Episode 93: Building a Team with the Right People – Paul Fifield

Predictable Prospecting
Episode 93: Building a Team with the Right People - Paul Fifield
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When it comes to sales having the right team in place makes all the difference in the world. Today’s guest is someone who understands how to create and build a team with the right people. He understands building a brand and creating and nourishing the company to scale.

Today’s guest is Paul Fifield the chief revenue officer for UNiDAYS a student affinity network that connects verified global students with relevant brands and services. Paul and I go way back. We’ve known each other for years and worked together in the early days. This is a great episode where we talk about how to grow a team and to build a team that consists of the right people.

Episode Highlights:

  • When Paul first arrived in New York, he read Marylou’s book and then hired her as a consultant.
  • The importance of hiring. A brilliant process won’t work without the right people.
  • If you’ve hired great, people you can actually get a lot wrong in your business and still be okay.
  • Getting the right people into your business that are brilliant when it comes to your business.
  • As businesses scale, the early processes will break and need to be refined.
  • Having a hiring process and predicting who will be successful in your business by using systems.
  • Paul talks about some of the things you should look for when creating a business development team. You need people who can create great emails and have writing skills.
  • These people also have to have great phone skills and be articulate.
  • To save time, and find the right fit design your entire hiring process to look for the skills.
  • By doing this you can probably discount 75% of your applicants.
  • Also have a voice call and set up a scoring system look for things like voice clarity and vocabulary, plus the energy levels of the person.
  • What you’re hirers are in-role, check to see if you got your testing right.
  • Paul’s current business is focusing on generation Z. They engage with all types of different brands who want to reach this demographic.
  • Paul believes in splitting roles to create predictability.
  • Initiating conversations, tone of voice, and not “being in sales”.
  • Paul has a two-week training class for his new hires. He also tells a funny story about how one of his new hires prospected Jeff Bezos.
  • When your team isn’t too big you can scale fast.



Marylou: Hey, everybody. It’s Marylou Tyler. This week’s guest goes way back with me and with Aaron. I think we met Paul probably right after where we launched the book Predictable Revenue in 2011.

Paul is the Chief Revenue Officer of a company called UNiDAYS. They were based in Europe and they’re marching over to the US and they’re staying in the US territory here. They’re the largest global network for students. They really help them save money on their favorite brands. It’s a lot more than that. He can tell you more about what UNiDAYS does. Paul, welcome to the podcast.

Paul: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.

Marylou: You and I go back a long way. What really was amazing, the claim to fame and you’ve been written up now in Aaron’s new book Impossible to Inevitable. You are probably one of the key persons on the planet who knows how to hire business developers and hire a good team of business developers.

I’m sure your drop-off rates are like stellar in terms of the return. How did that all happen? How did you become the guy for that piece?

Paul: I think probably when I was sitting back, we just arrived in New York, we just raised money from [Grey Crafts 00:01:47]. Suddenly, I was the VP of Sales, I can’t remember the exact title. Suddenly, I was thrust into the newer market. I didn’t have any network here. I was relatively new at that point even to software, subsales, or scaling up a sales operation. I didn’t have any network with any brands either. I was kind of thinking how am I gonna land in New York and be successful? It was quite a daunting task. That’s when I found your book actually which you just released. Happily, you were still quite early on in the consultancy part of business. I got you fairly cheap, which was nice.

We started working together which is probably the most important kind of stepping stone in my career, not to embarrass you, and also Aaron. I thought like, “Great, now I understand that that’s a process by which we can reach the market in a really predictable way, in a really scalable way. That’s fantastic. Now I need to learn how to do that.”

But actually as well as thinking through literally starting from scratch. I was just thinking the most important thing, and I think this has been backed up by lots of great people in the industry if you still read around. The most important thing actually is the heart. Of course, the process is important, of course iterated on that is really, really important. But if you have the wrong people doing it in the first place, you can be brilliant at the process piece, but it just won’t work because the people won’t get to execute. More importantly, not just execute your process but actually help you to design it.

I think really the general principle, I don’t know if this is a fair assumption to make but do companies prioritize hiring as much as they should? Because I actually, fundamentally, I think in any aspect of the business whether they’re in  commercial, sales organization, or any other parts of the business, the most  important thing a business can do is hire, and hire the right people.

