EPISODE 103: Earth Networks Sales Leader Jim Anderson Offers Hot Tips to Weather the Storm When Your Enterprise Sales Efforts Go Cold
JIM’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Bring your values and your passion into it. It’s highly rewarding and meaningful when you do sales right with great integrity and a sense of purpose. Make sales mission driven. Be an advocate and a catalyst for doing great stuff.”
Jim Anderson is the Senior VP for Global Sales at Earth Networks and has been at Earth Networks for 16 years.
Prior to that, he was a consultant at AMS and Price Waterhouse.
Find Jim on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Who exactly do you sell to, what type of people are your customers?
Jim Anderson: It’s large government agencies here in the DC area, the federal government, the national weather service and the department of commerce are our biggest customers here but think of any type of – and this is one of the challenges and one of the blessings of this industry – is think of all of organizations and operations that are impacted by severe weather, whether that’s an airline, an electric utility, police fire and rescue, public safety organizations, schools, sports leagues, we work with all of the major sports leagues in the US.
Golf clubs, they have safety around their members when they’re out playing golf so it’s all these different operational and safety related solutions that impact just about every organization you can imagine.
Fred Diamond: Very good. We mentioned during the introduction that you were a consultant in AMS and Price Waterhouse. How did you first get into sales as a career?
Jim Anderson: That’s funny and the answer to it is almost a nostalgic one, I guess I’ve been in sales pretty much since I was a kid. My father ran a group of local clothing stores in my home town Madison, Wisconsin and one of my first job honestly was working on the sales floor in a men’s clothing store.
When I was 16, 17 years old I was selling suits and ties and fitting men with suits and it was actually a great introduction to sales. I don’t know that that’s really where I thought I would get into sales, I’m not sure that I thought it would really be my career until much later in life.
Honestly, some of the best preparation that I had for a career in sales was my experience as a management consultant that focused on client service, on listening, on relationship management and learning the business analysis frameworks and practices and applying everything that I’d learned with my MBA at Georgetown was those skills that really drew me towards sales.
Then I had a boss, one of my colleagues at American Management Systems that made me understand that I had a knack for sales and helping develop client relationships, so that’s where I got into it.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious – we’ve had a bunch of people on the Sales Game Changers podcast who did start out in consulting and then were informed or began to realize that they had some good skills there. Were you conscious of that when you were a management consultant? Did you think of yourself as a hunter looking for new opportunities, trying to grow the contracts? Was that part of your DNA?
Jim Anderson: I think it was, and that sort of knack that I spoke of and I was probably better at that piece of it than I was at the hard core analysis and solution development that you do a lot of, and the delivery piece of management consulting and really just enjoyed that aspect of learning about the business that other people are engaged in, what their challenges are, finding that nexus between the skill sets that we had and the services that we delivered and the challenges and needs of the customer, that was just an area that I was really interested in. I think that naturally led me to sales.
Fred Diamond: Very good. You kind of touched on this a little bit, but what were some of the other key lessons that you learned from some of your first few sales jobs?
Jim Anderson: It’s interesting, I’m a firm believer that great salespeople are made, they’re not born. Sales is a craft that can be honed over time and really has to be. That traditional idea of the prototypical sales person with the bright, shiny white teeth and the good hair and all that stuff, I don’t think that that is really what wins the day. Maybe that’s self-serving on my part [laughs] but I think the biggest thing that I learned in my early sales job is in some ways the limitation of sales. In that regard, you can’t close deals out of thin air.
You can’t create a need where one doesn’t exist or a connection between a solution and a need that doesn’t fit. A salesperson’s job is they can only work to really understand empathetically the needs of their prospects and work to define that fit between the needs and your solutions. From there you’ve got a real win-win that can be really neat to foster and engage with so in some ways one of the key lessons I’ve learned is just the limitations of sales and where it can really be a benefit.
Fred Diamond: That’s such a great point. All the Sales Game Changers that we’ve interviewed, we’ve recognized that. You can’t create something if the customer’s not interested and they’re not qualified and there’s no demand or need, you’re not going to be able to get anything done and you’re not going to be able to continue so it’s not even a value and effort.
Jim Anderson: I believe that firmly.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about yourself. What are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your area of brilliance, but first, why are you laughing?
