Lars Nilsson, fmr Cloudera Global VP of Sales, on a career full of learnings, mentorship, and gratitude.

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Episode Outline

[01:25] The importance of mentorship and how to choose a mentor

[02:57] The second type of mentor

[04:56] Why you need to know how to ask for help and how asking for help will put you ahead

[08:20] Mentorship for underprivileged and underrepresented populations

[10:34] Prospecting and selling are two different skill sets

[14:54] How to use SalesSource

[17:20] Lars’s career, what he has learned, and his priorities now

Lars’ Inspirations

Dennis Lyandres

Sarah Brazier

Tom Reilly

Connect with Lars



Elias Rubel: (01:05)
Perfect. So today it's a real pleasure to have LarsNilsson on the phone. Uh, Lars was a mentor of mine when I was starting my first SAS business and comes from most of you probably already know who Lars is, but for those of you who don't, he was the VP of global inside sales at Cloudera and four other global sales organizations that he grew and led, um, to great success. And today he is the CEO of Salesforce, a large welcome to the call. He lies really good to be reconnected with you. Thanks for having me on for sure, man. So I, you know, normally we talk all about revenue and growth and these things that I'm excited to talk to you about and you have incredible domain expertise on, but I also happen to know from our previous conversations that you're doing something that I think is really important right now, where you are making a conscious effort to mentor underrepresented young people who are entering tech, entering the workspace.

Elias Rubel: (02:06)
And I would love to start our conversation off today. Learning more about that.

Lars Nilsson: (02:11)
Yeah. Um, again, if any of you, if any of the people on this podcast have listened to any of my other work, uh, you know, that I'm passionate about mentorship, um, and not just the mentorship that I do, but making sure that younger people in their career seek mentorship. Um, and I, I like to talk about mentorship, uh, of two different types. I truly believe that as you enter the workforce and get hired into a company, you should spend, uh, you know, about six months understanding, um, those in the company you just joined that could become mentors to you in that company. Um, and I do believe that every time you move or change careers and go to a new company, you should find someone in the company you're working in, that you look up to that you trust that as a position, not necessarily in your department could be anywhere in the company, but someone that you could spend time with, whether that's once a month or at least once a quarter and be guided by, um, you know, there are people in those companies that are above you that see things, um, and can help guide you and make the right decisions as you, uh, make career moves, um, or, you know, you get, uh, into a pickle or, uh, you're not sure what to do, or you just want inspiration.

Lars Nilsson: (03:41)
Um, and, and then I think there's, there's another type of mentor that I think is just as important if not more. And that is the mentor that is external to the company or working for someone that knows you and your background and that you can go to over the next, you know, two to three decades, right? You're getting out of school, you're getting your first job, you're in your twenties and you have 30, 40 years of work ahead of you. Wouldn't it be great if you had a mentor that you could go to and help you understand if it's the right time to move and change your career. And so I'm a really big fan of younger people in their career, taking the time and the energy and reaching out and putting a couple of people on, on your team, so to speak. Um, um, I have made, you know, I've been working Lee line now for 34 years since I graduated from college.

Lars Nilsson: (04:40)
And, um, if I had not had, uh, the mentorship coaching and guidance from those that I had reached out to, I would have made a lot more mistakes. Uh, now, today I have made a ton of mistakes, but I've also had some successes. And I like to think that I can help steer young people younger in their career, people, uh, you know, away from making mistakes. And so flip it around, cause I'm curious, you know, a lot of our lists, a lot of our listeners are either executives or founders at, you know, fast-growing series a series B and beyond companies who are all presumably quite busy and, you know, have packed calendars. So how have you made it work and, and been able to prioritize it, um, as something that you spend time consciously on it. And what would your advice be to the listeners who hear this and want to get involved with their time as well?

Lars Nilsson: (05:42)
Yeah, I mean, I'm at the Dawn of my career, I guess you can say, right. And it's my turn to give back, it's my turn to pay it forward. Um, and I do believe that appreciation and gratitude go along the way they certainly do for me. But I also recognize that I have been given so much and I have taken so much, and it's my turn now, uh, to help those, uh, that are coming after. Um, and I think you just need to have the, uh, you, you know, you have to have the courage to ask for it. Um, and I think those people that, that are not afraid to ask for help are the ones that get it. Um, and so I think that's number one. I mean, uh, you know, you open the call by saying that, uh, I was a mentor to you.

