Maintaining your competitive advantage with Brett Gilbert

Brett Gilbert , VP of Sales at Momentive-AI, started his career with major companies like Oracle and Salesforce and has learned not only how to be a successful sales leader but also how to maneuver through acquisitions while maintaining a competitive advantage.

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The hosts:
Trinity Nguyen
Christian Kletzl

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to navigate an acquisition
  • How to maintain your competitive advantage
  • Why being human and personalization matters

What to listen for:

  • [01:35] Advice when navigating an acquisition
  • [03:08] Transitioning from individual contributor to manager 
  • [05:42] Focusing on the first 100 days of an acquisition
  • [09:02] Keeping people motivated in hybrid work environments
  • [11:32] Being human is personalization
  • [13:26] Words of wisdom for sales practitioners

Check out Brett's blog post: "3 simple ideas to help you get ahead from a Salesforce veteran"

Reference Links:
Guest headshot

Brett is a seasoned sales executive at Momentive AI (formerly SurveyMonkey) with experience building relationships and becoming a trusted business partner to his clients. Before Momentive AI, he led sales teams at Tanium and Salesforce.

Read Transcript

Brett: Keep your head up, roll with the punches. The grit that you need in order to do that is like the grit that got you here and what will keep you maintaining it and being successful in your career. 

Trinity: Welcome to the First 100 Days, a show for revenue practitioners by revenue practitioners, giving you unscripted access and tips to help you navigate any new transition or initiative both in life and at work. For this episode, you will hear from Blaise Bevilacqua. Senior Account Executive from User Gems and Brett Gilbert, VP of Sales at Momentive AI, formally known as Survey Monkey. Brett started his career with major companies like Oracle and Salesforce. In this conversation, he gives advice and tips on being a successful sales leader, transitioning to management and maneuvering through an acquisition.

Let's jump into the interview to hear his story and tips.

Blaise: When you started off, there was roughly about 1500 employees within your division and then as you left, it was a little over 30,000. So, with that massive jump and over those 12 years, what have been some of the biggest takeaways for you as a sales leader, as well? What have you learned? What are some things that you could go back and tell yourself, or even like a net new individual contributor, who's just starting 

Brett: off in this space?

I'll tell you, Blaise, it's wild. I think back, again, this was a long time ago, when I started at Salesforce. We had recently IPOd. There were a lot of people. We had IPOd at about six months prior to my arrival at Salesforce. And to a young, inexperienced sorta tech worker like I was, I think there was a lot of concern that, Am I joining too late?

It's funny to say that. I didn't join too late. There was still plenty of growth there at Salesforce, but six months after the IPO I joined and, like you said, pretty small company still at the time. And, um, just getting to ride shotgun to that meteoric growth was pretty cool and you get a little bit of a PhD in SaaS.

I mean, for the most part, the way most cloud companies are run today, be it Salesforce or Twilio or Momentive or – there's gobs and gobs of these really cool, innovative awesome pod companies that are popping up really every day. They all kind of run the Salesforce playbook. They really, Salesforce really reinvented the playbook around the fact – that it was called "on demand," then it was called "SaaS" and "cloud." So, it's evolved over time, but like selling subscription-based software that's delivered over the internet was a new thing back then. The playbook around how to sell and make customers successful and scale the organization was really – that blueprint was really for the most part written by Salesforce.

And so it's cool to be able to be a part of that. I started as an individual contributor carrying a bag. And you, we had talked about in prep for this, how do you make that transition into management? I think the best, most easiest way to transition, obviously from like an individual contributor role into sales leadership role, is to do it at a company where you really know how to sell that thing is that you're managing right.

When you've never managed, you don't know how to manage, so, how do you add value? While it gets great, if you're really good at selling the stuff that it is that your team is selling. So I had a pretty, pretty good run of five and a half years of making it to president's clubs and doing all that, and closing lots of deals. Obviously had a ton of help along the way from like amazing sales, leadership, sales engineers, you name it, deal desk people, all that was world-class at Salesforce. But knowing really well how to sell and execute was a big plus for me in transitioning to leadership at Salesforce.

