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How I crossed the gap between being a technologist and a repeatable sales leader

An interview of Steve Browne, author of the book Innovators Traction.

· HIGHLIGHTS

Technical founders needing to start or scale sales

This post was inspired by the common question by technical founders:

I'm more of a technologist and I hate selling...

Can I drive initial sales without feeling salesy?

The audio above and its transcription below show the career path of Steve Browne who crossed the gap between being a developer and being an award winning master sales rep and manager.

The way he made sense of the move is very telling to technical founders wondering if they have what it takes to not only lead the technical vision, but be also impactful in "Founder Sales" and to understand how to scale sales as they grow their organization.

It also gives a view into what a great sales person does, so any technical founders looking to scale sales, this can give a sense of what you may be looking for from a sales leader.

The fundamental principles that Moment Sales is founded upon comes from Steve's hero's journey. This is why he has been coined, The Godfather of the 3W's and 10 Steps. The free templates you can download from this site were created as an extension of them.

Transcript (using fireflies.ai without correction)


00:00:10
Speaker 1
After years of interviewing people through working with Ted and Ted talks, I've grown to have a deep fascination for ideas and coming across interviews with you with Walter rough of moment sales and Alena Allen on the sales polished blog and podcast.


00:00:28
Speaker 1
It really sparked my curiosity about what makes an extraordinary sales career.


00:00:33
Speaker 1
it's not going to be able to talk with you today.


00:00:36
Speaker 1
So thanks for being here, Steve.


00:00:38
Speaker 2
Oh, thanks for taking the time.


00:00:41
Speaker 1
Let's kick off with what the basic and in a big one, what do you think makes an extraordinary sales person?


00:00:51
Speaker 2
What I look for in salespeople is guts and brains and drive the three things you can't teach someone.


00:00:59
Speaker 2
If they don't already have them, you can, I can teach them the other things they might need.


00:01:04
Speaker 2
Like I can teach them the product or the market or the competition or the technology, or even teach them sales itself.


00:01:11
Speaker 2
if they don't have guts and brains and drive, then, might not be a good fit.


00:01:18
Speaker 1
Can you share more about when you've seen those qualities really stand out in your career?


00:01:26
Speaker 2
Well, in my opinion, it took guts and brains and drive to go from being a programmer at McDonald Douglas to going into sales at Oracle in the eighties, because back then Oracle shot half the Salesforce every year.


00:01:42
Speaker 2
going into sales to begin with, took cuts and it took guts and brains and drive to survive seven years in a rather brutal Darwinian environment in Oracle.


00:01:56
Speaker 1
there any sale that stands out to you in particular from that chapter of your life, a particular guts and brains in drag?


00:02:06
Speaker 2
Probably the one that stands out the most, that was the craziest would have been the sale to AOL back then AOL had the world's largest email system.


00:02:18
Speaker 2
at one point in my time at Oracle, I was given a ale account with a $5 million quota and AOL had never given Oracle a nickel and they actually had a, they were, I think Sybase is either biggest or second biggest account.


00:02:40
Speaker 2
they had a bunch of Sybase bigots who had no interest at all in Oracle and getting that deal, which ended up being seven and a half million involved, convincing Oracle management on the one hand to give me a dozen people in a quarter million bucks to run a benchmark.


00:02:59
Speaker 2
on the other hand, it involved convincing AOL to take a look at Oracle.


00:03:05
Speaker 2
that was quite a ride.


00:03:10
Speaker 4
Okay.


00:03:10
Speaker 1
there a snapshot from that sale in particular that you think exemplifies how extreme that might've been, especially navigating such new waters as you were relatively recently going from programming that engineering mindset into sales at that time,


00:03:29
Speaker 2
The whole thing was kind of crazy, but the one that most qualifies as something like a scene out of a movie would be the part where we had run the benchmark and were trying to present the results and everybody, but the decision makers showed up for the presentation.


