EPISODE 064: VION Corporation President Jeff Henry Offers Sales Leaders Strategies on How to Stay Relevant as Your Market and Customers Transform
Jeff Henry brings more than thirty years of sales expertise to his role as president of ViON.
He’s responsible for the company’s overall operations, strategic execution, marketing and revenue.
Prior to ViON, Jeff served as a senior Vice-President and general manager of the Americas at Hitachi Data Systems, where he led a team of two thousand employees. During his tenure, revenue and profitability almost doubled.
Before his stint with Hitachi, Jeff served as a Vice-President and general manager of North American sales for Unisys Corporation, and was Vice-President of global accounts for Hewlett-Packard (HP).
Find Jeff on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Jeff Henry: I’m really excited to be at ViON Corporation. I’ve been here for two years now and we’re going through a transformation, just like the technology market is going through a transformation, and for us it’s transforming from a traditional reseller of technology with a services’ organization, into a cloud service provider. It’s been an interesting transformation for us: more than 40% of our revenues stream now are as a service contracts.
It’s an exciting market to be a part of, certainly with the disruption that we’ve seen from Amazon web services and the public cloud that they offer.
For us we do it in a private cloud environment. We’ve developed a portal where we can manage for a customer both the private cloud experience as well as the public cloud experience, and again we can put governance around their business needs as well as be able to help them do some of the reconciliation of bills and things like that. Again, we have product catalogs in our portal so it really differentiate us in the market.
It’s exciting for the OEMs because the OEMs traditionally don’t offer the as a service models the way we do. They’re true consumption models, we do it on a monthly basis with no monthly minimums so you can turn the technology off. OEMs like it because we give them PO’s every month and then we offer their technology over the life of the contract and the consumption model for the end user.
Certainly other resellers like it because they don’t offer it and we can help them out with the subcontracting and so we’re business partners with other resellers and certainly the customers love it, and the install base of customers because to a certain degree, it gives them a lot of flexibility, and in this market when you change Cap ex buying into Op ex buying it gives you a lot of flexibility, and so your ability to introduce disruptive technologies into your environment is a lot easier. We’re in an exciting market, we’re transforming the company and at this point time we feel really confident. We had a great year last year from a growth perspective and all the right line items are growing but again it’s a transformation, but it’s really exciting.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little bit about who you sell to, who’s your specific customer?
Jeff Henry: In the federal space, about 80% of our revenues come out of the federal market. The department of defense and all the civilian agencies. We also have a public sector business that we sell to a lot of the States, and then we’re also developing a commercial environment. We’ve hired some sales reps to offer to some of the commercial customers around the United States. Specifically though, we’re in the federal space.
Fred Diamond: Let’s go back to your career for a little bit. We mentioned some of the blue-chip companies, and you mentioned some of the companies where you got started. Tell us how you first got into sales as a career.
Jeff Henry: It started after I graduated from Ohio State. I had a business degree and it seemed like no matter what you were gonna do outside of finance, if you had a business degree you would start at sales. I went through the interviewing process while at the Ohio State University and ended up getting my first sales job with the NCR Corporation out of Dayton Ohio. It was kind of nice for me coincidentally, because I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. I worked out of the Dayton sales office and I was in the financial services sector so I have selling to banks and savings and loans at the time, and credit unions
Fred Diamond: What are some of the lessons you learned? For a lot of the people listening on today’s Sales Game Changers podcast, NCR was a classic company with a great sales organization, very traditional fair technology if you will. What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned from some of those first sales jobs that are stuck with you till today?
Jeff Henry: At NCR they had something called sugar camp which was almost like a college campus. They took you from anywhere from six to twelve months and put you through professional sales training. They taught you the proper way to cold call, they told you the proper way to deliver an elevator pitch, the proper way to write a proposal, the proper way to do a demonstration. Back in the day a lot of the technology and the software was demonstrated to the end users. They taught you follow-up skills. While college was outstanding, this was more directed at what I was going to do for a living which was sales. Just getting some of the basics down was absolutely outstanding.
