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PODCAST 118: Building a Crisis-Proof Sales Culture to Weather Any Storm with Ernest Owusu

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This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Ernest Owusu, Senior Director of Sales Development at 6sense.

A former professional football player, Ernest transitioned to sales when he realized that process and commitment matter just as much in tech sales as in sports. Now in a leadership role, he promotes the importance of team culture to keep BDRs connected during any crisis.

If you missed episode 117, check it out here: PODCAST 117: The Tools You Need If You Want to Succeed at Scale with Michael Coscetta

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

Show Introduction [00:09]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody. It’s the Sales Hacker Podcast, and you’re listening to your host, Sam Jacobs. Today on the show we’ve got Ernest Owusu, the Senior Director of Sales Development at 6sense, and he’s also a former professional football player for the NFL. This is a conversation about how to transition from a non-sales background into a sales career. It’s a conversation about why diversity hiring is so important now more than ever.

Now, before we bring you this conversation, we want to thank our sponsors. Our first sponsor is Conga. Businesses run on documents, Conga is changing the way the world works by modernizing, streamlining, and automating your documents, contracts, and processes to make it easier to do business. See why Conga is the number one paid app on the Salesforce app exchange with a free trial or demo today at conga.com.

Our second sponsor is Outreach, the number one sales engagement platform. Outreach revolutionizes customer engagement by moving away from solid conversations to a streamlined and customer centric journey. Leveraging the next generation of artificial intelligence, the platform allows sales reps to deliver consistent, relevant, and responsible communication for each prospect every time, enabling personalization at scale previously unthinkable. Check out outreach.io for more information.

Now without further ado, let’s listen to my conversation with Ernest Owusu.

About Ernest Owusu & 6sense [01:55]

Sam Jacobs: Today on the show, we’re excited to have Ernest Owusu, the Senior Director of Sales Development at 6sense, an intent data or ABM orchestration platform. We are good friends with the CMO Latane Conant, and we’re excited to have Ernest on the show. Ernest leverages his passion for helping others succeed as well as his insights from the field to foster a winning team. With previous experience as an NFL athlete, Ernest thrives in team environments full of high collaboration and healthy competition. Outside of the office, you’ll find him tackling the industry’s diversity problem by mentoring and empowering underrepresented people so they can confidently grow their careers. Ernest, tell us specifically what you do in your role within 6sense.

Ernest Owusu: 6sense is essentially an account based orchestration platform where we help companies first uncover the accounts that want to buy from them. Once you have that information, knowing exactly what to say to them, to get them to essentially get a meeting with you. It’s been an awesome organization to work with, seeing the results we’ve had with our customers and internally, because we personally use our own product.

I started there, I think it was back a year and some change, so early May, late April. Even in this time period, we’ve grown tremendously. Kudos to not just our product team, but also our customers who have been instrumental around the process.

Sam Jacobs: That’s fantastic. So, you have a unique and interesting background. Walk us through how did you make it from the NFL all the way to being a senior director of business development at 6sense?

Ernest Owusu: My journey is very unique. I started out with the Vikings and the Bucks. When it was all said and done, I just wrapped it up. My big move after, something that a lot of professional athletes struggle with, is how can I find a way to parlay this unique skill into something completely unrelated. It was definitely a challenge at first. I think a lot of people, especially BDRs, we go through this whole career transition process, just trying to figure out a way to make it happen. But I had some really great mentors, and surprisingly saw a lot of good connections between being a professional athlete and being a BDR. And once I realized that they’re actually very much one of the same, it was a no brainer to make the job.

Sales development leadership [07:23]

Sam Jacobs: How did you discover the world of being a BDR?

Ernest Owusu: I went to school in Berkeley, in the Bay Area. And there was a lot of just networking, grabbing coffee with people, trying to learn a little bit more about what they’re doing. And then one of my former teammates was a BDR, he’s like Ernest, I think you’d be awesome at this. I barely knew what digital marketing was and you knew nothing but impressions. I knew nothing about sales, and just trying to find a way to jump into that was pretty scary.

