This is our interview with Steve Baumgartner, VP of Sales at Civis Analytics. You can follow Steve at @BaumgartnerSC and Civis Analytics at @CivisAnalytics.
Sales Assembly: Give us your quick background in sales.
Steve: I’ve spent half my career in direct sales/management and the other half in consulting. I started selling for PR Newswire out in San Francisco before becoming the Sales Manager for Northern California. I wanted to learn how to build sales organizations from scratch, so I spent the next ten years on all different sides of consulting...always with the goal of getting back into leadership roles with growth stage companies. Two years ago, I made the switch back into operating and have been helping various technology companies build and scale their capabilities.
Sales Assembly: What's your biggest accomplishment in sales or sales leadership?
Steve: The most gratifying accomplishments are people-related. Sales is about people and communicating...both with teams and customers/prospects. I've been told by sales reps from the past that I'm the best manager they've ever had. I'm very proud of that.
Sales Assembly: What's the best piece of sales advice you ever got?
Steve: About 10 months into my first sales position, I was put on a “PIP”…which meant they had started the HR process of firing me for poor performance. Of course, I felt like I was getting “railroaded” by a manager who didn’t like me, but the stress of the process caused me to shut down instead of double down. About two weeks before what would be my final notice, I was ranting to a more senior colleague in management about how my manager hated me and he stopped me and said, “Steve, it doesn’t matter how unfair you think this is…YOU are the only one who can get yourself out of it.”
From that day on, I’ve always been able to look in the mirror and ask what I could be doing differently. If I’m not making my numbers, it’s up to me. If one of my sales reps is failing, I need to do something different in developing them. As a result of that guidance, I quickly turned things around and not only earned the sales person of the year award the following year, but also held that same sales director position I complained about.
Sales Assembly: What's the biggest challenge facing a sales rep today, and how would you recommend they overcome it?
Steve: The biggest challenge facing sales reps is the amount of "noise" in the marketplace. Buyers are inundated with new tools, emails, conferences, content, buzz words, platforms, etc., etc. As a result, people are not going to buy what they don't understand or can't scope. My best advice is for sales people to spend more time educating and explaining what their solution does (for the person and the business) as oppose to telling people how it works.
Sales Assembly: Do you currently have a sales mentor, or have you ever? If so, what did they teach you?
Steve: I've never had a formal mentor, but I certainly keep an active network of people I can bounce ideas off of. My first real sales manager was probably the strongest because that's when I was building my foundation.
Sales Assembly: What's the best sales book you've ever read? What are you reading now?
Steve: I'm not a big business book guy as much as I am a voracious reader of all the content published across the various social platforms. However, I've read all the big sales books such as Getting to Yes, Predictable Revenue, Challenger, Strategic Selling, One Minute Salesperson, etc. Right now I'm reading Simplify by Richard Koch; How the best businesses in the world succeed. It's a great reminder that things do not need to be complex. Focus on a few things and be good at them.
Sales Assembly: Best sales or business related books, articles, podcasts or newsletters?
Steve: Nothing consistent other than watching videos by Craig Wortmann of SalesEngine and a couple other newsletters. Early in my career, my dad used to send me tape sets of Tom Hopkins. I remember many of those lessons today.
Sales Assembly: What's the best advice you'd give to someone just starting a career in sales?
Steve: You CAN NOT make a sale via email...but you can certainly lose one. During the sales cycle, pick up the phone and communicate. If they won't talk to you, they're really not interested so move on.
Sales Assembly: Do you see any interesting future trends as it pertains to sales?
Steve: Inside sales and automated lead gen campaigns are not always right for your product, buyer, or industry. Building lead gen "factories" (a la Predicative Revenue) is the current trend, but I think you're going to see a swing back to fundamentally strong direct sales with fewer reps, more disciplined deal qualification, and targeted, network-based needs selling.
Sales Assembly: What's the key to building a successful sales organization?
Steve: For growth stage companies, they like to move from entrepreneurial/founder selling to "scaling" because that's what potential investors start to ask about once they demonstrate a little momentum. As a result, the definition of "scaling" is translated into automation and process. Companies must realize you can't go from entrepreneurial selling to "best in class".
There is an "organized growth" phase in there. This phase is about keeping things incredibly simple. Just because you can measure 10 things and/or buy tools doesn't mean that those are helping. Be good at prospecting and qualifying opportunities. Both of those are "inputs" as opposed to calculations (like $). And you can make process changes if something isn't working without starting from scratch.