Jim Anderson: Well, I spend all my day not thinking about my strengths but really thinking about my weaknesses and what can I do to be better and to continue to hone my craft, but if I had to answer your question – you asked it – I think where I’ve had my biggest success and the biggest skills that I bring to our organization here are those consultative sales skills that are really important in cultivating large scale, complex opportunities. Leveraging my analytical skills, my consultative skill set that I learned as a management consultant and that’s the biggest value that I bring one on one in a situation.
I try to spend the greatest amount of time possible honing my sales management and leadership skills. It’s how can I be a better leader? How can I help my team be successful giving them the motivation, the resources and the support that they need to be rock stars? To be ultimately successful. That’s my biggest challenge today, is working to learn more and putting all my efforts into trying to put a lot of effort into being a better leader and a better sales manager.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious – you’ve been in Earth Network for 16 years, I thought you were going to say, “I’m an expert on weather and catastrophic weather” and things like that. Have you grown that degree of intelligence to be able to speak intelligently to your customer?
Jim Anderson: For sure, and one of the things that really motivates me personally about working for this type of organization is that I’m an environmentalist at heart. My bachelor’s degree is an environmental economics and public policy and in biology. My first master’s degree was in environmental economics and public policy, I came into Washington DC to work on environmental public policy and I had in the first few years I was here worked for two different think tanks as an economist doing environmental economics work so I really have a strong passion in that area.
Working for Earth Networks, a company that’s fundamentally concerned with monitoring weather and the environment and working on client change issues, we also do greenhouse gas monitoring here, that fits right in with my core set of interests and beliefs. So I do bring that set of scientific knowledge and understanding to the table here. I’m not a trained meteorologist, but I can marry that with my business background to really have the technical understanding but also the business skills to be able to realize some of those types of things.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious – I want to talk to you about your mentors, but before I get to that just on the answer you just gave, you used the word passion a couple of times and there are a couple words that have been themes of the Sales Game Changers podcast. Again, this is episode #103. Passion is definitely one, so as you build your team, as you look to hire the sales professionals who are going to be working for you, underneath you, do you want them, do you expect them to have that same passion that you have for climate and weather as well? Is that critical to be successful at a place like this?
Jim Anderson: You have to be open to that. Eventually, you need to get there. Is it a pre-requisite to be a great salesperson? No. Is domain expertise in this field important? I don’t think it particularly is and it’s such a niche field in many ways. If we had to hire everybody based on whether or not they were a trained meteorologist it would be really difficult to find those people. I think more generally is it’s someone who’s got a genuine interest in helping find win-win matches between the capabilities that we have and the needs of a client. If they can marry that with an interest in the environments, but it can come in a lot of different forms.
We’re effectively helping customers solve operational and safety challenges so we do have folks on our team that are really interested in the safety aspects of it or really interested in operational efficiency and maybe they don’t have a passion for the environment but they have a passion for those other areas and that marries in with that. One of our senior sales associates on the club in sport area, he’s actually been struck by lightning. He’s a golf pro who’s been struck by lightning, he has a first-hand experience of the impacts of severe weather so we do have plenty of people with that kind of passion as well.
Fred Diamond: That’s amazing. Take us back in your career, why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted you career?
Jim Anderson: Again, it’s kind of funny to think back but I think the most impactful mentors I’ve had on my sales career have been folks that weren’t sales professionals and it really comes back to that consulting experience. I think consulting’s a great training arena, especially for folks interested in business. Maybe they’re coming out of getting an MBA or whatever, it’s a great training around there so my biggest mentors have been in the consulting arena and it’s really influenced how I approach my career.
More directly from a sales perspective I think parking back to the early days of working with my dad in terms of learning that craft of sales – and sales really is a craft – watching the gentlemen that worked down the sales floor in a fancy men’s clothing store and just how they approached it, how organized they were, how much they hustled, how they were immensely empathetic and kind to their customers and it was very much a retail service environment where you treated – and this is more than 30 years ago – you really treated your customers with a lot of dignity and respect. I think some of that rubbed off on me, that sense of manners and kindness and empathy for your customer is really important.
