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My First Sales Manager, with Rick Blake [Episode 820]

Rick Blake was my first sales manager. He didn’t hire me but he took over as my manager after I’d been selling just a few months. This was a long time ago. If you can do higher math, you can calculate how long ago it was by checking out my LinkedIn profile. Rick retired earlier this year after a long career in sales. He had some BIG jobs along the way. retiring as General Manager of a huge division of HP. This is such a fun conversation. Rick shares some stories about me as a rookie sales person, we talk about what’s changed in sales over the past four decades and wasn’t hasn’t.

Episode Transcript

AP: Rick. Welcome to the show.

RB: Andy. It is indeed a pleasure to be here and probably a long overdue, uh, time for us to meet up.

AP: Yeah. So this is just really, for me, a very special episode because, uh, Rick was essentially my first sales manager in my career. And, uh, we sort of reconnected what, a month or so ago.

RB: Yeah, exactly. I think all of us have had extra time on our hands and I got to thinking about various contacts and within a few minutes I located Andy Paul. We started talking.

AP: Yeah. Yeah. So, um, so we’re gonna jump into a little nostalgia, but, um, first tell us a bit about you. So you, you recently retired from HP.

RB: Yeah, exactly. Uh, and thank you for the opportunity to be here. Um, it’s, uh, uh, I’ve been looking forward to this and it’s indeed a pleasure for me too. Andy, you were actually the one of, one of the very first members of a sales team when I was a newly minted, a sales manager. And, um, you were actually the first name that came to my mind when I started poking around a few weeks ago.

But yes, you’re right. I recently retired. Um, I left, um, I left HP and I should probably clarify, uh, the HP that is the PC and print company that was separated about four years ago, not the enterprise side. I left in mid February, a lot of colleagues asked me, what are you going to do immediately? And I said, you know, I just want three or four months of doing absolutely nothing. Um, I don’t think I realized the time, how prophetic that was going to turn out to be.

AP: Enforced time off.

RB: As, as we all deal with, you know, obviously a lot of, uh, challenges right now, but, um, yeah, I was, uh, so 45 years, it’s hard to say. Exactly in a it product and a solution sales, um, included, uh, various sales leader, individual contributor, general, general manager, but so quite a few years or several years of, uh, individual contributor roles.

Uh, now of the 45 years, the past a little over 23 years have been with Compaq and HP all in the public sector. So meaning, uh, sales and account relationships with state and local governments, uh K-12 and higher education. Uh, I, I have to say it was a unique group within Compaq that carried over to HP, uh, when, when Compaq was purchased by HP. And I don’t think that really necessarily understood what we did. So they kept it going as is, and,

AP: Often that’s the case too.

RB: you know, and, and, and.

AP: We bought something. We had no idea what we were buying.

RB: Yeah, and I think it was okay. Uh, made us feel a lot better because we, they didn’t want to change us. And we just picked up from where we were and kept going. Um, I’d have to say, absolutely have loved my experience in the public sector over these last many years.

I know it’s become maybe politically, somewhat popular to criticize government people or government employees, but I found them to be wonderful. Um, longterm relationship type people who are just looking for help in their business. So I really enjoyed that time.

AP: And so was, was most of your business done through RFP or how how’d that work?

RB: That’s a, that’s a great question. We actually, um, rallied around a term contract marketing. To where, um, every, state or larger locality we wanted to have the right kind of contracts in place. Typically they were not exclusive to us. So we constantly had competition with others, other manufacturers, particularly, and our job was to get more than our share of the X that was going to be spent in a particular year from a school district or a large state agency or whatever.

So very much, um, contract marketing. Yes. We certainly got involved with RFPs also, but I would say at least in my particular area of the Western States, uh, from the, also the Rocky mountains out to the West coast, it was much more in the, in the contract area.

AP: Yeah, I’m sure reminds me of the time I spent sort of parallel to and doing a little bit of, of government marketing at the federal level, is that yeah, somebody had to have a contract first, right? I mean, some of there had to be a program that existed that had money behind it. Uh, otherwise nothing was going to happen, but if you found that. Yeah, you didn’t always have to do an RFP.

RB: Exactly. And, uh, you, um, if you didn’t have a contract, you were typically on the outside of the window trying to look in, and that was a difficult place to be. And we actually, interestingly, we actually worked very hard to. We supported with customers and clients, you know, uh, contracts that were multi-vendor.

We had no problem competing with other manufacturers because it enhanced competition, uh, solution to the customer best value. And we actually, uh, sold that way. And I think that the, those type of contracts in some ways were more successful than sole source.

AP: Interesting. So you sold it as a virtue that there’d be other

RB: competitors. Oh, absolutely. And, um, and, and not, not to get off into terms, but you know, again, my area here in the Western U S there was a, um, it was called Western States Contracting Alliance that drove, um, very successful contracts that were used by most public entities. And we were a key member of that, and we had a lot of competition there and we definitely got more than our fair share.