Lars Nilsson: (06:31)
I spent eight years mentoring founders within the true ventures portfolio, and these are all brilliant minds. I mean, uh, back in my days at Cloudera Cloudera, we called these brilliant people a hundred pound brains. And certainly I do not come from an engineering product or design background, and I'm not entrepreneurially entrepreneurial in that way, but what I've done is built a selling operations and I've built pipelines and I've closed big and small deals, and I can certainly help these founders and become mentors and coaches to them and help them understand how to build, you know, a revenue operation, how to generate demand for their product that they spent their life's passion working on. Um, and I think the key for anyone, regardless of, uh, uh, how old, or how successful, or how new you are at anything is have the courage to ask for help. Um, you know, I got to provide context, um, and it's gotta be relevant. Uh, but I think for those people that have the courage to just ask for help, you know, those four letters, H E L P it's just such a strong, uh, move in my opinion, to be able to do that. And I love it when especially young people or people who have never asked for help do it for the first time and get it. Yes. Um,

Elias Rubel: (07:56)
Drilling into that, I'd like, like to ask a kind of pointed follow up question, which is, you know, our industry tech is at least historically fairly white, especially I think on the sales and marketing side, like it's, it's not been a very diverse industry to date and that's changing, but I'm curious to break that pattern. Like it may be that folks who are still fitting that mold are more comfortable asking for help because they see more of themselves in the industry. And it's easier to imagine themselves fitting in, perhaps is there, are there ways that you've gone about kind of reaching out on your end or making yourself more available so that those underrepresented groups have an entry point?

Elias Rubel: (08:53)
Yeah, that's a great question. Uh, you know, I, uh, before we got on this call, we talked about the fact that my two kids are in college. My daughter is a rising, uh, freshmen. My son is a rising senior and for the most part, the last four years, I've spent a lot of time mentoring their friends, but they're friends. Like my kids are white kids of privilege. Um, and, uh, I'm easy for them because they're, uh, you know, they're friends of my kids. So what I've done is made a very conscious decision. Um, and I pivoted not necessarily away from helping, uh, those kids that are in my network, but I've made a very conscious decision to pivot towards, um, uh, younger people in their career, uh, that have, you know, differing, um, uh, backgrounds. And so I've joined a network, uh, at a company called bravado. Um, and they specialize in mentorship, um, of, uh, underprivileged and unrepresented, uh, groups. Um, and so that's a very conscious decision that I made. Um, so I'm spending less time picking up mentees, uh, in the pools that I used to, uh, you know, run around in and deliberately, uh, rotating towards, uh, groups that have, uh, underrepresented, uh, within them.

Speaker 3: (10:23)
Wow, that's fantastic. And you said was a bravado for those who wanted to check it out?

Elias Rubel: (10:26)
Yup. Bravado, um, check out what Sahil Montessori is doing, and he's doing great work in building this network, um, pulling kids from various universities, um, across the country. I think they're starting here in Northern California and then moving across the country. So these are, uh, university students, uh, uh, Latina acts and, uh, black and female.

Speaker 3: (10:55)
Amazing. All right. So I would be remiss if we didn't talk about sales and MarTech, because I know that you are a huge fan of trying things and always being on the bleeding edge. And you've put out some really interesting stuff lately with the AB S D tech stack and the touch patterns, uh, interactive touch patterns, doc, you put out the other day. So can you talk us through kind of, what's getting you excited these days with changes in the market and the technology.

Elias Rubel: (11:23)
Yeah. And again, I've been kind of iterating and, uh, uh, kind of tooling away on this. The notion that prospecting and selling are two completely different skill sets and motions. And my first job in high tech was with a company called portal software. I joined in 1997 and my manager at the time, Bernice Camara said, Lars, I'm paying my sales reps too much. I need you to do me a favor and build me a team that can prospect for them so they don't have to. And he said that because he realized that his sellers, he was paying, uh, gobs of money to both in salary and commission, and he wanted them fully productive in selling negotiating and closing. And he realized that as soon as they started prospecting, they weren't selling. And as soon as they started selling, they weren't prospecting. So, uh, the SDR kind of, uh, roll in and, uh, came into being, and I spent 20 years, uh, making sure that the best practices, the processes, and now with all the technology we have, uh, at our fingertips, we can accelerate the touchpoints that we have to the companies that we are targeting into the relevant personas within them, that we believe, um, need our product.

