PODCAST 70: How to Set Goals and Manage Executives w/ Jonathan Sherry

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This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Jonathan Sherry, Co-Founder and COO at CB Insights.

John has some incredible first-hand experience on how to scale a business, build culture intentionally, and retain the allegiance, alliance, and credibility of the people who work for you.

If you missed episode 69, check it out here: PODCAST 69: Structuring Your Organization Around Your Customer w/ Megan Bowen

What You’ll Learn

  • What CB Insights does
  • How to set goals and forecast revenue
  • How to manage executives
  • The three things every executive needs to know

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction [00:09]
  2. About CB Insights [02:30]
  3. Leadership, Culture, and Managing Executives [09:12]
  4. Setting Goals and Forecasting Revenue [13:19]
  5. Three Things Every Executive Needs to Know [30:29]
  6. Sam’s Corner [32:32]

Show Introduction

Sam Jacobs: Hey, everybody. It’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome to The Sales Hacker Podcast. We’ve got a special episode for you today–president and co-founder of a company called CB Insights, a man named Jonathan Sherry, who’s well known in the New York City tech community and ecosystem.

CB Insights is a really interesting company. They’ve funded the business almost entirely from profits and revenue. They are a company that’s grown at a venture scale without venture capital infused into the business, which makes them, from my perspective really, really interesting.

We want to thank our sponsors. We’ve got Lucidchart Sales Solutions. Lucidchart is the leading account planning platform for modern sales orgs. With Lucidchart, you can visually map out key contacts and crucial account data to uncover critical insights that will allow you to close bigger deals faster.

Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform that enables sales reps to humanize their communications at scale, from automating the soul-sucking manual work that eats up selling time to providing action-oriented tips on what communications are working best. Outreach has your back.

Now, without further ado, let’s listen to my interview with Jonathan Sherry.

About CB Insights

Sam Jacobs: John Sherry is co-founder and chief operating officer of CB Insights, a market-intelligence platform that empowers Fortune 500 executives to identify emerging trends, new markets, disruptive threats, and competitor strategy.

Prior to CB Insights, John pioneered the $50-million Chairman’s Innovation Fund at American Express. Earlier in his career, he worked at Deloitte advising the world’s top financial services companies on how to capitalize on emerging technologies.

Welcome, John.

Jonathan Sherry: Thanks.

Sam Jacobs: I just read a little bit of your bio, but what does CB Insights do?

Jonathan Sherry: We’re building an AI-powered strategy consultant. At least that’s the vision. We grew up really covering data on the venture industry. And the early vision just to build a high-quality private-company database and sell it back into venture.

But as the vision and market evolved, we found that the Fortune 500 was probably a better market for us to play, much bigger, deeper pockets, lots of opportunity for expansion.

As emerging technologies started taking over the world and folks within the Fortune 500 understood they don’t want to be the next Blockbuster taken over by a Netflix, lots of investment in understanding the emerging trends and how it’s going to affect their businesses.

So we’ve expanded our datasets to cover anything in regards to emerging technology and primarily sell into digital transformation, innovation growth within the Fortune 500 and beyond, folks who are thinking about where the business needs to be three, five, 10 years down the road versus the business units that are sort of generating revenue today.

Leadership, Culture, and Managing Executives

Sam Jacobs: I’m sure you came in with certain perspectives on leadership and on growing culture, and those have evolved. So, walk us through your perspective?

Jonathan Sherry: Look, this is going to be really silly and very cliche, but treat people like people. And as long as you’re doing that, you’re fine.

I didn’t actually have much of a leadership philosophy coming into CB Insights. Every day that I come to work, we’re a little bit bigger than the day before. So I’m quite honestly just learning on the job.

One thing I would say, you don’t want to over-optimize for this too early, but you want to really think about what are the career tracks for the people that you want to retain. Some people are going to grow up into leadership, but you better think about what those career tracks look like for the people you want to invest in who simply aren’t going to be looking or seeking or interested in or good at management/leadership positions.

And that’s something we learned probably a little bit too late. You do lose good people when you promote them into something quickly that you want them to succeed at, and then it ultimately can be a little bit difficult.

