Jeffrey Spetter is the Director of Business Development for Chicago fintech company Rippleshot and the Student Choice Award-winning instructor for our Chicago fall 2015 sales and account management track. Our Student Choice Awards, presented at our signature Talent Expo, recognize the instructor whose teaching and mentorship is voted most outstanding by the students in that track. As Lisa Schumacher, our program director in Chicago describes,
Jeff is an amazing instructor for B2B because he shows students—with his dry sense of humor—how to use consultative sales skills to solve complex business problems, like fraud detection for global enterprises. He teaches students how to blend empathy, smarts, and humor to sell; how to use their whole self and not just "sales skills."
Previous to joining Rippleshot and winning our sales and account management instructor award, Jeffrey was a Startup Institute sales student himself. We reached out to him to thank him for his great work with our students, and to hear his perspective on the difference between business development and traditional sales and tips for launching a business development career in Chicago tech:[bctt tweet="Demystifying #BusinessDevelopment, ft. @jeffreyspetter @rippleshot #bizdev"]
Q: Let's start at the beginning—how did you end up coming to Startup Institute?
A: I had been applying at a couple of different growth-stage and early-stage companies in Chicago, and I kept getting the same feedback that I didn’t have the technical expertise and sales experience that they were looking for I didn’t really want to go into a larger sales organization, because it didn’t feel like me.
My buddy ended up sending me a message saying, “I know you’re on the hunt for sales opportunities and I think this Startup Institute thing would be cool for you.” I looked into it and thought, “Well, nothing else is working right now. Let’s try this out.”
Q: We're always excited to see our alums win the Student Choice Award! Tell us about the session you taught.
A: I teach the first two introductory courses for the sales and account management track. It’s focused on is the basics: asking good questions, making sure we’re identifying the right decision-makers—high-level, intuitive sales acumen. We start by talking about the importance of really caring about your customer and asking a lot of good questions about their problems.
Traditionally, I don’t come from a sales background—I have a finance background—and I’ve been trained in startups without the impact of formal training. At an early-stage company, you’re not just trying to sell products or hit a quota, you’re not just trying to increase revenue. You’re really trying to solve a problem for your customer. And, to do that, you need to understand your customer. You need to be totally in-sync with their operations, and totally connected. You need to care about their problems.
From there, we get into hands on training. We look at a couple of different case studies, and we walk through students’ initial engagement with client outreach.[bctt tweet="In early-stage, your main focus needs to be solving a problem for a customer, says @jeffreyspetter"]
Q: Why do you think your session is as effective as it is?
A: I’ve had a lot of great students, and my experiences over the past two years since graduating from Startup Institute have reinforced my own learning. The students are learning it first-hand from someone who’s made a career change from finance and built sales skills in a startup environment, which can be much different from traditional corporate sales roles.
Salespeople in early-stage companies need to learn a few different techniques. You can’t just get out there and expect that your product is going to sell. You have to understand how your buyers are going to buy. I do B2B sales to banks and credit unions, so the first step I took had to be considering how these organizations buy technologies like ours. Do they buy them through vendors? Do they buy directly from the company? How encompassing does our solution have to be? How do we compare to other solutions on the market?
At Rippleshot, we’re bringing something that’s not really seen on the market, so how do we compare to our competitors? This is all part of the go-to-market part of sales, which is a unique experience that I can bring to the Startup Institute students.
Q: So, you’re pounding the pavement?
A: My CEO likes to call it “the tip of the spear.” It’s a 300 reference. Yes, I am a one-man shop right now, but the team and I work together to develop the strategy—everything from the cold-calls to closing, product market fit, and refining the strategy moving forward.
Q: Can you talk more about the value that you see in your unique sales training?
A: I don’t know what a sales training looks like at a large institution. I’ve read a lot of books, I’ve talked to a lot of people. Trust me—I’ve done my homework to understand what those organizations look like because I’m constantly trying to learn more to make our organization the best as I see it, and to make myself and whoever else we hire the best functioning sales team.[bctt tweet="I'm constantly trying to make our org the best as I see it, says @jeffreyspetter"]
I can’t comment on the pros and cons of formalized training. One of the things that Startup Institute does well is their emphasis on resiliency, and cultivating the understanding that if it’s not working you have to go back,look at the process, product, and the needs of the customer to make sure you’re hitting that on the head.
