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Welcome back to the MPN Thought Leader Podcast series. In this podcast, we talk with industry leaders about their perspective on doing business in the technology industry. Episodes feature interviews with inspiring speakers and Microsoft partners such as David Meerman Scott, Jo Burston, Carol Roth, and Tim Hurson, covering topics from marketing to management, to the future of the Intelligent Cloud.
In our latest episode, we speak a powerful example of female leadership in technology: Jenn Martin. As Microsoft Partner BitTitan’s VP of Global Sales, she has grown their sales team from 5 to 50, and led the initiative to drive customer solutions over transactional sales.
Moving Away from a Transactional Mindset
During our interview, Jenn discusses how important it was to shift BitTitan away from a transactional mindset and create a more effective sales process that meets customer needs. Jenn described their time without an operationalized sales process as getting into a “fatal embrace, where you’re too busy to fix something, but if you could fix it you wouldn’t be so busy.” To break free from that cycle, BitTitan brought on some sales leadership that gave Jenn the ability to take a step back and build out the processes needed to shift from a culture of transactional sales to one of driving customer solutions.
While developing their approach to customer solutions, Jenn discovered that partners have a common misconception around building IP. She says that many partners think that building IP is a complicated and costly process but in fact, IP is simply how you do things differently. The processes that differentiate your delivery are valuable and what make you stand out from the competition. Listen in for more great advice from Jenn on how partners can connect better with their own customers.
A Note About Our Speaker
BitTitan is a leader in managed services automation. Their MSPComplete platform empowers partners to grow recurring revenue with turnkey managed services, increase profit through automation, and build intellectual property.
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For a full transcript of today’s podcast please see below.
Host: Welcome to the Microsoft Partner Network Podcast. Every week, we bring in industry leaders and Microsoft partners to talk about the big ideas shaping business and technology today.
In today’s episode, we’re talking with Jenn Martin, Vice President of Global Sales at BitTitan about what it takes to scale a business and how building IP can take your company to the next level.
Hey Jenn, we’re really excited to have you here today. You’re from BitTitan.
Jenn Martin: Mmm hmm.
Host: Tell me a little bit about yourself. I was looking at LinkedIn, checking out your profile and you were in the news, media. How did you get into technology and become VP of Global Sales at BitTitan?
Martin: Yeah, it wasn’t a straight path. That’s for sure. Actually, before I started at BitTitan, I didn’t have technology experience. As you mentioned, my background has been in media, media sales in sports actually. So, I cut my teeth, my sales teeth, in local media selling radio advertising.
Host: Uh huh.
Martin: Moved from there into sports and sports sponsorships, actually worked with the Seattle Mariners for eight seasons.
Host: Oh, very cool.
Martin: Selling large sports media campaigns sponsorships. I moved from there wanting to embrace a little bit more of the new media to digital advertising and worked for the West Coast local affiliate for ESPN, a local broadcaster, building up their digital media team and did that for a few years and was actually really enjoying what I was doing but feeling a little bored. It’d been a long time in the same industry. Got a call from a recruiter from BitTitan, Darcy Lees, head of talent and culture for BitTitan and they talked about some new things that they were doing and it sounded pretty interesting. So, swung by, went to the BitTitan offices and met with Geeman Yip, our CEO. And it was one of those immediate connections, right? You just, you see the vision about where this company is going and what we could do together. And it’s interesting because BitTitan as a culture, as an organization, we really bring people in from unique backgrounds to create a pretty diverse environment and culture that we work in. And Geeman really wanted to see some non-traditional sales leadership within the organization that came from outside of the industry and brought different sorts of relevant experiences. And it worked out really well. In my old career, well honestly, if you can enable a sales team to sell air, you can teach them to sell pretty much anything, right?
Host: That is true.
Martin: And digital media was really disruptive at the time for traditional media in a very queer parallel to cloud and on-premise. Right? There were a lot of synergies there. And also, when you’re selling sponsorships and advertising, part of it is really about knowing your customer’s business, right? You have to drive business. And that solution sale, that understanding your customer’s needs in a consultative way was something that was really needed at BitTitan to help them transition from a more transactional sales model to a more consultative solution sort of sale process.
Host: That’s awesome. So, something you’re talking about is the customers and building customer success.
Martin: Mmm hmm.
Host: And that’s something we talk a lot about.
Host: What is your recipe for that? How did, when you came in, what did you start doing with BitTitan?