Sam Jacobs: What was the biggest, specific shock when you joined the global ranks of the sales development movement?

Ernest Owusu: Other than the fact that I was doing a job where I wasn’t getting paid to tackle things anymore, the biggest shock was how much of a process environment it was, in comparison to being an NFL athlete. If you’re a really good NFL athlete, or honestly, any athlete together, what I’ve noticed historically is that the best professional athletes have the ability to know their strengths and make their strengths stronger than their weaknesses. And I started to realize that I had good tactics around calling and email. But once I realized that I am really good at understanding accounts and hitting people at the right time with the right messaging, and using that, incorporated into my process and strategy, my numbers just took off.

Sam Jacobs: Awesome. So am I correct in assuming that Senior Director of Business Development means that you’re running a team of BDRs or SDRs?

Ernest Owusu: That’s completely accurate. You have a lot of different ways that you can attack leading BDR teams, but the core of what I’ve seen is having a system where you have super strong training and enablement, making sure that you have refined messaging and coaching on objections, et cetera, but also the process is the most important thing that makes running effective teams a focal point.

BDR leaders need to honestly stand up and take a lot more accountability and realize that similar to when you were a BDR and you had two AEs, you have two AEs right now. One’s your sales leader, one’s your marketing leader. And if you don’t have a strong understanding of both of their pains and what they need to do to be effective, your team is going to crumble. As a BD or a leader, part of your job is to be a subject matter expert on both sales and marketing. So it’s your responsibility to make that happen. And I do think that sometimes people tend to just think that they should report into one another. But the reality is if you’re not thinking both, then you’re going to hurt your team.

Staying true to culture in the pandemic [14:03]

Sam Jacobs: You’ve been running a team through this entire movement from being in the office to working from home. What are some tactics that you found across the team that you run that actually have helped generate new business for 6sense?

Ernest Owusu: One thing that is tried and true, always a priority with us at 6sense, especially within my team, is our culture. Every single week during our team meetings, every single week during one on ones, we really enforce that. So the whole purpose of that is, being a BDR is really hard. And not to say that these kinds of things will happen, obviously this is something on a whole different level, but you want to prepare your team culturally, to be able to weather any storm.

Without fail, we always go through our culture within our team meeting, which we call, our acronym is FAMILY.

  • Fun
  • Accountability
  • Mindfulness
  • Integrity
  • Love
  • Yes

So without a doubt, every single week, we have someone on the team talk through one other person who exemplified our family culture best, and it brings our team together and reinforces the fact that we’re a family, we all take care of each other. So culturally, that’s been a priority and it’s helped us weather the storm.

Something that I learned from the athletic background in football, is having a strong culture is what’s going to get you through everything. And even when the times are good, we have to reinforce it just to prepare us for when things aren’t as good.

If you want to get into the tactics of how we’ve been effective, using our product right now, more than ever, is critical. And, as I mentioned, having the ability to know which companies are researching here, which company to research for your competitors, what companies are searching for your product keywords, and being able to focus on those accounts in particular has been a game changer.

Race & diversity in sales leadership [23:51]

Sam Jacobs: Last topic we want to talk about is perhaps the most controversial. As you’ve commented, tech has very few Black leaders. Football is much more diverse, right? In football, you’re surrounded by other strong Black men leaders that are performing incredibly well at their craft. You go into the tech world, you see so many fewer people. Did it impact you? And how has it shaped what you’re doing now in terms of giving back to the community?

Ernest Owusu: I can say that initially it did impact me. And it’s one of those things where, as a Black person, as a Black man in this country, I have to allow myself to be okay in environments where I’m not like everyone else. Now, that can be challenging when you’re not as confident at what you’re doing. The reality is any person of color that joins a tech company, where they’re the extreme minority, they face that in certain ways. Because all you’re doing when you first start out, especially as a new BDR, new career, trying to get your feet on the ground, all you’re looking for is for ways to be confident. If you don’t look like everyone else, that definitely doesn’t help you. Initially I was a little bit apprehensive and nervous of what that would be like.

