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Podcast | Agents of Change

Building meaningful change

Steve Stessman

Who is behind the scenes solving problems and uncovering issues? That’s what Conga’s Agents of Change has set out to discover.

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Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability.

Steve Stessman: And so to me, you make an impact as doing something meaningful even if you don't get credit for it. It's about doing the right thing when people are looking and working on something that's worthwhile. 

Jason Gabbard: When we talk about Agents of Change, we talk about people who are driven to solve problems within their organizations. People who find inefficiencies and work diligently to correct them. Sometimes it impacts the bottom line. Sometimes it streamlines complicated processes. And sometimes it changes everything about the way business gets done, trickling all the way down to customer experience. That’s the kind of change we’re talking about today.

I want you to meet Steve Stessman, Vice President of National Retail Sales at Tuff Shed, a ubiquitous American-based company, one that’s been providing building solutions like sheds and garages since 1981. While Steve leads sales at Tuff Shed, you’ll find that his title doesn’t really give the full picture. At one point in our conversation, you’ll hear him refer to himself as a solutions architect. Because at his core, he is driven to solve problems.

Steve Stessman: my background is in primarily in retail and homebuilding. I've worked in privately held companies up to a Fortune 50. I've held almost every position from a part-time employee all the way up to, I guess maybe my highest title now is V.P. of Sales. I've been with Tuff Shed for six years and throughout the time as we've tried to modernize our sales approach, I've become many times the point person to help understand new technology and tie it into what our business needs are. Or I've definitely been always been a sponsor of any technology project.

Jason Gabbard: Today, we are going to hear a story of how Steve has led a digital transformation at Tuff Shed — one that has not only directly led to more sales and higher revenue, but has truly changed the way business is done for the better, while improving the experience of every Tuff Shed customer. And these were big changes for an organization that has been around for nearly four decades with a very specific way of doing business.

Steve Stessman: Over the course of the 38 years we've grown from one location to 165 company-owned locations. We have 56 factories across the lower 48. And we've sold and installed 1.2 million buildings over the course of our time. We will do everything from the smallest of sheds to about as big a wooden building as you can possibly imagine. If you can dream it, we build it.

Jason Gabbard: That’s a great line, isn’t it? And when Steve joined Tuff Shed six years ago, the idea of changing from a pen-and-paper approach to a streamlined digital experience across the entire sales process truly did seem like a dream.

Steve Stessman: So when I first started with the company, we would do quotes for a customer with a pen and paper to, fast forward six years later, we have literally some of the absolute latest and greatest technology to quote and to sell to our customers.

Jason Gabbard: So how does a change that big happen that quickly? Spoiler alert: It wasn’t easy. Let’s hear the full story.

Steve Stessman: The way I view my role as V.P. of sales is to grow the company. And that's all my direct reports. That's their mission: Grow the company. We're the market leader, but that doesn't mean that we don't want more. And frankly, we're just trying to protect everybody else from buying a bad building. So we definitely want to sell them a Tuff Shed. But with that being said, we’re a privately held company. We’re not a small company, but we're not a big company, so on the sales front and under the mantle of a growing company, we deal with everything. It doesn't matter, selecting new real estate, coordinating remodels, sourcing and training new salespeople, creating training materials — you name it, we do it. If it's an obstacle, we overcome it, because our mantra isgrow the business. The coolest thing, Jason, about my job, is that not only do we sell a product that's completely manufactured in the United States, but also as we increase our sales, we create jobs in our manufacturing facilities, number one. And for number two, for about every 220 sheds or buildings that we sell, we create a new small business in the United States via our subcontractor network. So when you think about a sales cycle like that, we are literally a job-creating machine. And to be honest with you, that's awfully rewarding. 

Jason Gabbard: That’s awesome. I love to hear that. I love businesses like this. Congratulations. I really mean that — that’s incredible. You mentioned that you've been there around six years. And when you first started, a lot of the paper processes were very much analog, very paper-and-pen intensive. And given what you're saying about sales and training employees, and I assume you probably have some resellers involved, it sounds like a very contracts-intensive, document-intensive business.

Steve Stessman: Yeah, it can be. Or, you know, a lot of our case prior to our digital transformation,  was a very manual process. So when I first started, we tried a CRM and tried to keep track of customers’ information. And that was a really good running start for us. So when we changed our CRM actually to Salesforce, then things really got moving where we were actually able to track what kind of customers came in and where did they come from? How much activity did it take to actually close a sale? What were the best salespeople doing? And then how can I replicate those results across the United States? And the technology helped out immensely. Which sort of led me into our big problem: that our sales outstripped our ability to manufacture efficiently and so even though the customer may communicate, we would have to draw pictures and then head over to manufacturing. We would have to enter things into our ERP and then we would make mistakes and then we would have problems that go with that. Obviously, if somebody wants a blue shed and a red shed shows up in their backyard. That's a big problem. So we had lots and lots of issues, and then when the customers would come back to us and say things like, “Well, I didn't sign off on that.” Sometimes we could produce the documents, sometimes we couldn’t. Sometimes we could produce a picture of what they wanted, sometimes and we couldn't. And so that's really where Salesforce CPQ and then Conga came in. Conga helps us create state-specific contracts and really helps us aggregate data so that the customer knows exactly what they're getting. Our manufacturing teams knows exactly what to build. So it's been an amazing transformation for the organization.

