Podcast

Building Strong Foundations – Alvin Crawford

Alvin Crawford brings more than 25 years of experience in sales strategy, product development, customer success and thought leadership as Chief Revenue Officer for Revolution Foods. Prior to joining the company, Alvin served multiple leadership roles in both start-ups and large corporate concerns.

In today’s episode Alvin breaks down the intricacies of leading a company that is dedicated to bringing 2 million healthy meals to adults and students across the country. His humble beginnings of being a door-to door sales rep selling books gave him the building blocks of what it means to be a strong salesman.

Tune into learn from a leader whose experience has allowed him to build a strong foundation around him in order to excel and succeed!

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Transcript:

Wed, 5/5 3:00PM • 1:00:47 

SUMMARY KEYWORDS 
people, salesperson, sales, sales team, deal, team, building, customer, company, important, stage, folks, talk, easy, crm, losing, understand, sell, persistence, transition 

SPEAKERS 
Alvin Crawford, Christopher Smith 

Intro 
Welcome to the Sales Lead Dog Podcast hosted by CRM technology and sales process expert Christopher Smith, talking with sales leaders that have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Listen to find out how the best of the best achieve success with their team and CRM technology. And remember, unless you are the lead dog, the view never changes. 

Christopher Smith   
Welcome to Sales Lead Dog. Today, joining us on the podcast we have Alvin Crawford. Alvin, welcome to Sales Lead Dog. 

Alvin Crawford   
It’s great to be here, thanks for having me. 

Christopher Smith   
I’m excited to have you on the show, Alvin, tell us a bit about your current role and your company. 

Alvin Crawford   
So I’m the Chief Revenue Officer at Revolution Foods. Revolution Foods is a B Corp, actually founded by two moms who really felt like kids deserved healthy food during school and so they launched the program platform about 15 years ago. We started really just delivering food to kids for their school meal programs that was healthy and also culturally responsive. During the pandemic, we actually pivoted to not only serving kids but also adults and so we serve probably more than 2 million meals a week to both adults and to both food insecure adults as well as children throughout the country, and are continuing to add new lines and new opportunities to serve healthy culturally responsive meals across the country and hopefully at some point around the world.  

Christopher Smith   
That’s a mind boggling number–2 million meals a week. There’s some significant logistics going on behind that number. 

Alvin Crawford   
Yeah, so it’s not just food. We definitely are a great product company, care a lot about the passion around the taste of the food and the healthiness of the food but we have also obviously built a pretty intensive supply chain to support that as well as the DSD network to make sure that food gets out. I think we touched about 65% of families if you talk about kind of the roadways that we service, so it’s pretty it’s pretty impressive to take a look at, for sure. 

Christopher Smith   
Without a doubt, without a doubt, that’s amazing. Thinking back over your career, what are the three things that have really contributed to your success? 

Alvin Crawford   
I would say persistence would be one that every person in not only a sales role but probably any role needs to take. I’ll talk more about that, but also the other two would be honesty and trusting your gut. And so if you think about those three, the persistence aspect is that every deal is winnable if you focus on what it takes to win, and you’re persistent around your pursuit. The honesty piece is more of something that I’ve dealt with more in management leadership. Obviously you’re honest with everyone in terms of clients but I think what I learned over time is that you help people by telling them sometimes what they don’t want to hear, to, to help them improve. Some people won’t take that well, but depending on your delivery of it, if you can focus on helping people to improve and grow, they’ll be better off by it if they’re wanting to grow and improve on their sales team. There’s some people who don’t want that, and that’s okay, but that would be the second thing. And trusting your gut is really about both on the customer side as well as on your team. On the customer side, when it’s not the right deal, you need to recognize that and understand. It’s great to be able to target who your customers are and make those choices so that you are building relationships in the right places. The second thing would be that on the employee side, when employees aren’t doing what they need to do and you’ve been clear about it, you need to trust your gut. And where I found mistakes is when I didn’t, and you always look back at it. So that’s, those are the three things that I think in the career are incredibly important to success. 

Christopher Smith   
My mom always used to tell me trust your gut. You can’t go wrong. So that’s great. That’s great advice. How’d you get your start in sales? 

