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PODCAST 131: Data, Set, Match: How to Build a Two-Sided Marketplace to Drive Revenue with Ryan Walsh

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Today on the show we’ve got Ryan Walsh, founder and CEO of a company called RepVue, a place where you can get objective third-party information. Actually, it’s first party, objective information from reps themselves about how much people make at different companies. You can access that data set once you contribute your own information on a blinded basis. Using RepVue, you can figure out exactly what people are making. You can’t look at their individual W2s, but you can know that if you work at XYZ company, then you can make up to $700,000 a year.

If you missed episode 130, check it out here: Turning Junior-level Talent into Top Sales Professionals with Eddie Baez

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction [00:10]
  2. Who is Ryan Walsh and what is RepVue? [02:40]
  3. What Ryan has learned about how salespeople are performing [10:51]
  4. Why it’s hard to build a two-sided marketplace [13:38]
  5. The biggest surprise when you go marching out on your own [18:25]
  6. Managing a technical team as a non-technical person [24:13]
  7. Ideas Ryan finds transformative [29:33]
  8. Sam’s Corner [33:50]

Show Introduction [00:10]

Sam Jacobs: Today on the show we’ve got Ryan Walsh, founder and CEO of a company called RepVue, a place where you can get objective third-party information. Actually, it’s first party, objective information from reps themselves about how much people make at different companies. You can access that data set once you contribute your own information on a blinded basis. Using RepVue, you can figure out exactly what people are making. You can’t look at their individual W2s, but you can know that if you work at XYZ company, then you can make up to $700,000 a year.

Before we get there, we have two sponsors. The first sponsor is Sapper Consulting. Sales enablement is easy. All you have to do is create perfectly targeted content, stay informed on email best practices, drive more engagement quarter over quarter, spend less money. Oh, and do all of this with less time. Okay, it’s not that easy, but Sapper Consulting has built REGIE to keep the promise of sales enablement alive and keep your team doing what they do best, which is winning.

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Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Ryan Walsh.

Who is Ryan Walsh and what is RepVue? [02:40]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, it’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast. We’re super excited to have on the show, the CEO and founder of a company called RepVue, which we’re going to learn all about, a guy named Ryan Walsh. Ryan has been building and scaling companies on the sales side for over 20 years. Most recently he was the CRO of a SaaS company that grew from 35 million when he joined to 120 million. And he helped lead that company through an IPO all before he started working on RepVue full time. Ryan, welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast.

Ryan Walsh: Sam, it’s great to be here and I appreciate you having me on the show.

Sam Jacobs: So as loyal listeners will know, we always start with your baseball card, which is really just a way of saying let’s learn a little bit about Ryan. So we know your name, you’re the founder and CEO of a company called RepVue. What is RepVue?

Ryan Walsh: I’ve been in sales for 20 years and starting out carrying a bag, sales, professional individual contributor for many years at ChannelAdvisor. And actually I was a day-one employee at ChannelAdvisor (and stayed there as the company grew) from $35 million to $120 million, which is the part where I was actually leading the sales org.

That was a great run. I was at that one company for, I believe, 16 years, which to people would scream that’s absolutely crazy now, given how things are today. But coming out of ChannelAdvisor in early 2017, I did some consulting and some of the same problems came up over and over again, related to the lack and the diminishing number of sales professionals hitting their quota, the high turnover of sales professionals, and frankly the lack of transparency of sales organizations during the interview process for sales professionals. So, when a sales professional interviews at accompany, all of that information flows one way from the candidate to the company. And there’s just a lack of information flow from the company to the sales professional. Many cases that doesn’t mean it’s nefarious. In some cases it does. Hiring managers are also just trying to sell as well.

So what can we build to allow sales professionals access to better structured information about sales org so that they can make the best decision for their careers? And that’s really where RepVue was born, which is probably now the world’s largest socially sourced set of ratings about sales organizations on the planet. And most of our data now as a software company it’s because that’s my background, but you as a sales professional can go to RepVue and view detailed analytics about sales organizations related to compensation data. What do reps like in terms of culture, product, incentive comp structure? How many people are hitting quota? If I’m a top performer, how much can I make in real dollars and real numbers?

