I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan VanElslander, VP of Sales at Ekos. Ryan is an experienced Sales Leader with a highly successful sales background across multiple industries. A proven leader with the innate ability to lead, motivate and produce high producing sales teams. He has a passion for training and developing people to be the greatest version of themselves. In the 18+ years he’s been in sales, his experience includes owning and selling his own startup, rising the ranks from top individual contributor to Sales Director at Zenefits, and as the VP of Sales for Wisely, he helped skyrocket their revenue leading to a 20x multiple ($200M) acquisition.
Ryan does not consider himself your typical sales leader. Meaning, you won’t find him pounding his chest and screaming “Let’s Go!” up and down the sales floor. He’s studied how to truly inspire Total Motivation (ToMo) in salespeople which both aligns them with the company mission and allows them to achieve things they never thought possible. He is a leader that is “in it” with my team and is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work.
Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for inviting me. Looking forward to the conversation.
What’s motivated you to take the career path that you’ve chosen?
I think like many people in sales, I kind of just fell into it. My degree was in Physiology so not exactly what I went to college for but I had some friends that graduated before me who went into sales and they all really seemed to really enjoy it. They loved the income potential and freedoms that came with it. Back then, sales was a different game than it is today but glad I ended up going in this direction!
How are you utilizing the platform that you’ve achieved to help others?
I’m all about coaching and developing young sales talent to be the best salespeople they can be. It’s one thing I tell aspiring sales managers, that you better get your job enjoyment out of watching and helping others succeed because leadership doesn’t get all the accolades top performing IC’s get. When I made the jump to management, I found it motivated me to watch my team win as much, if not more than seeing my own name in blinking lights at the top of dashboards. While my role at the VP level is a lot of strategy and process, I still love digging in with the team and helping in the day to day and winning deals as much as I can.
When you get to your desk every morning what exact results are you wanting to achieve whether it’s internally or externally?
I start everyday with reviewing all my tasks and picking the top two or three that reign in priority. While I want to knock out as much of my checklist as I can, I feel like I “won” the day if I take care of these bigger rocks of my to-do list. In sales, of course there’s a revenue component I hope to achieve everyday, but a million things go into ensuring the revenue comes consistently so as a leader, you need a balance of thinking big and long term while still knocking out the short term priorities right in front of you.
While outcomes are all that really matter, I do believe it’s the inputs that drive them. I think it’s important to take the extra time though to drill into what actually matters. For example, it’s easy to look at activity metrics and enforce things like dials and emails but if you aren’t looking at an individual reps close rate to determine how much pipeline that specific rep needs to determine how many outbound meetings they need to set to determine how many people they need to speak with in order to book a meeting which determines how many calls they need to make. Those conversion metrics are what matters, not just volume of phone calls many leaders resort to and enforce. It’s also how you can coach to the problem most effectively.
If you could wave a magic wand, what would you put in place to overcome your biggest challenges or obstacles to achieve your goals?
An executive assistant! Just kidding, but man that would be nice.
You’re on top of a mountain – how do you climb higher? For example, how do you achieve more revenue? How do you build a better company culture? How do you pull others up to where you are?
It all comes down to the basics. I’ve worked at several companies now and the top sales performers at each generally fit a similar mold. They are organized, follow best practices and processes, are coachable, they work hard, they have positive attitudes, and they experiment and try new things. Of course there are always the outliers that get it done while seemingly doing nothing right but those are the exceptions to the rule. I think culture and revenue are often tied together. If you focus on a great sales culture, people generally enjoy their jobs and work harder which leads to high performance. There is a great book by Neall Doshi called ‘Primed To Perform’ which has been one of the more influential books I’ve read that changed my leadership mentality and shaped me as a leader. ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink goes hand in hand with that as well so I’d encourage leaders or aspiring leaders to read them back to back.
In sales, whether you are an individual contributor, a sales manager, director, or VP, the learning never stops. You should always be challenging yourself, questioning status quo’s and seeking coaching from talented people around you. You should also always be reading so you aren’t just learning from and getting insights from those in your inner circle.
As to pulling up others around you, it all comes back to coaching and what motivates you as a leader. One of my former bosses once told me that the true test of sales leadership is how many who’ve reported to you have been promoted and/or have achieved successes in their careers. I think that’s totally true and something I think of often. Even if that means they get promoted off my team and that might hurt, I’ve done my job and something for the greater good.
Who has been impactful to you on your journey? What, “words of wisdom,” or, “quotes,” have they passed on to you?
Oh man, so many people. I’ve held a lot of roles at several different companies over the last 18 years since graduating college so I’ve seen what good and bad looks like. My Uncle Brian has always been a role model and father figure to me so he’s the person who’s most shaped me as the man I am today but from a career standpoint, it’s a long list… Some of the peers and managers that have impacted me most have been Kelli Morrison, Kara McGuire, Yann Sauvignon, Dave Rodriguez, and Jack Hatfield and from a senior leadership or exec standpoint, Jeff Hazard, Jay Fulcher, Mike Vichic, Tyler Felous, and Rachel Boyschau have all been instrumental amongst others. Honestly though, I’ve learned as much from some of the individual contributor salespeople I’ve worked with as much as I have learned from anyone. Too many to name here but I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked alongside some of the best salespeople in the world. I stand by that.
I’ve mentioned some of their words of wisdom already but in many ways I’ve modeled myself after these people. While I can’t recall all their “words of wisdom”, their actions made the impact. They lead from the front. They aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and they stay in tune with the day to day. They are open to feedback and are empathetic to the challenges and obstacles that modern day sellers deal with. Lastly, they push themselves to continually improve.
If you really need a quote to live by, I’d offer you this from the infamous Busta Rhymes: “If I ain’t gonna be part of the greatest, I gotta be the greatest myself”.
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This was very insightful. Thank you so much for joining us!