Jason Gabbard: Fascinating. Having more demand than you have supply is a good problem to have, so I don’t feel so sorry for you. But that’s incredible. So it sounds like the opportunity you first uncovered was around just getting a CRM in place. So Salesforce to the rescue. You implement Salesforce and it sounds like right away you realize some pretty significant gains from doing that. When you were implementing Salesforce, can you just talk me through the internal process around making that decision? You know, getting folks on board and what you actually had to do in order to get the team moving in that direction. 

Steve Stessman: Well, we had tried another CRM that failed. So I was appointed to go find another CRM. So I evaluated the top four at the time and then I evaluated partners that completed the implementation at the same time. And we ended up at Salesforce, and it was an uphill battle because it was certainly a more expensive solution than what we had in the past. But once we selected them, we went from signing the contract to live in 64 days. With over 300 users, so it was a definite crash course in not only understanding what we needed, but then having it, finding the right partner to help us implement them. And then along the way, you have to pull everybody else in and say, “OK, what do I need from IT? I created all the training materials between my team and our Salesforce administrator. So it was a pretty amazing effort. And it actually turned out to be very great because seven days later we had a record sales day, which is pretty amazing considering that we just changed our entire CRM out. But that's just how flexible the platform was for me to be able to create something that worked for our sales people.

Jason Gabbard: Got it. So could you take me back to the period of time when you decided that you needed a — obviously you had the key infrastructure in place with your CRM and then you realized that there was an opportunity to add additional value through the use of Conga products. 

Steve Stessman: Essentially what was happening to us was we were selling more, we were manufacturing more, but we were making less money. And then we did that a couple of years in a row, and our production team said, “Look, we just we need better data.” We need a better way to transfer what the salespeople talk with the customer about and the information that we get. So we embarked on a project to basically digitally transform our company. So we started with a 3D configurator, which is an AppExchange product just like Conga, called KBMax. And then we use a 3D configurator that creates all the plans. We drop them into CPQ, which is a Salesforce product, and then we use our CRM to manage the order process. We use Conga to create all the documents, and we use several other AppExchange tools to help us transact, to do taxes and take payments and all those kinds of things. We use several Salesforce products, Marketing Cloud and then the CRM ability to send out automated communication as well. So, that was really the big problem: We sell more, we build more, we make less money and we believe we’ve solved it with our digital transformation that we just completed.

Jason Gabbard: So in particular, during that time when you were moving to digital documents and digital document creation and management, sometimes that's a difficult or a tricky conversation to have internally. People are often resistant to change, especially when it comes to contracts and proposals and so forth. Did you did you have to overcome any objections internally? Were there dissenters or --?

Steve Stessman: Yeah, there was definitely some pushback. So I would say that the digital transformation is changing every process we've ever done. So when you talk about something that sweeping, it was a very challenging project. But the good thing is, we had all of the department head support to start out the project. We had C-level support for it, obviously. And I got involved with the project and I was one of the executive sponsors. Through some turnover we had in our I.T. department, I ended up being the project manager and I would loosely call myself the solution architect for Tuff Shed for this particular project. Because that seems to be the title that offends I.T. people the least. So I'm the V.P. of sales and I led this. But the advantage I had by leading it was that I knew what the field needed and I could rally the resources behind it. So there were many times throughout the project where what I learned in this is that the closer you can get to someone who serves the customer when you're trying to create a solution like this, the better the result will be. The person that serves the customer knows way more than any V.P.. And that was that was a big learning for us. But was there a lot of pushback? Absolutely. There were questions about almost everything. But essentially when we did our due diligence, we thought out what the major milestones were. And then everybody agreed upon it at the outset. So, when I would say things like, “Well, we have to calculate taxes differently,” and, finance pushed back at us, you guys agreed that we had to have a solution that we could transact with right away with the customer. You know, some of those kinds of things. We settled a very lofty goal around the milestones and then we were able to refer back to them throughout the process.

Jason Gabbard: Let’s take a minute to reflect on what Steve is sharing here. Remember, this is a company that has been doing business and growing for decades. Four of them. You see, when Steve arrived at Tuff Shed to make some big changes, it was never going to be simple. Because change can be difficult and it often impacts more people than we realize. When Steve says he experienced a lot of pushback, that’s probably putting it lightly.

