In this episode of the Sales Hacker Podcast, we have Paula Shannon, Chief Evangelist at Lilt, a machine learning company focused on language translation. Join us for an engaging conversation about language, sales, career success, and embracing cultural differences in leadership.
If you missed episode #178, check it out here: Why SDRs Should Report to Marketing
What You’ll Learn
- How to open a regional office
- When to use functional heads in lines of reporting
- The importance of understanding company finances
- What has changed in sales over the last two decades
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Show Agenda and Timestamps
- About Paula Shannon & Lilt [3:02]
- The mandate of a chief evangelist [8:10]
- Adapting sales processes internationally [12:02]
- 2 recent changes in consumers and sales [19:14]
- Advice to today’s young workers [23:47]
- Paying it forward: Shout-outs [30:03]
- Sam’s Corner [34:11]
Show Introduction [00:10]
Sam Jacobs: Today on the show we’ve got Paula Shannon, the Chief Evangelist at Lilt, a machine learning company that’s focused on language translation. With over 35 years of sales and leadership experience, she’s an accomplished linguist and knows a lot about how companies should expand regionally to maximize growth.
Before we get there, we have three sponsors we want to thank. The first is Outreach. Their annual roadshow, the Unleashed Summit Series, is back in person this fall in Austin, Chicago, San Francisco, NYC, and London. Join a new cohort of revenue leaders — get more details and save your spot at summit.outreach.io.
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Now without further ado, let’s listen to my conversation with Paula Shannon.
About Paula Shannon & Lilt [3:02]
Sam Jacobs: Paula is the Chief Evangelist at Lilt. She served as chief sales officer and SVP from 1999 to 2017 at Lionbridge, running their $600 million global sales team. From 2008 to ’11, she acted as the co-general manager of the core business managing over 2,800 employees across the world and delivering profit on a $300 million P&L.
She’s also previously served on the board of several Montreal technology startups, and she’s got more than 30 years of industry experience in languages, including 10 years in senior roles with Berlitz International in California, Washington DC, and Canada. She’s fluent in English, French, and Dutch. Paula, welcome to the show. What is Lilt? Give us a bit of background because it’s a really interesting company.
Paula: Lilt has proprietary technology in the field of translation technology. It’s a next generation approach to using automated technology with language that combines human in the loop translators, powered by automated machine translation technology that is both adaptive and predictive.
They’ve sold to a number of large global firms, including Intel, and offered such an incredibly innovative solution that Intel Capital took a look and came on board for their series B. That’s the dream scenario that any entrepreneur or founder would love to find themselves in.
The Mandate of a Chief Evangelist [8:10]
Paula: Fundamentally, I’m there to make connections and to truly advocate. There have been customers initially who are skeptical about using automated technology. Can humans do this better? It’s like a self-driving car, the human could drive the car all the time. They could also decide when it’s better to let artificial intelligence take over. That’s precisely what Lilt has built.
Sam Jacobs: How did you translate your language background into sales acumen to help companies grow?
Paula: I took languages and linguistics at university, I worked summers doing desktop publishing at a newspaper and magazine company. I had minor-level courses in computer sciences.
After starting my career with Berlitz, where they had a classic management trainee program, I was the beneficiary of incredible teaching about operations, finance, management, HR, sales, and marketing. You had a chance to then go out and run a region, a set of offices, a set of regions.
All of a sudden, software localization became the biggest growth area in the translation market. Now, my computer science background, my desktop publishing and content, coupled with six languages seems almost like it was planned. But it was a complete accident, as most of the best things in life usually are.
Adapting Sales Processes Internationally [12:02]
Sam Jacobs: You’re an expert in not just selling, but adapting sales and sales processes to cultural differences around the world. Did your language interest and background help propel that expertise?
Paula: Absolutely. As a general manager in the Berlitz model, you’re responsible for sales. When I first expanded my career in the industry, I started as a global account manager, then regional sales manager then worked my way up to VP. Working and doing training, hiring, I realized that my knowledge of languages and my comfort in different cultures and traveling around the world was a huge benefit.
There were a lot of firms coming out of the US and foisting their approach on the regional offices or other countries. I took a different approach, respecting what was different and unique in that market, and finding a way to use proven sales methodologies and adapting it for that given market or culture. I found that to be so much fun. The regional offices blossomed with that approach because it was something that they hadn’t been offered before.
