Guest post by Adam Honig - CEO of Spiro Technologies If you ask someone to describe a typical salesperson, they would…
Crowdstrike is one of the hottest companies around! They rank 25th on the LinkedIn list of industry disruptors and boy are they killing it in the cybersecurity field. Which is why I’m excited to publish this chat I had with Alex Lynn, one of the young guns heading the company’s SDR teams.
You’re going to read about the three elements that make for sales success within an organization:
- Basic skills: persistence, work ethic, organization
- Empowering and inspiring leadership
- A product you love/a mission
If you just don’t have the time to read, I highly recommend you get the podcast!
Thank you for joining me and for doing this. Could you start by introducing yourself a little bit?
Absolutely. First off, thank you, Forster, for having me. I’m definitely happy and honored to be joining you. My name’s Alex Lynn. I’m a sales development manager with CrowdStrike. I’m working in our office in Austin, Texas.
You say that sales is a passion for you. Why is that?
Sales is definitely a passion of mine because it’s really where I was able to find myself and find what I wanted to do. Coming out of college, I went to school for physical therapy. That’s what I thought I wanted to do, maybe go to grad school and do that. Once I got towards the end of my undergraduate time at the university, I just don’t think this is for me. I don’t want to sit behind a desk doing paperwork all day and talking with insurance companies.
I started doing sales, and I started in retail sales working and doing that. It wasn’t the most glamorous job by any means. For anybody that’s done retail, they definitely know what I mean. It was fun. I got to meet a lot of different people.
I got to learn a lot of different sales tactics, a lot of different ways to influence people face-to-face and that kind of stuff. It was exciting. It was fun to me. It was the first job I had where it was all under my own control in terms of what I got paid. I really like that aspect of it.
After I got my start in tech sales and in sales development, that’s when I really found this was my calling. I love finding different ways to get in touch with prospects. I love finding ways to help these people who are moving into sales for maybe their first or second roles in sales, trying to understand is this something what they want to do, is this something that they’re passionate about? I love having the ability to kind of coach and train and teach around that. All that summed together is why I’m passionate about sales.
As head of business development, as a leader, how do you define your mission towards your team and towards your organization?
I’ll give you a two-part answer to that. At CrowdStrike, one of the things we say is we don’t necessarily have a mission. We’re on a mission. That mission is to stop breeches no matter where they may be, any company, big or small, whether it’s a mom and pop shop down the street or the biggest company in the world.
We want to help everybody. We want to ensure that we can keep their data, their customers’ data, their employees’ data safe. That’s the number one thing for us.
As far as our mission in sales development and how I structure that to the team and how do we get that across to everyone else in the organization, I think our mission is to make sure that we’re helping CrowdStrike get to our goal, which is to help everyone stop breeches. The biggest way we can do that is to generate as many meetings as possible. It’s what anybody in sales development talks about. It’s all about the meetings.
For us, our mission is to make sure that we’re serving our customers, which for somebody working in sales dev, our customers are the account executives that we’re working with. They’re the regional sales managers that we’re working with. Our mission is to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to serve our customers in the best way possible, give them the best meetings possible, make sure those meetings show up, make sure they’re with the right people, they’re qualified. Our customers internally are our co-workers.
And your mission towards your team, the people who work for you?
I think the mission for the people that work with me is I want everyone to feel like they are – not just feel like, but I want everyone to know that they are an extremely important part of the organization. A lot of people look at sales development as an entry level role, but I personally feel, and it goes back to my passion for it, this is the most important job in the sales organization, on the sales team at large. Without us, without the people on sales dev and the front lines that are out there pounding the phones and sending tons of emails and finding ways to get in touch with prospects, there are no meetings. The meetings, that top of the funnel is the most important part of the business in my mind.
My mission for everyone that I work with and the people that I’m lucky enough to be able to work with and coach with everyday is if you come in and give your all and you put forth the best effort, then I’m going to do everything I can to support you, train you, coach you, and help you reach the levels that you want to get to. One of the first questions I ask everybody, whether during interviews or right after they come onboard is: what is your goal? Where do you want to be? I don’t like to give people the 5-year, 10-year, 15-year plan.
I like to ask everybody what are your career aspirations? What are you trying to get out of this role? I like to establish that early because I personally feel like it’s my job to help people get to where they want to get to and achieve the goals they want to achieve. The mission is: how can I help you get to that next level? How can I help you get to whatever it is you want to be doing?
