EPISODE 048: Salesforce Federal Sales Exec Joe Markwordt Urges Sales Pros to Have a Strong Plan Or Else You’ll Become Someone Else’s Plan
JOE’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “It takes 3 things to get significant revenue growth. You need a well-trained and professional selling organization. You also need a differentiated product, understanding the differentiation of your product, and what the unique value propositions. And third you need to truly identify the target market for that unique product, that unique service, that unique solution. You give me all 3 of these. You give me a well-trained selling machine.“
Joe Markwordt is an Area Vice-President with Salesforce. He’s had great sales success at some of the top companies in the technology industry including Equifax, RightNow Technologies, SunGard Availability Systems, Oracle, Mercury Interactive, Click2learn and Silicon Graphics.
He also started his career at Digital Equipment Corporation and he’s a very proud graduate of Duke University.
Find Joe on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: Joe, tell us where you work today and what excites you about that.
Joe Markwordt: I work at Salesforce. I sell world-class solutions for enterprise contact and call centers for customer relationship management, case management and high productivity application platform as a service and I work in the federal civilian space.
I got into sales many, many years ago through a very indirect route like a lot of folks, especially in my generation. I thought I was going to be a computer scientist or an attorney. I went to Duke and I got a double major in Computer Science and Political Sciences. I was hired by Bell Laboratories as a member of their Technical Staff, right out of college. They actually had a program called One Year on Campus, the OYAC Program, and they sent myself and about 600 other folks directly to graduate school to get Master’s Degrees.
I got my Master’s Degree in Computer Science and then I’ve returned to the labs but I realized about a year in that it just wasn’t a good fit for me. I was a junior programmer in the lab and it was quite didn’t have the pace that I realize now looking back that I kind of like a more hectic pace, if you will. But, because I was the low man on the totem pole I was often asked to entertain the technology sales guys that came to the lab who wanted someone to talk to and if there was nothing going on they would ask the junior guy to sit down and listen to the sales pitches and it dawned on me that this was an interesting profession and my personality and my technical acumen might be a good fit for this.
I quit my job with Bell Laboratories. I moved back to my parents’ basement in our East Baltimore row home that I was raised in and I start interviewing. I tried IBM. I tried Digital Equipment and they both passed on me because I had no sales experience and I had a very technical background. But, the third try worked out. I went to interview with HP. I was actually thinking perhaps of talking to them about being a pre-sales engineer. But, they liked my background in Computer Science and my technology background and they had an opening for DOD research labs back in 1984 and so they asked me if I’d be interested in joining their sales team and I did. That was spring of 1984, nearly 34 years ago.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Joe Markwordt: I sell cloud services. Salesforce is a cloud service provider and we sell solutions for engagement and it’s always very exciting to sell a quality, highly differentiated product into a customer base that has needs for these products. Citizen engagement, veteran engagement, engagement with constituents, they’re all things that the government is striving to get better at and they are improving every day and Salesforce is one of the tools that can help them move in the right direction.
Fred Diamond: Excellent. Tell us a little more. You talked about how you first had a technical background, a degree in Computer Science, I believe you said. Tell us a little more about some of your first ventures into sales and some of the things that you’ve continued to apply from them.
Joe Markwordt: Well, it’s interesting. When I first got into sales, I realized immediately, I didn’t really know anything about sales. It’s not like I’d go into college or graduate school to learn how to be a sales professional. I thought that my deep understanding of computer systems, programming, things like that would make me an instant hit with my customers and my customer did like me. They would ask me to help them program their computers and but I wasn’t selling anything.
It took me awhile to figure out that my technical background was actually hurting me so I stopped giving my technical background out. I stopped telling folks that I had a degree in Computer Science and a Master’s Degree and I start, when folks would ask me in this area like ‘where’d you go to school’, I would tell them that I went to High School in Baltimore versus I went to Duke or University of Southern California. It seemed like my prospects were a little bit more relaxed when they knew a little less about my background, especially my technical background and instead of focusing on what I knew, I focused more on their requirements and their business problems, turned the conversation more about them, about what they were looking for, what their needs were.
