Multiply good behavior: Focus on multiplying the good elements in your teams and learn how to scale this for maximum success. The more you reinforce good habits and team dynamics, the more you diminish the negatives that can come with working in a physically distant environment. When I see something that works, I communicate it widely. The more we can share these good ideas, the more we will see them in practice.
We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?
In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Levy, Senior Vice President of Sales at Oracle NetSuite. Sam has more than 20 years’ experience working with enterprise applications companies building sales and service organizations, developing product strategy and executing sales enablement programs. He is a grounded sales leader that understands the sales process, leadership and building a winning culture within high-growth technology organizations.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After graduating with a marketing degree from San Diego State University, I started my career as a business development representative in sales. I’ve been in sales at technology companies from the start, working my way up over the years at a variety of enterprise tech companies. I was grateful to land at Oracle NetSuite almost eight years ago leading our global sales organization.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the things I love about working in sales is the ability to be so hands on with customers and support them along their growth journeys. I was just out of college and was lucky enough to get the opportunity to celebrate an IPO with a customer. Having the ability to be in the boardroom with executives as a junior sales rep was rewarding and showed me the impact technology can have on helping organizations reach their ‘big moments’ like entering the public market.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from Babe Ruth — “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” The reality is that you are going to fail. Everyone does. But it’s what you do after that will define your career. Life is difficult with many twists, turns, peaks, and valleys. I’ll always remember the first deal I lost and the disappointment that came along with it. However, being able to learn from your failures and push on despite those challenges is what keeps me moving forward. You must be resilient.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Early in my career, I had the opportunity to be mentored by the vice president of sales at an enterprise company I was working for at the time. She took the time (that she didn’t really have by the way) to guide me and get me to envision where I wanted to go with my career and the steps I could take to get there. We’re still lifelong friends, and she’s still leading the way as a COO. I can’t express fully how grateful I am to her.
The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?
First and foremost, sales is a people business and requires constant dialogue, meaningful interactions and trust that is built over time. While some parts of an organization can benefit from individual contributors, in a sales organization you have to work as a team. This team dynamic is where you benefit from being in an office environment where you can huddle, strategize and bounce ideas off of each other. Working in the same office really allows people to celebrate each other’s successes (ahem…ring the gong) or even more importantly be there in their failures. Support should be given in the highest of high moments and the lowest of lows.
It’s especially important when you are new in sales. One of the many things I love about leading the NetSuite sales team is we hire a lot of raw talent. We’re constantly hiring people who are looking to get their start in sales. We’ve had to work really hard since starting to work remotely to ensure the benefits I noted above are still delivered in a virtual environment.
On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?
Perhaps the biggest challenge with the remote environment is that we are all dealing with different experiences in our environments. Whether you’re a parent with kids homeschooling, living with roommates, caring for a family member or living alone, the last year has put unique strains on us all. While this can potentially lead to some — very legitimate — distractions, empathy and communication have become key to overcoming these. While we might not be traveling or going to an office daily, we still need downtime to disconnect from work to keep ourselves sharp and refreshed.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Believe in your staff: This should go without saying but as a leader it’s incredibly important to believe in your people. At NetSuite, we encourage our employees to work through challenges on their own when they feel confident but also make help easily available when needed. We’re always looking for talent who are eager to learn, are looking for limitless opportunities and excel at working towards common goals — which is what our team environment is all about. While I’m not able to meet with my team physically, we now meet more frequently so that there is more opportunity to ask for help.
- Be deliberate and honest: When working remote, communication is key. The tenants of good communication include being deliberate and as prescriptive as possible with feedback to support employee development. Encourage your team to ask as many questions as necessary to solve for the challenges that might be in front of them, even if it isn’t physically visible.
- Look for genius: Remember that not everyone works or learns in the same way, and this is especially true for those who aren’t used to working remotely. As we continue to adjust to this environment, it’s important to support your teams in different ways depending on the skills and strengths they accelerate at.