I think  if you read how Google works[…] that’s his central message in that book. Mark Roberge in the Sales Acceleration Formula, another great book. That’s his essential philosophy as well. I always come back to this one thing and it’s put me in good[…] now for a number of years. If you hire great, brilliant people that are right for the business, and that’s important, you can actually get a lot wrong in the business, and if you hire the right people they’re gonna help solve it. That’s a substantial tenet.

Just as a final comment on that theme, people like Reed Hastings over at Netflix, he gets almost one step further, he’s a bit bolder than I am. He actually subscribes to the belief that you don’t need any work process if you have brilliant  people which I think is pretty out there. But look, Netflix is doing pretty well, but he goes back to that central philosophy is just get brilliant people into business that are right for your business. That’s literally so fundamental to test.

Marylou: It’s funny. I agree with what he’s doing because I have seen a brilliant process put in that just doesn’t do anything. It’s basically sputtering instead of this high velocity thing that we supposedly put in. We’ve got everything in place, all the  metrics are in place, all the sales conversation pieces are in place but yet the thing is just filled with gunk. A lot of that comes down to mindset and skill set, I think of the reps themselves, which a process amplifies and accentuates when those things are in trouble. It’s not necessarily geared up to fix that.

I think from what you’re saying, when you start with a team, and what you were describing to me seems like self-directed teams. That’s probably why a process is not needed because they are self-directed, they have their own process, it’s consistent, it’s habitual. Those are the key components of any type of sales system, really marking and producing revenue consistently.

Paul: Yeah, 100%. I think another thing to add to that is when you’re in fast growth–we started 2017 with 140 people, we’re gonna be at 450 people by May or June. We are definitely in that category of fast growth.

What happens in our environment is the processes that you had when there was 5 people in the commercial team completely break when there’s 50, and they’ll completely break again probably about 150. There’s a constant kind of iteration of process as the business scales really, really fast.

Also, what happens is you start to shift the strategy. You’re learning so much about the business and you’re constantly iterating anyway. I think the fundamental processes change quite dramatically. If you have a self-correcting, self-educating team, then it just almost naturally happen. It’s an amazing thing to witness. It’s great.

Marylou: I’m sure people are listening and thinking, “Okay, this sounds really good. But is there a method that you follow? Is there a system that you follow for finding these great people to work for you and work with you on these large teams?”

Paul: Yeah, there is. I’ve been refining that really over quite a few years. Actually, I mentioned Mark’s book, Sales Acceleration Formula. I think that he’s fantastic. He was an engineer before HubSpot and joined us at fifth or sixth persons[…] crazy and then helped them to scale to 400 people in the sales organ and go public at a billion blast. He was really, really good at understanding and putting in process. I think he probably did a better job than I’ve done, but the principles were actually very similar.

When you look at your org, and this is true for any role in a company, again whether it’s within the sales, the commercial organization, or other parts. You just really, really think about what is it that you want out of that kind of role. We actually recently did an exercise where we looked at, we have the benefit of a couple of years of hiring and seeing some people didn’t work out, all that kind of stuff, and by no means am I saying that[…]that you worked out and you always make mistakes. We look to things like what were the characteristics of people that didn’t work out? What are the characteristics of people that really did?

We actually did a survey that we’re looking to put a commercial approach to try and get what full knowledge to what makes a great person who’s gonna succeed. All we’re trying to do really is through the hiring process, predict who’s gonna be really successful. That’s kind of fundamentally what we’re doing. We then break it down into seven key attributes, this is a lot like Mark’s thinking and a lot like Mark’s work.

But even before that, when I was building my first business development team or SDR team over at sales, there are certain things that you look for. They’ve gotta be really, really great at succinct, snappy like emails for example. Writing skills is really important. You’re gonna have probably mix-ins of some phone activity as well. They’ve gotta be able to reasonably articulate and sound professional, particularly if your prospect teams are really, really seeing people at large companies. There’s gonna be a whole another cultural aspect as well. It’s gonna be a work ethic kind of aspect.

Really think about what are the skills and characteristics you’re really, really looking for? What are the most important things? Then, you should design your entire hiring process to test for those things. That is actually it. It’s quite simple. Don’t waste any time doing anything but testing for those characteristics.

To get into the hiring process, you have to then submit maybe like 300 words back at Ceros. I think we still do that here as well, 300 words on any aspect of digital marketing that’s interesting to you. Then, 300 words on why you are a fit for this role.

