Jim Steele doesn’t want any of the lip service employees often give bosses. Steele wants to know exactly what’s going on, and he
finds that out by regularly getting on the front line with his team at salesforce.com inc. To Steele, president of worldwide sales and
distribution, the only way for a leader to really know the company is to see the trends up close and listen to the people who are fighting
the battles every day. That’s why he spends a big portion of his time at the on-demand customer relationship management services
company speaking to customers and getting feedback from its 2,000 employees. So far, the results are solid: Company revenue grew
nearly 60 percent to $497 million for fiscal year 2007. Smart Business spoke with Steele about getting in the trenches with his team
and what you can learn from your employees.
Go to battle with your team to get better answers.
My style is to be down in the trenches and
side by side with the sales team. I always
tell them, ‘I’m down here to help you guys
communicate to the customer and to negotiate deals.’ That means considering myself
the face of the company and being side by
side with my team and not making them
feel like, ‘Oh, jeez, the boss is coming, so
we have to put on our best face,’ then giving me a lot of lip service on everything.
I would rather hear what’s really going
on, and I don’t want them to think the boss
isn’t listening or doesn’t care. From my perspective, if I can show good listening skills
and really understand the issues, then the
team feels better for getting those issues
teed up and feels better about their
chances of success because someone at
the top cares.
Learn from your employees. All the things that I do with them as far as coaching, I also ask
from them. I ask them, ‘What could I have
done better to help you make this sale,
what would you like to see me do to help
you with this customer, what can I do to
make you, the company and the team more
I don’t stand on protocol because of my
position in the company. I’ve got to earn
people’s respect every day. I don’t put
myself above anybody and say, ‘Well, I’m
the president, so you have to listen to me.’
I want to truly understand what the issues
are; I have to make sure that I’m always
open to new ideas so that I’m not stuck in
my old ways.
Don’t brag. You have to be unselfish and
modest and not do all the talking. I can’t tell
you how many times I’ve seen executives
just spending time talking about all the
things they’ve done and how great they are.
Nobody really cares. When I’m out with my
team or customers, I want to know about
their families and their kids and just kind of
break down those barriers.
People want to know that you care about
them as people and don’t just see them as some part of the system that is there to generate revenue for you. I think employees
are a lot more loyal when they feel a connection to their leader. I know I am. That’s
the key thing, be unpretentious.
Inspire confidence. People want to deal with people that are stable and can inspire confidence. Show them that you’re not frantic
— it’s good to have a high sense of urgency,
but you don’t want to be frenetic about it
and make everyone think that you’re in crisis mode.
You have to present yourself as someone
who is calm and cool and collected under
fire because if you can alleviate some of
that pressure from your team, it really
makes them feel like you’re taking some of
the load off of them.
Focus on the victories. When anybody does
anything that either helps drive additional
revenue, helps drive better customer success or somehow enables better teamwork
or morale, I want to make sure that they get
credit for it.
People need a lot of positive reinforcement, they’re putting their necks on the line
every day, and the positive reinforcement
from their peers and management is what keeps them going. When we get praise from
our customer, it’s like we’ve been given a
million dollars; there’s just nothing better.
Promoting any praise we get is a great
way to boost morale and commitment and
loyalty. It’s one of the things that we do all
the time because it’s cheap to do; it doesn’t
cost you anything. It takes a little bit of
time, but the return is so high that it just
amazes me when people don’t do that on a
Be an evangelist for the company. We’re like evangelists. We continually tell people who
we are and what our vision is and what our
values are. We’re the face to the customer,
and if they look at us and they don’t think
that we’re inspired and excited about this
model, then they’re going to question, ‘Is
this really the right way to go?’ The way
that we beat the other guy is we become an
army of evangelists that are so excited
about selling and using our own products.
Make sure you’re getting there with metrics.
There are a lot of people who say they care
about their customers and their people, but
we track it religiously. We always look for
proof points on that, and we communicate
that to everybody.
The metrics are the validation points. You
can have all these great values and visions
and methods, but unless you can actually
track the progress of it, you’re not putting
the points on the board.
We have a site where you can look at any
of our systems on any given day and see
how many transactions are going through,
and you can see the response time. These
are important metrics that anyone can see.
It’s like the power plant; if your lights are
out, you can’t fake it. Before, we’d always
take things anecdotally and say, ‘I’ve heard
this 25 times,’ but now we have this site
where it’s all right in front of you accurately. If you’re not close to the customer, if you
don’t work to get feedback and do something with it, that’s death.
HOW TO REACH: salesforce.com inc., (800) 667-6389 or