I had learned that it was far more important for me to know about my client and their business needs than for them to know about me and my products. The second key lesson that I had to steer away from feature, function, benefits selling, showing up and just incessantly talking about my products and how great they were and really start to understand what was driving the conversation and find really the hidden part of their agenda, what were their personal wins, what were their pains, things that they were trying to get out of this transaction.
And then, when I knew what those key drivers were, when I could really understand and empathize with where they were in their journey and start to apply my solutions to help them solve their problems. Be they business problems, personal agenda, if I came in there with a very differentiated solution, I had a good of closing that opportunity out.
Fred Diamond: A lot of the people listening to today’s Sales Game Changers Podcast come from all over the world and sell to different marketplaces. Most of your career has been selling to public sector, specifically federal government. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s special about that marketplace and what’s attractive to it as a customer or as someone selling into that space?
Joe Markwordt: If you live in this area, it is a very, very large customer. It is the largest customer, the largest procurer of I.T. services of any one entity in the world I would imagine and I don’t think there’s anything particularly different selling into the government versus selling to commercial customers. I’ve done both. I just think when you’re selling to the government, there’s just a little bit more process involved in it and that’s really about it.
At the end of the day, you’re sitting across from business folks that are trying to run a business. They got a capability they’re trying to deliver. They’ve got, just like commercial companies, they have limited resources at times or they have, it’s hot, they have to get, it’s very similar except there’s a little bit more process to actually transact the deal. Other than that, I don’t see there’s a huge difference.
Fred Diamond: Tell us specifically about what you are an expert in. Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Joe Markwordt: I think my experience is more important than any particular subject matter expertise I may have. I often say that I have a PhD in Technology Sales that I’ve earned in the University of Hard Knocks and the tuition payments in the University of Hard Knocks are lost commissions due to mistakes made that lead to lost deals and I’ve made plenty of mistakes over the years and I’ve lost many a deal over the years.
However, I learned from those mistakes and what I learned formed the basis of my experience that I have and when I’m coaching my sales people, I can always and I mean always dig into my treasure trove of worst stories and find one that helps them to drive home the coaching point and, in most cases, it’s about mistakes that I made or deals I lost or typically good teaching points and, of course, everyone loves a good story and I like to say that I’ve become a very good, I use story-based coaching to coach my folks because everyone loves a good story and everyone remembers a good story and especially a real story that helps them to get better.
Fred Diamond: Joe, tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Joe Markwordt: I’ve had many fantastic mentors over the years. In my junior years of selling, when I was at Digital Equipment in the late ‘80s, I was basically a junior sales guy and I was assigned sales executives. These were like more experienced sales folks. There were two in particular, Neil Schroeder and David Joseph, along with my Sales Manager, Paul Casavant. They taught the ropes in selling, back in the mid to late ‘80s.
I was particularly fond of Paul Casavant. He had so much faith in me. He got sick and he passed away right after we were the Sales District of the Year for the entire company. I still think about what he taught me and the lessons he taught me and the thing that I learned the most from Paul was, especially as a Sales Manager, he had a lot of faith in me, a lot of confidence in me and he also allowed me to make mistakes which was really, really important.
Joe DiNucci, a technology sales legend who I worked with and for over the years, was a mentor. He’s still a mentor of mine and he’s going strong at 75. He’s out in Silicon Valley. He’s a professional coach now. As well as Don Rearden. Don was my first Manager at Silicon Graphics. He hired me in 1990. I was with Silicon Graphics for 8 years and I often say that the most important aspect of my success as a Sales Manager is that I treat my Sales Reps the way that I wanted to be treated when I was a Sales Rep. I wanted my Sales Managers to trust me. I did not want them to micromanage me. I wanted them to let me spread my wings and go out there and do and learn from doing and also be willing and be able to make some mistakes and I wanted them to be there when I needed them, to help facilitate my success.
Both, Don and Joe, got a lot out of me by focusing on my strengths so I’ve tried to model myself after these men and focus on the strengths of my employees, give them room to grow, allow them to make some mistakes by making their own decisions, let them learn from their mistakes and trust them and my current management chain, including my Manager, Dan Davis, Mike Daniels, Kevin Paschuck and Dave Ray, they’re terrific as well and they’ve all helped me to become very proficient in bringing these cloud services into the federal marketplace because those gentlemen have years and years of experience selling into this space.
