People > Processes: An Interview with Russell Van Leuven, Senior Director of Sales at DiscoverOrg

By: Teresa Weirich

March 21, 2018

By now, you’ve probably read along with our first several People > Process posts including featured sales superstars Melissa Gindling, AE at Levementum, Simon Mutlu, Large Enterprise Accounts at Slack, and most recently, Ally Brettnacher, Senior Account Executive at Sigstr. As we’ve shared all along, our goal for these articles is to highlight the incredible work that these unsung heroes do day in and day out as it relates to helping their prospects uncover new solutions, creating strong relationships with customers, and even building winning sales teams. Each of these individuals has one thing in common: they strive to do their best work and to have sales conversations that matter every single day, no matter what.

We continue along in our People > Processes series with our sixth article featuring Russell Van Leuven, Senior Director of Sales at DiscoverOrg, a marketing and sales intelligence solution. Russell took quite an unusual path into sales and, as you’ll read on to learn, he soon realized that his sense of genuine curiosity and desire to treat each prospect as an individual was second nature to him. As Russell has excelled in sales from quite literally the ground up of DiscoverOrg, his story is one that is completely relatable and should serve as inspiration for even those just starting out in sales. His aptitude for always putting customers first has served him well and is one of the primary reasons that he’s been with his company as it scaled from just a handful of people working out of their homes to the thriving 500+ person, multi-geography office that it is today, 10 years later.

Be Willing to Get Uncomfortable

Russell thanks luck and circumstances for getting him into sales as early on in his career, he made his living through various odd jobs: Craigslist gigs, outsourced jobs, and even insurance sales. When one of his childhood friends told Russell about DiscoverOrg, a new business he was creating, he offered Russell yet another side gig—one in which Russell would spend many nights in front of his tv sending emails, sorting spreadsheets, and combing LinkedIn hoping to land a deal for the startup, and therefore a commission check for himself. When 4 months later Russell received his first commission check (about $4,000), he described it is “life-changing money” that later led to him accept a full-time job with the company and move from Arizona to Columbus, Ohio, to work with the rest of the team.

While the sales team wasn’t exactly organized until several years later, Russell trained new sales professionals and showed them the ropes of how to conduct discovery, how to prove data-driven value to prospects, and ultimately how to be successful for the company.

Russell attributes his early success to his willingness to get uncomfortable with new situations and to try a multitude of different tactics—he was constantly reading and talking to others in the industry about how they were finding success. This was especially important to him as those early days of selling were during the recession in 2009, which meant that many of his contacts were leaving their organizations and technology (specifically B2B SaaS) was becoming more and more important because of the easy-to-identify ROI.

Display Genuine Curiosity During The Sales Process

Does the phrase “genuine curiosity” ring a bell? If it does, perhaps it’s because it’s become a sort of trend in our People > Processes series. Russell has learned that no prospect is the same, regardless of similar titles. The same contact isn’t even the same person today as they were yesterday. This mindset helps him to be able to use genuine curiosity to dig deeper, ask the pertinent questions, and to fully understand the challenge in which he’s trying to solve.

Not only does genuine curiosity help Russell to uncover the pain points, but it helps him to build a true partnership and to consider his prospect’s bottom line—not just his own—which is a frame of reference alteration. One of the biggest reasons that Russell believes his prospects ultimately buy from him is not only because of the genuine curiosity he displays during the discovery process and throughout the entire sales cycle, but also because of the relevant customer stories that he shares along the way. Afterall, why should his prospects take his word for it? DiscoverOrg is built on data-driven modeling, so fortunately he can share concrete examples of how an organization can obtain measurability and repeatability as it pertains to marketing and sales leads.

He shared an example of one contact that was a raving fan of DiscoverOrg. This particular customer regularly acted as a reference and even took calls from DiscoverOrg’s prospects to share his success with the platform as he had attained very clear ROI from the company’s solutions. When he left his current organization for a new opportunity, however, he simply didn’t have the budget to bring on the platform, even though he desperately wanted to. Rather than put the deal to the side, Russell and the DiscoverOrg team pulled out all of the stops to find a way to help discount the solution. In fact, the company barely broke even on the deal and Russell didn’t take any commission. But to build that relationship and to help a former customer? It was completely worth it.

Russell’s Advice: If You’re Trying to Build a Reputation, You’re Doing It Wrong!

“Reputation should be something that happens naturally and should never be forced,” Russell explained. “Prospects ultimately buy from sales professionals that they can relate to and that have shared values—not because of the articles they write or the industry ‘tips and tricks’ they provide. Simply put, believe in what you do and a positive reputation will follow.”

  • Teresa Weirich's Headshot
    Teresa Weirich

Ready to Learn More?

For more information on best practices of great sales leaders, check out the Costello resources below. If you’d like to see Costello in action, request a personalized demo of our real-time sales playbook software.