September 13, 2022

9 ways to weather an economic shakeup and more sales advice from a former CRO

John Tzioufas
John Tzioufas

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As a vice president, CRO, general manager and investor, Tzioufas has worked through all the messy tangles that fight to push a company off track when there’s unrest. But he’s remained focused, calm and reasonable in the face of struggle. Even now as an advisor and consultant.

John Tzioufas

“Small and large companies, startups, I’m on advisory boards and I’m the guy that when a quarter goes bad, people call,” he says.

As inflation, a cooling market, or even another recession loom in the distance, Tzioufas knows exactly where companies should have their attention trained. His advice is to lean into basics, technology and fundamental sales relationships to pull through when the road gets rough.

“Really everybody right now is [focusing] on run the business, spend the money you need to spend, but it’s got to be very, very necessary,” he says.

Don’t shortcut the sales cycle

Tzioufas is often called in to consult for companies that need guidance within sales and marketing. Starting as an SDR himself, and growing with IBM, HP, and most recently as an executive at CloudBees, Tzioufas can quickly pinpoint sales problems.

“Small companies or big companies, I always do the exact same thing,” he says. “Show me what your pipeline forecast was at the beginning of the quarter and show me what closed and what didn’t close at the end of the quarter.”

From there, Tzioufas says the obstacles are clear as day.

“I’ve been doing this for years, and every single [time], somebody tried to shortcut the sales process,” he says. “There is no such thing as cutting the sales process.”

To avoid clients skittering down the funnel, he argues each step toward a closed-won deal deserves clarity to get all stakeholders in the same mindset. Major offenders are things like reps seduced by a hot lead and moving too quickly, and not proving economic value or technical ability. Even understanding the approval chain is a necessary part of the sales cycle that requires patience.

“[They] haven’t done the hard work to get access to the right people that could confirm that it’s truly worth that kind of money to the company,” he says. “When they shortcut that, every time they miss their forecasts.”

It’s a problem that can be fixed, but it will likely cost time. Maybe lost revenue.

“It doesn’t mean you won’t get the deal, it just means maybe you’ll get it later because you have to go back and do what you didn’t do. Or maybe a competitor might get it,” Tzioufas says.

To prevent snags, he recommends salespeople start any deal by understanding the purchase from the perspective of the buyer. That means figuring out how your product will help their company overcome a hurdle, or enhance a revenue channel. Talks might veer outside the comfort zone.

“[Sales] people like to talk about what they know and they’re very uncomfortable having a conversation about what they don’t,” Tzioufas says.

Getting the true value proposition is critical to avoid shortcutting the sales cycle. Tzioufas says to go for a boots-on-the-ground approach to move closer to completion.

“Get it through multiple people. Go to the business leader and confirm what [someone else] told you,” he says.

The role of technology in enterprise business cannot be minimized

Considering his roles in B2B and tech, Tzioufas says one area continues to grow steadily in importance, regardless of a teetering market.

“The role of the CIO [Chief Information Officer], the role of technology and the business has become significantly elevated,” he says.

It’s easy to see why. As the interactions that fuel basic business, from interoffice email to online storefronts, become more connected, the infrastructure has to be there as an anchor. IT is vital because it enables teams to keep moving.

Of course, all of that became abundantly clear after the COVID-19 shutdown.

“All of a sudden, everybody realized that the interaction and your ability to create revenue channels was all based on information technology,” says Tzioufas.

That’s why his advice is that now, similar to March of 2020, is another time to strategically spend on information technology that will make a company better, faster and stronger.

“The people that were really prepared before COVID actually did pretty well,” he says. “They had digital transformation in place and their customers were able to react very quickly, still consume. The companies that were not there were rushing like crazy to figure out what they were going to do.”

With a renewed focus on IT, sales also needs to speak to that importance in each pitch, conveying how their product enables better business.

By his count, Tzioufas says IT hits three major requirements for investments: it helps create new revenue channels, it enhances existing revenue channels, and it eliminates costs in a core process.

“Information technology is a big enabler for business,” he says. “The sales organizations who actually understand that and model their go-to-market business objectives are successful.”

There are ways to survive an economic downturn

Uncertainty is in the air, and as a former Chief Revenue Officer, Tzioufas is paying close attention to the economy. He’s watching a lot of factors, including the Russian-Ukrainian war, COVID waves, energy prices, mortgage rates, and even upcoming elections to see how the market responds.

With all of it in flux, he predicts sales will feel the pressure.

“The sales organization has to be better than ever because the spend is going to be so scrutinized,” he says.

Still, recovery is possible, and Tzioufas advises any company feeling apprehensive to adopt a back-to-basics framework for getting through a recession. Here is his advice for folks above the line:

  1. Contain spend
  2. Stick to strong revenue channels and core business
  3. Hold back on big hiring sprees
  4. Set expectations with stockholders, and manage talk about growth
  5. Make sure expenditures are necessary
  6. If you have to spend, invest in technology that makes you dynamic
  7. Continue to innovate, but be reasonable
  8. Be conservative with your budget
  9. Shore up your sales organization

Nothing is written in stone yet, but consider the plan each time a new expense pops up.

“Anything else outside of that, nobody spends money on because you just don’t spend money for no reason,” he says.

Rely on essentials when foundations shift

When there’s fluctuation, leadership powers companies through difficult times. Tzioufas has played that role throughout his career, and even now as an advisor for Sendoso.

CloudBees brought on Sendoso to forge stronger relationships and show appreciation, which became even more important after the pandemic.

It was really important to keep touching base with something physical,” says Tzioufas. “Customers were tired of all these virtual meetings, so having something show up physically in their office or their home, it really worked out pretty well.”

Regardless of the challenge ahead, sometimes fundamentals are all it takes to find a way forward.

“The advice really that I’m giving is to understand your core business,” Tzioufas says. “Invest in technology, invest in people.”

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