Duo Security is an Ann Arbor, Michigan based cyber-security startup. Duo Security was acquired by Cisco for $2.35B in August of 2018. The company’s customers include Etsy, K-Swiss, Toyota, Yelp and Facebook among others. Its customer base spans over 14,000 customers in over 100 countries. Hear from Duo Security’s VP of Inside Sales America on how to build a $2.3B sales team.
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Jennifer Lawrence | VP, Inside Sales @ Duo Security
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Good afternoon. What an awesome conference, right? This was actually always one of my dreams, to work and to speak at one of the annual SaaStr conferences, so here we are together. Pretty awesome. Today I’m going to start by telling you a little bit about me, a little bit about Duo, and then the secrets to building a killer inside sales org.
I am the oldest of three kids. I grew up with a love of science and math. I went to math camp every summer, voluntarily. So while the other kids were putting zinc on their face, and eating Now N Laters, and on the beach drinking Slurpees, I was in math camp, voluntarily. Let’s just say I didn’t have a lot of dates. I was in a different school every year growing up, a different elementary school. At the time it felt hard, but it really taught me to quickly find ways to connect with people, to resonate, and built a level of resilience.
I attended the University of Michigan for college. I was premed until I got my first B plus in a science class. I lost confidence for myself with just that one grade. It was a pivotal moment. I don’t know if I chose right, but I don’t believe in regrets and I believe in making the best of what’s in front of you. This insecurity of perfectionism has driven me to do great things, but when I was younger you can see that it got in my way. So I thought, “Okay, so what’s the next best thing to being a physician? Well, let’s go to the business school at Michigan.” I took a lot of finance classes because that seemed to be the thing to do, what everyone was doing, even though I ended up hating those classes. As everyone left to work for an investment bank in California or New York that summer of ’99, I went to work at a startup in Ann Arbor. Now, we did really cool stuff at this startup. I would argue it was one of the first SaaS companies of its time, but back then we called it an ASP, an application service provider. We created and served up apps via the cloud on a subscription basis. We had custom CRM apps for the Weight Watchers group, scheduling systems for optical chains, inventory management for car dealers.
We ended up creating a healthcare app that connected all the substance abuse manage care agencies with their providers, and their payers, and the state system. We disrupted this space and ended up pushing out software vendors that had been doing this for 25, 30 years. We ended up capturing 92% of this health care market share within the state of Michigan. I did all sorts of things there from sales, to project management, to running the engineering team, hiring. It was truly the time of my life. The founder was my age at the time, so we were in our early 20s and he ended up leaving to go travel and left me in charge, so it gave me a lot of leeway to really run the company how I wanted to. This is when I got hooked on tech, and SaaS, and cloud, and making things faster and better.
Four years later we sold that to a company called Netsmart, where I ended up working for 10 years. This is where I got my chops in growing and scaling enterprise sales teams. Along the way I got married and I ended up having four little kids, three boys and a little girl that are wild and crazy and don’t care if I’m successful at work. They’re my people. Being a mom has strengthened my ability to work efficiently and to maniacally prioritize my time. I work for a company now that believes in work-life balance, first Duo, now Cisco. My leader tells me to take time off. He models by not checking his email on vacation. He unplugs, he tells me to do the same. He doesn’t send us all emails on the weekends. It’s the little things that end up becoming the bigger things that end up mattering.
So people ask, why Duo? I had breakfast with Dug Song, our CEO and founder back in 2014, and something he said to me hit me in the gut. He said, “If you take care of the people, the scoreboard takes care of itself.” I had never worked for a company like that. Dug has always taught us to put the people and the customers first and it’s in everything we do. So the three reasons I joined Duo. The first, I want it to be part of a company with cutting edge technology. I mean, who wants to sell old stuff? Number two, I really wanted to be part of a company that had customer evangelism. Listen, coming from a prior world where multi-million dollar contracts hung in the fate of them talking to just one more customer before they signed, where you felt like you were begging, and borrowing, and stealing to find a way to find a reference or the deal wasn’t happening. To go from that to where I’m on the phone with CSOs or network engineers now and I hear them say, “I love you guys. I love Duo.” My first year, I guess if I’m honest, I’m going into my fifth year and it still hits me like that when I hear that. I say, “Wait, can you say that again?” Having customer evangelism is so important and special.