AP: Yeah, well, that gets back to this whole thing about relationship, right? I mean, there’s, that’s interesting. There’s this been the sort of under current trend to some degree in B2B sales over the last several years that you know, this idea of relationships is kind of overstated. And, and first of all, I think, well, that’s really nuts to think that because everything starts with that connection you make with somebody. But to your point here is, is that was really the lifeblood of your business.

RB: Oh, absolutely. And really my, um, for, for most of really all of those years in selling to the public sector, either myself as an individual contributor or my teams, uh, whether on the field or the inside their job was to be out there. They were end user account managers. To call on to retain the business with customers or to acquire it from new customers.

Their job was to face that customer, the route to market, we would call it, you know, whether it’s directly or through a partner or a solution provider, integrator, that that was completely independent. That’s a whole different discussion. But the job of my folks was to create that let’s just call it a brand preference. Uh, and in my case, you know, our bias was HP.

AP: Yeah. Yeah, this is so, so fundamental. Uh, and yet I said, it always amazes me that people want to underestimate the power of relationships. And if you talk about government work, they think, Oh yeah, it’s all RFPs and so on. But yeah, I remember again, back even selling to the DOD years ago or watching colleagues sell to it.

It’s it’s like it started with the relationship. If you wanted to find, if you wanted to find an available contract vehicle to fund a program, you want to develop, start with the relationship.

RB: Exactly. And that, that would be the kind of people that we wanted, particularly in the field jobs, or maybe we started them through inside sales and groom into field jobs that knew how to go out and, and thrive and have fun. With that customer facing work. Um, and I’ll tell you quite frankly, I mean, that’s, that’s obviously a challenge right now, uh, you know, having the face to face contact, it will be back at some point, uh, and will probably be more important than ever.

And. Folks that are, have a title, a account executives, sales representative, you know, you know, whatever term you want to use, you know, their, their, their job will be to giddy up if you will, and get out in front of that customer, uh, when the reopening opportunities are there.

AP: Well, I agree. I mean, I started pose this as a question on LinkedIn a week or two ago about, okay. Fast forward, February, 2021, you’re working on a big deal. That’s that’s, even though it’s early in the year, it’s probably gonna make your year and the customer wants you to come visit. Face to face for the final meeting and, and they assure you everything’s going to be above board, you know, masks and so on.

But what do you do, right? Do you put on the mask and go, or do you think, nah, let’s see if we can do it virtually. And it was interesting. I think we probably three quarters of people said, they’d get on the plane and go, um, whether they actually

RB: would hope they would answer that.

AP: you would, right. Because.

RB: uh, sales and account relationships, it’s, it’s, uh, I’ll use just loosely use the word game, but it’s a game of little things. And if, if you’re going to be, you know, if you can improve your odds by being in front of the prospect or client, That’s smarter than the person who says let’s do it via an awkward zoom call that maybe the client doesn’t know how to use very well. Um, and, uh, or a text or an email or a phone call or whatever.

AP: Well, even if they do know how to use zoom well, to your point it’s and I’ve written about this in my book, since you only have to be 1% better. Right. The win. Yeah. You ask people, what’s the margin of victory to your point about the little things, you know, I asked people. So when you won that deal, how much better were you than the other, the competitors? And no one can quantify that difference, right? So you just have to assume you need to be 1% better. I just need to be a little bit better. And if that’s getting on a plane, making the call, then in person, then go do it.

RB: It’s a no brainer answer, Andy. And, uh, but I would just shake my head sometimes for people that even in, in, in days where we were not talking about, you know, pandemic limitations, uh, people that did not get that and what I would, um, certainly coach sales teams, where there are trying to operate myself is every moment you’re spending with that. Customer or prospect is one less moment there with your competitor

AP: Exactly.

RB: guys sakes, do it.

AP: I mean, I think that’s the perspective. It’s not used enough as is that yeah. Every minute you’re with them, the competitor is not, and yeah, I’ve used this term in the past as one. What you’re trying to do is, is. Take prospects off the street. Meaning what you want to do is you want to reduce their incentive to go talk to somebody else

RB: Exactly.

AP: And being there in person, having great, great conversations, great discovery calls, whatever stage you’re in is one way to do that again in person. So, so let’s go back to the beginning, cause let’s talk about, let’s talk about, let’s talk about me. So. When you took over the sales team, you inherited me. I’d only been on board, maybe. I don’t know, six months or something like that. Um, yeah, just how bad was I

RB: Well, you know, so we’re early in or discussion here. Do I really, I don’t know if I want to offend you early on here, but, um, yeah, no, no, I’m, I’m, I’m smiling, smiling and laughing too. So, um, but you know, I, um, I got my start, uh, at the Burroughs Corporation. I, I, uh, in the Seattle area, I took a promotion to go to Oakland, California. Take over my first sales team. And that was in, this is going to be very painful to say, but in 1978, and I know, I know, and right away, your listeners are going, Oh my God tool, at least one old guy on the phone. So, yeah. Um, but I took over the sales team and you know, I was a newly minted man. And you were actually off at training. And I didn’t meet you, right?

AP: Five months in, right.