As you just said, without great SDRs on your team, there’s nothing. How do you attract the right people, the right SDRs to work on your team? How do you attract talent?
That’s a great question. That’s something I’m so heavily involved with right now as we’re setting up this office in Austin is a lot of recruiting. For me, I think this goes back to my last experience working with a company called Outreach. I worked in our Pennsylvania office.
In central Pennsylvania, for anybody who hasn’t been there, is basically all farm land and small towns and little villages all throughout the center part of the state. It’s not a tech hub by any means. When we decided to open up a sales office there, we knew we kind of had to step outside the traditional mold of what people generally look for in an SDR. At that time when I was interviewing people, I was interviewing people that maybe worked in sales before or had no sales experience at all but maybe had work experience of 20 or 30 years. They were trying to make a switch in their careers.
I couldn’t look for those traditional things like where’d you go to school or what type of sales development experience do you have already? It was more like are you persistent? Do you have a strong work ethic? Are you willing to grind?
A lot of people will talk about sales development as a grind. I don’t personally feel that it’s a grind, but it is definitely something where day in, day out you’re making a lot of calls, you’re hearing a lot of rejection. One of the things we used to say at Outreach a lot is SDR is the only job in the world other than a mixed martial artist where you’re getting punched in the face over and over again every day. You just stand up and go back for more.
For me, it’s all about persistence. It’s all about work ethic. If you’re somebody who if you used to be a manual laborer or you used to work construction and you would go out and break your back for 12 hours a day, I’m positive that you can learn soft skills like talking on the phone. If you’re willing to work that hard to do that to support your family or support yourself, you’ll be able to learn sales.
I’m just a really, really big believer in having a strong work ethic and being really persistent. If you have those two things and being organized or having good time management, I think that’s really important too. If you can have some of those key aspects, the other stuff can be taught. I wasn’t born a sales guy. I was taught all the different skills that I have now by great leaders like Mark Kosoglow at Outreach taught me a ton.
Steve Ross was our head of sales development at Outreach and also taught me a ton. I learned skills that I didn’t have prior, and I think that anybody can. If you’re willing to put in the work to learn those skills and to have the drive to really go after it, the sky’s the limit.
That’s a great answer. Now to the more practical aspects. How do you structure the sales process?
hat’s a good question. I think there’s a lot that goes into that. I can definitely say from my perspective at the top of the funnel, we’re structured in a way that our account executives have geographic territories that they cover. SDRs will support generally up to two account executives, so two different territories. These territories might be a singular city if it’s somewhere like New York or Boston or they might be multiple states if it’s Montana and Idaho, just depending on the density of the accounts that are out there.
Our SDRs are going to be assigned territories. They’re going to work those territories in order to generate the meetings. Once they can get in touch with the prospects they’re reaching out to, which are generally C-Suite execs and IT or security; generally we’re looking for the C-Suite and decisions makers; once we can generate some kind of conversation with them, the SDRs will do the initial discovery with those prospects.
They’ll run through and qualify them on some different aspects. Once they’re sure that this is a legitimate op, we can shoot that over to an account executive, and then the account executive will take it from there and involve pre-sales engineers and that kind of stuff to do the more technical aspects of demos and that kind of thing. They’ll advance them along the stages from there.
As far as for me, our sales process is covering that top of the funnel aspect. The things that I look at and are important to me are how can we generate more activity to increase the number of meetings that we’re setting. Out of those meetings that we’re setting, how can we increase our quality on the phone and the quality of our discoveries so that we can convert more of those conversations into actual opportunities for the account executives?
You do a lot of outbound. What’s your favorite method? How do you mix methods?
That’s a great question as well. I’m a really big believer in there’s no one silver bullet that’s going to accomplish your goals. I think that you definitely need to mix in. For anybody who’s on LinkedIn all the time, you’re always seeing the post cold calling is dead or cold calling is the only way to do it. There’s constant debate back and forth.
I don’t think it’s dead. I think it is an important piece, but I don’t think it’s the only piece. I think you need to incorporate cold calling in with a structured email campaigns as well as structured social touches, social outreach. Whether that be on LinkedIn, on Twitter, maybe even Facebook, finding ways to stand out for your prospects.