Then three, a culture of collaboration, right? A lot of companies say that they’re collaborative, but really are they? You can interview the company for it, but at some point it’s a little bit of a leap of faith. So it’s not that it’s all rainbows and sunshine at Duo, although I would argue it is 95% of the time, it’s when there’s an issue, it feels like we’re all rowing in the same boat together, right? Finger-pointing is absolutely not allowed at Duo. Some of you may have heard of Duo or have it on your phone as an app. We’re the leading provider of trusted access and multi-factor authentication based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Go blue. Any other Wolverines out there? Oh yeah, go blue. We were acquired by Cisco last fall for 2.35, the five is important, $2.35 billion. So amazing, amazing job to Duo.
So I’m here to talk about the secrets to building that world-class inside sales machine. The truth is when you work at a startup and help take it to a successful place, it’s a mix of hard work, grit, and luck. Okay. Secret one. Do not create a bunch of sales heroes. Find a way to create a gravity well. Sales is part of an integrated whole. We have team selling here that extends beyond the sales team. We create a gravity well. Everyone wants to be part of it. Every department contributes to the success and celebrates the success with us. From the lawyers, to the engineers, to product, they’re all waiting to get on a sales call. Sales is where the party is at. Our top achievers event, for instance, is not just sales. We nominate friends from sales who helped us throughout the year come join us, and that’s where one place where we thank them for their success. This has been truly special. Sales is not the tail end of the whip. So marketing owns a pipeline, not just a megaphone. They’re not here to just build awareness. They exist to make our product easy to deploy, evaluate, and sell, and we align on that one golden metric that we also desperately need, a pipeline number.
So I challenge you to consider the type of sales org you want to build, or review the one that you already have. A lot of sales orgs out there are managed by fear. Believe in the heroes, and as long as you’re hitting your number, it’s okay to be an asshole. I remember being at past companies doing my quarterly business reviews or QBRs, standing up there with a microphone. It was like American Idol in front of a 100 executives. They were all lined up in a row, and they were only there to point out the mistakes in your presentation. Although if you were in the club, you’d get a big round of applause at the end, even if you were a doofus. Some companies behave this way, they do this and they’re still successful, but something that it’s important to me and that I believe in, and that I brought to Duo, is that I believe character and competence are equally important, and you can’t trade one for the other.
When I started at Duo, in fact, I had a couple of high performers that weren’t cultural contributors. Duo supported me in letting them go, in fact, I still remember it was probably week three or four, and I sat across from my COO and he said to me, “Jen, I don’t care if you miss your number next quarter because you did this.” I mean, can you imagine that? The freedom in being told by your COO that that’s okay, that he wants you to build the org the right way. I call my team a bunch of hunter helpers, and so they’re hunters in the respect that they drive towards a number and results, super important in sales, but they’re also helpers. You guys, they train new hires, they root for each other, they pull for each other. I’ve never seen anything like it. I believe that we should be building sales orgs where we are all proud to be at.
All right, number two. It’s not just the what anymore, it’s the how you sell that matters. I believe this is Duo’s secret sauce. We made it easy. We made it friction-less. Friction kills sales. We made investments that target our biggest points of friction. Starting with an easy trial, clear documentation, easy setup and management. We make it easy to buy from us. You can self-serve and not even talk to a human, or you can buy through a sales rep. Another example of how, is we get back to leads within five minutes from a human being, a human being will respond to a lead within five minutes. How do we do this? It starts with a super tight alignment with marketing. We have an algorithm on how likely they are to buy and how good a customer they’re going to be. It scores these leads and funnels the best ones to our account development team. They take those leads, qualify those and set up meetings for their fellow AE. This ADR team quickly connects with them and gets with them based on where they’re at in their buying journey. It’s a customized, intelligent based outreach based on the vertical, who they are, and where they’re at, and what they need. I challenge you, where are your friction points and how do you remove them?