And when you don't know anything about how to ensure a lead or run a team, but you really know how to sell that stuff, then that's, that provides you at least with something you can hang your hat on and add value to your AE's as you get leadership. We have certainly a very team-selling approach at Salesforce where oftentimes the – they call them RVPs at Salesforce, regional vice presidents – are pretty intimately involved in a lot of the deals that are going on there, and I was definitely involved in a lot of deals that were going on on my team.

blaise_-2021-8-4__15-1-57: That is great to hear and, for, especially for folks moving into that managerial position, like if they can sell the product, um, that's always like a great first step, so it's cool to hear you back

Brett: I think when you don't know anything about managing and you get into a leadership role like that, you tend to do a lot of hero managing: Get me involved in your deal and get out of the way. I know how to sell this stuff better than you do.

And that's, I think that's very natural. I think most people, their first role as a manager or sales leader, it tends to be with a company where they had a lot of success selling. The best sellers are not always the best managers, but it does help to know the tricks of the trade. And I certainly leaned on that early on, probably leaned on it too heavily.

 I think that's natural. That's normal. I think the lesson learned – the faster you can get out of doing that the better, because that's really not the role of a frontline sales manager is to not, like, do your AEs jobs for them.

Brett: It's to be there, to support them and help them grow and coach, and be another set of eyes and ears and all of that good stuff. You're not shy 

Blaise: to the acquisition. Can you tell me a little bit, like how you just evaluated when things happen? Do, you give yourself like a hundred days out to look, what are you telling yourself – whether that's a new strategy to implement more hires, or essentially map this new cohesion between teams? How has your experience been going through multiple acquisitions? 

Brett: When you're talking about acquiring new customers, I think it helps a lot to really, you know, one of the things that I've tried to do here is focus on where we can have a competitive advantage.

So you can't go after everybody. Everybody's not a good fit. You got to know what you do really well. You got to know where you will have a competitive advantage in a deal cycle in terms of acquiring a new customer. And I think for us, we absolutely, we know who that is. We know what types of companies are going to be a great fit to enter into an agreement, to be supported, and do business with us, and we know who isn't a good fit. A lot of that is important in the qualification phase, when you get inbound or when you're doing outbound. For us, I think it's really knowing where you're going to have a lot of opportunities for success, where you're going to have customers that are going to want to buy and renew and maintain that relationship because at the end of the day, and if you pay attention to the Salesforce playbook, it doesn't really, it doesn't really matter if you acquire a new customer. It only matters if you maintain that relationship. The renewal and the continued subscription to your services that you deliver over the internet are really what's most important.

So you got to figure out where you have a competitive advantage, where you're going to be able to provide value to a customer. So for us, like the biggest, one of the biggest things, not the only thing is companies that use Salesforce. But it's more than that. It's companies who use Salesforce, who use service cloud, who might leverage their community or their live agent who have great Alexa rank scores and high amounts of page views.

And you take the universe and you start to whittle it down into the companies that ultimately we can provide the most value to, and who are the best fit for us in terms of their footprint that's really what we're focused on right now, is making sure that we, that we don't talk to everybody, that we talk to the customers and try to acquire new customers that are a really good fit for us, so that we have a competitive advantage because we may not always have a competitive advantage when it comes to anybody we talk to, but there are certain companies who are doing, uh, a better fit for our solutions for a variety of reasons. But I think the sooner you realize as a company where you have a competitive advantage and who will want to listen to you the better off you'll be. It's 

Blaise: great. Instead of casting that wide net, just being super focused with 

that execution. Taking a small direction south. Now with almost like a hybrid model 

Brett: that, that might be here to stay 

Blaise: for the future, how have you been keeping reps motivated? How have you been keeping folks efficient? Any strategies that you'd like to share behind that 

Brett: as well? This is obviously unchartered territory for us all.

I think I probably speak for most people where a lot of this has been super cool. I have a 13-year-old and soon to be 11-year-old boys, three of them, one 13, and twins that are soon to be 11. Getting to be around them more often, being at home, not having to commute – there's all these, like, added benefits there.