Martin: So, that was actually, it was a pretty uphill battle for me because I had to really quickly understand the partner ecosystem. So, when we talk about customers, our customers are Microsoft partners, right? So, our customers are those that have built their business around the Microsoft cloud, specifically Office 365 and Azure. And I didn’t have a lot of experience in working with those customers. And so, I spent really about a quarter just entrenching myself and understanding the MSP, the SI, VARs, what are the challenges? What are they struggling with? And that, honestly, I think there is two key components. A natural curiosity, right, I think that’s just a really key element of being successful I think in most things but specifically sales to be authentic and want to know about people’s business and then asking a lot of questions. So, I spent a lot of time with our customers, asked a lot of questions and then took that to help improve what our sales process is to sell the right things to our customers, things that they need. And also, we work with a lot of customers, so helping partners that maybe haven’t identified what their problems are yet re-identify based on what other people in the ecosystem are challenged with.
Host: So, a little bit of understanding them before they even know themselves, being predictive. That’s the best kind of customer success you could possibly do.
Martin: Yeah. And I think that’s something that comes from experience.
Martin: Right? And that comes from experience and asking a lot of questions, right, that learning process and then taking that learning and applying it to future situations without being assumptive, right?
Martin: Because it’s a slippery slope, right, when you think you know someone’s problems to start being assumptive about what their problems are.
Martin: It’s not a replacement for asking questions.
Host: Of course, no. So, you came in and when we talked before, you said there was like five or so people, right?
Host: It was very small and you helped scale the business up?
Host: What, 50 people or whatever?
Martin: About 50 people.
Host: That’s a huge growth. There’s the human component of that, the technical component, the finance. Tell me about how you scaled that business.
Martin: Yeah. It’s a crazy ride. So, when I started, there were five salespeople and we had about 1,500 partners/ customers. And I was really brought in to as a frontline sales manager, right? And at that time, it was a lot of individual working with customers, helping close deals, do a lot of coaching. We did not have any processes. We didn’t have any systems and we were really in a transactional mindset. We were reacting to our customers’ needs. The great thing is we had a lot of customers’ needs. We were a product first company and we made a really great product that customers wanted, but as a result, sales sort of got into this transactional order taking mentality. We were reacting instead of driving value. But that inbound and that ability to react to something gave us the financial ability to scale along with that, but the result of that was the classic building the plane as you fly it, like running around like your hair is on fire.
Martin: And we had a lot of business, just started hiring more people to react to this business. And that really was my first couple years. Like, more business, bring in more salespeople to address this business. And we eventually got to a place where we could actually start creating a sales process. When I started, there was no sales process. There were no sales systems. And you had these grand ideals, like I’m going to build all of this, but then you’re like, oh my gosh. I’ve got to take this money off the table first, right?
Martin: So, you get in this fatal embrace where you’re too busy to fix something, but if you fix something you wouldn’t be so busy. Right?
Martin: Chicken or egg.
Martin: So, we’ve finally gotten to a point where we have operationalized our sales process quite a bit more. And that came with bringing in some sales leadership that gave me the ability to step back from the day to day to be able to actually build out those processes and then bring in sales operations to help build out the systems and the automation that makes our salespeople more successful. But then it also has been a lot about a cultural shift for us as an organization from being a transactional sales culture really. I was about to say sales model, but it was really more of a cultural mindset to being a value driving solution sale, where our customers come to us as a trusted advisor and not just somebody to take their money, right?
Host: And how do you think you can become a trusted advisor? What is the secret to that?
Martin: Yeah, training is really key. I think giving your staff the bandwidth to be able to ask those questions. The solution sales process is a little bit more time consuming. Like, not to give my people room for excuses, right, it still goes through a sales process, but there is a lot of temptation to take that low hanging fruit, even if it’s not what is best for that customer. And so, one of the secrets I think is seeing through the trees with a customer. Right? And you can’t see that forest if you don’t ask the questions. Right? If you don’t take the time to understand your customer’s business, you are going to be in this constant cycle of transactions and not solutions.
Host: So, something you talked about is building processes.
Martin: Mmm hmm.
Host: How much time or what is that, a little bit getting tactical almost, when you’re talking with a customer, what do you tell your sales team? How long should you spend on asking questions, discovering pain points? When do you start taking or when do you like, ahhh, I’m going to take the low hanging fruit?
Host: What is that like?
Martin: Yeah. So, for us, I think it’s sales in general. There is that careful balance between science and art.
Martin: Right? And if you talk to different leaders, everybody falls on it’s a spectrum, right, and you might find some people who are like, I’m going to science my way out of this. Like it is prescriptive. It is like a math equation. And then there’s the art and it’s you just get really good people and they do their magic and you don’t you just look at the end. And I’ve seen both work, right. I think the right place is that middle in between where you have a formula, you have an algorithm, and you know the different components and what they can add up to and you can track and measure those different components to get to the end, right? You can raise and lower the levers appropriately to get to that end number that you need.
