Our guest today is ZoomInfo’s President & COO, Chris Hays.
Chris Hays leads sales, marketing, and customer success. From 2019 until early 2021, Chris helmed sales and customer success teams as Chief Revenue Officer. Prior to that, from 2016 to 2019, he served as Senior Director of Sales and Marketing Operations, Vice President of Sales Operations, and Chief Operating Officer.
Prior to ZoomInfo, Chris leveraged over 20 years of business-to-business experience managing high-performing, go-to-market teams, including global sales, marketing, and operations roles at Lucent, and later at Avaya, to eventually co-founding Inside Sales Team in 2008.
At Inside Sales Team, Chris also served as Head of Revenue Operations until 2015. He holds a B.A. from SUNY-Albany.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- Ripple effects during the process of going public
- What changes occur for leaders as the company scales
- How leaders gain confidence in themselves when they hire people with skill sets they don’t have
- How to manage business and personal responsibilities
Connect with Chris Hays: LinkedIn
ZoomInfo – https://www.zoominfo.com
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Our guest is ZoominInfo‘s President and COO, Chris Hays. He leads sales, marketing, and customer success. From 2019 until early 2021, Chris helms sales and customer success teams as Chief Revenue Officer. Prior to that from 2016 to 2019, he served as Senior Director of Sales in Marketing Operations, Vice President of Sales Operations, and Chief Operating Officer.
Prior to ZoomInfo, Chris leveraged many years of business-to-business experience managing high-performing go-to-market teams, including global sales, marketing, and operations roles at Lucent, and then later at Avaya to eventually cofounding Inside Sales Team in 2008. At Inside Sales Team, Chris also served as the Head of Revenue Operations until 2015. He holds a BA from SUNY, Albany. Chris, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
There’s a funny story as to how we ended up asking you to be on the show. Someone sent me a letter to a home that I’d lived at a few years ago in Arizona, and I’m like, “Where did you get that?” They’re like, “ZoomInfo.” I’m like, “I got to go in to change it.” I go on to ZoomInfo. I’ve heard of the company. Clearly, I knew of you and you’re everywhere. I’m like, “I want to see who these guys are.” I clicked on the Leadership Team page, and your name comes up. I’m like, “These guys have got their stuff together. I want to know more.” I reached out. The same day my assistant is editing my information, we reached out to you and somebody on your team came back to me. Thank you.
That’s an awesome story. Thanks for updating your information too. We appreciate it.
Some people aren’t even aware of who ZoomInfo are or what you do. Tell us a little bit about the business and the model so we know who you are. We see you in searches, but what’s the business?
The way that I talk about we’re a sales and marketing intelligence platform, what that means is we’ve built a platform that’s got information about companies and the people who work at those companies, what they do, how long they’ve been there, and equally as important a way get ahold of them, their phone numbers, email addresses, and mobile numbers. We wrap that around information around technographic data like what kind of technologies has the company deployed.
We think about things in terms of intent and what those companies are researching with maybe an intent to buy or get smarter about, scoops, things that are going on in that company like funding, buying a new building, maybe a new hire that came on board. We package all of that information up and give it back to sellers and marketers in a way to makes them effectively identify their best accounts, what’s going on in those accounts, and equally as important how to reach out and have a conversation with those accounts.
Your real end user is the sales and marketing organizations of other companies. You’re like a B2B data service.
We are a data and intelligence service. It’s interesting. We started off very much as a sales function. Marketing is more and more coming to the table trying to grab that data and that information and pull it together further for sellers. As organizations are sophisticated, we’re working back with their data science teams and marketing data management teams and bringing our information to help scale across their enterprises. It started off as very much a sales play that was adopted early by technology sales organizations. Now we have companies that range from T-Mobile to HousePlans.com. It has proliferated quite nicely.
Is LinkedIn playing in and around your space at all? Are they bumping into you, or they are completely different?
