#016 Revenue Wisdom with Zachary Gropper
Navigating Mergers, Acquisitions, and Aligning Your Organization for Success
Guest & Host
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 of Speak Revenue, host Steven Morell sits down with Zachary Gropper, CEO and Founder of Insight Revenue. Join them as they delve into the world of revenue leadership, mergers, acquisitions, and the crucial importance of alignment within organizations. Discover valuable insights on adapting to change, understanding your customer, and the power of having tough conversations early on. Whether you're a business leader or aspiring entrepreneur, this episode offers practical advice and lessons from the frontlines of revenue growth.
October 9th, 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 input, and we speak with revenue leaders and entrepreneurs about their journeys. So join us on our quest to uncover and learn the root causes of success. Let's unpack what works for them. And what didn't today with my guest, Zach Gropper, I'm so excited to have you in my studio. Thank you for joining us today, Zach.
Zachary Gropper: Thank you, Steven. It's awesome to be here.
Steven Morell: We had a little preparation conversation, and you told me that. You have served over a thousand customers. Those are the thousand people that know you and cherish and value you. To our listeners real quick, who are you? What do you do, and why are you so successful?
Zachary Gropper: Great. Yeah. I'll try to be as brief as I can, I'm Zach Rober. I'm the CEO and founder of a business called Insight Revenue, which is sort of a one-stop shop of training, consulting, research, and advisory support for B2B organizations. And we have a specific focus on middle market SaaS, but actually experience with every industry. That's a bit of who I'm and what I do. I'm American, I live in Barcelona, , which is part of what the pre-conversation was about. I've worked and lived in about 20 countries, so I'm really passionate about international expansion, international business and travel and cultures and that kind of thing. That's just me personally. You know, I think about what's led me to the ability to be pretty successful and have a lucrative career at this point, to be able to. Bootstrap my own business, which is I think a lot of people have that dream, and you wanna be able to do that as far as you can without outside investment. Luckily, I've had a couple exits under my belt luckily. And so what led to, some of that success I think is, it goes back to a very simple thing I learned in grade school in the United States where I grew up, which is, I heard this story about Benjamin Franklin and how he kept a diary. Every day he would try to make himself somewhat better at something and a better person. And he kept that dire every day. And I, that really stuck with me. And I think I must've learned that when I was six or seven years old or something crazy. And I really have applied that in my business sense, and it explains a lot as to why I traveled so much to try to get so much diverse exposure. It really explains why I went, and took a job at a company called CEB, which is now part of Gartner, and built a company that's now called Challenger, which I worked at, you know, almost 20 years because I didn't go to a fancy business school. I always liked just learning and by doing, and so this environment was like the best research on earth: access to the top executives in the world on a daily basis, in every industry, in every region of the world. And, you know, from all those years, just learning from our research and learning from those great executives. And it's something I've taken now with my work with Pavilion, which used to be a revenue collective. Some of you would know us Steven's in the community. And it's a great opportunity for us now as we advance our career to give back. And by giving back, by mentoring, coaching, developing that professional community, we also just make ourselves better professionals so that if it's like that one thing is like that pursuit of improvement of your craft, always try to be the best and then always try to learn. From other people, especially those you admire. So I think I've been pretty fortunate to have that kind of access and put it to work.
Steven Morell: I will make an unpaid public announcement. if you're not a member of Pavilion and you're in the GTM and revenue generating professions, do join. I think that's one of the most important steps that you can do for your career. Connect with, how many are there pavilions in the world? 20,000, 25,000 something? I don't know. You'll know better.
Zachary Gropper: Yeah, I have to check with Sam and Liz. I think it's around 13,000, but you might be right. It might have, that might be, been last year's number. I mean, yeah, just as I didn't introduce myself, I'm the chapter head for the community in Barcelona, but also that kind of covers the Mediterranean and I also work with executives across emea, developing their careers. So it's a, it is a great network for those who have the opportunity to take it, check this out. and hopefully come
Steven Morell: Absolutely agree. And I'm not sure if we first met there, but I'm delighted that you're here today. Let's jump in. I think you underestimated your journey. You were part of CEB acquired by Gartner. You were there when the challenger sales method was not invented. I would say discovered out of, and that sets it from, at least for me, sets it apart from any other sales method out there based on one moment in time, it was 2008, everybody who was selling suddenly stopped selling because nobody was buying anymore. But there was a handful I. Of salespeople who were still selling, still closing deals, and this once in a lifetime opportunity to investigate this scientifically led to the discovery of the challenger sales method. I hope I paraphrase this correctly. And you were there when that happened, and then you brought this method to a wide variety of clients and customers and executives and sales organizations. You mentioned over a thousand clients. When you bring a new method to a team, to an organization, my experience is it's them and it's hard to change hearts and minds. And I happen to know that this is something that you are very passionate about. Tell us a little bit about the challenges. No matter, honestly, I'm happy when I see somebody is using, or an organization is using any sales method challenge or whatever, that's already way better, infinitely better than no sales method. But if you try to . Unify or introduce a new method, what are typically the obstacles that you're facing?