A lot of companies are trying to do their best to solve the problems and to put the record in place, to find ways to eliminate disparity. But, the reality is for anyone that has to go through it, it’s really tough. What I’ve personally done to help solve this is first off, even talking with a couple of social sellers across the industry, we’ve actually created a Slack group. It’s a community on Slack of primarily Black men and women in tech sales, where we can just talk about our experiences, share everything and be a sounding board for each other. Anyone who’s listening to this, a person of color, if you would please send me a LinkedIn message, I can add you to it.

I think the bigger question that I’m sure a lot of people are trying to solve is, how can I find a way to get more candidates? How can I find a way to solve this diversity problem at my company? The reality is, it requires some work. I’ve worked with companies like SVAcademy, where the primary goal of what they do is source underrepresented individuals into tech companies. I’ve mentored with them for the past three or four years. So if you’re looking for a tangible resource to try and find especially BDRs to eventually become great AEs and eventually sales leaders, SVAcademy is an awesome resource to do that.

Companies on #BlackLivesMatter [28:26]

Sam Jacobs: There’s a group of companies, mine included, that have come out and said, listen, we stand with Black Lives Matter, we want to promote equality, we stand behind the protesters. How do you feel about that? Do you view those people as allies? What’s your perspective?

Ernest Owusu: Honestly, it’s a tough one. If you look back over what’s happened over the past 400 years, there has been progress, a ton of progress, sometimes more progress than people give this country credit for. I look at that as a sign of hope, but also recognizing that these things are so institutionalized, that they will not be solved with an Instagram post. They will not be solved today with companies going out and giving their message. But those forms of communication plant seeds. It starts to help people realize how important it is to recognize how difficult it can be as a Black person in this country.

I don’t know if I’ll live in a society where people truly recognize the impact of racism and Blacks will have complete and true equality, but I can confidently say that as long as people keep taking these steps, it’s going to slowly start building into our institution and whether that’s this generation, the next, or even the next after that, we’ll have a much better place for people of color to live in.

Sam Jacobs: We want to follow the path of Ernest Owusu. We want to know what’s influenced you — what books you’ve read, what podcasts you’re listening to, what great leaders or mentors you’ve had that we should know about. When we think about following the breadcrumb trail, where would you have it lead us?

Ernest Owusu: Any good salesperson has to master your craft. That goes back to what I learned from my NFL career when I transitioned on to sales. So in terms of books, definitely Never Split the Difference, Fanatical Prospecting, Challenger Sale, Transparency Sale, just completely immerse yourself in that. In terms of mentors, if you find your tribe of mentors, make sure they’re diverse in helping guide you towards where you want to go.

Reach out to Ernest on LinkedIn to learn more about 6sense or to connect with other Black tech sales leaders on Slack.

Sam’s Corner [34:25]

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, it’s Sam’s Corner. Loved that conversation with Ernest Owusu. Here’s a couple of things that maybe you can take away. First of all, just the commitment to be a professional athlete is something so difficult that we really need to tip our caps to people like Ernest. Treat sales like it is a sport and you are an athlete, and you need to work on your game every day. And, importantly, practice it with a coach, right?

It’s also important to call out the fact that there’s still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done when it comes to celebrating Black leaders in corporate America. I’m excited for Ernest’s continued growth, both at 6sense in the corporate world, because he’s going to be CRO and a CEO at some point in the future, just knowing how hard he works and how much commitment he brings to it. I hope you enjoyed that conversation.

What We Learned

  • A strong similarity between sports & sales is a commitment
  • Sales teams during the pandemic fall back on culture & connection
  • Ernest promotes a Slack group for other Black tech sales professionals
  • Even small steps to counter racism plant seeds of equality

Don’t miss episode 119!

I hope you enjoyed the show. Before we go, let’s thank our sponsors. The first is Conga. Businesses run on documents, Conga is changing the way the world works by modernizing, streamlining, and automating your documents, contracts, and processes to make it easier to do business. Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform.

If you want to reach out to me with feedback, you can find me on LinkedIn. If you haven’t rated the show, please give us five stars on the iTunes rating system so that we can remain in business and continue to bring you this show.

As always, thanks so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.

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