Andy Whyte interviews the EMEA founder Thibaut Ceyrolle from the Unicorn-growth technology company, Snowflake. Andy picks Thibaut’s brain for advice concerning how to find and hire the elite sellers. They discuss what made him and Snowflake successful in the Decision Criteria with the buyer and how to effectively get Champions to fight for you. Tune in to discover why trust, knowing when to say no, and integrity is critical in selling and see what you can find to help you sell even more!
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Key takeaways (with timings):
(01:02) Thibaut introduces himself and goes into his past in the software industry. While he is also discussing the need to acquire skills in entrepreneurship. Overall, being more hands-on and practical.
(08:53) Then Thibaut delves into how one progresses in one’s career and advancing oneself to the next level from the mentorship of a professional, and a change of work atmosphere. Thibaut adopted the mantra of, “words on what I think was right – but in a more structured way.”
(14:01) Here Thibaut talks about the importance of practicality and personalization – of adapting processes and frameworks to existing ground floor work being carried out. Being open to change and not just understanding what MEDDPICC is, but practically using it.
(17:35) The importance of the individual contributor and of the individual salesperson. Overall adopting an entrepreneurial mindset. Do not be afraid to go to Ikea to buy the furniture for your office. The HR department, business plans, and all the top-level aspects can come later.
(21:03) How Thibaut built up his team at Snowflake. The importance of trust within the organization and the motivational factor of trust towards the sales team/person. Thibaut stresses the value of getting Champion Builders and their importance in the sales process overall.
(27:08) Here Thibaut elaborates on the significance of trust. And how in many instances, people decide just as much with their heart as with their mind. To sell emotionally, as well as rationally. This segment also goes into hiring Champion Builders who have the right mindset of changing the world. In essence, a disruptor’s mindset is key to elite selling. The salespeople you hire are willing and able to take risks and shake things up.
(31:29) The motivational factors of the right mindset for salespeople and specifically Champion and Relationship Builders. Getting retentive business and consistent sales from the same clients is essential. You want disruptive/transformative people – thought leaders.
(38:33) How to adapt and reintroduce Decision Criteria to go through. How designing the Decision Criteria to the individual prospective buyer leads to positive outcomes. Here saying “no” to the client and then reworking the Decision Criteria needed to go through if the prospective client misunderstands the solution on offer. This is difficult and is why you need Champion Builders.
(41:39) Which Decision Criteria strategies that Snowflake and Thibaut carry out to experience the kind of Unicorn-growth that Snowflake has experienced. Thibaut talks about elite salespeople finding immense value in building a lasting – retentive – relationship with prospective buyers. Additionally, they discuss what Snowflake and Thibaut did in the reworking of the Decision Criteria for the client. Thibaut says to not compare, “apple to apple, but apple to apple pie.” Your solution is different – your product simply does not compare to the competitors. Lastly, Thibaut speaks about how an elite salesperson can pivot the conversation in the comparison with competitors and offer alternative solutions to the prospective buyer’s problems. The elite seller is not afraid of pushing back. Overall, the importance of being a Thought Leader – being active in inspiring change. Prospective buyers trust Thought Leaders, Disruptors, and Champion Builders.
(46:33) The hiring process at Snowflake, and Thibaut’s advice in regard to hiring salespeople. First, Thibaut suggests only utilizing a few recruiters, giving them exclusivity and trust in order to find the right people. Thibaut states, “I will recommend having limited head-hunters. Spend some time with them and ask questions about your business.” If the recruiters you hire do not know your business, company, and industry, then that is a big red flag. It is crucial to have recruiters that understand what you want and what the company wants. Because the recruiter will sift through many prospective sellers and if they cannot identify the A-people for your company, then that is a big problem.
(51:13) At the end of the interview, Thibaut goes into his interview process and what advice he can give here. Thibaut recommends delving into the prospective new salesperson’s view on the sales process, and also the future. Meaning their future in the company, their wishes for their personal future, and where they think the company will go. Get people who, “speak with honesty, think with sincerity, and act with integrity.”
Will sales platforms ever take over the elite seller?
Within management and organizational governance, a new shift has occurred in modern companies. A shift towards the individual manager – or seller – has been put front and center. Effectively seeing the individual as the value-maker within the organization rather than automated and standardized IT systems. This shift is the interpretative perspective and connects perfectly with the MEDDPICC framework and what Thibaut Ceyrolle discusses, the EMEA founder of the Unicorn software company Snowflake.