Alvin Crawford   
You know what’s funny is it my first sales gig was working selling books door-to-door, straight commission as an independent contractor. I was in college and some buddies all had brought $5,000 checks home from the summer and I’d worked eight jobs and summer before, and probably brought home about 500 bucks, and so I figured I was doing something wrong so I, I took this gig with the southwestern company, and wow, that’s amazing. I brought on 5700 bucks the first year, I think, 12,000, the second year and then even after college, did a $17,000 check for 10 weeks of work, and so that was my start and they kind of got hooked on it. 

Christopher Smith   
Oh yeah with those kinds, I remember like you’re paying your, your tuition, you’re paying everything with that kind of money. That, that’s awesome. You’re living large. 

Alvin Crawford   
It was pretty nice actually, I was envious because there were some people who were bringing home $36,000. And you know the funny thing is, is that we were seeing about the same number of people, but they were the people who were bringing home 36,000 during the summer were doing everything that the training tells you to do, and I was probably doing about half of it. So I think there was a insurance agent Albert Gray that said, “Successful people do the things that unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do.” And so if you think about that contextually, it’s really about forcing yourself to put the habits into practice. 

Christopher Smith   
Is that the big lesson you took away from that first experience? 

Alvin Crawford   
Well honestly, the persistence piece was it. They basically said, one out of ten people are buyers, you don’t have to sell to everyone. You have to follow the path and lead people to close. And you have to really get objections out of the way, they actually what I learned most is that there is a process, and that at each stage, there are important things to understand. And I live that today, which is understanding the sales process and understanding where you’re falling out of it and what to do to fix those things. And so that stays with me today, and it also stays with me that, that you have to be intentional and persistent about how you approach this work. 

Christopher Smith   
I love that. I love that. What’s your craziest sales story from your, you know back when you were doing regular sales? 

Alvin Crawford   
Wow, when I was selling books, there are probably lots of different stories that are out there, but I will tell you that the one that, that I won’t forget is, is when I went off script and the person that I was talking to, first of all, I asked if, if she made decisions or whether her husband makes decisions or whether I should come back and, and she said, “No, let’s do this all now.” And so that came back to haunt me, but then she asked me if I wanted something to eat, and like a fool, I got off schedule and said, “Yes,” and then, you know I was there for three hours, and I really wanted to leave, and I didn’t. And what I call it is torquing on my head and so it’s one of those where when you don’t own your situation, it owns you. And that ruined my day and maybe my weekend, it’s all my fault because I should have known better. The scripts tell you what to do and how to think about it, but and the scripts are not forcing anything, it’s just don’t enter a situation that you can’t control the controllables. I didn’t control any of them, and it really had an impact. So, I do take that one with me now, which is that, like, that torquing on your head is, is your own fault, it’s just like when you don’t prepare for a sales meeting when you don’t understand who the client is and what their expectations, all of those things are things that you can control and you must control them in order to succeed. So it is a, there are probably crazier stories that I could tell about door-to-door, but I would say that that one sticks out in terms of knowing who your customer is and, and how to manage your situation, so. 

Christopher Smith   
I get, I’m just imagining that were, you know she’s coming up, “Would you like some more tea?” or, you know “Some more, you want another sandwich?” or whatever and, and inside your head, you go, “No!” You can’t lose the deal, you’ve gotta be nice. “Sure!” 

Alvin Crawford   
Yeah, well, then it’s the investment. You’ve invested this much time, so like, don’t mess it up now when you just should have made different and better decisions, so. 

Christopher Smith   
Do you share that story with your team, have you shared it at all? 

Alvin Crawford   
You know, that one is so far back but, but I do talk about the importance of being in control of your situation. I mean, what it relates to now is, is that in we sell foods. If people don’t want healthy food, we probably shouldn’t have a conversation, because it’s not really aligned. And at the end of the day we’re going to be more expensive than unhealthy foods, but a lot of people will go through that process of having deeper and deeper and deeper conversations without thinking about the basic. And the basic is are we aligned, customer or prospect and company? Because if we are, it’s great. And if we aren’t, it’s okay. And I think that’s the piece that I hold on to, but it’s, it’s a similar concept, for sure. 

