Before Rewards Network’s new president, Steve Fusco, made any changes to the sales team, he wanted to see what made his top salespeople successful.
For more than 30 years, the sales team has helped build an extensive network of restaurants and brands for the company’s rewards platform. Rather than make changes from behind a desk, Steve followed his best salespeople in the field to see how they sold, the challenges they faced and how they overcame them.
Those insights have formed the foundation for his sales team as he positions them for the future. We spoke with Steve about his vision for the sales team and why empowerment is his leadership buzzword.
EMPLOYEES: 350 (120 local)
WHAT THEY DO: Rewards Network partners with restaurants to offer a dining rewards program, as well as financial and marketing services for those restaurants.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Chicago
CHECK, PLEASE: Employees receive one-third off their bills at restaurants within the company's network.
IDEAL CANDIDATE: When it comes to finding successful salespeople, Steve looks for candidates who are optimistic in the face of rejection, accountable and have an indomitable spirit.
Steve Fusco, President
Steve sits on Rewards Network’s senior leadership team. He’s responsible for the sales, partnership and business development efforts, as well as the company's customer and sales operations functions.
BEYOND WORK: Steve plucked his first guitar 30 years ago and has been making music with it ever since.
We understand you’ve helped evolve the goals on the sales team. How did you go about that process?
I like to start with the end in mind. So, the first thing I did when I came to Rewards Network was to go out in the field with a handful of our best salespeople. I wanted to see how they worked and what they thought about the business. This showed me first-hand how people achieved greatness, what the obstacles to success were and what we needed to do collectively to win.
This process is still underway, but my goal is to enter the new year with new tools, new training and new opportunities for our entire sales organization. If we combine that with appropriate expectations, the entire team will find much greater success and elevate the performance of the company.
What experiences or lessons did you take from your previous experiences either in work or the military that will help you at Rewards Network?
My time in the United States Marine Corps was a formative experience. It taught me the importance of teamwork, empowerment, trust and integrity. In a small company, those values are even more important because everyone is wearing multiple hats each day.
We expect people to be accountable to their team and have an ownership mentality, but as leaders, we must empower them and nurture their growth. If we do those things, people will trust each other, grow together and achieve the impossible.
My job as a leader requires my own commitment to support the people on my team and enable a culture of open, direct communication among all levels of the organization.”
How would you describe your leadership style? How does that play out day to day?
My leadership style is built on empowerment. I want to give people the opportunity to thrive and do great things. So, my responsibility is to provide the right tools and air cover for people to operate freely. It also means creating the right environment of diversity and inclusion so that our team can have the confidence to do great things as part of a broader group, regardless of their background. My job as a leader requires my own commitment to support the people on my team and enable a culture of open, direct communication among all levels of the organization.
Where do you envision the sales team by the end of your first year?
I anticipate the sales team will be operating with added focus and clarity thanks to a simple and highly-rewarding compensation plan. They’ll be highly productive, with an orientation toward new business, and they’ll be functioning across multiple channels with the addition of the web and phone channels. We’re also bringing a more data-driven approach to the team with the help of a modern lead generation and segmentation strategy.
Modern customer relationship management tools will also help them become more operationally efficient. Most importantly, the team will be the stewards of an improved customer experience across the entire lifecycle of our customers.
Coming into an established company as a new leader, how did you approach its culture?
Rewards Network already has an identity and a soul that is grounded in three-and-a-half decades of helping local restaurants thrive. While the culture is already established, what you can do as a new leader is honor it. That starts with leading by example. You also need to be committed to bringing the best people into the company and helping them thrive. Great people are competitive, and they bring the best out of everyone around them. If you do those things, the culture takes care of itself.
Someone once told me that leadership matters when things are difficult. The same can be said about culture.”
How important is it for a new president to invest time in the company’s culture?
Someone once told me that leadership matters when things are difficult. The same can be said about culture. When people can think and act as a team, they are able to execute at a much higher level and weather any difficulties that come with change. In some ways, an investment in culture is the most important thing that a new leader can do. Without the alignment and energy that comes from the right culture and environment, strategy won’t matter because you won’t be able to execute it.
What excites you the most about the future of the reward platform industry?
We live in a world where people expect benefits, offers and discounts everywhere they go. I don’t see that trend slowing down any time soon. In many cases, companies are pressured to discount their own services just to be competitive. Rewards Network has a unique opportunity to utilize data and technology to become an essential partner to local restaurants. We can help deliver diners, provide access to capital and offer unique market intelligence to help them grow.
Rewards Network has a unique opportunity to utilize data and technology to become an essential partner to local restaurants.”
What’s the biggest challenge you foresee in the restaurant industry?
The restaurant industry touches everybody. Most people will eat at a restaurant multiple times a week, but it’s also the first expense eliminated when they feel pressure on their disposable income. As a result, the rate of failure is painfully high in the restaurant industry.
We are able to help ease some of that pain by providing cash flow to restaurants, and they only pay us back when our customers dine with them. So, if times are tough and orders aren’t coming in, those restaurants are still able to fund their daily operations without worrying about cash flow. I’m proud of that.