How to triple your annual growth rate (ft. Francoise Brougher, Former COO at Pinterest)
by Mohammed Shehu
Tripling growth would be a phenomenal feat for any B2B sales leader. The typical playbook to achieve this involves taking on “more” - more people, more processes, and more platforms and tools.
But as we learned from our interview with Vandana Nair, VP of Revenue Operations & GTM Strategy at Narvar, you can accelerate growth by simply removing friction from your sales process.
This is the strategy that Francoise Brougher pursued while at Google as VP of SMB Global Ad Sales and Operations, where she tripled her business unit’s growth rate from 8% to 26% a year.
We sat down with Francoise to get her thoughts on business process improvement, how to remove roadblocks from the enterprise sales process, and what her key ingredients for building successful teams are.
Who is Francoise Brougher?
A quick search for Francoise Brougher turns up a barrage of articles - some think-pieces, some hit-pieces - that focus on her ordeal as the former COO of Pinterest.
Many of the articles chronicle her journey to justice through her battle with Pinterest’s management against discrimination, her subsequent ouster, and her eventual settlement. By all indications, it was a well-won victory for the French-born, California-based tech veteran.
But what most of these articles lack - and the goal of this article today - is the wealth of information she’s gathered over the years on how to manage startups, coach teams, and improve sales processes.
Her journey through tech provides numerous insights that sales leaders can apply to their situations - whether they’re just starting out or well into their hyper-growth phase.
The true role of sales leadership
Having spent 15 years in various tech leadership roles and worked with hyper-talented people at fast-paced startups, Francoise is adamant that tech executives succeed only on the back of their teams’ success. Their main role, she emphasizes, is to enable and empower their teams in whatever way they can.
This empowerment can be through removing blockers from their workflows, coaching them at regular intervals, performing output assessments, and going to bat for them at the highest rungs of the organization.
More importantly, an executive’s job is to clarify things for their teams - simplifying complexity and defogging chaotic processes to help them deliver better outcomes.
“It’s hard sometimes for executives to think of themselves as enablers, but they must if they want to be successful.” - FB
Naturally, her working style has evolved over the years, yo-yo-ing from independent contributor roles to team player positions, but her greatest joy comes from collaborative problem-solving. This contrasts against her early days in France where she, as a female engineer in a male-dominated field, needed a competitive attitude to stand out.
“Coming to the U.S. was interesting to me because I really learned the power of problem-solving in a group. With a few people in the room, the solution is generally much better. My best workday is spending three hours with a team in front of a blackboard challenging each other.” - FB
Understand your opportunities
Francoise is particularly fond of buildings that are rustic on the outside and modern on the inside. Throughout her career, she’s carried this policy of “modernizing the inside” into different leadership roles, delivering substantial returns to her companies.
For instance, when Francoise joined Google as VP of Business Operations and Strategy, she walked into the belly of an $8bn ad machine that served SMEs and publishers across the web.
Growing at just 8% a year, Francoise’s job was clear: ramp up the growth rate, streamline ad quality policies across different segments, speed up ad approvals, and handle ad fraud and risk across the advertising behemoth.
Over her 8+ years at the company, one of the first changes she made to the sales team’s workflow was redirecting their focus towards net new customers and away from their favorites. The latter brought in no incremental sales, even though it helped maintain existing relationships.
“It’s always easier as a salesperson to go and talk to someone you have a rapport with and who is a good client of yours. But it doesn’t generate incremental revenue. Everyone needs a call, not just your favorite client.” - FB
But as you’d expect, those existing accounts offered numerous opportunities to upsell and cross-sell other Google products. This played into Francoise’s goal of increasing the portfolio coverage of each of her sales reps, calling for greater discipline and a metrics-oriented sales process.
Yet, that’s only half the story.
Improve user retention through clarity and transparency
One of Francoise’s most notable achievements was bringing more clarity, transparency, and ease of use to Google’s core sets of advertisers: SME owners and publishers trying to reach new audiences via Google’s ad platform.
The first problem to solve was informing advertisers when their ads had launched - a feature that, up until she arrived, was missing, and causing confusion among advertisers.
“When people start using AdWords, their first question is, “I cannot see my ad. Where is my ad showing?” So one of the things we did is that as soon as the ad was showing, we sent a screenshot to the advertisers.” - FB
The next step involved bringing greater transparency around ad performance, as publishers and advertisers didn’t have sophisticated tracking tools like Google Analytics back then and couldn’t figure out how to optimize their web traffic sources, ad campaigns, or conversion goals.
“AdWords needs to be optimized, like any ad product. It’s not a product you can set and forget.” - FB
The results? She left Google with a healthy 26% growth rate to its ad business - more than triple the original 8% rate.
How to win over stakeholders in the sales process
“The earlier you share your ideas with stakeholders, the better.” Francoise believes this advice is key to a faster, more iterative process that polishes outcomes as you go along - rather than waiting for the perfect moment to present your ideas to management. In the same vein, she advises against becoming too attached to your ideas, as that can slow your team’s progress.
“It’s something that people like me have a hard time with because I want to make sure everything is well done before I put it out there. I think it’s a mistake. Earlier is better. Let people give you some input - make them part of the process.” - FB
How to close clients quickly without straining your team
An engineer by training, Francoise thinks in terms of systems. Her preference at Google was to manage millions of small advertisers through the company’s ad platform, rather than deal individually with large clients who might require long approval processes, custom deal terms, and locking up resources that could be deployed elsewhere.
“I’ve learned a few things over the years. One of them is not to put all your eggs in the same basket. Big clients are sometimes difficult to close or take a long time and often require custom development.” - FB
The lesson here is to standardize your sales and development processes as much as you can to reduce the time it takes to close a deal, deploy your solution, and onboard the client’s team onto it.
Enterprise sales success boils down to timing and velocity, and the more lubricated your processes are, the faster and smoother things progress.
Build diversity into your sales culture and hiring process
There is enough variation and complexity within any audience to keep even the most well-equipped sales teams busy. By definition, then, this diversity of personas must be reflected in the team itself to allow for better ideas to emerge.
This diversity, together with transparency and direct dialogue, make up the three key aspects of a sales culture that Francoise seeks to build in any company she works with. While consensus is not always the answer, intellectual honesty and authenticity always are.
“By bringing more voices to the table, you can develop a much better product and company. It’s also important to balance it with a culture where people feel safe, and to try to get to know people beyond work.” - FB
Her hiring filter leads her to look for intellectually curious job candidates who bring collaborative leadership and operational experience. In her words, she prefers to “learn something new and insightful from someone that has experienced something, not just watched it.”
She also recommends mapping out the career growth of your employees to maximize and retain talent. In a world of globally mobile talent, opening up positions to remote workers and teams - like Momentum does with its content and engineering teams - is one way to leverage great talent.
“Who are the people you are retaining and promoting? Who is succeeding in your culture? Who are the leaders of tomorrow? How do you identify them today? It’s your role to develop them and make sure they reach their full potential.” - FB
Lead your sales team with confidence
Sales leadership requires changing how one thinks about managing teams, improving processes, and using the right tools for the job. In the competitive B2B SaaS world, this level of effectiveness and efficiency pays major dividends, as being able to close deals faster, retain more customers, and drive revenue growth can make or break careers, companies, and teams.
The right mindset begins with understanding the sales cycle and the blockers you need to remove from it. Continue reading our blog to learn how to improve your sales cycle today.