RB: Yeah. I didn’t meet you two right away. So you probably have your own reflections upon the sales training, but, you know, I was told by our manager, uh, Hey Rick, uh, Andy Paul is going to be joining you. He’s um, straight from school. He’s from Stanford. He’s a history major. Yeah. He wants to get into sales. And I think my reaction to our manager. Uh, of the branch was, are you kidding me? And, um, you know, so I, I say that in a, in a kind of a laughing way, because I don’t know if I would have picked a Stanford History Major as the, um, uh, person I was going to roll into this job, but I had to reflect a little bit that. I was an unusual fit too, because I graduated three years before they got a point out and I was an accounting major and went out and interviewed with what we call big eight accounting firms.

AP: When they existed, right?

RB: Yeah, exactly. That was the term we use. And I go, I don’t want to do this. So I started looking for other things. Got a referral to Burroughs corporation had never heard of burrows realized it was a computer company at the time. IBM and Xerox really weren’t hiring quickly. So I joined, um, Burroughs, but it made me reflect upon you, Andy, I was given a chance. I need to give this guy a chance to. And, and boy, you, um, you exceeded expectations. Um, I, I do have this mental image of when you do get back from class and finally came to work, uh, that first Monday that I met you, I go, wow. Um, dark, dark pinstripe suit. White shirt.

AP: Looked sharp. Yeah.

RB: Yeah. Um, I’m, I’m thinking back now, red tie. And I’m thinking, does he think he joined IBM? So my, my, uh, my first impression of you is that, uh, that dark suit and that little bit of, you know, smile you have, and, um, you know, a, the Stanford history major.

So hopefully I’m answering your question, but a lot of history right there.

AP: Right. So, so Brian, who was the boss of the whole branch. And at that time for people, you know, don’t have the history, Burroughs was the number two computer company in the world. Uh, eventually became what we now know is Unisys, but, um, yeah, Brian, the big boss in the office, Yeah. He, he was very reluctant to hire me. He hadn’t never hired anybody from, from Stanford. He only wanted to hire undergraduate business majors or accounting majors and, and, uh, yeah, he was not, it took a while to convince him that he had made the right move.

RB: You you, you didn’t, um, you didn’t take long to convince me though. Uh, I was impressed with the, the, you could analyze, you could listen well and put together a path forward or an answer or a strategy or whatever. And I was respectful of that and, and that actually. I reflected on that. Andy, when I discovered, you know, in, in recent times that you’d gotten into the career, you have now for the last 20 years and it made me smile because I can picture you doing that of, of sales coaching, mentoring, teaching, uh, strategies, you know, et cetera. It made me smile. You have a background for that. And only knowing you’re doing that today. You know, could I reflect on the Andy that I met in 1978.

AP: Well, it was interesting though. Is that, so yeah. You joined right when I was away for like, we had the six week computer training class, they either train us how to sell computers, tell us all about computers and so on. Um, and a little bit of selling. And, and I remember after my first two week training class, they sent us to that first sales training is yeah.

The, you know, the response from the trainers was that, yeah, I was never gonna make it cause I was too analytical.

RB: Interesting. I would, I would have used, um, I could agree with that word for initial impression, but I would also, um, use professorial. And I think that actually fits in well with what you’re doing today and have been doing for quite a while. Yeah.

AP: Well, I mean, I certainly let’s get into those topics a little bit deeper because you know, this idea of, uh, how you learn, how to sell as, as something that I’m passionate about, right. Is, you know, we’ve got these huge sales training industry. That’s, that’s, uh, blossomed in this country at $20 billion a year spent on it.

And I think that we sort of lost the plot. Cause I think that sales is fundamentally an apprenticeship. And that people learn how to s from managers. I learned how to sell from you. They learn from their peers. They learn from their customers. I mean, I, I don’t know as an class training class, what a 10 weeks on my first two

RB: Well, we actually used to have training classes, which I would agree a lot of money to spend on sales training today. But I think there’s a lot of people who say, Wow. I wish I had some sales training, but you and I had a benefit of a lot of that in our early days.

AP: I spent a lot of time trying to actively forget.

RB: Now, do you remember, do you remember, uh, uh, Oh, my gosh, Lee DuBois, you’d have to, you know, Pete, your listeners will have to look up that because that’s a legendary story in itself, but all about sales training that you would like to talk stories about forever. Um, they used to, we used to basically go to what, uh, uh, bootcamp type sessions and be locked up in a hotel centers, um, for two or three, or actually in some days four weeks at a time for. You know, we, we came out having to pass those sessions and be somewhat capable or we had to repeat them.

AP: Yeah, but I also find not that they were so. Different from who I was. Right. One of the things that I valued about you as a manager was that the, you gave me the freedom to develop my own, my own way of doing things and, you know, to say, okay, yeah, we could go sell this way, but there’s gotta be a better way.

That’s, that’s more in tune with who I am and why I want to do, and I see that. No, that doesn’t happen as much anymore. I mean, managers are so, so driven by the metrics. Um, and maybe it’s because they don’t have enough sales experience or they have enough confidence in their own ability to coach and mentor people. But it seems increasingly some tech sales is it’s all about, Hey, we’ve got a process comply with the process, as opposed to what can I do to help you become the best version of you?

