EPISODE 123: Cooley Law Firm’s Biz Dev Chief Carl Grant’s Mission is to Help Technology Leaders Become Amazingly Successful. Here’s How He Does it.
CARL’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “People like to buy from people that they know and if you’re struggling with how to get to know people, I’m going to tell you that people can connect on very personal levels. I think the deepest personal relationships you can develop with other people are through a religious affiliation, a cultural affiliation or a common mission. Join a group that you identify with religiously, culturally or at a shared mission, such as disease-oriented organizations. Try to connect on a deep personal level with people in the business community by getting involved and when you need to reach out to them, you’re reaching out to a friend. You’re not reaching out to a stranger, you’re not making a cold call, you’re reaching out to somebody who you’ve spent hours with working on something that’s important to them.”
Carl Grant is the EVP of Business Development at the Cooley law firm.
Prior to coming to Cooley, Carl worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers and two venture-backed startups.
Find Carl on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Carl Grant: We sell high-end legal services mainly to high growth technology companies and life sciences companies. I lead a 13 person team around the country and they do have some global responsibility as well. What I like the most about this, Fred is no two days are the same. I get to interact with some of the brightest most creative entrepreneurs in the world and I’ll bring their ideas to reality by connecting them with the folks that can help them get them there.
Fred Diamond: To give a little bit of a context, again when we talk to product people they know they have a certain quota type of a thing. For you, do you have a similar type of thing? Are you quota driven or is it relationship driven? Curiously, as a VP of BD how do you get measured at the end of the year?
Carl Grant: We do have goals, each of my team members have goals. However, a law firm as you can imagine is not a quantitative type of organization, it’s a very qualitative organization. I’ve had to adapt what I did prior at PricewaterhouseCoopers which was a highly quantified organization with quotas, with numerical goals and revenue goals and so forth. We don’t really have that here. I do know what my team has delivered, but we don’t really talk about the numbers a lot.
Fred Diamond: Interesting. Let’s go back to your career, again we mentioned you were at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a couple of entry base startups. How did you first get into sales as a career?
Carl Grant: Interestingly, it wasn’t as a career, Fred. I was a striving entrepreneur right out of grad school and I needed to earn some money. This was a long time ago, I forget what my goal was, maybe $10 an hour. I needed to just get some gas money while I was doing the startup and I took a job selling furniture, straight commission. That was about as high pressure sales job as you could have because if your prospect that walked in the door walked out without buying something, you didn’t have gas money or food money that day. I learned how to close sales in a very short amount of time. That was not a stepping stone to a career, in fact I hope the people that saw me in the furniture store would not see me in my normal day job.
Fred Diamond: One thing we ask the Sales Game Changers who we interview on the show is who do they sell to. Of course, if you’re selling tech or media we can understand who that is, but for the people listening to today’s podcast, who do you sell to? Again, you mentioned you’re a high end law firm for technology companies, CEOs, CFOs, venture capitalist, who are some of the people that you’re “trying to sell to”?
Carl Grant: It depends on the stage of the company, Fred. Every company – Apple Computer, Google included – those were startups at one point in time and when you link arms with a startup early on you can typically keep that client or a good part of that client for life. The challenge is figuring out who those startups are at idea stage that have the potential to be the next Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. At that stage we’re working with the CEO, as the company progresses along we’re often dealing with the CEO and the CFO and further along the general council. Those are the three main management team members, but we’re also dealing with the board of directors. It’s a complicated process in facilitating this type of sale and the trick to doing all this is we’re not really selling.
If you looked at my interaction day to day, I would say earlier on with these companies they’re selling to me that they’ve got the next greatest thing because they want access to my venture capital context or my team’s venture capital contacts. That’s the difference in what I do that is probably way different than the other folks you’ve had on this podcast, is that I spend my time helping these entrepreneurs raise money and then we have a very robust resume database here that has CFOs and general councils and board members. We help the companies build out their teams because once the CEO gets too busy to deal with outside legal, it’s the CFO, the general council that’s making those decisions. By helping to get good competent people in those roles and having them feel good about us finding them their next job, we’re pretty much guaranteed that work for a good, long time.
Fred Diamond: Again, you mentioned you old furniture in the beginning but then you worked for a couple entrepreneurial venture back firms. What are some of the lessons you learned from some of those jobs that have helped you get to the top of your game today?
