Rev.com CRO Wade Burgess: How to Grapple with Growth

We interviewed Wade Burgess, Chief Revenue Officer of Rev.com!


Wade discusses how a team sport mentality and revenue operations are the keys to staying competitive over the next years.


 

TRANSCRIPT


Adam Conner (00:55):

Wade, it's great to be talking with you here. How are you?


Wade Burgess (00:58):

I'm doing well. Thanks for having me.


Adam Conner (01:00):

I appreciate you coming. It's a real full circle journey for me, but I'll get to that in just a second. You've had a number of illustrious leadership positions over the last few years, and I'd like to start with this, because it goes even prior to that time, of course, from LinkedIn, to Shiftgig, to Automation Anywhere, and now to Rev, you've built a reputation for building strong revenue organizations, and leaving paths to profit paved in your wake. But before we get there, I want to start by floating you this question, did turning your high school homecoming float into a moving billboard spark your fire for sales, or was that drive to win already within you beforehand?


Wade Burgess (01:39):

That's a fantastic question. By the way, I'm not sure about illustrious leadership roles, I'm hoping they were effective, I don't know about illustrious. That moment was more about a tactic to accomplish something, I think. I don't know that sales was ever in my DNA, but certainly achieving a goal was. Some of that probably has to do with having three older brothers, and so you do creative things to become effective when you're growing up in that situation. I think that was more a demonstration of painting outside of the lines and finding a way to do something.


Adam Conner (02:16):

Well for me, I look to a story like that, and I look back at my own journey of selling quarter page ads in the school newspaper as places where I got my start. For me it was a tactic for just proving myself, and everybody uses that tactic in some way or another, and I'd like to move from here to my first real world job experience, which happens to align with one of your past tenures. It was as an intern in 2013, when we both worked at LinkedIn. I learned a lot that summer, and certainly have come back into the sales world a little bit, but I want to talk slightly about your time there, specifically a moment in 2016, you gave a speech at TalentConnect, which is their annual conference, where you talked about talent comprising the moments before one is great. You went on to tell the stories of the people who discovered Michael Jordan, and Taylor swift, and Naomi Campbell. When you look back to the highlights of your career leading you to Rev, can you think of a few personal Dean Smiths who helped you find your way?


Wade Burgess (03:17):

Absolutely. I think almost every opportunity I've had is because someone else opened that door for me, not because of any of my own merit, hopefully I earned that. But any authentic person I think would tell you that we are not an island, and it takes a lot of arrogance to believe that you form your own path.


Wade Burgess (03:38):

I can go back to, my very first sales role, I was working in construction, I was literally pouring concrete and framing houses. Because I've always had side hustles, had a side hustle in the direct sales business where I knew someone who happened to be a recruiter for a company. I had gotten laid off of my construction job. I talked to him, he introduced me to someone who got me an interview in a sales job, which I had zero qualification for whatsoever, selling internet connectivity.


Wade Burgess (04:09):

They opened the door for me. The hiring manager was a woman named Kathy Proctor and, and she also took a bet on me, she saw the level of effort, we had some mutual connections where there was trust built. I would say that she took the first bet on me in the path of selling technology, which has really been the arc of my professional career since then, and almost in every other case that's been true. My top customer there, I happened to do pretty well in that company, my top customer was a data center, and they opened the door to me to come into help this data center grow, which then led to another, and another, and another. I think in almost every case it's because someone else was willing to see the potential inside of the imperfections, and bet on me. I've really taken that to heart, as we're going to be successful in life by the things and the people that we bet on. I owe a lot, I owe my career to people who've been willing to make that bet.


Adam Conner (05:16):

My experience has also been in selling technology. I know before you did that, one of the ways in which you learned about sales organizations and how to make it happen, was actually from a gentleman named Bob Woodhouse who was selling used cars. Was there anything that comes from that initial conversation, which you find to have persisted through to today when it comes to building world-class teams?