RB: I a, I’m not just agreeing with you because I more than agree with you. And it was, this is not unique to my experience at HP. I’m not being critical of HP. I hear this from many. Colleagues in, in other industries, uh, or, and, or computer companies is a one-on-one between the manager coach with their individual contributor has become a review of their Salesforce numbers. Or their dynamics numbers and, and what percentage is the pipeline of their quota and on and on, which is all important. And needed to run the business. I totally respect that I get it because I dealt with it. But you know, we’ve lost track of taking the time as, as sales leaders in this case, to really not just ask our people, what’s the status of a deal, but what help do you need, what’s working for you. What’s not working for you. I, I remember. Um, so 1978, Andy, probably when you were in class, I would, I went to class and I went to my sales manager 101 class and it was quite an experience. It was in Pennsylvania. It was three weeks, but I remember one standout from that class and it was taught by a very senior and successful sales professional.

And he said, let me give you new managers one piece of advice. And he says, follow it. Don’t make the first question with your individual contributor or your team member. And what’s the status of this deal. Hey, if there’s good news about the deal or they’re really needed help, they’re going to tell you. Spend your time helping the person along, you know, be, be there when they need you and they’re raising their hand and don’t be there when they don’t need you. And I, that’s why I think, Andy, I agree with you. They’ve, we’ve gotten lost in the metrics sometime and, and, and our, our, our job as sales leaders is to nurture and bring these folks along.

AP: Yeah. And I think, again, I think we’ve lost the plot on that and the way to do it is yeah, I’ve been at, at conferences was when I was at a couple of years ago where that a panel of VPs sales and CROs from various Saas companies and there were sort of uniform agreement among them that, yeah one on ones don’t really work anymore. I’m like, what? Yeah. Sorry. Involuntary gasp comes from me when it’s like the, problem’s not the one on one, the problem’s you, you’ve got to be interested in doing it. And you have to be interested in the people that you’re managing and you have to have a sincere interest in helping them get better. And if you don’t have that, then of course, they’re not going to work. If all you’re doing is just a deal review.

RB: I’m reflecting on what you just said there, from those, uh, those leaders, uh, you know, I’m, you know, I, I live in the Seattle area. I would have spilled my cup of Starbucks, um, hearing that comment out of sales leadership, because, you know, there’s a, there’s a term out there of, we have to, um, you know, inspect what we expect. Well, I understand that. I get that. Okay. But as, as sales leaders, you know, hopefully we have something that our teams can learn from and we can add value in trying to get it, move that deal along and turn it into a, a won type opportunity.

AP: Yeah. If you’re talking about deal or if you’re just talking about what’s, what’s going on with them and, and, you know, there’s a great book out called the coaching habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. He’s been on my show three times, loved the book, love his new book at The Advice Trap, but as he said this is, you know, the first question in a coaching session should be as something along the lines of, so what’s on your mind?

RB: I’m laughing because of course I’m in, I have been in it for my entire career. We had to turn that into an acronym of course of a WOYM. Right. But, um, uh, That is just so important in. First of all, I can’t imagine getting rid of one on ones, but can’t lose sight of what’s on your mind and what helped you need.

AP: And why is, why is this important to you and what help can I give? It’s just like, you know, we, we, you know, I think we get. We this collective, we is oftentimes get carried away because yeah, there is high churn in the sales profession and we know from surveys, that’s driven primarily by dissatisfaction with managers and what’s happened.

I think the vicious circle we’re seeing is that too many sellers aren’t spending long enough at one place. To learn the profession to learn their craft. And you know, if you’re starting again new every 18 months, that’s very problematic for your own development. And there are times where you just have to, to say, uh, no, it’s better.

If I stay. And maybe I have to find a better way to work with my manager or gotta be very clear with them. What my expectations are. If it’s dire, then of course you got to go, but oftentimes it’s people get impatient. And I know in my own career is the best thing I ever did. At one point when I was being headhunted was at a position was to say no, and to stick around for another three years and got all this incredible experienceI wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

RB: Yeah, there’s a, there’s a time for changes. And, uh, I already gave you one comment about what I learned from that manager class in 1978, but I bring up the probably other aha moment I had in that class is we had a presentation from, I can remember Burroughs was from Detroit. So Wayne State University had done a study on why do people leave? Okay. This is 40 years ago. Right. But it’s still so relevant. You know, the number one reason people, uh, salespeople leave particularly field people, uh, and inside also, but we didn’t analyze that at the time was their relationship with their immediate manager. It wasn’t money. It wasn’t all the other things you could put on the list.

It was that immediate manager relationship that’s. And that, I think also you turn this back into, one-on-ones not only, you kind of have the Y and the O here we learn. What’s on their mind on your mind. And they learn what’s on our mind. The Oh, and I think that’s very important because they appreciate that insight, um, and be able to ask questions. So I, I, um, Andy, you keep beating that drum that, um, you know, this interaction for one-on-ones or whatever term you want to use is absolutely critical. And particularly for retention of the people that you must retain.

