Q&A with Erik Charles, Vice President and Solutions Evangelist at Xactly Corporation

Erik Charles, Vice President and Solutions Evangelist at Xactly Corporation is an accomplished professional with over two decades of experience in Marketing, Consulting, and Product Evangelization. Erik focuses on helping companies drive expansion and growth by better aligning positions, responsibilities, and incentives.

Erik serves as a subject matter expert in the area of Sales Performance Management to ensure that Xactly’s marketing, sales and product teams have the necessary strategic input for industry leading messaging, positioning, and future direction.

MEDIA 7: When did you start working and what was it?
ERIK CHARLES:
  In early 1980s, I wrote software on TRS-80 model II coded in BASIC to enable for computerized quotes for a life insurance agency. I was in middle school at the time, that was a contract work. My next job was at a software store back when software used to be bundled up into a cardboard box with inserted floppy disks and then it went on from there.

M7: You have an astounding experience of over two decades with industry pioneers like Apple, Sun Microsystems, Canon and recently Xactly Corporation. What has been the driving force behind your remarkable career?
EC: 
There are two things: as a marketer, I don’t believe in mistakes, I only believe in experiments and what we can learn from them, that has kept me moving forward. I keep on trying new things and seeing what works. I assume that just because it worked last week doesn’t mean it’s going to work tomorrow. So, I’ve never allowed myself to get into a rut. I have always been more than willing to find people who can provide excellent advice at critical moments, even on a specific direction. Finding someone that I can speak with, that can give me a few tips, tricks, hints, ideas, direction or path on moving on. So, I have never been afraid to ask just how could I do this better.


"Sales and marketing have to be best friends, they have to be fully aligned with each other, and they have to know what each other is doing at all times so they can partner. Companies that don’t do that cause themselves a lot of heartache."

M7: As the Vice President and Solutions Evangelist at Xactly Corporation, what are some of the challenges that you face and what has helped you in overcoming them?
EC:
The biggest challenge I face – it is a changing marketplace out there. As we know, from a pure marketing perspective, there’s plenty of data sources out there. 60-70% of the buyer’s journey occurs without ever talking to the sales organization which puts more pressure on the marketing team.

Over the course of this interview I’ve already received two inbound phone calls that are unmarked/unlicensed or I don’t have in my directory. I just reject them automatically, they go straight to voice mail, I later read the transcribed voicemail and decide if I want to talk to them. So, cold-calling is not necessarily dead but it does take more work. I wake up every morning and delete approximately 50 cold emails, oftentimes from people who haven’t done any research on what my company does. They’ll hunt my name and my company but they don’t even realize what we do. So, I flip that to my own role in supporting Xactly and make sure that our voice is heard in an appropriate fashion.

The biggest challenge that I work on the most is in the area of thought leadership in terms of not ‘the same old all over again’ but actually being able to talk about what is going on in any given industry/market. I provide that advice backwards and set up Xactly and myself as the thought leaders and experts in the space, so customers have someone to turn to, to know where you should be going next.


"From a pure marketing perspective, there’s plenty of data sources out there. 60-70% of the buyer’s journey occurs without ever talking to the sales organization which puts more pressure on the marketing team."

M7: You’ve been in leadership roles for both sales and marketing functions, how do you think this alliance has evolved over the years and how significant is it for upcoming organizations to align both the departments?
EC:
If you don’t have sales and marketing aligned, all you’re going to do is go through a revolving door of firing your CMO or firing your CRO every 18 or so months. Sales and marketing have to be best friends, they have to be fully aligned with each other, and they have to know what each other is doing at all times so they can partner. Companies that don’t do that cause themselves a lot of heartache. I believe that everybody should work in sales at some point in their lives. Even if it’s retail sales at the shopping mall, dealing with the general public, dealing with the challenges of a sales organization at minimum just doing ride-alongs with the sales organization to see what their life is like.

