First, let’s start at the beginning. It is 2016 and I am an entry level Unified Communications (UC) sales rep for one of the big boys, Vonage Business. I was one of the first 10 of employees to open the Dallas office for Vonage and was hired by an amazing leader who goes by the name Jeff Lovejoy.
My job had a long elaborate description but in reality, it was simple, sell $3,000 a month in new monthly reoccurring revenue and we won't fire you.
Let’s break that down. $3,000 a month for 12 months is $36,000 a year. The average seat price for a hosted PBX in 2016 was about $25. That means, to hit quota, Vonage wanted you to sell 120 seats a month or 1,440 seats a year.
At the time I did not know I was hired into a churn and burn, door knocking sales model designed by the legacy Cbeyond executive staff. All I knew was, I had a $3,000 quota to hit and I better start finding some deals.
Now I know what you are probably thinking, Vonage is one of the largest voice carriers in the world and is flush with marketing money. There are probably more leads than one can manage. Right! And Wrong!
In 2017 the Vonage’s inbound sales team in Atlanta was closing an average of 3,000 new business a month on their essentials platform. I was not hired for inbound sales, I was hired for outbound sales which meant when you got a “hot lead” you had to fight back tears of joy.
I was what recruiters call a “hunter” and I had to do everything in my power to drum up business. Trust me when I say I was willing to try everything.
This is going to sound obvious but the 2 best ways I found to drum up new business was phone calls and emails. One of the nice things about working for Vonage is they really do want you to succeed. I had access to all sorts of tools for lead generation.
The best tool I found for making phone calls was Data.com provided by Salesforce. In the early days of Vonage, every rep got access to data.com. My second favorite was Avention by Dun & Bradstreet which I used to design lists based on company size then would reverse look up the correct point of contact using a combination of Linkedin and Data.com.
The best emailing tool by far is Outreach. I would send 50 to 100 extremely personal, tailored emails a day directly from the Vonage email server without even lifting a finger. No joke, there were days when I could simply turn up my campaigns and spend all day responding to emails trying to convert them to leads. I have a close friend named Josh McEachin who quit Vonage to run sales for Outreach and he was able to sign me up at a discount because he wanted to make a success story out of me so he could sell to Vonage.
Threw the various techniques above I ended up stumbling across one of the largest phone-a-thon services in the US. For those of you who don’t know, a phone-a-thon service is a company that brings in call center software and hires outsourced call center agents to sell over the phone. This company, in particular, specialized in higher education. They would send contract call center managers onto college campuses, hire members of the student body, and call alumni to ask for donations. For reference, a slow month of calling for this company was over 1 million minutes spent on the phone.
After the first conversation with the Director of IT, it did not sound like a deal worth spending my time on. They were running an Asterisk-based PBX hosted in a data center and where asking me for a competitive SIP price. On top of that, the company only actively employed 40 people, not including the contracted call center agents.
The conversation didn’t turn until we started discussing minutes. The Director of IT informed me at any given time they have over 1,000 people making outbound phone calls over a private connection to a PCI compliant, geo-redundant data center that is hosting a custom built Asterisk PBX with an end of life TAPI integration for click to call.
TAPI or Telephony Application Program Interface is a program that can be installed on a piece of hardware to allow people to use telephone services via a PC.
The Director of IT made it known, the only reason he was taking my call was to get a competitive SIP bid and nothing else. The phone-a-thon service was shopping for a new SIP vendor because they outgrew their existing vendor who was providing poor voice quality.
It’s funny what happens when you say “why?” enough. We ended up learning that the SIP vendor was a 3-man reseller that would sign a long-term deal with the phone-a-thon service then turn around and sell the minutes to dirt cheapest of bidders and would make his money on the difference. The result was poor voice quality and the phone-a-thon service was under the impression it was their environment.
After many phone calls and hours on the phone, we learned that their TAPI integration was failing and they needed to upgrade to softphones on all of their endpoints. Switching from TAPI integrated desk phones to softphones posed a major headache and was borderline impossible. Their TAPI integration was tied directly into their home-grown call center CRM. Switching to softphones would mean no more integration and the hired help would have to manually dial numbers resulting in a loss of productivity and revenue.
Everything comes back to money. When I told Vonage that in order for me to win this deal we would have to build our softphone into their home-grown call center CRM, they said sure under one condition, they would have to pay for it. Which in my mind was a polite way of saying NO. At the time Vonage did not have a team designed for custom development and in my opinion was more interested in customers who fit into a box. That box being, one they could support.
No means Yes if you don’t think about it. In my mind, I had been told no a million times, but this no was different. It was coming from inside the company.
The funny thing about designing a churn and burn, feast or famine sales team is everyone from an entry level sales rep to a VP of sales has a number. With that mentality employees big and small will do anything to hit their number even if it means pushing a square peg through a round hole.
Knowing this could be the deal of a lifetime, I ended up contacting one of Vonage’s top network engineers, who I will not name (you know who you are. Thanks Again!) and asked detailed questions about BroadSoft’s APIs.
My plan was to build the integration myself outside of work. I asked said engineer very specific questions about BroadSoft, click to call, APIs, and the Vonage environment. Then I started taking online API development courses available on Udemy. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was in over my head and there was no way I could build the integration without access to the phone-a-thon's home-grown call center CRM.