Fred Diamond: Very good. I like what you just said about Paul Casavant, how you knew he had faith in you.
Joe Markwordt: Yes.
Fred Diamond: Which, allowed you to have the confidence to continue and to grow.
Joe Markwordt: Yes, absolutely.
Fred Diamond: What are two of the biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Joe Markwordt: There are two in particular – complexity and noise. Selling enterprise applications is a very complex sales and it takes a lot of effort to get sales people productive and to manage the large virtual teams required to bring those solutions to the market. Be able to present them to prospects to be able to understand their requirements and to go through a long complex selling cycle with many decision makers, stakeholders so it’s an extremely complex sale. Much different than when I first got into this business in the ‘80s and I was selling workstations to engineers. I had a very specific, there was one decision maker, maybe two in the chain and it was a great place to learn sales and a less complex selling environment.
And then, the other is noise. I mean there are so many technology solutions out there and every salesperson out there wants to get face time with head honcho in an organization so our prospects and our customers are here, they’re getting a lot of intake. It’s really how do you differentiate yourself, especially when you’re prospecting and looking for new, how do you get above the fray, how do you get above the noise, how do you differentiate yourself just to move in and to get that meeting that you’re looking for. Complexity and noise are two that I think that are challenges for technology sales professionals.
Fred Diamond: Yeah and interesting though, if you think about the places where you’ve sold, especially at Oracle and Silicon Graphics for that matter, you’ve had to deal with these over your entire career and now you’re saying that continues to be a challenge even though you’re selling a similar system from the customer’s perspective, it’s still going to run their business. You talked about various levels of engagement that the software is that they’re looking for. Multiple people are involved. Just curiously, when you’re talking about the multiple people that you’re dealing with, do you enjoy dealing with every aspect, with the technical people, procurement, business, do any of them interest you more?
Joe Markwordt: Well, it’s not a question of being interested. My job is to understand the process from beginning to end and coach my folks through the process. I still like, after 34 years, I still like a first prospecting call. I still find those calls to be fascinating. I still get energized from them, meeting someone new that knows nothing about you. They know nothing about the product that you’re bringing into market. You know nothing about them and just that dynamic.
I still get energized from that and I still, well, I asked my reps like “Hey, you know, if you got prospecting calls in the next couple of weeks and you’d like me to go along, I’d love to tag along and participate.
Fred Diamond: Yeah, that’s something that we commonly hear from the people we’re interviewing on the Sales Game Changers Podcast is they all love the discovery. They long for those days of looking at the customer’s challenge, what are they trying to accomplish and then hopefully finding them a solution they’re going to buy onto.
Joe Markwordt: Well, it’s interesting, Fred, because I’m not a golfer but I hear there’s a lot with golfers that they’ll play like 18 holes and there’ll be one or two shots that make them want to get up and play another game.
Fred Diamond: Yes.
Joe Markwordt: And, that’s how it is kind of with sales. It’s a difficult job and that’s very stressful but there are things about the job, like for example, going out and doing discovery and uncovering a new opportunity and being able to qualify that opportunity. The point where you really believe you can help the customer, it’s kind of like that great shot in golf. Well, “Hey, I’m going to come back and do it again” even though the rest of the day may be full of process and maybe other things that aren’t so fun, that’s the part that I think most folks like myself that have been doing this for a long time, that’s the part of the job they really love.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you take us back to the number one specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? Why don’t you take us back to that moment?
Joe Markwordt: Well, it’s interesting that you asked me that question, Fred, because one of the questions I like to ask on a sales interview first is this question. I like to ask the candidates that come in, “Tell me about that deal, the deal that you feel defined you as a sales person. For me, it was back in 1990s. I’d been in sales for about 7 or 8 years. I started with Silicon Graphics in 1990. There were two territories up in Baltimore and the rep there before me, he kept all the good customers, the install-based customers as is the tradition when sales territories are carved up and I got the green fields and the white space and part of the green field was over by the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
It was the Old Westinghouse Defense Electronics Complex. It’s now Northrop Grumman. They were acquired by Northrop Grumman many years ago and when I took the account over in 1990, they had just laid off a boatload of people, a couple of thousand people and they were losing contracts and the mood was not good so that was one of my targeted accounts and I remember my father-in-law. He was a big Executive at Westinghouse. He was in a different part of the business.
