Smart, proud and charismatic, Hans was one of the more challenging and fun interviews of the series. He was unfailingly honest about the pressure and sigma around sales, and how sales is a results-driven discipline.
Here you can get an honest view on why some salespeople don’t sell, why sales isn’t for everyone, and how every team member needs to be successful, pressure-hardened, and accountable for the organization to thrive.
You can read Hans’ full biography here
Jamie: What has been the most fulfilling in your sales career so far?
Hans: When I realised that you can bring extra value to your customers as well as your own company. Trying to make everyone happy, whilst also making a lot of money for the company and yourself, because if you’re not, then sales is not really worthwhile to do as a job.
Jamie: What’s the worst part about being in sales?
Hans: No one understands the downsides of sales unless they’ve been doing it themselves. I’ve done various sales roles for the past twenty years. I started off in insurance, and I never wanted to go into sales. I was always good at talking to people, chatting with people and getting things done. It wasn’t that I wanted to go into sales really, but when you start working, it’s an obvious path.
Sales in general, it is just tough. There is continuous pressure, and you must adapt to the pressure, because if you do not like pressure, it is never going to work. Outside of sales, everyone always thinks that we do nothing in sales. They think that we are always on the beach. That we drive really cool cars. We are always flying. Basically, that we are working from ten to three, but
they continuously forget the pressure that we are under and I think that is the biggest thing that you need, to be okay with pressure. When you become better under pressure, sales is a really good job. It is a way of life. I compare it with sports; it is like a marathon, but you have to run at sprint speed.
You have to take care of yourself during the marathon, but it is really difficult, especially with an American company at the end of the quarter.
Jamie: Do you feel American companies have an added layer of pressure compared to European ones?
Hans: Absolutely. In the US, there is enormous pressure every quarter, always. What you see happening with the US companies, both with the vendors and with the customers, is that they both know that at the end of the quarter that the biggest discounts happen. Everyone waits until the end of the quarter, which does not make any sense, because the last two weeks of the quarter are continuous madness, especially at the end of the year. It is insane how many people work during Christmas and New Year’s Eve. “Oh, I got this deal done on New Year’s Eve at ten to twelve, and they signed.” In the UK, the pressure is a little bit less, but it is still there, and when you look further than that, Germany just doesn’t do it. Well, we know pressure, but it is not like the others because commission plans are way more aggressive in the US and the UK than they tend to be in Germany or in the Netherlands and that drives quarter-end activity.
Jamie: What do you like the most about sales?
Hans: I love the pressure. I love the fact that you get things done to make the customers happy. However, the best part is the rush that you’ll get when the customer or prospect signs the contract.
Jamie: What product are you selling at the moment, and how did you make the decision to sell that product?
Hans: I have been here for almost ten years. I started with Hippo, and we were acquired by Bloomreach almost four years ago. I had no clue what a CMS was back then. My former company had gone bankrupt. I was just painting my house, thinking about my next step, and then my neighbour said, “Well, these guys are looking for a sales manager,” and I said, “Okay, what are they doing?” They did something online with software, but it was open source. It was basically free; they did not really have a package to buy. They had this really cool software that everyone liked, but no one was really paying for it. For me, it was a fun challenge to start here and to try to build out this company to a real company with real paying customers.
I have seen many highs and many lows. It has been worth every second! It was really cool to build up this company and where we are now? An average deal size back then was $20k, and now we are at around $90k with the highs ranging up to $500k. It has been growing pretty fast, especially over the last couple of years, and that is really cool because to be able to repeat your sales process over and over again to land bigger deals and understand that what you are selling has a larger value. If the value is more, you can also ask for more money for it. That is something that I think that most salespeople are struggling with, asking the right price for what you are doing.
Jamie: What are the biggest differences you see on your team between those who are really successful and those who are just kind of successful?
Hans: Well, first of all, when you build a team, I think that everyone in your team needs to be really successful. You cannot have people in your team who are just a bit successful, especially not in the fast-growing American companies. That is just impossible. What you need to do is that you need to build a team that basically fulfils every role in the right position, but you have people who are more experienced in what they are doing, so they tend to have bigger accounts. I have folks who tend to do smaller accounts, but need to step up their games over the years because the customers are growing. My team is pretty balanced now, so I have some seniors who are really good in what they do, and they handle the bigger accounts, and meteors who are growing rapidly and creating their own sales strategies within the “value selling framework”.