Christopher Smith   
Tell me about your transition to sales leadership. 

Alvin Crawford   
Well, I will tell you that, even though I had that initial start in sales. I spent a lot of time on the marketing side. So I was in digital, digital marketing, helped do a lot of strategy for Fortune 50 companies. And I went, transitioned in 2000 into an Adtech company where I lead strategy for that company. I went out with the sales leader there, it was just an individual salesperson, and we were in front of about 100 people, and I wanted to crawl under the table. I was there for support, I wasn’t there for a presentation role. And at that point, I asked the CEO if I could run sales. And I just the experience I had just said, well I can do a better job than this and that company. We grew over seven years from really zero to about 23 million in revenue, and I lead sales, I lead, I built a sales team of about eight folks. That first lesson was that there’s a difference between one sale and no sales, and I kept the person who had a sale, a VA, and then learned a lot about the different cadence of how you sell at different stages of the company, and happy to talk a little bit about that, but, but it is important what you do, you don’t always just hire a team, you make sure that your marketing and your messaging, are solid, before you start building on a massive team, because it’s not their fault that they can’t sell a product that you haven’t been clear about in terms of the value proposition.  

Christopher Smith   
Oh yeah, yeah. Couldn’t agree more that that, you know you’re sending people out to sling mud against the wall. If you don’t have a clearly defined value prop, forget it. I mean they’re just gonna try whatever they can to see what sticks, and who knows what they’re doing. 

Alvin Crawford   
Right, and you need consistency out there and you need to learn. And so you can’t learn if everyone’s slinging mud. You can, you as an individual sales leader and the CEO or the founder can work together to figure out what sticks, and then go with it, but then you can build the team as you start to get those, those, those marketing messages right, those, those value and benefits statements right, you can start to really grow a team and make it repeatable. 

Christopher Smith   
Let’s talk about building your team. What is your strategy for building the team that’s really going to succeed and drive success? 

Alvin Crawford   
So, it really depends on what stage of a company you’re in. We’re a big company, so you know, we do, obviously 2 million meals a week, we’re doing hundreds of million, so it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a company where I no longer look at people based on their potential, I look at people who have demonstrated success. It doesn’t mean that they have to have had demonstrated success in in food, it means that they have to have demonstrated persistence, demonstrated large deal, and actually that they can show numbers of how they’ve grown in their career. They can talk about, they can reflect on what they’ve done right and things that they need to work on. I need to see that. And when I’m interviewing, I’m also interviewing to understand whether they’re closing me on, on working here. If they’re asking the right questions, like if they’re not asking questions, that’s an issue for me, if they’re asking the right closing questions, that helps me understand that they understand how this works, and that there is this, you know, we’re both selling each other but at the end of the day, I’m looking for people who know how to close. 

Christopher Smith   
Is there any special way you like to structure your teams, you know, in terms of like some people like to have like I want to, you know, I want the hunters, you know, I want to have so many people this and then I want to have X number of closers? Do you do adopt that strategy or do you have a different style? 

Alvin Crawford   
Well, so I’ve always had door openers, folks who know market spaces and are not afraid to use your contact base to go. You also need folks that are going to territorially hunt. You know, we have about eight coloring centers so we’re always making sure that we have an individual there. I also have done work with telemarketers who actually do work on lead gen and following up on on smaller opportunities in, in market. So I think I like having the inside, and sometimes the book will build inside out, but then also having big customers. I also oversee the customer success team so I have a whole team that’s focused on building more within our current customer base. So I think both are important. 

Christopher Smith   
Oh yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Can we talk about a little bit about your sales process around, I’m kind of jumping ahead here, but when you close a deal, what’s your strategy or because you’re over customer success, how are you guys managing that transition from a won deal to making sure that when you start and you engage with that customer that you’re delivering what you promised? 

