How We Sell – Jeff Hazard, VP of Sales, Zenefits

By Steve Woods in #HowWeSell

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jeff Hazard, VP of Sales for Zenefits recently.  We spoke at length about the craft of sales, how he coaches his team to find those precious “moments of insight”, and how to build a go-to-market strategy that leverages a sales team alongside a free trial to maximize your success in guiding the buying experience.

I hope you’ll enjoy the conversation as much as I did!

 

Jeff, for those who might not be deeply familiar with Zenefits, can you give us a sense of what is that you do and what value you deliver to the customers that you serve?

Sure. We’re a people platform for small and medium-sized businesses. So that means from two employees all the way up to a thousand employees. What we do for small businesses is that we level the playing field for them.  We like to say that we level the playing field for “the other 99%”. Big companies have HR programs, payroll programs, and benefit programs and they have lots of people, resources, and money to spend on those systems.

But, if you’re a small business you don’t have that amount of time or those resources. So you need something that’s really easy to use to quickly manage your people, your HR, your benefits, your payroll, and your talent.  You want it to be as easy as just using your mobile phone like Uber, your banking app, or Instagram. That’s what we do for small businesses so they can focus on growing their business and driving more profitability.

 

Walk me through the world of a buyer.  When do they come across Zenefits during the lifecycle of their business?

There’s probably two entry points. One, it might be right away; you hire a couple employees or you had contractors and are making them employees.  At that point, you need help and you might just come to us and say “Look, I need a basic payroll or HR System. Can you make it easy for me? Can this be online? Can I do this in a couple minutes each week?  Just make it easy for me”.

The second way people come in is that they might actually start off with a payroll company. We have a lot of companies that come to us right around 10 or 20 employees and at that point they have realized they don’t need just a payroll system. They actually need a people system. Perhaps they noticed that they’re in a war for talent and they need really good people and a way to manage them. They need a way for them to be able to do their work more effectively and more efficiently and their payroll system is not cutting it.

 

Jeff, one thing I see very prominently on your website is a free trial.  Try Zenefits free for 14 days. How does that trial work for the prospects in terms of the effort they have to put in? How do you handle the psychology of it being a free trial and therefore a buyer might not be as committed as if they were paying money?

Our trial is there for one week. They can add people to it, but we put fake people in there just so they can get more of an idea of the Zenefits experience.  For example, if I were to onboard someone what are the steps I go through? How does it work? How easy is it? What would my prospective employees do and how would they interact with the system?  You can trial any part of the application and anyone can download our mobile app to really understand the experience more clearly.

What we love about our mobile app is that it does everything, and I mean literally, everything.  You can manage your payroll through it, you can change your benefits through it, you can even do your open enrollment through our mobile app, which is unlike any other system out there. So, in terms of the trial, we really just want that prospective Zenefits customer to get an idea of what the experience would be like for them.

 

I know a lot of folks have had that interesting challenge of how should the role of sales map into this sort of self-led discovery process.  What is the role of your sales team with those prospects as they go through that self-guided trial experience?

It’s a good question and there’s not actually one single answer. I think it really matters where the buyer is on their buying journey. Some companies may be more in the early “diagnostic” part of the buying curve. They may not even be aware that they have a problem or that maybe they should look at a new solution.  Some buyers come to us much later in the buying cycle in more of an “evaluation” mode where they’re not only looking at specific capabilities and maybe other alternatives out there.

I think it’s really important for sales to understand where the buyer is in the journey and then to supply the right information and help guide them in their decision-making process to see either if we’re a good fit or maybe another alternative is a better fit.

 

Let’s look at the ones where it’s earlier stage and maybe they’re not even aware that they have a problem.  How do you how do you guide your team to stay in touch over the long term without being annoying and to discover those moments to prompt them to realize that there’s a challenge you should talk about it?

You’re dead on Steve.  There’s a couple things you need to do when a buyer is not really aware of the challenge.  Your actions end up being at a higher level; what is the company trying to accomplish? what are their main objectives?  You shouldn’t be asking them that, you should try to figure that out yourself. You do that by understanding their website, their social media presence, what they put out there in the media or on their blog.  This gives you clues as to what they’re trying to accomplish and what you’re really trying to tie into.

 

What does that look like specifically? If I put myself in the in the mind of a buyer, I’m aware that the message is from someone in sales, so I put up my guard a little bit.

I’d almost put that back on you. I bet you get like I know what 50 emails a day being pitched

 

There could be a couple.

There might be one a week that you get and almost think “was this person in one of our meetings?”.

