#011 Partnering for Sales Success with Jason Hills
Innovative Strategies for Channel Partnerships and Sustainable Growth
Guest & Host
Jason Hills & Steven Morell
Welcome to Speak Revenue, the podcast where we emphasize that revenue is not just a goal; it's a result. In this show, we shift our focus from the output to the inputs. We engage in conversations with sales leaders and entrepreneurs about their remarkable journeys. Our mission? To uncover the true root causes of success. In this episode we talk about channel partnerships and sustainable sales growth with industry expert Jason Hills. Discover how LinkLive transformed their approach to partnerships, adding value to their collaborators while enhancing their product, and explore the secrets behind successful partnerships and strategies for building a thriving partner ecosystem.
September 26th, 2023
Steven Morell: Welcome to our new episode of Speak Revenue. Remember, revenue is not a goal. It's a result, but a result of what In this show, we turn our eyes from the outputs towards the inputs. We speak with sales leaders and entrepreneurs about their journeys. Join us on our quest to learn the root causes of success. Let's unpack what worked for them and what didn't. Today with my guest, Jason Hills. Jason, so excited to have you in the show. Thank you for coming to Speak Revenue.
Jason Hills: Thank you for having me.
Steven Morell: It's a pleasure. Jason, for our audience real quick, who are you? What do you do, and why are you so successful?
Jason Hills: Sure. Yeah. So I'm the Chief Revenue Officer of a company called LinkLive. As Steven mentioned I manage sales and account management, business development, and channel partnerships. I've been doing this sort of thing or managing revenue for. Close to 20 years now. Started really in sales and then grew my career up through managing sales teams up to a VP of sales then moved to the c r O role, don't know, maybe seven, eight years ago where I started managing other things as well. And in my time I've managed today as well as marketing and product and other functions as well. So that's what I do.
Steven Morell: So real quick for our audience, what does LinkLive do?
Jason Hills: Sure. So LinkLive is a communication platform. We essentially provide secure communications for companies that need to communicate with their customers in a secure way. think about banks, hospitals, governments, et cetera. And what the tool does is it allows these companies to use all modes of communication. Video calls, SMS chat, secure email all securely and all now being enhanced by AI. So to help employees really answer the questions more efficiently and more accurately.
Steven Morell: I'd like to go back to this AI aspect in a moment, but before we get there, real quick, what is for LinkLive and for you at least, the perceived thing that really moves the needle?
Jason Hills: The thing that really moves the needle for LinkLive. So we're a private equity backed company, right? So we are a growth-based private equity firm that wants us to grow and so for us it's really driving revenue, right? We are looking to grow at greater than 50% a year. and so are pushing the needle on marketing and sales. So it's marketing, how can we drive more leads? How can we make sure we're driving quality leads? And then on the sales side of it, what's our conversion rates? How do we improve our conversion rates? How do we improve our response times? And
Steven Morell: So you are growing at 50% annually.
Jason Hills: We are, yeah, we.
Steven Morell: That's impressive. How long have you guys been around? Are you in the triple double.
Jason Hills: Yeah. Actually we are, we're a pretty old company, so it's a 20 year old company. It was a…
Steven Morell: Oh, okay.
Jason Hills: …that really bootstrapped took an extremely small amount of investment and turned it into a profitable company early. Run by the founders for 20 years. Purchased by private equity, a little over a year ago, about a year and a half who then had a different ambition. The co-founders were comfortable running a profitable business. Private equity wants to take that good business and turn it into a growth And so that, that's really what we're
Steven Morell: Yeah. And say a year and a half ago, that was still probably a good valuation.
Jason Hills: Yeah. Yeah.
Steven Morell: Hope you don't…
Jason Hills: Yeah. Yeah. It was that, it was, I was not there for that. I was brought in with the private equity investment. So I came in to essentially, improve the things that were working. Take what was working, figure out how I can improve it, and then scale it.
Steven Morell: I feel like things have changed. I. Two years ago, those conversations were, oh, they're bootstrapping. They don't have money, nobody's investing, and they're running a small business. Now, everybody goes oh, you guys are bootstrapped. I wish I were like, how do you do this ? So thi things have turned around, but how did you recently come on board? I had to ask you what was, what happened, what did you do on day zero or day one when you parachuted in. But step me first through your sales process as is today.
