Fireside Friday with Laura Johnston
Sales Assembly: Give us your quick background in sales.
Laura: Pretty standard story, right out of college started out as a sales minion for a large company, got promoted and went through some of the best training I’ve ever had right out of the gate. Figured I could use what I learned at an enterprise company to dip my toe in the startup world, because what a challenge that would be! I got detoured along the way and found myself at another large international company where I was hired as a direct contributor which quickly turned into manager, got poached by a startup and with that success made me vow that I’d always be a “startup” type of person. A few startups and lots of experience and responsibilities later, here I am.
Sales Assembly: What's your biggest accomplishment in sales or sales leadership?
Laura: This is pretty cheesy, but it’s honest so here we go. My biggest accomplishment(s) has been watching previous direct reports (or even peers) excel at their career and getting messages along the way from them on how impactful I had been on them. Listen, we sell software, we aren’t solving world hunger so I won’t hold my breath on receiving a Nobel Prize, but if I can have a positive impact on others because of the way I manage, teach and treat them, then that will always be my biggest accomplishment.
Sales Assembly: What's the best piece of sales advice you ever got?
Laura: I was working for a startup and was the first and only salesperson they hired and the CEO told me to, "LEARN EVERYTHING YOU CAN- and keep me posted on what you find". I learned everything I could and within a year and a half I was the sales manager that hired a team of ten. But honestly, it was a changing point in my career, still to this day I learn everything I can as it pertains to the role / ecosystem I'm currently in. I've only been successful in my career, because I try to learn everything I can about what is going on around me. A lot of people say, "fake it till you make it" in sales, but until you actually understand the bulk of what is going on around you, that's when the real success will kick in. It allows you not only to have great conversations with your prospects, customers, employees and partners, but it allows you to have the RIGHT conversations. It also opens up other opportunities that you might not have known about previously.
Sales Assembly: What's the biggest challenge facing a sales rep today, and how would you recommend they overcome it?
Laura: Timing and competitive differentiation would be two that come to mind. My advice for overcoming both would be the same: build a relationship and gain trust. If it’s not the right time because they just renewed an agreement with a competitor of yours, continue to nurture them. Get on the phone with them, get in front of them, find out where the holes are in their current solution; just because they have been doing something for a while doesn’t mean it’s the right way or that they can’t improve on it.
Sales Assembly: Do you currently have a mentor when it comes to sales, or have you ever? If so, what did they teach you?
Laura: I've had a lot over the years, especially since I've reported directly to CEOs, but the one that stays consistent is my brother, Justin Clifford, he's in sales leadership at Lessonly (the one who really brought SA to my attention). Just like our personalities, we do everything ass opposite of each other to achieve the same goal / quota / result. He's my go-to, as he always has insight from a direction I'd never turn to. It's great to hear a different perspective or get ideas that would never cross my way of thinking, from someone who is and always will be very successful.
Sales Assembly: What's the best sales book you've ever read? What are you reading now?
Laura: Will give credit to our CEO on this one, since both of these have come from him. The best was, Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross, only because it launched me into a role that allowed me to define and develop the first-ever outbound sales team which is now the livelihood of our company, so selfishly I would say that one. I recently finished, The Alliance by Reid Hoffman; anyone from a BDR to a CEO should read that book. It discusses how companies should think of employees as allies, building trust, alignment and this notion of “tours of duty”. It’s about how we want our employees to help transform the company for the future and how employees want the company to help transform their careers for the long term (whether it’s with said company or not). It’s a great read!
Sales Assembly: Best sales or business-related articles, podcasts or newsletters?
Laura: Honestly, I am an article junkie, so there isn't just one. I subscribe to a lot of different newsletters and follow a lot on LinkedIn as it pertains to our ecosystem, products and industries. And obviously Sales Assembly is a terrific resource. :)
Sales Assembly: What's the best advice you'd give to someone just starting a career in sales?
Laura: Very, very simple -- LISTEN!! It’s the simplest and most important trait a successful sales rep or sales leader can have in their career and not all have the ability to do so. Listen to your prospects, your customers, your partners, your employees, your leadership... Listen to retain and understand, not just to listen!
Sales Assembly: Do you see any interesting future trends as it pertains to sales?
Laura: Artificial Intelligence adoption for sure -- AI has an impact on the success of a BDR/ SDR all the way to the customer and even though social selling isn't anything that new, I don't believe sales reps utilize or believe in it as much as they should. It can not only have an impact in your current role but also helps build and maintain relationships for future endeavors.