In the growth-at-all-costs market today it can seem idealistic to want values at the forefront, but what if we can have both?
In this episode of the CRO Spotlight, Warren and Lupe are joined by senior advisor and board member Susan Sobbott. Spending 18 years of her career at American Express, Susan has a deep understanding of both what is usual, and what is important, when it comes to businesses balancing values and revenue.
Find out the question you should be asking at every job interview, how to shine values into a role even in an challenging environment, and the number one skill that will help you rise in your career.
If a self-generated pipeline is what's valued at your company, empower your team to do it with the Create Pipeline from Sales IQ. Find out more here.
I'm Warren Zenna and welcome to the CRO Spotlight podcast. Hi Lupe.[: [:
She held various executive positions at American Express for over 28 years in her career, both in consumer and B2B roles. She was a president general manager of open small business where she puts small business on the map and the credit card industry, leading American Express, the clear market leader really impressive and I will want to hear more about that. Susan has known for a strategic perspective and her relentless fight for customers, which is something we're going to talk about a lot today and her passion for perseverance and develop high performing teams. She is a distinguished mission-driven leader with a focus on execution that has allowed her teams to increase customer impact and financial results.
So Susan, thank you for being here.[: [: [: [:
It's really impressive. I'd love to, if you don't mind expanding a little bit on the journey through that organization and some of the ways that it framed the philosophy of how you approach your work and your career particularly in running groups that have such, you know, such a, a presence in the public brand mindset, you know, I mean, I'm an American Express customer and so.
I'd be curious to know if you can just kind of provide a little bit more understanding of of your thought process about expanding and growing inside of an organization like that.[:
There was always a something new and exciting and I'll say what really. Calf to me at American Express was the pride I had in the work that I was doing. And it allowed me the opportunity to express my own purpose. You know, I, I am somebody that believes in people, I believe in, in serving people as a leader, I believe in serving customers and at AMEX, I could do that. And, and so I just kept doing.[:
Right. But I imagine there's probably a lot of. Consistencies, you know, someone who's trained to aspire to become a chief revenue officer at a mid-level market company, as opposed to trying to climb the ladder at a big corporation. How do you translate some of the nuances of that type of an environment across those two different types of organizations, if you were speaking to someone in that type of an environment?[:
But what I will say overall is that what is universal is that leadership is valued. And you know, sometimes it's smaller companies. I noticed that there's so much focus on, on reaching the next hurdle, the next goal, the next objective, because you've got to keep your investors happy and it can be blinding sometimes that the CEO or any of the C-suite its role is really to manage a group of people.
To achieve those objectives. And when you're managing a group of people, you have to understand that it is your privilege to lead those people. And if you want to get them to be inspired and passionate and energized to innovate or. Reach the outcome that you're looking for, you have to really create the environment that allows that to happen.
And so that's really one of the key translatable elements, if you will. The other thing I'd say is understanding the customer is always in my mind, universal. Skillset and tool and philosophy, you know, we're here today. You know, this, this audience is about chief revenue officers, you know of course their job is to recruit new customers, to whatever company that they serve.
You know, recruiting new customers is not about twisting arms. Right. It's really about demonstrating value. And importantly, the way I talk about it, it's about you know, being the solution for the problem that they have. And I use a Clayton Christianson's vocabulary here. Who's of course the, the famous author of the innovator's dilemma.
And it's really about understanding what job, the product or service you were selling, what job it is being hired to do. For a company. And in many cases, when I sit with folks that I work with big and small companies, they can lose sight of that fact that, you know what you're you're, you're not selling something.
You're actually doing a job for someone and you just have to figure out what that job. I'll give you a quick example. That's this very well-told story that Clayton does and I'll just do it really quickly. It's the, it's the McDonald's milkshake story. I don't know if you've ever heard it. Lupe may have heard me say this before.
Cause I use it all. But basically McDonald's is trying to figure out how to sell more milkshakes. And so they talked to customers and, and they, they figure, well, customers are getting a milkshake cause they want like a sweet treat. And so they figure out how do I change the flavor of this milkshake so I can sell more.
And so they do, and they don't sell any more milkshakes. What they missed was why people buy milkshakes. Turns out. Most people who buy milkshakes are buying them between 6:30 AM and 8:30 AM, surprisingly. Oh. And they are in their car. And they are alone. Why are they buying a milkshake to occupy themselves during a boring commute?
