This post is part of an interview series featuring operators’ top tactics for thriving during economic shifts.
Today’s blog highlights an interview with Lauren Beaver, VP of Sales and Customer Success at Traject. Lauren began her career in the healthcare industry before transitioning to client development. She became the Director of Client Development at Fierce Inc., and later an Account Executive at Tableau Software before moving to Traject.
The following has been lightly edited.
Who is involved in headcount planning and compensation planning and how do you get the support that you need? (Note: Traject is not an OpenComp customer at the time of this interview.)
Our headcount planning has evolved over the last couple of years. Today, we look at how headcount is going to move the needle for growth strategies. So I don’t just root for headcount on my team: I need to root for the right headcount in the right places. For instance, sales can only do so much if marketing and product cannot release new features. Leadership makes these kinds of decisions together because they need to align with the overall goals of the business.
One thing that would help us when it comes to compensation, specifically, is knowing the market trends. We want to offer competitive and fair pay, so it would help to have insight into compensation trends at the industry, department, and role levels.
“Today, we look at how headcount is going to move the needle for growth strategies. So I don’t just root for headcount on my team: I need to root for the right headcount in the right places.”
How is your company responding to the economic downturn?
We pride ourselves on having healthy margins, which has enabled our business to continue growing with minimal disruption over the last few years. The world didn't just experience a recession, we experienced a pandemic that had a significant economic impact on a lot of businesses, including some of our customers. Our margins made it possible for us to withstand the turmoil and uncertainty of early 2020. If anything, that experience has further validated our strategy to maintain healthy margins.
What’s your secret to maintaining such healthy margins?
We allocate costs in a very disciplined way. We examine costs on a bi-annual basis to ensure that we are only spending on things we need, and regularly go through the exercise to justify ROI on our investments. We want to make sure that we've got healthy EBITDA margins and are maintaining profitability. We are good stewards of our finances and watch our spending very closely to make sure that we keep on budget. We did a big overhaul of our software spend a couple months ago to evaluate whether or not we actually use our software effectively. One of our main tactics is making sure that we're stretching our dollar as far as we possibly can.
What tactics do you use to reduce spend?
One of our biggest budget allocations as a software company is software. We aim to combine spend or renegotiate contracts to make sure we're getting optimal deals. We've also had a handful of acquisitions over the last couple years, enabling us to remove redundancies and bundle deals together.
Another tip, which any company can do, is to use our Amex card as much as possible and then use accrued points for travel and team meetings. That has made a surprisingly huge difference when it comes to making our money work for us. We’ve funded at least 30 different plane tickets and hotel trips with Amex points alone.
We’ve also leveraged remote work as a strategy to save cash. We were already hybrid before COVID. That said, we believe it's important to have some sort of in-person touchstone, so we'll do quarterly offsites (using our Amex points). We don't necessarily have to have a lease, which enables us to reallocate that budget elsewhere.
“One of our biggest budget allocations as a software company is software. We aim to combine spend or renegotiate contracts to make sure we're getting optimal deals.”
What revenue acceleration tactics have you implemented?
One tactic that's served as both a growth and retention strategy is keeping our customer relationships close. As a B2B business, it’s imperative to keep a pulse on customer pain points so we can help solve for them. We found this to be a critical tactic during COVID.
One approach to this is through quarterly conversations with our customers to learn more about what they’re dealing with. Some customers will even meet with us every other week. Others prefer a quick email exchange. We then synthesize all that great feedback and use it as fuel for our data-driven approach to feature development.
Oftentimes, the way we respond to their needs mirrors their strategy. If they’re giving their customers a 10% discount to stick around, then we'll match that to stay in good standing. We’ve also earned some really loyal customers because of that tactic. They have faith that we are in this together, and have their business's best interests at heart.
In addition to sales, we adjust our product strategy to meet the moment. We're always looking to prioritize features that give us the biggest bang for our buck and will help our customers through periods of uncertainty. A lot of our development is driven by what the customer needs based on the state of the market.
“We're always looking to prioritize features that give us the biggest bang for our buck and will help our customers through periods of uncertainty.”
What communication methods do you use to keep up team morale through uncertain times?
Having a data driven business model is key when it comes to transparent communication. Each one of these teams, in their own divisions, are looking at revenue, retention, churn, upsells, and expansions to make sure that we're tracking all of these things closely. We look at these metrics holistically with the entire company and individually in teams. The thought behind it is this: if you can explain why things happen at a micro level, you're much more prepared to understand the bigger picture and motivated to work toward a shared goal.
Executives have always been doing this work, but communicating findings to the greater org is exercising a new muscle for us. We want everybody to have the business acumen to know what we're driving for and understand how each individual owns some of the revenue responsibility. It’s about empowering our workforce.
“If you can explain why things happen at a micro level, you’re much more prepared to understand the bigger picture and motivated to work toward a shared goal.”
What is your greatest concern in light of the market turn?
Even though COVID hit two and a half years ago, it is still impacting companies and employees. Our goal is to support our employees, which we do in two ways. One is through our benefits programs (like offering mental health care) and the other is through transparency. We do quarterly overviews and are extremely transparent with them to ease any concerns.
We also are believers that businesses can win, even in difficult markets - but this often means a change in strategy. During COVID, for example, the social segment of our business fared quite well because of the accelerated shift from brick-and-mortar sales to eCommerce sales. We, therefore, invested heavily in our social products.
We’re trying to soften that uncertainty as we figure out what the next couple months or year looks like. I like to run our business with ultimate transparency. We do a quarterly financial overview and outlook with our team, and talk about the hard things. We don't want there to be any secrets or surprises.
“We do a quarterly financial overview and outlook with our team, and talk about the hard things. We don't want there to be any secrets or surprises.”
What's a commonly held belief about how to respond to an economic downturn that you disagree with?
During COVID we had two very distinct parties: one that slashed any unnecessary spend, and saw marketing as unnecessary. The other sought out marketing, viewing it as their lifeline to communicating with their customers.
When the last recession hit in 2008, social and reputation management were not as big of a deal as they are now. But today, we see it make a big difference in how companies perform against their targets. If you can lean into that connection with customers and use it to your favor, it can bolster you in a really impactful way today compared to what we've seen in previous recessions.