Wade Burgess (05:40):

You're good at digging out important moments. That was a very important point in my career. I was just getting into sales management, I had never done sales management, and I didn't really know what questions to ask. In my mind I thought, what's the hardest sales management job out there? What's probably the hardest sales job? The stereotypical used car sales was the one that was the most concerning to me, off-putting to me. I thought, if anyone's good at this, I want someone who's good at this. I was in Nebraska at the time, in Omaha, Nebraska, and the person who owned the largest volume car dealership businesses, multiple of them, was a gentleman named Bob Woodhouse. He had a track record, a lot of success there. I cold called him, and asked if he would be willing, I said, "I'm just starting in sales management. You don't know me from anyone. I wonder if I could buy you a cup of coffee and pick your brain?" He agreed to a lunch at a Denny's, and we spent 90 minutes. I still have the legal pad that I took notes in that conversation from.


Wade Burgess (06:35):

That was instrumental in the way that I thought about sales management. I realized it wasn't about product, it wasn't about convincing somebody to buy something they don't want to buy, it was really about talent. He was the one who formed my belief that great sales leadership, really great leadership, talent is your top priority, attracting, retain, developing, inspiring great people. He helped me understand how to do that, in what I would argue is probably still one of the most challenging sales industries out there. He was able to crack the code, and I refer back to a lot of that even today.


Adam Conner (07:11):

Well cracking the code to selling anything of course, is going to involve moving through all sorts of obstacles and adversities. I want to tie this to something else, because I know you've claimed that you basically went to school for wrestling, I heard that in an interview elsewhere. But now that your bouts are within business and the mat is the marketplace, what do you see right now as a sales leader, as the toughest things to grapple with, and how do you break them down?


Wade Burgess (07:35):

I'd probably put that in three categories. One is strategy, the other is execution, and the other is actually the skill at the task level. Strategy, I think it's very important to make data-driven decisions. I think that's become more and more clear in the world, that using data to make important decisions is helpful, but that data has to be trusted, accurate information that matters. You come down to so what, what matters, that has to do with product market fit. It's not about your opinion, it's about what the market will tell you through proper market validation. It has to do with territory allocation, and assuming you have the right roles associated with the right territories. There's a lot of things have to happen from a strategy standpoint, that's all about data and removing assumptions from it.


Wade Burgess (08:21):

I think it's also really important to note that really there's a balance between the head and the heart, and data is a very important thing, but also there's something to do with the human connection. You could argue that some of the best go-to-market strategies in the world were supported by data, but also driven by something that was beyond that, that had more to do with art. Steve Jobs might be one of the better examples of the blend of art and science from a marketing standpoint, and making that really beautiful. Strategy, I would say that's incredibly important, as it rates to execution itself, and probably tying to individual skills.


Wade Burgess (09:01):

Back to what do you grapple with the most? I think it's chasing shiny objects. That is the biggest temptation of failure. There's always something new to do, and people have a lot of ideas. Ideas are not what's scarce, the ability to successfully execute at something over and over, and over again in an excellent way is scarce. If you want to tie it to the wrestling analogy or any sport really, mastering the fundamentals and sticking to them is the most difficult thing we do in any part of our life. I'll give a quick example here.


Wade Burgess (09:33):

When I was in high school and wrestling, since you brought it up, my sophomore year, we had probably the most talented team I was on, we didn't do that well. We got a new coach my junior year, who came in and we really only had three primary takedowns. We had just a small number of moves in general, and we drilled each one of those moves 100 times every practice. We hated it. We wanted to do the new stuff, we wanted to do the fancy stuff, we've got the basic fundamentals, single leg, double leg, and IC, and we'd do a hundred of each of those every practice, we'd look at that a hundred days in a wrestling season roughly, that's 10,000 repetitions of the basic moves. The reason that we won state, and we had lots of successes in that window of time wasn't because of talent, it's because we had some excellent execution of some very fundamental stuff that can get boring if you let it.


Wade Burgess (10:20):

The same is true in selling, the same is true in sales management, same is true from an HR perspective, same is true in marketing. There are some basics that we need to get great at, and being able to stay inspired to do the excellent fundamentals day after day is something that sets apart, I think, great from good.


