What You’ll Learn
- Why your CFO shouldn’t own the revenue model
- Real world advice on how to successfully grow your company’s revenue
- How to develop a sophisticated sales recruiting engine
- Why training is crucial to successful enablement
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Show Agenda and Timestamps
If you’d rather not listen to this episode, you can read a crisp transcript below:
Sales Hacker Podcast—Sponsored by Node
Sam Jacobs: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Sales Hacker podcast. I’m your host, Sam Jacobs, founder of the New York Revenue Collective.
Before we start, a quick thank you to this month’s Sales Hacker podcast sponsor Node. Node’s AI discovery platform can understand the meaning, context, and connection between any person or company by proactively surfacing opportunities that are highly relevant and personalized in real time.
Node is creating an entirely new paradigm for sales and marketing professions to grow pipeline and accelerate revenue philosophy.
Now on with the show.
Welcome everybody to the Sales Hacker podcast. It’s your host, Sam Jacobs. I’m the founder of the New York Revenue Collective.
I’m so excited today to share the stage with my friend and colleague and somebody I’ve known for many, many years, Jess Hunt, who is one of the top entrepreneurs and operators in the city. Most recently, she was Executive Vice President reporting to the CEO at Axiom Law, responsible for North America Business, including global marketing and sales strategy.
Prior to joining Axiom, she was SVP and General Manager of the Life Sciences Business at Gerson Lehrman Group. At GLG, Jess launched and built three new businesses, professional services, life science, and corporate markets that resulted in over $100 million in incremental revenue. She’s also a Vice President of the board of directors at the National Alliance for Mental Illness in New York. And welcome to the show, Jess. So excited to have you!
Jess Hunt: Oh, Sam. This is really fun. I’m delighted to be with you, to reconnect with you, and also be a part of The New York Revenue Collective, a great organization.
About Jess Hunt and Axiom: Baseball Card Stats
Sam Jacobs: We’re excited to have you. So let’s start, as we historically have done, and that means three episodes in, with your baseball card stats. So your name? What’s your name?
Jess Hunt: Jess Hunt.
Sam Jacobs: And what’s your current title and most recent title.
Jess Hunt: My most recent title was I was an EVP at Axiom Law. I was head of North American sales. And I was head of global marketing.
Sam Jacobs: How big is Axiom Law? And what is Axiom do, for those that don’t know?
Jess Hunt: So Axiom is well into the nine figures in revenue. It’s a 17-year-old startup. It’s a marketplace for attorneys for large enterprise.
It’s sometimes referred to as in the alternative legal services space. It’s a novel model for acquiring legal services for big companies. And I don’t know, we’ve got maybe 400 employees, maybe a little more than that now.
Sam Jacobs: And for the folks that are listening, nine figures means over $100 million in revenue. So for those that are struggling to get from two million ARR to five million ARR or even up to the 20 mark, Jess has experience building companies well north of 100 million. And then how long have you been in startup land, Jess or in high-growth land, however you want to define it?
Jess Hunt: Yeah, high-growth land. Because I have built businesses off the ground from zero, but I tend to be the person that comes in and helps once you got product market fit, and you’re really ready to begin to scale the commercial operations, sales and marketing teams and really grow revenue. But I mostly focus on later-stage venture-backed companies. Let’s say I’ve been doing that for about 14 years.
Getting started at GLG
Sam Jacobs: 14 years. That’s excellent. So really quickly, I read in the intro that you grew up in Iowa, which is amazing. But then you went to Duke, you got a PhD at Yale. How did you end up in this role? Give us a little bit of your background and your origin.
Jess Hunt: It’s not obvious. I was studying human paleontology, so the evolution of humans and other primates. So digging up fossil of human ancestors and working in museums. And I, like many people, some people, began to realize that maybe I wasn’t good enough to be a scientist. So I finished my graduate degree and I went to work on a pumpkin farm.
Sam Jacobs: Wow.
Jess Hunt: In Ohio for a while, and as I was, I reconnected with some friends from school who had started a company, and it was about four years old when I joined. It was called Gerson Lehrman Group. I didn’t know a thing about business. I had been in academics, and I didn’t know what a stock was. But I joined in an entry level role in a growing startup. I think we were definitely in the tens of millions. I think maybe, Sam, you were already there.
A Career In Sales and Marketing
Sam Jacobs: What year was that?
Jess Hunt: 2004. I was in the customer success role, and then the CEO at the time who I didn’t even know knew my name, took me out for breakfast and asked me to join the sales team. And I was bewildered and told him no, implying, I think, that I’m an intellectual. And without pointing out what an asshole I sounded like, he eventually talked me into joining the sales team, and I loved it.