But I think the art is you need good people, right?
Martin: An equation takes the humans out of it and no matter what formula or what systems or what processes you give people, if you don’t have the right people and you don’t teach them and you don’t enable them and you don’t give them the culture that makes them successful, your equation is going to fail. So, for us, it was about defining those steps and holding our team accountable to following those steps. Because especially when you have good senior people that have a rhythm and they have proven successes, it’s really easy to just fall back on a habit, right? To make assumptions and not follow the right process and the result is you leave money on the table. Right? You read books about Michael Phelps and what he goes through. He goes through a step every time he swims. Right? And he’s been swimming forever, right? So, I think defining those steps and creating those habits along the way is really important. So, for us, we have seven steps to our sales process. We call it the BitTitan Simple Seven. It’s a little cheesy, but – –
Host: Cheesy’s okay.
Martin: Cheesy’s okay because it makes it memorable. And we help our salespeople build coaching plans off of that. Because we can look at the result and what’s happening every step of the way to say, alright, you in general might need a little bit coaching customized to you around discovery or presenting the solution or whatever that step might be. And it allows for us to be really targeted in our training and making our salespeople more successful.
Host: That’s awesome. That makes a lot of sense. I love that seven.
Martin: Yeah. It’s been really – – I mean at first, I’ll be honest, salespeople, they’re always going to complain about— I am as well, some are still sales, the CRM or various systems and I think you’re always going to get people who don’t want to be put in a box, but now that we’ve had people using it for a while, it’s really useful. And I see my salespeople like self-identifying, which I love, saying hey, I see that I’m struggling around discovery. How can you help me with this? Whereas a year ago, it might be, I’m not closing enough business, right? So, you can start being a lot more, when you see salespeople self-identify with the system, it’s really rewarding.
Host: Yeah. They become a little bit more disciplined and understanding what they need to improve on.
Martin: Yeah, absolutely.
Host: So, in this process, was there any moment where you were like, I don’t even know what to do. I’m about to throw in the towel, right?
Host: Was there any time like that?
Martin: Yeah. Yes. How much time do we have? Right? I mean there were a lot of times like that. Yeah.
Host: What’s kind of some of the – – what were a few of the challenges that you faced and you had to say, we’re going to have to make a move or make a challenging, kind of step outside of your comfort zone and make a big decision and just a bold decision and do it?
Martin: Yeah, absolutely. So, like I said, we went to five to nearly 50 in three years. And so, one of the challenges and myself, I grew in three different roles in three different years. I was brought in as like a frontline sales manager, right, for five salespeople with no sales process and was like fix this. So, I went through myself a lot of personal growth and our company did as well. So, there were a lot of challenges. In the beginning, where our solution was let’s just hire more people, so we can keep our customers happy, right? They just wanted somebody to talk to. I was spread very thin. At one point, I had I think up to 20 direct reports of salespeople. And the result of that, which was really hard for me, is that I didn’t have the time for the people on my team.
Martin: And that always weighed really heavy on me that I felt like I wasn’t setting my salespeople up for success because they didn’t have the systems and they didn’t have me to kind of handhold them through it. And it was just like, here, right? Like, jump into it.
Martin: Which is really not fair to anybody. So, I think that was a challenge is that the brute force way that we were doing things and then worrying that I wasn’t setting my people up for success.
But I think some of the decisions that we made was bringing in a really great leadership team. And that’s when everything changed and also bringing in really great people in general. So, I was spread really thin, but so was everybody on my team. And it was kind of like this fun startup-y time, right?
Martin: Like when it was everybody carried a brick and we were jumping in with our customers and like helping them sell their Office 365 engagements and like getting in there and helping them with their email migrations. I mean it was really like roll up your sleeves and just do this sort of thing. But the decisions for us were really about who to bring on to help us operationalize this and, thank goodness, we made really good decisions there. We have a great leadership team now. And also, defining this process and getting people bought into the process was also I thing a challenge, right?
Host: Of course.
Martin: Because we had a lot of the old timers who were used to doing things a certain way and like with a certain culture and now getting them to also be successful and enjoy this new way of doing things has been a challenge. We’ve also had to make some pretty bold decisions about where we grow as a company. So, we have customers in 125 countries and we’re getting to a point where close to a majority of our revenue comes from outside of the U.S.
Martin: And so, we were a bootstrapped company for 10 years.