And it’s always free for users to model where if you’re a user, just give us one piece of data and you can have access to the entire dataset. And we’re just getting started. And it’s a huge, huge mission, but one that I want to, first of all, thank all of our listeners out there who are RepVue users, they’re really the ones making it happen. And we’re just collecting and aggregating this data and presenting it in a consumable way. So that’s RepVue, that’s our mission. We’re very much in the early innings and we’re excited to see where it goes.

Sam Jacobs: Walk us through the flow. If I’m a rep, I create a profile. And as part of that profile, I say, I work at XYZ company. This is the comp plan. This is what I’m making. And basically willingly share my salary information, my comp information. And then you say, don’t worry, we’ll anonymize it and make it part of a broad data set. And then you repurpose that back to all of the rest of the community so that when someone else wants to work at XYZ company, they have more information. Is that right?

Ryan Walsh: Close. Yeah. So let me clarify a couple of things. And you touched on anonymity, which is exceptionally important to us. So you don’t actually create a profile. You just, the registration process is the rating’s process. So on RepVue, you go to the site and you enter in a rating. At the last piece of that rating is your email address, and then you’re registered. There’s no public profile or anything like that. Once you’re registered, then you have access to all the content and information on our site. And where you were spot on is that this is not a review site. You don’t leave your opinions. Okay? It’s structured data. The ratings process takes about two minutes to complete for one rating. And we encouraged all of our users to rate current and former sales orgs, as long as it’s just been maybe three or less years since they’ve been there.

Once you complete that rating, you’re in, you’re a user. You can access everything on the site. We do not publish that rating’s data. What we do is to your point, we aggregate that data with other ratings from that same organization. And once we collect a minimum amount of data for a company profile page, for example, that’s seven unique ratings. Then we’ll publish that company page. So people ask me all the time, Hey, I’d like to join. I like to rate, but I don’t see my company on your site. Now we have over a thousand sales orgs that have been rated and about 140 live of the most well-known sales orgs in the world that are published, all the sales orgs in software that our users are very much accustomed to seeing out there.

So, that’s really, it’s essentially a consortium model, right? You give us one piece of data. It’s totally anonymous, super lightweight lift because salespeople like me have a short attention span and get distracted easily, and then you’re in. And then you can leverage everything that RepVue has to offer, including sales compensation data, organizational data, strengths, and weaknesses.

Sam Jacobs: What’s the business model? Do you create broader richer data sets and sell those back to companies for benchmarking purposes? Or how do you make money?

Ryan Walsh: There are really three ways and you just touched on one of them, which is that sales organizations do care about their people, right? I mean, I think that’s clear and they want to do better. And so we have access to data on what they’re doing well and what they’re not doing well. And we have a console where organizations can access that data. Everything we do at RepVue is based on data. What we present to our users is based on data. What we can present to employers is based on data.

So, that is one of them. The other piece is talent. Users come to us all the time and they say, Hey, this company looks awesome. Are they hiring? We’re actually starting to put jobs on the site. And for users, if you see a job on our site, you click on that job to raise your hand that you’re interested in that job. That goes to the hiring manager. And if you get hired, RepVue will actually pay you $500. And that’s that’s because we’re getting paid by that organization to make that placement. And we’re going to share some of that upside with our users in the form of $500. So we’re starting to see some jobs.

Sam Jacobs: Smart people.

Ryan Walsh: Yeah. And the third piece is we’re really anxious to disrupt an age-old industry that has sales compensation, benchmarking and analytics, which generally speaking is a year old. You purchase these PDF looking things for tens of thousands of dollars and you can benchmark industries, but with RepVue, we own the data and companies can benchmark other companies, Hey, I’m Salesforce, I’m HubSpot, I’m HubSpot. I want to see what Salesforce AE’s making Boston, for example. And not only is it not last year’s data, some of that data is from this morning or yesterday as it comes in. So it’s just a deeper, richer set of data. And the only thing standing in our way is continuing to grow that dataset.

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What Ryan has learned about how salespeople are performing [10:51]

Sam Jacobs: Every day on LinkedIn, there’s somebody talking about some random factoid that they grabbed from some HBR report or some Pacific Crest survey, but what have you learned about general quota attainment, about how salespeople are performing, maybe even about what you’ve seen since COVID hit, but just curious, given the data set that you’re sitting on, what are some interesting insights that you’ve been able to pull?