 

That is a rare thing, but a brilliant thing when it happens

Once in a while, I get an email, and two or three bullets are literally challenges I’m running into right now.  In those cases, sometimes I’ll respond to them. If you understand what that business is doing, and you understand that buyer, and you understand the challenges are going through, then you’re able to tailor your approach.  Then you might get their attention. Over time as you get better at your craft. You understand very well what your company does, and you understand who you’re the right fit for. If you are able to understand those things extremely well, then it doesn’t take that much time to do a little research on the company and tailor your approach to where you might be able to get their attention.

 

This is interesting as it actually segues well into a conversation I’ve been looking forward to having with you. Looking at your LinkedIn profile, it’s all about coaching, culture, and learning.  You focus on having each person on your team improve at the craft of selling. Give us a sense of your thought process as a sales leader. How do you think about that coaching and learning journey?

You prove the point right there, you’ve done research on me and you’re now able to drive a conversation.  I motivate my team to win. What that means, practically, is that I drive high energy. I’m here to help people achieve things that maybe they don’t even believe they can do.  Sales is hard, it’s a tough game. You lose a lot more than you win and when you lose you feel it, but within each loss is a learning moment. I really respect what people do in sales and my job is to help them through that journey.  Not only am I working to make them successful here at Zenefits, but also for the rest of their sales career. What they are learning is the craft of sales and now they have skills they can leverage for the rest of their life.

 

How do you think about the balance between the rigor of sales process and sales methodology versus the craft and artfulness of knowing an individual situation?  How do you get your team to think that way?

You need both. The way I look at it is that you have to have a process that guides your thinking top-down. You have to know how to run your first meeting and then how you break that first meeting up in two maybe three parts.  It’s important that throughout the sales organization, everyone knows that this is how you do each of those segments. For each one, you have to be very specific. For each section, these are the slides, these are the visuals, these are the talking points, and this is the strategy behind it.

At a certain point, the sales people feel very comfortable with that programmatic approach; they understand the steps, it it becomes something just like walking – they know what they need to do and they don’t have to think about it. That’s the point where they can start to use their real talent and their skill sets to use the craft of selling.  I coach them at that point to use active listening skills.

So when you hear someone say, “look, this is a pain point”, you don’t move on to the next thing. At that point you dig deeper. “Tell me a little bit more about that pain point. Can you walk me through that process? How much time does that take you? What is that taking you away from?” If you don’t know what the next step is, you’re not able to really think and listen at that level.  If you know your program well, then you have the flexibility to use the craft of selling to be able to follow where the conversations needs to go.

 

How about metrics?  A lot of sales leaders have an embarrassment of riches in terms of metrics in the sense that you can measure many things within a sales organization – but they aren’t necessarily things that matter. What is the one metric that is most sacred to you?

As you know, you can make metrics that are pure vanity. Take close rate, for example.  To either move close rate higher or lower, it depends on how many accounts you move through the funnel.  For me, the best one to look at is performance to quota. At the end of the day that tells you how they’re doing regardless of how they got to that destination.  If you go to Google Maps, sometimes gives you three ways to get there; one might be a little bit longer and another one might be more scenic but they both satisfy the end goal of getting there.  I really look at the end goal. How are you performing and how consistently are you performing?

 

Last question for you, Jeff.  What do you have as words of advice for sales professionals aspiring to a sales leadership role one day?

The first thing I would say is, let your leader know, and other leaders in the company know, that you want to be in leadership.  Then, I always tell people to just assume the role. Take it on, be a floor leader, do extra things. You could volunteer to lead a training exercise or take on a new initiative.  Just become that floor leader where people can go to you and ask questions. I promise you, your leaders will see it.

You need to be a steward of your own career. I always tell people not to wait for their manager or VP to see everything.  You need to be in charge of your career and let them know where you want to go. Meet with them regularly and say “these are things I’m doing, what else can I do?”  If you do those things, you’re going to be noticed and you’re going to put yourself in a position to get into leadership.

Once you’re in leadership, I would suggest that you keep taking that initiative.  There’s no perfect leader and everyone has their own style. Just find your own strengths.  There are certainly a few non-negotiables though; people have to trust you, they’ve got to feel that they can connect with you, and you need to have a good communication skills.  If people can’t connect with you, and you can’t communicate with them, I’m not sure they’re going to want to work for you. However, if you can do those things, people will be willing to knock through walls and to do extraordinary things.

 

Thanks Jeff, for some amazing insights!

 

 

Steve Woods
CTO and Co-Founder