Zachary Gropper: Yeah. great question because, and I think most of the time, when folks try to implement a new way of selling or training, as we know, First of all, 87% of training is lost within 30 days. So a lot of that is a lot of wasted time, energy, and money. But also if you look at commercial transformation programs and their implementation typically, they really fail to be really adopted and ingrained into the day-to-day. And so having watched over the years, I took a pretty deep notebook across that time before I started my own business trying to actually . You know, actually close some of those gaps. I think there were some things that really stood out to me. And so if you look at the challenger journey that we were on, and even connected to why we're called insight revenue, is the idea that, like you said back in 2008, 2009, and there's a lot to learn now as we look at the economic uncertainty. It was actually our marketing, our CMOs that actually commissioned our first study into customer loyalty. That kind of opened Pandora's box. On this, which actually discovered that it was the buying experience, the sales experience. That was the main differentiator between being selected as number one and number two in the buying process. And we actually started to unpack, well, what do you mean by the buying process? Why is that so much more important than product brand price? Those kinds of things, which everyone's investing tons of money and attention on. And so what we ended up realizing was, there's a very specific experience that drives the needle on loyalty, which is like, buying from you the first time, but buying again and advocating on your behalf like quality business. And it's a specific experience you need to create as an organization. And I start there by telling this kind of longer story. And one of the reasons my co-founder is actually that was the head of research at CEB and Gartner, who did almost all the work that you see today in their work and Revalidating, that most of that has all held true over that 20 year period. And the thing is if you look at what most people have done with that research, it's implementing training, and training is fantastic. And I think there's a huge gap in development, for folks across the whole, you know, customer facing organization. We could talk about kind of how to get individuals to change behavior, but at the same time, if you look at what the answers were to that science that we did, it's piece of it is, there's a very clear model of how you need to engage with your customer, and there's a skillset behind that. That you need to take on and learn. That's not easy. But if you get it, it goes a heck of a long way, even if you only get a percentage of it. But then it's an organizational piece. So I think, do your organizations actually understand the customer, um, the jobs that they're doing to make decisions, what their problems really are, not just the users, which I think a lot of SaaS companies have gotten. Good handle on their user base, but in the consumers maybe. But if you look at the buying audience, like most salespeople and marketing teams really don't understand anything about how they really make decisions, how those link into more strategic issues. And so I start there because I think that's a strategy for change. If you're gonna make a strategic change, you can't just put it all on the front line and try to find a shortcut and just say, oh, I'm gonna train this person and they're gonna be a high performer, like a challenger is. Right? Or I'm gonna create some kind of disruptive message and that's just gonna, and we can just take a deck and refine it. And then we're, we've done the job actually. It's getting a deeper understanding of your customer, gathering that insight, channeling it into your go to market, and then having all that team play together, product marketing, sales, service, all need to be on the same page. Like, who are we? What do we do?
Steven Morell: Making a super interesting point that I've never really thought about, in that way, implementing sales is a jolt gap. Whichever method alone, let me recap this if I've got this right, 65% of that training that you give your salespeople is lost after 30 days. Is that correct?
Zachary Gropper: Yeah, actually almost 90% is.
Steven Morell: 30 days. And even if they manage to keep it, it's, and this is how I understood you, it's pretty worthless unless the rest of the organization is supporting that sales method.
Zachary Gropper: Exactly. And so if you think about how your managers are coaching this, how is your revenue operation set up and your tech like actually reinforcing the day-to-day activities and skills? And how is the team playing a team sport in how we actually bring insight to market as the strategy, right? It's not about our products, it's not about us. It's about using that understanding to go to market as a team. And so it's that sort of outside, in that, outside in approach versus the inside out approach that most companies are employing. And certainly most PLG organizations have deployed even as they try to move into.