Adam Conner (10:39):

Well, I've heard that in all sorts of different versions, in all walks of life, I'm reminded of the Bruce Lee quote that states, "I fear not the man who's practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." Getting those fundamentals down is incredibly important, and instilling them in organizations as well. I want to ask about that a little bit in just a second, because now you're here at Rev, and by the way as we're here on a podcast, I highly appreciate everything Rev brings to the table for media, for entertainment broadly, I think education could benefit highly from this as well. Were those industries that you'd specifically pursued before, and regardless, how do you think that they benefit from Rev's evolution under your guys, from the individual market to the enterprise stack?


Wade Burgess (11:31):

Yeah, thanks for the tee up, that's perfect. It's actually one of the things that attracted me to this industry. I admittedly knew nothing about speech technology prior to coming to Rev, or prior to my conversations here. A couple of things that became obvious, which are the value propositions really to the world, and this space, is that the number of audio and video conversations that are being captured in the world is growing exponentially.


Wade Burgess (11:54):

Historically voice data was one thing that went into the ether, we spoke and the words went away. Then eventually industries, and companies, and individuals started realizing that they should capture those in some way, like this earnings call should probably be transcribed, or I need to understand in my call center of what kind of sentiment is happening, and what's affected, and what's not. In all kinds of different use cases, speech technology has started to become a big part of how companies think, that in the idea of where big data became the talking point 20, 30 years ago, probably the newest largest source of data inside of organizations is video and voice data, and that is now something that can be leveraged for insights in decision-making.


Wade Burgess (12:37):

Where Rev comes into that, and companies like ours, is to be able to take audio converted into text or to something that can be better analyzed at scale. Many, many companies are building platforms on top of technology like this. They can take insights specific to potentially a conversation in telemedicine, they can take insights in a sales conversation and determine that when you use this term versus that term your closing ratio changes. In the media and entertainment space, the idea of being able to reach a broader audience, and have not just accessibility, which is incredibly important, but also be able to assure that you're reaching audiences in multiple languages, and then people are able to digest in ways that are helpful to them.


Wade Burgess (13:21):

Quick example, listening to podcasts, which I do pretty often, there are times where in public transcriptation, or in some other way, if I'm actually watching something, I may actually want to just read the transcript instead of listen to it if I'm in a noisy environment. Those are just little examples of different industries finding value from voice technology, and today that's mostly taking audio and converting it to text. Tomorrow, that's ultimately about creating insights from the various texts and the way it's used.


Adam Conner (13:49):

Right. My guess is that it will become much more like the quality of speech, even the intonation, some of the more intangibles that I haven't seen expressed in data so much, that I'm guessing will come to light eventually. For now, of course what we get to do is enjoy your voice here, and that's part of my next question really, because you're now the voice for the revenue organization at Rev. To hark back to wrestling for a second, it's technically an individual sport, but you're always competing as a team. On this show, we'd like to talk about how selling is a team sport, especially for growing companies. At Rev, you're the head coach let's say, and so to use that team analogy, what does an all-star roster look like for you when it comes to a successful enterprise sale?


Wade Burgess (14:36):

It's a great question. It starts with everyone aspiring toward a shared objective, and the idea that we share the same objective then allows us to create the tactics within our own functions to accomplish that objective. By the way, if your objective is only revenue, or only bookings, or only company valuation, that's a pretty limited and uninspiring thing. It can be inspiring for those of us that are pure capitalists, which I lean toward.


Wade Burgess (15:00):

However, I think making sure that the vision and the mission are right is as important as the tactics. But then as we get into the tactics, what it looks like for me, specifically to driving revenue inside an organization, that the first point is ensuring the executive team is aligned. By that I mean, revenue is only one component, that you don't create great revenue without having exceptional product leadership, and engineering leadership, and HR leadership, and legal, and across all functions in a company. The revenue team then, however you slice it, in my mind, it's as cross-functional as can be. Rev specifically, we have a direct sales enterprise team that sells to organizations, we have a marketing team that markets across the span of all customer types, everything from brand through demand gen, through customer marketing, content, SEO, SEM, all the way through that. We also have a partner team that focuses on partners through reseller distribution, through integrations and other things, then operations.