Ryan Walsh: We hear anecdotally about quota attainment dropping, and I think it’s dropping worse than what we think. The data that we have shows that overall, industry and I’ll say software, I’d say about 80% of our ratings are for software, maybe a little bit higher. And the ones that aren’t are generally, kind of related industries, IT services and those sorts of things. I think it’s lower than what we think it is. And it’s easy to inflate that for companies during the hiring process. We’re showing about 43%.

Sam Jacobs: Oh my.

Ryan Walsh: To be clear that’s what is the percent of the team that hits quota. That’s not the average quota attainment across the team. I think that’s a little bit high. And the reason I say it’s a little bit high is because I think as we continue to tweak and work our language, get more and more accurate. What I’m seeing, I actually think it’s more like around 39%. That’s a problem. Why is that? And is it worse in software? We’re seeing it pretty consistent across other industries as well, but why is that?

I think companies seem to be still doing well. Right? So, where’s that disconnect and how much quota kind of buffer is there in three levels, in four levels, in five levels of management is that part of it? Is it venture capital that puts so much money into some of these software organizations and they’re forced to grow, grow, grow, and it’s literally just a body’s game, right? And just throw bodies at it. We know we’re going to have some high attrition, but we can get this thing packaged up and exited in a few years, then that’s worth it.

Well, yeah. It’s not worth it though, to the people that are on the front lines that are actually doing the selling that are essentially disposable bodies to hit some portion of the quota that equates to the company hitting their targets. I think what I’ve learned is that sales professionals need this visibility. Our goal is absolutely not to disparage organizations or people or companies, but I think that transparency is really, really well-needed in the industry as well.

And the other thing I learned is it’s very, very hard to build a two-sided marketplace, Sam. I don’t know how much you know about building a two-sided marketplace, but it’s very, very hard.

Why it’s hard to build a two-sided marketplace [13:38]

Sam Jacobs: What’s been hard about it?

Ryan Walsh: For those who don’t know really what a two-sided marketplace is, it’s when you build a business that’s relying on essentially two sets of users or constituents to be successful. So for us it’s users, which drives our data and then employers, which ultimately will drive our revenue. And so you have to have one to have the other. We started with users because ultimately data is really the foundation on which our entire business is built. Users drive data, and then data drives more users. And then more users drive more data.

The concept of a data network effect is every data point that you inject into that system, the more valuable that data set is. Not only, I’m not necessarily even talking about enterprise value, I’m talking more about the value proposition to a user. Why would I want to go to RepVue and stick a rating in there? Well, Hey, we have 60 companies, Hey, we have 100 companies, and Hey, we have 500 companies in there. Hey, there’s a million data points in there, right? So, the data network effect essentially compounds the value to users, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? You have nothing. Who was the first user that did a rating and why in the world would they ever do that?

Without getting into all the gory details, that’s the challenge, right? And so you essentially just have to work like hell to get those first thousand ratings and grind. And then you start seeing some traction on the other side of the equation. So, that’s a network effect. A lot of people probably think it’s crazy. That’s why there’s not a lot of these out there. So that’s why RepVue doesn’t exist. Not only is it hard, but the people with the technical skills and know how to do it, don’t care about sales. And they may care more about engineering and that sort of thing. So, that’s the concept of a two-sided marketplace or a network effect.

And I feel really good about where we are in terms of our development cycle of that two-sided marketplace now that we’re starting to engage with employers on the other side and seeing accelerating ratings growth. I’ll do a comparison. In our first year, we launched in Q4 and so we’ll call this our first year. We’ll do about 95% of the count of ratings that G2 did in their first year while spending only about 5% of the total spend, maybe 10% of the total spend that they spent. And we haven’t paid for a single one of our ratings yet. It’s all essentially been organic and LinkedIn recruiting, word-of-mouth. So we feel really good about that and the long-term prospects for this, for RepVue as not only a two-sided marketplace, but kind of a vertical talent marketplace.

Sam Jacobs: Any fun growth hacker, dark arts stories? Did you all do anything interesting, clever at the beginning to get that initial traction?