00:03:48
Speaker 2
I had to really think hard and I decided to cancel the meeting and I spent the next month trying to get the guy to agree, to show up at the next meeting.


00:03:58
Speaker 2
I did that by, since I had a badge and I could get in the building, I literally took a folding chair and sat outside in the hallway next to his door, outside his office for that period of time.


00:04:14
Speaker 2
he had to keep going by me until finally he said, okay, I'll give you 15 minutes.


00:04:19
Speaker 2
What do you want? And I said, I can save you $80 million, but I need you to take two hours to go through the benchmark results so that I can prove it to you.


00:04:30
Speaker 2
I gave him the overview of what were going to show him.


00:04:34
Speaker 2
he said, okay, I'll give you two hours.


00:04:37
Speaker 2
that result seven and a half million dollar deal.


00:04:41
Speaker 2
that was one of the stranger parts of that sale.


00:04:49
Speaker 1
It's so funny.


00:04:50
Speaker 1
Cause when you're describing that, it really sounds like you're talking about a movie.


00:04:55
Speaker 1
It is just a scene right out of the movie.


00:04:57
Speaker 1
I guess that anyone who's been in sales for decades, you probably have stories that could be,


00:05:04
Speaker 2
Oh yeah.


00:05:04
Speaker 2
There's lots of times when the only thing missing was the camera.


00:05:07
Speaker 1
Yeah, exactly.


00:05:10
Speaker 1
to take a step back from that, from these extreme moments, then there's the every day philosophies and experiences that brought you into this work.


00:05:22
Speaker 1
I would love to go into a rapid fire round to talk about what you've learned, where are the, where, who are the teams where you've learned the most with your transition from sales to sales management.


00:05:36
Speaker 1
starting with that transition, can you talk about an impactful part of your career where you've transitioned into that management and some of the learnings from that.


00:05:48
Speaker 2
One example would be when I got hired at the Tivoli division of IBM, they had a group that was getting zero revenue out of service providers and they hired me and gave me a $5 million quota starting in June.


00:06:04
Speaker 2
I did 15 million by the end of the year.


00:06:08
Speaker 2
that got everybody excited and they gave me a head count of three and said, we want you to take what you're doing and replicate it.


00:06:14
Speaker 2
we had, and that the second year we did 30 million.


00:06:21
Speaker 2
we built a $30 million annual business from scratch over 18 months.


00:06:29
Speaker 2
in that case, I had negotiated on the way in, they were doing everything wrong that you could do wrong.


00:06:35
Speaker 2
I negotiated on the way and that I was allowed to change all the things they were doing wrong, which I think they agreed to because they were getting zero revenue anyway, their attitude was, why not? why don't I give it a try? And so it worked out really well.


00:06:50
Speaker 2
I was able to teach what I was.


00:06:55
Speaker 2
I was able to be the tip of the spear and selling the stuff.


00:06:59
Speaker 2
I was able to replicate what I was doing.


00:07:02
Speaker 2
Once you replicate what you're doing, then you can scale up.


00:07:07
Speaker 2
that's an example of the sales management job is different from being in sales.


00:07:15
Speaker 2
You have to actually teach other people to do what you're doing.


00:07:21
Speaker 1
I'm curious when you have these examples of coming in, figuring out an entire new system and then finding others that you're able to teach, how have you been able to teach people? What of, I guess what has been at the core of what you're teaching people? Once they come in with guts and brands and drive, what are you replicating? So you can teach them things and they can become some of the leaders in their jobs and in their teams.


00:07:49
Speaker 2
Well, what I teach basically is time management.


00:07:53
Speaker 2
I teach them the things that I learned as a junior sales rep.


00:07:58
Speaker 2
that was basically spend your time on the ones that are going to close and don't waste your time ones that aren't going to close.


00:08:06
Speaker 2
the way you tell the difference is by answering three questions, why would they buy anything? Why would they buy from us? And why would they buy? Now, if you have answers to those three questions they're going to buy.