Carl Grant: I would say the real training ground for what I do today was PricewaterhouseCoopers. The sales manager that hired me there was a former IBM sales guy and he really taught me the discipline of developing a pipeline and working that pipeline and grading those prospects and having a disciplined sale cycle. I think without that training I might not be as organized and as effective as I am at actually taking what doesn’t look like a sales job and making it a sales job.
Fred Diamond: Curiously, before we ask you what you’re an expert in again you’re EVP of business development. Give us a perspective on some of the things that you do. What does a typical day look like in a VP of Business Development for one of the top law firms in the country?
Carl Grant: That’s the beautiful thing about my job, is no two days are the same. I try to leave a little time open at the beginning of the day after my workout and just to make sure there’s no bombs in my email. I typically start my meetings around 10 am and I try to leave some time open at the end of the day if possible to follow up and make sure the emergency emails – and most communications I get are email, I get a few phone calls but everybody emails in the tech world.
In the middle of the day, it’s meeting to meeting, my average meeting is about a half hour. Phone call is about 15 minutes, I have to be very regimented with my time so I would say I operate more like a doctor than I do a typical sales person in terms of diagnosing what needs to be done with the company and figuring out what the next steps are.
To facilitate a sale in an environment like this, it’s never done alone. I don’t sell somebody and sign them up and send them an engagement letter, I have to bring in an attorney and have to pass of that relationship. I work my own pipeline, but I also manage a team so we’re coming into review season and I’m having to take prospects that I otherwise would have dealt with and send them to team members gracefully so they don’t feel upset that I’m not giving them personal attention, but I really have to barricade myself for several weeks to get through 13 reviews. It takes a lot of time.
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you’re an expert in, tell us a little about your specific area of brilliance.
Carl Grant: I would say if I’m an expert in anything it’s human relations. I look at experts like Dale Carnegie and I’m a student of his and others of that ilk, it’s all about figuring out what you can do to help other people. I’m never out looking to see what somebody can do for me. In fact, if somebody tries to do something for me I turn it around, I try to figure out what I can do for that other person. I do favors for people nonstop, connecting them to their next job, helping them raise money, helping them find their next big sales contract, helping them get introduced to a potential buyer of their company, a potential partner.
I would rather do 10 things for you and never ask you for anything and one day if I ever do need anything you’ll be very happy to do it for me. I very seldom call in those chips, but that way I’m not calling people trying to get them to buy anything.
Fred Diamond: I guess in your business it’s a long sale cycle, it’s not even really a sale cycle. You’re setting up, you’re teeing up the relationships because one day the CFO that you got a job might be the CFO of a company that’s going to do an IPO at some point and you’ve been doing this for what, 16 years now with Cooley?
Carl Grant: Over 16 years, but no two of these sale cycles are the same Fred. The other day we had a cold email that came in off the website. Normally, those are not very good prospects but this one was a company – I won’t say the name of the company – that had raised $98 million dollars and wants to go public. Who would figure? I wish they all came in that way. I made one phone call and put together a team, and hopefully we’ll get the work. I had the marketing team put together pitch materials, they don’t all come in like that.
Usually I have to do a lot of hard work, there’s a lot of hand holding upfront with a CEO who has an idea and I have to talk him or her through what they need to do next, because I see this thousands of times and this may be their first startup. From that idea to the point where they can actually pay us fees is a lot of work and a lot of hand holding and a lot of time in between.
Fred Diamond: Carl, who was an impactful sales career mentor and how did they impact your career?
Carl Grant: That’s easy, it’s a combination of folks and what I have done over the course since I’ve worked in professional services firms – two of the best, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Cooley – I’ve gone out on meetings with some of the top rain maker partners from each of these firms and I’ve watched what each of these individuals do when they’re in a meeting with a prospective client. I have essentially become a parrot, I have learned to repeat things that I’ve heard others say that I know work and I become a combination of the best of the best when I go out. I think it’s pretty effective.
Fred Diamond: Give us an example. Again, you were at PricewaterhouseCoopers and now you’re at Cooley and you said you’ve been able to watch some of the top rain makers – it’s the first time you use that word. Tell us one or two strategies, techniques or habits that they had that you were able to mimic.
Carl Grant: I would say – and maybe he’s listening – Corey Starr over at PwC was just phenomenal at figuring out what he could do to help make the prospective client he was meeting with successful. It’s all about the other person, it’s not about me, it’s not about us, it’s about how we can help that other company. Here at Cooley, Mike Lincoln is the master. You would not even know that he was even part of the meeting because he’s so into the other person and what they do and I’ve just watched him. I don’t know if he’s ever read the Dale Carnegie book, How to Win Friends and Influence People but he embodies it. I wish I could be more like that, I’m still working at it.