Alvin Crawford   
So there’s a mix, and because we have an operational team that does the, the execution of that, our sales team involves ops early in our process so that they know what’s coming. You know, I, because our execution is so critically important, we like to make sure that the ops team is actually making the recommendation rather than the salesperson, so that, that there’s trust in the fact that we know what we’re doing, and that the operator can ask questions that the salesperson may or may not be able to address. And so what you have is a consultative approach that allows them, well us and them to come up with the right solution. The salesperson might hear, “I need this,” but not know to ask the questions that would say, even though you think you need this, it might actually be something else that you need. And so operators can ask those questions because they’ve got to execute on it. When they’re involved early, that means that the transition is a lot easier, because it’s a line between what we can deliver and what the customer needs. So then it’s priced right, then it’s, it is, we have the ability to execute it well. And those things work nicely. And so in fact we handoff to the ops team and then the ops team brings in customer success. Once we’ve kicked it off so that they know who the ops contact is versus leaning on customer success to solve an ops problem. Right, So 

Christopher Smith   
I love that. That is tremendous. Going back to your sales team, if you have two candidates for a position that are very comparable experience-wise, resume-wise, what’s gonna swing you one way versus the other to select that candidate you hire? 

Alvin Crawford   
The person who talks about their strategic plan.  

Christopher Smith   
In what regards? 

Alvin Crawford   
So here’s the important thing, at least I find in this is that, you know there are people who work incredibly hard and call on lots of people as they win more when they have a plan around who they’re targeting, how many deals, how many calls and how many things they need to make and are thinking through the process. When you’ve got two people, asking them to put a plan togethe,r 30, 60, 90, generally can tell you who is more strategic. You know, I will tell you that that my best hire from a salesperson perspective is someone who was deeply focused on making tons of calls, deeply tracking how many calls, how many things that they did, and so actually they were bad at presenting and then they got better, because they called on more people and learned a lot more, so they were better later. And so, that flies a little bit in the face of what I’m saying, but yet they did have a strategy and a plan. And that’s what, like, if you’re talking about how to think about salespeople, you need people that are persistent, that are fearless, but you also need people who are thinking about it. I tend to sell more enterprise level things ,and so when it’s that, you need to have people who have a plan and know who their target is, know how they’re differentiating or segmenting the market, and know how to go after your prospects. 

Christopher Smith   
What do you think the keys are to being a successful sales leader? 

Alvin Crawford   
So I think that a good sales leader understands the sales process first. In your particular discipline, they understand the tools that salespeople need to be successful, they probably have either done the work or are committed to doing the work. When I was in my first gig, I was a player coach but, but really I had a team of folks, and one of the things that I did is take an account and work it from zero to an $8 million close, and I did it because we built a sales process, and I wanted to make sure that the sales process was right. And so, I experienced all of the pain of each of the pieces of it, but then could demonstrate to the team how important it is. So, if you don’t know, you need to go out and actually get it, because it’s easier just to demonstrate it, when you’ve done it than not to, and it’s not always how leaders come in. Sometimes they come in to just lead, but it’s good to grab an account or so, and go through the process. 

Christopher Smith   
What do you look for in your team to identify those that it’s time for them to consider sales leadership? 

Alvin Crawford   
So, hitting their stride consistently. I don’t want to say not being hungry anymore, because I think they are, but you do recognize those who just want to sell and those who are ready for more. And sometimes, actually sometimes they are ready. Other times, they may or may not be, but I think it’s important to recognize when they’ve hit those marks, meaning they’re outperforming many, and money is not their motivator.  

Christopher Smith   
Right.  

Alvin Crawford   
Does that make sense? There are people who use just wants to be out selling because that’s all they want to do. But there are people, and you generally see it, you see it because they’re kind of hungering for more. They’re giving good advice to folks, people rely on them, and you know when, and I’ll warn, a lot of times they will tell you that they’re ready because they’re leading looking not for a higher paying gig, that’s more responsibility. So, I respect that. And I’ll say that some are ready for that and others maybe not as much, but I think it’s important to think about that. And actually, more importantly, you should for your high performers, you should have a plan and be talking to them about what their goals are. 

Christopher Smith   
Do you remember the deal that you lost that hurt the most? 