Sound familiar? A common thread that seems to run through these conversations is an acknowledgement of how hard those moments can be. But there always seems to be a story on the other side, when those moments are met with purpose. For Steve, that meant casting the vision and setting clear goals so that everyone knew that the changes were making an impact.

Let’s dive back in as Steve shares the challenges he faced in growing the business during this period of change to hit those lofty goals.

Steve Stessman: You know, one of the thingsthat I learned when I came to this business, Jason, is I didn't know very much about sheds. But my job was obviously to grow the business. So we had people out there that were in our president’s club there, our best sellers, we had seven of them. So I went and I listened to them. And what I was able to do was capture what they do with their customers. And it was, you know, four or five primary things that they were all great at. And so what I did was I went back and I learned from the best. I used the technology that I had, which was CRM. And I built my CRM around being able to measure those behaviors. So fast-forward five years, I'm very proud to say that I ended 2018 with 55 folks in the president’s circle. Fifty-five people who would have never earned the kind of money they can earn just because they listened. But it all started with me being humble enough to say, “Hey, I'm the V.P. of Sales, but I don't know everything. Let me go find the best people. But then I put in processes to teach and train and coach so that people could do their very best.” I'm on track this year to add another dozen to that. So I'm expecting to end up somewhere around 67 folks in the president circle that all make a really, really good living selling buildings. 

Jason Gabbard: That's great. And you know that it's uncanny that you say that because week after week on this show, that's the one thing we're hearing, is that in order to effect change, the most important thing you can do is listen and observe. And it sounds like you went out into the field, which is absolutely the right place to be. And you listened and you observed and you got feedback from the sales leaders, got feedback from the customers. And then you basically engineered your digital transformation strategy around that. That’s brilliant.

Steve Stessman: The challenge is that I always think when there's a digital transformation, you sort of have two groups: You have what your customer needs, but then you also have what your internal customer needs. And if you don't listen to both of those, you're going to fail or you're not going to fail completely, but you're going to fail. Twenty five percent of the way or something like that. It's better to take the time and spend the money to find the people that do the work and ask them what they need and then obviously bump it up and say, “Hey, is it rational what they do? Can we replicate that?” But that was my biggest learning over the last year for sure, as it especially in regards to our digital transformation. 

Jason Gabbard: That's great advice, Steve. Now, I want to ask you to look into your short term crystal ball and tell us what's the one big bet you and your team are going to make to move your business forward in 2020? 

Steve Stessman: Yeah, that's a good question. So, my primary focus and my team's primary focus is I have all this amazing technology and you name it: It's Salesforce, its Conga. Its KBMax, it's all these things. But the technology can get in the way of the relationship with the customer. So our big bet is that instead of focusing on how many times do we call the customer, it's more of how do we measure, did we have a consultative sales approach? And how does that tie into how we tie in a consultative sales approach to the technology? My big thing for the organization is, did we do a great enough job with the customer where they're gonna give us a great social media review? Did we do a great enough job for them to recommend us to someone else? So I'm going away from, “Hey, make 30 calls a day,” to “Whatever you did with a customer, was it great? Do you really understand what the customer needs?” And that's a pretty radical shift for traditional sales management. 

Jason Gabbard: That's terrific advice. You know, and it's something that echoes what some of the most valuable companies in the world are saying. Right. If you if you listen to what Amazon, for example says it's that unwavering focus on the customer. I was about to ask you what the hurdles were for, for effecting that change in 2020. But it's not so much of a hurdle as it is just maintaining that focus on the customer.

Steve Stessman: Yeah, it's a hurdle because it's very easy to go back and try because a lot of times us focused on the customer feels very fluffy or it's very soft or there's no actuals behind it. The thing that I'm focused on is for example, our CRM to make sure that the associates or the salespeople are recording what did they do with each customer. What's the customer's story instead of just putting in to follow up with them in a week? That's the biggest hurdle is getting people to really, really think about one of the best questions for me, to understand really what the customers need. Because once I figure out what your needs are, I'm not selling anymore. I'm just solving your problem. And that's a shift for an organization, in general. 

Jason Gabbard: Great advice. I'm going to paraphrase here: you're putting the meat on the bones of the focus on customer.

Steve Stessman: Absolutely. If it's not measurable, it didn't happen. 

Jason Gabbard: For Steve, change is about more than the bottom line. It’s about knowing that change is worthwhile for all of the people it impacts. That is meaningful change.  So what can we take away from Steve’s story? When Tuff Shed succeeds, it creates jobs. Not only that, it is creating small businesses just by the nature of what his company does. When you think about change, how far down the line can you see the impact? While Steve is driven to increase sales for Tuff Shed and grow the business, he doesn’t view this as mutually exclusive from the impact he can make on peoples’ lives. It is not an either/or thing, which is why he makes a point of talking about meaningful change. What kind of impact can you make when you think big? Does the problem you are seeking to solve have a greater reach than you realize?

That’s it for today. I hope you’ll continue with us on this journey as we hear from more agents of change.

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