Eventually there were other things though, that you learn in life and certainly they taught you that you not only have to know your technology, you have to know your competitors’ technology, and you have to know your markets, and the rewarding thing was that basically they all taught you that in the first couple of years of my career that you have to be relevant, and you have to be consultative, and you have to be interesting to your customers. Those were some of the basics that I learned while at the NCR Corporation and I think it was a great foundation for me. Fred Diamond: Obviously sales training has changed over the decades and you mentioned you had six to twelve months of formal sales training, lot of product training, how-to-do skills. Today, there is very short periods of time for sales reps to get up to speed.
Jeff Henry: Yeah, it’s really a shame. I think traditionally, back when I was interviewing in the mid 80’s it was interesting, you had the NCR Corporation, you had IBM, you had Xerox, Procter&Gamble was known for their sales training, Barrows was known for their sales training and it’s interesting. I think it’s one of the things that’s overlooked. Essentially as people started cutting back in the 90’s, it seemed like they were hiring people with experience, and to a certain degree I think one of the byproducts of that is there’s kind of an aging workforce when you look at technology, and it is hard to give recommendations to kids, where they should enter into the market, which companies offer that type of training.
While I was at Hitachi Data Systems we decided we were going to go out and hire a younger profile of sales rep, and we put together our own training program for them. I believe we hired twenty sales reps, and I think sixteen to seventeen of them are still with Hitachi Data Systems 8 years later. If anybody is thinking about it, I would encourage it because the energy level that it brings to your entire organization is really something that I thought was outstanding.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What are you specifically an expert in? Jeff Henry, tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Jeff Henry: It’s an interesting question, because I’m not so sure I’m brilliant in anything but to a certain level or a certain degree I concentrate on cultures and winning cultures. I think that’s the most important thing in anything. If you don’t have a winning culture, you’ll have some limited success and you’ll have pockets of success. But if you have an entire culture where you basically have the best athletes at the best positions, you’ve got the right compensation plans, the entire company is focused on a mission, you’ll have a best outcome.
I got the opportunity to witness that in a couple of different companies that I was with. I don’t know that I have any areas of brilliance, but I do know that I’m paranoid and I concentrate on making sure that everybody is successful in the company. I really like flat organizations. Again, there’s all sort of types of leadership. You might have a title that makes you a leader, but I see more often than that the best leaders in the company are the front-line people that are out there doing it each and everyday.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about winning cultures, what does that looks like today in today’s environment where work forces where sales professionals may be at a place for eighteen months as compared to 8 years like you mentioned with Hitachi? How do you as a leader instill a winning culture?
Jeff Henry: The first thing, you just kind of mentioned, the transition every eighteen months. Winning cultures don’t have that type of turnover, they don’t have that type of transition. And that’s how, if you’re trying to judge yourself as a leader, just look at your turnover rates and that’ll tell you whether you have a winning culture or not. The ones that I’ve been a part of and experienced and helped build – again, you just have to make sure that you have the best athletes in the right positions. Are they motivated to come to work everyday? Do they have a high sense of urgency? Do they feel accountable for their outcomes?
I like organizations that measure themselves every 90 days and make adjustments if there’s adjustments that need to be made in the business plan. Winning cultures are very focused, I think if you are around an organization that has a winning culture, you can tell right away. You can see the comradery, you can see the people kidding with each other, but when it’s time to get down to business you can see that everybody’s got their game face on. It’s people that are available 24 hours a day, not that I’m telling everybody to work 24 hours a day. But they feel the need to be responsive to all of their counterparts. Again, I’ve had that a couple of times in my career and it’s just a spectacular thing. Ultimately the byproduct is that your revenues grow, your profitability grows if you have the right business plan, but that’s all a byproduct of a winning culture.