Elias Rubel: (12:55)
Um, and so, uh, what I'm passionate about today is sales engagement. And for those of you that don't know sales, engagement's a new category of, uh, revenue, technology, sales, marketing technology, that in the hands of a seller, or more importantly, and more, uh, you know, better said the sales development rep, they can orchestrate, um, and automate outbound cold sequences or touch patterns or flows that include email, voicemail, social touches, uh, direct mail and video, um, and in a sequential manner, uh, drip out messaging content and branding in hopes that, you know, one of the targets that you've identified at a, at a ideal customer, um, is going to see one of your touch points and engage or reply, or, you know, raise their hand. And that's what I'm passionate about today and what I've built in advisory around. Um, I think a lot of the companies in the Valley, um, and those that are a part of the modern sales pros community, you know, we've been a part of understanding the top of the funnel, uh, uh, demand generation techniques and best practices.

Elias Rubel: (14:15)
But I mean, the world, I don't think has awoken to the power of, uh, an SDR or a role that takes prospecting, uh, and takes it away from selling. Um, and, uh, in that way, I think you can, you can, you can train and you can inspire a new, uh, you know, a new, uh, generation of sellers. Uh, you know, today's SDR becomes tomorrow's AAE. Um, and I think it's important for companies to understand, to create career paths for their early stage sellers, mature them so that they can one day carry a quota and knock it out of the park for you. Um, and what you may be referring to Eli as a touch as a infographics that, uh, uh, I've been getting out to kind of inspire and educate companies that are just starting the process of generating pipeline, um, and how to use technology Strait, that technology and build playbooks for their marketers and sellers, so that they can do these one to many, um, outbound, cold touch patterns to generate demand.

Speaker 3: (15:30)
Yeah, it's an amazing chart. Where can someone for listeners who haven't seen this yet, obviously they should find you on LinkedIn and they can find it there, but is it it's on sale source on the site as well?

Elias Rubel: (15:42)
Good. A and in the upper right hand corner, there's a resources button and all of our kind of, uh, interactive infographics and blog posts about, um, first of all, are you a candidate? Is your business, does your product sales motion, sales cycle, average sales price? Are you a candidate for this high velocity account based sales development programming? Um, and there's a decision tree that will help guide you through. And if you are then there's one called the ultimate AB S D abs D tech stack. And it'll help guide you through if you're a, you know, seed or series a stage company, um, the kinds of, uh, logos, you know, the kinds of vendors that are available to you at price points, so you can likely afford to get started. And then there's, uh, if, as you mature in your abs D uh, willingness and know how, um, there's another, you can toggle over to a more mature tech stack and what that looks like.

Elias Rubel: (16:48)
Um, and then the third infographic will give you, you know, now you have the tech in place you're ready to go. You know, if you are going cold, outbound to a high value target, how many touch points, um, you know, if you consider that you're going to drip out a number of emails and number of voicemails, you're going to social touch and bump. Um, you know, you can get up to 20 touches in a single flow. Um, what does that look like? And we've attempted to show you what a really good kind of cadence of whether it's an inbound, um, you know, demo requests, or it's a outbound cold outbound to a, maybe a, a, not a target account, but a, a tier two account and what that looks like. And hopefully that's helpful to everyone

Speaker 3: (17:41)
Phenomenal infographic. Um, so now I I'd like to spend the rest of our time asking you some, some more personal questions just about, you know, how you, you have had an incredibly intense career. I mean, the success that you've seen, and you're really humble about it, what are some things that, you know, outside of all of this work and coaching and all the Valley things that you do, what do you do to take your mind off of it and kind of have a balanced life?