I think the main thing to become successful as a sales guy is that you have to communicate everything that is happening around you. The only way that you can sell is when you feel confident. When you feel happy in your own body, but also in your own team, and I think that the majority of new business managers, and managers, in general, are pushing so hard that people do not feel confident in the things that they are doing. It becomes pretty difficult to sell because the world is really difficult out there. You have to manoeuvre through all the internal hoops and the external communication with your customer; the line is pretty fine because, at the end of a quarter, you can be the most successful salesperson out there, and the next quarter you can be the lowest on the list. You have to be capable of handling that.
Jamie: How did you train the business to do bigger deals, and how do you get your sales representatives to focus on the bigger deals?
Hans: One of the reasons was that we got acquired by Bloomreach. Their software was higher priced than ours, and they did not understand that we were asking these low license fees for our software. They told us to be more confident in what you ask for and to have an increased list price. You need to have a higher price that you can use to start selling because the higher you start with your list price, the better off you will be in the end, because when you start at $30k, you will never end up with $60k. When you start with $100k, you will have a better chance of getting into the higher numbers, right?
Do not give away discounts too easily, because when you do that, all of a sudden you tend to realise that when you start giving discounts from $100k, every percent is $1,000, so when you give five or ten percent, you’ve already given $10,000 away. Because customers always ask for more discount, you give away another couple of percentages and all of a sudden it’s a huge discount.
When you start thinking about that and make your calculations in Excel, you will see what happens in those scenarios. You need to prepare before you have your calls and think about what you want to achieve. Set your own goals, discuss it with the manager, and then just go from there. I believe in a world where you set your own goals and then go and reach them.
Jamie: What tactics, aside from discounting, do you advise your team to use to close the deal?
Hans: I do not believe in the fact that you can never offer discounts. There are a lot of folks out there who say, “Oh, you are not allowed to give discounts, and discounts are not good.” I just think it is all packaged. You always have to give something away, and money is the easiest thing, especially when you start at $200k, and you want to end up at $160k. You can just give away the ten percent, which will make the customer feel very happy and you also feel happy because you end up with $180k, whereas you wanted to end up at $160k.
Jamie: Was it an aim of yours to join a small company? And how did you make that decision versus going into a bigger corporate?
Hans: In the big organisations that I used to work in, I was usually the sales talent of the year. They always said, “Hans, you are so good at selling,” but I never hit my target. I never reached my goal. I was always really busy in explaining to other people why I was really good, and I basically did not sell. Either it was because I got bored after a year and sold nothing, or because I started working at larger organisations; a really big organisation and I saw people walking in every day in their company cars, suits and suitcases and I thought, okay, this is not going to be my future.
I think that I have to work in a small company where I can just create my own world, create my own strategy plan, create my own future, and then I joined Hippo and was allowed to be doing everything together.
I have been doing direct selling and indirect selling. I set up a partner network in Germany and the UK. I did account management and new business. I moved to the UK to set up the UK business. I have been doing a lot of really cool stuff there, and because I’m always focussed on customer success, I always hit my target. That has really helped me over the last four years.
Jamie: When you say you do not care about your numbers, is that because you are aiming higher than that number?
Hans: When you care about your number too much, you only look at your number. You compare it with your compensation plan, and then you work against your compensation plan. The challenge is that if you only look at your numbers, you will always only be selling for the short-term and from my perspective, it is more about the relationship that you build with your customer because when you have a happy customer, they will always pay you.
They do not care about the money, or whether they have paid $100k or $1m. They do not care as long as they see the value of your platform or your software delivers to them. They are happy to pay for that. Therefore, you have to have a good relationship. When you focus on numbers, you can never give something away, which does not deliver directly towards your number. That is also the difference between new business sale and account management. New business sales are focused on the numbers, they just sell.
Jamie: Do you think that there should be different people in different silos, in new business and account management?
Hans: I do not think that a lot of people can do both very well. From that perspective, yes, but the challenge is that when you have real farmers in your team. They will never be able to move fast because they are farmers. They are never in a hurry. An account manager does not necessarily have that push or the challenge. I am now doing account management in Bloomreach and my team is not a typical account management team; my team is an account management team with a new business flavour to it. There is a push to get things done, but it is always based on the relationship that we have built with our customers.