00:08:18
Speaker 2
If you don't have, if you can't find the answers to those three questions, they're probably not going to buy.


00:08:23
Speaker 2
That's what I teach people.


00:08:24
Speaker 2
That's what I learned right away in order to survive at Oracle.


00:08:29
Speaker 2
eventually Walter convinced me to write it.


00:08:31
Speaker 2
in that book, innovator's traction and I've taught that same thing at almost every sales job I've had when I've been successful.


00:08:41
Speaker 2
They've said, why don't you teach the other, you get to a sales meeting, are they at Oracle? They asked me to teach this stuff at IBM at H P at red seal.


00:08:51
Speaker 2
They asked me to teach this stuff and I wrote it down in a book called innovator's traction.


00:08:57
Speaker 2
eventually the book got into use at Horton and Stanford.


00:09:02
Speaker 2
when I lived in Palo Alto, Stanford asked me to come by and teach in their engineering school.


00:09:08
Speaker 2
They had a class called entrepreneurship.


00:09:11
Speaker 2
They asked me to come by and teach them the contents of that book because since I'm a former geek and I wrote it out in such a way that a, an engineering student could embrace, it's a logical approach, which to sales for startups.


00:09:24
Speaker 1
I mean, that's incredible.


00:09:26
Speaker 1
it's incredible to know how you can distill that from your own life to come up with time management and some of those principles at the core to then it sounds like you applied a bit of your engineering mindset that you came in to all this with in your career with, and now you have this really helpful tool instead of tools that anybody can pick up and use and hopefully matched with guts and brains and drive really elevate them in their career.


00:09:54
Speaker 1
And on their path.


00:09:55
Speaker 2
I wrote it for entrepreneurs who started software companies, but didn't then have pictured two kids at Stanford who just came up with a software cure for cancer.


00:10:07
Speaker 2
they don't have 20 years to go out and get sales experience.


00:10:10
Speaker 2
once you start a business, you sales.


00:10:13
Speaker 2
I wrote it with them in mind, here's a logical approach to sale.


00:10:21
Speaker 2
that it's something that an engineer could embrace.


00:10:28
Speaker 1
Okay.


00:10:28
Speaker 1
if we can go back to this ideal environment, someone who can take their time management and can take their guts and brains and drive, what has created an ideal situation for you as both a salesperson and as a manager?


00:10:49
Speaker 2
Well, that's easy.


00:10:50
Speaker 2
If if I have somebody in the hierarchy above me who can worry about the politics and I can just focus on producing revenue, that's when I've been the most productive.


00:11:04
Speaker 2
the times that I've had the most fun are when I'm starting, for example, the Chicago office of patrol software or the Chicago office of red seal.


00:11:15
Speaker 2
that's right.


00:11:18
Speaker 2
I've enjoyed them, enjoyed sales the most and been the most productive.


00:11:23
Speaker 1
That last sentence.


00:11:24
Speaker 1
It was a little choppy.


00:11:25
Speaker 1
I don't know if it's my internet connection.


00:11:27
Speaker 1
if you can just say one more time, I want to make sure I caught that all.


00:11:32
Speaker 2
Oh yeah.


00:11:33
Speaker 2
It was, I started the Chicago examples are when I started the sh just have patrol software or when I, started the Chicago office of RedSeal networks.


00:11:48
Speaker 1
In the past, I've read, in your interviews that you've shared a bit about this, of a search or a pitch.


00:11:55
Speaker 1
Could you share more about what that is? Sure.


00:11:58
Speaker 2
I believe that sales is not a pitch.


00:12:01
Speaker 2
It's a search.


00:12:03
Speaker 2
And.


00:12:05
Speaker 2
Before I went into sales, I realized I could make a lot more money in sales than I could as a programmer, but I didn't want to go into sales because I thought of it as lying for a living.