Martin: And so, we have been very fiscally responsible, right? So, we make decisions based on cashflow and profitability and we’ve always been that way. So, we had to decide where we were going to move from a field level sales perspective in advance of the money, right? Where are we going to invest in our sales resources before the money is there to justify? Which is a little bit outside of our cultural norms as an organization, so that was to classify as a bold decision. We had to kind of skate to where the puck was going in advance and really invest in some of these. So, we now have people in Europe and we opened an office in Singapore. We have folks in Canada, in Japan. We have an organization in Australia and folks on Latin America. We really had to invest in our people and our resources outside of the U.S.
Host: That’s an incredible amount of countries.
Host: That’s awesome. That’s very cool. So, one thing that we talked about with the partners that you’re working with frequently is building IP.
Host: And this is something Microsoft is really hitting hard as well. I’m curious, what’s the conversations you’re having with partners in this space?
Martin: Yeah. And partners are thinking about this as well. Right? They’re hearing it from Microsoft. They know that it’s important, but there’s lack of clarity on how they do it. And I think it might even be a lack of clarity on what IP is. I think when partners hear IP, they think I have to develop an app. I have to become an ISV. And our take as an organization is that’s not necessarily the case. We think that IP is how you do things differently, right, and the processes that you’ve created to differentiate the delivery of your offerings. And once people define that, there’s still some struggles around that. I think everybody has this IP, but they haven’t operationalized it. They haven’t capture it. So, what that means is a lot of these organizations from a small one-man MSP to a GSI, frankly, is that the way they do things live in people’s heads, right? They don’t take the time to document this in a systematic step by step process. And we help there because we are about automating and automating those steps, documenting and automating those steps through our platform. But I think it’s really something that partners need to think about is their IP is what they do. And right now, that is living in people’s heads, right?
Martin: You could just like walk out the door at any minute. Once you have your processes, your run books, your playbooks documented, then you can start figuring out the automation levels of each individual with PowerShell scripts or whatever it might be to build that automation. But it really is, first and foremost, document your process and do that in a platform that can be shared across multiple folks within your organization.
Host: That’s super helpful. Okay, last question. What is one piece of advice that you would give to partners looking to grow their revenue and mature their sales process today?
Martin: Yeah. And it’s a piece of advice that I had to take myself, right, when we were in the throes of things and living in this transactional world. And I see this happen with partners quite a bit around Microsoft’s cloud. And that is don’t take the easy sell. I think a lot of partners will go to their customer and that customer will want something, right? It’s very easy, whatever that thing might be that you’re verticalized in. And the salesperson is compensated and measured on taking that money off the table, right? So, they’re going to be like great. Here’s a statement of work without asking a lot of questions to understand the true customer’s needs. What is the value of that customer, the lifetime value of that customer? So, I would really say there are two options for a partner in these scenarios. One is don’t take that easy sale and sell the true comprehensive solution right off the bat. Do a full discovery, sell the overall modernization of your customer’s business. The second is embrace a true land and expand philosophy. And that’s more than I’m going to take this money, I’m going to take this project, and then I’m going to get my foot in the door and sell them more after. You have to have a systematic plan on how you’re going to do that and you have to operationalize that within your sale organization. So, that means compensating your account managers appropriately for this expansion. It means building a customer success team. And I think the other thing that’s really important is leveraging technology to be able to understand your customer’s environment. So, if you’re going to sell Office 365 migration, it’s a project level business, great. That’s good money. Now, you’re in that customer’s environment. Leverage technology to understand that customer’s environment. How are they using it? What are they doing? Who’s there? So that when you come back, when your account management or your customer’s success or however you structured your sales team, you’re selling the right thing to the right person at the right time. And time and time again, I see partners doing these quarterly business reviews with their customers and it’s tell me what’s changed in your business. And it should be the other way around.
Martin: Right? It should be the partner saying, this is how you’re using your environment. This is what I think has changed in yours. And this is what might be changing in the future, right? It is more about delivering value because you understand what they’re doing. So, I think that foot in the door is a great concept, but you really have to do something with that foot, right? And that’s more than just a hope and a wish. It’s a plan and structuring your sales organization to accomplish it.
Host: That’s awesome. Land and expand and – –
Martin: And retain, right?
Host: And retain.
Host: And don’t go for that low hanging first sale kind of thing.
Martin: Unless you have a solid plan on how you’re going to be getting more money to drive that customer lifetime value.
Host: Okay. Thank you, Jenn, so much for being here.
Martin: Yeah, absolutely. For sure. Thank you for having me.
Host: Thanks for listening today and check out the podcast description for show notes. Be sure to subscribe and keep in touch with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter at MS Partner.