Despite that Snowflake is a technology company, Thibaut has put a paramount of emphasis on the individual seller – elite sellers. All due to the immense value that can come from elite salespeople.
But what is the interpretative perspective in detail, and what is the alternative: automated systems? Will they ever overtake elite sales teams and people?
Let us delve into it.
As mentioned, the interpretative perspective is the onus on the individual manager in the success of a business process. This could be selling, cooperating with another company partner, or internal management of employees, even cross-departmental. The main aspect is to utilize the unique know-how of the individual to generate value for the company. This incidentally also means that if the individual fails, the business fails. It is an organizational strategy that is based on trust and individual motivation.
The alternative is a standardized system or IT platform. This system is made to handle the tasks that the individual would carry out. The reasoning behind why a company would opt for an algorithmic platform is due to cost-saving measures, optimization, standardized value, and if the company has grown too big to manage its client list. It also is a bureaucratic method of ensuring a minimum level of value being carried out by the company. In a sense, it is more stable. Whereas the individual oppositely is more unstable, has ups and downs – good days and bad days. However, individuals also adapt to whatever situation is thrown their way, even thriving in whatever situation needs to be handled.
Today we see many technology multinational enterprises, such as Alphabet and its subsidiaries: Google, YouTube, and so on, that are managed by an automated system. Whereas the norm from start-ups to medium enterprises, opt for the individual – interpretative focus.
But with the automated system becoming ever more advanced, how can the individual – the elite seller – stack up? Well, Thibaut Cerolle departs his wisdom about this, stating that a strong level of trust needs to be allocated towards the individual elite seller. The focus on finding thought leaders and disruptors to sell your product is paramount. What you want are Champion Builders. And automated systems cannot do this, at least not as of this moment of writing this article.
We will expand on Thibaut’s golden words and dig a bit deeper with the MEDDPICC framework always being in the background.
Strategical Human Resource Management, or SHRM for short, has experienced a similar shift as the clash between the individual versus the IT platform escalates. Although, SHRM has pivoted towards the opposite. The focus was on seeing employees as a resource rather than a cost. What this meant was to treat each employee as valuable in generating strategic growth and financial green numbers. This, in detail, meant a shift towards goal-setting and motivational strategies on individual employees, ergo elite sellers – Champion Builders.
Motivation-tactics shifted from extrinsic; paychecks and healthcare, to intrinsic; self-realization, and value alignment between employee and company. Thibaut Cerolle’s advice is to find people you can place your trust in – sellers that have the potential to become elite sellers through the building of Champions. Thibaut says that you need sellers who are innovators and disruptors – thought leaders. Those who are not afraid to challenge the status quo and saying no to a client if they have misunderstood a crucial part in the Decision Criteria. He said it metaphorically to not compare, “apple to apple, but apple to apple pie.” Your product is not the same as your competitors. It is not for your benefit; it is for your client’s benefit. This persuasion cannot come from an algorithmic platform with a high Churn rate and a strong landing page. Because it is standardized. A platform does not know when a client has misunderstood something – it does not know when the client needs to be told no.
This mirrors that of how motivation is handled in achieving the goals laid out by the organization. Here it is about aligning the value and personal goals of the elite seller with the company. This method is even proven and rooted in the Noble prize-winning field of Behavioral Economics called Behavioral Agency Theory.  Thibaut says again that he asks prospective hires about their future considerations. What they think about the company’s future and their role in it, as well as the sales process. Thibaut is trying to gauge if there is an intrinsic alignment between his company, Snowflake, and the prospective seller in the interview chair.
What this does when hiring sellers who are intrinsically on board with the company’s product and vision statement, is they become natural elite sellers. Intrinsically they believe in the product and company, and their confidence and excitement will rub off on the client. It means that the elite seller can begin to build long-lasting relationships and make the potential buyer into a re-buyer. They can upwardly problem-solve, suggesting solutions rather than simply doing what the top says. A platform cannot do this. It can aggregate data of which a business analyst can go over. But the platform itself cannot locate areas that need problem-solving. It all comes down to trust in the individual super-sellers and this is what Thibaut Cerolle puts a central focus on through his Snowflake success story.
In this case, by focusing on individual sellers, an organization can adapt to rapid changes within the company’s environment. This, therefore, links directly with the Competition assessment within MEDDPICC. A sales process is never smooth – not even re-buy ones. A sales team and individual elite Champion Builders have to only receive aid by a sales IT system to handle the Paper Process. Even the Technical Decision Criteria. Not the other way around. This is because it will lead to costlier outcomes for the organization if it decides to go with a standardized IT system to handle the sales process.