Fred Diamond: What are two of the biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader? You mentioned you manage a 13 person team, so what are the two big challenges that you face today?
Carl Grant: I think we touched on it earlier, I’m managing a function that normally would be quantified and I’m in an environment, this is not an organization where people take credit for things. As a law firm, we’re rather unusual. Most law firms have what we call origination credits and that’s where partners get origination credits and they get comped on bringing business in and sending it to others, we don’t have any of that here. Thumping your chest and saying that you won this client is not something that you do at Cooley but I have people that go out into the marketplace and are supposed to be operating as rain makers in the market place yet you shun credit and it’s a tricky game.
I like the culture here at Cooley, it’s the best work culture I’ve ever experienced anywhere, people are nice, they’re cooperative, they’re fun to work with but there’s no sharp elbows, there’s no harsh language and everybody’s friendly yet I need to have a team go out and drive revenue.
Fred Diamond: Take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Take us back to that moment.
Carl Grant: That’s easy. Many years ago now, a company down the street – Rosetta Stone – was planning to go public and for a law firm like ours, the IPO is the holy grail. That’s on the corporate side, litigation side, there’s a lot more revenues on big ticket litigation but to get in on the corporate side it’s IPO and I remember I had a friend who was in doing some outsource CFO work and she knew who was making hiring decisions, they were moving their headquarters from Harrisonburg, Virginia up to northern Virginia to access what they called “the suits” too be able to do the IPO, and they needed to hire a CFO and a general council. I went to work doing what I do and I was able to get a general council in at Rosetta Stone and we ended up working on the IPO and working with them as a client afterwards. That was textbook example of how those things can work, and it happened pretty rapidly.
Fred Diamond: Carl, did you ever question being in sales? Again, you worked for a couple venture back firms, if you will. Of course, you’ve been leading BD, you manage a team of 13 all across the country, Cooley is one of the most well-known, most successful firms in the tech space but was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Carl Grant: Absolutely, Fred. I never sought to go into sales. In fact, as I sit here in front of this microphone, I sought to go into broadcast journalism, that’s what I studied in graduate school and I prepared to have a career in cable television. When I got the phone call from PwC asking me if I wanted to be their first external salesperson I said, “I don’t know about that” until they told me what it was paying and then maybe I said, “Maybe I’ll think about that.” Yes, I have questioned it but it’s something that sought me, I didn’t seek it but now that I’m in it I’ve told my kids if you learn how to sell, there’s always somebody that needs to buy something. You can make a living doing it in good times and bad.
Fred Diamond: Carl, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals around the globe listening to today’s podcast to help them improve their careers?
Carl Grant: First of all, no one wants to be sold to. People like to buy things from people they know and trust, so the best advice I can give to somebody young getting into this profession is to build a professional network. Build a network of people that could buy from them, could introduce them to the folks that could buy from them. If you could go about developing your sales career without having to make a cold call, you’re going to be more successful.
Fred Diamond: I could give you some props here, I’ve known you for a number of years and you are the quintessential business developer from a networking perspective. You have one of the richest networks and I’m beginning to learn through the course of this conversation – I think I knew this already – it’s because you truly are about helping people achieve what they need to achieve. Working with good people and helping them get to what they need to achieve, so kudos to you for that. Tell us some of the things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh.
Carl Grant: If I would have relied on the network that I built 20 years ago of venture capitalists, I would be a failure today because a lot of those folks, some of them have died, some of them have retired, some of them have gotten so rich that they don’t need to do any work anymore so I constantly refresh my network by going out to events and I get on the event planning platform, I find young venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who I don’t know and I set meetings with them. 10 minute meetings, I do speed dating at these conferences.
The last conference I went to, I had probably 25 meetings with young venture capitalists back to back, 10 minute meetings with a 5 minute buffer in case I needed to go to the restroom or something or in went long or somebody was late. I build a lot of new relationships, not only do I do it in person, I use apps.
There’s apps out there that are like online dating apps but they’re for professional networking. In fact, some of the dating apps have developed professional networking functionalities. Using those types of tools to connect with younger people and not rely on the people who were 10, 20 years older than me when I started in this business has helped me stay fresh.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great point, I’ve got a quick question for you. Cooley has a pretty good name in this space obviously, it’s one of the most respected and successful law firms but I got to imagine if you’re a young VC or young CEO by calling and saying, “I’m the Cooley guy”, is that going to get you the meeting? If you were calling from Microsoft or IBM obviously people know but do you have the name recognition and if not how do you get those meetings?