AP: Well, so interesting from you. And so in your work, as you said, you were have a whole West coast, uh, public sector for, for HP is how often would you go on calls? How often do you do, you know, the quote unquote ride along?

RB: Yeah. Um, you know, not, not, not enough. I, I never, I never, uh, rightly or wrongly here, I never was the kind of, and who said, Hey, I will be in Los Angeles so I want to go on five calls next Tuesday. No, uh, those become exercises. Um, I, I very much approach it as let’s plan a calendar and, and I don’t need to go to, or necessarily want to go to the cream puff type calls if you will. Um, I want to go to the calls where. You know, I could hopefully add value with you or there’s a relationship problem with the company or there’s a problem we gotta fix or, you know, pick your topic. That’s the, on the end user side, even though I was, I’m not responsible for, or didn’t own the channel relationships.

I spend a lot of time with channel partners doing the same thing. Again, every minute they spent with me and my team was much less a time they could spend with a competitor. So I really tried to do that as much as possible. And Andy, I also, um, this might be repetitive, but my team would remember very well, and as I always said, I want to be there when you need me. And not when you don’t.

AP: Yeah, that would shock some people. Um, well, but I think this is one of the things that, that again is perhaps I don’t think it’s a generational thing. It’s a stylistic thing from a manager is, is, and I always try to do as well as how do I help my people become self sufficient, right. Is where they don’t need me. Yeah, but they need me when they need me. I’m there. And that’s, I certainly got that from you. And I try to always, my whole career is imbue that in people that, that I supervised and worked with us. Yeah, how do you get to the point where you, you can go handle that big deal without me.

RB: Well, I, and I appreciate you saying that, so thank you. That’s a compliment and I, I think it’s, it’s not, it’s not generational. And also thank you for that. Um, it it’s, it’s, it’s stylistic and again, a and I, and I won’t take credit for this. I’ll give credit to one of the sales leaders I’ve had at HP the last several years, who was pushing very hard for everybody, managers, individual contributors, um, throughout the organization to have a general manager mentality. And a simple way of saying that, and I would actually use this in the hiring process, is I would say, Hey, Mr or Mrs candidate, this field job handling these larger counts with this, you know, $50 million quotas. That’s a lot of PCs and printers by the way. Um, a lot, a lot of stuff. And I’d say, this is. Here’s a way to look at it. This is as close to running your own small business as you’re ever going to get without being responsible to the bank. So treat it like you’re the general manager of this small business.

This $50 million business is yours to run. As you see fit, we will help you. Raise your hand for the help you need. Uh, there’s extensive resources at the company. And most companies have extensive resources not, uh, take advantage of that. And, and I think that was a aha moments with some people, and I think it helped them, uh, not only run their business better, but have an enjoyment about it. Hey, I’m the general manager of such and such a business. And in this part of California handling these major accounts.

AP: I mean, it’s that sort of ownership mentality you wanted people to have anyway. Right? I don’t know if it was you or Brian or Ray or the other sales manager that actually hired

RB: Oh, yeah. I remember Ray very well. Yeah.

AP: is, um, Or so saying, you know, you were sort of, you’re the CEO of your own little business here in sales. You know, we had a line of business as our vertical market type territory that overlay a geography, but yeah, I always sort of tried to take it that way. It’s like, okay. This is what I enjoyed, I think about sales so much is that I was given that freedom. And this is, this is I think, so hard today for so many sales managers is to trust their people and develop them to give them that freedom to go out, and I said, do the best work, be the best version of themselves. Be able to grow into bigger responsibility and yeah, you have to take some chances with that.

RB: You you, you absolutely do. And you give it as much free reign as possible because generally, you know, good people you’ve hired will do good things. And if they screw up, you know, that happens. If you help fix them, you help teach them again. Um, if there’s just a fundamental miss here, you help them do something else. I think it’s become really, I think first line management in many organizations is one of the more challenging things there is because the demands from the middle and upper management on these first-level managers is just increasingly, um, uh time-consuming. Yet at the very time that your job is nurturing, bringing along these very valuable teams and winning and growing your, your business.

AP: Well, but you’re absolutely right. Right. The demand for reports and so on and so forth, all comes from above the frontline manager. And yeah, as, as a result, many feel compelled to spend more time focused on that when they should be spending it, developing the individuals.

RB: And you know, and I can take this a step further and say, that’s why, uh, uh, I think in, in most positions I’ve worked in over these several years, um, I valued that relationship with my management to be given a similar, Hey, uh, you run your business, general manager mentality, if you will. Um, Bring up the kind of help you need and we’ll be there for you. And I, I have appreciated that over the years. And I think a lot of people have that. Obviously I’m biased. I came from HP, but I think HP has done well, pushing that attitude among up and down the organization.

