EPISODE 019: Cvent Sales Leader Darrell Gehrt Learned That Simplifying the Message Would Lead Him to Major Sales Gains
Darrell Gehrt, affectionately known as DG, is currently a vice president of sales at Cvent, the largest event technology company in the world, headquartered in the D.C. Metro area. Cvent has several U.S. offices including Dallas, Portland, and Atlanta and a burgeoning international business that boasts offices in London, Singapore, Australia, and India in which DG has direct reports. DG joined Cvent as a senior director of sales in 2013 and has been given increased responsibility each year. Today he sits with senior management and owns all sales efforts for the mobile app division within Cvent and has heavy influence in marketing, product roadmap, and postsales activities. Prior to joining Cvent, DG engaged in sales and entrepreneurial endeavors with the focus on emerging CRM technologies. His first true sales position was selling cell phones on a straight commission basis in the early 1990s.
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Fred Diamond: Darrell, tell us a little more about you that we need to know.
Darrell Gehrt: First of all, I have to say I’m honored to be number 19. Nineteen was my son’s first hockey number. As you know, we share that love and passion, but my wife and I, my beautiful bride, we spent tremendous amount of time at hockey rinks all around the East Coast. And so I have to escape the hockey rinks and come do what I do every day that I love, which is helping customers with their event technology.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk first about your career. I know you’ve had a lot of success, and I’m really excited to get into this. How’d you get into sales as a career?
Darrell Gehrt: It’s strange, Fred. I always thought of sales as a career, and I think part of that was I like people. I like talking to people, and secondly, I saw a lot of successful people who started their careers in sales. And so, even though both my parents were computer programmers and had nothing to do with sales, I knew from high school through college that’s what I wanted to do.
Fred Diamond: How many people do you have reporting to you here at Cvent?
Darrell Gehrt: Direct and indirect, over a hundred.
Fred Diamond: Good for you. Tell us exactly what you sell today and what excites you about that.
Darrell Gehrt: Cvent’s in the event technology space, and the division that I run focuses on mobile apps. If you think about going to a conference, if you’re an event planner, you want to encourage people to get the content to network with one another. We have technology that drives that. That’s our mobile app. We also do some other things all centered around the day-of experience. Maybe it’s checking people into a session for CMP credits. Maybe you just want to keep attendance or you want to charge for sessions. We do that. We do onsite badge printing, and the last thing that we really focus on for day-of experience is leave capture—if you’ve ever been to a conference and somebody says, “Hey, can I scan you?” We’ve got new slick technology that makes it easy for people to collect that data, ask custom questions, and then do the proper follow-up. We have a lot of great ROI tools for planners who are spending millions of dollars on their live events.
Fred Diamond: Cvent has been a great entrepreneurial success story. I encourage people, just Google Cvent history you could probably find [founder/CEO] Reggie [Aggarwal]’s story and the great experiences that he took to create this company and make it a huge success.
Darrell Gehrt: Reggie’s been a great leader, and you’re right: If you search for “Reggie Aggarwal” you’ll find his story, and it’s definitely worth reading.
Fred Diamond: You’ve mentioned in the introduction that one of your first jobs was selling cell phones door-to-door. Tell us about some of the key lessons you learned from your first few sales jobs.
Darrell Gehrt: I’m glad you brought up the cell phone job because that is really where I learned. Let me just take you back to 1992. Cell phones, nobody had them. Nobody wanted them. They were expensive. They didn’t work. In fact, people were downright ornery for you even asking if they wanted a phone in their car. And here I am, young kid, straight out of college, straight commission job, and I had to figure this thing out. And there’s two great lessons I learned that I still apply to this day.
The first one was hard work. Think about it as a straight commission salesperson. There’s no boss breathing down your neck to ask why you weren’t in at nine o’clock, how come you haven’t made 50 calls today. You really decide what you want to do, and I learned that I could just outwork people and make a lot more money.
The second one, which is a little bit more strategic but interesting lesson to learn, is that as cell phones were coming up, a lot of new phones were coming out, and I saw my colleagues trying to explain 10, 15 different phones to people who didn’t even know what a cell phone was, and they got confused and they would say “Great, let me think about this.” I went and said, “Listen, you either need this free phone or you need this expensive phone with bells and whistles, and you can always move out of it later.” I learned a very important lesson of simplifying. Where people would get distracted and have analysis paralysis, I would be able to cut right through the clutter. I literally ended up outselling the entire office of 10 people put together on a month-in, month-out basis because of those two things.
Fred Diamond: You outworked the other people on the team, and you simplified the message.
Darrell Gehrt: Simplify.
Fred Diamond: You made that simple, helped them understand the value, why they would invest at that time.
