What makes Lever’s Sales team different? A collaborative culture — and highly innovative products
How does Lever set itself apart in the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) space? By focusing their sales approach on recruiting technology’s ability to transform an organization, and by emphasizing team victories alongside individual growth. To find out more, we talked with Kelly Del Curto (Sales Manager) and Christine Chang, Mike Bullard, and Matt Casillas (Account Executives). If you’d like to learn more about joining the team, get in touch with Michael Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out opportunities here.
What does Lever do and how does it help its customers?
Mike: We help companies hire the best people possible. We build well-designed, real-time products that streamline the recruiting and applicant tracking processes, and make them more collaborative.
Christine: The customers who have the most success using Lever are the ones who care deeply not just about hiring the best people, but also about developing long-term relationships with candidates, even the ones they aren’t immediately trying to close. Lever helps our customers build and maintain those connections — so when the right role comes along, or the candidate is ready to make a move, they can act quickly.
Lever is part ATS, part CRM. What else sets it apart from other systems?
Matt: When you look at most recruiting software, it’s been around 20-plus years. I think the first thing customers notice about Lever is the emphasis on design, intelligence, and flexibility. From the beginning, our team has cared deeply about user experience. Lever’s R&D team built the original product after sitting in-house with Twitter’s recruiting team for months. They interviewed every stakeholder involved, took the time to understand the pain points of the recruiting process, and designed a product that solves for those issues.
Mike: It’s easy for anyone to pick up our software and start using it. It takes five minutes to learn, rather than days or weeks. Also, a lot of our competitors are only focused on inbound applicants, so their products are essentially résumé repositories. At Lever, we recognize that outbound recruiting is critical to high-growth companies, so we also help recruiting teams reach out directly and stay connected to people who would be a good fit.
“Lever is changing the way people think about talent acquisition by humanizing the process and making it highly collaborative.” -Christine
Christine: Lever is changing the way people think about talent acquisition throughout entire organizations, by humanizing the process and making it highly collaborative. Anyone in the company can log in to the tool and refer someone by clicking a button on the Chrome extension. They can leave notes on candidates and work with the entire hiring team in real time. And Lever focuses on creating long-term connections with candidates and nurturing those relationships, instead of reactively hiring to put butts in seats as quickly as possible.
Kelly: I’m excited to work at Lever versus another recruiting software company because of our approach to building the platform. We’re not necessarily concerned with the competition; we’re concerned with our customers. We think broadly about the best ways to solve to their fundamental recruiting challenges, and build accordingly.
What makes selling at Lever different?
Matt: We go beyond the traditional vendor-customer relationship and think of it as a partnership. We don’t just run through a bunch of slides and say, “This is Lever, here are our three products, and here’s a value prop.” Our goal is to change a company’s entire perspective on how and who they hire, which requires a nuanced conversation, not just a demo.
Christine: Exactly. Each salesperson here has a different pitch. There’s no template, and it’s not formulaic. I’ve been able to find my own approach, test out new ideas, and then recalibrate, which was so important for my development and makes the work much more exciting. I think it’s a huge credit to Lever’s culture that I was given the space to figure that out.
Mike: Christine is too humble to mention that she’s the sales record-holder for SMB, or small-to-medium business.
Kelly: Which Mike points out because she beat him!
Mike: She did! We push each other, and of course we want to hit our numbers, but one thing that’s different about this team is numbers aren’t all that matters. This is the first sales job I’ve had where we’re expected to evaluate potential customers, just like they evaluate us. We’re not pressured to take on every one of them. Lever specifically wants to partner with companies that will be a great fit — both because those are the companies that will get the best value from their implementation, and because successful customers become great champions of Lever in the market, which helps us generate more leads.
“Our goal is to change a company’s entire perspective on how and who they hire, which requires a nuanced conversation, not just a demo.” -Matt
Kelly: We’re not afraid to say, point-blank, “I don’t think Lever is going to solve your problem,” and then suggest other companies or products that might be a better fit. As managers, we make sure our team members know that’s not a failure. I’d rather we focus our energy on the customers whose businesses we can transform.
Another thing that’s unusual is the way we emphasize team victories as well as individual ones. There’s a collaborative element to our compensation plans; when we hit a goal together, everyone makes more money. So we’re incentivized to push ourselves and pull up our fellow salespeople at the same time.
Tell us a bit about your backgrounds, and what brought you to Lever.
Kelly: Both of my parents are salespeople. My mom sold suntan lotion and bubble gum, and my dad sells cattle. I always told myself I would never follow in their footsteps, even though they’re wonderful and I love them. I ended up doing exactly that, though, without even realizing it at first. I think I was three months into my first sales job before it dawned on me what I was doing was actually sales! As it turned out, I really liked it.
I’ve been lucky to work at companies that offered great training in the fundamentals of SaaS sales. But I’ve also been in some challenging environments, culture-wise. On many teams, you don’t feel welcome unless you fit a certain mold, and you’re discouraged from innovating. I’ve experienced the opposite too — lots of freedom but no commission structure. Lever is a happy medium for me. I have incredibly ambitious teammates who challenge me every day, within a diverse, supportive culture.