It’s a little bit of a different space. LinkedIn is self-reported. You go and tell LinkedIn who you are and what you do. You’re as honest as you are with LinkedIn. We’re not using that information at all. We’re curating it from other places. A good example is if somebody leaves a job either to take a hiatus or for other reasons, they might not update LinkedIn until they get to a new assignment, and then they might not update it at all. Whereas our data looks at other aspects of what’s going on in the world and makes those updates in a more expeditious fashion.
When you want to activate the data in LinkedIn, the only way to activate it and to campaign against it is either within the mail, which I think we’ve probably all gotten in more or less ignored in most cases. Depending on a customer’s sophistication curve, we either live with LinkedIn as a complementary asset. In some cases, people go with us and not with LinkedIn. It depends on where the company’s going and how they’re going to market.
You speak like a marketer. You speak perfectly in sound bites, which is nice. You don’t go on ad nauseam like a tech person, which is great. Is that a strength of yours as a COO that you speak in sound bites, or do you speak so people can connect with you?
Maybe. I hadn’t thought of it. Many times I rumble, for sure.
ZoomInfo is public. When did you guys go public?
June or July 2021.
That’s even better than I was hoping for. You went public during COVID. Tell us what that was internally. Can you give us the journey or the life cycle where you decided to go public as a company because you were for sure in on that decision, you started to tell the team, and roll it out? What changed? What got better and worse?
It’s an interesting story. We were planning to go public in March 2021. As COVID was playing out, we were on the roadshow. We’re doing the analyst days. We did an analyst day at one of the theaters in Waltham, Massachusetts by the office. We were planning to go out in March. I know you remember this. As we’re going up and COVID is happening, there’s a little bit of uncertainty about what’s going on, and things are closing. When they restricted international flights, it was an inflection point. We pressed pause on going public. At the time, nobody knew what the market or the economy was going to do.
People were talking about it unprecedentedly. Nobody lived through anything like this before. When the world didn’t end and when we all took a breath of air and looked around, business was still happening and people still needed to sell, market, drive, and hit their number. As the fall and winter progressed, we ended up thinking about it and decided that we were going to do it during the pandemic and do it as a virtual IPO. It was an amazing experience. It was great, and I’m glad we got to do it. We didn’t get to go and ring the bell, but it was great.
What was it like internally in the organization? What kind of things happened? I imagine there are ripple effects both good and bad of having gone public and even in the process of going public. Can you walk us through anything there?
There’s a lot of focus and rigor around whether we’re going to be public. Everything that we do is going to need to be talked about. The numbers are going to need to be shown on both the top line and bottom line. We needed to continue to execute. We were executing very strongly for IPO and needed to maintain that and, in some cases, accelerate it. It was a focusing event. Everybody got focused and rallied around it. When we did go public, NASDAQ had us in a virtual Zoom room. This is the first time that I had been involved in a company that had gone public. The way that it works is they have a price that they think you’re going to go out at.
A lot of smart people go back and do the math and still don’t understand all of the details around it. They come back and tell you, “Here’s the price,” and then they’re waiting for a balancing event. You don’t go out when the market opens and you’re trading. You’ve got to wait for this. We’re in this virtual room the whole company’s in, listening to what’s going on, and then we finally go out. It was super exciting. Even though we weren’t together in person, it still was an exciting event.
Was it distracting at all for the employees when they’re like, “Now our options are starting to be worth money?” Was there any of that that you had to control?
I don’t know if it was distracting as much as it was a good outcome for a lot of people. People were excited about it. From a private company, and especially, our team skews fairly young 25 to 35, when you talk about shares in equity and the different classes of equity, people don’t necessarily have a full understanding of what that means and what it will turn into. As this promise and these ideas that were there turned into firm hard numbers and you have a system that shows you what you’ve got and all that stuff, it was exciting. There was an outcome for a lot of people.
The outcome has been fairly horrible. You IPOed at $46, and now you’re at $70. You’re up 56%. You’re crushing it.
It’s been good. We were set to come out at $22. When they put us in that room, the number they said was $22. We ended up coming out at $46. Everybody was blown away by that. We’ve put up good quarters. The growth has been good. It’s profitable growth. We’re growing and we’re profitable, which is a rare combination of the level we’re doing.
