WebEx Is Helping Cisco Redefine SaaS Sales
The recently reinvented team is leading a strategy shift across the Fortune 100 tech giant
This portrait was commissioned by WebEx and produced by Job Portraits, which highlights job openings at Bay Area startups. For the interview below, Job Portraits spoke with WebEx Sales Manager Steve Mills, Global Director of WebEx SMB Sales Ben Alves, and WebEx account executives Naved Pathan, Jason Ferguson, and Danielle Rutgers at their office in San Francisco’s Mission Bay. We also caught up with Andy McCall, VP of Sales, Cisco, by phone. See open positions with the WebEx sales team here.
What is WebEx and how does it make people’s lives better?
Steve: WebEx is a multifaceted communication and collaboration tool that includes high-definition video, high-definition voice, and screen-sharing capabilities. Now we are taking the next step forward and integrating it into new technologies like telepresence units, next-gen immersive rooms, and feature products such as Spark, which integrates WebEx into persistent chat room capabilities. It’s really versatile and works seamlessly across all platforms, which is especially important in a BYOD environment. WebEx also makes up the biggest portion of the software-as-a-service portfolio within Cisco.
How does the WebEx sales team fit within the larger Cisco organization?
Andy: WebEx is helping lead a transformation in how Cisco sells software, which mirrors a shift in the industry at large. With a pure SaaS product like WebEx, the best model is an inside sales force focused on high-velocity, low-friction sales utilizing a robust partner landscape. That’s the WebEx team we have today, and that is different from Cisco sales teams in the past, which traditionally were expert in selling networking and hardware.
“WebEx is helping lead a transformation in how Cisco sells software.”
–Andy McCall, VP of Sales, Cisco
Ben: New customers are the lifeblood of a cloud-based SaaS business. Once a customer experiences WebEx, they see that the product can develop alongside their needs. WebEx will continue to increase in functionality and deliver greater business value over time. Our model is different than the traditional model where selling hardware is an event. We work with customers to deliver software solutions today and continue that process as part of an ongoing lifecycle.
The way this team is selling WebEx today is the way Cisco is eventually going to market and sell all cloud software in the commercial space. While we’re focused on WebEx today, because it’s our premier SaaS product, there are a number of innovations and acquisitions on the horizon that will also end up being sold with this kind of team.
Danielle: Recently, I overheard a manager say the WebEx team is like Cisco was in the ’90s — and it’s true. I love knowing that my team is at the forefront of leading a massive organization through a transition into the digital age. I want to look back when Cisco is known as a software company and take pride in the fact that I was a part of the team that initiated that movement.
Who are your target customers and how is territory split up?
Steve: Our main focus is SMBs of approximately 1,000 employees and fewer — one of the largest and fastest-growing segments in the U.S. Each sales rep is the complete owner of their own territory, which is partly geographical, partly based on population density. A territory can be an entire state or it can be a subset of the state.
Ben: An analogy I use a lot is that I expect everyone to be the CEO of their territory. They own that business. We have some guidelines for what has worked in the past, but we also give them some room to try new things, to innovate. We’re big proponents of: “Go make mistakes. If it doesn’t work, you’ve learned something.” Tweak it, tune it, see if it works next time. If you need help, ask for it, and share amongst your team members. This is a culture of sharing.
“I expect everyone to be the CEO of their territory. They own that business.”
–Ben Alves, Global Director, WebEx SMB Sales
Naved: When I come to work, I imagine coming to work for Star Trek industries. Jason has the Milky Way galaxy and I have a different galaxy. Let’s say Spock needs to come to the office and help us out, but he’s in a different galaxy. Thankfully, we’ve got WebEx and, in one click, he’s here. We’re doing teleportation, traveling to different galaxies in an instant with this technology. We’re making it easy for everybody to communicate and solve problems without being there physically.
What makes working on the WebEx sales team different from other teams you’ve worked with?
Naved: I love selling this product. I don’t have to worry about convincing a single customer. Customers recognize the amazing quality of the technology and they trust the Cisco name.
Jason: When I interviewed here, I was interviewed using the WebEx product. I have never been interviewed using the product I was going to be selling. It was amazing. We actively use WebEx as part of the sales process; that makes it easier for us to talk about the product and makes us better sales professionals.
“We have the financial backing of a Fortune 100 company, but we are truly acting as a startup, with the ability to do things quickly.” –Steve Mills, WebEx Sales Manager
Steve: What attracted me to joining the team is the fact that we are doing things that have never been done within Cisco. We have the financial backing of a Fortune 100 company, but we are truly acting as a startup, with the ability to do things quickly. This can be directly attributed to our leadership team, Ben and Andy, who have helped us get new sales tools overnight and fast track the hiring process for top talent. This level of nimbleness is necessary to stay competitive in the SMB segment, especially in Silicon Valley.
Interested in open positions at WebEx?
Check out their current openings.
Is there a particular ethos or philosophy that makes this team special?
Steve: Culture is what makes or breaks a successful sales organization, so we make sure new hires are a great culture fit first, a good salesperson second. That philosophy is reflected in how well we all get along. It’s a truly tight-knit team that chooses to hang out together after work and on weekends.
Jason: As top sales professionals, we’re confident that we can get jobs pretty much anywhere. We choose to come here for the Cisco name, but also for the culture. The leadership team has done a fantastic job of creating a winning, competitive, yet tight-knit, extremely fun culture.
“Everyone on this team is both humble and very confident at the same time.” –Danielle Rutgers, Account Executive
Danielle: I think sales reps, especially top-performing ones, get a bad rep for having big egos. I have not seen one person like that here; everyone genuinely wants to help. The ethos here is that we all win or we all lose together. That is something I’ve never seen at any other sales organization. Before I came here, my last CEO used to say, “Carry yourself with a humble swag.” I did not fully understand what that meant until I came to Cisco. Everyone on this team is both humble and very confident at the same time.
