Executive Interview: Andy Stearns, Head of Commercial Card Acquisitions, Capital One

The new pandemic-induced selling model has created exponential opportunities for innovation as well as altered performance and incentive benchmarks.

Listen as Dave Eddleman, principal at Alexander Group, interviews Andy Stearns, head of commercial card acquisitions at Capital One, about his perspective on selling in the virtual world and whether the zoom-based model is here to stay.

Their discussion dives into the upsides of the hybrid selling model, the new approach to selling as well as the need for infrastructure to support communication and talent retention.

Visit the Business Services practice page or contact Alexander Group to learn more.


Full Transcript:

Dave Eddleman: Hey everybody, thanks for joining. I’m Dave Eddleman with the Alexander Group, and I’m here with Andy Stearns, Vice President, Capital One bank head of sales for B2B payments. We’re going to be talking about selling in the virtual world today and specifically how the pandemic has really changed the playing field in terms of how sellers interact with their clients and sellers interact with their prospects. So I’ve got a handful of questions to ask Andy, but before we get started. First of all, Andy, thank you so much for joining today really appreciate it. And if you could just give us a little bit about your background and then your current role bank, that’d be great.

Andy Stearns: Sure. Thanks, Dave, and thanks for having me. Pleasure to be here. So a quick career background on me. I’ve been in the B2B payments commercial payments space for coming up on 17 years now. The last six of those have been with Capital One and I’ve been a part of the leadership team in our B2B payments group and have been specifically tasked with building and leading our sales and acquisitions organization across the country. And so today I lead our various sales channels, as well as all the support teams around sales effectiveness, sales analytics, compensation and so forth for the B2B payments business here at Capital One.

Dave Eddleman: In general, way back in the beginning of 2020, the world sort of stopped and sellers then began to sit behind these types of cameras and interact with clients and prospects. How do you think sales teams across the industry reacted to this? And also how have they adopted and also a little bit of client adoption as well?

Andy Stearns: Yeah, I think in the very early days, we, like everyone else, wasn’t quite sure what was going on out there in the world. And so we took a very hard pause to our sales efforts. One to keep our associates safe and we asked everyone to stay home, but also to respect what our clients were going through and as they dealt with adapting. And so for a period of time in the first half of 2020, we entirely ceased outbound sales efforts in addition to pulling the team out of the market physically. I think in the very early days, all of us were scratching our head. I think sales folks were no different trying to understand what the future would look like, what their role would look like. I think all of us at the time also underestimated how long this would go on for. And s I think our initial plans to think about how we would sell virtually very quickly turned into how would we make permanent changes to our sales process. And so our big focus in the early days was driving engagement, keeping people informed about what was happening, keeping them up to speed on the changes we were making and investing in their development during that downtime as we pivoted the organization to be much more remote in our approach to going-to-market.

Dave Eddleman: Yeah, it’s just a lot different than going out to a conference room and getting two hours of time, bringing lunch in and all of that, so probably the sum of the value messaging is the same. In fact, I’m sure that it is. But in terms of the number of interactions, the length of the interactions, who might be on from both sides, but especially from the bank side. And so we kind of look at that as revenue operations or sales operations. How has that really changed the process and how do you go-to-market and how the sales process is and how is it being tracked differently?

Andy Stearns: Yeah. It’s a great question, Dave. For our business pre-pandemic, we were essentially 100% in-person selling. Our prospecting activities, the majority of them happened on the phone, but we also were in the market knocking on doors and checking in on prospects live. And then all of our sales activities in terms of first appointments and follow-up appointments happened in person. Fast forward to today, even as we’ve created opportunities for folks to be back in person when it’s safe in their markets, we’re finding that both clients and sellers are preferring Zoom. And so we have really rethought our sales process in a virtual world, in a zoom-driven world. And while I think we’ve probably lost some effectiveness of that in-person connection, we’ve we believe we picked up effectiveness. Examples of that are a sales manager who has a team across six states can now be co-riding on an appointment in three different states in the same day. And so they’ve been able to support their associates better, provide better coaching. So that’s one example. For our salespeople, we used to have folks driving three hours to get to a first appointment, only to find out in the first 10 minutes that the customer was not interested, it was the wrong time. And so we would waste six hours of time in an associates day. Today, we really advise that our sales folks, virtually, understand what the customer is looking for, where the customer is in their buying journey, and then use the follow-up appointments to be in person if necessary and appropriate. So we’ve adapted to allow our entire process to be virtual if that’s what the associate in the prospect and the client desire. And we’ve created some flexibility for folks to have in-person interactions when it makes sense. But we really do think we’ve seen plenty of examples of places we are more effective selling today than we were when we were 100% in the field.

Dave Eddleman: All right, so the workload models have changed quite a bit. Also too in the rules of engagement. So I knew in a lot of sales models there’s lead gen or a qualification process involved. And there’s also an adoption implementation team as well. How is that? I mean, do you think that sort of rules engagement has also been able to change? Because now all of a sudden, I can have more from my team, not just my first-line sales manager, but also others involved in the calls, which frankly could increase their bandwidth, but also maybe increase the effectiveness of driving more revenue.

Andy Stearns: So I think what we’ve seen shifting to a virtual selling model, particularly in the upmarket segments, we are able to bring more players across the value chain to share more value with the customer or the prospect early in the selling cycle that we never would have been able to do before. I think it’s raised our credibility to have a sales associate be able to bring a technical seller, a customer success manager and implementation associate, maybe a customer manager to that that selling process and really share the full value of the partnership and demonstrate that live has been a great add to our ability to sell. We’ve also seen salespeople collaborating together where one has industry expertise in a place that another selling. And we’ve been able to do not just the manager and the associate, but peers out selling together to deliver more value to our prospects.

