Joe Shin, Head of Western Sales (Part 2): on the future of sales and life outside of work

We have recently published part one of the interview with Joe Shin, Head of Western Sales. In that interview, he zoomed in on his experience prior to joining oVice and discussed the challenges of promoting an innovative idea to a user base that needs time to understand its benefits and application. 

In Part 2, Joe takes a walk down memory lane to talk about the evolution of sales over the last 20 years. From a team leader’s standpoint, he shares the ups and downs of leading a remote sales team and shares tips managers can implement to bring their reps to peak performance. 

Other than that, Joe gave us a glimpse into his life outside of work – interests, passion projects, and the experience of moving from the US to Japan. 

Reflections on the future of sales 

Why did you decide to work in sales?

I moved to New York and originally the idea was to go into investment banking. I had a couple opportunities at investment banks but somehow I didn’t see myself at either firm. I started to explore other options and interviewed at a company called Lanier (later bought by Ricoh), and I just clicked with the people. 

I had never imagined going into sales, I’m not really an extrovert, so it’s kind of a weird thing to call people you’ve never spoken to and try to get appointments with them. But, for whatever reason, I just saw myself working with this group. 

In the end, I felt that sales was a field where you could have a direct impact on the results of the company and have the ability to control your own income. 

As someone with an extensive background in sales, what are the key ways in which you’ve seen sales evolve? 

I’m dating myself here but sales has changed dramatically from when I started. At the very beginning of my career when I was twenty, there was literally still in-person cold calling, and card files. We had laptops but people were jumping onto docking stations to get a connection to the Internet. 

There was poor access to information — in one of the companies, we even subscribed to a real estate database to see who was renting space, and which companies were in the area. Information was scarce, a lot more depended on the sales rep who had to do the heavy lifting. It was a lot harder, and that’s probably why you had a different profile of reps, perhaps a bit tougher than sales reps now. 

The other thing that has changed dramatically is specialization. In the past, the sales rep was demand gen, SDR, and account executive — all in one. Now, most of the upfront work is done for the rep before they touch the opportunity. You have up and down integration from marketing and demand gen to the SDR, AE, and account manager. This specialization has led to a more highly optimized revenue side of the business. I would also say that people buy differently. Now buyers do a lot more research on their own — they are much more educated than they were before and there are new philosophies on how to sell to them. When I started, solution selling was dominant. After that, we have seen new methodologies come out – SPIN selling, challenger selling, and many others – but that’s a whole other discussion.

The seismic shift, however, was due to the wide-scale adoption of the Internet. Communications shifted to email first, then along came inbound. And eventually, the process evolved to where it is now with go-to-market strategy discussions like PLG vs SLG.

We could really spend hours on the topic, but let’s just say that sales has changed as much as the world has in the last 20 years. A rep today would have a hard time imagining sales in the 90s.

In your opinion, how did the development of sales tech help drive the evolution of the field? 

Technology has had a tremendous impact. In my early days, you had some people use tools like ACT for contact management, contact cadence, and activity management. However, this was not provided by the company – you had to buy it on your own.  

Then, as laptops started getting better, you started to see companies provide sales reps with proper databases which had pricing configurators and were able to give management some reporting. Then Salesforce came along and took over enterprise CRM. From there, we’ve seen continuous development in the space, with everything from marketing automation to sales execution platforms.  

Also, accessing prospect information has become much easier. The kind of information you can get out of a tool like Zoominfo is something I would’ve dreamed about twenty years ago. 

Overall, the tech has drastically improved, just like technology in general. It’s reducing the number of manual tasks that reps have to do. It’s also giving the business more data which helps you see where the problems are and allows management to make better decisions. 

The salesforce is heavily leaning towards remote work. What, in your opinion, is motivating this shift? 

Ten years ago, I was already managing a predominantly remote team, so I think the pandemic just sealed the deal. Back then we were using phones and Webex or Gotomeeting. I think that the new tools are a bit better but I wouldn’t say that that has dramatically improved the experience. What has changed is people’s attitudes – and that’s the biggest thing. 