Literally, just by putting that stage in the processing, you can probably discount 75% of your applicants because they’re not that great at writing. Sounds really simple but a lot of people don’t structure their hiring processes in this way.

People then go through the process, they’re not really tested on the right things, they then go into the role, they’re not successful, they churn out, it’s not less than optimal to put it mildly to do that.

Second thing, we have a voice call. Part of the process was a phone call to test, we set up a scoring system. You’re testing for voice clarity on things like vocabulary, the energy levels of the person, and we actually literally start to create a story of the back of this. I think that’s where they’re marked to get to the next level is that he actually started creating this story matrix for all the different types of roles in his organization.

He will look at once they’re in-role, a retrospective analysis on did we get the scoring right? Are there elements of the scoring and characteristics that we want to upweight, for example he was big on things like coachability which I think is very important for our sales as well. He upweighted that in his scoring so that when the next batch of hiring was going through, that was a characteristic that he was particularly looking out for. If you scored well in coachability, then you got like 3x, 4x the points for that certain characteristic. When I’m going back to that level of analysis, then ideally what the outcome there is that you start to use data to help to give you a strong prediction of future success.

Marylou: That’s great. I remember that you did a number of YouTube videos I think it was or some videos on the hiring process for Ceros. That company is very successful but you have since moved on to UNiDAYS, did you immediately start implementing the similar types of processes and methods or are the two different as in one B2B, one B2C, or did that even matter in your world?

Paul: It’s all B2B. We’re talking to brands that want to reach student Gen Z demographic and it’s a very big global demographic. If you go down to high school, 14-25, you’re probably talking about 600 million, 700 million people globally, about 10% of the population on planet earth is actually studying right now at the age of 14. It’s a gigantic, gigantic demographic.

What we’re doing at the moment or the big focus of ours is to engage with all kinds of different industries that want to reach this demographic. There’s a whole piece around capture Gen Z and you’ve got this fantastic lifetime value. I think it’s a very simple way to think about, if Apple can get a loyal Apple user at 15, 16 and they buy Apple products for the next 30-40 years, that lifetime value for Apple is absolutely extraordinary.

Then you extrapolate that across millions of people. You’ve got multiple billions in value reached by Apple, maybe even more, even into tens of billions. It’s a really, really nice, strong value prop where we’re pushing out into different verticals, we got a big push right now into food and quick service restaurants in a bunch of the markets that we’re in.

We’re very, very much talking to CMOs, the marketing function, the brand marketers, and obviously we’ve got a very big business in the fashion industry and tech. We’re talking to the ecommerce people. Very much this is a B2B operation. Even though now we have this gigantic B2C element to the business as well.

Marylou: Right, right. Let’s go back and take a step back again because we talked offline about the demographics of my audience. I mentioned that a recent survey I did, about 48% of the sales people who are in my list still do all roles.

Let’s now take what we were talking about before in the hiring process. How strongly do you feel that prospecting is a different type of hire than closers, than servicers, or could you hire one person for all those three roles? Do you think as the pieces of the book in Predictable Revenue was to split out and separate the roles? What do you think about that in terms of your hiring process now?

Paul: Am I now old school in thinking this, I’m not sure because I’m not sure if now you can be old school in thinking that splitting roles is the right thing to do. I feel very strongly that to create a really predictable–everything that we try and do in the team is we have an overarching guiding principles. I won’t to stop the whole thing. It’s very short but it’s essentially scalability and predictability are the two cornerstones of the team.

I’m happy to see things just prove this. I’m a very, very firm believer in splitting roles to generate that predictability and generate that scalability as well. I think it just comes down to–I’m not going to start regurgitating Predictable Revenue and all the benefits of splitting roles but absolutely a strong proponent of splitting roles.

Going back to the theme of this conversation around hiring brilliant people, by the way, the other thing I just want you to know as a side note is the benefit of bringing on brilliant SDRs. I have heard of businesses here in New York that deliberately try and hire SDRs that they think aren’t ambitious, that they think are not particularly smart, because they want them to stay in this kind of like junior role for 2-3 years, it literally blows my mind that people think in this way. I’m literally the opposite.

One of our SDRs, she’s got amazing grades. She’s an economist. She’s absolutely killing it and she’s fantastic. But I know what’s gonna happen with her, within probably 12 months, she’s gonna be off and through into different parts of my org. This is the secret, I don’t think this was actually touched on even in the Predictable Revenue book.