So I carried a bag, and then I built and ran sales teams and really, really loved that time in my career.
And then I became a GM. I eventually ran marketing and product and learned a hell of a lot about business and eventually even built the data science team at Gerson Lehrman group. But I would call myself an entrepreneurial executive, and not necessarily an entrepreneur. But as my career has progressed, I’ve stayed really close to sales and marketing.
The Data behind a Sales Career
Sam Jacobs: Why do you think that is?
Jess Hunt: Well, first of all, it’s what I know. But I also think that, you know when I was doing my graduate work, it was quantitative.
And I think that there’s a certain amount of interpersonal skills that comes with sales, and if you’re gregarious, you’re persuasive, you can really enjoy a sales career. But if you are a system’s thinker, that’s kind of how your brain works, with numbers, with data, it can really enhance your effectiveness as a leader. And I think that’s probably that, if I look for anything that’s transferable to my days as a paleontologist, I think that’s probably what it is. Could be a stretch.
Sam Jacobs: I think to your point, a lot of people say that sales and marketing is both art and science. And when I look at sales executives and people that are up and coming it’s often the lack of organization and the lack of process ends up being their undoing.
What Drives Success In Business?
Sam Jacobs: When you think about the last 14 years, a big chunk of time a GLG, then you went to Axiom, and there’s another good friend of both of ours that has worked with you, and for you, and has just said you made a transformational impact on Axiom over the last couple years. Particularly with your marketing insights.
What do you think is the difference between, what characterizes success? Particularly successful business, and then successful venture backed businesses?
Jess Hunt: Yeah, I think this is one of the things that I’ve learned later on. I think, my former, our former CEO at Gerson Lehrman Group have called this the difference between a good business and a great business. There are lots of good businesses in the world, as you know Sam, that shouldn’t be venture-backed businesses.
It’s really about sustainable growth. And you can get lots of sustainable growth from sales and marketing, not just a product that’s built for scale. And so solving those problems of growth and understanding, and the way that you solve them can determine a difference between a successful business and a middling business. Of course, venture-backed businesses have even more accountability for very high growth.
Flipping the Framework from Startup to Scale
Sam Jacobs: Tell us what you do now, and I would love an example to your point about the right sales and marketing strategy being either applied correctly or incorrectly, and either generating a good but not great outcome versus an excellent outcome.
Jess Hunt: Yeah, I think it’s that you need business architecture that contemplates scale, all the time. I would make a distinction—it’s a pattern I see a lot. What you have to be good at, at a startup is the opposite of what you have to be good at when you’re trying to grow a sustainable, eventually profitable business.
Startups have terminal risks. So managing startups successfully, in the beginning, borders on the negligent. You have to actively ignore things. You have to constantly just get the company to the next level.
As you begin to grow and mature, you have to flip that framework.
And while you are still prioritizing constantly in a startup, juggling things, staying a hot mess doesn’t work. And this is usually where, in my most recent experience, this is where I come in.
Sam Jacobs: Wow. So diminishing cost of acquisition. So how do you do that? What’s your strategy for bringing it together in some kind of structured, organized way?
Jess Hunt: Well, this is—it does apply to Axiom. It applies to most enterprise startups. When they move from the stage of product market fit and then engineering the sales and marketing, one might say machining the commercial organization, you are looking for efficiency and effectiveness, so that’s two sides of the same coin. There are some common levers that eventually get used in successful enterprise companies.
You begin to look at your sales funnel carefully.
The stuff that’s easier to do is you develop SDRs. You may develop a distinction between hunters and farmers. Most startups don’t necessarily start out with that.
You look for opportunities for phone sales and really push yourself for a place where you need field sales.
2) Skill sets
And then of the field sales, the seniority and skill set that you need. You’re looking for enablement opportunities that would offer more repeatability in your sales process. And then you begin to measure things meaningfully. It’s really hard to do in the beginning. But, once you’ve been around for four or five years, you should really have a sense of your different sales cycles. And if you can shorten sales cycle, you change your productivity.
Building Territory Plans
Sam Jacobs: How do you shorten sales cycle?
Jess Hunt: One of the ways that you shorten sales cycles is you really carefully design your territories. Territory optimization. Sales cycles get long when territories get diffuse. Now, I’m oversimplifying of course. That is not necessarily true. There are sometimes when you’re entering a market where you really want your salespeople to skim.
You may want to go find your early adopters in a method that allows you to reach the early adopters faster, find them, and close them.
One of the parts of closing the sales cycle is really hard work. I mean, one of the best ways to close sales cycle is really great sales pipeline management.