It was time to give up. I reached out to the Director of IT and told him that Vonage was not going to build the integration without a large amount of cash. I also told him that I looked into building it myself with the help of my secret engineer friend and that I didn’t think it would be that difficult if we had access to their CRM. Within minutes the Director of IT introduced me to their CRM developer who was strangely excited about testing our softphone click to call capabilities.
Bingo! Quick learning experience, apparently APIs are extremely easy to work with if your day job is a full stack developer.
How Vonage click to call sold its self. I found myself in a scenario I had never been in before… In my life! The customer started calling me. Inside the phone-a-ton company, the developer sat down with the Director of IT and did a full comprehensive demo of the Vonage/BroadSoft softphone along with click to call without anyone from Vonage being involved. The Director of IT then pitched the solution to the owners who shortly after seeing the demo called my cell phone.
“Hello this is Spencer,” I said. The owner of the phone-a-thon service informed me of his title and said he was calling because he just witnessed a demo of an integrated softphone in their home-grown CRM and wanted to know more. Based on our conversation he was both impressed and relieved to say the least.
In a matter of a few days, with the help of the developer, we successfully designed a more robust click to call phone-a-thon service then the company had built in all their years of being in business.
Our conversations changed. We were no longer discussing competitive SIP pricing. Instead, I was meeting with the Chief Architect of Vonage, Sanjay Srinivasan, along with a third-party PCI audit team to provide documentation to the phone-a-thon service informing them the Vonage network was both reliable and secure.
Once all the boxes were checked there was only one thing left to discuss, price, and I knew I was in a great place. In my first year of working for Vonage, I did my best to befriend everyone I could. Whether it was approaching the CEO, Alan Masarek at a happy hour and switching my name tag with his or sending donuts to the VP of Finance, Craig Wert. At the time, my goal was to make as many friends as I could.
When the moment came around when I needed a favor, for example, a price break, I called my good friend Craig. To paint an accurate picture, not everyone could call Craig. As the VP of Finance, he had a team of people that would handle pesky phone calls from sales folks regarding discounts. Craig’s time was reserved for only the upper echelon of financial conversations. Conversations that were above my pay grade. To this day, I am convinced the only reason Craig would take my phone calls is that I was grateful for what he did and would just maybe brown nose a little bit (Craig, if your reading this we need to catch up).
It was time to get a deal done! One call to rule them all. From speaking with the owner in the past, I had had a hunch that it was going to be a tough negotiation and he may ask for things that I couldn’t approve, so I assembled the dream team.
The dream team consisted of 2 people, my good friend to this day, Sales Engineer extraordinaire, Adel Abotteen and arguably the most tenacious high energy guy I have ever met, VP of Sales, Kevin Thomsen.
The call lasted maybe 10 minutes. Some of the longest 10 minutes of my life. The entire call was negotiating the price and we had all the power, or so I thought. Not only did we have our softphone built into their software but we also knew to the dollar what they were spending each month from our SIP conversations. On Kevin’s recommendation, I even built an elaborate ROI document with graphs depicting amortized monthly savings off of their P&L.
Then the worst possible thing happened. We had spent a very intense 10 minutes negotiating the price and the call ended. NO DEAL.
We had spent the 10 minutes negotiating the price back and forth until we reached Craig’s floor. When we hit the floor, my heart sunk. We could not discount the price any more and we had not reached an agreement. As the phone call came to an end the customer threw out a last-ditch number that would win the deal. Then click, the call was over.
The last-ditch number that the customer threw out was .15 cents lower than Craig’s floor. I looked at Kevin Thomsen who had a huge smile on his face and asked him "is he really going to throw everything down the drain over .15 cents?" (Side Note: Kevin is always smiling) Within the same minute of the call ending, I was back on the phone with Craig and my fait was in his hands.
Craig Approved! I called the customer back, agreed to his terms, and by the end of the day I had a flight booked to go close the deal in person.
The contract value of the deal was over half a million dollars, included a minimum of 1,000 monthly users, and resulted with the CEO Alan Masarek reporting it on a quarterly earnings call with Wall Street.
All because of click to call integration. Since the deal, I was promoted 2 times and offered other promotions, built long-lasting relationships, and left Vonage to start a software company. While I am no longer a Vonage employee I enjoyed my time there.
I learned a lot from the click to call phone-a-thon deal and now I focus my time driving sales for an amazing service provider out of McKinney Texas called Netrio and building my software company that focuses on, you guessed it, integration.
Netrio is a managed service provider and AT&T partner who offers tools like SD-WAN, NOC as a service, SIP, high-speed bandwidth, and manage infrastructure to enterprise customers. At one point, prior to me joining, Netrio was one of the finalists to be the Network Operations Center for a company call iCore which would later be acquired by Vonage. Small world. (Chuck Canton if you are reading this I would love to revisit that conversation)
Loup, my software startup, connects a wide variety of cloud phone systems to Google Chrome to perform tasks like CRM screen pops and one of my personal favorites click to call. Today we just past over 100 active subscribers and are starting to see a steady growth due to partnering with PBX resellers.
In summary, closing the phone-a-thon deal was one of the pivotal moments of my earlier career and helped define not only who I am as a salesperson but also shape where I am going in the future.
Thank you for reading my story. If you found it interesting or know any of the people mentioned above please share. Thanks again.