Jason Hills: Yeah, so the sales process it's actually a little different depending on if it's direct or channels. We have a really successful channel business. The sales process starts with the leads, right? How did we get them?
Steven Morell: Yeah. How do you get them outbound?
Jason Hills: Yeah, we do. So most of our leads are actually coming from our sales or b d r team. So they do account for a huge percentage of this. we get sales from, we do webinars. Webinars are very successful. Our channel partnerships are very successful. We go to a lot of shows and conferences. so we're getting those through all those modes. We do digital marketing not a huge amount, but we do get some leads through that as well. So as we get these leads in, it's a matter of having salespeople that can convert them. And so most of the leads that come and go first to a BDR because I have SLAs around quick response times, right? So if I get a demo request Our website, I want a BDR who's sitting there who can respond within minutes, right? So I have BDR to take those, they have an SLA to respond. So we quickly get the person when they're thinking about it, right ? When they're top of mind about wanting a solution. So that's the first line. The BDR calls the person, has a conversation, does some qualification, and makes sure it's a real opportunity. If it is, they schedule a call right then. So we schedule the With an AE, and so the AE then joins the next call. And this is largely a qualification, right? So that first call is discovery. It's a qualification, do they have a budget? What is their problem? Solution they want to look like? Are we a fit?
Steven Morell: Give the audience, let's give us, me and the audience a little bit of context. What is your annual contract value? What ticket size are we talking about?
Jason Hills: Yeah. We average on the direct side, it's gonna be closer to 40, 50,000. On the indirect side, through Channel Partners, it's gonna be closer to 18,000.
Steven Morell: Okay. Okay. Let me recap. You do what I would call brand marketing by sponsoring events and getting the name out and getting the name recognized by your target group. Probably in different verticals. Probably healthcare is a little bit different than say, law firms or something.
Jason Hills: Yeah.
Steven Morell: And then you do get inbound through digital marketing that pays that. We are talking about paid ads here.
Jason Hills: We don't do a lot of paid ads. Truly we're honestly, we do not have paid ads, but we, we're truly doing most of our marketing right now is through we host, or that we will. We'll co-sponsor with companies that have followers. And then we do a lot of shows, and then we have a partnership. So those are really our
Steven Morell: How do you con, how do you convert? Webinars, attendees…
Jason Hills: Yep.
Steven Morell: Because setting up a webinar is already difficult. And I admit I've failed many times at this. There've been successful ones, and there've been those where the organizer goes to Steven, we have 10 people, and usually just one third shows up. Do you, we want to talk for 45 minutes to three people on a Zoom call. We're like, okay, maybe not. But we had 160 people attending. How do you convert them afterwards?
Jason Hills: Yeah, so that's a good example. Or a good question. So we, for example, had a webinar yesterday where we had just about a hundred, like 98 people attend. Immediately afterwards at the end of the call, there's, at the end of the webinar, there's a call to action, right? There'll be a QR code where they can request a demo, request a meeting, right? They can snap it to a website, they can register. That's the first catch. We did also have people during the chats asked to be contacted. So we keep track of those and contact them after. But then for most of the audience we have a list of everybody who registered, 'cause it was our webinar, right? So we know who they are. And so then we send an email. It's an email that comes from sales operations that has basically a pre-established series of emails. But they come from our sales reps or they're made to come from our sales reps and those. Those we send immediately, right? So we send that out quickly after thanking them for coming and asking them if they would like further information. We always have a follow-up webinar, so in this case, we're asking them to register for the deeper dive. But it comes from the email address so that if they respond, we now have somebody that we're corresponding with and it's a salesperson corresponding with them. That's the how as far as the technically how, but why would they come back if you leave them with something else they want to learn, right? You leave them with a, there, there has to be a reason for them to want to engage with you. And so at the end of the webinar, there was a reason to, to engage, to do a deeper dive, right? Or to do a demo. Really the two.
