team as a whole because of what I said before, they're all better together.
But that said, it's also really important, to address any underperformance because when underperformance isn't addressed then that can breed toxicity on a team because people feel well if I'm working this hard and someone else isn't, then that's not fair. So I think it is a balance of really recognizing and rewarding your top people and also managing underperformers, which will breed a winning culture.
Andrew Sheehan: At RECRUITERS, we're really interested in hearing about how you go about looking for talent and what you look for in candidates. What are some of the more intangible things you look for and top sales guys other than just the brass numbers and sales results to date?
Wendy Harris: So I think if I can be as bold as to quote Warren Buffett on this, he had a quote and I'm paraphrasing, but he says, when I'm hiring I look for energy, intelligence and integrity, and if they don't have the last, don't worry about the first two.
So I think all three of those traits are really important. I would also say resilience in salespeople. There's a whole lot of "no's". It's a really hard job and you have to be able to balance both success and rejection.
Also, it's really important that people want to continue to develop themselves. So a level of curiosity in what they do and continuously improve themselves. And I think the final thing I would say is organisation. The best sales reps are often highly organised, especially with inside sales because it's a discipline and they need to structure their day.
Andrew Sheehan: So this is our first show and we hoped as part of this podcast series we'd ask guests a couple of quick-fire questions to add a little bit of fun but also a bit of insight as well.
Wendy Harris: Perfect. Go for it!
Andrew Sheehan: Okay! Favourite, underused, growth or sales tactic,
Wendy Harris: Referrals. If you've got a good product and you believe in it, then those people that use your product should refer you to other people.
Andrew Sheehan: One book that's really influenced your thinking and why?
Wendy Harris: So this isn't necessarily sales specific, but I think it's valid whether you're a manager or an individual contributor. It's called "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott.
Andrew Sheehan: Describe a favourite recent sales pitch that somebody has made on you.
Wendy Harris: It was an email I got and the email headline startled me. It was an email which referenced our CEO and I was like, Whoa, what is this? And I opened it and it was someone who'd really done the research, had listened to the CarGurus earnings call and referenced our CEO and tried to tie that back to the product which is a forecasting tool. And I thought it was very clever and I was definitely going to make sure that we followed up with him because it was very tailored.
Andrew Sheehan: One common mistake you see salespeople or sales teams make?
Wendy Harris: Forward planning. If you ask anyone on my sales team, they'll say I'm obsessed with the concept of pipeline build and pipeline coverage and forward planning. It's very easy when you're in the month and you're chasing your number to just get totally obsessed with that and not think about the next month. So the concept of constantly filling the top of the funnel and building pipeline knowing that you have other months or other quarters ahead that you have to prepare for.
Andrew Sheehan: What's your best tip for a salesperson coming to interview here at CarGurus?
Wendy Harris: I would say know your numbers. I think all of the best sales reps know their numbers and it's a huge red flag for me when they don't.
Andrew Sheehan: Wendy, It's been great to have you on our first show! Where can people go to find out a little bit more about all the great things CarGurus are doing here and across the world?
Wendy Harris: So cargurus.com or cargurus.co.uk, and we have a career site that I'd really encourage people to have a look at it where we're growing in Dublin. We've got lots of open roles right now and I'm very excited to meet some of the top talents out there.