EPISODE 018, Ben Mathew of CARTO Says Sales Success Is All About Attitude, Aptitude, and Execution
Ben Mathew is senior vice president at Accel Partners- and Salesforce Ventures-backed CARTO, the location intelligence platform that helps enterprises turn their location data into business outcomes. He is responsible for global sales, sales development, sales operations, presales engineering, professional services, customer support, and customer success. Previously Ben ran Growth Engine Consulting, a consulting and advisory practice focused on growth strategies for technology start-ups, and docufyi, a contracts management software company. Before that, Ben was VP of sales and field operations for BI company Logi Analytics, which he joined to start the embedded analytics OEM practice and built to be the global leader in that space.
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Ben Mathew: Thank you, Fred. Thanks for having me. Quick thing to mention that would be interesting is I did not start my career in sales. Probably a lot of people have that situation, but I actually started in product management. The intro—thank you for that generous intro—did not include my time before my sales career in engineering and product management and then slowly evolving to sales.
Fred Diamond: How did you get into sales as a career?
Ben Mathew: That’s a very interesting story. I was, just before I got into sales, as I mentioned, product management. We had hired a new GM for North America for this wireless telecom company where I was managing a product line. I was tasked with educating him on the business, and he was focused on managing the sales team. Every evening I’d spent some whiteboarding time with him and walking through different things, and he said, “Wow, you’re able to distill down these complex concepts into things that a sales guy like me can understand or appreciate. You should really try a career in sales.”
I said, “No. No way. I can’t do that, a quota hanging over my head, not thinking enough during the day.” I was enjoying my life. But he wound up connecting me with a board member of a local start-up, and I wound up meeting the founder of that company, interviewing there, and talking about starting this new practice for embedded analytics that they would be selling to product managers. The thought was “Hey, if you’re a product manager, you probably know how to sell to product managers, so why don’t you give this a shot and start that?”
The genesis of that was all, obviously, selling whatever we were putting together, but it involved a lot more, thinking of what’s the right way to go to market, what’s the right messaging, all of that stuff. We were a very small company at that time, but I was fortunate enough to get in there, and it was a wild ride from there on. I spent almost 10 years doing that, growing into different roles and building that business into quite a global leader. It was a great time, a great ride.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little bit about what you sell today, what excites you about that.
Ben Mathew: I’m very excited after spending the past decade or so in the data analytics space to have found a company that thinks about it a little bit differently and is going to add a significant amount of value to organizations going forward. CARTO is a location intelligence platform that enables organizations to turn their location data into business outcomes. What I mean by location data, if you think about every event that’s happening, such as this particular podcast, every event happens at some point in time… but also at some point in space. Everything happens somewhere.
In my last decade of working in the data analytics space, most business intelligence or analytics companies focus in the dimension of time. They look at their data and think about presenting information about sales that happened for the last month—“How did my stores do last quarter?”, “How did my team do last year?” All of these represent themselves as pie charts and bar graphs and other kinds of visuals, but they all look at your data through the lens of time. But because everything happens at some point in time and some point in space, you’re not going to see the complete picture of your data without looking at your data through both a temporal as well as a spatial lens. What CARTO does is presents the spatial analysis solution for data analysts, data scientists, and developers to create spatial apps that allow you to look at the location data that you already have.
All of these data already exist and have a latitude and longitude component to them… We’ve got customers that do simple things from “What’s the traffic on this highway and which billboards do I need to advertise on based on the traffic that’s driving though and based on volume” to indoor mapping solutions to determine, if I’m a mall owner, what rent do I charge for a store that has more traffic that accumulates outside of it as opposed to one near the bathroom that nobody goes to to really, really complex things like in financial services, with hedge funds, trying to predict the price of equities based on weather patterns. As hurricanes come through the area, if I’m a hedge fund that has large exposure to Home Depot stores, then how long are they going to be closed… or [their sales] may go down because nobody’s buying snow blowers at that time. It’s really cool, and then they overlay that with satellite image data of parking-lot traffic and things like that. There’s tons of stuff you can do with spatial data that we’re just scraping the tip of the iceberg right now with spatial, and that’s what CARTO allows organizations to do as the next big wave in analytics. I’m superexcited to be a part of it.