Alvin Crawford   
There are probably two larger ones, multimillion dollar deals. One was because we were working I was, I’ve been working in school systems for a long time. We did all of the right work in terms of the first stages of the deal and and stage five for us at the time was the procurement angle, and we did everything right in terms of responding to the bid. There were some changes in our folks, but what happened was a call came in to the CEO’s assistant, which was a call three months after responding to the bid, asking us to come in for a presentation. That was how it was explained to us, and we tried to figure out what it was, but it was the area or the bid that we’re in. And we didn’t know that this is the area. So, we lost a big multi-million dollar, five-year deal, because we didn’t persist in that stage and so the diligence that we needed to have wasn’t there. And, you know, ultimately, I’ll take responsibility, but now all those things, there’s a better system in place there. But every deal that you’re supposed to win, you just have to follow it to the end, because people’s procurement processes can be broken if you’re in public sector, and it hurts going back in and then saying we were supposed to be using your product, they didn’t show up, it was painful. Painful. Now the other one. Oh, go ahead. 

Christopher Smith   
No, I was gonna say, for an experience like that that’s so painful, how have you leveraged that to create a culture of learning around losing? 

Alvin Crawford   
You know, I have always looked at losing from a stage perspective, to help people understand where your loss is. A lot of salespeople have happy years and happy years make them think that it’s, it’s written for us, it’s destined for us. But the reality is that at the different stages, you might think you’re winning, and you’re actually losing. So early in my career, certainly we spent a lot of time looking at phases, and I would take each salesperson with loss deals and talk about where you are versus where you think you are. And so, in hindsight, you can always understand where you lost the deal, but a lot of folks aren’t there yet, meaning they’re, they’re still thinking that, “Oh, if only the customer had not,” or, or, it’s never their fault. But at the end of the day, how you work your stages is how you win. And so when you don’t reflect, you don’t get better. But I always feel like as a team as, as, as an individual, you can get better by looking back at the stages and understanding where you lost the deal, because it’s usually in front of your face and it’s usually earlier than you thought. 

Christopher Smith   
Alright, let’s talk a little bit about one of my favorite topics, CRM. Do you love it, or do you hate it? 

Alvin Crawford   
I think it’s a necessary, and I won’t call it evil, it’s wonderful when it’s working right, and it’s really about how you set it up. I’ve worked with three of the big ones. We currently use probably the biggest one out there right now. And I, it was humming until we added another sector to our business and it stopped humming and now I don’t get anything out of it. And we’re fixing that, but that’s about how you set it up and how you execute it. What I think a lot of data folks want is lots of information, and that can be the enemy of making it easy for people to put information in. So I think you want to be cautious about how much you’re asking people to do versus making this system that makes it easy for them to use and for us to use to track. So I would say that when it is humming and you’re tracking, you can track not only how big your pipe is, but then you can look at, at, at how long it’s taking to move from each stage. So, looking at, at, how many transitions and how long the transitions take. There’s so many things that you can take out of it when it’s working for you. So I love it for all of those things, but I will tell you that too many people over-architect systems. 

Christopher Smith   
Is that your biggest struggle like with CRM today, or is it different? What, what is your biggest struggle with, with your current CRM implementation?  

Alvin Crawford   
Yeah, so it was, it was over-architected in the last iteration of changes that were made. And so now we’re trying to pull that back so it goes from being, it used to be an easy system to use, but now there’s so many requirements in it that it’s no longer practical. And because we had another segment that doesn’t even have any of those things, it’s just unnecessary. And so pulling back our experts to fix those things so that it can be practical again. But I said, I love the data. I love the data and love some of the other tools that are out there that can not only use your data but can benchmark you against others, melt and form. So, so yes I love the ability to use the data, I love the ability to track, and I love a team being able to efficiently put things in and attract things for themselves. So, I love the power of what it can be, but I think they’re often over-architected, so. 

Christopher Smith   
Yep, yep. When it comes to CRM, what are your keys for success, you know, to really have a CRM that’s working for you instead of against you?  