00:12:15
Speaker 2
I had a friend who had a lot of integrity and he was in sales.


00:12:18
Speaker 2
I finally, how do you square those two? How do you square having integrity and being in sales? And he just laughed at me and said, sales, isn't lying for a living.


00:12:27
Speaker 2
If you're selling something of value, your job isn't to try to use sales tricks or some guy mind trick on the first three people you run across the job is to find people who have the need for what you're selling.


00:12:43
Speaker 2
the idea of being a professional sales person isn't to be a fast talker.


00:12:48
Speaker 2
The idea of being a professional salespeople, the challenge is in doing it, finding and getting in front of people who have a need for what you're selling.


00:13:02
Speaker 2
And so that's why I say sales.


00:13:03
Speaker 2
Isn't a pitch, it's a search.


00:13:05
Speaker 2
I can teach anybody to give a pitch, but the hard part is to find and get in front of the right people to give the pitch to.


00:13:15
Speaker 1
I really, I love that notion and it makes me rethink and reframe just what are the ways that I'm looking at sales and maybe even other industries and positions and roles that we can all be playing.


00:13:29
Speaker 1
how can we do that with our best, with keeping our values in mind?


00:13:34
Speaker 2
Well, that's how, that's why I hesitated.


00:13:36
Speaker 2
When I went into sales, the salespeople, I had met growing up, were people trying to sell my parents appliances or shoes or used cars or whatever.


00:13:46
Speaker 2
I wasn't something I want them to aspire to be.


00:13:50
Speaker 2
when I realized that sales was not a pitch, it's a search that opened a whole new.


00:14:02
Speaker 2
that was what made me decide to go from technical into sales was the fact that sales wasn't a, could be an honorable profession.


00:14:12
Speaker 2
a lot of people don't treat it that way, but if you treat it that way as a professional, then you can not only make a lot of money, but you can have fun doing it.


00:14:25
Speaker 1
we started off this interview talking about what you think makes an extraordinary sales person with that guts and brains and drive.


00:14:33
Speaker 1
as we wrap up here, can you, could you speak to the person who might be listening to this and saying, I don't know if I have enough guts and brains and drive, what would you tell that person?


00:14:49
Speaker 2
Well, I would say that the fact that you're listening to this to begin with, it's a good sign,


00:14:56
Speaker 2
When sales is good, it's great.


00:14:58
Speaker 2
When it's bad, it's the pits.


00:14:59
Speaker 2
to determine whether or not you're a good fit for sales, whether or not you have guts and brains and drive is to ask yourself, what do you want out of life, out of your career? If you would be more comfortable in a low risk, low return job, like I government bureaucrat or working for the post office or doing something where you have, you're guaranteed a salary, or would you rather work somewhere where you have to bet on yourself and you have to work hard to get ahead.


00:15:35
Speaker 2
If that, and that's a venture.


00:15:37
Speaker 2
If you want to make more money, you've already got guts and drive.


00:15:43
Speaker 2
that's the key that you need to ask yourself, what do you want? And that will tell you whether or not sales is a good fit for you.


00:15:53
Speaker 1
Well, thank you, Steve, for talking us through a bit about what led you on this journey and your extraordinary and dynamic career path, and also how others might be asking themselves some of these similar questions, these days.


00:16:07
Speaker 1
I appreciate your insight, your wisdom, and some of the crazy stories that you come up with along the way that really just feel like they're meant for the movies, but they're just straight out of your life.


00:16:19
Speaker 2
I appreciate you listening to my crazy stories.


00:16:23
Speaker 2
Take care.


00:16:24
Speaker 0
Thanks.


00:16:28
Speaker 0
Thanks for listening.


00:16:29
Speaker 0
I'm Jordan Edelheit.


00:16:30
Speaker 0
That was our interview with Steve Brown, talking about his decades long experience in his sales career, you can download his book traction for free on innovators, traction.com.


00:16:41
Speaker 0
Thanks for listening.

 

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