Fred Diamond: We’ve actually interviewed some people from Tableau as part of the Sales Game Changers Podcast and numerous people in some start-up tech ventures. It’ll be interesting to see how your journey has taken you here compared to some of theirs. You mentioned, of course, you started your career as a product manager, so what are some of the key lessons you learned from some of your first few sales jobs?
Ben Mathew: It was very important moving from a technology-focused product role into sales to keep a few things in mind. One was to set a target to learn something new every day that really, really helped me. You tend to, coming from the world of product management, think you know a lot about your products. It’s not enough because there’s so many things you can learn about your market, your customers. Everybody around you has something to offer. They have something different to offer, but you have to learn every day. One of the things I set for myself was a goal of learning one new thing every day.
The other thing I learned was that consistency really counts in sales because you can have your ups and downs, you can have your big deals and drought periods, but if you set targets for yourself to have a deal or something, some sale every month or every quarter or whatever your cadence is, then being maniacal about focusing on that and achieving that, at the end of the year you’ll see that that pays off.
There was a year when I said I was going to have sales every month. Our average ticket was like $30,000. There was a month that I was light on pipe, but I found a way to sell some kind of a training package for 500 bucks. It didn’t matter because I had to have a number against the board. Consistency counts as the number-two thing.
And then, be data-driven. I think in today’s day and age, it’s not enough for us to open up a phonebook. Nobody does that anymore, just dial and hope for the best. You have to be data-driven. You have to think about your pipeline, what do you need to close, what is your conversion rate, how many leads do you need to contact, how much outbound do you need to do, how much inbound do you get, and then you have to be extremely data-driven to say, “I need to have X amount of pipeline by this point of time in a quarter in order to achieve my number and predict and prevent issues from happening as we pipe.” Three things: Learn every day, consistency counts, and manage geometrics and be data-driven.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about a mentor, an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Ben Mathew: I’ve thought about that a lot, and actually, to be honest, it’s one of those things that I think I missed… The way I was able to develop was the combination of multiple people. I think back, there was the GM of my previous company who encouraged me to think about sales. I continue to be engaged with him. He runs sales successfully at a company today. We continue to talk, and we have more meaningful conversations now that we’re in the same career line. There is a board member and chief operating officer formerly of the last company I worked for who, again, I keep in touch with. We continue to interact on a weekly basis. There was no one thing. I think it was a combination of all these people and encouragement, a source of and ability to bounce ideas off and information off. But I can also count the team, right? It’s not just learning from these people who maybe have done this work before you. You can learn from their experience but also the significant experience of the teams that I hired, the people I hired as well that I learned a lot from. They may not have realized this as much, but they were pretty impactful in my journey as well in improving myself. I learned a lot from the kind of sales reps I hire about how to approach a deal. There’s something new you learn every day, just to tie it back to the earlier point of “set a target for yourself to learn something new every day.”
Fred Diamond: When you think about your career, what’s the number-one specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of?
Ben Mathew: This is an easy one for me. There was a time—and there had been many times like this, when the quarter all comes down to this one deal that you’ve got to close— and I was managing a team, and I had one of my reps out in Los Angeles trying to close a large deal that was the key difference between making our number and not making our number. He had been out there for three days, and I told him, “Don’t come back without the order.” It was an existing customer of ours; we needed to expand the business with them as well as get their renewal. He was sitting out there for three days, and on the last day he called me and said, “I’m not getting invited in. They don’t seem to be interested in talking. I don’t think I’m going to be able to get this.”
And so I dropped everything I was doing and went straight to the airport, flew to California. This was the second-to-last day, so took a red-eye, flew out to California, got there, and because I was there they let us in… We went in, the CEO wasn’t there. The CFO sort of said, “Hey, I’m just conveying a message. This is not going to happen today. The CEO is not in.” So we sat in the conference room and said, “Look, we’re not leaving until we have a conversation because there’s something we need to discuss here. You guys need to get your renewal going. You need to get your product active again and not have a lapse.”