Of course, this is pre pandemic. The job that the milkshake is doing is not to invigorate. Your taste buds. It is being, it is the job it is doing is to occupy and engage me when I am bored. And so understanding that is such a critical thing. And it's, it's similar with any product or service that you are selling, especially in the B2B space.
Like you need to understand the context that your buyer is operating within. You know, one of the things I always say to sales teams is you want to make your, your customer, your client here. Okay. You want them to be heroic in their organization? And so. How do you do that? Like you don't, you don't, you don't want to convince them to buy something.
You want them to be passionate about the decision they have made to hire your product or service because of what it is going to do. And, and how is that going to enable them to have a bigger impact on the people they work with? So in some cases You know, the individual needs to cut costs. So you're going to give them a low cost solution or, or something that's going to be more efficient.
Well, they're not going to be a hero because they cut costs. They're going to be a hero because they have revealed more money for investment, for innovation, for example or you may have something that's more. A more sustainable solution, right? It's more environmentally friendly that you're selling.
Okay. So why does that matter? It matters because maybe that's the. The new big initiative that the company has said out upon, maybe it's because it's attracting gen Z talent who care deeply about the environment. Like you need to tie the benefits of what you are selling. To the role that individual plays in the company.
And again, give them an opportunity for their own fame, if you will, within their, within their audience, give them credibility, give them something that can be celebrated. And if you do that, you get yourself out of this transactional thinking which I think is so important. And the other thing I always.
Suggest for folks who were in sales roles is to, and this actually sounds a little heretical. I remember when I told this to my sales, I had a global sales team a B2B sales team. They would, they would like roll their eyes the first few times. But it is don't, don't ask your customer to make a choice.
You would not make. Right. So if your solution, your product or service is not actually the best solution for the job that they need to hire someone to do, then don't try and get them to do it. If we can't do it as well as somebody else can do it. And if I was making the decision, I would choose the other than walk away from that customer.
And as I said, I had a lot of eye-rolling in the beginning when when I would share that perspective. But you know, they weren't rolling their eyes over time because what it does is it builds a trust and a relationship. With that, with that individual, with that potential client, with that prospect that will circle back to your benefit over time.
And importantly, it will save you time and money dealing with a disappointed. Because hitting a revenue target that then you are working so much time doing damage control on is not worthy of that revenue number. You're just, it's a pain, our pay later kind of situation.[:
For fixing all the different pieces that fit within that. So that's, that's brilliant. I love it. I think that's, that's great. And I do remember you saying that in the past and, you know, you know, having had, you know, that sales responsibility at the time, it was like, okay. Yeah, sure. But it is true. If you can engage a customer and you are solving something and if you're helping them be better, it's always, you know a great opportunity to succeed.
I think, you know, Another thing that I'd love you to talk about is, you know, like the importance of engaging your team, this is something that you have done very well in the past. You have managed to you know, engage your people you know, give them a purpose, you know, kind of enlight, you know, light their passion and.
And as well, give them you kind of the real, the real perspective. And so, you know, talk a little bit about that. Cause I think that's a, you know, something that we could all benefit from.[:
And younger populations, right? So new entrance to the workforce, having an even higher need, everyone has it, but it really motivates younger people even more. And so the implication for that is that you need to have a purpose in what you're doing. Like there needs to be a reason that your company exists.
And that reason is not just to make everyone wealthy or investors wealthy right there. There's, there's a reason for being, because you are. You're solving a problem for someone and you're going to be solving it profitably. There's nothing wrong with becoming wealthy. It's that that's, that is an outcome as opposed to an intention, right?
The intention needs to be something that has, you know, a little bit more a bigger benefit. And I found that. In describing that mission or that purpose or that intention is really what gets people's energy going. It lights their passion. And, and in fact, their creativity, you know, a good example of this is one of the things that I Had the pleasure and the honor of, of creating at American Express with something called small business Saturday in small business Saturday was an effort to get Americans at the time to really understand the importance of shopping at their local independent businesses.
And that was born out of the mission that we had in the business, which was to help small businesses thrive, to help small businesses do more business. And once we sort of unlock that mission ideas came from everywhere in the organization about how we could do that. How. Tactics that we can do. People started creating their own pods to go out and recruit businesses and other companies to participate in this endeavor.