For us, we do a variety of all those touches. I would say that we’re probably more heavily skewed towards calls because there’s nothing like a good voice-to-voice conversation over the phone. I would say we have a pretty structured mix of touches that generally span 30 to 60 days. They’re going to be more heavily skewed towards calls, but we’re going to mix in a lot of emails, and we’re going to mix in a lot of social touches in there as well.
Maybe we notice some prospects really don’t use LinkedIn. Maybe we don’t use social as much on them. Maybe some prospects really only use LinkedIn, so we use more social on them. It’s part of the job too to really have an understanding of where are your prospects living or where are they active the most, and let’s make sure we’re communicated with them there.
When you sell security, how do you draw the line between appealing to fear and preying on it?
That is a fantastic question, Forster! That’s good. Obviously, we don’t want to seem like we’re preying on anybody. We’re not fear mongers. We’re not trying to scare anybody.
At the same time, I don’t think that we really have to build any fear because there’s enough fear out there. There’s breeches that are happening every single day in organizations large and small. I imagine there’s people when they first wake up, they hop on their LinkedIn and check out their daily run down.
This morning when I looked at my daily run down on Linked In, the first thing I saw was that Uber had had a breech. They had been suppressing the information from coming out for the last year or so. It really happens every day in organizations that people use on a day-to-day basis. It just happens so often that at this point, I don’t think that we need to build any fear out there.
I think there’s enough out there already, especially when you’re talking to CISOs and CIOs. For them, their job is when it’s on the line if there’s a breech within their companies. They already have an appropriate level of fear around it. We’re not trying to talk about fear at all. We might talk about what that scenario is like and paint that picture a little bit of what’s it going to be like if your team does have a breech.
There’s a ton of research out there showing the on average cost of a breech is in the multi-millions of dollars. Our product and what we’re offering is a lot less expensive than that. You can generally see massive ROI right away from the platform. When we’re having this conversation, we might build that picture a little bit or paint that picture a little bit, but we’re not trying to talk about that. We’re trying to talk about the value itself.
What kind of value can we bring? What can we add to your organization that maybe you don’t already have? How can we augment or modify what your current stack looks like to make sure that we are putting your organization and your customers in the most protected spot that we possibly can?
You recently started working at CrowdStrike -congrats, by the way. I can imagine you had a lot of opportunities. What made you want to work there?
With CrowdStrike? That’s a great question. That’s something I’ve been answering for a lot of the different reps I’ve been interviewing recently. Everybody’s kind of curious about that. I’ll give you the same answer I’ve been telling everybody.
My last gig at Outreach was a dream job. A lot of people would kill to have a job like that. I absolutely loved the experience. I learned so much from it. I love the people there. I love the product.
In the end I look at Outreach as something that’s awesome to have. It’s definitely something that I think is going to be pretty much a necessity for sales teams moving forward. I always like to look at the world on kind of a bigger picture and bigger scale. CrowdStrike is helping multiple different companies, big and small, helping state and local governments, all different areas of the country, but also the world. It’s a massive, world-wide, global company. We’re solving real life problems.
One of the things we used to talk about at Outreach is we’re saving sales people from the monotony of what their day-to-day is like, from the mundane, repeatable tasks. While I do think that’s a very admirable goal and I do think there’s a lot to be said for doing that, at CrowdStrike we’re saving people’s jobs. In some cases we’re saving lives with what we’re doing. I think if anybody’s ever watched action movies growing up like James Bond or something like that, they’ve always wanted to have that job or be a part of the team that’s helping save the world a little bit.
For me, it was about the bigger picture in mind and just having a bigger goal. I wanted to have a bigger feeling of what I was doing day-to-day was really helping create a massive impact on a global scale. That was the big reason for me to leave Outreach and come here and just the opportunity at large.
The company has grown so quickly. We’re massively scaling the sales team. There’s just so much potential here to instill a lot of process and help put my fingerprints on it and help build this thing. That was really appealing to me.
That’s a great answer. The company seems to be growing so fast. On the website, the number of openings is impressive. How is the growth of the team going to affect your job, your role?
I don’t know. That’s a great question. I’m excited to see. Right now I’m just really focused on building the best team we can build right here and making sure that we’re doing everything we can right now to support our customers, our AEs.
Let’s talk about tools. What’s your sales style? What tools do you use and recommend?