Steven Morell: Somebody said to me, No, no matter how you deliver it, whether it's a PDF that you download or a tool that you send out, whatever it is, webinar. Elite Magnet is Elite Magnet. If it's a complete solution to a very narrow problem,
Jason Hills: Yeah.
Steven Morell: If you can do that Then this is their first experience of how you solve problems. Even just this one little narrow one, and they get a first taste of what it would be like if you would solve a big problem for them.
Jason Hills: Yeah. Yeah, I agree with that. I think look, it as much easier if you're if you're solving a narrow problem that's, that many are experiencing and you have a good solution, especially if it's unique, that's a fantastic thing to focus
Steven Morell: Yeah. I think Gong it's a fantastic example for this. For years they were, Gong is recording conversations and then giving you insight about the conversation. So what do they need? They need an audience that actually has conversations as long as they have empty calendars, there is nothing to record. Nobody needs Gong. So they were helping the sales leader with 25 cold emails. How to get a meeting. This is how to get a meeting. They were helping us sales leaders to actually get meetings only if we get meetings then we are enabled to even use their tool.
Jason Hills: That's exactly right.
Steven Morell: You were talking about AI. How do you leverage AI in that process?
Jason Hills: We leverage AI in a few places. Of the things we do that's a little unique is we've started using AI to improve the quality of a company. So essentially, there's 2 ways to think about who you should be prospecting. There's, "are they ready?" Think something like intent, right? That's important. But then there's also fit, right? "Are they a good fit for our products?" And so we use AI really heavily, are they a good fit? And so we have a tool that essentially is scoring companies that we have in our database. And we keep that, we keep training that AI tool based on are we closing deals? If we close deals, scores go up. And so the tool essentially then goes, looks for other companies that look like that. We also allow the reps to manually assign scores. So if they, let's say a BDR sets up a meeting, it's a horrible fit. They're gonna give that company a low score. And so that then teaches the model to go score other companies that have those same attributes with a low score. So what that essentially does is it's always learning, always getting smarter, and helping us focus on the right types of companies and really narrowing in on what our OTP is, right? So if we can get really smart about what our perfect customer looks like, then let's find more companies that look like that. So AI has been helping us do that.
Steven Morell: To give us a little bit of context you said your sales rep are putting in the scores or they can put in their scores. Give us an, in a picture of the size of the organization. What's the overall headcount of the company?
Jason Hills: We're about 70 people.
Steven Morell: 70 people? The size of the sales team? Sales reps BDRs sales enablement RevOps, what do you have?
Jason Hills: Yep. So 10 salespeople, 2 account managers. 1 BDR right now, but I need to and then sales enablement really comes from marketing, that comes from product not having a product marketing person. I have a sales operations person that I share with marketing. That's really my, that's my team.
Steven Morell: To pick a controversial topic, your BDRs SDRs report to sales or to marketing
Jason Hills: Sales.
Steven Morell: Sales. Okay. I'm not sure I missed this. What's the ratio between SDRs and BDRs to sales reps?
Jason Hills: Right now it'd be five to one, but I prefer it to be three to one. I had it at three to one and then Yeah, we had to do some cutbacks earlier this year, so we did lose the BDR.
Steven Morell: So one BDR is feeding three sales reps.
Jason Hills: Yeah.
Steven Morell: The sales rep prospect themselves too.
Jason Hills: Yeah, of course. Yeah.
Steven Morell: So you have full cycle sales reps. Plus a BDR who feeds in additionally.
Jason Hills: Yes. Yeah. I view the BDR.
Steven Morell: Okay.
Jason Hills: As an extension of a salesperson's prospecting, right? So I like a B, the B D R should be meeting with the salespeople they support regularly, and the salesperson they support should have things they want to target, right? So let's say they want to run a campaign to target what we've lost over the last two years. So they can get a list from our operations guy, say, Hey, gimme a list of all the deals we've lost. Then they'll go into that and they'll choose the right people they need to target then they'll decide a message that they want the BDR to hit them with. And we'll have sent a BDR out prospecting. And so the BDR might next few weeks, with sequences that are emailing and phone calls trying to get those leads warm again.
