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Lisa Pope: How to Build Through Broad Business Change

We interviewed Lisa Pope, EVP Americas at Epicor.

We chat about their transition from on-prem to SaaS, how to properly incentivize teams pursuing non-quota metrics, and touch on the importance of the CRO seat at the M&A table.



Adam Conner (00:56):

Lisa, thank you so much for joining me. How are you?

Lisa Pope (00:59):

I'm doing great. Thank you, Adam.

Adam Conner (01:01):

It's such a pleasure to have you here and to learn a little bit about your story specifically through a couple of very quotable phrases that I know that you're a fan of, but I'm going to get to that in just a little bit. Very first thing, off the top, quickly for people who don't live and breathe this every day, what is Epicor?

Lisa Pope (01:19):

Epicor basically sells into essential businesses that make, move and basically sell things. If you think about the supply chain, say from an ACE Hardware store backwards, all the products that are represented there are pretty much distributed and many of them made by our software. So definitely focused on supply chain, manufacturing, distribution and retail. We're about a billion dollar software company that focuses on everything from the point of sale all the way through the backend accounting, shop floor, et cetera.

Adam Conner (01:57):

I did ask that question a little bit tongue and cheek because, guys, this organization is huge, thousands of employees, does a massive amount of business. It's because of that that I'd like to center some of my questions today just around how to keep that growth going, how to keep it sustainable, especially when a company as long standing Epicor and speaking broadly to your experience about companies that are just long standing in general. I understand that it involves quite a bit of active leader involvement everywhere that the business operates.

Adam Conner (02:30):

I'd like to break the questions, if I could, into two things really. One, from the aspect of customers that you already have and how you grow them sustainably and then, of course, get to the cutting edge of everything, which is that net new, fresh powder that every business is always trying to go after, but I'll hold that second because to set the scene for it, as I understand it, there are a number of stories to tell.

Adam Conner (02:51):

The first is about how Epicor's business, which was historically on premise, in 2005 or '06, I think... I read several articles indicating that very few people even knew what SaaS was or what the acronym stood for. That migration of course has happened over the last 15, 16 years. You've seen that happen. I'd love to know what that journey was like for Epicor because you oversaw that, is that correct?

Lisa Pope (03:21):

Yes, and you're right. It was definitely a crazy journey. Obviously, we're still in the midst of that when you look at our vast customer base, but I do think you brought up a great point just about sort of sustainable growth and obviously Epicor's been in business 50 years. So unlike a startup that sort of has a cool new market and the coolest, newest product, the ability for, I think, any sales leader to drive that sustainable growth year over year, five years, 10 years and longer, is really the challenge of a CRO and anybody in a leadership role.

Lisa Pope (03:57):

Similar situation if you have a company who's highly acquisitive and they're getting a lot of their growth through just acquiring businesses. When you are focused on sort of an organic growth strategy, I really do believe you have to have multiple pillars that you're focused on in terms of how to drive that. There has to be both short term wins that are quick so that you get those successes and then obviously longer term more strategic initiatives and obviously we can explore that a little bit more.

Lisa Pope (04:28):

For me, that's the number one job that I believe I have. It's to build a sustainable growth plan and deliver on it not the one year, "Hey, quick wins and then move on. You mentioned SaaS and, for us, obviously that was a very easy area for us to look at. Most of our customers were either on premise or we were running their systems for them in some kind of subscription model. But as the products evolved and we made a decision to invest and bring our products, upgrade those products, and also develop software as a service solutions, we knew we had the opportunity to obviously go back into our base and convince those customers now to move to our SaaS offering.

Lisa Pope (05:17):

I think the number one thing that people forget is that SaaS is really a different business model. We're no longer selling the customer software and they're calling in when they need some help. In effect, we are running their business system for them. Because we are involved in sort of mission critical ERP, this is pretty serious stuff, right? If a manufacturing company goes down, they're not building products. If you take down order entry, you're not selling products. If you take down your accounting systems, you're not closing the quarter.