Instead of booking a time when everybody can meet and factoring in the travel time for a 30-minute in-person introduction, it’s much easier to get on somebody’s calendar for a quick video conference. It’s a more efficient way to start the beginning of the sales process. There are definitely some benefits to in-person meetings: it’s easier to establish rapport for example but overall remote allows you to speed up the process. 

Also, the tolerance levels are much higher than they used to be. Maybe 10 years ago nobody would want to spend $100,000 without meeting you, but I think that’s not the case today. Although, for the very large opportunities, you are still going to want to go out and press the flesh. 

How would you compare in-person and online sales? 

As I mentioned before, remotely the barrier to the first meeting is much lower. If you compare “I need 30 minutes of your time for a quick video conference” versus “I’d like to meet you in person”, the first one is a much lower barrier to entry. Remote is much faster and more convenient — there’s no travel, so you can easily do 5 meetings a day. 

On the other side of it, meeting in person is a better opportunity to build relationships through client events, lunches, etc. 

These are opportunities for you to not only talk business but to also have personal conversations. So the relationship-building aspect is where in-person is definitely stronger than remote. You are not going to be on a video conference and have too much personal discussion, whereas, if you are at an in-person event, it’s easy to shift the topic of the conversation and build a closer bond with your customers. 

I think remote prospecting is easier compared to when you had to go and knock on doors, especially with the tools available now. Today’s prospecting does take a different personality type, it’s a lot more research which is probably why you have the emergence of other teams, such as data teams zeroing in on your ICPs and personas. In-person, you did get feedback and interaction, where remote, you are just staring at the screen a lot of times. But I doubt many people want to get back to field prospecting, I know I wouldn’t. 

What challenges have you faced when leading a remote sales team? 

The biggest challenge was onboarding. There were only two people in the same city as me. Everybody else would have to fly to the headquarters for a week. 

You would do the best that you could to bond with that person over the period of a week, and get them to spend time with as many people as possible, but after that, they go back to their home cities. 

In the mornings you would have a quick call with them to discuss what they were going to work on, they would shadow you on a couple of client calls, and, at the end of the day, you would have a recap call with them at the end of the day to see how things went. Other than that, the rep had to do a lot of work on their own. If they were very proactive, they would reach out to people and try to jump on as many appointments as possible. 

More likely than not, they were saving up their questions and would probably forget a few by the end of the day. There was less opportunity to interact with them. 

When you are in an office, there are a lot of things that happen naturally. New reps can overhear not just the manager but a top performer – what he’s saying on the phone or doing on a  client call. They can ask a quick question whenever they want. 

And, as a manager, you can hear them on a cold call and say “Hey, maybe next time you want to try this out”. There’s an immediacy that is lost. 

What benefits have you discovered in operating remotely?

The benefits are very high — you have a wider talent pool, you can hire from anywhere. Remote work gives you the ability to put the rep close to the customer if you are in a regional team. Finally, there’s the major benefit of flexibility. Although it’s nice to get the team together a few times a year, I think sales reps by nature like flexibility. They would rather be motivated by their revenue and income versus being trapped by the structure of an office.

In your opinion, what should remote sales teams pay attention to so that they can reach peak performance? 

Your top performers are going to be fine but finding ways to share information between the top performers and the rest of the team is critical.

The key challenge is to be diligent about finding opportunities for collaboration and learning because that is harder in a remote team. In-person, information sharing is easier, people can bounce ideas off each other without scheduling a meeting. 

Teams should gain strength from each other – feed off of each other’s energy. In remote, it’s harder so you have to find ways of creating that. 

Also, I think that managers have to be very disciplined about their cadence with their reps. You have to overcome “out of sight out of mind”, especially when it comes to your average reps because they are the ones you tend to spend less time with. 