Sam Jacobs: I think that is a theme that keeps emerging time and time again. And a good friend of mine, Evan Bartlett from ZocDoc always talks about frontline management. I don’t think we spend enough time focused on how to develop great frontline managers.
Jess Hunt: Totally. And I’ll tell you what. I don’t think I’ve ever done it. Defining what good looks like, teaching people how to become good. And then finding the time and energy in all the other things you have to do in the day to actually get that done.
Creating a Revenue Model and Defining Ownership
Sam Jacobs: Tell us about how you, particularly someone with such a quantitative background, your work in modeling the results of the business and how that informs both your personal success in your targets, but just how you approach building up the revenue plan for a business that’s doing over $300 million in revenue.
Jess Hunt: I’ve spent a lot of my career working on this, and I think one of the big mistakes I made, that I sort of realized later, was, this is not the CFO’s job.
You’re a partner to the CFO, and depending on the CFO that you get to work with, the CFO may be a major contributor to your commercial data and revenue plan, but if you’re the head of sales, it’s your job.
And when I say the data model, I mean the sales and marketing data model, which includes revenue. But it doesn’t just include revenue. Revenue is a big part of your data model. Now, I don’t think a CFO would describe it like that.
Sales and Marketing Alignment
Sam Jacobs: I’ve seen executive teams struggle with is—they get religious about marketing. They say “Okay, great. I get it. We can’t close deals without pipeline. We need marketing to generate pipeline.”
And that takes time, and I can’t just spin up pipeline for it to close next month. Next month was baked six months ago. If you want me to do something about marketing, we can do that but we’re talking about the second half of the year at this point.
Jess Hunt: Exactly. I don’t see sales leaders and marketing leaders learning to speak each other’s language. I don’t feel like we have had a consistent, besides in some great companies, alignment between sales and marketing so that they actually work together well.
At Axiom we actually put demand-gen and sales in the same organization reporting up to the same person. I wouldn’t say that we nailed it, but over time, I think that’s the only way you’re gonna actually end up with an integrated funnel.
As a Woman, Building a Career like Jess Hunt
Sam Jacobs: To what extent do you feel, has gender played a role in your career? Yeah.
Jess Hunt: I think New York is a great place, especially the tech and startup scene is a great place for women.
If you think about, as a woman leader, and someone who’s approaching the middle of my career, I have a real responsibility to think about gender.
First of all, if you’re a charismatic person, no matter who you are, you should be vigilant for bias. Bias sucks. So that’s something I’m naturally just looking for. And whether it’s an early career person calling them “the girls,” in the office, and just saying “I think you mean women.” There aren’t any girls working here, and I know I’m a woman.
We’re old enough that we know what it’s like to be in a boardroom, in an executive room, a room with leaders, and there’s one woman. It feels like shit. It’s angering.
Managing a Family and a High-Powered Job
Sam Jacobs: How do I balance the most harsh realities with my sincere desire to provide as supportive and as accommodating a workplace as possible for people that are making these decisions?
Jess Hunt: It’s a venture backed business. It’s full of grown ups. And in modern society, we make time for people to have kids. And my opinion, also, just a matter of ethics. Do the right thing. You don’t cheat to get ahead as a venture-backed business, and I view not being a good employer, to a certain degree is cheating.
Jess Hunt’s Influencers and Mentors
Sam Jacobs: So just who are your mentors? Who are some of your favorite VPs of sales?
Jess Hunt: I’m a big believer in mentors. As my career advanced, the notion of role-models and advisors, and mentors, and people whose advice I seek out, all blended together.
And I find, when I’m seeking wisdom and advice, and really role-models, I look a lot at my peer set.
Founders in New York: Heidi Messer, Nancy Lublin, Pria Bime, and Kate Frusher.
Favorites outside of New York: Gina Bianchini, and Amy Chang.
Investors, especially in New York: Katarina Stake, Linda Rottenberg, Lizzy Kline, and Shana Fischer.
And then there are a lot of emerging great tech writers. I love and always follow Jessie Hemple. Now at Wired, she founded and launched Back Channel.
Sam Jacobs: This is great! Thank you so much for participating.
Jess Hunt: It was a great pleasure!
What an incredible interview with Jess Hunt! You can really tell when somebody has spent a lot of time in non-sales related disciplines, and Jess is a trained psychologist and a trained paleontologist, and her insights on how to build a sales marketing funnel are very powerful.
I also think, just as a professional and mentor to women in the workforce, Jess is a really powerful leader. If you wanna connect with her you can find her on LinkedIn and we really thank her so much. This has been Sam’s Corner on the Sales Hacker podcast.
Thank you so much for tuning in, and I will see you next time!
Don’t Miss Episode 04
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I’ll see you next time!
Also published on Medium.