Lisa Pope (05:52):

These are not sort of point solutions or add on solutions. These are mission critical, running the business, responsible for our customers' revenue. So number one, I think it's a different business model. I think one of the reasons why it's become so attractive is most of our customers have a full-time job staying competitive in their market space. They don't need to continue to try recruit and hire IT talent and continue to run their systems.

Lisa Pope (06:22):

Obviously, since many of them were already Epicor customers, and we took very good care of them, they were actually interested in staying with us. Obviously, if they're thinking about switching to a SaaS model, it's also a time, if they're not happy, where they may consider leaving you and looking at other alternatives. I think one thing we had going for us is a very happy customer base and we made a decision to say, "All right, let's get these customers to move forward with our new SaaS offering."

Adam Conner (06:53):

I had a question about that just because that's obviously the dream. You have these customers who are like, "Yeah, sure. We'd be happy to switch. We love the work that you've been doing. We trust you. As such, this transition to SaaS is something that we'll do with you." How did that translate to the folks at Epicor, who then had to either pitch that or learn kind of a new business model language? Did you have to bring in new people for that? Was there just a playbook that you wrote? I mean, how did that work?

Lisa Pope (07:24):

Yeah. That, I think, was the big debate. There were thoughts that said, "Hey, go hire a whole new separate sales force and have them take this piece of the business." That was not my thought. My sense is this is not a limited opportunity. This is the future of the company and our sales talent. I really do believe we have one of the best industry-specific salespeople and talent in the industry. I didn't want to give that up.

Lisa Pope (07:54):

That industry expertise and their ability to walk into a customer and know that particular vertical cold was extremely important. So I made a conscious decision to take my existing team and, yes, obviously start with some additional training for them, so they could understand what was different. In our case, we made the decision to go with Microsoft Azure, so understanding what that technology meant, what that infrastructure looked like. But I also made a decision that it would be important for them to have additional resources.

Lisa Pope (08:27):

I did bring on a special team of sort of SaaS experts. They were non-quota carrying talent. So I put them in our customer engagement team, also known as pre sales. Basically it sort of carried the America's number, but their specialty and their expertise was to be able to go in with that sales rep and sort of... I'll use the analogy, but teach them to fish. Not take over the presentation over time, but to literally create the value presentations, help and train the sales people and then go on the first few meetings with them, be able to talk to the CIO about security concerns, be able to talk to IT just around backup and recovery and disaster recovery and fail over and how Azure worked. Then any other questions that they would have.

Lisa Pope (09:21):

Then over time... We're obviously a number of years into that transition now. All of our sales people have sold SaaS opportunities now. We don't have that concern anymore about not having SaaS-focused sales rep, but that's a really good example of where I made that conscious decision. I invested in those resources. I had the ability to make that call. In some companies, having sort of overlay of any kind is sort of frowned upon. To me, this jump started really our SaaS business. Then as I said, I was able to retain all these incredible sales reps that have 20 plus years experience calling on that industry, which is really impossible to replace.

Adam Conner (10:08):

Well, of course those relationships are golden, just as much as the knowledge ends up being. I do want to come back to that non-quota thing a little bit later in that fresh powder world. But first, let me ask you this because as that transition occurred, of course, there was probably some people who nailed it immediately and some people who had a little bit of a longer tail in terms of getting fluent with the new language. I'd just be curious how you made sure that the best practices were permeating the org at a time at which an entire transition was critical.

Lisa Pope (10:38):

Yeah, I think that's a great question. I do think it was multiple pieces of the plan. Number one was obviously training and education. I'm a big believer in sales enablement. I feel like in a lot of companies, it's sort of a last priority. For me, first and foremost was to ensure that we brought in training and that people felt comfortable with it. We also did go through a certification phase. Sales reps had to sort of make the SaaS pitch to us. They got certified on that. We did a lot of that training in front of their peers, so they presented in front of their peers. That always adds a little bit of competitive nature to it, which I find sales teams love.