He said, “Well, you know, Joe, you’ve just walked into a buzz saw. I mean they’re really hurting down there.” And, I said, “Well, that’s wonderful” and he’s like, “Why is that wonderful?” and I said, “Because people that are, a situation is like that they’ll listen to new voices. At least, I have an opportunity for people to listen to me.”
I met a young engineer there named Bob Pensack. Bob’s still in the business and we clicked. We’re about the same age and we came up with this idea to replace Westinghouse’s homegrown and custom hardware for digitizing their signal processing algorithms with commercial off the shelf processors from Silicon Graphics and Westinghouse was still in the business fabricating their own hardware, basically building their own customized computers and this was really killing them because the cost associated with maintaining a vertically integrated custom hardware was killing the long-term cost of their contracts and they were no longer competitive.
Our idea was “Well, let’s go in there and really disrupt this.” It was a very disruptive transformational play. It was truly a game changer. We worked the organization high and low. We built up a big constituency that understood that the leveraging cuts gear will give them a unique value proposition. It would make them way more competitive, lower their cost, improve their ability to adapt to this changing market they were in and reduce the total cost of ownership for the systems that they were selling to into the DOD. And, the thing that I learned through that and it hit, been growing on me in my 6, 7, 8 years in selling before here is that when folks are really desperate for change and you really start to empathize with where they are, I mean these people were losing their jobs. They were losing their livelihoods. They were losing contracts. Once I tapped into that and I really allowed myself to listen to what their business needs were and what their personal needs were, they really started to open up and we started to collaborate on how could we solve this problem together.
To make a long story short, they, we decided to move forward with this. They put together a large proposal that included the strategy that myself and my partners at Westinghouse came up with and they won their first bid with this new strategy literally. It literally, it changed that organization and it changed the way that they were going to market with this solution and both Westinghouse and Silicon Graphics benefited tremendously from this strategy and this program survived long after I moved out of sales and into Management and it changed. It really demonstrated to me and this is what I try to tell myself, “Is a good salesperson, a true technology sales professional can really make a difference?”
Fred Diamond: You’ve had a great career in sales. Did you ever question being in sales? Again, you started out with a technical background on the technical side. Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Joe Markwordt: Well, I can’t say I ever questioned being in technology sales, Fred. I’ve always enjoyed the freedom that comes with the job, the thrill of the competition, being able to make a difference in organizations’ effectiveness, their competitiveness, ability to succeed, helping my customers solve their business problems and accelerating their careers. Plus, when I was raising my 4 children, I have 4 children. They’re now 29, 28, 24 and 22. I had the flexibility to coach them in sports, to go to their high school games and events. I even had a daughter that played lacrosse at Ohio State. In her senior year I hit every one of her games and I were all over the place.
But, I always looked at myself as like an independent business man. I had the franchise to sell that product into that particular territory and it was never a question of ‘was I working’. That, I was always working 24/7. Always tuned into it but also the flexibility to take an hour or two off, go to the soccer field, coach the kids, hop on a plane and fly to Nashville to watch a lacrosse game and it just worked out great and I have no regrets. In fact, my daughter, Alayna is a salesperson now for Abbott Labs. She just won President’s Club.
Fred Diamond: Good for her.
Joe Markwordt: I was talking to her last night and she asked me, she said “Dad, you’ve been doing this for 34 years.” I said, “You know what, Alayna, it is I’ve always just loved the culture of being a technology sales person and being in it and I love the people that I work with. I love the people in this business and the customers that are looking for technology. It’s just been a really great ride.
Fred Diamond: Joe, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them improve their career?
