Fireside Friday with Aaron Berkey
Sales Assembly: Give us your quick background in sales.
Aaron: My background in sales started in copiers for Konica Minolta. I moved from that role into a start-up from France, just expanding into the US selling Unified Communications. I moved into a Team Lead role and then a Strategic Accounts (Enterprise) position. I took it on the chin in 2008 with a downsizing and several months later landed in Advertising Sales and Marketing in media, moving to Indianapolis. I joined ExactTarget, a marketing tech SaaS company in an AE role and held different roles in Software Sales and Solution Consulting during rapid growth and subsequent IPO, and then our final exit/buyout from Salesforce.com. I held a Sr. Product Expert/ Sales position for several years with Salesforce and worked with the biggest and the most revered brands out there today. Seeing programs that I helped architect still in place gives me goosebumps and lots of fond sales memories. I wanted to push forward and had an opportunity to do so with Adobe - I accepted a Sr. Enterprise AE role with Adobe's Marketing Cloud. All of this lead up to Torchlite's CEO, Susan Marshall, reaching out to me as she was building her team and company. Torchlite's approach from a product and value add was incredible and allowed me to rejoin the startup life in Indy's tech scene. I've been leading the sales team and GTM strategy here since 2016.
Sales Assembly: What's your biggest accomplishment in sales or sales leadership?
Aaron: Collaborating with cross-functional teams inside a company. I learned this late. True team and company alignment starts with it's leadership. Working effectively together to ensure everyone is hitting goals has been one of the largest improvements to how effective our growth is. I've seen many sales teams get out over their skis with the rest of the company either not aligned on the approach (silos) or struggling to keep up, which will eventually break. Sales effectiveness goes down OR customer experience suffers or isn't as expected, both of which have negative impacts.
Sales Assembly: What's the best piece of sales advice you ever got?
Aaron: The advice list is long. I've been fortunate to work with some of the most talented sales leaders in the industry. That being said, I grew the most professionally working with Dave O'Neill while at Salesforce. We still keep in touch. And as my advice goes, work for a leader that makes you better than you think you can be. You'll waste your time and professional fulfillment working with a leader that can't take you to the next level.
Sales Assembly: What's the biggest challenge facing a sales rep today, and how would you recommend they overcome it?
Aaron: Companies have changed the way that they buy (products or services) and have more people involved in decision making that I can ever remember seeing before. Managing all these influencers and stakeholders can complicate the sales process, no matter which methodology you use. I think this is a challenge for sure, but not impossible. There are a lot of smart sales leaders and experts out there that are making adjustments for this new buyer journey and it's up to sales professionals to ensure they are constantly learning and testing what works best for the way they solution for their prospects. We all know that differentiation is key. If we can ensure that everyone in the buying process sees that differentiation in the way that it matters to them, we're winning more deals.
Sales Assembly: Do you currently have a mentor when it comes to sales, or have you ever? If so, what did they teach you?
Aaron: I've never had a consistent mentor that worked with me through job transitions and challenged me in my new efforts. To my earlier statement about great sales leaders, I'm always an email or phone call away to gain the perspective of people that I've come to trust. That network and support is built into the fabric of our relationship and I've continued to model that support when others are seeking my advice or tackling leadership challenges of their own.
Sales Assembly: What's the best sales book you've ever read? What are you reading now?
Aaron: It would have to be a tie, off the top of my head. The Challenger Sale helped me develop a skill that I wasn't great at and that I continue to refine. The 4 Hour Work Week was my inspiration to be more effective at "work" and truly take back control of the way that I manage my time and people. Both of these are critically important (aren't they all) to developing as a sales professional. I'm currently working with a professional coach to help me develop skills that I know are lacking or have gaps. Again, I'm testing the model of how I learn to find out what works best for me and am excited to find out how I can optimize that development.
Sales Assembly: Best sales or business related articles, podcasts or newsletters?
Aaron: With a focus on marketing expertise, I'd lean towards Adobe's CMO.com as a great place that blends marketing and business. Harvard Business Review subscription is incredibly solid for 30 minute reads and Fast Company/Inc/Wired are all relevant to becoming more agile from an overall business perspective. Start-ups typically face many of the same challenges, so that tribal knowledge is incredibly important to minimize how many times you fail in getting it all figured out.
Sales Assembly: What's the best advice you'd give to someone just starting a career in sales?
Aaron: Try it all. Develop and become good at the hard stuff or where others don't want to work, and take that knowledge and use it to your advantage, driving more results with the skills you picked up. After all, you're an expert at it. Stay in control of the outcomes that you are looking for. Don't be passive on your career's trajectory. A quick example: we can all agree that banging phones and prospecting are likely the hardest part of any sales job and can result in a lot of "nos." Developing the ability to get excited about the process and being truly passionate about what you're doing and selling will provide some incredible opportunities for you along your career. Knowing how to do the hard stuff and understanding the why behind doing it will give you more control and likely lead to greater success in your role, professionally and personally.
Sales Assembly: Do you see any interesting future trends as it pertains to sales?
Aaron: I'll try to be brief: Data is incredibly powerful in sales. We've been chasing that for decades now. Technology increasingly permeates the sales process. There are some exciting companies out there thinking about how data can best be utilized in sales teams to drive higher production, but there is a limit that I don't think we've reached quite yet. I'm very interested in hearing more success stories about how teams have married these two to realize higher productivity and happier customers, beyond some of the more standardized approaches.
Sales Assembly: What do you think of "Personal Brand" and how has that impacted your success or ability to do what you love?
Aaron: Let's face it, if you're a sales professional, you're going to make relationships with companies and their people all over the place. These are either going to be great relationships that deepen over time or they won't. It's okay if all your customers aren't your best friends, but I think sales professionals should ask themselves if the way they sell or the way that they advise their customers is good for creating these longer-term relationships, whether they buy from you or not. I've found that sticking around in the same industry is going to put you in orbit with many of the same people and companies consistently. Being thoughtful about how you move through wins and losses at any company could be a big win for you at some point in the near future. You'll also find that your advice may be worth more the second or third time around with them. You're the one that's battle hardened and seen it all, right? Prospects and customers know that the value you deliver to them personally could help them in their next move, whether it's a promotion or a new role at a company. Not surprisingly, you've already helped them make the connections to land that new gig, you're probably next on their list to partner with.