Jamie: Would you recommend aspiring salespeople start in tech sales?
Hans: I think you can become happy in every sector. Tech is a really cool one, but I think it is really difficult to become a good sales guy in tech because it is really hard. You have to know so much. You have to be pretty smart. You also have to understand that the world that you are in is moving at a rapid pace. You are never able to know everything, your customers have the opportunity to inform themselves very well, so you have to adapt your sales behaviour to reach the best results.
It is challenging but could be really fun too. In tech, there are many dependencies, especially when you are selling SaaS. It is difficult to outline the sales process and how to make it work. You need to be really flexible and be able to communicate with everyone who is involved.
Jamie: And what elements of the organisational culture really help the sales function to be successful?
Hans: Consulting folks that know what they are doing and software that works, because you have a lot of software out there that works okay, but then you also need a lot of people to make it work. I think the benefit of having a really good support organisation behind you is that when you sell, you also know that you will be able to deliver. Also, of course, good marketing which opens doors.
Jamie: What are you looking for in a marketing function?
Hans: Well, the easiest answer is that they do everything that you want them to do.
The more difficult answer is that you have a marketing organisation that adds leads to your pipeline, and they can think on their own feet. Sales organisations will always ask for more leads, but it is not always about more leads. It is also about qualified leads and how good you are at closing those leads, because when you have one hundred leads, and you close just one, then the marketing department will not be happy even if it is a good job by their metrics.
It’s this combination of working together but basing it all around the sales approach.
Jamie: If you wanted, if you decided that more tech sales is what you wanted, how would you recommend getting into the industry?
Hans: Start as a Sales Development Representative. It’s a hard job, but you’ll learn a lot in a short period. You have to follow the exact principles to get things done. It is a really efficient way to one, getting to understand an organisation, and two, to see the different roles within sales and in marketing, and three, to learn to work really hard. I think that is one of the things that you also need as a sales guy. You need to be able to work really, really hard and accept that works sometimes needs to get done – although it’s not between nine and five.
I have now been married for seventeen years. When you ask my spouse what she likes about me and what she does not, the biggest thing that she does not like is my attitude to work. Why? Because I am always available to my work, basically. When a customer calls, I answer.
I think that is the thing you learn as an SDR- to work really hard, get things done, and that you will get benefits for the rest of your sales life.
Jamie: What general advice would you give to a young aspiring salesperson?
Hans: Find a coach. Find someone who believes in you, who makes you better, who cares about you. I would have wanted to have a coach when I was younger. The joy of working with Phil (Low, fellow interviewee) was amazing.
It does not happen often, that you can work together with such a talented guy, who is also really able to listen to advice and do the right things; that is really cool. That is the thing that you need, especially starting in sales. Then, of course, the question is, “How do you find a good coach?” I think that you have to look for people who are really interested in what you want to do, what you want to achieve, and how you want to achieve it.
It is a great thing when you can find that in your own manager, that is amazing. I would also try to find it outside of the organisation; someone that is going to help you and to whom you can ask for support and advice on what is the best way going forward. Because especially in London, for instance, it is really difficult to understand what is right and what is wrong. When I walked around London for the first couple of days when we started living there, I was like, “Man, this city is so huge.” It is impossible to find the right job the first time, but you have to talk to a lot of people to find out what you like and where you can find your ultimate adventure.
If you do not like the pressure of sales, just quit. Find another job because if you can’t work with the pressure that is already from day one on your shoulders, you will never be able to do it.
Jamie: What would you do differently in your sales career?
Hans: Listen. Listen better to the people who wanted to advise me. I think in general, as a salesperson, you are pretty individualistic, and you need to find your own way going forward because otherwise, you will never be successful. But listening to people that you trust is sometimes a good thing. I think that the first seven or eight years I pointed to issues outside myself when things did not work out. That is never true. I always say, “It is ninety-percent yourself, and then ten-percent is the rest.” Start by looking at yourself. What went wrong? What did you do wrong? You always do something wrong. That is not an issue, but you have to learn from it, and then go on and forget it pretty quickly, because as a sales guy, you will get a lot of “no’s” and coping with “no’s” and “yes” will be a constant factor in sales.