How We Sell – Wade Burgess, EVP Sales, Americas, Automation Anywhere
Wade Burgess leads the RPA sales efforts for Automation Anywhere as their EVP Sales in the Americas. I had the honor of sitting down with him to talk about his go-to-market strategy and how he approaches the very interesting market that they serve. As a broad platform that solve many individual Robotic Process Automation (RPA) use cases, and as a product that eliminates many of the things that people do in their current jobs, it seemed like Wade had a very interesting path to navigate. The conversation did not disappoint. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Wade, let’s start with a little bit of a deeper understanding of what Automation Anywhere is. Can you tell us a little bit about what value you provide to the customers you serve?
Most succinctly, I would say we are the world’s most widely deployed digital workforce. So what does that mean? There’s a series of technologies that are allowing automation to happen. This automation essentially liberates employees from the mundane, repetitive tasks they had to do. It allows them to use their intellect and creativity to solve higher order business challenges.
We envision a world where people are working side by side with digital workers and using these tools to help them be more productive and successful. Automation allows higher productivity, a reduction in cost, a reduction in error rate, and ultimately increased scale for companies. Companies can automate the things that are rote and routine and allow people to focus on the things that require creativity and intellect.
One thing I’ve been dying to drill into here is the buying dynamic. It seems to me that you would have a very interesting buying dynamic between the individual users, the managers of those users, and the executives that are a few levels above. Each group has different fears and different motivations. Can you tell us a little bit about the buying dynamic that you see in the market that you serve?
Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. There are various reasons why any given tool can add value. For us, there are a few perspectives to keep in mind. From a board or an investor level, the point of view is one of trying to increase productivity. How do we grow faster and scale faster? How do we do so with less error rate? How do we reduce costs?
Then you get to the actual people doing the work. Often, the buyer dynamic for us is at the user level; someone doing work that is mind-numbing and routine. There’s a reason why many people dislike Mondays and love Fridays; it’s simply because they don’t like their job. Often the work that people don’t like doing is the mind-numbing tasks. Those are things you would really like to remove from your from your plate.
The other perspective for us to consider is whether there are any blockers. You might wonder why in the world would someone not go down the path of using automation to do better work. Well, one reason is fear – fear of change. The second blocker I think is a larger fear in the world of automation. There’s a camp that says “you’re going to automate jobs away; millions of people will lose their jobs.” Often people don’t have a historical perspective on other technologies throughout history that have also increased organizational efficiency and improved the level at which mankind lives.
I think we all wrestle with having our teams deeply understand the persona who we are serving, and the pain points that we solve. Here you’ve articulated a reality where you’ve got many different personas and many pain points. Take us internally for a second; how do you bring your team up to speed so that they may understand all of those enough to empathize and communicate your value correctly to each persona?
I think first of all, it’s helping people understand that the primary function of sales is to help the prospect or the customer improve their situation. Our primary job is not to sell a product or to achieve our quota. If you give enough and you add enough value, you will end up accomplishing all of those things. So I think the number one rule for me is putting the focus on the prospect, and on the organization that they are part of. That starts to drive a different set of behaviors within my team.
It’s important to listen and to diagnose first before prescribing and it’s in that diagnosis that there’s the key mindset. You’ve also got to listen to what’s not said. For example, maybe there’s someone in an organization who potentially would be able to improve productivity and reduce headcount in their organization. Suddenly, if that person cares about the size of their kingdom, they might feel a threat that they will start to lose influence.
We have to understand that fear. What are those people really concerned about? When you get to the base level there’s usually both a logical thing and an emotional thing. Once you understand the mindset that you’re putting them in you can begin to think about how you can best help reduce that fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
Take us down that journey from an internal AE on the Automation Anywhere team’s perspective. A lot of sales leaders rely on having a bunch of “at-bats” to improve on your sales conversation. How do you get that knowledge into the heads of your sales team, because each “at-bat” is going to be unique?
Some people say experience is the best teacher and I would challenge that. I would say that evaluated experience is the best teacher. Well, if you’re leading an organization the good news is that it doesn’t have to be one person at a time to build something scalable. I look for stories; stories of success and stories of pain. We try and really understand each persona and put that in front of our organization.
Celebrating wins is important but celebrating wins isn’t solely about patting the back of the person who created that win. A significant part of it is to try and replicate that story. When we’ve created some kind of win for the customer, we share that story back across the entire team. We focus on how it fits into the entire journey. They were in this situation, the following things happened, and now they are in this new situation.
It’s equally as important that we do the same thing when we notice something that isn’t going well. This is where the leadership and coaching comes into play. It’s not just that something went wrong, it’s what can we learn from that? Perhaps it’s something as simple as a phone call where we were not able to get in the door at the initial stage. In our case often we’re selling too low; if we sell low, we are potentially putting that person’s workflow or size of their organization or something at risk and they’re usually security-oriented.
If we realize consistently that the conversion rate of rep from discovery call to presentation is lower than average, I’m going to ask her to share her stories about where she’s starting. What kind of language is she using? What’s the primary message?