Okay, secret three. Have a deep empathy for the customer in everything you do. Here’s a story. So The New York Times was breached a couple of years ago. They weren’t a customer, yet they were being inundated with vendors trying to help by selling them something during this time. We sent them pizza and Red Bull and just a simple note, “We thought you could use this.” We asked for nothing. We knew they were in hell. Anyone going through a breach needs a little bit of pizza and Red Bull. We didn’t have a sales rep reach out. We didn’t put them on a marketing drip campaign. The New York Times actually never ended up becoming a customer. Our product wasn’t the solution to solve their problem, but what’s really cool is that some of the key members of The New York Times team ended up leaving to other very cool companies, remembered the pizza, remembered the help and the empathy we showed them, and called us up to work with them, and they’re some of our biggest customers today.
We don’t believe in ambulance chasing. We don’t believe in fear-mongering. You can see it in everything we do, from our green logo, green mean go, to getting back to leads within five minutes. What’s your New York Times story? Who do you want to be? This is our story, but what’s yours? Having a deep empathy for the customer, I believe is playing to win. So here’s the thing. You can design your organization from the inside out and make it accommodate all your internal setup and processes. Lots of companies have found success this way, or you can design it from the outside in and you focus on the customer. How do customers want to buy and how can you make it easy for them?
Okay. Secret four. The true test of your leadership is when things are hard. Believe me, it’s easy to be a great leader when everything’s going well and everyone’s hitting their number. I’ve been there, we’ve hit a lot of quarters at Duo, every quarter that I’ve been there, and it’s easy to get sucked in thinking, “I’m pretty amazing.” But you have to ask yourself, what kind of leader are you going to be when stuff hits the fan? So back at Duo, this was a couple years ago, we thought we were going to miss. It was our first miss ever. It looked really bad at the time. My first reaction was, “Okay, I have to dig in more. I have to work more. I have to get on flights. I have to talk to more customers, more prospects, work in sales force more, work on the weekend.” And my fearless leader, Jim Cyb, said, I remember this clear as day. He said, “Jen, it’s not about digging in right now. It’s not about working more.” And that totally took me back, because that wasn’t first instinct.
He taught me that positivity and encouragement in times of stress have a bigger impact on a team than increasing the pressure and having them do more and more. He said, “Listen, we either built the pipeline for the quarter or we didn’t. Go focus on the out quarters to make sure that we have success there.” There was some tension and fear on the team. Everyone was looking to us for our reaction. We had calm, cool heads. We were super positive, which ended up having a really big impact on our sales org. The feedback we got was, “Wow, you’re so calm and happy on these end of month forecast calls.” It really helped our team keep their head in the game. By the way, we did not end up missing.
So Jordan, my fearless PR person at Duo, he said, “You better not sit behind that desk the whole time. I want you walking across the stage.” And I said, “Fuck no. I’m going to be behind the desk.” But this is my wrap up, so I figure I can walk during the last couple minutes. Plus I bought some new shoes for the event, and I got to make sure that I got some pictures in them. All right.
So to sum up, number one, building a world-class org, it’s hard work. It is an enormous amount of grit and a little bit of luck. Number two, hard things are going to happen. You’re not always going to be hitting your number, and I believe in times of stress, in
times of change, being happy, and positive, and being an encouraging leader, beats putting pressure and asking people to do more and more any day of the week. Number three, do not create a team of heroes. It’s not scaleable and you’ll hate working with them. Create a gravity well where everyone wants to join in and be part of that success. Number four, it’s not the what you’re selling anymore, it’s really the how. It’s how you’re selling. That can be your secret sauce. And number five, have a deep empathy for your customers in everything you do.
One of my favorite quotes is, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” Think about all the jobs you’ve been at, where you have to check yourself at the door, check your personality at the door. Do you do your best work there? No, and one of the things that I will always know, and love, and remember about Duo is that I was able to be my weird kind of introverted self as a VP of sales. So super important, “Privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” So I hope you learned something today. Jordan, I did a little bit of walking and I thank you for attending this talk as well. Thanks very much.