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How to Drive Productivity: A Live Interview with Travis Truett

Audio and text transcript's of Travis Truett's 30 minute SLMA interview. Covering sales gamification, data-driven performance management and the past, present and future of Ambition.

Last month, the Sales Lead Management Association hosted Ambition CEO Travis Truett on its weekly radio program. 

The topic: How Ambition has been able to drive sustained inside sales productivity for companies like Dropbox, Coyote Logistics and Clayton Homes. Hear Truett's interview with host Jim Obermayer by clicking on the image below. Or, read the audio transcript after the jump. 

Part 1. Background on Ambition

Jim Obermayer:   We've got a great subject today. I have managed several inside sales groups through the years and it's always a struggle. There are sales managers who manage outside and inside and they usually fail miserably with the inside because they are managing both departments. And then they get an inside sales manager and that person has 30 or 40 people and the rejection rate is 95% very often, database requirements updating the CRM, managing inside salespeople is difficult to say the least.

And yet I recently ran into Travis Truett and a performance management platform called Ambition, which has been the subject of featured articles in the Harvard Business Review (which is where I ran into them), Inc. magazine and the Wall Street Journal.

Travis is here today to talk to us about gamification - how do you manage an inside sales group using gamification, how do you use that to keep visibility on what's going on, get salespeople enthused, or reward them. And I just got so enthusiastic about this topic because I know it's been a struggle for many sales teams.

Travis, welcome! Let's get into how gamification provides triple digital growth for inside sales. Tell us about Ambition.

Travis Truett:  Absolutely. I appreciate you having me. We have been doing Ambition for about three years now and to be honest it kind of started with the kind of off-the-wall idea of you know what, if we literally adopted fantasy football to the Sales Force basically allowing employees to form teams, compete week to week across seasons over managerially defined metrics and benchmarks, phone calls, demos, deals, everything.

And we built it is kind of a side project and deployed it to a pretty large logistics company and kind of overnight we were able to increase their outbound calls from 14,000 to 21,000 a day and that kind of trickled down to the bottom line revenue and we took a step back and kind of said, “Wow, this is kind of aha moment for us."

Jim:  You went from 14,000 to 21,000 outbound calls?

Travis:  To 21,000, yes. We took a step back and kind of just realized that at the end of the day sales is about activities. It's about effort, it's about picking up the phone, sending email after email and, let's call it what them what they are, performing a multitude of monotonous tasks every day. 

If you can make that incrementally more fun, not only is the employee going to be happier but he or she probably is going to make more money and have more fully-aligned incentives. And we've been able to roll Ambition out to some incredible companies since then and see some amazing results. 

Part 2. Sales Operations

Jim:  Now you have taken this beyond fantasy football. So give us a basic explanation of what gamification really means to the inside sales professional.

Travis:  So you are right, in that the fantasy element is was only the starting point. Since then, we've kind of grown into a much bigger platform: a sales system in a box. We literally deploy Ambition now, plug in your inputs, plug in what metrics you want to see.

And once it starts running, the results start becoming recommendations for sales managers. Here some people that are working hard, here are some things you can do to drive them. Here are some people that are working smart, here is what you've got to do to drive them, and so on.

To be honest, gamification -- at the end of the day -- has some baggage associated with it. Some of the more veteran sales managers we've come across see it as just fun and games and think, we don't really need this

But at the same time, you don't want to have people just meandering at work. Ambition is about giving reps the bigger picture -- where you are and where you can go.

Really, gamification always boils down to visible progress, and that's really fundamentally what Ambition is doing. It is giving people transparency and accountability in their progress and it works. People want to see what they are doing. People don't want to wait until the end of the month for a report.

Jim:  And you are talking about something so sensitive to sales management. Inside sales versus outside sales. Figuring out how much do I really reveal of one person's performance versus another.

And if one guy is doing 75 outbound calls a day, are they all 30 second calls or are they are having meaningful conversations? Is that the motivation to other sales reps? Do they ignore it?

