Ep 37 – Build applications and workflows rapidly for companies – Drew Ferrara

Presentation of the episode

On the 37th episode of the Virtual Selling podcast, our guest is Drew Ferrara, area vice president at Appian. He talks about rapid app building strategy and workflows to help businesses with their low-code automation platform.

About Drew Ferrara

To learn more about Drew Ferrara click on the links below :


With the pandemic that came upon us, the rise of video conferencing tools like Microsoft teams and zoom has led to more aspects of the sales conversation to occur virtually. And what began as a crisis reaction has evolved into the new normal, but how normal is the new normal? We’re talking about how the strong shift from in-person to virtual selling has transformed B2B sales experience, virtual sales enablement, new organization’s KPIs. Everything is evolving. In the virtual selling podcast we address these issues in depth twice a week with the experts and leaders of these transformations, heads of sales, sales ops, and sales enablements of the most innovative companies in the field. This podcast is sponsored by sales, the new SAS platform to make your customer meetings more engaging and better prepared.
Find out how you can shorten sales cycles, convert more leads and increase customer engagement. Virtual selling is here to stay. And so is

Gabriel : Hi, everybody. I’m very happy to be with Drew Ferrara today. He’s area vice president at Appian for its since three and a half years ago. He has a team of team with four frontline manager and 15 reps.

He’s native from New York City, married, with two kids, and work remotely for the last year. Is that correct Drew ?