Ryan Walsh: LinkedIn thought leaders say, Hey, any sales hacks out there? I’m like, most of the sales hacks really it’s just hard work, right? You have to just do the work, right. So I’ll give you a couple points of background, right? So for the first year, and I’ve gone full time on RepVue Q1 this year. Last year I was about 50% of my time, but when we really saw it taking on big time, I’m now 100% focused on it. I spend probably three to four hours a day, personally recruiting users and engaging with users. It’s not just to recruit somebody to do a rating and to build a connection and explain the value proposition and engage with people. Another one, people love T-shirts, Sam. I don’t know if you know that, but people love T-shirts.

Sam Jacobs: That’s a very useful factoid, right there.

Ryan Walsh: RepVue swag. People post pictures of themselves wearing RepVue T-shirts. I’ve seen them at stadiums pre-COVID. I’ve seen them on LinkedIn, on Twitter. People love their T-shirts. So right now, anybody that does three ratings, which would be my current and my most recent two sales orgs, we send them a RepVue T-shirt and they just freaking love it. They love T-shirts. And I had one funny story, a guy had messaged me on LinkedIn. He said, yeah, I saw your message a couple months ago, but I totally blew you off. And then I saw my roommate rock in a RepVue T-shirt. So how could I get one of those? At first I was like, Oh, just do this for a little while, but we’re keeping the T-shirts. So if you don’t have your T-shirt yet stick a couple more ratings in there and you’ll get a T-shirt.

Sam Jacobs: Put that in your business plan, page two marketing, free T-shirt.

Ryan Walsh: Sam needs a T-shirt is on my to-do list here.

Th biggest surprise when you go marching out on your own [18:25]

Sam Jacobs: You’ve been building and running and leading teams, sales teams, and like many of us, including me, I was doing the same thing. And now I run my own thing. For you, what’s been the biggest surprise? What’s been the thing where maybe over the 20 years or 16 years that you were working at ChannelAdvisor, you were muttering under your breath saying, these turkeys don’t know what they’re doing. And now you’re in the seat and realizing that maybe they weren’t turkeys after all, maybe some of the decisions weren’t quite as simple as you thought. What’s been surprising to you, if anything?

Ryan Walsh: ChannelAdvisor is essentially plumbing to allow merchants who sell products online to engage and integrate with third-party marketplaces. So if you’ve bought stuff on Amazon, it’s more than likely ChannelAdvisor has powered some of those transactions. So, you want to sell on eBay, on Amazon, on Walmart, on hundreds of other channels throughout the world, then ChannelAdvisor can help you get on those channels in a seamless, efficient way. So it’s essentially that plumbing to connect your backend systems to the backend systems of those marketplaces.

To your question, I think what you’ll realize if you go from where somebody like myself or you or others are, and they want to do something themselves, I think it’s just a vast number and variety of decisions that come at you on a regular basis that are related to things that in my last job, as the chief revenue officer at a public company, right, I was in my lane and I did what I needed to do. And I’m not dealing with payroll software. I’m not dealing with all the little things that outside counsel does to get something, little HR things, or doing the books, which is what I’m doing.

I think that it is, you said is it just hard work? It’s all hard work, but it’s also your scope of decisions and your scope of type of work expands almost, I would say immediately and infinitely. So you just have to be prepared for that. And if you really believe in the mission, that stuff is not, you don’t hate doing it, you enjoy doing it because essentially you know everything that you do, and every step that you take gets you closer to that goal of achieving that mission of the business that you’re building.

Sam Jacobs: That’s a great point. You know what always strikes me is that I used to be a musician. And basically, the first time you write a song on an acoustic guitar, which is where I write my songs, you hear it’s sort of like a revelation. It’s like you hear it in your head and it’s beautiful. And then, if that song ever makes it to a recording, it’s going to be two to three years from the moment that you strum those cords. You are going to live with that song for so long that you’re going to be so tired of it. And by the time the song comes out, you’re not even going to really appreciate it because you’ve written 20 new songs, and those are the ones that you can’t wait to hear.