Lisa Pope (11:18):

Then thirdly, I'm a big believer in metrics and compensation, metrics to track things for people that are in programmatic roles. In this case, we basically did have a SaaS migration center of excellence. We set metrics by vertical and by team on how many conversions we wanted to do, what size of conversions. Obviously we had revenue targets associated with those as well. Then on the sales team side we still offer a choice to our customers. It's one of the things that we feel is definitely a competitive advantage for us.

Lisa Pope (11:54):

Not every customer has to choose to go software as a service, but what we did do is drive the incentive plan since we did feel it was a little bit harder to sell SaaS in the beginning, as customers were getting more use to the idea of sort of giving up control. We definitely did put incentive plans in, especially in the past two years, that sort of made it more beneficial for a sales rep to position a SaaS offering versus on premise, but never to the point that we make the wrong decision. I think, ultimately, there are customers for whatever reason that may not suit a true SaaS environment. I want to make sure that we don't make the mistake of making that wrong decision.

Adam Conner (12:40):

Of course. You have to elegantly guide the language and, well, incentivize people in the right way, especially when it's such a high priority and one that you don't want to sort of clumsily trip through. But I will get back to that, the incentive question, in just a moment because the people who were best at this, you carried through their best practices and eventually you came to this place where SaaS was the leading edge. Let's transition to net new business opportunity, which is the promised land for any leader seeking to grow their business in a big, big, big way.

Adam Conner (13:15):

I want to start with, well, a quote that you gave me or a quote that I know that you like, which is make sure you nail it before you scale it. I get that, make sure you test things. I understand that you have sort of a yearly personal goal for this, but I'd be curious to know a few examples from your leadership tenure in which you test new things out, new strategic initiatives before you roll them out broadly. How do you do it? Is that too big of a question? Well, I want to know anyway.

Lisa Pope (13:43):

Well, I think whether it's net new or customer base, the concept of trying new things out are that's part of a sales leader's mantra. It goes back to what I said before. I think any sales leader can step into a job, year one, and find some low hanging fruit and some quick wins and then, year two, potentially do the same. It really starts to be year three plus, where now all those quick wins and low hanging fruit are built into your run rate. So now you've got to continue to deliver that plus still deliver that double digit growth.

Lisa Pope (14:18):

So yeah, I focus every year on trying to find three to four really strategic growth initiatives that we're going to use to sort of challenge our sales teams to think differently. Again, this can be applied also on the customer base. In fact, the very first nail it before I scale it program for me was on the customer side of the business, where I didn't think we were being strategic enough in terms of going back into the base and revisiting with the C levels in that account three to four years after they purchased the software and were implemented.

Lisa Pope (14:53):

For me, most of my strategic initiatives, I put under my customer engagement team. They're part of my business plan, but that's one of the reasons why I don't use the word pre sales. I think it's a horrible word because if I have people that know the industry and know the solutions, then they're going to be involved in the life cycle of that customer. So yes, they may do the discovery and demo when we initially close that client. But if we do it properly, five years later, it's the same customer engagement person that's coming back into that account, meeting with the C level, again, finding out how they're running the software, using the software, what could we be doing differently, sharing best practices with them and then creating a multi-year expansion plan from there.

Lisa Pope (15:38):

I think the nail it from the scale, it idea is to really put a program in a safe place. You can't go hire quota-carrying people the first year of a program and say, "Hey, I'm going to throw a quota at you, go develop strategic accounts or go create a customer value program where we're going to eventually drive $35 million a year out of. You have to sort of identify key thought leaders that you bring into the organization. In many cases, I found that a lot of that talent was inside our company already. It was just a matter of finding it and freeing it.

Lisa Pope (16:16):

Then in our case, what we do is we do set metric goals. Again, I'm big on measurement. These aren't the same as a revenue goal. It might be, "Hey, in year one, we're going to do 40 of these strategic workshops. This is the C level we want to have involved. This is the outcome we want from that. This is the results from the customer's perspective, when we survey them that we're looking for and then measure that team on those successes.