You’ve got $476 million in revenue and 2,200 employees.
The employee counts a little bit higher. At this point in time, we’re closer to 3,000 employees. We’ve grown a lot. With the office that Rob was in that he was talking to you about, when we went home for COVID, we were in a different building in Waltham, Mass. During COVID, we outgrew that building. We got a new building that Rob’s in now. That’s pretty big. We swapped buildings with Vistaprint during COVID.
When you started with ZoomInfo, what year was that? How many years ago?
2016 was when I became a direct employee. I worked with Henry and the team as a consultant at InsideSalesTeam.com. Henry was a client of ours. I got to work with Henry for about three years before I came over as an employee.
How many employees approximately when you joined?
It was 150.
It was a couple of years ago and is almost 3,000 now. It’s the same company. You don’t even know everybody’s name at 150, but you could work at it and probably get close to know them. Now you don’t even know what people do for jobs.
When we were 150, the building that I’m in, this floor that I’m on, I could walk the entire floor at that time and touch everybody that was customer facing, sales, customer success, and even support. I could walk around and see and talk to them all. Now we’re spread across different floors, buildings, and, in some cases, different countries. It’s been quite a change.
What changes for you as a leader and what changes for the company of leaders as a company scales to when not only you can’t touch everybody, but you don’t even know what people’s jobs are? You see them walking past. You don’t even know what they do. What changes, and how do you have to change?
The way that I talk and think about it is when I first joined Henry, there were a lot of things that as a Senior Director of Marketing and in revenue operations that I could do myself. I could put it on my back and do it. Whether that was putting Apex code in Salesforce, figuring out how to route the leads, activating campaigns in Marketo, or even hiring salespeople, I could do all of that and touch all of it. As you get bigger, I’m pretty good, but there’s a limit to my scale as an individual contributor. What you have to learn as a leader is you need to bring people in around you that are better than you and the things that you’re not good at.
As these things scale, the people that I brought in around me to help me deliver what the company and the business needed of me was the main thing, and being able to rely on them. The most valuable person on my team is somebody that I can say, “I need this and this to happen. Do you have questions? Go work on that. If you have questions, come back and let’s talk about it. If you can go take that and then go work with 4, 5, or 20 other people to actualize that outcome, you’re super valuable to me.” That’s the kind of people that, as we scale, I’ve tried to surround myself with.
This is a question that a lot of COOs or even senior leaders have. How do you as a leader get the confidence or be okay with the fact that you no longer know how to do a lot of the jobs of people that you’re hiring, where you still know that you are securing your job?
I’ve seen people where you move a person at the very simplest level as you take an account executive who’s a good individual contributor, and you move her to a sales manager. If she starts to compete against those people and say, “I was a better seller than you,” that is an outcome that happens when you move somebody up. In some cases, you try to coach around that and help mitigate it, but the best leaders are the people who are secure enough to have somebody who’s better than you at what you’re doing. I’ve got a gentleman who runs my customer business. He’s better at that than I would be.
That’s amazing for me because the business benefits from it. I am able to focus on other things, add value and not have to worry about that as much as I would if I had somebody that I brought in who was a little bit worse than I was but still good enough. I would then have to focus my attention and time on that. It’s understanding that as we move up in the organization and our scope and responsibility increase, I’m not judged on my individual contribution. I’m judged on the outcome of the team that I’m orchestrating. Having a great player on the team is amazing.
That’s the best answer to that question because the reality is if you had the people who you knew what their job was and how to do it, you wouldn’t be getting as much done. It makes a lot of sense. As a leader in the organization, are you still growing your skills? What are you focusing on? What do you try to grow? Where are you trying to get better?
As my team has gotten better, I’m focusing on leadership skills, understanding how I show up, making decisions, interacting with the team, and getting the most out of the individual people on my team. That’s where I focus a lot of my time and energy. I was very technical when I was younger. I still try to stay abreast of things going on. I spend time on our platform. I spend time taking a look at what competitors are doing, people who are getting funding, and people who are up and coming. I try to stay engaged in the market, what’s going on around us, and the technical side. The main thing is focusing on making myself a better leader.