I feel like when you’re running a company, the level of chaos, your awareness of how poorly you are doing certain things and your understanding with yourself that that’s okay, because you’re not really giving yourself credit for all of the things that you’ve already fixed. You’re only focused on the fact that this thing could be so much better. And you’re so impatient to get there. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced anything like that, which is just you are aware that you’re doing a C job on a number of different activities, and you just have to accept that and say, that’s okay, I’m going to perpetually feel like I’m not doing the job that I want because I have this vision of what it could be. And that vision is always going to be expanding.

Ryan Walsh: Yes, 100%, 100%. I have that feeling on a regular, if not daily basis, which a good parallel is we have an employer console that for our offering that as we’re starting to monetize the platform importers log into, I demo that on a regular basis. Now we’re starting to demo that. And it’s not perfect, right? It’s 1.0. There are little things knits that in prior life, if I’m the CRO of a large company, I’m like, you cannot demo this with that and that, and that. And how would you even? Cancel the call, move that call to next week and get the developers over. Let’s fix this. But your mindset has to change, right? What’s more important is getting this done, having this call, moving this ball forward now, or you can’t let perfect get in the way of good, which I think sometimes you get that mentality at a larger organization.

And I think that’s a great point about, you have to step back. Sometimes people will say, man, this is amazing what you’ve built. And then you think, all right, well, yeah, we definitely have come a long way, even though we know the works are there and it’s a challenge, but I think I’m very fortunate. This two-sided marketplace challenge also comes with the benefit that I engage with users every single day. And maybe I don’t always have all these employers that are like, Oh, we want to buy your thing, your platform. But every single day we have users who just love it. They love the platform and they encourage what we’re doing. And that’s really what drives us, which has been great.

Managing a technical team as a non-technical person [24:13]

Sam Jacobs: love the story you said about user by user, salesperson by salesperson, you’re on the phone with them. So many people, they don’t realize they look at an activity and feel like, well, that’s not scalable. And they just, without the appreciation that it is hard, but if you just do it every day for a long period of time, you’ll be amazed. You can go way further than you think you can in that same period of time.

How has it been managing the technical team for you as a nontechnical?

Ryan Walsh: Our engineering team is offshore. And so that adds another layer of complexity into it. And while I don’t technically have a full on co-founder on the technical side. I do have a part time CTO who actually was the co-founder of ChannelAdvisor, and I’ve worked with for the better part of 20 years is a co-founder and CTO of ChannelAdvisor Aris Buinevicius. And Aris, it took me that long to learn how to pronounce his last name as well.

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Sam Jacobs: That rolled off your tongue. That was impressive.

Ryan Walsh: Yeah, that was about an 18-year process, which I’m there and I’m mostly there on spelling, but Aris, so he’s had numerous successful exits and he’s the CTO of those companies. And he has been an incredible resource for me, participates in all of our weekly tech calls. He helps write some of the product specs that are more kind of database-heavy and backend-heavy. When I try to do that, he rewrites them most of the time, as well as I’m not a developer, not an engineer by trade or training or education or anything, to be honest with you. So I have the fortunate luck wherever you want to call it, that he is very much engaged as a part-time CTO, advisor, technical advisor, and also investor in RepVue.

Sam Jacobs: Even as you are providing a layer of transparency into venture capital backed sales-driven cultures, are you going to be seeking venture capital or do you have a financing strategy that relates to your vision for the business?

Ryan Walsh: It’s a challenge. Going into it before we started, it’s a challenge in terms of my thought process. I’ll say that. We’re raising some money right now. It’s not venture capital money. It’s more of a kind of seed/angel round. And that’s pretty much wrapped up at this point in that. The goal there is to get us to midyear next year, at which point we’ll have a much better grasp on what the paid acquisition might look like for a user. And then we can dip in and we can develop, deliver, and communicate what that model would look like. And really at that point is to make a decision, do we want to pour venture capital fuel on it, or do we not? And I’m certainly open to it, but not 100% committed to it.

And part of the reason is because over my career I have been adverse to significantly inefficient spending of any capital venture capital, my capital, customers capital, funding from customers if we can. But I understand the flip side of that, which is the type of business that we’re in. It’s like get to the largest dataset as soon as you possibly can. So that’s the decision point that we’ll come to and we’ll be in a position probably Q1, Q2 next year, to make that decision based on the data set, as well as the interest that we have from those venture capital parties, as well as what our customer base will look like at the time.