I also miss the team in the conference room and the whiteboard and the happy hours and just breaking bread at lunch and catching up with people and making those connections. I think we all, we miss that. And in the few instances where I've had that over the last year and a half with coworkers, whether that's like meeting somebody for dinner or go and have lunch outside or something like that in a safe environment, it's been amazing. You kind of walk away from those interactions you have with this feeling like, oh my God, it was so nice to actually see somebody in person and shake their hand and have that human interaction. So, it's been hard. I think we probably aren't doing anything necessarily that most other companies aren't doing. Lots of zoom calls and trying to try to do something to work-related, some that are team-building related.

It's never the same as being in person. We're fortunate. We were already kind of set up to, to have a lot of the visibility into the inputs and outputs, right, of what's going on with the team. Prior to this, we, like most companies, we use a little bit of Salesforce, Outreach, Zoom, LinkedIn. Like we've got all these tools that allow us to know what's going on and we can pretty easily measure the inputs and the outputs of what's going on in terms of the activities, the pipeline, the, all of that stuff that we have access to.

It's not easy. I think we're all doing a pretty good job of it and trying to stay connected and, and be human in all of this. Like, we're all doing our best. I don't think it'll ever be the same. I don't think we'll ever go back to five days a week, eight, nine hours a day in the office.

There's always going to be this hybrid approach to what we do. I think we all recognize the value and the efficiency of not having to commute, so to speak into a job, but we also all recognize the importance of that human interaction and the necessity for that. 

Blaise: Yeah, absolutely. you brought up an interesting point 

Brett: just around being human.

Blaise: And that's been a topic of a lot of outbound practitioners these days. Have you seen any kind of creative strategies for your reps to, to break through the noise when they're breaking into new accounts? If you're not targeting 

Brett: repeat customers. One of the things that we're trying to double down on is more, hyper-focused more personalization.

 you start to take this big swath of potential customers and you narrow it, narrow it, narrow it, and then being able to deliver a message that is targeted towards them that speaks to like their world, right? At the end of the day, everyone's super busy, but if you're a customer of and a user of certain technology in certain industries, and you have a certain size of your, your website in terms of you know, page views per month. All these factors will change how interested you might be in, in talking to us. And so we're trying to get much more surgical about going to companies with a really targeted, really specific message that, that we know will interest them based on kind of the type of company they are and their tech stack, if you will, their industry and all those good things. So I think the days of casting the super wide net and spraying and praying over. I think we all need to do a better job of being hyper-targeted and very specific in message we have.. 

Blaise: As a final question here, Brett, any words of encouragement for other revenue practitioners, VPs of sales, BDRs, that will be listening? Hey look, the sales game is not for everybody. And the most successful salespeople on earth, they always have grit. That's like the number one thing. It's almost impossible to truly appreciate in an interview. But at the end of the day, someone's got to have grit because when you're in sales, if you can bat 300, you're doing really well.

Brett: You'll be a Hall of Fame salesperson if you can have 30% close rates, just like you would be in baseball. And so that's a lot, that's a lot of failure in sales, unfortunately. I think you have to know that there's going to be peaks and valleys. There's going to be good months and bad months and good quarters and bad quarters.

You know, I think you gotta, you gotta have a plan, work the plan, trust the plan, be willing to adapt the plan if it's not working, but ultimately be able to work the plan and have confidence that what you're doing is the right thing to do. And then maybe if you have a, a small spike or dip in results that you guys just got to stick with, and then that's part of the game.

 You got to always understand that there's going to be peaks and there's going to be valleys. And I think being comfortable with that is super important. And we all get stressed out. I get stressed out. We all have those like sleepless nights, worrying about quota and results and expectations, all those good things, but that's kind of what comes with the territory.

Brett: And there's just, no, there's no better career for me than the career I'm in. This is what I was meant to do, but it doesn't mean that it's easy. And keep your head up and be able to roll with punches. The grit that you need in order to do that is like the grit that got you here and what will keep you maintaining and being successful in your career.