Lisa Pope (16:46):

Then once you get success in that smaller sort of safe environment, we were prepared to very quickly ramp this up. So for me a nail it is not a pilot like, "Are we going to do it or are we not?" It's really a phase one with the right team, working really directly under my daily supervision so that all the road blocks are removed and anything they need, I can make happen. Then very quickly, when we start to see success, saying, "Okay, now let's take this to the broader organization." Then very similar approach, where we set metrics to start and then start to drive the behavior.

Lisa Pope (17:27):

But I think that nail it before you scale it, as I said, is really just making sure that... I think sometimes people will wait to do things because things seem too big. Or my favorite is, "Well, we'll do that next fiscal year," or, "In the next year's operating plan, maybe we can do that." I'm big on starting initiatives midyear, in this model. Then by the time we get to Q3, we're not thinking about whether we're doing it. We're already started. Then we're actually starting to see the results at the start of the fiscal year.

Adam Conner (18:01):

Right. I mean, as somebody who started their career in tech sales and anybody who is in the trenches in sales right now hears this... When you hear, you're talking to somebody and they say, "Hey, maybe next fiscal year," what do you think that means? That means that you're going to have to trial again and then you might hear that answer in perpetuity. So I am a big fan also of just hitting the ground running and trying something.

Adam Conner (18:20):

Evaluating things on non-quota metrics in that sense, well, makes a lot of sense. So with that, I'll ask to what extent does incentivizing people change when as opposed to something which is org wide and a massive decision, like, "We're going to SaaS from on prem. That's happening across the board"? When it comes to these at first smaller strategic initiatives, where maybe this size of prize, that opportunity in the short term is smaller, does the way you incentivize people change or do just happen to have a team of go-geters who doesn't matter what the goal is, they're just going to do it.

Lisa Pope (18:54):

There's a couple different ways you can do it. I think it does depend on the program. I've got two specialized programs right now that are more focused on net new, one around really attacking private equity and treating these large private equity companies that are making big inroads into our base, and into our markets, like a strategic account. As you can imagine, a lot of those, they don't show up in Salesforce. Private equity buys companies and then sells them fairly quickly within a three-year period.

Lisa Pope (19:28):

A lot of times you're not even really sure who owns who and how quickly are they going to divest that company, but we did find that private equity buys differently. They are definitely in a mode of, "If I'm going to own a company for 36 to 48 months, I need to move fast. I'm not going to take a year to do an ERP evaluation. We obviously have been owned by private equity, so we started to understand that, but in that case, for that program, I brought in a specialized individual that had some private equity expertise.

Lisa Pope (20:02):

He basically worked with three or four private equity companies, including our owner to really find out, "Hey, what do you guys want? Standard contracts, standard pricing, one account team a non-sales focus to start so that it could be seen as more of a strategic business, three-year plan. And then obviously make it really simple when one of our companies wants to engage with you. We don't want partners involved and we don't want 15 different sales reps across the Americas. We want to deal with kind of a similar team.

Lisa Pope (20:35):

In this case, for this individual, one option is you can put them on the whole number. You can say, "Hey, this is our goal this year. You make this. This is sort of how you're paid. You're paid a bonus on that." The second thing is obviously activity based. We've done that before in terms of progress around, out of these top 20 private equity companies, how many can we actually get engaged and involved in standard contracts and things like that. But ultimately, as this progresses, then yes, you do want that person paid on the private equity opportunities that are closing.

Lisa Pope (21:12):

Again, not to take that away from a sales rep... Their quota would be much larger because they're going to be doing it across 20 huge private equity companies. But we've done that with another role on working with influencers and selection consultants. Similar situation, where I brought somebody in who knows that space, is wired. She's developed programs for that, specialized marketing events and then every deal that happens that a selection consultant is involved in, she tends to know that selection consultant, helps navigate. Same with the rep and then carries sort of a selection consultant quota, if you will, as well as activity.

