Anneke Seley, Founder, Phone Works: How Building a Now Multi-Billion Dollar Inside Sales Organization Led to Starting My Own Business

Anneke has been a champion of innovative sales thinking for over twenty years. She is the founder of Phone Works, a sales strategy and implementation services firm with unique expertise in phone/Web/social selling. Phone Works has helped over 400 clients increase revenue at decreased cost using Sales 2.0 practices – measurable, predictable, scalable selling combined with better engagement with customers.

Anneke is the coauthor of Sales 2.0: Improve Business Results Using Innovative Sales Practices and Technology.

Starting her career as the 12th employee at Oracle, Anneke was the was the company’s first female sales executive and designer of its now multibillion dollar global inside sales organization. Anneke is honored to be the most recent recipient of the AA-ISP’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

She is the founder of the Telebusiness Alliance, and is involved with Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), and the blogger advisory board for Social Media Today’s “The Customer Collective” online community.

We spoke to Anneke about how she built the best-performing inside sales team in the software industry; which aspects of corporate culture she sought to emulate when she founded her own company; and her social media predictions for the next five years.

TNW: What was the inspired moment that led you to launch Phone Works?

AS: A company was recruiting me that I wanted to help but I didn’t want to join full time. With the encouragement of a mentor, I realized I could offer innovative sales approaches, skills and experiences not often found in in-house sales and marketing teams by starting a sales strategy and implementation services company. I was inspired by the fact that rather than accepting another sales executive position, by building a services company, I would have the ability to bring measurable economic success to a greater number of companies during the course of my career.

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company?

Our business is helping clients succeed with today’s buyers, many of whom are moving rapidly to online education and technology-enabled phone/Web/social communication. Our methodology is data and metrics-based and enabled by technology. Finally, we are a virtual company with a remote workforce that depends on technology to operate.

How important is technology? Without it, we wouldn’t have a company!

TNW: How does Phone Works distinguish itself from the competition?

AS: None of the best-known management or strategy consulting firms have operational background in inside or hybrid (combination inside and field) sales. This is our most important differentiator.  We have built, managed, and grown some of the most successful phone and Web-based sales organizations in the world: designed the strategy and organizational structure, hired and trained the people, developed the processes, implemented the technologies, integrated the groups with marketing, the field and other sales channels, sold the concepts internally, figured out compensation to encourage teamwork without sacrificing margin…. This is a rare and specialized skill set. 

TNW: What is next for Phone Works? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

AS: Phone Works will be renamed and repositioned in the next two months (stay tuned!). We are in the process of launching new services including Reality Check that for the first time will offer clients not only access to the sales data and metrics we have gathered for the past twenty years with over 400 clients but also a measurable view of how they compare to best-performing companies similar to theirs along with prioritized recommendations for improving results. We need technology to capture and analyse all this information and make it meaningful and customized for each client. 

TNW: You designed and built OracleDirect, arguably the best-performing inside sales department in the history of the software industry. When you built the team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure its success?

I looked for people who were well above average in intelligence and creativity who were eager and open to learning new things, had an affinity for technology, and were unwilling to fail.

One of my early employees, Marc Benioff (Founder and CEO of salesforce.com), is a perfect example.

TNW: Under your leadership, inside sales teams have performed outstandingly well. Which leadership lessons would you like to pass on to business owners looking to bring the very best out of their team members?

AS: Hire well in the first place (see #5), compensate generously, set clear, measurable expectations, focus on motivation and retention that is customized to the employee, remove obstacles to success or motivation, create an environment that strikes a balance between competition and collaboration, supply performance data and metrics to drive a self-motivated team to excel, “counsel out” poor performers quickly. 

TNW: If you had to distil your book “Sales 2.0: Improve Business Results Using Innovative Sales Practices and Technology” into three key lessons, what would they be?

AS:

  1. Buying and selling have changed in the past twenty years. Today’s reality requires successfully and consistently using data, metrics, process and technology to achieve improved business results.
  2. Restructuring sales and marketing approaches to customers using phone/Web/social (“inside sales”) lead generation and selling can significantly improve revenue, profitability, productivity, competitive positioning and customer retention.
  3. There are countless examples of proven successes with Sales 2.0 in companies of all sizes across industries. Some of these companies, including Oracle and Cisco WebEx, are profiled in the book.

TNW: Which aspects of life in an IT corporation did you look to emulate when you founded your own business, and which were you determined to do differently?

My corporate life taught me to hire the best, demand excellence and accountability and have a keen sense of urgency. These are the aspects I seek to emulate.

I was determined, however, to do away with the countless hours needed to sell proven good ideas internally in order to change the status quo.

TNW: You are involved with Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2.) Which environmental issues would you like to see entrepreneurs tackle in the next 5 years?

AS: I am passionate about E2’s mission, which is tying economic benefits like job creation, cost reduction and revenue generation to good environmental policy. In the next 5 years, I would like to see more entrepreneurs follow “Sales 2.0” practices – those we design and implement for our clients. This will benefit the environment by taking more cars off the road and flying fewer airplane miles while reducing sales cost and improving people’s family lives while still serving customers well.

TNW: Do you have a prediction on how businesses will be using social media in five years time?

AS: We are working with companies today who are testing and measuring the results of using social media in sales and marketing in a variety of ways. These include:

  • one-to-many outreach for both branding and demand generation purposes(to drive inbound marketing)
  • profiling and researching individuals and their companies to understand potential opportunities and customize messaging for either targeted outbound prospecting or follow-up to inbound leads
  • one-to-one communication with prospects and customers as an alternative and possible preference to e-mail or the phone

My prediction is that in five years, those businesses that confirm that their buyers are engaging with social media in the sales process and can track the outcomes and results of their social selling initiatives will have an unfair advantage over competitors that haven’t figured out how to use (or measure) new media. Furthermore, those businesses that can scale proven social selling practices across their sales organizations and make them part of a multimedia communications process will be that much further ahead. In the future, improved social technology will facilitate this by making the tracking and integration with existing systems much easier than it is today.

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN?

AS: Women are great at openly asking questions, sharing information and comparing notes about their businesses.

Having access to a high quality, trusted network of peers – in addition to key executives at Dell - is invaluable. DWEN, through its unparalleled global events and engaged online community is one of the best.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our readers?

AS: We would like to offer DWEN members access to our free Reality Snapshot*, which reveals a comparison of their business to others like theirs (e.g. by size, ASP, industry, geo) on key sales and marketing KPIs (data and metrics).

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

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