Marylou: Yes.

Paul: The secret weapon of my SDR Team is that they’re my future stars; my future star sellers, my future star managers. Literally, one of the SDRs who started three years ago here in New York, she now runs the global SDR Team which has grown to about 30 people. That’s covering eight different countries globally.

In Sydney, we’ve got an office we’re just opening in Berlin, we’ve got a team there, we’ve got a big, big team in London that serves the rest of Europe. We’ve got a team obviously here in New York which is serving the US and Canada.

She’s now managing that entire global team, she’s still in her 20s but age is irrelevant because she’s fantastic. She grew through the ranks and she learned the business. She’s got exceptional management skills.

She’s not the only one. I’ve got about four or five examples of people that have come very, very quickly into the organization. In some situation, save my bacon, because I’m like, “Wow.” Like for example, I was really struggling in my operations team. Operations is such a fundamental part of a commercial operation globally. I literally have this fantastic SDR in Nottingham, in England, who just[…]straight into the operations team because she knew how the business ran and she was exceptional. I need to save my bacon.

Going back to splitting the roles, the point I was gonna make is that if you have exceptional people–as of buying persona, the people that we’re targeting, these are CMOs with probably multiple billions in budgets. I’m very confident because of the training that we have and because of the quality of the people in that team, they’re gonna have a meaningful conversation with that CMO because that’s only one thing. They’re gonna know way, way more about students in Gen Z that that CMO will.

But also not just that, but they’re also very smart, they’re personable,  they’ll have a conversation with someone’s CMO and they’re gonna end the conversation thinking they’ve learned something, guarantee that.

Marylou: That’s incredible.

Paul: The question is are you not splitting roles because you’re not getting the right quality in that team to have the confidence they’re gonna have valuable conversations with your prospects that you wanna get into a self-process?

Marylou: The pushback that I get still is that there’s a finite number of accounts, they call them your dream 300, dream 100, whatever, and that they want the continuity of one person or a team that creates, starts that conversation, and goes through the follow up sequences to close.

It’s really hard for people like me to train that because we have to basically change who we are when we’re prospecting. It’s a lot more rigid, a lot more habitual, a lot more consistent. We use the concept of workflows, and block time, and there are certain times of the day that we focus on calling[…].

Paul: This is definitely in the book, tone of voice. You’re not in sales, you’re initiating conversations, it’s a very, very, very different mindset and it’s very difficult for sales, really experienced pro sales people, to switch the tone. We’re looking for a fit in outreach, we call it outreach. We’re looking for a fit. Is there a fit here? Could there be a way that we can help you solve problems? That’s what we wanna know initially.

Another thing to know is that really it also depends on where the AE comes into the conversation. We still bring the AE in fairly early. But we’re talking about vast, vast companies and if people have a top 300 and they’re large, large companies, wow. There’s not one single person we’re gonna get traction. It’s like almost account based prospecting. You got account based marketing when you actually have a B2B team, which is okay, take on Macy’s, let’s do an account based marketing program to get the right people, let’s involve the right people at Macy’s. You could almost build your account based prospecting like strategy as well.

Marylou: Exactly.

Paul: There’s probably 20 people that could give you a really valuable end at Macy’s. As a sales person, you’re gonna spend all that time finding out which of those 20 are gonna be the ones that your message resonates, or you’re gonna let the expert team map out for you and then dive into that first call when you got some on[…].

Marylou: Exactly. I even had a client who had a research team that fed the prospectors of the SDR’s research data so that when they did find the right person mapping, they at least had some other pretty good map based on where to start. But there’s a bull’s eye just for calling to find direct and indirect influencers, not even reaching the main guy yet because they didn’t know where to begin that conversation to get…

Paul: Exactly.

Marylou: Yeah, exactly.

Paul: Yeah.[…] I can’t believe for a millisecond that doing everything in one row is any way best practice.

Marylou: It’s truly a cultural thing, Paul. There’s a lot of culture.

Paul: There are some other things not going right if you’re not ready to make that change.

Marylou: Definitely. The moment we start getting into it, you really see the habit changes. Like you said, the mindset has changed from what I like to call duty dating which is the prospecting side, then when you get engaged you’re gonna get the AE involved, and then marriage means that you’re working at the AM, `the account managers.