Here is how.
Initially, the reasoning behind the adoption of automated sales systems is one, because of the increasing advancement of the systems themselves. And two, such a system seems to have better costs benefits than a team of full-time elite sellers.
Well, this is not the case due to one thing: relationships and Champion building.
A platform has a difficult time developing the interpersonal aspects of selling. The importance of generating relationships and Champions within the potential buyer’s organization is essential. A buyer should be turned into a re-buyer, and only an elite seller can do this. Likewise, as we all know, most sales fall flat – not in the initial pitch, the negotiation process, not even in the interaction with the Economic Buyer – no, in the Paper Process. An elite seller can coordinate better if a shift in buyer’s management has occurred or hidden legal aspects were found. Sales fail in the pushing of the paper and the bureaucracy attached. So in the collaboration between the elite seller and a sales funnel system, this Paper Process can be optimized and minimize the risk of the sale falling flat. Not only can a lost sale waste your time and your company’s time, but it can also waste the buyer’s time.
Initially, an IT sales platform seem more cost-efficient. But in reality, of opportunity costs and the strategical long-term value, it is more financially viable to have an elite sales team.
This brings us to the most crucial part of elite individual sellers: Champion building.
Customers who only buy once are valuable. But customers who come back and buy again are absolutely invaluable.
The only way to turn a prospective customer into a loyal customer is through the actions and tactical know-how of an elite seller. Both in how the relationship with the key buyer is being handled, but also building a rapport with the Economic Buyer and beginning to identify the gatekeepers. Even the crucial third party within the buyer’s organization that has a lot of clout but officially is not on the sales papers. This takes time, patience, and delicate work which will be achieved through Champions within the buyer’s organization.
This is only realized through trust in the elite seller to achieve this relationship. And that they indicate and implement the Pain Points for the buyer, so the seller is taken seriously.
They will indicate how much money the buyer is losing each month by not having what your product offers. Thibaut discusses this, and in his case, this took place in the early days of Snowflake when their services were unproven. The elite seller must sell with their heart rather than their brain – emotionally as opposed to rationally.
All of this is easier said than done since when dealing with significant purchases, social proof is needed. This is why the aforementioned Pain Points must be laid forth and why Thibaut said again to not compare against alternatives, competitor or not.
See, through this relationship and Champion building, the elite seller must be an honest individual who is heard when they speak. Thibaut concludes the interview by saying, get people who, “speak with honesty, think with sincerity, and act with integrity.”
An advanced self-learning sales platform simply cannot achieve this. It is an excellent companion for the elite seller in acting as a communication channel, Paper Processing hub, and streamlining the sales process. However, such a platform can never take over the immediacy, adaption on the fly, and relationship-building capabilities as an elite Champion Building seller can.
So how did Thibaut then manage to get such crucial individuals into Snowflake when they were just an unproven start-up with no legitimacy?
Thibaut says, “I will recommend having limited head-hunters. Spend some time with them and ask questions about your business.”
See, many companies employ multiple recruiters under the rationale that different head-hunters can attract more people. And more people mean a higher likelihood of the right ones getting hired for their business. This logically makes sense, but Thibaut has a different view. He has tracked Snowflake’s success in getting the right people through only utilizing one recruiting company and focusing on them. Here you need to make sure that the recruiters know the company in and out. Since then, they can pick the right A-lister out of the greater pool of applicants. It essentially all goes back to trust and understanding.
What we can learn from the interview with Thibaut Ceyrolle is that the value is still and will always be on the individual elite seller.
Yes, already advanced sales-funnel platforms have become ever more advanced due to their self-learning algorithms. But they will never be able to do what an individual elite seller can do.
They cannot build long-lasting relationships with buyers, nor can they convince a prospective champion to become a champion. Platforms cannot perform bottom-up problem solving, or even identify them. They can aid the elite seller in the Paper Process, as well as the communication and safe sharing of files between the elite seller and buyer.
It therefore all goes back to trust and finding the right disruptors, innovators, champion builders – elite salespeople. And the way Thibaut intelligently went about it was to find the people who understand to not compare and knows when to correct the buyer – thinking and adapting on the fly.
Technology is a wondrous thing of the present, but elite salespeople will never go away.
 Pepper A, Gore J. Behavioral Agency Theory: new foundations for theorizing about executive compensation. J Manage 2015;41:1045–68. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206312461054.