Early-stage involvement has given me a lot of dedication, insight, and curiosity about our clients. That’s played out tremendously because Rippleshot has developed strong relationships with them. They’re always willing to go out and help, and they’ve taken jumps with us on product development and feedback. Being early-stage, you have to have the mentality that things are going to go poorly, but you need to continue with outreach, and continue to go to the market. But, also come back to your team with what the market is saying. And, in response to this, you need to shape your selling technique.[bctt tweet="If it’s not working, examine the process, product, + the needs of the customer, says @jeffreyspetter"]
Q: Let’s talk about business development. As the Director of Business Development for Rippleshot, what do you do?
A: I work on our go-to-market strategy and product-market fit, and then I execute on that. That’s very high-level but, it’s the process of discovering how our customers buy technology like ours, where our technology fits. Then going out and testing and segmenting the market. There are eleven thousand banks and credit unions in the country and not all of them have the same needs. How do we get into each segmentation in the best way possible?
My first year and a half in this role was focusing on the marketplace and finding out how to go about selling our product in the most efficient way possible. This included cold outbound reach, partnerships, tracking measurements, delivering updates, projecting out what our revenues would be—an incubated sales process in that one marketplace.
Now, my responsibilities have shifted more toward working with larger institutions to hone in on our product and make sure that what we’re building is really something of value. For this, I’m working with MB Financial & Wintrust here in Chicago, and a few other larger institutions, which I think is a step up for me in regards to sales, but also a requirement for our business to move forward.[bctt tweet="Early-stage #BizDev is about go-to-market strategy + product-market fit, says @jeffreyspetter"]
Q: From your perspective, what is the difference between business development and sales?
A: If you asked me this six months ago, I think I would have answered differently than I will now.
Business development is developing relationships to distribute technology, finding the right partners, and working towards a product-market fit in whatever vertical you’re working with. Companies don’t usually employ business development people until they’ve entered a growth phase where they’re starting to look for opportunities outside of their direct salesforce.
It just so happens that because of the way banks buy technology, I’ve developed into a hybrid sales and business development role. This means that I’ve helped develop relationships with partners that help us sell. This all falls under the usual understanding of business development.
I also do a lot of direct selling. Direct sales is usually what’s commonly known as the sales manager role, a sales development representative, or business development reps and account executives. All of these play into a sales-oriented role, whereas business development is focused on partnerships and finding new partners in the marketplace.[bctt tweet="#BusinessDevelopment focuses on finding new strategic partners in the marketplace— @jeffreyspetter"]
Q: Would you say that business development is bigger picture than direct sales, then?
A: A team might have a salesforce, and another person who is focused on business development. Is it more strategic? Yes, I’d probably say that business development is a little bit more strategic. They’ll answer the “Where do we need to go as a business to get to a successful outcome?”
Q: Is it more focused on long-term sustainability and business goals versus working toward meeting a quota?
A: Yes. Not to say that I don’t do both—I think that my skill set sits in a variety of places. When I talk to Startup Institute students, I tell them “Whatever role you’re in in a startup, you’re either going to build it or you’re going to sell it—Those are your two options.”
You either build it or you sell it (and marketing is part of selling), and within that inherently becomes levels of complexity. On the selling side, you have to start at the basics. You have to get used to picking up the phone, relating to customers and talking the talk. Business development goes a bit deeper. It is longer-term thinking. Our relationships with our partners may not come to fruition right away, and that’s okay with us because we’ll get recurring revenue from them in the long-term. To be successful in this, you need to have an acute understanding of the marketplace, and strong business acumen.[bctt tweet="In any #startup role, you're either going to build it or sell it, says @jeffreyspetter #sales"]
Q: Do you think there are misconceptions about what business development is?
A: Salesforce coined the term “business development representative”—the BDR role—which is lead generation. It’s extremely important in an organized sales team, but I think that true business development means that you are out there looking for strategic partners that will benefit your company in the future. You’re looking for people and companies that will take a bigger risk with you in hopes of developing a win-win situation.
I think there’s a misconception because of the way the BDR term is being thrown around now. There’s a strong distinction between someone who is calling people and getting leads for their account executive and someone who is building long-term strategic partners and having meetings to explore how two companies can work together.
Sales has a formula to it: you bring in leads that are in your segment and your territory, you find the decision maker, you make the pitch, and you eventually—hopefully—lead to a close. That’s the sales process. The business development process is less formulaic.