On moving to Japan, passion projects, and ideal sales candidate

You have extensive experience working both in the US and Japan, and you have relocated to Japan as well. What motivated you to make this choice? What differences would you highlight between the Japanese and American workplace cultures? 

I am half-Japanese and I had been going to Japan for basically the better part of my adult life at least once a year, so I’ve always been drawn to the country. 

Anybody who has ever visited knows it’s a unique country, I think probably the best place to live — fantastic food, safe, orderly, everybody has manners, the streets are clean. Everything just works. From a living perspective, it’s amazing. 

On the other hand, for someone used to working in the US, there can be some frustrating aspects. Very slow to change. There’s a very structured approach that gives the country efficiency and makes things work very well but also makes it ill-equipped to deal with unique situations and emergencies. 

Anything out of the box — and everything stops. We saw that in the very early stages of the pandemic and you see it in many other aspects of business in Japan. 

The business trends, such as DX or SaaS, take off a few years later than the rest of the world. The perfect example is Sony, one of my all-time favorite companies. If you think about it, they should be where Apple is now. They had the content, the devices — they could be dominating today’s market but were just too slow to make the change. Unfortunately, this is the case for the country as a whole – in the 80s, it was looked at as the country leading innovation, and now much less so. 

As somebody who has a Japanese cultural background, I really hope that the tide can be turned. I would love to see the country get back to that place. Part of working at oVice is the desire to be part of that.

What are you interested in outside of work? Tell us a little about your hobbies or passion projects. 

I like to enjoy my life. I love to travel, I like good food and wine, the arts – really anything around getting out there and enjoying your life, whether it’s a warehouse party or spending time with a few close friends.

Passion projects? A friend of mine has an interesting project called Offline Ventures. It’s really focused on offline entertainment, creating opportunities for people to interact with each other, like artist residencies and local communities. Before the pandemic, I was helping him connect with music creators for residencies. Hopefully, once things open up, I can help him with that again.  

What personal and professional goals would you like to achieve in the future? 

Professional goals? First and foremost, I’d like to deliver strong results for oVice outside of Japan. On the personal side, I’d like to get back to traveling again and put myself in a position where I can pursue passion projects or my interests more.

Have you ever considered a career change? If you had to choose a career different than sales, what would your choice be? 

At one point, I very much wanted to be an architect and I do oftentimes wish I would’ve pursued that. The problem is I can’t draw and that’s why I abandoned it. 

But I later learned that Walter Gropius couldn’t draw either, he had a drafting partner. Had I known that maybe I would’ve pursued architecture. 

Give a few words of advice to fresh graduates who want to enter sales teams. 

If you are passionate about being directly involved in the company’s success, you enjoy solving the problem of getting that customer to buy from you, and would like to control your own income, then sales could be the career for you. 

However, you have to be the right fit – not everybody can nor wants to do it. If you have other things you are interested in, I would say pursue those. It’s my advice for anybody who is a fresh graduate.

If you don’t know what to do, I wouldn’t say that sales is the place to come and figure it out. Make sure you understand what is involved and that you can commit to doing it – otherwise, it’s not going to go well. Sales is definitely not an easy job.

Ideal candidate? I’m looking for someone who has perseverance and can take the nos. It’s difficult to be rejected especially when you are trying to figure out the right messaging and value proposition. The willingness to put in the effort and deal with rejection is key.

More importantly, I look for someone who is highly coachable. It’s less about having a natural talent for sales and more about somebody who can take feedback and quickly integrate that into what they are doing.  

Also, I like people who are accountable for their results and don’t make excuses. You want that person who, even if it’s not their fault, would say “What can I do better?’ instead of shifting the blame. The worst possible is the one who can’t take feedback and is expecting immediate gratification for everything. 

This was Part 2 of our conversation with Joe Shin, Head of Western Sales at oVice. For more insights on leading a startup sales team, take a look at Part 1. If you want to learn more about the global team at oVice, take a look at other interviews of the team

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