Alvin Crawford   
Well, so I do measure kind of what new things are in the pipeline, so I do look at kind of how much activity goes on, I do look at, at transition from stage to stage, because I think it doesn’t mean anything that it’s in there, it means something if it’s moving through, through stages. So I like that, I also like the autopsy side of it, which is to actually understand why we’re losing deals and usability for everyone, right, to actually look at, at the data and understand why we’re losing it and that’s, everyone in the company can use that, because we can see what we can do better as a marketing team, or we can do this better as a, as a finance team just in terms of pricing and velocity in terms of what tools and support we provide to our teams. I would say that salespeople are out on an island and we need to fix that, which means that things have to be set up to support them rather than to make their, their lives less easy. 

Christopher Smith   
User adoption among a sales team, it can be difficult in certain organizations. My advice to people when they, when we’re talking about that, I’ll ask the question, “When you’re talking to your sales people, you’re giving them a reason why to use CRM, what is your why when you talk to the sales team?” 

Alvin Crawford   
I honestly think it’s the tracking mechanism. It is a follow-up, it is a tracking, like keeping all this stuff in your head in a string of emails doesn’t work. It’s not as effective. You’ve got too many things going on, I think it’s easier when it’s all in one place, and the way that, the way that the systems are now, it’s all integrated. So you can actually do your work in CRM and in a CRM and it’ll follow you and prompt you and remind you. But if you’re working your pipe right, there’s a lot out there. And so you’ve got, obviously you’ve got 30 deals that you’re probably kind of paying attention to heavily, you’ve got five that you’re trying to close and ten that you’re trying to move into the five stage, so with all that going on, you want prompts to remind you to call this person, to do that, you want to be able to push out information to lots of people that you’ve talked to over time. All of those things are better if you’ve got a CRM system that is in place, and you’re leaning on it, which you should be if you’re running your sales game the right way. 

Christopher Smith   
I agree. I agree. We’re coming up on our time here on this episode of Sales Lead Dog. I really appreciate you coming on the show. If people want to reach out and connect with you, what’s the best way for that to happen?  

Alvin Crawford   
Sure, I’d say LinkedIn is the easy way. If you, if you connect with me on LinkedIn and say, “Hey, I heard you, saw you, would love to catch up,” just hit me there. My email and my phone number are there. I’m not a sales guy, which means that if you call me and it’s not a productive call, I know we can, we can end politely. 

Christopher Smith   
They’re not sticking around for a three hour meal. 

Alvin Crawford   
But so for people who just want to reach out and chat, I’m happy to do that, and I’m happy to schedule time, so have no issues with that at all. 

Christopher Smith   
Yeah, and obviously if they want to learn more about your company, please do. 

Alvin Crawford   
Yes, absolutely. There’s a, there’s a link to the website and easy ways to catch us. 

Christopher Smith   
All that will be in the show notes, so click away. Thanks again for coming on Alvin, it’s been great talking with you. 

Alvin Crawford   
Chris, this has been a lot of fun, so thank you for, for, for having me on. And thank you for doing what you do, it’s pretty cool.  

Christopher Smith   
Awesome, thank you. 

Outro 
As we end this discussion on Sales Lead Dog, be sure to subscribe to catch all our episodes on social media. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. Watch the videos on YouTube, and you can also find our episodes on our website at Empellorcrm.com/salesleaddog. Sales Lead Dog is supported by Empellor CRM, delivering objectively better CRM for business guaranteed. 

Quotes

  • “So I think there was an insurance agent Albert Gray, that successful people do the things that unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do. And so, if you think about that contextually, it’s really about forcing yourself to put the habits into practice.” (20:17-20:32)
  • “You make sure that your marketing and your messaging, are solid, before you start building on a massive team, because it’s not their fault that they can’t sell a product that you haven’t been clear about, in terms of the value proposition.” (26:34-26:50)
  • “You want prompts to remind you to call this person to do that you want to be able to push out information to lots of people that you’ve talked to over time. All of those things are better if you’ve got a CRM system that is in place.” (36:17-36:27)

Links

Alvin Crawford: LinkedIn
Revolution Foods: LinkedIn
Revolution Foods Website

Empellor CRM: LinkedIn
Empellor CRM Website