Matt: I’ve been here for two and a half years. Before I joined, I spent 18 years at a number of enterprise tech and SaaS companies, including Salesforce, and led sales teams at startups. Most recently, I led the sales function at a business-intelligence startup called Chartio, and I actually got to use Lever there. We were one of the first beta customers. Even back then, I was impressed by Lever’s focus on design and users, and that experience led me to apply.
“Lever is a happy medium. I have incredibly ambitious teammates who challenge me every day, within a diverse, supportive culture.” -Kelly
Christine: I have a similar story. I was working at Yelp when they brought on Lever as our ATS, and I could tell just from the simplicity of the onboarding process what a great product it was. I was already in sales at the time, but I didn’t know yet what kind of process and style would work for me. Coming to Lever allowed me to figure that out.
Mike: I worked at a call center in college, and then I sold drinks for a year and a half before I ended up at a startup. I was there for about a year before we were acquired. Then I went to a second startup that ran out of money. So I’ve experienced both ends of that spectrum.
Then I had a couple of opportunities to choose from, including a closing role selling sophisticated software. But I felt like I needed to get more training, find some mentors, and relearn the ropes before I was ready for that. So I decided a sales development rep, or SDR, role would be a better fit. Lever had hired a VP of sales, and I pitched him on why I should be the team’s first SDR. The rest is history.
We’ve heard people at Lever talk about the idea of “scaling responsibly.” What does that mean to you?
Kelly: Growing a small company can be kind of like hosting a party. You look up and suddenly your house is full of a bunch of people you don’t know! Scaling is exciting, but it’s important to make sure you still want to be at your own party. Every person we hire should bring something fresh to the table, and also add to the culture we’ve worked so hard to establish. We want both long-term and new employees to feel welcome here.
Mike: Hiring for culture add in sales roles can be particularly challenging, but I think we’ve done a good job of finding people who align with our core values and add something to the team we may have been missing. We’ve been very intentional about bringing on people who not only have the skills we need to grow the team, but are also low-ego and have a collaborative, supportive spirit.
“We’ve been very intentional about bringing on people who have the skills, but are also low-ego.” -Mike
We also have an unusually diverse Sales team, which I’m proud to say is the norm at Lever. We’re bringing together people from so many different backgrounds, all with different ways of thinking. Making sure they get along and can learn from each other is an important part of scaling responsibly. We have people from Yelp, Oracle, and Salesforce, as well as smaller startups. We have people who were recruiters in their past lives. We have people who spent time on Broadway and went to Juilliard. One guy played in the NFL. It’s a solid mix of people with deep SaaS sales expertise and people who have been on the other end of a sales cycle or product. And all those different perspectives help us improve our individual approaches. If you listen to my sales pitch, you’ll hear something I picked up from Matt, or Christine, or Kelly. So our diversity makes us all better salespeople.
What are the opportunities for growth within Sales?
Mike: There’s no set process; people can focus wherever their talents lead them. In the past, the majority of hires have come in as an SDR, then moved to an SMB account executive, or AE, role. From there, people become corporate AEs, then mid-market and enterprise AEs. I see SDR as an important platform for learning the ins and outs of Lever, but you won’t get stuck there. Management wants us all to grow as quickly as possible, and each position builds core skills to help you succeed at the next. That said, with our recent round of funding, we are moving upmarket and looking for people who have closing experience at the enterprise and mid-market levels, as well.
“If a member of my team is having a tough day, I want them to feel comfortable coming to me.” -Kelly
Kelly: I was really impressed by the support Lever gave me as I made the transition to management. We have a leadership accelerator program, which includes new managers as well as people who have been in management for more than a decade, so I had a lot of great mentors. We also met weekly with an outside consultant, who helped us work on skills like approaching difficult conversations. My director of sales and VP of sales are also very accessible, and coached me through issues as they came up.
How would you describe your management approach?
Kelly: My most important job is behind-the-scenes support. I want to coordinate efforts and remove as many roadblocks as I can. I also need to be approachable; if a member of my team is having a tough day, I want them to feel comfortable coming to me so I can help them work through it. If you lost a couple of deals today, it’s okay, there’ll be another opportunity tomorrow. The same goes for someone who is crushing it. I’m there cheering them on to do even more amazing things.
Does Sales ever influence the product?
Matt: We’re constantly collaborating with other teams, and we have open lines of communication with Product and Engineering. We’re all in the Product Slack channel, or we can walk over and tap someone on the shoulder to give them real-time feedback. We ask questions about features, and let them know what our customers are asking about or looking for. Everyone is approachable — whether we just want to collect data to support a sale, or we see an opportunity to improve the software — and that includes our CPO and CEO. I’m always impressed by how well the other departments know our sales cycle, and how well they anticipate our needs.