Wade Burgess (16:06):

An example of cross-functional collaboration that you mentioned, a lot of companies have sales ops, they may have marketing operations, and have other types of operational teams, we have revenue ops, and revenue operational team creates one central point, one point of accountability for understanding all the data, the insights, the tools, the systems, the processes, across the entire customer life cycle.


Wade Burgess (16:28):

Another lens to look at this, to answer your question a different way, is I think it's more important to optimize the customer journey than it is your own organizational design. There's a set of people in the world, a very large set of people in the world, who probably do not know about your organization. That's probably the largest audience. Then there's a group of people who have awareness, but they have no intent. Then there are people who have some intent or interest or prospects, and you can follow that funnel all the way through to great customers who grow, and then those who churn.


Wade Burgess (16:56):

I think having visibility across that entire lifespan, and assuring that the right teams are associated with it. For us, it's designing the workflow in the continuum of customer experience, determining all of the touch points along the way, and then what teams, tools, resources, and insights need to be brought to that moment to make it optimal for the customer. When that happens you create unity for the team, because we're not focused on each other, we're not focused on kingdom building or turf wars, it's about how do we create an optimal experience for the customer to deliver on our promise to them.


Adam Conner (17:30):

That also means that building those tools makes a team more efficient and data-driven, which will help to illuminate and highlight that customer journey even more. I'll circle back to that after this next question. Talking about that roster, and that team, we all know over the last year and a half it's been basically more spread out than it ever has been. There is, I find, two, almost competing forces, which is one, meeting people where they are and being empathetic and thoughtful of everybody's individual situation, and that nagging necessity of in-person interaction to grow cohesively. I know that you've experienced that, and you experienced it most at LinkedIn. How has a leader do you thoughtfully combine those two things?


Wade Burgess (18:23):

I think it's a great question. I think the pandemic has accelerated the discussion around this. Although this has been a discussion that I've personally been very passionate about for probably 20 years. The idea isn't, yes, it's driven by a current moment and health concerns, but we should be thinking about this anyway. Leadership, the way that I think about it, is inspiring others toward a shared objective while upholding a set of culture and values. What's the best way to do that? Well, recent events have not changed human nature, human nature doesn't change in a generation or two, maybe ever. The idea of, how do you best inspire people to bring their best self, their best work, and to have an optimal experience? It varies, it depends on the person, it depends on not only their psychology, but the team dynamics.


Wade Burgess (19:09):

What I think about is how do you optimize for all things? I think those who have absolute beliefs, I would challenge them, and question them, those who say the only way to be effective is to all be in an office together from nine to five in your time zone, is pretty limiting to those people who aren't optimal in that environment. Also those who say offices are never important, people should just be able to do what they want, when they want, from where they want. That also has limitations.


Wade Burgess (19:34):

I'll give some specifics, most people early in their career, I'm one of those, who maybe they're sort of begrudgingly commute to a physical space, maybe they don't like that, maybe they dread Mondays and they dislike Fridays, but over time the exposure to ideas, other people, conversations, water cooler, watching great behavior modeled, that shapes us. It's just like exercise, maybe you don't feel like going to practice, or going to the gym, or getting the shoes on and going out, but it's what makes you great. Sometimes being together with other people, especially those early career moments, it's very difficult to replace human interaction in person.


Wade Burgess (20:14):

On the other extreme, you can really get to burnout. When you think about people, and especially in moments where they're isolated, and they're removed, and this isn't just pandemic, this can also happen for personal health reasons, it can happen for mental health reasons, there are going to be family and life circumstances that people are much more optimal to be able to be more flexible in the way in which they work. I think it's about applying the right solution to the right thing. I would imagine at least from my leadership style, I can't imagine a moment in time where there would be a required method of work, but I'm looking more for optimal methods of work.