Lisa Pope (21:54):

There's a lot of different ways to structure it, but I think what I found over the long term is that if you're not willing to do that, then basically you end up with a revolving door of people that come in and get frustrated because it does take a good 12 months to get a program up and running and going. To my point earlier, you don't want your growth objective in one area. You want to always have sort of four different balls in the air that you're going to invest in, where you're trying to get new business in.

Lisa Pope (22:27):

Those are just some example that I've seen, but I'm a big believer in... And and luckily, I'll talk a little bit more about the importance of a chief revenue officer or any VP of sales ensuring that they... I don't think I would take that job if I couldn't be on an executive committee, be part of the executive leadership team because so many of the things that I do, I'm able to do and quickly get sort of cross functional buy in that this is the right thing to do versus somebody telling me I have to hit these reps to metrics ratios that you hear about.

Adam Conner (23:07):

Totally. I'm so glad you said it. It's exactly where I wanted to go. I have two I guess, again, broad umbrella questions. It's what we're doing here. It's okay. We're diversifying. These are sustainably growing questions as we go along. Basically about that seat and two things about it. One, how those strategic initiatives play out. How far up can you get a seat at the table when it comes to new opportunities? Number one. Then the second, I'll ask about that revolving door metaphor is good, all the way at the top of the chain and how that affects things.

Adam Conner (23:38):

But I'm going to ask that last because it's more future looking. The first thing that I wanted to ask is this. As you just noted, making sure that you have three or four balls in the air of strategic initiatives at any given time is great, but undoubtedly the word growth in some organizations is also synonymous with new acquisitions, new partnerships, broadly, things like that. This is actually a question I haven't asked on this show yet, but how, as a... Let's just say as a sales leader, could be a CRO, but whatever that contemporary role is, how do you make sure that you get a seat at the table when it comes to those broader efforts? Because you're going to be in that seat eventually, but I just find that it's not always the case that the CRO gets to sit in.

Lisa Pope (24:18):

Yeah, it's a great question. I think there's two avenues. One is obviously if you are considering a role, make that be one of your criteria. So I'm happy to consider this role. Again, at the CRO level or a VP of sales, but I need a seat as part of the executive leadership team. If sales is not part of that, that's, to me, a pretty big red flag. I'll give you some examples in a minute of why I think that's so important when you start talking about growth, but you can't grow a company by just growing through your sales team.

Lisa Pope (24:53):

If sales is growing, service needs to be growing, support needs to be growing. There's an acquisition strategy, I tend to find. If sales is not involved in an acquisition strategy, it leads to problems, and I can give some ice. But in the event that you're not at the level yet where you have that seat at the table, maybe there's a global CRO, and you're running Europe or the Americas, there are other ways that I think you can still get the access and the ability to get those growth initiatives on the table and discussed.

Lisa Pope (25:26):

I think of clearly having really good rapport with your cross-functional exec, the head of global services, the head of global support, certainly the head of the product side or R&D or whatever that particular organization is called is key because automatically then it's that ability for you to get things done. If I'm going to go off, for example, and decide to go after private equity, but I'm not going to get finances, support for reduced pricing and standard contracts and maybe other concessions up front that makes it very hard for me to do the job.

Lisa Pope (26:03):

I think the more you can get that cross-functional enablement, I think, that's really key. Then if you're not on the executive team, certainly there's usually an opportunity for you to present to that. I think any head of sales should make a conscious effort to get on the agenda. Doesn't have to be the board meeting agenda because usually an executive team will meet multiple times a year as well without it being a board meeting, but making sure that your growth initiatives are understood and supported.

Lisa Pope (26:36):

As I said, it's equally important to have both those quick wins so that your executive team's knowing the stuff you're doing will make an impact this fiscal year, as well as those longer term ones that you're basically in that nail it stage now, so that they're going to be delivering that revenue for you the next fiscal year. That combination, I find, usually does work.