And finally he got us a call with the CEO, who was in his house. He took the call, and I explained to the CEO that I was here to make a deal happen and I had flown from D.C. and I was really looking forward to meeting him and getting papers signed before I went back. And he said, “Well, I’m not here. I’m at home.” And I said, “I’m happy to work through the CFO” and paused for a second, and he said, “Have you had dinner yet?” I said, “No,” and he said, “All right, Fred’s going to give you the address.” The CFO’s name was Fred. “Fred’s going to give you the address. Come on over to my house.”
My sales rep and I got into our car, went to his house. I’m sure it was an intimidation tactic. This is a slightly long story, but bear with me. It’s interesting. We got to a huge gated community. We waited 10 minutes because nobody answered our buzz. We finally went in, and I told the sales rep, “Do not get intimidated by this guy, his house, or anything like that.” He walked us through his seven7-car garage. We walked into his house. We sat down, and we hammered out a deal sitting in his beautiful living room overlooking the mountains and all that stuff, which was fabulous, but we hammered out a deal.
And then, by the time I left and got the last flight back, it was 11 P.M. Eastern time. We were going to close the book at midnight. We got that deal. It was larger than we thought we would because the CEO was very generous, saw the effort coming out there, but it was that persistence. I’m always going to remember that, and so is that rep who worked with me then—who, by the way, I hired back into CARTO and he’s with me again. But it was a thrilling moment to go to the CEO’s house, close a deal there.
The second most interesting story is not as exciting, but I did go to a CEO’s office. It was a local CEO’s office, and I sat there for six hours working on a deal. This was back when I was a rep and refuse to leave the office. He was very kind and entertained me that way by not kicking me out. He got close a couple of times but wound up signing the deal at that point. I guess the two stories that stick in my mind are one of just getting out there, being persistent, not taking no for an answer and just making it happen.
Fred Diamond: You’ve had a very interesting career in sales, Ben Mathew. You didn’t start out the traditional way. You started out in product management. You understood the customer, what he or she was going through. Did you ever question moving into sales? Was there ever a moment when you thought to yourself, “It’s just too hard. It’s really not for me”?
Ben Mathew: Sure. I think a lot of us go through that, and it helps to talk about it. When I first joined, I was concerned that I was leaving the world of product management, that I was trying something new. It was exciting to be part of a start-up, but initially, I’ve got to say, the relationship between the CEO and I wasn’t good because I thought of things through the lens of product. He was looking to drive some business. I was being a little more thoughtful, maybe not as operational, and in a few months it was time for me to move on. I said, “Hey, maybe this wasn’t for me.” I didn’t want to burn any bridges or anything like that, but I didn’t want to continue in a role where I didn’t have a relationship with the CEO. I did interview for another product management role. I did get it.
But then, by the time I got it, I had a couple of small successes. I had two $50,000 deals that closed, and I was like, “Okay, you know what, let me make it worth his while because I was there. This was my first full quarter in the company. I’m going to close out these $50,000 deals. I just closed them out.” But I had one more, which was a $200,000 deal, and I was like, “Maybe I should get that pay for myself and then some, and he’ll be happy.” And that wound up closing, and then I had a $600,000 deal in pipeline.
By then, once that closed, I had done more than a million dollars in small deals as well as large deals, which was my annual quota in the first quarter. I’m like, “I’m not going anywhere.” The relationship part had an impact. I’m very glad that I didn’t go anywhere, because if I had I probably wouldn’t have continued a career in sales. That was a very meaningful and decisive point, I think, in my career. I made the right choice to stay because of those successes that I saw, and from then on we’ve had a fantastic relationship.
That CEO is still friends with me, 12, 15 years later. But another difficult time was, and I remember this distinctly, Q2 2008. I think 2008 was a rough year for a lot of companies. I had actually gone away for five weeks in Q1. I knew that Q1 was going to be difficult. I went to get married. It was a happy time for me, but coming back, pipeline was weak and all that. I managed to make a certain number, but I had big projections for the second quarter, and I failed miserably because it was a huge number, I was projecting the best quarter ever that I’ve had, and everything started falling apart. I think also we caught the front end of the financial crisis that was happening. There were some very large companies in our pipeline that suddenly froze budgets. If I remember correctly, it was a forecast of $850,000 for the quarter, and I wound up closing $18,000. It was really miserable, a big miss, and at that time I really thought, “Wow, I’ve had lots of success in 2007. I made the annual number in the first quarter, and here I am not even able to get past a tenth of my number for this quarter.” It was really tough. At those times, it helps to have a supportive environment around you, and I think that’s where the team was supportive.