Wade Burgess (20:49):

What's the benefit of having an office or a physical place people go to? It's human interaction. How do we make sure that that experience is great? Well, that means you need to think about not having boring gray symmetrical cubicles with fluorescent lights all day long, it means it needs to be a place where there's joy, and where there's energy that comes from one another. From a distributive standpoint, freedom and flexibility is the ultimate, and so being able to have the right tools that don't create a bunch of ridiculous noise and nonsense, also very important. Then, sorry for the long answer, I think the combination of these two is really important. I'll give you an example of that.


Wade Burgess (21:25):

The most effective communication tool that I have in my arsenal is a non-video, three minute phone call, unscheduled off-the-cuff, be able to pick up the phone real quick and say, Hey Adam, do you have two minutes? I have three topics. Can you say, actually, I just have a second, say great, let me get the first one. Boom, thanks for the time, boom. That quick hit or difficult conversation is I think really important to make a human connection on it, even when we're distributed. That's a long answer to a short question, but I think it's very important, that it's a hybrid approach, and you use different tools for different reasons. I don't think there's an absolute answer to one or the other, I think hybrid is probably the way forward.


Adam Conner (22:06):

It's about getting optimal, as you've said.


Wade Burgess (22:08):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Adam Conner (22:09):

Whether it be that three minute phone call to address a quick topic, or some broad layer of technology you put across your work to make them more efficient, this is always going to be a key to getting things done quickly, correctly, and optimally for the situation.


Wade Burgess (22:26):

I think there's one more important thing, and that is effective communication style might be more important than the method through which you do it. Assuring that people know how to communicate, unfortunately social media, and texting, and those kinds of things that create a pretty inefficient communication style, because most of those are built for just human interconnectedness, they're not built for efficiency. Inside of a business, you probably are looking for some more optimal approach communication. Teaching people when given a question to answer and then explain, and then perhaps give an example. Teaching people that you lead like an article, not like a novel, a novel has a long arc of context and information before the final page you get their answer, versus if you're reading an article, the headline determines whether you read it, and the first paragraph gives you the basics of it. The latter is much more effective in business than the novel approach. Whether it's in person, whether it's on the phone, whether it's via video, and then teaching and modeling great communication styles is maybe more important than physical proximity.


Adam Conner (23:29):

That's actually a great segue to what I was going to ask about next, but that's a really thoughtful insight, which is that, it takes a lot of education, I think, to get there, not necessarily putting something in front of somebody to say, okay use this, but teaching them why, maybe why that's better. That's the core of what I wanted to ask about next, because I know that one of your mandates at Rev is to grow the revenue faster than the head count, means you need to get efficient, you need to get data-driven. Because I know that you're also an expert and an advocate of revenue operations, of advanced analytics, I'd be curious to know, what are the keys to getting a team who hasn't often used those things, to adopt them as best practices for that optimal operation and growth?


Wade Burgess (24:13):

Yeah, it's a great question, and I think it's one that can't be ignored if you're going to be a leader of future revenue organizations. That hand tools are not as effective as power tools in construction, and so that transition was actually pretty easy, and that was when a tool is more effective people will be like, ah, this is much better to use a power saw, than to use a hand saw. Primarily I think it's demonstrating, and modeling, and showing the effectiveness of great tools. I tend to probably over-index towards believing in people, and actually believe in people's intellect, I believe in their ability to make good decisions, I believe in their capacity to change, when the change is an obvious positive.


Wade Burgess (24:58):

One of the ways I think to do that, if you're just starting with automation, and data, and insights type of tools, is you find tools that are very intuitive and very obvious, but the change management isn't something that's hard. An example of this, if a person in a role, whether they're in a marketing role, or sales role, or support role, does something that's really rote, routine, mundane and manual, and is obviously not something that they enjoy, and you can introduce a tool and within a few number of minutes can show them how this saves time, energy, efforts, it's more beautiful, whatever it is, that's typically pretty obvious to the user.