So I think when you find something that's meaningful people are willing to, to put more of their shoulder into it and importantly, whatever that is, needs to reflect your values. And so I guess I'd say that's the other really important element of igniting. Your team is being really clear about what your values are, not in what you say, but in what you do.
And that's really you know, I like to say the culture of an organization reflects its value. And it's the culture of an organization is values in action. And so what are some of the actions who you hire, how you promote them? What, how do you evaluate performance? What are the norms? What's acceptable?
What's not. Acceptable in your company. What are your policies? How do you make decisions? You know, all of these things are, are reflecting your values. And so you need to make sure that those, those actions are aligned with what you believe. And if you do that and you are consistent, people will want to work for.
You know, the number one reason why people are leaving in this great resignation that we're in is because of toxic culture. Number one reason, by like a factor, a multiple of 10. It's not because they're not getting paid enough. It's not because they don't have enough flexibility. It's not because the benefits aren't good.
It's because they don't. I feel that the culture reflects their values. And importantly, one of the ways that the culture reflects their values is that they feel personally respected within an organization. And what does respect look like? Respect looks like don't ask me to do something that I don't think is right among other things.
Hear me recognize me, you know, all of those things, but this is, this is again, universal truths about. Engaging people, whether it be in a business or whether it be in life, whether it be in your family, you know, engaging people is about respect and values.[:
It's I I'd be surprised if someone said you were wrong about any of that stuff, but here's the challenge. And I'm curious to what your thoughts are on this. So within the types of companies that we deal with a brand like American Express, it is. You know, it's an evergreen brand. It's likely going to be around in perpetuity for as long as it can sustain itself.
And it had the affordability of building brand equity, such that it can, it can build a product and context, like the one you just described because it's really the customer centric than it has, you know, a 25, 30, 40, 50, 75 year lifespan. Most of the companies that we deal with our company. Like they want to get out of the marketplace in five years and get acquired by somebody, right.
Or, or they were invested by people whom are running a VC platform portfolio model, where they just throw a bunch of money at seven different companies. And they want to spit out returns at a certain rate. And if they don't work, they talk about. So if you're working at a company like that, even at a managerial or an executive level, that's the culture that's been put upon you, but that's the nature of the pursuit, right?
It's nothing to do with customers. As a matter of fact, customer centricity is at the core of what we're trying to espouse here at the Sierra collective and sales IQ. I think the key is that most of the companies we work with, they just want a good quarter. Right. And they want more of that pipeline growth and they want more customers.
And those things all go right against exactly all the things that you were just talking about. So if I'm a chief revenue officer or a CEO of a company like this, and I know this to be the case, and I know the company is sort of set up in the context that I just described, what's the way to navigate that.
So that the values that you just espoused can thrive there, despite that type of environment.[:
Sure. Many smaller companies you know, they they're just operating in a different context. You know, I was making quarterly, quarterly numbers every quarter as well. It was mind numbing you know, always racing against whatever that target was and then having to shift dramatically because of one problem or another.
And that's of course, times 12 in a smaller environment. Right. And and the context of the pressure of your shareholders, your investors breathing down your neck is really difficult. And I know this is going to sound like a little bit of a cop out answer. All the more reason why you need to have people motivated and inspired to live in the stress of that environment.
Because people need to feel safe in that environment. It's hard to feel safe. And when I say safe, I mean, psychological safety you know, physical safety of course, but. But they need to feel like they can fail and it's okay. Meaning I didn't get this client or I didn't get that, that customer. And that's okay.
Cause I took a risk because you can't reach some of these very significant milestones that you're being asked to do without taking some risks. I was just talking this morning with a. With a CEO it's you know, she's got a private equity investor. She's got, you know, very short periods of time.
She's got to get her numbers to a certain place. And, you know, we were talking about this dilemma of the race. And so she was saying, well, I, I could do this, but if I do this and it doesn't work. Then where I am, where am I? And you know, we agreed that yes, you could fail in that, but if you don't act, you will fail.
Right. So you have to, that's part of the game here. That's part of the game. Like you got to pick a path and you've got to move against that path. The way you pick the path though, just make sure it is integrous. It is aligned with what you said you wanted to do and not your values. You're making decisions that are not in conflict with your values.
