Tell me a little about Pleo.
Pleo is better spending for future workspaces. First, we solve the problem of company spending for lots of employees who are spending on the go. We automate the process and make it easy to collect receipts, so they don’t need to waste their time on it. Also we help employees feel trusted by companies, as they are given a Pleo card when they start on the job. It makes you feel trusted, and that you can actually do things for the company and not ask permission first. When I became a manager, I got my Pleo team access and can see what all my team are doing and they know I can see it. They don’t need to ask me if they can buy a breakfast at the airport or a stopover with a client
Your title is Sales Manager at Pleo, but I understand that it covers a much wider role than that?
I’m not super excited about titles – I’m excited about what I do. It’s a role that has developed organically where I help other people to find the right skills or training that they need to close deals. My ultimate responsibility is growing Pleo in all our markets. But the way I meet the target is by making other people better at selling, rather than running all the sales myself. I’ve done a lot of selling, but I just found that the organisation is better off when I commit to helping others get 10 percent better, rather than wearing myself out trying to maximise my individual contribution.
How does a culture of openness and support help a sales team thrive?
I’ve found that honesty can take you much further, but I didn’t really realise how far it can take you before I joined Pleo. Before I was in environments where image was really important – how I looked and what was on my CV – and I based some of my decisions on that. But when I started at Pleo, Jeppe put his faith in me and because of that I proved what I could do. And I was honest when I got my first team and I told everyone that it was my first time in the role and that I didn’t have all the answers we had to figure it out together.
That’s a risky move!
I never considered it that much. I’m very outgoing and speak before I think and in that sense I didn’t consciously decide what type of manager to be. But there were many situations where I realised that we were doing something for the first time, and that instead of giving the impression that I had all the answers it was better to help my team find new solutions. I just helped them to find the right answers and let them keep the glory. The benefit is that when I am struggling the team is with me and has my back.
When you’re recruiting, how do you identify people who have the potential to be high performance members of your team?
Drive is really important. What I look for are people who’ve done something above and beyond, such as professional athletes, or people who’ve trained themselves to play an instrument, or just someone who moved to another country for the experience. It’s about finding people who have gone beyond what’s considered normal. Then there’s finding the right balance between ego and humbleness. Ego makes demands, while humbleness is more curious and investigative, which is what we want at Pleo. We also hire people young, often straight out of graduate school.
Peter Olafsson, head of sales at Danish broadcaster TV2, recently said in an interview that you can’t send people in their 20s to sell to big clients. Why isn’t age an issue for you?
Age does not concern me. I’m more worried about assessing if new hires have the right values. When I’m in an interview and assessing whether I can send a 23-year-old to a UK client who’s head of finance and in charge of 300 employees, I’m more worried that they will oversell the product – this to me is where a person’s values come into play.
But also we don’t necessarily take every client. If someone comes to us who does not trust their employees and does not like transparency, our system is not built for that. In that case I would be worried that the 23-year-old is able to say ‘no’ to a 45-year-old CFO who wants us to customise our system for them, because we don’t do that.
Are older people too hard to retrain? Do you not think you could benefit from their experience?
Older interviewees sometimes come with expectations that the organisation is totally sorted, that there are clear rules and guidelines. When you’re used to rigid environments and boundaries, you aren’t driven to get out of the box. And a lot of young people have never been in a box before! They don’t know what the boundaries are, so they keep pushing every day in good and interesting ways.
If you were to go back to your 25-year-old self, what advice would you give?
When I was 20, I thought that in order to make something new you would need to stop and write a report and then start again – that’s what you did in school. But I’ve discovered that while you’re making that investigation you can’t stop what you’re already doing because in sales you deliver every single day. For a year at Dropbox I had a manager whose mantra was “don’t mess with the flow”. In sales its very valuable, because there will always be sales to close and things to be done. And it’s important to run those transactions at the same time as making incremental changes that make the company better. Those incremental changes build up to new ways of working, but if you look back three months it doesn’t feel like you’ve done a huge project. So understanding that little things add up in the long run and that you have to continue delivering while you’re building.