AP: Well, yeah and you can do it at a small company. You can do it at a startup yet, even though the investors and VCs, and everybody wants him the information. Yeah. I’ve worked in enough startups, grown teams in them, whereas fortunate to work for CEOs that took that attitude. Right. Is, yeah. It’s your business. Uh, operate the way you want. Uh, you know, here are the numbers we’re expecting. Light touch relative to, you know, day to day expectations and reporting, obviously a board meetings and everything you had to be prepared for, but, but you had the ability to sort of have this, this freedom and flexibility, which for me was hugely valuable.

You know, when I was interviewing for, for jobs being recruited to come to a company to take over sales, I was, that was one of the first things I wanted to know is. What that environment was gonna be like. Was I going to have that, that freedom to put my own stamp on and develop the people the way I wanted to.

RB: yeah, it, um, uh, it’s a fun part of the job to what you just described. Uh, I had any number of people, um, Ask me in, in February when I was leaving. And I actually had several months to work transitions and was able to, um, though I didn’t make the choice. I helped, um, propose people who would step in to replace me and boy, right.

Guy got the job. And, uh, so it was kind of a long goodbye if you will, over several months, but people would say, Oh, Oh, I bet. You’re really glad to get out of here and get on something else. And either some other job or retirement tasks or whatever they go well, Yes, I’m excited about next steps and creating opportunities for other people.

But I really liked what I was doing and I could, I could, I could have stayed with it. I, um, you know, do, do I miss the people and experiences? Absolutely. Uh, did I want to create opportunities for other people? Sure. And you know, and there’s, there becomes a time for everything, but I think it’s terribly important that the particularly the first level manager, he, or she shows off that they really like doing their job. Because that’s going to inspire other people to be, want to be part of that organization, uh, or perhaps aspire to that role if that’s the career path for them. All very important things. Uh, I always would shake my head about the, the first line manager who would be so negative and critical about all the miserable parts of their job. And I’m thinking. Wow. Why do people want to be on that team? Or why would they want your job?

AP: Well, but it’s such a great point, right? Is that managers have to role model or model though the behavior they want people to follow. And, and yeah, if you’re a technocrat, if you’re just paying attention only to the dashboards and your pipeline coverage ratios, and you’re not talking to customers, you’re not there saying, okay, how do I help this person get better? How do I help them achieve what they want to achieve in this job? Yeah, make way for somebody that wants to do that.

RB: Exactly. And, and that, that customer and partner, depending on your industry, um, interactions, it was just so much fun. I would always ask the, uh, we’re heading, we’re heading planning a meeting, uh, but, uh, and were of course be detailed to be part of the meeting, but it was very important to me to say, okay, you know, mr.

Or mrs. As a account executive, what do you want said. What do you want? Not. So, um, what’s, what’s, uh, what’s the most difficult question you would hate to have this customer or, or ask us and, okay. Who’s going to answer that. And what’s the answer. And, and we would rehearse that particularly. And then, uh, what I also enjoy just cause it really led to, you know, the customers are telling you what it takes to have a better relationship and how to win their business.

I mean, surprise. I would always, I would always somewhere in a meeting, um, particularly with a, an important retention customer because we balanced both retention and acquisition. Um, I would say mr or ms. Customer executive, just let me ask you simply here. W what would you like us doing more of with you or for you, but conversely, and maybe more importantly, what do you want us to stop doing to you? And, and, you know, Andy, it would lead to just very rich conversations of the customer giving trends that first of all, he might be a little surprised with the question. Um, but very rich conversations about what it takes to please them.

AP: and it’s on both sides, presale post-sale, it’s such an important thing. That’s why I brought up earlier is I think I learned a lot about selling from my customers. And

RB: they’re telling you what it takes.

AP: well, if you do it, they’re going to, if you ask the question, not tell you what it takes and I don’t know if you remember this one day I was working on a, I think you were still, there is this chain of jewelry stores in the Bay area and

RB: Oh my, Oh my gosh. I’m reflecting. Um, I, I’m not sure we should use names, but I think I’m reflecting on. They were, they were based up in

AP: yeah. And, and the owner was this older guy had built this business, his family business, and he was gonna give me the order, but he wasn’t giving it to me. And I just remember it finally at one point told me, he says, yeah, I’m not giving it to you because you want it too much right now. Right.

And it was just like, what, what he says. Yeah. Yeah. You’re just all about wanting it, not thinking about me right. And what we need and so on and

RB: what’s Sage, uh, insight and advice,

AP: Yeah. And it’s like, I got tons of stories where customers, you know, basically if you ask the question and you’re open and you’re willing to be vulnerable, They’ll tell you how to win their business.

RB: You know, I, I recall, um, a dear, dear colleague of mine, he was actually a different life, not burrows, not HP. And he was from, uh, Southern Alabama. And of course, he always pointed out to me that he looked and it looked like your stereotype of a Southern sheriff. Okay. Uh, and, and now, and he would clearly call out that, Hey, Rick, down here LA means lower Alabama. But he, he would teach it’s the concept with his teams is pretty simply, he says to, he’d say to his end, his sales executives, you know, real simple here, God gave you two ears and one mouth. He’s trying to tell you something and the cause the customers tell you what it takes to please them and win the business or retain the business.