Fred Diamond: Jim, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Jim Anderson: Our biggest challenge for sure in our organization is complexity, and as I mentioned here earlier, weather and the environment has an operational or safety impact on so many different types of enterprises. We’re a small company, we operate in over 50 countries so we have a huge global footprint. Weather impacts so many different industries so we work across a lot of different industries and then finally we have both direct and indirect sales channels here so we’re managing that interplay between our direct sales organization and a management business development team that handles selling data and applications through third parties to end customers so we really have in that way a complex sales challenge here.
I’d say another big challenge that’s also a huge opportunity for us, as so many times the challenges are, we’re blessed in that we’re a 25 year old company with over 10 thousand customers. That challenge and opportunity there is making sure that we’re engaging all of those customers with the most relevant information, nurturing those relationships over time and looking for opportunities to not only retain those customers but serve them better and provide new ways of serving them and moving them to higher states of value.
That’s two things, I’m going to give you a bonus. Third biggest challenge here, and I think this would resonate with a lot of other sales leaders that we work a lot on trying to improve the quality of the revenue that we generate. We want to develop and nurture enduring, recurring revenue relationships with our customers and developing those relationships to promote that ongoing, early, stable, recurring revenue base is another challenge and an opportunity that we spend a lot of time working on so it’s really improving that revenue quality mix for us.
Fred Diamond: Jim, why don’t you 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.
Jim Anderson: [Laughs] that’s a good one. This is really fun to think about. In my career here at Earth Networks when I came on board I stared as a consultant. We didn’t have an enterprise business here so I spent the first 4 years here starting 6 different business units, so I ramped up a new business unit about one every year.
The last one I did was starting our international business which now is outside of the federal government as our largest business unit here and I’d say the most exciting business wins and challenges we have has been on that international segment and I remember one specifically where we worked for about 2 years, we had to go through a yearlong field evaluation trial with the military in India to deploy a large scale nationwide lightning detection and severe weather early morning system for the military, so you can think about how military operations, aviation and things like that are highly impacted by weather and we were up against well entrenched competition and as you can imagine in a developing market in India, a lot of less than kosher business practices working against us, a lot of protests.
I remember the day when finally after all this time we come to the award announcement and I’m in Delhi and they say we won after this long process and I finish the meeting, get in the cab, get on my cell phone and call at the time my boss back here and say, “Hey, we won.” To this day, it’s the largest single commercial deal we’ve done, it really launched our business internationally in a big way, gives a huge push forward and outside of the US, India is our single largest market. We get a huge amount of press there almost on a weekly basis now for all the work we do in India.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned the competition, quick question before we ask you one question before we go to break. Is your industry a very highly competitive one? Are there hundreds of customers, is there two or three, is it a Coke-Pepsi type of a thing or how does that work?
Jim Anderson: It depends on the product and the market we’re in, in some cases it’s many providers but in our main market segment it’s really probably three or four global competitors, us and one other company that are the two major ones. What’s also great about wins like that is that’s a large scale, complex enterprise solution. It’s a whole team effort, it took engineering staff, product staff, marketing people, not just one sales person but you have a team sales approach for something like that because you have so many different constituency and it’s great to have so much support and bring it in. I can’t really say it’s my win, it was a company win and I remember some time later we had a whole company picnic around it, just that one opportunity, so it was really great.
Fred Diamond: Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, Jim, “It’s too hard. It’s just not for me.”
Jim Anderson: Yes. Absolutely. Sales is hard work, you spend a lot of time away from your family, you lose more deals than you win, that’s just the nature of the business, you work through a lot of opportunities to find those jams where there’s a really good fit. If you’re working for a small entrepreneurial company, you experiment with different initiatives and markets and some of those just bomb.
As we launched different business segments as I mentioned earlier, we tried all different kinds of things to find where there was a good solution and market fit with what we were doing. International sales which I’ve done a ton of is a 24/7 job, you’re always talking to somebody on a different time zone than what you’re in. I’m not sure I can remember one specific time when I said, “Oh, man. I don’t know if this is for me” but there have definitely been many challenges.
However, I think this is the most important thing to remember: I don’t think that’s unique to sales. I think every profession has its challenges, every function has its challenges and if you want to be great, you’re going to face challenges. If you want to do something important and meaningful, you’re going to face challenges. You’re always going to be pushing that envelope and be working really hard and going through tough times if you’re doing meaningful stuff.
