How it used to be (for way too long)
I’ve worked in IT for more than 15 years, and for the first twelve years, I didn’t interact with a single vendor salesperson who gave me a reason to think of IT sales as being significantly different from used car sales. Whether it was hardware or software, the sales professionals I encountered left me with a singularly low opinion of sales. This is the story of how that began to change a few years ago, when I began work on my Citrix XenDesktop project.
I don’t recall if I reached out to Citrix or if they reached out to me, but I’m thinking it was the latter, because I had registered for and attended a webinar on the XenDesktop implementation of Scottsdale Community College, MySCC. I think I received an email a week or so after that, and that led to an initial meeting. I wasn’t hopeful about that meeting, because to that point, my experience with the “sales guy” who worked for our then Citrix reseller was pretty abysmal. I’d send him emails and he might respond in three or four days, or it might be two weeks, with never a word of apology for the delay, and usually without really addressing the question or topic in a satisfactory manner.
Surprise – it doesn’t have to suck
But that meeting went well. I met Patrick Beauchene from Citrix and Tim Sharp from LPS Integration. Both these guys would begin to change my opinion of salespeople right away, and would swing my attitude towards ever possibly participating in the sales process professionally 180 degrees. I’ll tell you more about them in a bit, but I also wanted to mention the third member of my own personal sales triumvirate.
After working with Patrick and Tim for a year or more to try to get my Citrix project off the ground, it dovetailed with a parallel effort to buy a bunch of storage and dramatically grow our virtualization cluster. During that year I’d attended meeting after meeting with backup vendors, storage vendors, server vendors, you name it vendors. And you know what? While my perspective on sales had shifted to a more positive place thanks to Patrick and Tim, I encountered many stereotypically bad sales people during that time.
Until I attended my first meeting with Roger Wright from NetApp, that is. After fearing Patrick and Tim must have been some dynamic duo of an exception that proved the rule that I would never have a positive experience with sales, Roger arrived and made it clear that I’d just had a run of bad luck. I’ve since dealt quite a bit with all three of these sales professionals, and while I think they couldn’t be less alike in some ways, each of them is a very good at what he does. I’ve worked for more than 15 years in IT in higher education, and I’d like to point out what sets these guys apart from the dozens of other salespeople I’ve dealt with. I won’t go into their professional backgrounds – that’s what LinkedIn is for, right? I’m just going to give you my opinion of what makes them awesome at what they do.
Three Ambassadors of Awesome
Patrick Beauchene is slick, and that worried me at first because I’ve met plenty of slick but horrible salespeople. I’ve gotten to know Patrick fairly well, though, and his slickness isn’t a put-on – it’s part of his character. He’s the cool guy you knew in high school or college, and he’s good at sales in part because he’s likable and fun. But that’s not enough, and if that’s all Patrick had going for him, he wouldn’t have impressed me. He’s also a nerd. Maybe not a hard-core geek like me and my peers, but he is just about the opposite of the sales guy who can’t operate without his sales engineer to do the talking. Could I beat Patrick at a game of Stump the Chump? Sure I could, but I could beat most SE’s at that game too – I live and breathe what I do in IT. But Patrick holds his own and he gets the technology he’s selling, and that makes him very good. What takes him beyond that is that he has a vision for where Citrix’s technology can be applied, and this is more than what you’d expect of a good nerd sales guy who has sat through a corporate ra-ra seminar or two. He shared an idea for a project with me recently that rocked me back on my heels, and being the classically trained (really, my first degree was in Latin) geek that I am, I like to sit around thinking up big ideas for fun. Patrick’s not just pushing product to make a quota – he thinks about where it goes and how it gets used, and how it can be used.
Tim Sharp is a good old boy, and I’m from the South, so from me that’s a compliment. He’s a good guy, an honest guy. It was Tim more than anyone who challenged my misconception about salespeople that went something like this: If a salesman is talking, he’s lying. He shattered that misconception. Tim’s a straight shooter, even if shooting straight hurts his chances of making a deal, and I respect that. Tim’s also something I’d never encountered in the IT sales world before – an advocate for his customers. Our Citrix reseller/partner is LPS Integration, and our experience with them has been very good, and through them, our experience with Citrix has been very good. Tim plays a huge role in that relationship – he kept it alive during times when my project was temporarily killed, he helped strengthen it when we hit snags in funding and stakeholder buy-in along the way, and he keeps it going strong now, after the sale. He says one simple thing, and he’s never failed to deliver on it – “Tell me what you need, Mike, and I’ll take care of it.”
Roger Wright is extremely professional, and you can tell he’s spent a lot of time selling to big companies and large government agencies or institutions. He also possesses a calmness in stressful situations that has impressed me on more than one occasion. I like to think of Roger as my IT librarian; he may not have the answer to the questions I ask, in fact as a salesperson he typically doesn’t. What Roger does, though, is find the person who does have the answer, and he facilitates my communication with them so that I can get the information I need. I can’t overstate the value of that role, and Roger is the best at it. He’s also amazing, almost doggedly persistent at followup, not just with me to make sure I have what I need, but with others inside NetApp if I need something from them.
What does all this mean?
Each of these guys – Patrick, Tim, and Roger, are great sales professionals. They’ve changed how I view sales as a process and people who work in sales. Hell, they’ve helped me consider the possibility of a career change involving sales – something that would have had me roaring with laughter a few years ago. They’ve also demonstrated that, with the help of some outstanding Sales Engineers and others whom I will write about soon, when it comes to dealing with good companies, everybody supports the sales effort.
You may be lucky enough to have worked with plenty of pros like them – if you are, good for you. You may be where I am now – knowing there are good sales pros out there but believing they’re not the norm. If you’re unlucky enough to be where I was a few years ago – thinking every salesperson out there is alike – only interested in dumping their product on you and running – there’s hope. Start asking around. Get on Twitter or LinkedIn and read what real people are saying about their experiences with companies and their sales professionals. Find the good ones and work with them.