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Drew : Yeah. Hey Gabriel. That’s definitely correct. I live in Westport, Connecticut, with a five year old, a two and a half year old, my dog, my wife, things are a little busy and hectic in my house most mornings. Gabriel : That’s great. Could you tell us a little bit about Appian? Drew : Yeah, absolutely. So, and first of all, thank you and appreciate you giving the opportunity to come and speak on your podcast here. So Appian is an organization that helps other enterprise organizations build applications and workflows rapidly. With our low code automation platform, traditional application development takes months, years, sometimes up to two to five years, depending upon the complexity and scope of the application. We’re helping organizations build applications faster in a matter of weeks and sometimes days, depending upon the application. So upwards of 10 times faster, and we’re doing that by low code and making sure that people have reusable components, it’s drag and drop, and it’s just a lot easier, to build applications on. And ultimately we’re combining people, technology, and data in a single workflow to help maximize resources and improve business results. Gabriel : Great. And before we start our conversation about leadership, and how to manage sales team remotely, could you tell us a fun fact ? Drew : Yeah, absolutely. So I am a four time marathoner. I always like to joke with my team. First of all, the more you talk about marathons, probably the slower you are. And I am a very slow marathoner, but I do finish. And I am the type of person that likes to run marathons for fun. So if you talk about grit, resilience, perseverance, running a marathon is absolutely a test of all of those. Gabriel : Yeah, sure. And this is some skills and qualities that you need to have as a seller. Drew : Absolutely. Gabriel : We would like to speak about leadership and the way to manage your sales team and to give them building community, building recognition, while being in remote. How do you do that ? Drew : Yeah. So, I’ve been at app now three and a half years, as a frontline leader. Now more recently as the air vice president, building community is incredibly important. If you look at the last two years and how we’ve persevered and overcame, people generally were in sales, in an office, there was kind of that bullpen mentality you could learn from people they were sitting right next to you could ask questions. That’s really changed over the last two years. And so I think that there were great opportunities for organizations that had strong culture to continue to double down on that culture. Doing it remotely, you know, had challenges, we’re learning a new way of operating and we had to adapt really quickly. So early on in the pandemic that was continuing to do the virtual happy hours, do the team, building events, getting people together on zoom or go to meeting conferences, and just making sure that people were present. I think after a few months of that, you know, people naturally had some burnout there, right? Cause you’re back on a screen for sometimes eight, ten hours a day. So it’s trying to figure out ultimately how you can overcome that. I think again, it comes down to a strong culture. My organization today has a really strong culture. It comes down to leadership as well. The playbook as a frontline or second line leader hasn’t changed. Ultimately the leaders that are successful are the folks of that. Understand, both the personal and professional drivers for their employees. [00:05:00] and so that’s conversations in weekly, one on ones that’s understanding where they want to take their career in their next few years. Ultimately it’s understanding the person and so regardless if we’re virtual or in person, I think the strong leaders have been able to overcome kind of the complexities of the last few years. Because they understand their people, they understand what motivates them. and they generally care, right? I’m a very authentic leader. My team will joke, that I, as a native New Yorker, probably curse a little bit more, in front of general audiences than people do, but that’s me, you know? And I think that I wouldn’t do that in, in front of a customer, unless if they did it first, but that authenticity is incredibly important. And ultimately, you need to make sure you’re getting people together, um, there’s value there and that you’re continuing to help them grow both professionally and personally. Another thing with the pandemic is everyone was at home, right? The first few months my kids were in most of the meetings because they were at my house. They daycare’s closed and everything so, ultimately I think that was an opportunity for people to really get to know the person behind the person. Because a lot of times you show up to work, you might talk about your family, you might talk about your wife and your kids and your dog… but generally people don’t see them. People have started to see them. And so it’s great because now I know people’s names of their children, now I know their dog. I know just more about the actual person and that goes as well with the individuals that we’re selling to. Right. You’re in their home. You’re understanding what’s behind them if there’s, you know, memorabilia or pictures or books, you’re really getting to know the full person. And so, I see that as an opportunity. Gabriel : Great. And you are still at home at the moment, and I believe that your team is also at home. Why are you going to stay at home? Is it for a longer period, or is it just still due to the pandemic ? Drew : Yeah, it’s a mixed environment right now. So our headquarters is in Virginia. We have a beautiful headquarters in Virginia and it’s great to go and visit and I’ve been there more frequently over the past year. So, we’re, it’s a hybrid team at this point. We’re not going into an office five days a week at this point. I think most of people have found that you can still drive that productivity. You know, with being at your house at this point. But it is a blend, we are getting more back into offices at this point, going on site with prospects and with customers. We had our Appian world back in April, which was amazing to get people back together