And going along with visible progress is the whole CRM data entry issue. It's one thing to make 50 calls -- it's another thing to enter all the information on it. This kind of platform prompts the salespeople to follow through on that.

And by the way, I love the term "deploy Ambition." Every sales manager wants to deploy "ambition," but in this case you are saying deploying Ambition through the platform in a way most salespeople already respond to. So tell us -- what does "visible progress" really mean? What does it look like?

Travis:  Going back to your point about visibility, you are definitely right. We would be lying if we said that some users initially feel wary of Ambition. But what we've found is that, being this very transparent platform, once Ambition gets rolled out, it kind of sets people free.

A lot of people -- both employees and managers -- try to hide from their numbers. Try to hide from the results. And you know what? Once you put everything out there and see, hey, Steve and Susan are each making 100 phone calls a day. They are getting results and I am not.

Well, then I can start to figure out whether I'm not a great fit for this role or I just haven't been picking up the phone enough. And if it's the latter, now I know what to do to be successful. 

We see that kind of realization being a very powerful element of what we are doing. And in terms of deploying ambition, generally what it looks like is going to an organization and defining what they want to measure.

A lot of times, what people struggle with is -- What do I want to measure on a daily basis? Let's start there. Too many people are focused on these long-term objectives. l want to drive this quota in three months.

Start with the daily activities. Let's benchmark those. And from there, Ambition will help you grow and define your benchmarks. In some industries, we're already able to define and set industry benchmarks given your market, your territory, and so on.

Then the ball starts rolling. So in a sense, we actually can give people their "ambition," as to where to start benchmarking their team's performance. The gamification is kind of the icing on the cake.

Jim:  When I take a look at this example, I keep going back to the growth from 14,000 to 21,000 calls a day. Of that extra 7000 calls, if one out of 15 turns into a lead, would you think that's reasonable? One out of 15 calls?

Travis:  Oh, absolutely. We just ran the numbers for one of our customers in the Logistics industry. Each rep is averaging 8 more phone calls a day. And given there's typically 22 business days in the month, they are making around 175 more phone calls each month.

In this company, the numbers indicate that it takes on average 25 phone calls to book a deal. And average margin, I think, is like 25 bucks per deal. So they are literally making $550 more per employee per month with Ambition.

Jim:  Wow. When I look at those numbers, 14 to 21, and just one out of 15 is a leap .... that's 466 new warm leads in the system.

If they've got a decent closing ratio that means that they are picking up 125 sales a day more than likely. So this is kind of mind blowing when I look at it because I always struggled with inside sales reps.

In my experience, I've been an interim sales manager for many corporations -- that's part of my consulting business when I am not doing this. And I usually start with the motivation of the salespeople and I say, “What are the sales activities that makes a good salesperson successful?"

And they always come up with -- Well, I've got to sell so much. I've got to make this many calls, I've got to close so many deals and how many of each do I have to do this particular day? I've got to create so many leads today and I've got to have so many proposals this week.

You do that same thing, and it's all about accountability. You guys set the stage. Each rep now knows what the goals are. Now let's start measuring that. Can you give us some examples of companies that you have worked with where Ambition has worked well?

Travis:  Yeah, absolutely. One of our larger customers Clayton Holmes actually -- Harvard Business Review performed a case study on them. They are a Berkshire Hathaway company -- Fortune 1000 -- and they basically manufacture, sell and finance mobile homes.

Initially, they started with us in their lead generation department -- they were able to roll out Ambition and set up both the accountability layers and the gamification to get it all going. And their results were honestly incredible.

The new leads they passed off to their sales organization went up 200% just based on just the rollouts. And these are qualified leads they are turning into deals. And because of that, they immediately said -- we need to roll this out into sales and we should even try it in our support team.

Something very cool about Ambition -- We tend to focus on sales because it is a profit center for us, but at the end of the day, any metric-based organization can use Ambition. And they do, from call centers to support and success to everything it's between.