Carl Grant: We do have the name recognition in the venture space because we formed a lot of the venture funds, however I never call anybody cold ever. I probably could count on one hand the times I’ve cold emailed somebody, I never do it. I always get introduced to somebody from somebody I know. I never go cold. People who cold call and cold email, they get ignored and rejected. I don’t get ignored and rejected because I come through people they know and trust.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Carl Grant: I’m always trying new things, Fred. In fact, I’m sitting here with you talking on a podcast, these are the types of things that I do because I want to try new things and be in new places, I’ve written a series of articles that I’ve published on LinkedIn. Initially, I was hoping to write a book but books are daunting to do so I broke it up and made it easier on myself and I’ve published a series of articles. I try to do one a month and they’re all about the types of things we’re talking about today, how to be effective at doing these things to they’ve gotten a lot of reads and shares and I’m going to be doing a radio show starting next year that will help me connect with people in new ways.
Fred Diamond: We’ve talked about this over the course of the podcast, sales can be hard. Interestingly, what you’re selling is different than some of the people we’ve interviewed on the show and again you guys have the name recognition and a lot of people need you, the people that you’re doing services for, trying to offer your services to. They really do need world-class services that would be provided by a company like Cooley but sales can be hard. People don’t always return your phone calls or your emails, why have you continued? Through the course of this podcast we’ve gotten some of your passion, we can understand why you enjoy this, we know you’ve been very successful but you said you didn’t want to go into sales originally, you wanted to go into broadcasting. What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Carl Grant: It’s not so much about the sales, Fred. It’s about being able to help people do better in business. I enjoy helping other people. If you’re worried about somebody else’s problems, you don’t have time for your own problems so I like to get my thoughts on what the other person is trying to accomplish, figure out how I can help him or her accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish and use my know-how and my connections to help them be successful. That to me is exciting, it’s exciting to watch a company go from an idea that they brought to you to having the name of their logo on a building driving down the toll road here in northern Virginia. That’s exciting, or to read about their success.
I was talking to a friend of mine who had an exit the other night when they tell me how many millions I’ve made off of their exit. It makes me happy to play a hand in helping them do it and what’s even more exciting is when their spouse comes up to you at a networking event and thanks you profusely, and you can’t even remember what you did that she’s thanking you for. That makes me feel good.
Fred Diamond: Today’s Sales Game Changers podcast we talked to Carl Grant, EVP of business development at Cooley. Carl, you’ve given us a lot of great ideas. We have listeners all around the globe listening to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast, why don’t you give a final thought to inspire our listeners today?
Carl Grant: As I said earlier that people like to buy from people that they know and if you’re struggling with how do I get to know people, I’m going to tell you that people can connect on very personal levels. I think the deepest personal relationships you can develop with other people are through a religious affiliation, a cultural affiliation or a common mission. If you’re wondering where to start, rather than doing some awkward thing going to the local chamber of commerce join a group that you identify with religiously, culturally or at a shared mission. When I say a shared mission, I think of disease oriented organizations. If you had somebody in your family die of cancer or some other ailment, there are whole organizations and efforts around raising money and trying to stamp out these diseases so try to connect on a deep personal level with people in the business community by getting involved and when you need to reach out to them, you’re reaching out to a friend. You’re not reaching out to a stranger, you’re not making a cold call, you’re reaching out to somebody who you’ve spend hours with working on something that’s important to them.
Fred Diamond: I know you’re involved with a number of things, do you want to mention any that you’re particularly involved with that have helped you grow as a person?
Carl Grant: I’m involved with an organization called the High Tech Prayer Breakfast that I helped start 17 years ago. I didn’t start out doing it for business purposes, I did it for very personal purposes. It was a calling and what I found over the past 17 years that I’ve been doing it is we have 100 or so table hosts that are involved, we have nearly 800 people that come out every year, some of the deepest persona relationships I’ve developed over the years are through that organization and these are not relationships where you go out and you shake somebody’s hand and exchange business cards and try to figure out what you can do for each other. These are people who ask you to pray for their child when they’re in the hospital or bring their deepest things that they’re dealing with in their lives.
I’ve had so many things I feel like I pray sometimes when people come to me and share with me their problems, and these are real relationships. Business happens out of them, but that’s not the reason for the relationships. These are my friends that I’ve been friends with for 17 years now and they happen to be all people who are involved in the technology community, a lot of them are in positions of influence and yes, we do business together but that’s not the driver for those relationships.