How do you decide what to say no to so that you don’t end up working 24 hours a day and 7 days a week?
I listen to a few of the people you’ve talked to. You’ve got three people who have a pretty good view holistically of what’s going on in an organization. You’ve got the CEO and the CFO who’s generally involved in all of the financial pieces, which makes him or her happen to be involved in everything, and then the COO. An advantage that I have is that I know generally almost everything that’s going on at ZoomInfo at the same level as Henry, our CEO, and our CFO.
When I’m interacting with people. We’re talking about what we need to do. With the priorities that they have, I’m able to take that and have broader scope of insight. It’s not even that I’m smarter. I’m privy to more. I’m able to take those requests and weigh them against a larger outcome. I try to do that. That’s why I would say yes or no to. It’s that balancing act.
What do you focus on day-to-day?
I’ve brought in a new CIO that’s in our org. She’s being tasked with putting together a corporate engineering team that is able to support a 3,000-employee company. As you can imagine, as we grew that fast, we need to upgrade some of the systems in the back office pieces. I’m working back with her on that vision.
If you listen to the announcement, we’ve had some success on the international front, in working internationally and domestically. We wanted to go internationally with boots on the ground earlier in the year, but COVID made that a little bit more challenging. We’re finally super excited. We’re finally going to be able to open an office in London. I’ve been focusing a lot of time on that, where to go the staffing and the resourcing of that piece.
In terms of the boots-on-the-ground expansion, will that change now because of what we’ve had to learn via COVID? Will you be able to do more sales outreach and land these bigger accounts via Zoom, or do you need to be there in person?
Before COVID, one of the reasons we’ve been successful is we were early adopters of Inside Sales. Even before COVID, the majority of our sales transactions happened like this. We were early users of GoTo Meeting, and then we moved over to Zoom. We would go out opportunistically on deals. I would go to Dallas to meet with a big telecom company on a big deal. I might go to New York to meet with a Fiserv company on a big deal. They were opportunistic and timed meetings. We would close seven-figure deals without meeting anybody in person before COVID.
The move internationally is more about time zone, hiring talent, and localization. The UK is a little bit of a different market. It was, in terms of still face-to-face interactions. I think COVID is a leveling effect where people are now more open to having a virtual interaction and feeling comfortable that, “You can solve my problem. I trust you. It’s economically viable. Let’s do this.” There’s a lot more appetite for that now than there ever has been.
I’m starting to see a real globalization of hiring and recruiting of talent. I spoke to the CEO in Ohio who lost one of his senior people to a company based out of and head office out of Luxembourg. I’m like, “Are you kidding?” no one in Luxembourg would ever hire anybody from Ohio. Now they’re saying, “We’ll hire the best people we can get for the money that we want to pay them wherever the heck they live.”
It is happening. I haven’t had anybody poached from Luxembourg yet.
Is that some of the plans of the public money is to be able to now recruit talent and pay more?
We’ve always been looking for talent. One of the awards we got was one of the best compensation places to work on comparably. We’re able to now bring in talent that’s more specialized. There is part of the growth of an organization like this where I mentioned myself where I was doing a lot of different things, and I did them well, hopefully. Now, I’m bringing people in that are a lot more focused on a specific task or event versus these broader people. In some cases, those roles command a premium, depending on the role. We are always looking for great talent. Whether it’s here in the US or the UK, we’ve got offices in Tel Aviv for the R&D team, and the engineering teams out of Ra’anana and Tel Aviv.
Bringing in senior people into the organization is something that started when you were probably around the 300 or 200-employee mark. When you’re bringing in, for the first time, outside senior people and they come over the top of three layers below them, how do you do that without upsetting everybody in the organization? How do you socialize it or let the whole company be okay with the fact that we’ve recruited 3 or 4 senior people and you didn’t get that job and you’re now reporting to them?