AP: Yeah. And people always think about this in the context of, Oh, let’s do this trial close. And it’s like, no, it’s not about trial close. It’s about having a conversation. It’s about building that connection with someone you build that trust, and then you can have that, that open conversation about, well, what’s the, what do we need to do to win this business?

RB: I recall a  the lesson for today. Um, we were having a difficult, close type meeting with a large enterprise and around table, and they had some viewpoints that were different from our viewpoints. And we were neither one of us or neither side was getting there. And I said, okay, let’s let’s here, here. Here’s a blank piece of paper.

That’s on the middle of the table. Here’s a pen too. Okay. You write down some things that would help, um, what you need to make this happen. We’ll do the same. And let’s see if we can come to agreement. The, the executive of the meeting stood up and says sales tactics. The meeting’s over. And I said, I’ll take that as a compliment

AP: You.

RB: eventually. Yes, we do.

AP: I mean, that’s, there are, it’s not like the aren’t tactics and sales, right? I mean, it’s, it’s, it, it is the game to it and, and part of the fun.

RB: Customer, you know, you can have just a lot of fun with it. And as we all call a campfire stories, most of them probably happened and you don’t have to fluff up the facts at all because they’re true and wonderful experiences to tell, but that is also one of the rewards of sales. And I hope that, uh, you know, people are taking the time today, whether in sales management, or in the sales teams themselves to enjoy.

AP: Yeah, well, I think that’s absolutely true. It’s, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my career to sell all around the world and, you know, in six continents and, uh, you know, you meet incredible people and part of that’s tied to the reason I do this podcast is you meet all these incredible people and you’ll learn something from all of them.

RB: What an experience that’s, uh, you know, around the world and the, you know, the, whatever levels of organizations. I mean, Andy, you know, flashback to, I I’d have to go back to the visual again. Did any of the customers you called on as a new salesperson in the East Bay of California. did any of them wear a tie let alone a three piece suit or a white shirt?


AP: Well, no, I, I may, I would just sort of wrap up with my story. My first order was on a Friday afternoon, I was feeling kind of disheartened. We were selling these desktop adding machines, a size of small microwave ovens and. I said, okay, I’ll make one more call. And I started knocking on the door of this place called Bucks Welding Fremont, California, or union city, one of the two and yeah, inside of the walls, or it’s just completely black from all the suit from the welding and so on.

And, and Buck comes out and he’s got his work jumpsuit on. His face, his hands are completely covered in grime and he sat there very nice. I was in my black suit with my white shirt, my red tie. Demonstrating he wanted to see this adding machine we were selling and I thought, huh. Okay. So I do, my best demo was such as it was at that time and to my surprise, he said, yeah, I’ll take it. He wrote me a check. I’m thinking, wow this has gotta be a pity sale. Cause as I’m sitting there, he’s, you know, hands on business owner, blue collar, I’m in my fancy suit, uh, nervous as hell. And uh, I think he did me a favor of which I always

RB: You Know, uh, everybody needs that, take it and run,

AP: Yeah.

RB: you know, and what, and what you just described there, I think is I feel so much for today’s individual contributors, because think about what you were doing at one time or, or people in other like companies, they would have some amount of training. Some, some quite good, some need improvement and they would be out selling certain more let’s call it more entry level type products or solutions. They would get proficient at that, hopefully successful too and, and graduate to higher end product sales company, complex solutions. Very much a stair-step type of thing. And there’s many industry examples of how that was the case.

I think about today’s sellers of the absolute information overload. And I know it’s an overused term or phrase of, of drinking from a fire hose, but it’s very true. And how challenging to keep up with all that and have a fundamental knowledge, uh, to being. Um, CA proficient and confident and being out in front of that customer, I, uh, it relates back to sales and product training.

Um, one-on-ones all these things, but boy that’s, uh- and our solution is virtual training that people at best are paying 50% attention to. Um, I think that’s a particularly a challenge of, of our teams and, and the sales executive types.

AP: I agree. I think that, that, um, yeah, the expectations are higher sooner today than they were with us. I believe. Um, I mean, I think sales is hard. I resist people that want to make, you know, intergenerational comparisons about, Oh, it’s so hard today. It’s like, it’s just hard. It’s a hard

RB: It’s just, it’s just different. It’s different. I, you probably, you know, get involved with, um, helping organizations with onboarding and again, not unique to any particular company, particularly with field-based people, and now, uh, whether before or after pandemic, you know, too many companies have their onboarding and here is here’s the home office person here comes FedEx with their laptop. And there’s one page of web links they’ve got to go to, and there might be a message from their manager that says, good luck.

AP: Yeah. Well, yeah, I’ve talked to a lot of sellers have been, or companies that have been onboarding sellers remotely during the pandemic. We actually, we’ve done some ourselves. Yeah. It’s it’s uh, yeah, but I think sort of the, the critical thing that seems to be hard for companies these days is to understand that the, yeah, you’ve got to be lay out a 90 day onboarding program, is what was your expectation for what really should be happening at 90 days?