Darrell Gehrt: That’s exactly right. I’m glad you mentioned value because that’s a big thing. So again, go back to 1992, and you’re always pitching value. For us back then, our biggest customers were construction workers, contractors, because there was an ROI for them going from job site to job site and being able to talk the entire way. Today’s sales are no different. There has to be an ROI. There has to be a compelling business case.
Fred Diamond: Think back to your career. Who was an impactful sales mentor to you, and how did they impact your career?
Darrell Gehrt: The first one’s a little unconventional. I’d say the first one was myself, and you go, “How can you be a mentor to yourself at 22, 23, 24?” I didn’t have any sales training. I had to go out and figure it out myself. I am sure that there are listeners to this podcast, same thing, maybe you don’t have a mentor. Don’t let that be an excuse. If you’re out in the market and you’re just playing, you will learn. You’ll self-educate. There was a big impact point in my career in 1997. I went to go work for a guy who grew up out of the telecom industry. He had a sales system, and I never heard of a sales system before: “What’s this?” The whole process of the prospecting and the qualifying and the different questions you would ask. It was what a lot of people know today. I was amazed. Totally changed my career and put my game on a new trajectory. That was 1997.
The second person who really had major impact on my career was when I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2001 and got into the technology space, the software space. I had a boss who would just constantly challenge me. What he would do is, he would ask me qualifying questions like I was the customer every time we had a pipeline review. I remember the first couple of times coming away going, “Man, I should have answers to these questions, and I need to ask these questions on my prospects.”
And so, the next one-on-one, I would come in. I would be all proud of myself. I got answers to all these questions, and sure enough Ross would have another 15 questions that I hadn’t thought of before. It really made me stretch and grow because to learn the answers to the questions that he was asking me, I had to ask the market, and then that would help guide me.
Fred Diamond: What is the number-one specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? DG, take us back to that moment.
Darrell Gehrt: This is an easy one because it was a massively impactful moment for me. I told you, I moved here to D.C. in 2001, worked for a company called TARGUSinfo. I’m interviewing with the CEO, George Moore, and he tells me, “Listen, Darrell, you need to be following four deals: Domino’s, FedEx, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and McLeodUSA.”
He said, “If you close those four deals this year, we can talk about you keeping your job, and if you don’t, there’s no need to have a conversation.” And says it with his Irish air that he has, but he was somewhat serious about that statement. That year I closed all four of those deals and it took me on another career trajectory.
I went on at TARGUSinfo to run five or six different divisions. I got to start several things, including our government practice, our inside sales practice. But it was definitely that success that got me on the map in radar with everybody inside the company.
Fred Diamond: Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment when you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard” or “Just not for me”?
Darrell Gehrt: I think everybody in sales has had that moment. If you do straight commission sales you’ve definitely had that moment because you’re worried about putting food on the table. I think the thing that happened for me is, like a lot of other people, I had my back up against the wall. I had to make that call to my parents and ask for money, and my mom said, “Look, come on home, and we’ll help you.” I remember sitting in my living room, a TV in front of me with rabbit ears, no sofa, crying and going “I just can’t do it.” And that was kind of my perseverance: How do I push through this and be successful?
The second thing, and I think this is really, really important for people out there listening, Fred, is that you have to find passion. I had several jobs right out of school, but I got into the cellular business, and for me, I found sales religion. It was something that I really believed in. I loved it, and it just made it easy to get up and get out the door every day. I think as a sales professional you have to have that passion. If you don’t have it, you unfortunately have to look for a different job. Hopefully not a new career, but you’ve got to love what you do, or everybody around you will notice.
Fred Diamond: That is absolutely true. I recently attended a workshop from Jack Daly, one of the top sales speakers in the country, and the first thing he focused on was passion. You are absolutely correct. If you have negative energy, it comes through. In sales you’ve got to be energized. You had to love what you’re doing. You’ve got to love the benefit that you’re helping your customers with. It’s an amazing story. You’re sitting on the ground, watching TV with rabbit ears, questioning your career. Here you are today, 25 years later, I guess, managing sales teams in London, Singapore, all around the world with one of the top technology companies in the country right now. Great stories from Darrell Gehrt, DG. This is Fred Diamond with the Sales Game Changers Podcast. Listen to one of our sponsors right now, and then we come back, DG, I’m going to ask you for some tips for sales professionals who want to get ahead.
Darrell, what is the most important thing you want to get across to selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Darrell Gehrt: I’ve got a good one that I think people will appreciate. Sales could be stressful. You get a lot of nos. You get people hanging up on you. You get people not returning your phone calls. I told you earlier, I got into sales because I liked people, and what I realize, that was a really bad reason, because people will let you down.