You got to have that, that hustle and that fight, that sort of take no prisoners attitude.

Trinity: What stood out to you in this episode, Christian? 

Christian: I think the first thing that stood out to me is that he was worried that he's too late for Salesforce in 2006. 

Brett: That 

Trinity: is the first one I noted down, too. I was like anyone listening to this episode and your right now transitioning jobs and considering joining maybe a public company that you think you're too late, or even a startup, you think you're too late.

It's never too late. Okay. If you join the right rocket ship, it's never too late. It's so crazy. That was the first thing I noted, too. Yeah, 

Christian: But I guess it's always easy to say backwards. It's always easy to 

Trinity: say after the fact, I wish I joined Salesforce in 2006. 

Christian: It was certainly a great place to learn all the sales skills. I mean, this is where the best sales leaders are coming from.

Trinity: Actually, I heard that the best marketers and product marketers also from Salesforce. Yeah. They have a strong product marketing team. Funny. We both noticed the same thing. Yeah, what else? 

Christian: So when he talked about going into management, and I think we had a similar message from Kevin Marasco, where if you go, if you join management, then they're basically, and if it's at the new company and then they're basically two unknowns, right. It's the, it's the sales motion of the product of that company. And also the management part of it. So what he said, like what made his situation so much easier is that he only went for one unknown. And the one unknown was the management because he already was so good at selling the product. So, I think if we do really hard steps, like let's do them bit by bit because it makes it much easier for us to adapt to that situation. 

Trinity: For anyone's listening to this episode, Kevin Marasco was a guest on the show.

I think, season two. He is a CMO of Zenefit. It's a great episode as well. So if you want to check that one out. Full of practical tips and advice in career, and like, you know, for your own career and, but also as marketer too. So check out that episode. 

Christian: What stuck 

Trinity: out for you? Being a former product marketer,

when he started talking about how they prioritize the ideal customer profile, like not everyone's a great fit. You are not the perfect fit for everybody. Be going after everybody, mostly you're going to lose a lot. P ut in a lot of effort upfront to qualify or like identify who's the right match for you, you will see a lot more success and it's less about spray and pray. You kind of know what you're doing and you're going after and convince them that you are the best, too, for them. 

Christian: Which is certainly always frightening, because ultimately you're limiting who you can go after. So any loss of this very good target group hurts more than.

Not the case where you don't do that. Right. 

Trinity: But I mean, I think if, you know, who's the right match for you and put a lot of effort into like, you know, the messaging and the sales motion, then whatever you do, then I think the win rate will increase as well. For sure. The loss might hurt more, but I think you will win more.


Christian: I mean, like when I talk about loss, it's also like this, the feeling of loss, like as, as I think Blaise touched on, like, how do you stay motivated in, in a sales job because it's such a hard job. So, I think if you go after, like, this is, this is my perfect customer and then it doesn't pan out, then I think that's, that hurts even 

Trinity: more.

But hey, if you are truly the right fit and you did your homework, sooner or later, they'll come back when they realize that you are the one for them. I mean the last part, I mean, obviously we're biased. We are User Gems. So when Brett talked about previous customers, when Momentive's previous customers, um, when they move into a new company, they come back and always great leads.


Christian: If you have happy customers, a high NPS score, I think that also helps the motivation of the sales. If I can talk to previous customer, because it makes the conversation 

Trinity: so much easier. You don't need to demo or qualify or explain what your product or solution does, how great your company is. They already know. So these are always easier conversations.

So, no, that's, that's a great one. And the last one, like, wrapping up with grit. I mean, I love everything about the book Grit by Angela Duckworth. So the moment he talks about grit in sales, and being with User Gems for two years now, and being very close to the sales team, I totally agree with everything he said at the very end, when he said grit is everything in sales.

Christian: I think it's everything in marketing as well. And then, also, thank you, as the CEO of a company. 

Trinity: You know, grit is important in everything. Are you going through a major transition within your organization or your career? Do you have a first 100 day journey to share recently or the past? If yes, I want to hear from you. Email me@podcastatusergems.com.