I actually see it like that and I love to just date. Yeah, I love to just have conversations with people. I’m really good at that. I used to say I love them and leave them. I pass them off to the AE. That’s because we have a lot of conversations to get to the right person. The data can only take us so far. I had a project just recently where we had 35 prospect personas from Marketing Divide, 35 different prospect personas.

Paul: Right.

Marylou: In your world, where do you start?

Paul: Some of the organizations, they’ve got 100,000 people that work there. You tell me that there’s just one person? That’s ridiculous. I’ll tell you a very funny[…]. When we started, we typically, I think at the time I’ve changed my thinking about all this. We were looking for people with some experience before, maybe one or two years out of college. Now, we’ve hired grads, we’ve got a really good training and onboarding program which is another critical part of successful hiring and branding.

We have a training academy actually for two weeks, you’re not even anywhere near front line for two weeks. We do group training and session and it’s a really fantastic course. We actually do a test at the end of it as well. It’s all part of a story of people and they’re building out more data.

Funny story. We hired just literally I think within the first two or three months of us being in New York. We’ve been here for three years now. Someone said, “Hey, I got a response from Amazon.” I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” Who did you prospect into? This girl said, “This guy called Jeff Bezos,” she did not know that he was the CEO, I’m not quite sure why she did not know that he is the CEO of Amazon. We had this email back from one of his executive assistants, because I’m sure he’s got multiple, literally saying, “Hi Lily, Jeff passed your message onto me, he’s a little busy right now but he’s asked me to put you in contact with[…].” It was absolutely priceless.

Marylou: Oh, wow. That’s awesome. That’s a great story they’re focused on their craft, it’s just another human at the other end of the line.

Paul: It just happens to be the richest person on earth.

Marylou: He built a surfing wave pool at the middle of Utah or somewhere that all the pro-surfers go to so they have the perfect wave to practice on.

Paul: Wow.

Marylou: I know right. We’re running out of time. I know people are very interested in probably continuing the dialogue with you or at least understanding how they can reach you. What’s the best way for people to connect with you, Paul?

Paul: LinkedIn. Just quote this podcast.

Marylou: Okay. Also, I will put on your page, we do a page for everybody, all the links to UNiDAYS, probably those YouTube videos are still out there on what you did at Ceros in terms of hiring that people can take. I think you even did a checklist of some sort. I’ll check and see if I have any of that.

Paul: Yeah.[…] UNiDAYS as well.

Marylou: That one we posted on LinkedIn. How did that go, by the way?

Paul: It got like 10,000 views.

Marylou: Oh my gosh.

Paul: I know. We got so much inbound from that, it’s crazy. I can do a whole different podcast on actually sourcing candidates, that’s a whole other answer to itself.

Marylou: Right. The other thing is a lot of folks here rely on recruiters to bring in people, does this take out a lot of your time, as a closing kind of comment, to do this type of hiring?

Paul: I think the benefit of not having quite a big team is that you can scale pretty fast. Time now for me, and for the first probably 80 people over the last year, now it’s just got too big. The time that it took was a threat on the structure of the projects. I have a project manager on it. We literally plan this out in detail, how we’re gonna approach this because we’re hiring 105 people in like 6 months out in 5 different countries. How are we gonna execute this?

All the time was in the planning of the projects and getting it set up correctly, training the hiring managers, getting the scoring done, getting a very, very tight and rigid hiring process that was consistent that matched against the characteristics that we’re looking for, we’ve identified those seven key characteristics[…].

There’s a whole piece in that planning around how you create lead flow. Honestly, it’s very, very, very similar to a sales operation, the hiring operation. They’re almost identical. It’s been fantastic but there’s a lot of work that went into that sourcing.

One of the simplest, easiest things to do, in three hours. I wrote a script and it took me half an hour, stood in front of the camera, it took me three hours of my day. That video has been seen by almost 10,000 people and we’ve got a huge amount of inbound off of that, and that’s just one candidate flow out of three or four key strategies that we have for sourcing talent. That does include recruiters.

I have an amazing little boutique firm working in London, they’re just fantastic. They deeply understand our business, they understand me. I’ve got a similar one here in New York. They understand the business, like actually have a meaningful conversation with candidates. Really, really important like you think about with your sales people who’ve got pitch material selling your products, you absolutely need to make sure that your recruiters have got equally good, awesome sales materials they can use to attract candidates. That’s my last little tip for everyone.

Marylou: Great point. Paul, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Paul: It’s a pleasure.