Adam Conner (27:00):

That leads to, well, really the ultimate question here, which is also a new one for this show, but I haven't felt really comfortable enough to ask it yet, which is let's assume that you nail it in whatever initiative that we're talking about in this case, initiative X, whatever. Then you scale it, and it works great. You build this wonderful reputation for having grown a line of business or a new project or whatever that is.

Adam Conner (27:22):

You mentioned earlier the risk of revolving doors just across any sales team. I think that of course applies to the leaders as well. While the CRO seat is not as short tenured as let's say the chief marketing officer seat or other seats in the C-suite, I'd be curious to get your thoughts on what the appropriate amount of time that broad evaluation period is for any leader to be at a company and growing initiatives before they move on to their next effort. Because in a way maybe that's their own personal strategic initiative as well, but it has a lot to do with team cohesion. I'd be curious to get your thoughts on that as we close out.

Lisa Pope (28:01):

Yeah. I think it's a great question because I think there is a mentality. You'll see this, and I look for this in terms of people I don't want to hire, but I call it the grow and go, where you'll see sales leaders that do under three years at a company. Will tout all their incredible growth statistics that they got in those three years and then move on, but do that consistently. You'll see a lot of two-year track records. To me, like I said, I could walk into any company... And I'm not saying this to brag, but I could walk, I feel, into any company and, just based on my experience now, assess things and find some low-hanging fruit.

Lisa Pope (28:41):

It would be different at every company, but there are things that they aren't doing today that they don't know about. So, yes, I could deliver growth. That's great. Then the second year, you've got that built in, and now you look for one or two other key initiatives, and you've got a second year under you. Then at that point, that growth is built in and unless you're doing more things to continue to move that needle, you start to struggle and then you leave.

Lisa Pope (29:12):

For me, for hiring that's one of the things I look for is people that break through that two-year mark. Now, there's another situation which is a CRO or a VP of sales who's ready for their next role. I've actually... I'm big on mentoring. I've actually encouraged people that have worked for me to go ahead and step out and take that next role because it wasn't available at the company they were at.

Lisa Pope (29:35):

I think that's a different philosophy of saying these are the things I've done and now I am ready to go have the seat at the table. Frankly, that's one of the reasons I came to Epicor is because instead of just running sales and having a big number, I am on the executive team. I get to participate in the board meetings, and that was a big enough reason for me to leave.

Lisa Pope (29:56):

I think it, it really does depend on the individual, but if you are one of the people that's kind of doing these two-year stints, you probably need to take a step back and really say, "Why is that?" Are you really getting ahead by doing that? Is there an obvious break point where maybe a few of these companies, you do need to continue to develop that skill because it's hard to... You're not going to last long if you have been doing that two-year job hopping.

Adam Conner (30:26):

That's a great way to round out here just because listeners, you hear great sales leaders, revenue leaders, growth leaders on this show all the time, and they have illustrious tenures. It seems to be that they're always several years long. It's not... What I also find is that it's a lot different starting out your sales journey. People will go two years here, two years there.

Adam Conner (30:47):

It's really interesting to learn that at the other side, that's actually probably not where you want to be and also underpins that any growth journey is longer than a two-year stint. I've learned a ton here, Lisa. I really appreciate you telling me more about how to grow sustainably, holistically, both in your current and in those net new opportunities. I look forward to learn a little bit more about what those strategic initiatives are for '22. Maybe I'll close out with this one little tidbit. Do you do that personally, too? Do you have any hobbies or new skills that you try to pick up every year? What's on your mind?

Lisa Pope (31:19):

Well, I'm a little bit of an adventurous... Big into skydiving and actually have done that for one of my sales kickoffs. Myself and the head of international did a sky dive as part of our theme and actually while we were really focused on the cloud, so it was an interesting metaphor. No, I think my next stint is to make enough money so I can go up on Blue Origin. I think that's my next gig.

Adam Conner (31:48):

Now, that would be wonderful. That would be a ride befitting the end of any growth journey, but I really appreciate you basically laying out how we get there on the show today. Thank you so much for joining us.

Lisa Pope (32:02):

You bet. Thanks Adam. It was great to talk to you.

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