Sam Jacobs: What’s some advice for companies that want to open a new office in London, Mumbai, maybe Paris, and there are cultural differences? How do you help those companies adapt?
Paula: I would advise against having expatriates be the leader or the manager. Maybe back 20 years ago, it was the default because it was difficult to find global citizens that were also adept in your line of work, but it sets the wrong tone. If you truly are ready to invest in a region or a locale, hire someone who represents the culture bridge that you’re trying to create and have that local person run the show for you. Otherwise, it just becomes a clone of your domestic operation. You’re going to be less likely to be open-minded about adapting your product or service.
When we look at customer experience, we’re finally entering an era where there’s a notional idea of a global customer experience officer or global CXO.
2 Recent Changes in Consumers and Sales [19:14]
Sam Jacobs: What do you think has changed the most about how people buy and how companies sell over the last one or two decades?
Paula: One is the consumerization of everything. The demands that used to be present only in real B2C companies are now everywhere because we expect B2B experiences to be as seamless and flawless as our B2C experiences in our private life.
The second is technology. When I was first starting out, Microsoft Windows was in four languages, IBM used to do two. There was a golden moment where Hewlett Packard, Compaq, Dell, were issuing their products in 40 plus languages. Then mobile devices come along. Now, there’s not a product that’s released that is not 80 to 90 languages, base. The next generation of mobile devices takes that number up to about 127.
Consumers around the globe demand and get access to technology in their local language, even regional languages. They’ve put tremendous pressure on the experience that they expect at bigger brands.
Sam Jacobs: Talk a little bit about what you’ve seen when people have growth at all costs mandate.
Paula: I see this, and I find it sad. That “grow fast at any cost.” Let’s say you’re in an early-stage investment, maybe VC, certainly series A or B, and your investor is putting enormous pressure on you with all of the cliches, we’re going to keep you lean so that you innovate. You’ve got to grow X percent or you’re not going to be interesting.
Sometimes great ideas need to percolate a bit and change and adapt. The investors are looking at this in a completely different way. They understand that a certain number of their investments in a given portfolio will fail. What’s good for the investor may not be good for the entrepreneur or the founder who’s pushed to release faster than is natural, and winds up failing because of that.
Advice to Today’s Young Workers [23:47]
Sam Jacobs: What’s advice that you give to young people that are just beginning their careers?
Paula: There’s nothing I enjoy more than coaching and being involved. That’s why it’s so fun working at Lilt right now, because they are incredibly young, nimble, agile problem solvers.
Detours and even steps backwards are some of the most important things you can do. When I first entered software localization, it didn’t even exist. It wound up being a brilliant thing to do, but it could have failed.
The final answer is to understand how your company makes money. If you don’t have the fundamental training, an MBA, or a background in finance, get it somehow. It’s not that hard. You need to be able to go beyond operations and really understand how your board is looking at it, how your investors are looking at it.
Paying It Forward: Shout-Outs [30:03]
Sam Jacobs: Who are the people, books that you’ve read, bosses that you’ve had, colleagues, ideas or humans that have influenced you? What are some of the ideas that have had a big impact on you?
Paula: Lessons from Private Equity Any Company Can Use. It’s a quick read and a great book.
The other one is a group that I worked with, called Sales Benchmark Index. I have nothing but good things to say. I found that the professionalism they brought to doing reviews, territory planning, bottoms up compensation planning, and overhauling the last mile of the business was amazing.
Sam Jacobs: Are you open to contact from the outside world? If so, what’s your preferred method of communication?
Paula: Very much so. Email’s easiest, email@example.com
Sam’s Corner [34:11]
Sam Jacobs: Paula has a strong point of view on how to open a regional office. Traditionally, they send somebody from the home office, they know the culture, they know how you do things. Paula says instead, find a really talented local representative, and make sure that the office is adapted to the local culture.
The second point that I would like to underscore is this — how do companies make money? If you’re thinking you want to be a sales leader, you want to be a CEO or a chief revenue officer, you have to understand how value is created within your organization. If you don’t understand that, you’re going to pay people too much. You’re going to misunderstand the fundamental performance of how your company grows and generates profit.
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