They said, “Hey, this is a minor blip. Let’s work past it.” The CEO was supportive, but I did make him a commitment. I said, “If I don’t find a way to make up for the miss and make my number in Q3, then I think I need to call it a day, and this is not for me.” I wasn’t used to failing that badly. I think it was the support of the people around me who said, “Hey, it’s just a minor blip.” These things happen all the time. I think we feel this. And it was early in my sales career, so it was a more vulnerable moment for me. From there on out I failed multiple times, just to be open, and we all will. But it’s not the failure; it’s what you learn from it and how you bounce back. I think that was a key moment for me.
Fred Diamond: What’s the most important thing you want to get across to sales professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them improve their career?
Ben Mathew: I t’s actually three things that I tell all of my sales hires: attitude, aptitude, and execution. You have to be good at those three things.
From an attitude standpoint, you have to love what you do. You have to be passionate about what you’re selling. You have to have a team environment. No man is an island. If you try to sell on your own without the support of a sales support team, whether it’s technical support or the operations support after or the SDR who supports you before the sale, you’re not going to be successful. You have to learn to maximize the use of your resources. And it’s important to have a good, positive attitude to the work that you’re accomplishing, because it will come across in your conversation with your clients if you’re not enjoying what you do, you’re not passionate about what you’re selling, and you don’t believe in what you’re trying to accomplish and what your business is hoping to accomplish for those enterprises.
From an aptitude perspective, it’s very important as well. I’ve grown up in technology sales, but I’m sure with any kind of sales, you have to have an aptitude to understand your market, understand your product fit, understand how it solves the problems for your customers, and understand most importantly what are your customers’ pain points and then how does your product fit into those things, as opposed to “Here’s my product, you go figure out how this is going to work.” It’s very important, if your product is a technology product, to have a good technology aptitude. You don’t have to know every single detail, but you need to know the jargon, you need to be comfortable having a conversation with the target demographic.
For one of the companies I worked for, the one that I started my sales career with, the B.I. company, product managers were my target demographics, so I needed to have that idea of how that was going to work. Fortunately I’ve done that career in the past, so I was able to communicate effectively with them. But that’s important as well, to have an aptitude for the products that you sell and execution.
At the end of the day, I have an equation that I always tell my sales reps: “Hopes + Ambition + Passion – Effort = Dreamer.” If you don’t put in the effort and you don’t have the work ethic, you will not be successful. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. You can work smart, that’s great, but there’s no substitute for hard work. I think it’s that trifecta of attitude, aptitude, and excellence of execution that’s going to get sales professionals to the next level.
Fred Diamond: Attitude, aptitude, and execution. Ben, what are some of the things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh? Tell us some of the things you do to stay at the top of your sales game.
Ben Mathew: I think it’s important to always leave your ego at the door and learn from everybody. I’ve mentioned this before to one of your other questions as well. I enjoy learning from people. I don’t try to hire people I can teach. I try to hire people who have a desire to learn but can also teach themselves. I’m the first to learn something new every day from anybody that I can around me. That goes for both internal and external. From a sales standpoint, I practice my pitch, how we explain what we do and how we do it.
Again, leaving that ego at the door, just because I run the sales team doesn’t mean I can’t be called to the floor to say, “Hey, let’s do a quick elevator pitch” and critique me and be open to that criticism. I do that a lot. I do that with the team. It’s open time, questions can flow, and as a small start-up in our current situation we need that. We need to constantly improve. And so, from that standpoint, it’s not about being an SVP of sales and you can’t question my pitch. I may not have the best pitch, and I’m fine with one of my junior sales reps pitching at a certain way and then picking up something from that and then communicating that to the rest of the team.