It’s not about elevating or deflating a human but it’s about saying “this process works, that process doesn’t work” and continually refining towards things that are successful.
Let’s drill into another piece of your go-to-market strategy. As I understand, it seems like Automation Anywhere is a very versatile platform and you have literally thousands of what you call “bots”, which are essentially low-level tasks that can be accomplished. How does that platform/app dynamic play into your go-to-market strategy? Do people find a particular solution to a very specific task and then realize that there’s a platform around it? Do they find a platform and then go looking for a solution to a specific task?
It’s all of the above. This is where focus and segmentation becomes really important. There are people who have a very specific problem; they find a solution that they want to apply against that. It’s very tactical in nature. It may grow from there, and they may find they have, for example, an invoice processing problem and some cognitive automation solve it at scale, and so on.
However, there is also the other end of the spectrum of people. They are thinking “I understand I can improve my organization through automation. Where should I start?” There are also those in the middle of the spectrum, who probably have some sort of a trusted advisor – a consultant or a partner – who are in helping with change management or specific sets of process such as “order to cash” processes.
Those who have that third-party trusted advisor are usually trying to solve a particular process problem and they’re looking for technology that could be applied against it. They probably already know quite a bit about the tools and we just work with them to empower them.
For those who have no idea where to start that’s when we have to do a proper discovery to understand where they’re trying to improve in their business. The analogy I use is that this is selling like a doctor. The best salespeople in the world are medical doctors because you perceive them as an expert. You go in, and they don’t give you a tour. They don’t give you a demo. They don’t say hey, look at all the stuff we can do with this cool equipment. They ask you a series of very specific questions in a finite amount of time based on what you tell them. Then they say, “based on what you told me, here’s what I recommend you do next”.
Once you’re in that initial deal, how do you think about account growth? How do you manage and structure your teams against it and balance new revenue vs account growth?
I think about what we’re trying to accomplish and what the stage of the business is. If you’re early in the business, it’s all hunting. It’s all about getting in and getting some success stories. That means it’s all about being very specific and narrow and doing the right things to be massively scalable. There’s a book called “Blitzscaling” by Reid Hoffman and he talks about how you often have to do some very unscalable things in order to be massively scalable.
So in the early days, it’s rolling up your sleeves and doing a lot of manual things to make sure those early four, five, six, or ten customers are wildly successful. But, as you start to grow you end up with a situation where you have some customers and a lot of prospects. At that point, what’s the balance between those? It’s based on where you are in your organization.
Where we currently are is that we have a healthy install base. We have a lot of customers that have a small footprint relative to their potential. So in that scenario, there are two things that are really important for sales leaders. One, your team must be representative of your customer base. Many of our teams are not diverse enough. We have a diverse customer base that are across the spectrum in all different ways and yet if a sales team is too similar, it becomes a problem because they’re all trying to solve a problem the same way. A more diverse selling organization will have a more comprehensive set of ideas and ways to solve problems.
The way I feel about leadership is that it’s the ability to inspire others toward a shared objective. When a prospect comes and they say “ten”, a leader says “why not a thousand?” and they help them think a lot bigger and more clearly about the true problem they’re trying to solve.
Little dreams don’t inspire, big dreams do. I think land expand, as a philosophy, is accurate, but often people land far too small. When you land far too small, nobody cares, especially inside of a large organization. If you have a larger footprint, it attracts a more senior set of people that are going to pay attention and hold you accountable. But it will also be able to propagate it further.
Last question before we wrap up. What advice would you have for anyone aspiring to be amongst the next generation of sales leadership?
I have a philosophy. One is too small of a number to matter. If you really want to expand your ability to accomplish something in the world, it’s imperative that you get others on board with you. That doesn’t mean you have to be in a management role. Some of the best individual contributor sales people I know are some of the best leaders that I know. They don’t have anyone reporting to them, but they’re able to bring large numbers of people along with them.
If you’re at the top all alone, you’re not a leader you’re a hiker.
The philosophy of leadership is how to accomplish more by inspiring people towards a shared objective. Understand what motivates people; you don’t have to be in a management job to be a leader. One of the best books I could recommend out there is by John C. Maxwell called “Developing the Leader Within You”. It talks about those fundamental principles of being able to get others on board and aligned with you. If you interact with any other human being you have the capacity to develop leadership.
If you want to scale anywhere significant you want people to be able to make the decisions you would hope they would make when you’re not around. I think it was Fred Kofman who made a statement that was really shocking to me – he said “a true leader has no followers”. I’m paraphrasing what he said, but what they true leaders do is to paint the mission and the vision in a manner that is so compelling that people are following the mission; they’re not following the person.
If you can figure out ways to invest in other people and to give without the thought of what’s in it for you, then you end up in a situation where you become the natural leader that people are going to follow anyway. Titles, and your career path will follow that.
That’s a fantastic place to wrap up and I really appreciate your insights today. Thank you very much!