Being an Adaptive Sales Leader

Ofir Zan, Global Head of Sales, AI21 Labs

Ofir Zan started his career in engineering in the defence industry, writing code and algorithms. He reached a pivot point, joining a SaaS organisation which was young in its life, helping build its sales organisation.

He first realised sales leadership was his true calling when he noticed he enjoyed sales, but also relished helping sales teams progress and improve their soft and hard skills. When his manager posed him an opportunity, it was too good to turn down.


Learnings from being a sales leader

Stepping up to become a sales leader can be a risk professionally, but Ofir felt confident he could lead his team effectively, having worked with them closely for a good amount of time.

He knew the sales team’s habits and what would help ensure the workplace was an enjoyable environment for them all to work in.

Sales is a stressful environment, Ofir admits, but he wanted to make sure he could invest adequate time in understanding his team and fostering positivity in the workplace.

Ofir believes life is a journey where goals must be set, whether that’s professionally or personally. In sales, such a brutal environment needs individuals who have clear goals for what they want to achieve, to be effective sales representatives.


When to hire

Ofir is now based in Tel Aviv, Global Head of Sales at AI21 Labs, growing sales teams all over the world. From experience, Ofir believes scaling sales teams tends to be necessary when businesses have ‘repetitive motion’ as he terms it.

Characteristics he looks for don’t necessarily put experience first, but rather someone who has the grit needed to strive in a sales environment; someone respectful but driven.

When hiring globally, Ofir admits there can be many cultural challenges and time zones to overcome, but when hiring in different geographies, he was helped by having different leadership styles with different people.

In short, there is no one-size-fits-all form of leadership, but rather, one needs to tailor their way of leading sales teams to the new environment they find themselves in.


When to adapt

Ofir realised adaptation was a necessary part of hiring globally, as translating from Hebrew to English often required changing the tone of words, so they wouldn’t come across as rude or impatient to a non-Israeli audience unused to the Israeli way of socialising.

This is an especially common cultural adaptation Israeli founders and sales leaders experience when branching out of Israel into the US market: what flies in Israel simply won’t wash in the US, so change in communications is essential.

Most importantly, Ofir suggests not hiring remotely too prematurely. For example, he warns against hiring a revenue leader in North America to help scale a team on your behalf, as it simply delegates responsibility at a crucial moment for a business.


Handling interviews effectively

When interviewing, Ofir is a process and data-driven person, who often takes on the task of doing the initial interviews with new sales candidates.

When hiring, Ofir involves the whole team in the process to assess the candidates skills but also the potential for cultural fit, allowing them to eventually interact to see how compatible they are to the team.

To test if someone is being genuine during the interview process, Ofir admits experience starts to matter.

He keeps a close eye on the language candidates use, and asks them about losses they’re proud of to throw them off and see if they are willing to admit failures and the ability to take accountability for when things go wrong.

Want to hear more of Ofir and James’s conversation?

Watch the full episode of Tech Salescraft on YouTube, or across all major podcast streaming platforms.