And if they are. Then you probably shouldn't be doing it, or you have to decide is that really value a priority value for you or you just saying it and you don't really mean it because that's the worst thing you could do is say it and then do something in conflict with it. But I do think that people care and want to be proud of the places they work, even if it's a really tough, hard driving environment.
They still want to know they are cared about. They still want to feel like they're doing something meaningful. And that they matter. And so I think big, small short-term, long-term, that's true everywhere.[:
Well, the ones that perform over time, the ones that are successful over time are the ones that are solving a problem that are servicing their customers that are retaining their customers. You know, you've got companies that can acquire like crazy, but lose customers and are churning consistently. So they're on a mouse wheel.
Spinning and spinning and spinning and spinning and never growing, you know, their portfolio of customers to to a meaningful number. And so there has to be that infusion of, I think[:
It's more about trying to be a little bit better every day. And trying to recognize that you have live humans that work for you and that are working in service to this mission. Whatever that mission may be, if it is an exit as a mission, you know, looking for whatever that exit is, whether it be purchased by a strategic or an IPO or whatever it is.
That doesn't happen unless whatever you have built has, has staying power, right? Because nobody wants to buy something. That's going to be worthless[:
But the type of culture there in. It doesn't, it's not fertile, you know, enough for them to be able to do so. And you're right. It's probably maybe not the right place for them or something like that. That those are tougher decisions that people have to make. I see.[: [: [:
I, and that doesn't mean every investor in every case. And that doesn't mean that people are going to put their money into you know commercial enterprises that are trying to be filling, you know, acting as if they are non-for-profit that's not the case. It's. It's funny. They often I get this conversation about this either or right.
It's this trade-off of you know, our people are going to be high, hard driving to make the revenue targets to make the profit targets though. Nowadays profit targets seem to matter matter much less.[: [:
Or is it about actually treating people? Humanely. And I, I actually don't see those as, as two ends of the spectrum. I actually think they're on the same end of the spectrum. If you treat people humanely, if you have a culture that is nurturing and cultivating, as well as hardworking and results oriented that's those are the winners.
And when you look at many. Many of the success stories, they often come out of people who are. Who have that understanding and perhaps they have it intuitively or organically again, they're not perfect, but but they do have, they want to create the companies they want to work for. Let's put it that way.[: [:
So what are some of the, like, what are some of the advice that you would give somebody who's looking. You know, to, to grow with a company and to be seen and be heard, you know, and, and often, you know certain, certain folks don't rise to the table of consideration not by any fault of their own, but just through, you know, organizational bias.
And so I love to hear your thoughts on that.[:
They haven't yet. Eh, they don't have their product in market yet. And I met with him and it was four white guys that I've met with and it was, so it was like, I actually went into the room and like was looking around like, is anybody else coming? Because it was so shocking to me now. They quickly, plained how they were the ones who were there and there were others that they work with and they just didn't happen to come to the meeting.
But I do think that people, you know, have an awareness if they, if they are, if they are not as inclusive at least. So I think that there's some good news. Now having said that, what are the things that an individual can do? I mean, I think that one thing is to really. Understand how decision-making happens within an organization.
And this, this is for anybody, whenever you go into a new company, right. You've just got to figure out like, where, what is the power structure here? How does it work? What is value? Right. What is valued? And so is it new ideas? Is it speed? Is it new customers? Is it being opinionated? Is it being heads down and getting the work done? Is it being an influencer? Is it being a culture carrier? Like what is it that people value in this organization? And, and by the way, I recommend you figure that out before you actually take the job.[: [:
Well, what it ends up is that what I wrote actually. Like, what he was looking for was actually in the email. It was just like in the fourth paragraph. And so what I figured out is. Okay, so long explanations are not really valued here. Right? I've got to get to the point, get to the point quick and just give him what he wants.
And it was actually, he was a great teacher, but it was, it was not pleasant. He was a great teacher in me learning how to communicate differently. And so I, I will often talk about this advice. I give women. On communication and that is that you want to start with headlines and then you go to bullets and then you go to paragraphs.
You don't start with paragraphs, even though I'm probably, haven't taken my own advice in this conversation today.[: [:
You have to earn the right. To spend more time. And so earning the right starts with getting to the point quick and being very thoughtful about how you get to that point and you position it not, I'm not talking about spinning, I'm talking about positioning your thoughts and perspectives in a way that they can be received.
