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Hula Hoop Competitions, Michael Jordan Paintings, and Sales Excellence

Kristin McLerran's Avatar

Kristin McLerran

Customer Marketing

It has been a week since Outreach’s inaugural customer conference, Unleash, and the energy is still flowing throughout our office. Over 250 of our customers--from CEOs and VPs of Sales to SDRs--showed up in Sonoma ready to share best practices, gain insights into sales excellence, and, of course, drink fantastic wine. I am still early in my career, so this was my first ever work conference (I only got called a noob by one of our customers). Beyond the delicious food and wine, I was in awe of the energy, ideas, influential leaders, and momentum we built at Unleash.

It was hard to narrow it down to just 10, but here are a few of the key takeaways I had from #Unleash17!

1. The hungriest salespeople have some serious grit. Sales excellence requires a willingness to go above and beyond dialing and prospecting from 9 to 5. So on Sunday, before the conference began, we held our first gathering of Outreach Heroes, a community of exceptional customers recognized for their leadership, knowledge, and number-crushing abilities. The Heroes arrived early, traveling on their time off to participate in an exclusive product certification, meet and network with each other, and expand their own personal brand. Their enthusiasm and excitement around striving for sales excellence set the bar high for the remainder of the conference. (That and, of course, the spur-of-the-moment hula hooping competition.) 

2. We may grow up, but we should never grow out of our creative nature. Erik Wahl, a graffiti artist, author, and Ted Talk speaker, arrived onstage and asked the audience if they believed they could draw. Everyone looked around, but few raised their hands. Erik pointed out that if you posed the same question to a group of first graders, every single kid would have thrown their hand in the air with enthusiasm. What is it about growing up that makes us lose sight of our imagination and creativity? Erik’s presentation reminded each of us to consider this: there is power in creativity, and strength in vulnerability, and the best leaders are able to develop sales excellence by bringing out these traits in both themselves and others.

3. A customer conference is an opportunity to show your customers in person how you feel about them every day. One of our CSMs expressed this perfectly: it’s no secret that we adore our customers, and Unleash was the perfect opportunity to prove this to them. Every morning, the Outreachers at Unleash formed a high-five tunnel and cheered each guest into General Session (apologies to anyone who hadn’t had their coffee yet). Honestly, I’ve never “woo-ed” so much in my life, and there’s no denying that cheering and high fiving really makes you feel good. One customer made a point of high-fiving each and every Outreach employee in the tunnel, even walking backward to high five an Outreacher he missed! With only two days to show our customers how much they mean to us, we woo-ed our little hearts out.

4. Unleash was a place where salespeople of all experience levels found common ground. At the average company, entry-level employees most likely have minimal interaction with their executives. At Outreach, however, we strive to have a flat structure. Our CEO fist bumps every employee to say good morning or have a nice day, and our VP of Revenue Operations loves to toss a ball with others in the office as an afternoon break. Unleash was representative of this: every single sales role was represented, from SDRs to Sales Ops to CEOs, and they all came to the conference as equals, ready to learn and take best practices home to their teams. Unleash proved that whether you’re 2 years or 20 years into your career, you always have more to learn--especially from each other.

5. We’re living in the new era of selling. John Bruno, Analyst at Forrester, shared his research about the transformations that technology is bringing to the world of sales. His research found that buyers are more autonomous, entering into the buying process later and with extensive knowledge of what they want and need before they even engage with a seller. So, in order to engage with an ever-changing buyer, companies began to add new technologies. However, there is such a thing as too much tech. 46% of companies are using 7 different, disparate pieces of technology to just reach and engage with buyers. So how can sales leaders solve this problem? Find the technology that eliminates inefficiencies in a single place: the sales engagement platform.

6. Involving our customers in product innovations is the key to our success. Our product is a direct result of customer feedback. This feedback has shaped all of our features and updates and will continue to shape our platform in the future. It was incredible to watch the reactions of customers as they learned about calendaring, our Outlook add-in, and the new manager experience: innovations they have asked for or dreamt about during conversations with their Customer Success Managers, Technical Support Engineers, and the Outreach Product Team.

7. “Growth and comfort do not exist simultaneously.” Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, has no formal sales experience; but multiple guests expressed to me that his presentation had the most actionable insights of any at the conference. One of the best lessons he presented was that the biggest barrier to learning is discomfort. We refuse to push through the initial discomfort that occurs when trying something new, which prohibits us from developing. What I love about unconventional talks like Voss' is that instead of presenting an objective, sales-specific list of best practices, it presents lessons that are much more subjective. Our guests can listen to and manifest the advice in whatever way is most meaningful and relevant to their own life and career.

8. However, if you’re going to bring in a sales expert, it might as well be billion-dollar-revenue-generating machine, Adam Gilberd. Yes, we loved the speakers who brought unconventional insights to our guests; and we also wanted to bring genuine, specific sales expertise to Unleash. Hence: Senior Vice President of Commercial Sales from Salesforce, Adam Gilberd. Adam shared secrets into how Salesforce grew into a megaforce in CRM. One of my favorite secrets he shared, though, was simple: invest in great coaching. Although technology is crucial in today’s sales stack, if you can’t coach your reps, they won’t be successful--and neither will you.

9. You don’t need wine to make salespeople love networking (although it doesn’t hurt!). On Monday night, we took our guests to the Ram’s Gate Winery, where we drank bubbly, ate paella, and gawked at the gorgeous vineyard. At Unleash, each guest’s lanyard color represented their role at the conference: Outreachers in white, Heroes in light blue, customers in passionate blue, and all other guests in green. At one point in the evening, I stepped aside to watch the event unfold, and noticed one simple, wonderful thing: almost every group or conversation had multiple lanyard colors represented. It’s no secret that human beings like comfort (as Chris Voss pointed out!) and prefer to chat with people they know--but not these sales leaders! No one was afraid to step out of their comfort zone, converse with a stranger, and learn something new.

10. As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Our Executive team opened Unleash with a challenge to everyone at the conference: you will leave Unleash with a new truth. Our VP of Revenue Operations, Matt Millen, included this quote from Mandela as a key part of this challenge. There will always be a goal you see as unachievable, impossible, or out of reach until you commit yourself to it and make it possible. So after presenting our guests with keynotes and breakouts offering actionable insights to improve their sales game, we asked them to take their New Truth, write it on a postcard, and drop it in our New Truth Box. We’re going to mail the postcards back to them in a few months, and I can’t wait to hear how far people have come in making their goals a reality!