Steven Morell: So the BDRs are more like auditioning additional firepower on demand that you can move into…
Jason Hills: Yep.
Steven Morell: …then doing the same thing.
Jason Hills: Yeah, that's exactly right. And then we use them a lot. If you think about going to a conference when it's a lot of work. Let's say you get a list of people going to a conference two weeks prior. a lot of work to try and set up meetings in two weeks. It's this Race and all 200 companies that are going are doing the same thing. salespeople have real pipelines, right? And they have deals, they're working. I don't want them to drop the deals they're working on and on creating meetings for the conference. And so I want the salespeople to offload that to the BDRs, right? And so the BDRs then become responsible for really setting up…
Steven Morell: Yeah.
Jason Hills: …at those
Steven Morell: Yeah, man, being there so many times myself I wish I had a good BDR at the time to to do this. I did have, but many times I had to do this as an entrepreneur myself in the very early days. And fully understood what happens after sales. Do you have a land and expand motion or do you just fight churn? How does that work?
Jason Hills: So I have account managers who essentially are responsible for initiating the land and expanding, if you will. We do a ton of this, by the way, like we, we have a lot of success upselling and cross-selling customers. the account management role for me is really responsible for a few things. Is making sure our customers are happy and referenceable, and knowing, keeping an active list of who is referenceable, so we can use those in sales. Two, it's finding, upsell, cross-sell opportunities, right? So your quarterly reviews, being engaged with a customer, understanding needs and problems. But then when they find those needs and problems, I give the account managers the choice of either bringing in a salesperson or do it themselves. There's no, they don't get compensated differently. Either way. My idea or the way I like to run this is, if it's a very small opportunity, the account manager can just take it, right? They can do it. But if it's complex and it's gonna require lots of work, many account managers don't love selling. And so I have them bring in AE who then takes that and sells the deal.
Steven Morell: So what is it? I've seen typically 2 types of setups. I've seen the dollar amount. If it's more than then you need to call the sales rep. Or I saw strict dividing talk with the customer about anything. But the moment it has a dollar tag to it, it turns into a commercial compensation. And now I need a transactional compensation, if you will. Now you need to call the sales rep because there are skilled negotiators and price makers, which is yours.
Jason Hills: And quite frankly they're better at selling the product, right? They. The account managers don't get repetition on selling a product, right? So a big part of it. To answer your question, I actually, a little gray. We don't have a line that says if it's more than $20,000, bring a salesperson. I essentially have the account managers bring in salespeople almost all the time. So it's rare that an account manager makes a deal. It's usually because it's very small, like they're adding seats to something they've already bought, right? They've already bought this package. They need more seats. don't need a salesperson to come in and send an amendment, that's an easy thing. But if it's something more,
Steven Morell: I think the key here is that your account managers. Do not have commission as part of their compensation.
Jason Hills: They don't, and they don't have sales.
Steven Morell: So they are not competing with the sales reps, do they have commission?
Jason Hills: That's right.
Steven Morell: For the deal, right?
Jason Hills: That's right. You have to align them, not make them competitive. And so I do that by, the. Account managers are really competing on a revenue target. So their book of business, their customer base, we look at their revenue and then we look at our projected revenue for that customer base. They need to hit that, right? So you customers churn 'cause that makes it really hard to hit that number, so you have to take care of them. But B, you have to be looking for growth opportunities because all of those customers are gonna have growth built into their forecast for the year. Accounts are inherently motivated to find the opportunities, but they don't get commissioned, per se, on a deal.
Steven Morell: I think this is a very smart setup because now with this incentive set, this way it makes total sense for the account manager to ask the sales rep for help.
Jason Hills: Yes,
Steven Morell: To make sure that no, he's got, he's a closer, he's gotta close it. And turn for help instead of competing against others,that's a very smart setup. And I think this is a strong argument against commission for account managers and customer success people.
Jason Hills: Yeah, I don't pay like and I don't really want to write. As a consumer of services, I don't like companies that have a salesperson disguised as an account manager. they're just trying to sell something, right? They're not really that helpful. so that,
Steven Morell: Good. Good point.