Mike: One example of a product change we’ve influenced is job boards. Lever didn’t help companies push to job boards at first, because they are inbound recruiting tools, which runs counter to our focus on outbound recruiting. But that’s a big leap for some customers, and all four of us can probably remember a deal we lost because Lever didn’t push to job boards. So we asked Product to incorporate that, and now we use it as a safety net. We’ll say, “You’ve got the job boards, so you’ll have candidates coming to you. Meanwhile, let me tell you about the value of outbound recruiting.”
What’s challenging about selling Lever?
Kelly: We’re working with everyone from small startups to Fortune 500s, so the conversations can be very different from customer to customer. Sometimes you’re pitching to the co-founder or CEO; other times it’s a VP of people or a recruiter.
Matt: And because Lever is software that every department in a company can use, a pitch conversation could include 14 people — all with different perspectives, questions, and use cases. That’s a great opportunity to show them how we can meet diverse needs, but it can be challenging to give each one of them individual attention. I’ve solved that by following up with someone individually if I don’t get to their question during the pitch.
“Everyone is approachable — whether we need data to support a sale or see an opportunity to improve the software.” -Matt
Mike: Lever is also quite different from most ATS products out there. So if a customer is looking for a V2 of their current solution, we may not be right for them at the time.
Kelly: Another challenge is that, like anyone in this line of work, we experience our fair share of rejection. We’re not immune to the fact that sales is a numbers game. But for every lost opportunity, our SDR team generates five new leads. So you always have the chance to get right back on the phone and try again.
Christine: Right, and management is great about reminding us that every loss is a learning opportunity. One of our company values is “Know Why,” and we really emphasize understanding why you win and why you lose. So that feeling of rejection is mitigated, because we have the tools and support we need to learn from it.
What characteristics make someone successful on your team?
Christine: Feeling like you have something to prove — but in the best possible way. You should be focused on the daily, relentless pursuit of doing better and understanding more deeply. That doesn’t mean we’re looking for people who are only thinking about winning deals, though. This is a place for builders. You won’t be handed a set playbook when you come to Lever. It’s a continually evolving playbook, and we all contribute to it.
Matt: You should be creative and able to think outside the box. You also need to be genuinely excited about figuring out what your potential customer is trying to achieve. You have to listen and then listen some more, and ask good questions. Curiosity is key.
“This is a place for builders. You won’t be handed a set playbook when you come to Lever.” -Christine
Christine: None of us fits the stereotype of a salesperson, which is a good thing. There’s nothing better than getting on a call and completely surprising a prospect simply by the way you work with them. People are so pleased to get a dialogue with a potential partner, instead of a hard sell.
Kelly: I actually love the conversations that start with, “Kelly, I know you’re just doing your job, but we want to be transparent. We’re probably not going to buy this.” Then, by the end of the pitch, they want to keep talking. We may not close a deal on that first call, or on the third, but they’re inspired by the process and they want to know more.
What would you say to someone who might hesitate to sell recruiting software?
Christine: Recruiting is universal. Whether you’ve hired people or just applied for a job, there’s a common experience to draw on. That helps you launch your pitch. We can remind people of problems they’ve had in finding the right candidate, or in finding the perfect role for themselves, and we can explain how Lever answers those problems.
Mike: Exactly. Even if you’re new to this technology, you’ll find you have a lot of shared history with HR and recruiters in particular, because their day to day is pretty similar to a salesperson’s. You’re both pitching your company and doing everything you can to bring people in. Changing sales jobs often means a big learning curve. You have to understand a whole new industry and the intricacies of a complex product. But hiring is immediately relatable.
Why is now a good time to join Lever?
Christine: I think we started as a team that felt like the underdog, but now we’re in a place where we’ve started to tell our own story. We used to talk exclusively to five-person companies, and now we’re talking to companies with 5,000-plus employees too.
The conversation and product have changed a lot, as well. In the last year, I’ve seen us recognize that we’re not just about the features or functionality of our product, but about talking to organizations that will use our software to evolve, and make hiring more human while scaling rapidly.
“We started as a team that felt like the underdog, but now we’ve started to tell our own story.” -Christine
Kelly: Yeah, we went through that awkward teenage period where we had a great product and a strong group of people, but some people joined because they wanted to be a part of that small startup vibe. And we’ve certainly passed that 50-person startup mark now. We’re really hitting our stride. I see people identifying with this Lever-inspired way of thinking about talent. If you’re passionate about having a strong foundation, but excited to keep iterating and building, this is the perfect time to join.
Matt: It’s also a good time because the recent round of funding will let us do more. Our leadership team is really strong and their vision is incredible. I’ve never worked with leadership so closely. Whether it’s helping us get deals done or lending us their connections, their willingness to get involved in our process is instrumental.
Mike: Even with the all competitors we have, we never have to scramble to stay ahead of the industry trends — from day one, Sarah and the founding team designed Lever with that in mind. And innovation is part of our DNA, so we never stop building new products. We’re selling the best recruiting software on the market.
Note: This story originally appeared on inside.lever.co.