to build that community. I think the days of getting on a plane for a one hour meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, are over, I think we were working on being smarter and more strategic about that. And so a lot of it can be done virtually, but you need to be incredibly prepared and smart about those interactions. Gabriel : Yeah. And what do you mean by being more prepared than in person? Drew : Sure. So, you know, when you’re in person, you have maybe an hour meeting, but it’s really two hours, right? If you take travel time, if you take the walk from the elevator to the conference room, you know, if you take kind of the 15 minute debrief with maybe your champion after the meeting, you get more exposure. At this point in a virtual selling environment, you can get a lot done, and you can really be productive, but you do lose that how did things go walking out of a meeting ? You lose kind of that ability to sometimes walk the halls because, for me, I’m in Westport, Connecticut. They might be in New York. So going into that and having everyone as time crunched and back to back, on a daily basis, you just need to be very smart. So going in and understanding, ultimately, what are the goals of the meeting? What are you looking to accomplish? What are the calls to action? The other piece is ensuring that there’s alignment with your champion or champions, hopefully, cause you don’t want to be single threaded to ensure that they’re bought in there’s mutual understanding on what good looks like and what a successful meeting means. And it’s determining what those critical success factors are. It’s also ensuring that if you have your extended team solutions, consultants, CSMs, you know, your SDR, marketing, your technical organization, anyone that’s in that meeting with you dialed in, or even in person they’re prepared, they understand the meeting, what you’re trying to accomplish in that meeting. And you’re holding everybody accountable to ensure that it’s a very productive and beneficial meeting for both sides. Gabriel : Yeah. You need to be more prepared and everything to be, at his top when the meeting start. And you don’t have time to have everybody getting together and having small talks and stuff like that. In [00:10:00] fact, it’s much more direct. Drew : You’ve been driving steps there, you know, I mean, if you look at it, you know, traditionally and people will say the last five minutes in a meeting to talk about where we go next. Now everyone’s saying, Hey, they might be leaving a few minutes early, cause they need to get a drink of water. They might need to go let their dog out. Like, there’s that kind of broader element that goes into there. So it’s even the preparation, you know, maybe instead of five minutes doing that 10 minutes ahead of time to ensure that you don’t lose people along the way. I think the other piece is, and I know we talked about this in the prep meeting. Generally, if people are not interested, they’re gonna pick up their phone and they’re gonna start kind of doing it and you might not see it because they’re not on camera. So you have to make sure that you’re keeping your audience engaged throughout and how you do that is proper discovery. It’s understanding what the business outcome and how, what you’re helping organizations solve for. Because again, if you have compelling content, people will pay attention. They’ll ask you question and they will stay engaged if they show up to a meeting and maybe they don’t understand why they’re there, they don’t understand the value and what it brings to them and their organization. They’re gonna be checking Instagram in the background. Gabriel : Yeah, sure. And it’s much more easy from home and behind the screen and maybe to turn off the camera and then to turn off the mic and to do whatever you want to do. Which is much more easier on a virtual meeting. So you really have to be consistent and it’s easier on a one to one meetings than on a multiple person meeting, but, that’s it. With your teams, how do you stay aligned with them ? How do you recognize their work ? What do you do for that? Drew : Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s something near and dear to my heart. And you know, I stepped into the AVP role, in a time of change and opportunity for the organization. And so, my first really 180 days have been focused on, you know, obviously building community recognition. There’s a number of things to do. So, we do above and beyond awards where we’re giving out and recognizing people that have gone above and beyond in a quarter. I call my team the phoenixes. So we have a Phoenix award. We have an MVP award. Ultimately like there’s spot things we’re doing along the way. Even next week, we’re getting the team together to recognize success. I think the one thing that’s important as well, in an enterprise sale. Well, we would love to get wins, um, on the, that hit the dashboard every single day. That’s not always the case, right? Sometimes in an enterprise sales cycle, it could take six to 12 months in order to close a deal. Because we’re dealing with large organizations we’re really driving strategic change and high priority projects. So with that, I think the key there and how I are my frontline leaders and you know, how I’ve always approached running teams is finding daily wins. Right. And then recognizing. As a leader, right? So what are the inputs and activities that result to great outputs? And so as a team we collectively get together, yes, we do celebrate key wins, right? It’s incredibly important to recognize folks for the effort that they’ve put into the sale, and recognize the broader team as well, because it’s not just the account executive. It takes an entire team to be successful in enterprise sales. The other piece though, is to recognize activities along the way. And I’ll give you a perfect example. We are big on pipeline gen, like most organizations. And continue to have good top of the funnel inputs. And so we recognize, and we’re doing even a contest right now across the big east on meetings. And so, in our Google group in the background here, this morning, there’s a lot of flurry of activity like people having a really successful morning, which is amazing to see. And so we’re recognizing