Jason: It’s true. Danielle started off extremely well this quarter. And instead of spinning around in circles at my desk, I reached out to her to see what she’s been doing. She gave me an incredibly detailed response as to what she’s seeing success in and what hasn’t been working. Her reply was amazingly helpful.
Steve: Our management team strives to make this an interdependent culture where everyone helps their peers and then we win as a team. The level of entrepreneurial flexibility we give our reps is reciprocated by them fostering a culture of excellence and collaboration.
Can you give us some examples of freedoms reps are given here that they might not have other places?
Steve: Typically, sales teams are only managed through KPIs, key performance indicators, such as call stats and talk time. Based on the feedback we received from our team, we have now included additional factors as well. Instead we allow our teams to manage their business more strategically. Steve Jobs had a huge influence on me, and he said that you want to hire overly intelligent people and let them contribute to the business in their own way. You need to believe in them, not tell them how to do their job.
And yet, you must be measuring something, right?
Steve: We’re salespeople, and at the end of the day, management is very strict about you hitting your number. We’re measuring against regional goals, making sure that we’re driving year-over-year growth. I tell everybody in my interview process that the absolute minimum expectation of every person on my team is 115%, and we’ve executed against that. Our team averaged 202% in Q4.
“The absolute minimum expectation of every person on my team is 115%. Our team averaged 202% in Q4.”
–Steve Mills, WebEx Sales Manager
Is there a personality that might not be the right fit for this team?
Steve: Cisco is a culture of A-players who only want to play with other A-players. In order to be successful here, you have to be a hunter. If a person is used to having all of their leads delivered inbound; if they’re used to having opportunities handed to them at eighty-plus percent, then this is not the job for them. Our top-performing reps are crushing their numbers from outbound marketing, lots of self-sourced and partner-driven leads.
Danielle: Sometimes applicants hear the Cisco name and automatically think all the processes are in place. But since WebEx is run like a startup, you need to be able to manage your time and create your own processes. Don’t expect someone to come to you and lay out this big plan. You gotta just dig in, roll your sleeves up, and be your own CEO.
What is the potential for growth for someone joining this team?
Steve: We have it fairly calculated; it’s about a two-year job cycle, which is the industry average for inside sales. That’s part of why I took the job as a manager: I like seeing people develop and move on. We ultimately want to see people move on to whatever that next step may be, whether that’s dealing with bigger, more strategic accounts within our program, or moving into a management position, or moving to a different piece of the Cisco organization. One thing I do when I’m interviewing candidates is I ask where they want to be in five years. If somebody says, “Working for you, sir,” that’s not the right person for this team. I want them to be hired today and already be thinking about what their next job is.
Naved: It was a little surprising in my interview to be told, if I was here for more than two years, there’s something wrong with me. But, in fact, that kind of transparency was awesome.
We know this team is growing fast. How does that affect the culture?
Danielle: I came from a high-growth startup and I saw many people leave about six months after they were hired. Andy has a very clear vision of how he’s going to prevent that from happening, in part by taking the time to hire the right candidates from the beginning.
Andy: If we know we need to hire fifty people this quarter, the temptation is to lower the bar on quality. We don’t do that. We don’t settle for top performers who might not have the highest ethics, or people who are good at selling themselves but may not be a great fit in our culture. We strive to hire passionate people who believe in and enjoy selling the WebEx solution, even if that means putting at risk hitting our hiring goals.
“If you want to make a lot of money, this is the place to do it.”
–Naved Pathan, WebEx Account Executive
Steve: Especially in Silicon Valley, when a startup doesn’t have the tenure Cisco does, I’ve seen some companies give exorbitantly large comp packages to lure in candidates. If a candidate is just looking at “What I’m going to make day one,” that is where I have to get my sales hat on and help prospective hires see their true earning potential here. Cisco pays very well, but you have to earn it. We set up accelerators in a fairly aggressive manner so that when you are overachieving, you’re actually making far more than the industry standard.
Naved: I can vouch for that. If you want to make a lot of money, this is the place to do it. My personal interview experience was exactly what Steve said, in regards to the comp plan. I told him I was hoping for more. He assured me that if I proved myself, he’d take care of me. And that’s exactly what he did. I trusted Steve as a manager, and it motivated me to make more money on the commission side.
How do you celebrate when people do well?
Jason: We have a five-foot gong. When you’ve earned your chance to hit that gong, it feels so good. We also do end-of-quarter gatherings in the office, and those foster the family environment Steve was talking about.
Steve: The gong was getting rung too often, so we raised the bar. Now, anytime you make a deal over $50,000 — which is fifteen or twenty times the average deal size — you get to hit the gong.
Steve, do you want say anything about what you try to embody as a manager on this team?
Steve: Some of the best managers I’ve had were when I worked at Apple. They modeled a culture of positive reinforcement, which pays dividends far more than outing someone in front of others. I also learned to make transparency a core principle and how feedback needs to be given early and often. I encourage my team to manage up to me, to give me feedback about what is and is not working. When I come into work, I make sure that I’m not overstepping my boundaries or abusing my manager title. I am never going to be successful if my team’s not successful. Every day, I’m out there trying to do whatever I can for them.
Jason: I just wanted to say, we all look at Steve as a great leader, and I sometimes wonder what goes on in his head. I was having a moment just now, listening to him, and I kinda wanted to tell him, “Man, you’re killing it.” Everything you said you wanted to do as far as positive reinforcement and communication skills, you’ve done a phenomenal job.