Fred Diamond: That is great. Jeff Henry, you’re the President of ViON. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Jeff Henry: I was lucky. After I left the NCR Corporation I went to work for Memorex Telex and I had a leader there that ultimate turned out to be one of my best friends, Randy DeMont. Randy’s retired now but Randy, his background was with IBM. He was a sales leader, he was all-american football player at Wittenberg University, and he taught me that some of the things that sometimes you take for granted, but do everything right, do it once, be honest and open, there’s gonna be really tough situations in the technology world. Technology is going to go down, customers are going to be upset, but you’ve got to go in and tell them the truth each and every day.
The most impactful thing that he left with me that I try to leave with people when I talk to them is everybody plays the game between eight and five, it’s what are you doing when nobody is watching, and he taught me the value of getting to the office early in the morning, be extremely prepared. If you’re cold calling it was always best to call the customers between maybe, 6:30 in the morning and 8 in the morning, before the gatekeepers got there. But those people, they’re high performers too and so they are at the office earlier, they’re staying late. He always told me taught me it’s what you do when nobody is watching which is most important thing. Everybody plays the game from eight to five, get your practice in between 6 and 8 in the morning and after 5 o’clock at night. He taught me to work hard, work the right way, do things the right way and if you’re always honest, things have the tendency to always turn out.
Fred Diamond: That is a great point. Everyone has eight to five, so, for some of the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast – I’m going to take a little bit off course here, but what are some of the things you would recommend they do from 6 to 8 in the morning?
Jeff Henry: For me, personally, I try to educate myself. It’s great that we have the internet now. It used to be newspapers, it would be different articles out of magazines but I tell you, I’m a fiend on the internet. I like to educate myself on announcements from my competitors. I like to find out if I have customers out there, the customers, have they been in the news for any reason? What are some of my prospects doing out there?
For me as a leader, I try and get some of the tips, I just kind of follow head coaches, I read articles, I try to follow politicians, and I just look for any advantage that I can gain from reading about these people, reading about the industry, and I do that in the morning.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Jeff, what are two of the biggest sales challenges that you face today as a sales leader? What are some of the things that you think are truly impacting sales leaders?
Jeff Henry: I tell you, the speed of the market now is incredible. One of the biggest challenges that I have is the consistent and the constant change in the marketplace and trying to make sure that your team is prepared for that change. Not only the speed of the market and being able to make sure that you stay up with the market, what their needs are. But also making sure that you have a trained sales force, and that they’re aware of those changes and how do they address them. It’s just constant communication, having effective communication with your sales force and the entire team.
There are things that I learn from our sales force that they learn while they’re out on sales calls, or they might read an article or they’ll see an unusual behavior in the marketplace. Communication is easier today with the internet, but it also continues to always be the biggest challenge.
Fred Diamond: How do you do that today? You said constantly staying in touch with your sales organization. Are there any tools that you use across your organization? How are some of the things that you make that effective?
Jeff Henry: Obviously, everybody uses email so that’s the most effective way to reach out to everybody immediately, but I think there are so many different tools out there. We use LinkedIn a lot, for all the different things that it offers and whether it’s prospecting or learning about accounts or seeing if in some fashion you know a customer before you walk in, or if you have a shared background. I think that’s a great resource.
Salesforce.com has a lot of different things that they offer. I think using technology is probably the most effective thing that we do today to communicate with our people. Then there’s always that Monday morning call, right? And for us, when you have a Monday morning meeting, it sounds traditional and people have been doing it for a hundred years but make it relevant, make it interesting, make the sales force want to participate, don’t make it look like it’s just a routine. So it’s incumbent upon leaders not only to have meetings, but make sure that meetings are relevant.
Fred Diamond: Jeff, take us back to the #1 specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Take us back to that moment.
Jeff Henry: Probably in most sales people’s minds, it was probably my first win. I was 22 years old, I had gone through almost twelve months of training at the NCR Corporation, learned how to do everything the right way, and it just happened one morning. I called down to Miami University which was in Oxford, Ohio. My responsibility at that point in time was to sell a credit union, it was called ICUS, interactive credit union system, so it was a software package that ran a credit union and then it also came with a hardware platform underneath it.