Elias Rubel: (18:09)
Yeah, it's such a good question. And I'm not going to say that I haven't lost, um, in, in that, you know, 25 year career here in the Valley, certainly, um, in the four companies that I operated in, all of which went from seed stage on, into becoming public companies. I went through like we all have, and, and in the Valley of the ringer. Um, and, uh, you know, I won't say that I'm a single father today because of my journey through the Valley, but certainly it has a, a part to play. Right. My focus, my attention, um, you know, it's, it's, it ends up becoming all over the place when you decide to join a start up. Um, but, uh, you know, today at 50 for two grown kids, um, and a 20 year marriage behind me, I'm, uh, I don't think I've ever been more aware of what I really want to do, and that is, you know, spend time giving back, spend time as much with my kids as I can, uh, before they, you know, completely fly the coop.

Elias Rubel: (19:18)
Um, I, you know, I I've had some success. And so, uh, uh, my grew up on the water, um, in the archipelago of, uh, outside of Stockholm. And, and today I spent a lot of time on a boat, um, uh, here in San Francisco Bay. Um, and that certainly helps, uh, uh, you know, helps, uh, detract and help helps me blow off some steam. Um, but I think that, um, as I go from, you know, operator to adviser to hopefully at some point semi retiree, I'm going to focus on giving back and doing as much mentorship of, you know, whether it's younger people coming out of college or younger people that never went to college or founders that are just starting their revenue journey, as much as I can do to give back all those things that I've taken and learned. Um, that's gonna, that's, what's gonna fulfill me.

Speaker 3: (20:19)
I love it. So my last question for you is going to be a twofer, um, on one side, you know, we've talked a lot about mentorship, um, and I really value this, this podcast episode with you for that reason. Um, especially it's so much fun to talk about that who are some of the mentors in your life who have led you along this journey, or been there for you. And then on the flip side of the coin, who are some mentees who

Elias Rubel: (20:48)
You're working with right now that folks should check out who are kind of rising stars, and you're proud of the work they've done so far. Yeah. That's such a, I love the fact that you asked me that question and the first thought that came to my mind, and it really does blow me away. And yes, I've had tons and tons of mentees, but some of the names that came into my mind just now is who I today feel being mentored by our previous mentees that have just grown developed in surge, in their careers to the point where now I'm learning from them.

Elias Rubel: (21:29)
And, uh, I had the pleasure to work with tons of people back in my five year career at Cloudera. Um, there was a young man there by the name of Dennis Landress, who I inherited as a SDR manager. Um, and together we built the global SDR team at Cloudera. Um, he decided to leave a couple of years into our working together and become the revenue leader at a company called Procor. Um, and in the last four to five years, Dennis has gone from my SDR manager, uh, at cloud era to building a global sales operation and revenue operation, and global sales team in the hundreds, um, has become a unicorn. And, uh, they have filed to go public, um, on the span of four years. And we're talking about a 20 something. Uh, he may be in his early thirties today. Um, and when I see, hear and feel the things that he's doing, I'm learning today from him, uh that's how quickly some of these people ascend, um, there's a woman SDR had by the name of Sarah Bazir, who has a completely blonde, not just me, but I think the whole community SDR community away with, uh, her skills, her performance, her success, and just her openness and willingness to share what's working for her.

Elias Rubel: (22:58)
Um, I'm taking mad props. I give her mad props and I'm taking lots of great, um, best practices in, in, in how she's engaging with the public. Um, but, uh, I would say that it, Tom Riley, uh, who is the CEO of a company, um, where we first met at ArcSight, he then became the CEO of cloud era. Um, we've been operating and working together for 12 to 13 years. I've learned more about just pure leadership. Um, yes, he may be one of the most, uh, charismatic and, uh, best individual contributors I've ever met. He's an unfunny people manager, but, um, I think when I've pulled from him the most is just his leadership style, uh, those qualities, um, that lend themselves to leaders, which are, you know, communication up and down the chain, uh, the importance of aligning those in your organization. Um, uh, I become a better person, a better manager and certainly a better leader. Having watched him take two companies, uh, to the public domain. Um, and I think, uh, all of those in my life, both below and above me for all that they've given me. Fantastic. Well, Lars, thank you so much for sharing for all the insights and a bit of personal tidbits as well. This has been really fun to catch up. Appreciate that. And thanks.