Steven Morell: Where if I'm a sales leader, let's be hands on. I'm a VP of sales. Mid-size SaaS company, transactional inside sales. I have a SDR / AE set up. I'm getting all the deals in. I'm training my salespeople in whichever method and I'm, where do I start? What? Which is the most important element of support that I can get? Do I talk first with customer success? and onboarding to avoid churn. Do I talk about marketing? I need different types of leads for the sales model. Like how do I get all those moving parts around me connected and aligned internally so that we can serve the customer in a connected and meaningful way.
Zachary Gropper: Yeah, I think probably a simple answer is you start by talking more to your customers and asking them different kinds of questions, and that is gonna reveal a lot to you about who you really are in the market, how you're differentiated, and how you should really be positioning. And your go-to-market strategy. Now, how do you then take that knowledge and convert it into something that's gonna allow you to have better conversations, better content, better demand gen, and then better products, right? That's a whole series of events, but it has to start with the customer. And I think that's where the biggest gap I see in most organizations is. And then the alignment fails because the different teams have different views of who you are in the market and what we're doing to help our customers and what that means to them. Then you're gonna have different strategies on the marketing side and on the product side of what you're investing in. And you're gonna have these disconnects where sales is gonna say to products like, Hey, we just need you to invest in these things, and we'll be able to close these many more deals. And then marketing will say, oh yeah, but you guys are not listening. We're sending you all these decks and all this information you should be using because We understand the market as a whole. And then,again, you have those debates of like, well, you don't, no, that's all academic and you're not in my calls. Like this is what's really happening. And that kind of prevents a lot of companies from being able to make . Really meaningful change because again, like you absolutely can affect any individual, function, but then if they're all not moving together, it's gonna break down in, in a lot of places. And so one of the things we do actually to help companies, and this is what we learned from Gartner, is, Gartner used to do these things called the anatomy of an organization and Maturity Diagnostics to look at your functions and help you prioritize, like where do you start first? But because of their model, they can't do that cross-functionally So we built it. A cross-functional diagnostic to look at your revenue organization as a whole and see how well you're aligning and delivering value to the customer, and then how well you're aligning each of the functions from their perspective. And the interesting thing about having rolled this out in about 50 organizations is the point of view of the leadership versus the field is very different on many issues. And the point of view of the different functions is, and it doesn't really even matter what the differences are. The fact is it's like having those conversations . With objective data really helps you get past some of these things, which can be very political because everybody has pride in different parts in their sandbox. But at the same time, if you actually can get together and talk through all this, you can actually start to, you know, so tough conversations is another thing that you need to be better at as organizations to be able to make more significant progress. So hopefully that's like a high level where I would start as a strategy. And then there's ways that you sort of break that down as you think about implementing.
Steven Morell: This connects on so many levels with my experience and my background. I'm exploring while I'm listening to you. I happen to be a master black belt in Six Sigma, which is process improvement, right? And in Six Sigma, we know the voice of the process and the voice of the customer. And the voice of the process is to talk to the people on the ground, in the factory, or in this case with the salespeople who actually talk to customers and know what happens in those conversations. Then talk to the customers. This is the voice of the customer. I love jobs to be done, interviews to figure out how to learn, and every time I do jobs to be done interviews something surfaces that the company didn't know. Is that your experience as well?