Fred Diamond: Jim, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them take their careers to the next level?
Jim Anderson: I’d say #1 is believe in what you’re selling and know that your job is to facilitate a good match between needs and solutions. It’s be a catalyst for positive change. I think that’s the most important thing. I think too often the sales profession is characterized as this unprincipled chase for money, and certainly our job is to bring deals in the door but I think at its core you have this opportunity to be a catalyst for really great change, and that’s what I think is most important about sales. That’s why it’s a meaningful, valuable profession.
Fred Diamond: Absolutely. If it weren’t for you leading the team, your company wouldn’t be in India and 50 other countries for sales, if you will. What are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Jim Anderson: These are great questions. [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: Thank you very much.
Jim Anderson: I think it changes over time, and as your career changes and your skills change, what you need to work on changes. That sort of dynamic is important to remember and we think we got a set of weaknesses or a set of strengths and it’s static, it’s really not. Your job changes, everything changes. In my role today, my biggest challenge is leadership and really I spend as much time as I can learning to do a better job of engaging my team and our company as a whole.
As a senior executive now I have much more of a voice within the company as a whole, and what can I do to enable them and to motivate them to be rock stars and just be awesome at what they do and be super motivated. I read a lot about that, your podcasts are a great source of information there, I’m curious about it and I look for examples and mentors in any area I can that can help inform me in that way.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Jim Anderson: There are a lot of initiatives that we’re working on as a sales team to improve our performance. There are always a lot of important things to do and when you’re working on improvement it’s always going to be multi-faceted because you got to keep everything in balance. You can work on your staffing but then your process or your technology fall off, so try to think about it in those three elements: people, process and technology.
I’d say right now for us one of the biggest things we’re working on is our sales enablement technology and do we have the right tools in place there, and then also organizationally adapting our organization to better align with some of our sales objectives.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, you mentioned sales enablement technology. What are some of the types of technology you’re looking to deploy?
Jim Anderson: One thing we have done on the marketing side and to credit our top notch marketing team here with really bringing an account based nurturing program in place here, so we’ve worked on a lot of automated nurturing programs and technology to support those. I’d say likewise as we worked to bring the volume of leads, marketing qualified lead into a sales qualified lead it’s what can we do to help our sales team be more efficient in that process. So I’m looking at technology to help us with sales automation and enablement really on the sales side of things there.
Fred Diamond: What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Jim Anderson: I think there are two points that are important to make here. At least for me, I really love learning about the world and sales is a great way to do that. Meeting with prospects and learning about their jobs, their lives, their challenges, I really enjoy that and to be in that interface there, to be an advocate for positive change. If you can help them discover a new solution that’s going to help make their life better or help solve an important problem, that’s a really neat place to be.
I’ll give you a quick example: we do a lot of work, as I mentioned, with environmental monitoring and weather monitoring, and a lot of that work is in the developing world and areas that are highly vulnerable to the negative impact associated with climate change. For example, we work in 25 countries in Africa and we’re working to deliver sustainable solutions to help those organizations and countries better adapt to the impacts of climate change and it’s super exciting and meaningful work to be engaged in that, and to be a catalyst for that kind of change.
I’d say one other thing here is sales is the life blood of any company, and from my perspective you look at all the different functional elements of a private enterprise. I really enjoy being right at that interface between a company and its customers and it’s a super neat position to be in, to be the one that is helping provide the life blood to a company from that perspective.
Fred Diamond: I got to tell you as we begin to wind down the podcast, it’s a great place to be in sales when you’re at the right place at the right time and obviously there’s so much going on in the world as we know with weather now impact things and climate changes, it sounds like you’re probably at a good place at a good time.
Jim Anderson: Thank you. Yeah, it is.
Fred Diamond: Give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe today.
Jim Anderson: That’s a good question and maybe what I’m going to say here is a little bit off the beat and path from where a lot of people go with this but I’d say make sales mission driven. Bring your values and your passion into it. It’s highly rewarding and meaningful when you do it right with great integrity and a sense of purpose. Again, just make sales mission driven. Be an advocate and a catalyst for doing great stuff.
Fred Diamond: That is great stuff, and if you don’t have that mission you’re going to get burnt out pretty quick, all of the challenges are going to be overwhelming to you.