We’ve had to navigate that in a few different places over the years. It is about going and talking about the value that you’ve added to the organization. We still value you and what you’re going to be able to do. As we get bigger, we can’t have somebody focusing on all of these different things. We need to get into this more of not a specialization but a narrower swim lane. In that case, I’m not going to judge you by the quantity of what you’re doing like, “You did all this stuff.” It now needs to be judged on the quality of a more finite number of things. It comes down to acknowledging the value that they’ve added and making sure that they understand that we still want them to continue to add value.
It’s going to be in a little bit of a different capacity. The change that we’re making sets it up for the organization to be more successful and for them to be more successful. One of the worst things that can happen is you take somebody who’s been successful and the business has scaled around them, and then they’re in a role where they’re no longer able to execute or deliver. It doesn’t feel good for them. It’s not good for the business, but it can be depending. It can be a delicate conversation.
I like your approach because the two things that you cover, if you go back and look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, is the safety needs. You’re secure and safe here, and then the belonging and love needs, “We still like you. You’re going to be a valuable part of the company, but this is what’s changing.” You’re answering that level that’s critical for employees.
If we don’t address that with them or if we were like, “It’s not your job. These guys are better,” that doesn’t answer that security and fear thing. You started with that, which is powerful because then they’ll understand it’s okay why they didn’t get the other role because they know they’re safe. It’s intuitive or thoughtful that you did that. When COVID hit, did you guys have to go remote? I guess you did because you couldn’t go to the office. What was that like as a leadership team? Was it like, “What are we going to do?”
It’s interesting because, culturally, I talk about the fact that we were all virtual. We were doing selling like this, but we were doing it from an office. We were very much an in-office culture. I mentioned I could walk around the floor and talk and interact with people. The idea of going remote was foreign. Remote work from home was foreign to us. I’m blessed to have a very talented HR team.
We knew it was coming, and we were putting together plans around employee readiness, employee safety, and employee productivity. We had a plan, and it was pretty well thought out, then everybody goes home, you worry go and, “What’s going to happen?” Like a lot of other companies, it worked out to be a benefit in the beginning.
People got more productive. People figured out a way. People find a way. It was an amazing experience. I’m back in the office, and I come back in fairly often now. I miss that interaction that you get when you walk down the hall to get a coffee. We’ve got a few people coming back. I’m anxious for the next chapter of this where we’re back together at least in some limited capacity.
It’s been incredible to watch companies go through this transition because if you’d told companies many years ago, “You have to do this,” it would be like, “There’s no way it can’t be done,” or not even have to, but, “Could we do this?” I was like, “No, it can’t be done. We can’t go remote. We have to be in the office.” We were forced to find a better way, but another way. We’re all going to grow from that too.
I’m old enough to remember when the first pass at virtual work arguably failed. It was not a failure of the concept. It was a failure of the technology. You had Polycom and maybe go to Staples or OfficeMax to use a video room, and now you can hop on multiple devices and have what feels like a fairly intimate interaction. If we didn’t have that, it would’ve gone a little bit different for us.
With Skype, it worked, but it was kludgy. Even Google Hangouts worked, but did they ever miss an opportunity?
They did miss an opportunity.
I hadn’t thought about that, but they missed that one. What’s been the frustrations for you in building out this company? As a COO, what’s been hard?
If you look at the results that we’ve had, we are a fast-growing profitable company. We have a pretty high bar. It’s not frustrating, but the bar is high so much. The example I’m thinking about is when we bought ZoomInfo pre-IPO, it was before we bought DiscoverOrg in Vancouver. Washington bought ZoomInfo based in Waltham, Mass. When we bought that company, we had an idea of what value it was going to unlock. The value that we got out of it was amazing. It was much more than we had anticipated.
In that first year of bringing the teams together, I had two sales teams selling competitive products, and they were rivals. It also almost set itself up as East and West Boston versus Vancouver. Navigating that first year was challenging. The frustrating part was, “How do you define success in that outcome? What does that look like?” We think we’re doing well. We could be doing better. That was a tough year. It had an amazing outcome. It ended amazingly well. Ultimately, that set us up for the public markets that we talked about. It was a tough year.