Zachary Gropper: Yeah, and I think you've seen this trend where people try to build up the sales machine where they have their process, right? This is our process, how to go to market. And ultimately what it is, it's like we're pushing our customers through the funnel, right? This is why your forecast doesn't work, right? Because you're just pushing them through. And so this whole idea, you know, it's just, it's not new news. It's like you really have to align to the buying process versus the selling process and understand sort of the verif, like what the jobs they've done, what are they doing? The verifiers that actually help you recognize where they are in their decision making process. You can deliver the right kind of support to them, whether that's, you know, content that helps buyer enablement, or it's an actual sales conversation you might have, or it's bringing in a sales engineer to help them think about like, if we're writing an RFP, like what would that actually look like? And then of course, hopefully you guys are number one in that process. You need to be able to partner with them to guide them through a better process because, and this is where you mentioned jolt before, so we've just recently announced our partnership with Matt Dixon and Jolt to be able to bring that, those theories into, or those ideas into our customer, into our customer engagements. The idea is that customer buying is, it's really hard for them to buy, especially nowadays when everything's going through the CFO. And so how are you helping them be able to get that group together so that they can make a decision that's actually gonna be successful, that they won't regret, and then there's this new thing called: "Fear of messing up", which nobody was talking about until recently, which is you may have a customer you've convinced to change, who's convinced to change, but then they're so scared of what happens if this goes wrong, that the deal never goes anywhere and it stays in your pipeline, screws up your forecast, gets people fired. Because those also can be bigger deals where you actually have a whole different playbook for how do we get them to understand how we view de-risking the deal at that stage of the process. you really gotta think pretty holistically about that whole process. And you know, in different businesses it's different numbers of stakeholders, different buyer types, and it's more complex. But I think everywhere we're seeing these days, understanding how the CFO's gonna think about time to value and things like that. You've gotta coach your stakeholders that probably don't understand even how to have that conversation to be able to get your deals done. And so it's a very different physics and buying motion than this machinery that most companies have built to be
Steven Morell: It's fascinating that you can tell that something is scientific by the pure fact that more than one person. discovers it at around the same time, and it's not that the fear of messing up is an entirely new concept because actually jobs to be done talks about the four forces and one of the four forces is fear of a future situation, which is. Other words for fear of messing something up. And then I'm in that situation that I don't wanna be in. And, I think Bob Moesta came out with a book, two years ago, the "Demand-Side Sales'', where he argues the same thing and has shown this in his research as well. So the fear of messing up is real. And when you are, when you try to unblock a deal and you talk about the cost of inactivity, . Then you are also raising the overall anxiety of messing up, correct?
Zachary Gropper: Yeah, you need to be able to really tailor to that stakeholder and that opportunity to understand and recognize why it's not moving forward. And that I think looking through those lenses is, and the science behind it. That's what I just love following the science of this journey and being able to take pieces of all these things we've learned, which all, a lot of this, or most of this is all open source, right? For the most part. But, being able to then put together a system that actually isn't biased to one methodology or another, but actually can continue to learn and be agile. So, that's one of the things we learned, you know, in working all those years at Challenger with Gartner, it's like: Hey, some companies have got medic. Our med pick and other companies don't and have bant, and some companies are using spices and some companies are, and everybody's got these different pe, especially bigger organizations, have bits and pieces of everything and pockets everywhere. That's the reality. The reality is you're never gonna rip everything out and put a brand new thing in overnight that's gonna take years to just kind of, you've gotta learn how to pace the change. And be able to incorporate what's working in each organization. So that ability to kind of work and tailor a model that's gonna fit the things that work for you and for your buyer ecosystem, that's really, really important. Most of the companies that you know that like we have experience with, don't actually, they're not able to do that work because of their business model
And when you talk about making these changes and taking all these best ideas, It's not necessarily about having the best ideas these days, it's how do you implement them realistically and get them to stick, which is a lot about behavioral science and change management. and so I think people, organizations who try, especially if you think of PE driven organizations and folks right now it's like, Hey, we just gotta change the ship. We gotta run hard and just do, make lots of changes, change our metrics, change our structure. Like if you don't actually step, actually stop and think Hey, it doesn't matter the ideas. But actually, how do we get people together to get there in a meaningful way? That's the secret right now is how do you drive that change.
Steven Morell: I, I hear. call for alignment in two ways. Alignment with your customer by actually listening to your customer. But I also hear alignment internally because you cannot change anything just inside your small little ship. if you're VP sales and you train your salespeople in one method or the other, this doesn't move the needle as long as you don't have the entire organization aligned.
Zachary Gropper: I think it's, you're selling yourself short. If you don't, and this is maybe more of a message to the CEOs out there who, and I think founders, their businesses grow and they're great. A lot of 'em as engineers and like if we look at kind of. Moving outta C to series A and B, what you find is a lot of organizations that, you know, struggle at that with their management to manage different senior leaders they brought in to have them come together and have tough conversations. And so what you end up, even in small organizations, I mean, we've worked with Google and Microsoft and SS a P, and yeah, the silos there have been built in politics. almost centuries, right? decades. But if you look at, you know, some of these newer companies, you see the same problems. That was a big shock to me when I went into the SAS universe after, and really focused on that for the last several years. It's like you see all the same problems in a small team where these folks are just building their own little fiefdoms and not actually connecting. And so I would say yes, like I'm pragmatic and I was a CRO and VP of sales. Like, and sometimes you just gotta go and do things to get to your numbers. And unfortunately, sometimes marketing might not come with you. But to the extent, like as a CEO or as a leader, you get together and you build a better relationship across those teams and you start the conversation there and it's not pointing fingers. It's like, Hey, you know, like, and I can help companies by bringing in research that shows like, Hey, this is an objective way to do better. I. Have some tough conversations, get aligned, it's gonna go so much further. So it's a difference of talking about getting an individual to improve their, you know, improve 20% versus like improving market share and shifting market share.