- Be deliberate about opportunity: Even in a virtual environment there is opportunity to help your team grow their careers. Offer your staff space not to just do their work but try out new roles, skills, and solutions to support them as they look to create more career opportunities. I make it a point of showcasing career growth amongst the entire organization.
- Multiply good behavior: Focus on multiplying the good elements in your teams and learn how to scale this for maximum success. The more you reinforce good habits and team dynamics, the more you diminish the negatives that can come with working in a physically distant environment. When I see something that works, I communicate it widely. The more we can share these good ideas, the more we will see them in practice.
Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? Since NetSuite has always been a cloud-based offering, did this make the transition to a virtual environment easier?
After more than 20 years of being in the cloud, working from anywhere is part of our DNA. We are in the business of developing technology that makes it easier for organizations to work from anywhere at any time, including our own. Because of this, transitioning from the office to home wasn’t a technical challenge for us.
From the sales side, we were more worried about team morale and communication. We’ve done a few things though to keep the office culture alive. One of my favorites is “The Boardroom”, where we do an exclusive happy hour with some of the top executives. At month-end, we also have a specific slack channel to communicate in, celebrate wins and keep the energy flowing. We’ve also made a point of creating zoom-free Fridays or wellness days to give our team down time when they need it. By ensuring that everyone is taking a break, people can time off without coming back to an inbox full of email.
How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?
Like many, Zoom calls have replaced most of our in-person interactions for the time being. Part of being successful through all this is being adaptable, and this is where we have put our focus. Of course, when it comes to sales, you tend to build a close relationship with your customers, so the communication medium can vary at times. The bottom line for us though is that just because the form of communication may change, how we communicate and serve our customers does not.
Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?
Zoom and internal messaging tools have become critical to our daily interaction. Email may be the constant, but video calls have truly become an invaluable for face-to-face interactions and internal messaging allows us to quickly communicate as a team.
I’m also incredibly passionate about gamification. This isn’t so much about the tools but really finding fun and creative ways that still help us reach a shared goal and still makes the job fun. For example, one of the hardest things in sales is creating new pipelines. We carve out specific windows to do prospecting and make a contest out of it. Lead the pack and celebrate in “The Boardroom”.
If you could design the perfect tool to help streamline your business and interact with customers or prospects, what would it be?
Recognition is incredibly important, so having a tool that allows me to more easily reward and celebrate customers and employees would be great.
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?
When giving feedback focus on the positives, not just negatives. It’s important to be clear on the skills an employee excels at, just as much as where there are opportunities for improvement. Be engaged and be ready to help an employee brainstorm and work through ideas on how they can help reach their goals through that feedback, not just focusing on what might not be happening. Video calls do help in terms of still getting most of the nuances of body language across. If you are giving feedback, do it via video, not a phone call.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
Employees are always the best asset of any organization and it’s important as a leader to empower them to bring forward ideas, no matter their level. Motivating staff to work towards a common goal or project, like coming together to help solve a customer’s needs can be incredibly powerful whether you are working in person or remotely. For example, when you are working on bigger deals, you tend to have a larger team involved and we’ve seen people still doing that same level of collaboration. In fact, it’s made working with our ecosystem easier because we can tap into resources that we wouldn’t necessarily have considered in the past and that’s helped improve our win rate.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I believe giving back should be at the backbone of everything we do as people. As a way to give back to those around you, I’m a big believer in mentorship and maybe this is because of the experience I shared before where I was taken under someone’s wing. Having a mentor that can help advocate for you and help you envision the rooms you should be in. As a leader, we should always be looking at ways that we can pay it forward for the next generation and mentorship is a great way to do this.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me on LinkedIn, and check out NetSuite’s social channels including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. And if you’re interested in exploring sales opportunities, check out our list of openings: http://www.oracle.com/joinnetsuite.
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.
About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.