Jason Hills: A bit of a negative experience for me as a customer of a company that does that. And so I don't want to create that. I want my customers to like doing business with me. I want my customers to be happy that they're meeting with their account metrics. Their account manager solves their problems and makes their business better. No, he's just a quota driven sales guy in here looking to sell me something.
Steven Morell: But at the same time, you do compensate for their overall growth. They're growth oriented. They're just not so needy.
Jason Hills: They're not. They're not like, I need to close this to hit a quota, so I'm gonna force you customers to buy this quarter. 'cause dang it, I really need it.
Steven Morell: Yeah,
Jason Hills: They're.
Steven Morell: Very likable approach. Jason.
Jason Hills: Isn't that what you want though? You want your customers to like you. 'cause at the end of the day, you really don't want 'em to churn. That's a huge problem. And B, if you have lots of products to sell, which we do, I, I love the beachhead strategy. There's no easier person to sell to than a current customer if they're happy.
Steven Morell: And they bring, people talk. They bring you new customers.
Jason Hills: Of course.
Steven Morell: That's an underestimated channel Before we run out of time, you mentioned partner, I think you mentioned partner and channel partnerships.
Jason Hills: Yes.
Steven Morell: Step us to how you, that's a very difficult animal.
Jason Hills: Yeah.
Steven Morell: Very often misunderstood and just reduced to, I gotta do revenue share. And there are tons of other aspects to this. Talk to us a little bit about how you have set up your partner program and how you leverage partners to feed your pipeline.
Jason Hills: Sure.
Steven Morell: Who's doing, let me ask, who's doing the sales work? Your partner or you?
Jason Hills: The, it's a little of both. We have three very successful partnerships. We're adding two more, or we've added two more that we're growing. The way it works they're all slightly different, but in general, the way it works is we provide them the product, right? So we have a product, we provide them all the material to sell the product or to, to arm their relationship managers or their salespeople to include our product with their deals or their customers. But essentially we just want them to get us in the conversation. So in the case of, we do a lot of this in banking, so in the case of banking, we have one particular partner that is the largest company who sells technology to banks. And they have thousands and thousands of customers. We just want their relationship managers to ask their customer if they need this service. If they have interest in learning more, if they do, that relationship manager brings in, I have inside sales people then they bring in and our inside salespeople are trained in selling our product. And then we essentially take the deal through to pricing. The pricing actually comes from our partner because we put it on their contract our partner closes and books the deal. And so our partner gets to keep a hundred percent of the revenue. Then us, a portion of that. So that's a model that's gone very well. We've also been doing a lot of what we're calling embedded deals where we are embedding some portion of our technology into another company's broader solution.
Steven Morell: Technology partnerships?
Jason Hills: Yeah. Think about us, I mean we call it our embedded strategy, but. The thought is we all, we're salespeople, so we all use CRMs. So if you're in a CRM and you've noticed that many CRMs now allow you to place phone calls, or send emails, or text chats all from your CRM, Those functionalities to a C R M company.
Steven Morell: Yes. Okay.
Jason Hills: within their overall product. Nobody really knows we exist, right? We just are, we're driving this. And the CRM company doesn't have to go create a communications platform. They can leverage ours. So we're finding opportunities to partner with companies in that way. We're essentially, we're selling, they become our customers. They buy it from us to embed it in a product that they're delivering to others which spin on,
Steven Morell: And you essentially, you're making the product of your partner better than it was before.
Jason Hills: That's exactly right.
Steven Morell: I don't think about revenue here. Don't think about lead generation. Think about adding value to your partner's product then it's gonna fly. Fantastic. Alright, Jason, this brings us to the end of this episode of Speak, make Things Better for Everybody. Let's make it to the end of the episode of Speak Revenue. I want to thank our guest, Jason, for joining us today and sharing his valuable insights. Huge shout out to all our listeners you support means the build for us. Remember to check our website: speakrevenue.com for the full transcript and additional resources. And if you enjoyed the show please review us on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you go for your listening needs, it really helps to get the word out. Also, follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, and now also on YouTube. We'll be back soon with another great guest. Until then, stay curious, keep learning, and stay safe. Thank you.