Did you make cuts during that? Were you merging departments and cutting people or were you merging them and getting 1 plus 1 equals 3?
It was not an expense synergy acquisition. It was about 1 plus 1 equaling 3. When we were talking before the call, you were talking a little bit about some of the things you had done professionally. One of the things we found at ZoomInfo is they had this great asset that they had undervalued it. In the marketplace, they were selling it for less than they should have been. We came in. We looked at the pricing and the value that they were giving for the price. We raised the pricing and raised it again. That was a challenging thing to get people who were used to selling at a lower price point, which makes it more transactional to start talking about and selling value.
Customers were deriving value from it at the price point specifically. Articulating that even at a larger or higher sale price, the value is still there. It’s still going to be transformational for you. That took a little bit of work too. There were a few people who couldn’t make that transition. Those were people who couldn’t make that migration to selling value from being a transactional seller. Some of those folks found other homes, but it was all about 1 plus 1 equals 2, other than things like that.
I feel like you’ve got a massive opportunity on the PR and marketing side where I don’t feel like the business community knows the company, what you do, and why we need to talk to you. We know what Salesforce is and what QuickBooks does. I feel like ZoomInfo is like this hidden gem of an opportunity on that marketing side that we don’t know enough about yet. Is that accurate?
There’s a case for it. We have a base of people, users, and companies that are avid fans. I have people who when they go on to a new journey, the first thing that they’ll do is if ZoomInfo is not there, they’ll bring ZoomInfo in.
Is the marketing side or sales side know what ZoomInfo is?
It’s both. It’s the sales and marketing side. Probably more in sales and marketing. Although that’s changing. When we talk about our opportunity in our team, we talk about micro teams in terms of industry and employee size. The view of that gives us an idea of where we’re penetrated and not. Tech companies from medium to high employees know who ZoomInfo is. When you get into more logistics, manufacturing, or business services, it’s typically a larger employee count that has an idea of who ZoomInfo is.
When you get into business services logistics on a lower employee count, that’s the area where we’re selling there, but they’re finding us and then they’re understanding the value, whereas those larger tech companies or business services companies that know about us are coming to us purposefully. It’s amazing to watch in the time I’ve been here how much we’ve penetrated across all of those things and how people view us as, “You can’t go to market without ZoomInfo.”
I may be in the wrong demographic in terms of the clients that I typically work with, the 50 to 500-person companies. Maybe it’s more of the entrepreneurial organizations I’m not bumping. I thought ZoomInfo was like something on the internet where your data was. It’s been fascinating learning about you.
I’m definitely going to yell at my marketing team now.
It’s an opportunity to scream from the rooftops, “We found this interesting at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?” We were $100 million in revenue. We participated in a couple of surveys. One of them was name recognition. We did the top-of-mind awareness and name recognition. On the name recognition, it was like, “Have you heard of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?”
We were 3.4% of the US population had heard of us, and we were $100 million in revenue. This was in 2007. We’d already been on Oprah. We thought we were like the big swing, and clearly, we weren’t because the margin of error on the survey was plus or minus 3%. We weren’t even outside the margin of error. I went back to our marketing group, and I’m like, “We’re not even participating in the survey until we’re $500,000 million in revenue.” That might be where you guys are. You guys might be big enough that you think everyone knows, but I think there’s another opportunity. Maybe that’s why you’re going to get that now that you’re public.
I tease about the marketing. One of the things that are on our roadmap is a branding exercise where we’re going to go out and talk more broadly about what ZoomInfo does and how we help companies. That is on our agenda.
I want you to go back to the 21 or 22-year-old Chris Hays in Albany and graduating from college. What advice would you give yourself back then that is true now but you wish you’d known back then?
Everything’s worked out well for me. I’m blessed with a great career. I love the people that I work with. I’ve got a beautiful wife and kids. I got lucky and was marginally good enough to capitalize on that luck.
If I had spent about 1/3 less of my alcohol budget for 4 or 5 years and put it into a couple of stocks, I’d be retired. Chris Hays, thank you so much for sharing with us. This has been super insightful. Thank you.