that we’re doing kind of a contest within that. So just different ways and opportunities to recognize success. And I think as a leader, regardless of a recognition program, or what have you, there’s always an opportunity to give people feedback. And so I think the people that are most successful that have the high EQ as leaders are the types of leaders that individuals wanna work for and they want to continue to work for. Right. And so I think , the frontline leader position can be incredibly tough. Sometimes you take a lot of the brunt and then sometimes a lot of you lose a lot of the credit, which is part of the job. And so I think that if you’re looking at how you can drive change, knowing your people being organized, recognizing them and giving them critical feedback in the moment, um, [00:15:00] will help your teams buy into the vision that you’re trying to establish as a leader. Gabriel : And as a leader, I learned that you need to recognize people in public. And if you have to say something that is more tough, you do it in private. How do you do that? In a remote type of works because, before, it was very easy to make some recognition in public to say, congrats, you just win, and to do that in front of everybody, here it is more difficult. Drew : Yeah, it definitely is. So again, I completely agree with you, you know, if there are opportunities for feedback and to maybe, be prescriptive around behavioral changes. You definitely want to do that with that individual one on one. I’m big on transparency. My team knows that, my wife knows that as well. We always joke about brutal honesty, and, and how that kind of goes into play. But I think that it’s a couple things. One, ultimately that authenticity as a leader, it plays in. So being transparent, you need to be transparent consistently. You can’t have some fits of transparency and then hold some cards to your chest. So I think, One, if you establish as a leader initially, you know, this is how I operate. I’m gonna give you the good news and the bad news. Sometimes you’re gonna want to hear it sometimes you’re not gonna want to hear it. But ultimately at the end of the day, it’s for the organization and team’s best interest, the other piece is, and then I’ll get to your original question here is that as a leader, you also need to have your team be transparent with you and provide the feedback and build an environment where people are comfortable in giving feedback and raising their hand and saying « Hey, we should continue doing this » or « We should stop doing this ». And come with solutions to potentially problems. I think that’s incredibly important. And if you breed an environment of transparency and openness, people will feel comfortable in building that. To your original question around, how do you do that in a virtual environment, I think real time feedback is key. So, it depends on the situation. If it’s a more, heated exchange, right. Or something like that. I think you wanna give people the opportunity to maybe walk away and, take some time to get some perspective on maybe what worked or what didn’t work. But ultimately it’s just saying that, you know, do you have 5, 10 minutes? Can we talk about that? And going into those conversations, I think it’s important how I’ve, how I’ve always approached them is to say. What was your perspective? How did that go from your side to try and get into that individual’s mind to figure out, why they went down that path or didn’t go down that path. Because that at least gives you, insight into the line of thinking and rationale behind maybe the action. And then ultimately again, and this comes back to what I talked about earlier about caring for the person. If you have a good relationship, one that’s built on trust, transparency and mutual respect. Then ultimately you can have those conversations if you’re kind of a part-time feedback. And the only feedback you’re giving is negative feedback to your team. They’re obviously going to react. In a more negative fashion because they’re not hearing all the good, they’re only hearing the bad, you know, it’s really easy to give sometimes constructive feedback than saying « Hey, you did a really great job », which why I think it’s really important to consistently when you recognize great, great behavior and great activity to recognize it in the moment. That could be an email, that could be a message on the chat board in the background. It could be on slack. It’s just continually recognizing that makes people feel better and generally they’re more open to good and bad feedback I found. Gabriel : That’s great. Thanks a lot. Just for the people or for the audience to contact you. If they want, what is the best way to do that? Drew : Yeah, absolutely. So you can reach me on LinkedIn. I probably need to be a little bit more active on LinkedIn and being prescriptive around posting. But you can absolutely, you know, reach me out there and send me a message. Gabriel : It was really interesting, thanks. And before I read the outro, can you tell me your feedback’s about that you just have tried ? Drew : I got to experience it and had, you know, in our initial conversation and kind of go through it. In genenral, I like the platform. I like the fact that you have different options. You can be flexible, with the different options and kind of having stuff preset, but then also have the flexibility to make changes on the fly. So I think it’s incredibly powerful platform. Gabriel : Thanks a lot, drew. It was a pleasure. This is episode of the virtual selling podcast is over. Thanks for sticking around. Join us [00:20:00] twice a week for a new episode, with new stories and challenge of giants in the field. If you enjoy today’s episode, we are always listening for your feedbacks, share the show and subscribe, on your favorite podcast platform so you don’t miss any episodes. This episode was brought to you by, the virtual selling platforms that increase your sales team efficiency and sales readiness, enables remote managements and bump sales operational excellence. Book your demo today to discover how you can close more deals with engaging and better prep customer meeting. Thank you, Drew. Thanks. Drew : Thank you, Gabriel.


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