How on earth can you create a presentation deck for sales to use if you’ve never delivered it yourself or at least heard it being delivered in a customer or prospect facing situation. If you haven’t done that you get yourself into trouble very fast in my opinion. In smart organizations, the CMO and the CRO should be going out for coffee and cocktails whenever possible and talking about what’s working or not working in a non-threatening, not a senior staff offsite situation but more of a “Huh, we have this challenge how can we work together better?” But too often I’ve seen companies where marketing and sales are not in partnership. One of my advantages has been because I’ve been in sales, because I’ve carried a bag, because I’ve had a quota it has helped me significantly. So, when I’m talking to sales I can say, “Here’s a different way I might present this information, see if it works for you and if it does please let me know and we can share it out with the other members of the team”.

M7: You are a regular speaker at summits. Could you share some insights into being an industry thought leader?
EC:
Yeah, don’t sell your product, provide information. Provide interesting, current, actionable information that is backed by both data but entertained with anecdotes. You have to remember things like the Ebbinghaus curve which gets into the fact that within 20 minutes how much people have forgotten and within 2 weeks how much more they have forgotten. I want people to walk out of my sessions and if somebody asks, “What did you learn in there?”, they should be able to list off almost bulletized format, three to five total things that they learned that they’re going to take away and act upon. And if they do that two weeks later, if they didn’t write it down, they’re still left with three of them and they’ll actually be able to get value out of my talk. I work very hard so that when people walk out they don’t think they’ve been sold to.


"In smart organizations, the CMO and the CRO should be going out for coffee and cocktails whenever possible and talking about what’s working or not working."

M7: According to you, what are the key marketing areas that industries will need to focus on in the coming 5 years?
EC:
From a marketing perspective, one is to make sure you are adjusting your channels of communication to meet the next generation of employees. Millennials and the follow-on generation are taking over the workforce, and personally I welcome them. I think it’s magnificent, but note how they are communicating – people text as opposed to calling, they are using tools like Whatsapp to communicate. That is slowly shifting the communication medium and how people wish to absorb information on the business side as well. So, that’s going to be critical.

The other is people have gotten very good at detecting false narratives being used solely to sell product. People are looking to learn – constant learning is important for professionals but if you treat your outbound conversations also as constant learning people will respond positively. I had a customer at Xactly ask me, “Look, I’m a customer now, but can I still come to some of the talks and webinars and learn something?” And the answer is, “Of course!” That’s how they became a customer, they were interested in the education that we provided and that actually raised our profile as a company within the marketplace and it makes people want to do business with us.

M7: What have you learned from your experiences?
EC:
You’re going to stumble and fall a lot, mistakes will be made, mistakes will happen. You will butt heads with opposing personality and you’ll have to learn to work with people with a variety of different interaction, styles, and skills, introverts and extroverts, people that go on the attack very quickly, etc. Understanding the personal side of the professional world is very important. People can claim that they can turn it off, I don’t think that’s true, especially now that it’s a 24/7 world.

I do international business so it’s always work time someplace on the globe for someplace that my company does business and I just have to accept that. So at the same time, I need to be able to accept that for my employees and for the people I’m talking to. They do have a personal life; unfortunately, personal life is blended into their professional life. Recognize it, accept it, work around it.

ABOUT XACTLY CORPORATION

Xactly delivers a scalable, enterprise platform for planning and incenting sales organizations, including sales quota and territory planning, incentive compensation management, and predictive analytics. Using this powerful sales performance management (SPM) portfolio, customers mitigate risk, accelerate sales performance, and increase business agility. Combined with Xactly Insights™-- the industry’s only empirical big data platform, Xactly empowers companies with real-time compensation insights and benchmarking data that maximize the bottom line. With an open, standards-based architecture, Xactly seamlessly integrates within an enterprise’s existing infrastructure, with the ability to work with any ERP, CRM, or HCM application, while meeting the highest enterprise standards in security, reliability, and privacy.

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