I got there in that morning, I called that buyer and he happened to pick the phone up at 6:30 or 7 o’clock in the morning. I went through my little two minutes of relevants with them and asked him if there’s a chance I could stop in and see him. He was open to the sales call. I scheduled it for the following week, it was the first sales call I made by myself, so I didn’t have a senior sales rep with me. Went down, kind of went through the technology with him, went through the marketplace, went through what the value add was going to be for the Miami University credit union, and then right away I asked them if there’s a chance I could demo the product, and that was the next step in the selling cycle. And he said, “Absolutely” and he came into our office the following week with a group of people.
After I demoed the product, I asked them if I could present them with a proposal, made the proposal relevant. I went through the proposal with the team and then they decided they were going to make the buy. I also had the opportunity which is something I thing is important. I understood the financial value add to them, and on the return on the investment, which is always important to people that are making a capital outlay, that you have an understanding of financially what it means to them from a business perspective, but also from a financial perspective.
Fred Diamond: You said that was your first deal, you were at NCR. You said you were 22 years old, but you say you also understood the financial impact of the acquisition for the customer. Talk to us a little bit about that because I’m not sure that every Sales Game Changer listening in understands how critical that is. So you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, you understood. Of course you had a year worth of sales training where some of that probably was communicated. Talk about that a little bit.
Jeff Henry: It depends what the technology is or what the product is, but for us at that point in time it was an automation opportunity.They had three or four employees at the time, they were part time employees, cause it wasn’t a really large credit union. But you talked about the efficiencies, the automation process for them of automating the process and the financial – they were able to not only eliminate a couple of the positions but reposition those employees to do more customer-facing activities.
And then there’s also the speed of the process and the reconciliation they were doing on a daily basis from a financial perspective had a lot of cost savings to it. I can’t remember exactly what the investment was, but we showed them about a three year return on their investment, and then they would have the technology for the next couple of years and then I’m sure they upgraded eventually. But again, able to articulate to them that there’s a tremendous cost saving here, not only in efficiencies, but on automating the entire process.
Fred Diamond: And that’s what the customer needs to hear, how this is going to impact me? How is this going to make my life easier and help me grow my business?
Jeff Henry: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: That’s powerful. The other thing that’s interesting is – we ask this question of course on every Sales Game Changers podcast and not infrequently the people that we interview will talk about the first deal they had on their own. Where they didn’t have the sales manager with them, they were kind of pushed off into the deep end of the pool, so to speak, and had to figure out and obviously they survived and succeeded.
Jeff Henry: The other fun thing is you got to do the celebration after it was all installed, you get to take the customers as well as some of the employees. You got to do the steak dinner, and it was the first time I got to pay for the steak dinner which is so rewarding.
Fred Diamond: Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Jeff Henry: No. I’ve always really enjoyed being in sales. I was an athlete in college at Ohio State, I played baseball and you’re always in the game, right? You play four quarters during the year, you try and win every one of the quarters and you try and win the year and just from a competitive perspective, it always gets my juices flowing, it always has. Trying to be the best that you can be, and it was always financially rewarding. Financially, it was rewarding for me and my family but also it’s just the fact that you’re in the game each and every day. Fred Diamond: What position did you play?
Jeff Henry: I was a pitcher.
Fred Diamond: Pitcher?
Jeff Henry: Yeah. I didn’t pitch much, threw a lot of batting practice
Fred Diamond: [Laughs] Alright, well at least you just were out there on the field.
Jeff Henry: That’s right. Fred Diamond: Jeff, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals today to help them improve their career?
Jeff Henry: I think depending on what type of training that they have. If they have to self-train, books like The Challenger and learning how to be relevant on a sales call. You’re only going to get thirty minutes with most buyers, and most of the time it’s a one-time event, so you want to make sure you develop a relationship and a rapport with the customer, and it revolves around a couple of different things.