And so spending time and energy on your communication skills is critical. I mean, super, super important. I can tell you, in my one person's experience of having seen and managed thousands of individuals, strong communicators rise to this. They just, they just did. And part of being a strong communicator is confidence.
And so where does confidence come from? Well, it comes from what I I friend of mine Nayha Sangwan has written a book on, on communications called talk RX. It's not business communication, but it's about the reason why we communicate is so important in living a healthy life. But what she talks about is positional power.
Versus personal power. And if you come from a place of personal power, meaning I believe in myself, I value my, my thoughts, my actions, I, and I can share my perspective. Based on my beliefs and my knowledge and my skill versus positional power, which is I, you need to listen to me because of the job title I have, right?
The people who are most successful are people who come from a place of personal power. And by the way, you can have positional power too. That's not a positional power. Isn't a bad thing. In fact, Propel your personal power, but if you're just coming from the place of, because I said so because you know, you're the mom or the dad or the, the CRO or the CEO that is not nearly.
As compelling as coming from a place of really, you know, true self-belief and that's, that's what I think is so important now, by the way, if you're overlooked and you know, you do all of that and people just don't pay attention to you and your colleagues talk over you or they repeat your idea, and then they get recognized for it.
And you're like, which has happened to me like a hundred thousand times. And you're like, wait so until we seem to get all the credit per saying that you know, Some of that is just the nature of the beast. Like that's just, what's going to happen. And people aren't going to necessarily be as generous in recognizing folks. But if that happens all the time consistently, my advice is you're not in an environment that's going to let you flourish and you deserve to be in a place that allows you to flourish.
So you can change that place by raising the concern in a very. Productive way or you can leave, which is what a lot of people do in an environment like today, where there are so many choices,[:
And the power and prestige that it represents. And in fact, many of the pursuits are superficial in that they want the title. It means something, it represents a prize or some place that they've accomplished in the way that they could communicate that, you know, across their networks, et cetera. And that tends to be.
A very short-lived chase you don't, you don't really get there at the horizon, moves away from you every time you get there. And I think it's so I really appreciate you just said it really had me thinking a lot about how you have to become a CRO, not go get the job. And that's a different thing. And I, I totally, I think was terrific. What you just articulated as. Thank you.[:
It really is about the impact you make and the impact you make on the people around you. And if that is your focus, All the rest can come, that can come and you can enjoy it. But it's really about taking on the challenge as opposed to taking on a title.[: [: [: [:
And what's really interesting is to see. Certainly. And I've always been an advocate of small businesses, you know, and have been working with small businesses forever as customers. And it's really interesting to see just the wide range of businesses that are developing the almost instant access to market.
That businesses can have. And importantly, as we mentioned earlier, how businesses, you know, people who are starting these businesses will want to make an impact. They want to do something that is important in the world. I mean, one of the businesses I have been working with is founded by former Google.
Exactly or engineers really. And, and in the same way that Google makes information accessible to the world. They want to make available jobs accessible to the world and make that ubiquitous. Anyone who has a skill skillset can find anyone who needs that skillset. Like how amazing is that? That's just profound.
There's another company that I'm working with that is focused on mentorship and providing a software platform for mentors and mentees to meet digitally and really facilitate. The development process that takes place through mentorship, again, through a digital platform. And interestingly, that kind of platform is now being deployed to assist female entrepreneurs who, who can connect with more experienced, you know, young entrepreneurs connecting with folks who are more experienced, who may have had exits in their companies, et cetera.
So again, like such, you know, Sweeping applications. And this is what I mean about having meaning right. And doing something like these are incredibly high growth companies. They are taking on many new, you know, huge brands, huge companies that as their clients, but they're doing it out of a place of trying to make a difference in the world.
There's another company I'm working with that that wants to essentially give access. To folks who don't make a huge amount of money to be able to create a state plans and wills, something that most people don't do because of the expense of getting a lawyer You know, even if you don't have all this wealth, you still need to take care of your family in, in the event of your demise.
And so you want to be able to do that. And so how do you do that? So again, it's a fabulous idea. Digitally, you know, created using AI. There's so much opportunity and I happen to choose my, the people I work with based on them having this higher intention. So maybe that's why I have so many stores. Awesome.[: [: [: [:
So thank you so much for this incredible conversation and your time and your wisdom.[: [:
This episode was digitally transcribed.