Similar to Clayton Homes, what other companies have been doing is rolling it out across the board. FileMaker, for example, is one. They're an Apple subsidiary company -- we rolled Ambition out to their organization and they immediately deployed it across five different silos to get more and more people involved.

Part 3. Use Cases

Jim: Now is this only for Salesforce, Travis?

Travis:  It's not, actually. So what's funny is we actually started out with proprietary systems. Our first customer, we basically built out this product for them.

And it became one of those things where they said "jump "and we said "how high?" We ended up integrating with their Cisco phone system and their proprietary databases.

And while it was painful in the beginning, it ended up building a really, really strong foundation where we can work with anything and everything. So yes, Salesforce is actually a small piece of the puzzle.

Jim:  Okay, so you work with other systems and are able to integrate your Ambition perform with them. Do you have some B2B examples where deploying Ambition has helped.

And to follow up, what has all this cost? Is this high-priced? Low-priced? And how long does it take to get Ambition deployed on most companies?

Travis: So we have a couple different pricing tiers.

We generally start at $25 per person per month and that package kind of gets you your feet wet with the gamification layer, TV Leaderboard and the basic platform to drive baseline accountability.

And then our popular tier is our $55 tier, which basically gets you a lot of advanced reporting analytics and the comprehensive, almost-fully robust system.

This package basically lets managers up the chain do all kinds of performance analysis, for example, measuring pace and projection across all of your different departments. It also gets you a variety of additional functionality features and premium support. And lastly, we have a really high-priced tier for enterprises that want the white glove service.

As far as integration, it definitely varies. We found that companies who are incredibly metric-driven and really, really have a handle on what they want to measure and their own performance expectations can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours.

On the other hand, a lot of times, companies come to us and need help. They want to talk about industry benchmarks. They want to talk about ways we can help reorganize their process, or reorganize the way they measure things in Salesforce.

And sometimes that can take you days to weeks to months -- but we offer some professional services in that department to help work out the numbers and get the deals done.

So it is pretty variable. But what was really cool with Ambition was that we actually built our own little data store where you can spin up Ambition, self-serve from our website and actually get going on your own, if you just want to manually enter your data.

We basically have a spreadsheet where a manager can go in and enter the data for their employees. Or, the employees can actually enter the data themselves.

It's a really good way for pilot teams in a large company to try out Ambition, or, for really, really small teams that are pre-CRM to start having enterprise level accountability. Without having to worry about implementation. So we have people that sign up and are up and running in five minutes.

Jim: So this isn't exactly pocket change but it is almost pocket change compared to the productivity increases.

To a sales manager, they're thinking, okay, it's $55 a month and I've got 10 salespeople. That's $550 a month -- but you can increase my productivity by 30, 40, 50, 80% and make myself people happier. 

Maybe I turn over the Salesforce, get rid of those that don't want to produce and get more people on board that really enjoy it. That's pocket change. So I can see how implementations average a couple of weeks -- because managers don't have to do a lot of revamping of their entire sales process.

Can you give us a couple more examples? Then we can finish up with how people can reach you. Give us a few examples of other clients that are using you. If you can name the companies, fine. If not I understand.

Travis: Absolutely. Here are some of the people that have used it successfully -- to be honest, they're all across the board.

Deal.com is a call center based in Singapore, and they are actually one of our earliest customers. They've been able to use us and they have literally been running these competitions on a daily basis.This is a warehouse with roughly 600 people. English is not even their first language and they were still able to use Ambition and see like 70% increases in outbound dials. 

Dropbox is another example. They actually caught onto Ambition incredibly quickly. What's really cool about their sales team is that they actually they have a San Francisco sales team and a Dublin sales team, which were relatively disjointed in terms of holding each other accountable.

Ambition gave them insight into each other. What ended up happening once they were on the platform was their San Francisco team immediately realized Dublin was being more productive and making more money. All of a sudden, San Francisco raised their bar.
Then Dublin saw that the bar was raised and did the same thing.