The most important thing is be a great listener, have a cadence of questions, have a reason for asking the questions too. Get them to tell you about their biggest business problems, get them too tell you about their business, get them to tell you about what are the incentives within the company that the CEO’s trying to achieve, and then you’ve got to be extremely relevant. You can’t do a core dump on your technology. You want to be relevant? Talk about the marketplace. You want to tell them some of the best practices that you’ve seen in the market, things that they might not know, but you’ve got to be consultative in nature, you’ve got to be interesting.
And again, your going to get one shot and these people are very selective on who they see. I just think, at the end of the day you’ve got to love the technology, you’ve got to love the marketplace, it’s got to show in the passion when your sitting in front of the customer. But please, let them do the talking.
Fred Diamond: That’s true. What do they say, you have two ears and one mouth and use them in that order, right?
Jeff Henry: That’s exactly right.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Jeff Henry: I think I alluded to it a little bit earlier. I consistently try to read as much as I can in the mornings, but I think the most important thing that I do, no matter what your level is within a company is go out and make sales calls. Go out and be a part of the process, go out and get in the fire. It’s really easy to coach from the press box. I try to get all of my sales leadership, and whether you’re a CEO or a President or even a CFO, get down in the fire.
I think if you want to stay sharp, you’ve got to go and deliver the message to the customer, listen to the customer’s concerns and again, I think you can really stay sharp if you go out there and continue to get in the fire, get in the process and understand the market first hand.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Jeff Henry: For us as a company, one of the things, continue to reinvent yourself, and it’s either personally or it’s professionally. I think from a personal perspective I’ve challenged myself by getting into different markets. In my career when I was with Compaq Computer and I was with HP, I understand Intel technology whether it’s a desktop or a laptop or an Intel server extremely well. Then I went into Unisys and got more into the main frames and got into more of the services environment. Hitachi Data Systems took me into more of the storage environment.
Challenge yourself by getting into different markets and doing different things. I think from a company perspective you’ve got to continue to transform to the market. For me that’s why I enjoy being with a cloud service provider slash reseller of technology. I’ve got best of breed technologies, I’ve got disruptive technologies. Again, as a leader of a company like that you’ve got to continue to transform the entire organization. You’ve got to continue to be relevant in the market, so it’s a transformation process, whether it’s personally or professionally.
Fred Diamond: Yeah. Be relevant. That’s the key word here, Sales Game Changers. Jeff, sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your emails. It’s much harder to get in touch with them these days. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Jeff Henry: Eventually you develop some friendships in the marketplace. One of the greatest things about sales for me is personally, I like meeting people. And you develop close relationships. Some of my closest friends are ex-customers now, ex-CIO’s in the marketplace. I think, if you just continue to build a Rolodex, continue to have fun, if you continue to meet different people and create lots of friendships in the marketplace eventually what happens is you develop a reputation, and you can rely on some of those CIO’s to call some of their friends, or you can attend events with them, where people can see that you have a close friendship.
Again, I just think that you have to consistently continue to develop good relationships out in the marketplace. But it’s got to be genuine too, it can’t be something that you feel like you have to do because that’s your job. If that’s how you feel, you shouldn’t be in sales. For me, personally, I just love to meet people and so that’s what I do.
Fred Diamond: You’ve given us some great insights. Why don’t you give us one final thought to share with the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast?
Jeff Henry: OK. Fred, first of all, thank you. I appreciate being here today. I tell as many employees that’ll listen to me, be a leader. Again, I started the conversation by talking about leadership, takes a lot of different forms, but be relevant to your company and to what you do for a career, be a leader in the field. I think all sales leaders appreciate those people out on the field that do it through their actions. Continue to get feedback. And the last thing I would tell somebody, continue to pressure your management team to transform as well. Don’t let them get comfortable on the word, either. The most important thing is to continue to be relevant in your organization and be a leader by example.