Obviously, there’s going to a little bit of bias here. Outreach is the number one platform you have to have. If you’re working in sales, especially in sales development, if you’re not using Outreach or some type of sales acceleration platform, I’m going to recommend that. If you’re not using something, you’re falling behind.
It’s just becoming the norm of what’s out there, and it allows you to scale so much more and reach out to so many more prospects. It’s crazy. Obviously, Outreach is number one for me. That’s the most important. If I was going to be starting a brand new company, that would be the very first thing I’d invest in.
You’ve got to have Salesforce. You’ve got to be able to have that backend system to hold everything and also report on everything, analyze trends, that kind of stuff. I think you’ve got to be able to have some kind of data provider. There’s different data providers that we use, but you have to have something that’s going to be able to give you – depending on what type of shop you are.
If you’re going to be really email heavy, you’ve got to find the best data provider for email. If you’re really call heavy, find the best data provider that’s going to give you direct dials. If you’re lucky enough to be in a situation like we are, you’re going to have multiple different data providers that are going to give you best emails and best direct dials and everything. Those are the big pieces we use.
We some other stuff on the backend side with our AEs. Obviously, quote-to-cash tools and different stuff like Clarity for pipeline management and that kind of thing. There’s different things out there. I like to run a lean org. I don’t want to use too much stuff.
I don’t want my SDRs to have to flip between this and this. I want them to be comfortable with Outreach because it really is a one-stop solution. To be able to use that and be able to get the data that they need from some type of data provider, whether that’s at Zoominfo or something like that. There’s a ton of different data providers.
I think at this point the data game is kind of – everybody’s got data. There’s so many different data providers out there. I think that a lot of them probably have the same things. I think that as long as you can equip yourself with one of those top tier data providers, you’re putting yourself in a really good position.
The last thing I would say is the LinkedIn sales navigator. I think sales nav is pretty crucial at this point as well. You just get so many more insights with it. One of my favorite ones on there is if people have changed roles within the last 90 days. It might seem like it’s not that important when you’re first looking at it, but when you really start to think about it, look at us.
When I changed roles within the last 30, 45 days, one of the things that people generally are doing within those first 60 to 90 days when they change roles is analyzing the landscape of where they’re coming into and what they’re doing now and seeing what they can do to make an impact. That’s a really important time to talk to people, especially in our space. If it’s CIOs or CSOs or CISOs, when they’re first stepping into the captains, that’s the best time to talk to them. That’s when they’re really looking to make the most noise in terms of changes.
I’ve got just one last question for you. What’s the best sales related or even not sales related piece of advice you’ve ever received?
That’s a good question. Here’s a good one. I’ll go back to the VP of sales that I had when I worked with Outreach. His name is Mark Kosoglow.
When I first started working there, I was a pretty impatient guy. I really wanted everything. Everybody talks about the millennial culture of having that me attitude right now. I hate to say it, but I think I fell into that a little bit myself.
One of the things that he told me when I was working with Outreach was, “Alex, there’s a time and a place for everything. Your time might not be right now. His time, whoever he may be, might be right now. You can’t be comparing yourself to what’s going on in somebody else’s life. There’s the right time and the right place for everything, and it’ll happen at the right time for you. You just need to continue to put in the work and be willing to put in the effort and the drive to keep working to accomplish your goals.”
That’s something that’s really stuck with me. You can’t spend your whole life looking at what other people are doing. If you spend all your time looking at what everybody else is doing, you’re just going to get depressed and down on yourself. There are a lot of people out there on the outside in that are crushing it from a young age or at an early point in their careers. I think if you spend all your time comparing yourself to what other people are doing, you’re just kind of depressed. If you can stay grounded and stay focused on what’s going on for you, stay focused on what you can do internally to accomplish your goals, you’re going to be much happier and be pretty successful as well.
That’s great advice. That’s something I also took some time to accept. I think it’s really great. Thank you for that.
It’s tough to come to grips with that at first, especially in the generation we were raised in. The instant access with the internet and everything, with instant access to information or answers or anything you want, it seems like in this world everything is moving to more instant gratification. Life’s not always like that. Sometimes life’s a grind, and sometimes you’ve got to really work at it to get what you need. I think it’s important to always keep that in perspective.
That’s a ton of great information. Thank you very much for doing this!
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.