Fred Diamond: What’s something you’re working on today to ensure your success? Tell us something you’re excited about that will continue to ensure your success as a sales game changer.
Ben Mathew: I think one very important thing in sales management that we all should focus on, probably the most important thing, is to hire the best people. That’s what I do all the time. I’m always scouting for the best talent that’s out there. I love looking at profiles in unconventional places as well. Some of my best sales reps or SDRs or sales engineers have come from not that particular line. I’m an example. I came to a sales career not coming from a traditional sales background myself. So I look for that in people. It’s constantly looking to hire the right people.
For CARTO specifically, we are a global company. We have a large presence in Europe, in the U.S., in the Asia-Pac region as well. We’re constantly looking at good strategies to expand globally, to identify great use cases for location data, because it is a great up-and-coming space. It’s not as widely adopted yet, but coming from the data analytics space myself and knowing the trend lines of what happens when software that you offer goes from nice to need to have, I see all of those waves happening. Creating great partner programs, building large enterprises and solving their problems with geospatial, and then widely expanding within the organization—none of that happens without great people, and so I’m always on the hunt for great people.
Fred Diamond: We’ve talked today about some of the challenges, how you’ve grown your career, how you’ve stayed fresh, how you’ve learned, how you’ve worked with people, your team, and people above you. But sales is hard. People don’t return your phone calls or your emails. Why have you continued? You made that career shift from product management to sales. What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Ben Mathew: I think a lot of people can relate to my answer on this, but once you become successful in sales there’s really nothing else you can do. I was concerned coming into sales, thinking about what it would do for my very thought-process-oriented, thoughtful product management role, where I think about a market strategy and think about a product strategy. But at the end of the day, a successful sales rep winds up being the top earner at a successful company. I think that’s a very important reason. We’re all motivated for success. We all define success in different ways.
Most sales professionals, we can define success as making significant sales blowing through our quotas and things like that. I’ve been fortunate enough in all of my years in sales and sales management to have a member of our sales team be the top earner in the company. I think that is the sign of a successful company. It’s not about the buzz you create in the market and all that. If your top earner in the company is a member of your sales team, [making] more than the CEO, more than anybody else, which is common in very successful companies, then you know you’ve really got something going. I think that’s definitely it.
I think the rush of the close is something a lot of us can relate to. I don’t get a high from too much sales, but I do get it from the rush of the close. To get that big deal, to win it away from a competitor, to get it in after a seesaw, up-and-down journey, to go to a CEO’s house and close a deal, I mean things like that are just incredible, the rush you get.
Fred Diamond: Ben, bring us on home here. What’s a final thought you want to share to all the sales professionals listening in on today’s podcast to inspire them?
Ben Mathew: I like doing things in threes. I’m probably going to talk about three. The first thing is do what you love to do. I think if you do that you will never work a day in your life. It’s very important to choose something you like, sales career or otherwise. If you choose a career in sales, you have to believe in what you’re selling. You have to be passionate, because it will come out. It will come out in the interactions. You’re going to talk to a lot of people. You’re going to meet a lot of people, and it will make your day and your life easy because working hard—everybody knows you’ve got to put in the hours, put in the time, make those calls, do those visits, and doing it time after time gets a little monotonous—if you love what you do and you believe in what you’re selling, that’s really going to make your life and your day easier.
The second thing is work hard at whatever you do because there is no substitute for hard work. I think in most companies that have figured out a good product market fit and have sales management and marketing management doing their jobs, it’s a numbers game. “How many people can you call?”, “How effectively can you work?”, “How can you convey a message?”, “How can you build a relationship?” The more people you can call and the harder you can work, probably the more successful you’re going to be. Again, there]s no substitute for that. I think work ethic is key in anything you do in life.
And, the third thing is in life you will fail. I think most of us have failed. If you haven’t failed you haven’t really experienced life, and I pity you because you haven’t had an opportunity to learn from it. But I think the key thing is not how often you failed. It’s about how you picked yourself up, got up, dusted yourself off, got back on the horse, and kept moving forward. I think it’s critical to not think of failures as stumbling blocks but more as stepping stones to the next level.