Wade Burgess (25:35):

A tool that's not an obvious benefit to the end user is difficult to implement. A tool whose usage is obvious to the end user, I think it's that. The challenge is not putting 50 new things in front of someone at once. There's an old book called The Goal, and in that, they talk about bottlenecks to the manufacturing process. You remove the first bottleneck, and then by its nature it's going to create the second bottleneck down the road, and so you remove that and then so on. I think this is true as well. I have never found a lot of friction to introducing new tools when those tools are of benefit to the user.


Adam Conner (26:14):

Those bottlenecks, and freeing them over time is something that through advanced analytics and Rev operations you can do, but I'm guessing that will create the next thing down the line, and maybe to ask for a prediction for something like that, or at least something that's on your mind for the future, I'd like to round out with this question, because I'm always hungry for keys from chief revenue officers, from sales leaders, leaders generally. On not how to future proof, but certainly how to prepare. I've got a sentence for you with a blank in it, and I'd love you to fill that blank as we round out today. That sentence is, world-class revenue organizations in 2021, will need blank to stay relevant by 2025. I'd be curious to get your thoughts there.


Wade Burgess (26:58):

Courage. Here's what I mean by that. We all are going to be required to change if we're going to win, if we want to be successful. Very few of us are swimming in blue oceans. The blue ocean strategy of not where the shark infested red waters are. Most of us have a competitive situation we're in, and in today's world, specifically with tech companies, but also with others, speed is key. It takes courage to introduce new ideas, to make changes, to up-level your team, probably the most important thing you can do, to bring in a better way of doing things then you have been doing them before. I actually think the limiting factor here typically is courage, because you know what? You might get it wrong, you might make mistakes, and you've got to be able to take that intelligent risks to make it happen.


Wade Burgess (27:49):

I don't mean blind courage, I mean, data-driven intelligent courage. The way where this ties in to insights, and analytics, and tools do that is, you have to have enough data, I call it the 80% answer, to have the 80% answer to what the right thing is, have the courage to move on. Perfection is slow and expensive, and having enough insight to give you what you need. People will look for example, they'll look at data and insights tools, and look for the thing that has a 0% error rate, in some cases that's important. If you're doing brain surgery on me, I'm looking for perfection, that'd be my preference. However, most of the decisions that we're making, what we need is directional guidance. That's probably very closely right, but execution is key.


Wade Burgess (28:30):

People used to talk about IQ a lot, and that's important, your intelligent quotient, and then talk about EQ; emotional quotient. Also also very important. The thing that I'm most fascinated about lately is the concept of AQ; that's adaptability quotient, the ability to change and integrate quickly, and ideally that's not driven by gut, that's driven by insights, and data, and systems that can help you make those decisions more quickly, and having the courage to do so, and to be able to take risks.


Adam Conner (29:01):

That is the first time that I've heard that term. That's a fascinating way to round out here. Now I'm going to go, everybody listening go Google that, if you can't, Wade coined it.


Wade Burgess (29:11):

If you can't find something good, I'll write something about it. But there are much smarter people than me out there talking about this AQ idea; adaptability quotient. I think it's crucial in today's world. We are at a pivot point, where even if it's not driven by the current pandemic, you can drive change based on the fact the world has just changed, and that is a fantastic opportunity, those who act most quickly on it are going to win, and it takes courage to make those changes.


Adam Conner (29:33):

Well, I really appreciate that thoughtful round out, I'm going to go look that up more. But for everything that you've provided here from your insight as to how to build world-class teams, to the things you've learned over time, to the story of Rev, I truly appreciate it. Wade, thanks very much for coming on.


Wade Burgess (29:48):

Thanks Adam.


Adam Conner (29:52):

Thanks for tuning in today. To hear more conversations just like this one, head over to wherever you get your podcasts and search Growth Culture, and while you're there, go ahead and leave us a rating and review to let us know how you'd liked this one.


Adam Conner (30:06):

To learn more about Dedicated.ai and our other events, visit us at our website by the same name, or send us an email at jl@dedicated.ai. We'd love to hear from you about what you'd love to hear from us. Until next time, I'm your host Adam Conner signing off.