But here’s the thing: If you go into sales with the mindset of “I have to sell something,” “I need to set this meeting,” you will fail. You have to go into it looking at “how do I educate the market.” Not everybody’s going to want what you have. But if you can educate the market in a meaningful way about what your product has—and this kind of goes to The Challenger Sale, Brent Adamson, who I know is a regular for you—you have to be able to go in and educate people about things that they aren’t even thinking about. That takes some of the sting out of the pressure of “how do I close this deal?”
Fred Diamond: DG, you’re at the top of your game. You’re a sales game changer. What are some things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Darrell Gehrt: I used to be an avid reader. Two kids later and hockey and figure skating and a career, I do struggle with that, but what I do have is a 45-minute commute to work every single day. And so I love listening to podcasts just like this one. There’s a lot of great information out there.
The other is I network a lot with my peers. They’re seeing things that I’m not seeing, and these are people who are much more junior than me. There’s so much to learn, especially with the advent of millennials in the workplace. How do you understand them? And third, I listen a lot on the phone. I consider myself a very active sales leader, meaning I’m not just sitting in an ivory tower and pushing spreadsheets around. I get on a lot of phone calls. Every day I’m on two, three, four phone calls. I get on airplanes. I travel. If you understand what the market is reacting to, that in and of itself is sharpening the saw.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success.
Darrell Gehrt: I was thinking about this, and I don’t know that I have a major initiative. I feel it’s kind of like a business trying to pivot. Hopefully, if you’re a business owner, you never have to pivot. You may make adjustments along the way, and that’s kind of the way that I feel. But I’ll tell you a couple of things that are on my radar right now that I’m teaching the sales reps. One is how you get higher in an organization.
Marketing drives a lot of leads, and at every company I’ve seen it’s kind of the same. Somebody sees something, maybe they’re at the senior level, and they like it, and they say to one of their supporters, “Will you please go look into this? I think it will be good for my business.” You have to be skilled at how to go from that midlevel or front lineup into the executive C-suite because that’s where they’re thinking strategically. If your product is really good you should be impacting at both the strategic level and the tactical level. That’s what we’re working on today as a team.
Fred Diamond: What are you doing to train your team? For people listening who aren’t familiar with Cvent, Darrell mentioned he manages close to 100, if not 100, sales professionals. Walking around the facility before meeting Darrell for this interview, there were a lot of young people here, and I see a lot of banners for colleges, a lot of young people who’ve come from good schools. How do you get them to understand that when it’s their first or second job out of school?
Darrell Gehrt: Actually one of the most rewarding things is seeing people grow so much in their first year or two out of college. There’s no such thing as a silver bullet, right? You go to do multiple things. And so, there’s always two or three things for me. On this one I would say that there’s three.
Number one is a great onboarding program. It’s very structured, how we get them involved, teaching them sales best practices and then also the products, which is really important because you have to understand your products to be able to consult out in the marketplace.
The second thing is engaged leadership. I think Cvent does a great job at that. I’m better at teaching in the moment than I am trying to teach in a classroom. It’s not my strength.
Which brings me to number three. There are people out there that are great at [teaching], and so we supplement, including groups like IES where we can go in. We can get them trained. It’s always funny because Neil Rackham or Jill will come in and say the same thing that I’ve said, but they say it better than I did apparently because [attendees] are like, “She said the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Fred Diamond: DG, you’ve given us some great information: the value of hard work, simplify, engage leadership, sale professionals learning how to sell higher in the organization, knowing your customer’s business. But you mentioned this before, sales is hard. To be successful at sales, you have to put a lot of the work in. It’s not just about showing up and just kind of winging it. People don’t return your phone calls or your emails. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Darrell Gehrt: First of all, it goes back to the passion and just believing in the mission. I wake up every day and I feel like I’m helping people. If I get to a point where I feel like what I’m doing is not impactful, then I need to change. I don’t feel that way today. We literally change the professional lives of event planners every single day.
The second thing is, I think it’s one of the most well-respected professions. Sometimes we get made fun of, but so do lawyers. I’m proud to say I’m a salesperson. I’m proud to say I’m a sales executive. I make a great living. I have a lot of fun. I help people. I don’t know what else you could ask for in a career other than those things.
Fred Diamond: What’s a final thought you can share to inspire our listeners today?
Darrell Gehrt: I’m going to go back to where it all started, which is you’ve got to work hard. But you can’t just work hard; you have to work smart too. You hear that all the time, and I think as a sales professional you’ve got to sharpen that saw. Doctors go get continuing credits, same with a lot of other professions; why not in sales? Our business changes every single day. You just don’t notice it. The tactics that I use today are radically different than the tactics I used just three to five years ago. It’s massively different. So you have to kind of keep up with it.
And then, the other thing I would say is, “Man, get up there and talk to your peers.” It’s a hard business. We get that. Sales is tough. People are out there fighting the same battles that you are. But you’ll win more than you’ll lose if you’re paying attention to the market.