You can do that as a, you know, it's rare you can do that only as a VP of sales, right? It, especially these days where, I mean, so much of the buying is happening without you there, right? You've gotta really be in front of the audience, teaching them when they're learning, and that's, you're gonna have to play together with marketing really well.
Steven Morell: I wholeheartedly agree, and if there's one learning from that I can add from my . Six Sigma background. If you talk to people, have your data prepared first, because let's be honest, we are salespeople. If you go to salespeople and ask them, well, why are you not closing? Why are you losing those deals? Why are the sales cycles so long? You're gonna hear a lot of bss. It's good if you have your data. . prepped because then, you can tell reality from bs and that helps in listening to the voice of the process, voice of the customer, and also I believe in talking to your peers and your teams. Let me ask you this, Zach. If I would have a time machine and I could send a postcard to the five years younger Zach with one big warning on it, what not to do. , ? What warning would you send to the five younger self of you?
Zachary Gropper: When I think about this question, it's like, me personally as a very specific answer, and I'm not sure how relevant this is to a lot of the audience, but I think there's a lot of folks who have gone through mergers, acquisitions, exit successful or otherwise. And so I've gone through a couple of those in the last five years. The thing that I think I would tell myself is not to take it personally. So I've had two private equity exits and I think, you know, every time everyone told me like, Hey, this is what's gonna happen after you go that direction as a business, and then look, every private equity company tells you, you know that they tell you we're different, right? This is gonna be different. And they fill you with hopes and dreams. But actually you have to understand what their business model is, and you have to understand what the purpose of that acquisition is. And I think if I had realized that, and I would've, you know, it's part of, it's about adaptation. Part of it's just understanding what the writing's on the wall like. I invest a lot in my teams. I, you know, people say your team's not your family, but like when you build teams and scale 'em, like you gotta be passionate about that. You gotta care about your people. And it's a different ball game, right? Like when you're trying to go for a profitability play and break down on valuations. And it's not about, if it's not about growth. So I've learned now, you know, in very successful ways, but also I think of how to, it's take, took its emotional toll on me. Those learning lessons. say wait a minute! So if I had known in advance, I don't know if I would've done anything differently. 'cause both of them, you know, both of these experiences have been wonderful for me and lucrative, right? But at the same time, no going in . That understands what they're trying to do, make sure you're either on board with it or you're not. Or you have these tough conversations early and then be able to roll with it because this is a different world, especially if you're in SaaS. Like you've gotta think more holistically about your career. It isn't, when I was growing up, people thought like, Hey, I'm gonna be at this company for 15 years. Like that doesn't really happen that much anymore. Uh, you know, you get some white hair from it. So, I think a long way of saying things like, You know, when there are mergers, acquisitions, and just make sure that you're, you're going in there sort of in a pragmatic, objective approach and not sort of personalizing those experiences as a leader. So you look at your holistic career and really do what you wanna do versus being kind of pushed or pulled into a direction whether you want it or not.
Steven Morell: I heard a golden nugget in there. Half the tough conversations early on. I think this is a general rule that I personally learned way too late about. Life and . That I would recommend to everyone to have the hard conversations early on. you're not doing anyone a favor. If you just try to judge them, you're gonna have them eventually anyway. All right, everyone. That brings us to the end of this episode of Speak Revenue. I wanna thank our guests. Zach Gropper for joining us today and sharing his thoughts and insight and vast experience, with us and our listeners. Huge shoutout to our listeners. New support means the world to us. Remember to check our website at www.speakrevenue.com and go to Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify or wherever you go for your listening needs. And please, like, share and engage with us. It helps us really to get the word out. Also, follow us on LinkedIn, on Instagram, and on YouTube. We'll be back with another great guest soon. Until then, stay curious, keep learning, and I see you soon.