David Rice is not your typical Sales VP.
He started out as top-performing sales rep at Centare and was promoted to VP of Sales, overseeing massive changes at the company in the course of just a few years. There are many stories of companies who have regretted taking the #1 rainmaker and asking them to manage a team. Luckily for Centare – and Rice – that was not the case.
“I’m a nontraditional salesperson-turned-Sales VP,” he noted. “I’ve lived through the challenges of going from a contributor to a leader and a manager.”
Rice has worked at the Milwaukee-based company for almost 10 years, offering customers agile management consulting, product strategy, software development, training and coaching. In that time, the company changed ownership with help from a private equity firm and the Centare team grew from 14 employees to 130 today.
Throughout all of these monumental changes, Rice said he’s learned to be an effective sales leader through servant leadership and being willing to adapt to changes on the fly – always keeping an agile mindset.
From Sales Rep to Sales VP
Rice explained that he was the top sales rep on the Centare team, and got the promotion to Sales VP due to his stellar sales performance from 2010 through 2012. But at that time, the VP job was very different than it is now.
“When I moved to being VP, it was really more of a title change,” he explained. “We really didn’t have much sales management. It was a group of individuals that worked well with each other and I was the leader of the group.”
However, as the company grew, Rice had to change how the sales team was organized and run so it could scale effectively.
“We were in kindergarten mode for a long time, just having fun – as long as we brought in enough business,” he said. “We had to quickly get to a college level of sales – we needed to get consistency and cadence. We have that today, but there were many steps along the way.”
Starting from very little sales management, Rice helped the sales team embrace the concepts of Management 3.0, combining agile concepts with a company culture of transparency and openness. He began to hold weekly 1-on-1’s, hired the sales enablement team members, and worked to improve sales and marketing alignment.
“As a team, we enhanced our processes, speed up our onboarding for new sales reps, and invest a lot in these areas to improve the overall efficiency and win rate of our sales team,” he said.
These vital changes on the sales team were accelerated by the sale of the company including a private equity firm in 2013. Rice had only been the Sales VP for just over a year when the company was transitioned, and said the change in leadership was a huge shift for the sales team specifically.
“Before, we would run the sales team on our gut,” he said. “A year and a half ago, we weren’t entering in the data into the CRM beyond contacts and opportunities. When the CEO was asking me to commit to a forecast for the month, I pushed back. Without data, it was just a guess.”
He said the current CEO Chad Albrecht is a true data-driven leader, and so Rice had to change his mindset accordingly. He was constantly being asked about the sales pipeline, the forecast, and more.
“After the sale, the level of sophistication required for every sales person and the whole company really rose,” he explained. “Now, there’s much more accountability to accuracy of data than ever before. We want to make sure we had data at our fingertips which is tied back to reality, especially with future forecasts.”
Centare bought InsightSquared specifically to get better visibility into their sales data, he explained.
“You’re not guessing; you’re not going with your gut,” he said. “You can say let me check the data – and that builds more credibility. This is what happened last month, this is what is happening this month and this is what I’m forecasting for next month.”
The Agile Mindset
As the company and the sales team have grown, data analysis isn’t the only thing that has changed. While the company’s target market has stayed the same, how the sales team approaches it has changed drastically.
“We started as a software development consulting firm – and we still have that as one of our capabilities – but every year with growth, it becomes a smaller percentage of our business,” Rice explained. “It’s about 25% now, with 75% now focused on product development, agile training and coaching.”
He said that the sales conversations with buyers are now more based in challenging assumptions, and leading prospects to think differently about their organizations. This method has really been successful.
“The types of services we offer today are a lot more sophisticated,” Rice noted. “We can go into the C-suite and talk about the company culture, how people are treated, and how to get a consistency and cadence in the flow of information across an organization. That’s a very different conversation than, ‘We can build you something very cool.’”
“My advice to any other VP who has taken a similar journey in a data-driven organization is this,” he continued, “Focus your energy on building the right people on your team, defining the most efficient processes to accelerate growth and buy a continuously improving data platform (like InsightSquared) to know when to pivot or persevere.”