What Being a Zenefits Customer Taught Us About Agency Sales & Execution

In the past several months, Zenefits has been disrupted by legal action, layoffs, and unsettling changes. With the most recent announcement of a second round of massive layoffs, people are questioning their future even more. As a previous customer of Zenefits, our cofounder Danielle Walton takes a deeper look into what we’ve learned from their self-disruption.


We were Zenefits customers until the spring of 2016.

Zenefits was once the ideal startup. Quickly growing from 20 employees to a staggering 500, they had the classic signs of a Silicon Valley success story. However, they ran into problems with state licensing laws and other issues, and as a result, faced legal action. Parker Conrad—the founder—resigned before a resolution could be found. Following his resignation, Zenefits laid off 250 employees and was forced to conduct a vast makeover to address all of their issues.

Looking back, the experience showed me how easy it is for a company’s sales and delivery processes to get out of sync. So in the spirit of turning an annoyingly negative experience into a positive outcome, here are 5 fundamental philosophies to ensure your sales and delivery processes are aligned.  

Fundamental #1: Make Sure You Can Deliver What You Can Sell 

At first, Zenefits seemed like the perfect solution to managing the complexities of our fast-growing agency’s HR needs.

It was really an easy sell—the platform demo’d well, the sales team was super responsive, and the expectations were through the roof. A good sales experience and strong value proposition made the decision easier to move away from a good relationship with our current benefits broker at the time.

Then came the delivery.

The sales process for Zenefits and the actual delivery were completely opposing and unrelated. Frankly, it became apparent that we were told whatever we wanted to hear during the sales process just to close the sale. On the delivery side, it was evident that they couldn’t meet all of the expectations we had.

These weren’t surprises. They were questions we’d asked up front before signing, indicating the sales people flat out didn’t tell the truth.

Fundamental #2: Be Truthful in Sales Conversations 

There’s lying and there’s over-hyping—and both are toxic tactics to deploy during the sales process.

Whether or not it was true, we felt lied to as a Zenefits client. For a business, that perception is reality. Make sure that your sales team isn’t skirting the truth for the sake of more impressive sales metrics, or lying to customers to hit their sales goals.

Agencies are most typically guilty of the latterpromising big returns without doing their homework up front to know if those returns are feasible within the scope of market opportunity, and the client’s level of investment.

Our Zenefits experience shines a glaring light on how critical it is to be honest, transparent, and fully truthful during the sales process—especially when your answer isn’t necessarily what the prospect wants to hear.

In the end, being honest is best for both parties.

Fundamental #3: Set Accurate Expectations

You may think sales conversations are only about selling—but in reality, these conversations are great opportunities to set accurate expectations.

In reality, your sales team should be really good at helping prospects solve problems. They should understand the problems that are being presented, contribute value-add conversations around them, and only recommend your product or service if it is, in fact, a realistic solution.

Level-setting early in the sales process positions the agency in a positive light. Whether they buy today, or three years from today, that positive experience is valuable.

Fundamental #4: Make Decisions for the Long-Term

We strive to maintain long, sincere relationships with our clients.

For us, there’s no value in telling a prospect what they want to hear to win their business if we can’t deliver on it. If we fail to deliver on our promises after the work is signed, that prospect-turned-client will not be a client for very long.

Sales is a short-lived interaction that results in a long-term experience. A revenue bump that comes with signing a new client might look nice on paper, but could end up costing the agency if its not a good fit, or if the agency isn’t able to live up to expectations.

Fundamental #5: Keep the Customer First

I think Zenefits got caught in trying to reach critical mass first—and saved sorting out problems and figuring out how to deliver the best customer experience for later.

That approach is backwards, in my opinion.

Both sales and execution are about keeping the customer first. With a customer-first mentality from the beginning of the sales cycle, our emphasis is easily placed on actually delivering what we sell.

Final Thoughts

While I am being critical, this isn’t a post to nail Zenefits. They are taking the right steps and have hired a new CEO to turn the ship around.

When we moved from being a Zenefits prospect to a client, everything broke down. We had issue after issue after issue, and things we were promised during the sales process weren’t always true. The final straw was when we started hearing (loudly) from our team about the problems they were having sorting out their accounts and the accuracy of their information.

Our Zenefits experience did, however, remind me how easy it is to have your sales and delivery processes get out of sync. We apply these 5 fundamental principles to ensure that never happens at Adept—and you can apply them to ensure it never happens to your business, either.