It's funny because they;re basically having these weekly competitions against each other, and the bar keeps getting raised. Because of time zone differential, Dublin employees were leaving work when the American employees were getting to work. so the American employees would stay as late as it took to make sure they overtook Dublin for the day.

So we have been able to see fascinating things with companies that use Ambition across a dozen time zones.

One of the really interesting cases goes back to our pricing points. Ambition is definitely a significant financial investment, but we're able to prove pretty clearly and pretty quickly that it is a profit center. If you want to invest in a top-of-the-line product, then you're going top of the line results, provided there's the right amount of commitment.

What I'm excited about in the future is all of the different use cases we can have internally with our own company. One of our co-founders, Jared Houghton, had a great idea to literally create Fitness.Ambition. Instead of making sales metrics, we made fitness metrics like push-ups, pull-ups and all sorts of things, and we put the team on it.

We had our own engineering team competing over all of this stuff. Getting healthier, using Ambition. And we kind of thought, “You know what? This might only last like a couple of days, maybe a week. Like that to see if this really, really sticks." Because everybody knows working out consistently is one of the hardest things to do.

And not only was it to crazy success, but literally last month, Jeff Mcriffey, one of our engineers, did 3000 push-ups. And this month, he is probably going to do 4000 push-ups. 

So it really has been incredible. When we're selling into the market, focus is incredibly important. But with Ambition, focus quite frankly has been tough because it works so well across so many different industries, so many different segments, and so many different aspects of life.

Part 4. Catalyst for Sales Productivity

Jim:    Well, when I think about this I really do think this is pocket change compared to productivity gains. So many of these different systems are $25-$50 per salesperson -- and they an add up pretty quickly -- but there is no guarantee most of these systems are ever going to give you an increase in productivity.

They give management more information, they help building pipelines and none of it helps, very often. Ambition really is focused on helping sales reps improve their productivity, which not only helps the sales rep, but helps the company.

Travis:    This is a really good point. We built Ambition to kind of be your sales force's catalyst. Because at the end of the day, you can pay $150 bucks a person for Salesforce, or a CRM database.

And you pay $50,000 for a Tableau license, and all Tableau is really doing is looking at your data and giving you an intelligent picture of what's going on. But you actually don't have the layer to drive the data, drive the activity, drive the effort. In that case, what's the point?

So when we go out and sell deals, we kind of position ourselves to say, look, you spent all of this money. You spent $250,000 on a Salesforce rollout. You have spent $200,000 on a Tableau rollout. We are the $50,000 layer that sits in between, and we make it all work.\

And not only are you realizing ROI through Ambition, but you're realizing ROI on your analytics layer and your CRM. And in circumstances like that, it's quite frankly been a no-brainer for some of our customers. It's enabled us to sell into some really, really big exciting companies.

Jim:  This is great. This has been a great day. How do people reach you, Travis, and then we've got to sign off.

Travis:  Absolutely, and thanks for having me, Jim.

So the best way to reach Ambition is to first go to our website: ambition.com. If you have any questions or want to learn more about the product, we would love for you to email our sales team. That's sales@ambition.com.

And then otherwise, if you want to reach me directly just shoot me an email at travis@ambition.com, and I would love to help out anyway I can. 

Ambition: The 360° Sales Productivity Platform

Ambition is a sales management platform that syncs every sales organization department, data source, and performance metric on one easy system.

Ambition clarifies and publicizes real-time performance analytics for your entire sales organization. Using a drag-and-drop interface, non-technical sales leaders can build custom scorecards, contests, reports, and TVs.

Ambition is endorsed by Harvard Business Review, AA-ISP (the Global Inside Sales Organization), and USA Today as a proven solution for managing millennial sales teams. Hear from our customers below.

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Contact us to learn how Ambition can impact your sales organization today.

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Sales Leaders, HR Professionals, and C-Level Executives use Ambition to recognize, motivate, and develop employees into more engaged and productive versions of themselves. Funded by Google, used by the Fortune 500, endorsed by the Harvard Business Review.

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