Sam Jacobs: My thought for the day, which was on my run this morning is that so many people raise rounds of financing at meaningful valuations, and don’t take any money off the table. And if you think about how difficult it is to build a company worth $50 million, $30 million, $80 million, $100 million, it’s pretty hard. And to not get anything for that feels like a missed opportunity. So I would encourage that’s just a seed I’m planting because you got it. It’s just funny sometimes that these companies make the trade at some massive valuation, but nobody makes any money. And I understand that you want to pour that money into the business, but at the same time, like if you’re thinking about the degree of difficulty to reach that valuation in the first place, it just stands to reason that you would extract something for achieving that milestone. But what do I know?

Ryan Walsh: I appreciate that guidance. And I think my wife would tell you that Ryan, you’ve been paying to work now for some time and at some point it’s time to get paid to work. And as a former CRO of a reasonably large company, I could get paid to work somewhere, but right now I’m choosing to pay to work. And so we’ll have to figure that return on investment out down the road, but we’ll figure it out for sure.

Ideas Ryan finds transformative [29:33]

Sam Jacobs: I wish you the best of luck. It’s been great having you on the show. Before we go, we like to pay it forward a little bit and just hear about some of the people that have been really influential in your life or ideas.

Ryan Walsh: I haven’t read as much in the last few months since I’ve been grinding so hard on this, but so many people asked me, what are your sales books that you read? What sales book should I read? And usually, I’m like, you know what? When I’m not working and selling, sometimes I like to get away from that a little bit. So I love business books, general business books. The people that appreciate Bad Blood, that there are no stories, I think would also be interested in one from about 20 years prior, which is The Smartest Guys in the Room. Would you think that Bad Blood was so crazy? The Smartest Guys in the Room is the Enron story. I don’t know if you’ve read that one, Sam, but it is just unbelievable.

Sam Jacobs: I worked at Enron. In 1998, I was a summer intern there.

Ryan Walsh: Oh, you did? Oh my gosh. How was the 401(k)?

Sam Jacobs: Not so good. I mean they… Yeah. Anyway, you’re right. They made a movie. That’s what I saw. I did not read the book. I want to be honest about it.

Ryan Walsh: If I’m reading a book it’s highly unlikely it is a sales book. I’ve read a few and they can be motivational. But other than that, I’m trying to try to get something different. And actually I asked people in interviews sometimes, what do you read? Because intellectual curiosity to me is an interesting trait for salespeople.

Sam Jacobs: It’s the most important trait.

Sam’s Corner [33:50]

Sam Jacobs: Hey folks, Sam Jacobs. Sam’s Corner. I really liked that conversation with Ryan Walsh. I like people that build businesses come hell or high water, and RepVue was bootstrapped for a long period of time before they even thought about raising capital. And he’s built the business in the right way. He’s coming at it from deep industry expertise because he spent 25 years being a sales leader, working at a number of different companies and really helping scale those organizations. And the consequences of all of that is that he’s got something that’s really, really interesting because compensation does need to be more transparent and there needs to be more information and power in the hands of the actual rep, as opposed to the company themselves always having all the power and all of the information.

Ryan’s already sent me a RepVue T-shirt. So of course I’m going to be repping RepVue wherever I go, particularly if I go on a run. And I always just also love to hear about companies that are started outside of New York City and San Francisco. And this company particularly was started in North Carolina. So it’s a great story. I hope you check them out. And I really liked the conversation and I liked getting to know Ryan.

Don’t miss episode #132

Before we go, of course, we want to thank our sponsors. Sapper Consulting created REGIE, which uses artificial intelligence to create entire inbound, outbound, and even follow-up sales campaigns faster. And also, thanks of course, to Outreach, the number one sales engagement platform, tripling the productivity of salespeople and customer success people, the world over.

If you want to reach out to me you can, sam@revenuecollective.com or linkedin.com/in/samfjacobs. If you want to join Revenue Collective and accelerate your career, get the job you always wanted, negotiate it far more effectively, and once you get that job, be supercharged because you’ve got a community of over 3,000 experts that are at your back providing support. If any of those things sound interesting to you go to revenuecollective.com and click apply now. Without further ado, I’ll talk to you next time.

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