People > Processes: An Interview with Armen Zildjian, VP Sales, Drift

By: Teresa Weirich

July 23, 2018

Armen Zildjian, VP Sales, Drift

As you may have seen in our first collection of People > Processes articles, we featured mostly individual quota bearing sales professionals who serve their prospective customers relentlessly. We had such a tremendous response from our collection of 10 posts that we decided to create an ebook of the interviews so our readers could easily take their advice and apply it to their sales processes. Our goal for this series always has been and always will be to share in-depth stories and practical tips that exemplify how it’s not only possible, but why it’s in the best interest of those in sales to always prioritize people > processes.

As we continue along, we’re broadening our focus to sales leaders, VPs, and even CROs who also demonstrate these same characteristics, but in different ways as they lead teams, diligently hire, and coach their sales reps on a daily basis. The challenges they face are both similar and vastly different, as you’ll see from Armen Zildijan’s interview below.

Armen graduated from college in 1994 and, like most, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do as a career. First, he considered a legal role, but when he received his LSAT scores and weighed the pros and cons of attending law school, he ultimately decided against it. Fortunately for him, he entered the business world just as technology was beginning to take off—the beginning of the “internet boom” as we call it. Armen’s first career opportunity was as a BDR with a company that rented equipment for tradeshows. He was able to experience sales firsthand and also saw how technology could intersect with sales. From that role onwards, Armen moved through the ranks, serving across various companies including Sophos, LogMeIn, GrabCad, and Dyn (acquired by Oracle). Armen has held positions ranging from customer retention to account team management to director of sales efficiency in addition to multiple vice president roles. One of his roles even allowed him to lead sales and marketing in EMEA.

To say that Armen has experienced every level of sales roles is an understatement. From cold calling to selling enterprise accounts to retaining customers, Armen has an immense understanding of the sales process from the eyes of someone that has built programs from the ground up. So when he was offered a role as Vice President of Sales at Drift, a conversational marketing platform that helps businesses generate more leads and close deals faster using messaging, he jumped at the opportunity because he saw the incredible need for a new type of selling—precisely what Drift is all about.

Meet Buyers Where They Are On Their Journey

When we asked Armen to share how he thinks about delivering value to prospective buyers, he shared why Drift has adopted a “tour guide” approach, which came about from a Shopify podcast. “Visitors already come to your website with a certain level of understanding, explained Armen. “That’s why we now have to meet buyers where they are in the process.”

At Drift, Armen explained that his team tries to answer as many of the prospect’s questions as possible to demonstrate value (and not just try to close a deal). But why the tour guide terminology? He explained: If you were to visit Rome, you would spend weeks researching the best restaurants, the best museums, and the best activities. You may have a well-laid out plan—until you arrive and the locals tell you where you need to go for the most authentic Italian experience. By adopting a similar approach to his team’s sales process, Drift can offer guidance and support by closing the gap between the world of what the prospect has read, and the world of what Drift actually is—and only then determine if there’s value for the prospective customer.

Give Up Control To Build Trust

What can sales professionals do to build buyer trust? According to Armen, they have to give up some control in the sales process. And depending on the sales rep, this may take the form of:

  • Not barraging the prospective customer with questions out of the gate that are purely sales focused. Of course, some basic questioning is necessary in order to have a beneficial conversation, but diving straight into sales mode certainly won’t build trust.
  • Really, really listening to the prospective customer. Armen finds that often, sales reps feel like they’re listening, but they’re really just thinking about what they’re going to say next, what example they’re going to give, or how they’re going to respond to an objection.

“As sales leaders, we’re guilty of burying the modern sales rep with BANT, MEDDIC, and other tactics that we require them to get from the prospective customer. We say to our reps ‘you can’t get off the call until you capture these things about their pain points, budget, decision-making process, and so on.’ While it is key to collect as much information as possible, we must do it in a way that is conversational—not an interrogation. We must allow the prospect to have some control. It has to be mutual and it shouldn’t trigger the prospective customer to feel like they have to play a certain role,” explained Armen.

Get Involved and View Your Sales Process Through Different Lenses

Armen never wants to be a sales leader that doesn’t jump on the field to play a few innings. Armen let us in on a little secret, too: Drift believes that they can shake deals loose by using third party touches from executives. He’s found from experience that if he jumps on a video call, sends an email, or attends a meeting out of the blue and uses those interactions to let the prospective customer know that he’s involved and will personally partner with them to ensure long-term success, that they ultimately win more deals by creating more confidence.

Why does Armen feel so strongly about being in the field and jumping on calls? Of course, winning deals is a good reason. But he explained that there’s much more to it than that. “I need to hear and see the data for myself,” said Armen. “By being on sales calls, I can see how the prospect is evolving in their thinking; I can hear how our pitch changes from one sales rep to another; I can hear how reps answer questions differently. Essentially, I get to see through a lens of hierarchy as every team member’s experience is different. If I were to only rely on what my sales reps were telling me, my views would be filtered and diluted because I wouldn’t be experiencing it for myself.”

Whoever Is Closest To the Customer Wins

Drift embodies a customer-centric culture, and it’s completely evident in everything that they do. If you’ve ever interacted with one of the team’s sales professionals, marketers, or anyone else—you know it from experience. So the fact that the company’s sales mantra is, “whoever is closest to the customer wins” shouldn’t come as a surprise. How do they get close to the customer? Here are just a few of the tactical ways this plays out at Drift:

  • Answer the prospective customer’s questions before asking your own
  • Let the prospect take some (or most) of the control
  • Give away free content (ie – ebooks, whitepapers, and even webinars) without forms
  • Be super transparent about pricing and other sensitive topics

To Armen, it all comes down to this: “You’re going to win the deal on the merits you provide to the organization—not the games that you play.”

Why Drift Doesn’t Try to Oversell Customers

As a sales leader, wouldn’t you want your sales reps to sell as much as they can to every customer? Not necessarily—at least not at Drift.

“I instruct my sales team to NOT sell the biggest packages,” said Armen. “We optimize not for getting the most ACV that we can on the first deal, but for exposing the business to the value of Drift. Every day, enterprise businesses are seeing incredible results from their investments. We believe we’re generating goodwill and positive praise in the market, and that over time, the rest of the wallet share will come to us, thanks to the value we’re providing.”

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    Teresa Weirich

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