To your point about when you starting with entry level products and work up to greater level of complexity, is that it’s unrealistic to assume that someone’s gonna be at full productivity after 90 days an entry level sales job. I mean, yeah. That’s not going to happen. And-

RB: One of one of my, um, uh, team, uh, well, I still consider him a team member, but ex team member, cause I’ve left. He describes this so well. So I’m, I’m not taking credit for this, but he has very good perspectives of many years in sales. And he says for somebody joining an organization, uh, it’s an 18 month plan.

Sure. You need your 90 day plan, but it takes a year and a half to ramp up to comfort and success and relationships and networking. And you know, if you’re on track for that along the way, and particularly at the end of the 18 months, great. If not at 18 months better find something else. And I think-


AP: an organization though, they need to be prepared to give people those 18 months. That’s that’s, that’s the thing that’s missing.

RB: Bingo. And, um, you know, I look at sales leaders that can make a difference. Okay. We, we talked about all the complexities of, you know, information overload. Well, if I think some people in some organizations wait for the epiphany, that’s going to come down from headquarters. That here’s the wonderful training plan. That’ll solve all things. Well, okay. Might be waiting a while. And, um, you know, in the last couple of  years I saw examples of one of our public sector, uh, executives or VPs saying, okay, we, we got to move fast here. We got a lot of new products we’re dealing with and solutions we’re, we’re going to invest in the teams.

And we will create our own curriculum using internal resources and we will put people into face-to-face bootcamps and we will, that’ll be in depth. It’ll be difficult. Uh, there will be tests out, uh, and certifications and there will be not, not just roleplaying. Cause I mean, introduce the person to me that likes role-playing.

But, um, uh, there will truly be presentation skills experience and test out that peers will evaluate and give the folks a report card. Well, and making that kind of a long story short. I give that executive a lot of credit for saying, Hey, we need this. Let’s go get it done.

AP: Yeah, one too often companies don’t make that investment. I was giving a talk to the CEOs of a, portfolio CEOs of a private equity company and, um, pose the question to them, okay, who’s who’s raising quota next year for your teams and they all raise their hand. I said, okay, well, how many of you put together a training plan that will produce the increase in productivity that you’re gonna need in order to hit those higher quotas? No one.


RB: a lot of crickets there, Andy or.

AP: omplete crickets. Right? So let’s just keep raising, but let’s not invest in the people too. And I think that that’s

RB: And that, That relates to a, I’m just reflecting there on a, uh, an executive and in a different life, uh, before HP that I really respected. And he, he would give inspirational talks to the regional teams and say, you know, We have a tough business. You need to look at these very valuable salespeople we have and say, okay, that person’s quote is $10 million.

Let’s say, if you lose that person, that’s $10 million. That’s walking out the door and you’re not going to retain all of that. You might even lose it all. So figure out how to retain that person and keep that $10 million. And they’ll probably grow it too. I know it’s a simplistic comments to make, but you know what an opportunity for all of us to view our very valuable resources that way.

AP: Yeah, no, that’s great, great, great perspective. Alright, Rick, unfortunately run out of time,

RB: Oh, my gosh,

AP: this has been a pleasure.

RB: Andy, it’s been an absolute pleasure for me too. And I think back to, you know, you meet, both of us were college hires and if I could impart one other advice here, mainly because I’ve experienced it in the last couple of years, we all need to look for every opportunity we can to overcome a roadblock and take a risk and bring in college hires. Into the field and recognizing all the challenges there are and figure out ways to get past them. And, um, I had experienced with that. I enjoyed it. I saw success. Um, it’s something we all need to double down on and it goes right back to somebody took a shot and gave, you know, me the accounting grant and you’re the history grad an opportunity worked out.

AP: Well, I think it’s yeah, to that point about patience, right. I saw this thing a couple years ago, big soccer fan, and was reading about this, this coach at one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world. And they say, you know, we can never tell at what point in time, how it’s going, how long it’s going to take for the player to get it. Right.

He says, so what we do focus on first is we focus on training the person first. Then we train the player. And I think that’s such an interesting perspective, right? We’re we’re bringing in people straight out of college. They don’t understand business. They don’t understand working in teams. There are lots of things they don’t understand. Yeah. We gotta, we gotta train them as individuals first as humans and then train them as sellers. Secondly.

RB: We got to take a risk with them, you know, and recognizing that, yeah, it’s, it’s not easy to do when we lack the onboarding and this and that, but let’s give it a shot. Um, you might uh, last comment you might enjoy, the, the candidate to me and was coming out of an Ivy league school. And for all the right reasons wanted to move to the West Coast. And it convinced me of that. And I’m two years into it. He’s doing great. And guess what? He was a History Major, Andy, from that, um, Ivy league school. So maybe that ties it back to, uh, back back to the beginning.

AP: Yeah, well, the lesson is go recruit history majors.

RB: I want to, I want to hear that on your next-

AP: They need jobs, clearly.

RB: to hear that on your next podcast,

AP: Alright, thanks.

RB: Thank you for the opportunity. Take care. Be safe.