Startups, especially in the fintech space, need business development because they need the Mastercards of the world to help them get to where they want to go. Our strategic partners are the biggest advantage for us.[bctt tweet="#BusinessDevelopment is less formulaic than #sales, says @jeffreyspetter"]
Q: As a company of seven people trying to develop a relationship with a Mastercard, does it feel like a David and Goliath situation? Do you feel like a small player saying “Look at me, I’m here!” or do you get a lot of attention already?
A: That’s a good question. We have an exceptional team here, and our founders have a lot of expertise in the space. Overall, I think we’ve been able to position ourselves and provide a product that makes the partnership mutually beneficial. We’ve proven that our product is valuable and it would be worthwhile to partner with us. We are a small team, but we’re mighty. Kaleigh does a great job on the marketing side, I’m here doing sales, our technology rocks—it’s just impeccable—and our CEO does an incredible job of aligning us in a direction where we’re going to succeed. I give a lot of credit to our team in being a force to be reckoned with. [bctt tweet="We have an exceptional team here + we've proven @rippleshot's value— @jeffreyspetter"]
Q: How does a person get into business development?
A: If you’re looking for business development opportunities in the strategic sense, you’ve got to be able to position yourself as someone very credible. You have to be able to come in and say, “I’ve got connections here, here, and here. I know how to go about leveraging these relationships, and how to develop partnerships that will be beneficial for the business. “
One of the things that I talk a lot about in the first class I teach is added value. You need to think about how you add value to someone’s business. If you’re a student, or if you’re unemployed and looking for a job and you want to go pitch yourself as business development, then you better bring some creative ideas to the hiring manager, because this is not going to be the same as an interview for direct sales.
You can’t just say “I’m already selling to this space, and I think I can help you improve your margins by 10% because I’m a hard worker.” You have to say “Hey, based on my expertise, my resiliency, and my willingness to try new things, I can come up with something that is going to take you to the next level.” Whether this means taking a company from early-stage to growth stage, growth stage to mature stage, growth stage to acquisition—wherever the executive team sees fit—it’s the business developer’s responsibility to align strategic partnerships and opportunities that can take the business to the next level.
For Startup Institute students looking to get into business development, I think it’s a lot harder than getting into a traditional sales role. If you can find a business development role, it will certainly be interesting and it will offer a lot of opportunity for creativity. But, you’ve got to either be deep in the vertical you’re working in, or be willing to go out and hustle quite a bit.[bctt tweet="To get hired for #bizdev, you need to be highly credible— @jeffreyspetter"]
Q: Which qualities should people cultivate in order to get into this field?
A: I’ll speak about it from a startup experience, because that’s what I have experience in. I think the biggest thing is resiliency.
Q: You’ve used that word a few times now.
A: It’s a big one. You have to find a way to win. Whatever you’ve defined as winning for you and your company, you have to find a way to win, and you have to work hard to do that. Your resiliency in selling the product is ultimately what will make you of value to a company, whether in business development or direct sales. There’s a lot of chaos in an environment like this, and your ability to keep your resolve and move forward will be your biggest asset.
Also, resourcefulness. Your resourcefulness to find new tools, read books, tap into people that you know, tap into the community, and learn as much as you can will be extremely valuable. The less you know about things, the more resourceful you have to be.[bctt tweet="#Resiliency is key. You have to find a way to #win, says @jeffreyspetter"]
Q: What advice do you have for people who want to build business development careers in Chicago tech?
A: Chicago tech is underrated right now, which is great because there is a lot of opportunity. If you’re a developer here, you’re going to get snatched up because everybody is looking to hire developers.[bctt tweet="#ChicagoTech is underrated. There are a lot of open doors here, says @jeffreyspetter"]
From a sales perspective, I think there are a lot of open doors here in Chicago. It’s a small community, so there are a lot of ways to position yourself in sales and find a home in the Chicago tech scene. There are a lot of different small organizations that are trying to get bigger, and Startup Institute contributes to a lot of those through their alumni. For me, this is cool, because now I’ve got a strong network in the Chicago tech scene. I can turn to a fellow alumni and say, “What are you doing over there? Because I read about you guys in the news. What’s going on?” It’s nice to have a window into so many industries and companies within tech, from Groupon to GrubHub or Uptake.
My recommendation would be to find people who you like, start doing stuff with them, and be genuine. You’ll find the opportunities that you’re looking for if you’re being nice to people and doing the whole “Midwestern thing”. We’re still small enough that there’s enough nicety to go around.[bctt tweet="Find people you like, start doing stuff with them, + be genuine— @jeffreyspetter #ChicagoTech"]