Dave Eddleman: No, that makes a lot of sense. And I think in some instances, we’re going to grow too comfortable with this model. And one of our hypotheses is that if your competition is now booking the conference room and doing lunch, you’re going to feel quite compelled to be there in person. So there’s probably going to be a switchback when this pandemic calms down a little bit. What, however, do you think might stick? That is to say that I won’t get that first initial meeting might be there, but the second follow-up, the third follow-up, if you have such a thing or even the first lead gen that might still be virtual. That might be sort of the new normal. What’s your view on the snapback in the new normal?

Andy Stearns: Yeah, I’ve been proven wrong on this. So we probably I guess about nine months now have actually created a policy to allow our salespeople to interact in person with customers in their market, and it’s been an optional opportunity for them. They don’t have to do it, they can continue to sell remotely. My expectation early on was that people would rush back into the market and we were worried that we would lose productivity because associates were so tired of sitting in their spare bedroom that they wanted to get out and see customers. What we’ve seen in reality is a very measured approach. Associates are out, they are traveling to see customers, but they’re being really thoughtful around when they do it, why they do it and making sure that it’s adding value to the sales process. You know, if I fast forward to calmer times, my expectation is that a lot of our prospecting activities are going to remain virtual. We won’t be doing as many go knock on doors and drop off fruit baskets we will really be focused on targeting the right prospects and doing our legion activities remotely. Particularly in folks with distributed territories, I think we’ll continue to see that needs assessment upfront to happen virtually. If I’m a seller trying to prioritize my time, spending a bunch of windshield time to go out on an unknown kind of needs assessment to me seems like a place that I wouldn’t invest my time. And I’d much prefer to do even a 15-minute consultation via Zoom prior to driving out and meeting that prospect in person. That said, I really do believe we will continue to see an increase as things calm down of both the follow-up activities where we’re demonstrating value, doing a product demo, those types of things to be in person. Then you hit on it earlier client entertainment. I think there’s one of the things we’ve all lost is the ability to connect one on one with other people. And so our customers are craving that connection as well and want to work with partners that are there for them. And so I think we will see those types of things come back online, hopefully in the near future.

Dave Eddleman: Yeah, that’s really smart. Last question has to do with sort of maybe a newer segmentation model. We’re seeing this across a lot of different industries. Where what was previously inside sales and then we move to mid-market, that inside sales segment has really increased. So a lot of the mid-markets have come inside. Now that everybody’s inside, there’s sort of a new comfort level. So this is going to allow sort of a different or reassignment of accounts. You have any ideas on that in the industry?

Andy Stearns: Yeah. We’re looking at a couple of things and I think they’re probably consistent across the industry and probably across multiple industries. One is the virtual environment has allowed us to do a lot of testing and really understand what the best processes are. When you have folks out running around the market, it’s much more difficult to track their activities and understand where the effectiveness is coming from. And so that’s allowed us to invest in places like centralized prospecting, sales development teams and do more testing in that space. And so I think we’ll see some of the benefits and comfort, both from a sales perspective and from a prospect perspective in virtual interactions allow us to be more effective prospecting remotely and in a centralized way. I think the other thing for us that we’re looking at is this new comfort level around virtual selling. Does it allow us to go after secondary and tertiary markets, which may have been not dense enough for us to invest in a sales resource in that market? So allow us to cover 100% of the country, some of that remotely, some of that in person and be much smarter around how we deploy resources across the country.

Dave Eddleman: Yeah, that’s really great. And we’re seeing that again. We are more than anything else, a re-segmentation of markets and those that were undiscovered because we thought we had to be there in person are no longer the case. And we’ll see what happens with the new normal. Anything else, Andy, in this domain of virtual selling you want to mention?

Andy Stearns: Yeah, I think the last thing I would add, and it’s one that we’ve been very focused on over the last two years, and I don’t think it’s just a sales thing. I think it’s all job families. But the importance of really making sure that your organization and your infrastructure are built in a way that allows you to connect with your associates remotely. I think for us, the ability to lead through the pandemic, we’ve leveraged technology, we leverage constant communication. We’ve leveraged silly things like game shows and other things to engage the team in a world where pre-pandemic we would get the team together every quarter and have an off-site and invest in training in those things. And so you would get those kinds of injections of interpersonal interactions on the team. There are folks on the team I haven’t seen in two years. And so we’ve spent a lot of time investing in that communications infrastructure and the associated engagement and retention infrastructure. And so I think those are going to be really important trends for folks to pay attention to. The other thing that’s top of mind for me every day is the talent market. I think the other thing that’s happened with the virtual world is every employer can have every job candidate as a target in every market in the country. And so you don’t have to live in that city or this city. And so we’ve seen an increasingly competitive job market. And so investing in retention programs, investing in your associates is more important than ever. And thinking about how do you create more flexible work routines for incoming associates who maybe are searching that out in this new job market. And so I think our ability to be flexible and adapt to that environment from a talent perspective will be a real enabler of sales team success going forward.

Dave Eddleman: Oh, yeah, that’s really smart. I mean, we’ve seen a 2X plus increase in turnover because, as you say, it’s so easy. So to reinvest in that, hey, we’re going to get a connection. The only connection you have with us is not just the camera on your laptop. So really, really great insights. Well, Andy, thank you so much again for spending the time with us. Really great insights. Very interesting conversation. And we will see you soon.

Andy Stearns: Thanks, Dave. I appreciate it.

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