Sam Jacobs: What have you learned about managing executives? They’re not the founders. They have their own perspectives, their own ideas about how to do things.

Jonathan Sherry: If you come in with the mentality, “Let them take over,” you’re simply just going to have to defer to them on topics that they know better than you do. But it’s certainly weird when you kind of wake up one day and you’re like, “Okay, I’m managing people who are simply a lot more experienced and better at doing these things than I am.”

I view my job as simply getting these pieces to work together. It is not my intent to own these things. I want to find and carve out what I’m specifically good at. But anything else, that is why we bring in executives like Marc (Jacobs) to do that.

Setting Goals and Forecasting Revenue

Sam Jacobs: How do you approach forecasting and revenue growth year over year? And how do you work with the finance team and the sales team or the revenue teams to make sure that it’s a number that is attainable? Or do you not believe that it should be attainable? What’s your philosophy?

Jonathan Sherry: You can’t make it not attainable. Everything starts with a number, and from there you build down your comp plans and your goals. And so if you build things, you want to build aggressive, but you don’t want to bring “unattainable” to the party because then you lose credibility. People aren’t making money, and that’s not good for anybody.

When we did take investment, one great thing was we actually started setting targets. Honestly, before that, it was just like thinking month to month, “Can we get to $1 million a month? Can we break last month’s number?”

And then we started to think a little bit about more long-term. And going through the rigor of a budgeting process, the timing on that was very good because the team was expanding quite a bit at that time. Had we not started doing that, you can lose track of your expenses and then things kind of become a fire sale, and that’s no good.

It’s not like the board is imposing its will in terms of trying to get us to go after aggressive growth targets, but we’re ambitious. We want to set targets that we think that we can exceed.

We look at things two ways:

Benchmark the market. Look at what a company at our stage should be doing based on historical performance of other companies who have gone on and succeeded. That’s the top down. We want to hit this number

Look at reality; the bottom up. And that’s very model-driven. We have a funnel model that is completely geeked out and has evolved over time.

Three Things Every Executive Needs to Know

Sam Jacobs: What advice would you give to a room full of executives? You probably have developed a perspective on specifically the executive layer, things that you’ve seen people do well, things that you haven’t seen done well.

Jonathan Sherry:

  1. Be really deliberate about creating your culture. Culture is this really weird thing that it gets asked in every interview. Define that. Train people on it. And, honestly, they will indoctrinate it at some point and it will become your culture. Educate your team. Educate you know the candidates that you bring on.
  2. Do the job before you hire for it (or find somebody to do the job before you hire for it). I think that too often people rush into creating positions that sound good and then nobody’s really done it. You hire for it and then it just inevitably isn’t successful.
  3. Don’t avoid the tough conversation. It plays against human nature because you become friendly with a lot of the people you work with, but don’t avoid those conversations. People will respect you for it. And if it ends that way, then you’ve done something right.

Sam’s Corner

Sam Jacobs: Hey, everybody. It’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome to Sam’s Corner. Hope you enjoyed that interview with John Sherry on a boat in New York.

I really like John’s approach to building companies. I like that one of the things he talked about was that it’s important that everybody does the job before they find other people to delegate the job, even if it’s at the very beginning of an organization. It’s important, if you are a leader, that you have credibility when you’re asking someone else to do something. If you’re an up-and-coming leader or manager, just keep that in mind when you’re trying to motivate and encourage your teams.

What We Learned

  • What CB Insights does
  • How to set goals and forecast revenue
  • How to manage executives
  • The three things every executive needs to know

Don’t miss episode 71

Before we go, let’s thank our sponsors. Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform and Lucidchart Sales Solution, which is the leading account planning platform for modern sales orgs.

If you want to reach out to me with feedback, you can reach 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.

This is a sponsored guest post from a Sales Hacker partner.

Sam Jacobs is the Founder of Aqueduct Revenue Advisors and the New York Revenue Collective and regarded as one of the top start-up CROs in the tech community.

He has has over 15 years of experience scaling companies from post-revenue to ~$300M, has helped raise over $400M in institutional capital, and has helped companies of all sizes achieve an average annualized revenue growth rate of 48% over the last 15 years.