Joe Markwordt: Have a plan. My mantra is ‘if you don’t have a plan you will become a part of someone else’s plan’. This is true in sales and it’s also true in life. I use a funny illustration. I think it’s funny. My wife doesn’t think it’s particularly funny but I like to use this illustration. I’ve been married for 30 years and when I come down on a Saturday morning and my wife says to me, “What are your plan for today?” I have to have a very specific plan in place or else Pam will give me my plan for the day. I typically will say “Hey, I’m going to do a bike ride, cut the grass, wash the car” and as long as she’s satisfied that I’ve got a plan for the day.
Now, if I don’t really have anything on the schedule, we’re doing furniture shopping or I’m re-painting a room or something that she has on her plan for me and it’s kind of a cute way of saying that when I always ask my sales people to know, it doesn’t matter if they’re going into a prospecting call, if they’re going in a closing call, they should always have a plan for that call.
What are the goals and objectives of the call? What are the particular questions that you need to ask? What are the outcomes you’re looking for? You should have a plan for your territory, a plan for your account, plan for the deal, plan for the meeting and I also have this other kind of like bumper sticker that I’ve always liked to impress upon the need for planning is that everybody wants to achieve their goals. I mean that’s, we are quota based. Just about everybody in this business has a quota. They have annual goal attainment they’re looking for. They want to be able to manage their revenue. They want to have a quality pipeline.
I kind of flip it. I say it all begins with focused activity. If salespeople are truly focused in their activity and that activity’s driven by their plan then that will lead to a quality pipeline and once a quality pipeline is in place then it becomes much easier to manage revenue or in a monthly, quarterly, annual basis and that’s how you get to goal attainment.
I’ve always been asked like “Joe, did you ever like write down the amount of money you wanted to earn and put it up in front of your computer?” I never did that and I’m glad I did because sometimes I don’t think I would’ve written the number that I achieved because I wouldn’t have thought that. What I did do was write down in front of me what my plan was, how many sales calls I wanted to go on, how many deals I wanted to pipe in my pipeline, how many new accounts I wanted to break open because by setting those kind of goals, the other things are kind of like lagging indicators and I impress that on my people. If you want to make your goals, get up every day and have a plan for that day and have a plan for your territory, plan for your accounts, plan for your meetings.
The pipeline is a good indicator of how well a salesperson is doing in their territory but the most important aspect of the job is what we’re actually doing each day. That’s kind of what I like to focus on so have a plan and be smart about your activity. I think if sales people just master these two things they will be very successful in their career.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you do currently to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Joe Markwordt: Well, I like to road bike. I like to read. I do volunteer work in prisons in the state of Maryland. I like to listen to podcast of all sorts and I’ll be listening to your podcast, Fred. But, when it comes to this job in particular, even after 34 years, as I mentioned earlier, there’s nothing better than going on a sales call with one AEs, watching them work on their selling skills, coaching them through their amazing opportunities, closing a deal that will help a client be successful and move their mission forward. Yes, even after 34 years it still energizes me and just like any other profession, doing it keeps you sharp and I’ve always, there’s always in my mind been two kinds of sales managers.
There’s been the command and control, the Sales Manager that sits in front of dashboards and reports and kind of manage through their reports, which is fine. That’s one way to manage. I’ve always considered myself more as a field general type. Like, I want to be, I want to put the boots on, go out in the field and participate in the day to day selling and I find out that it keeps me very close to the business, both to my people and to what’s going on in the field.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Joe Markwordt: Well, recently I got in-touch with a good friend and a mentor, Joe DiNucci. He’s a professional certified life coach and I hired him to help me think through my next ten years and most likely the final ten years of my career. I’ll be 58 this year. I want to stay fresh and I want to continue to add value. Sometimes you need someone else to help you see things and perhaps see the things you’re missing and also to help you understand like where your strengths are and how you can add a value. I mean I’ve been doing this for a long time and my job has been ‘monthly quota attainment’ so Joe is helping with “Hey, how can I take this over the next 10 years and really get as much out of this as I possibly can.”
Fred Diamond: Do you mind if I ask you a question about that? We were talking about this on a previous episode of the Sales Game Changers Podcast about the concept of mindfulness and how some sales leaders who have reached a certain point in their career. You never would have heard of this in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s but now people are taking a look back. They’re reflecting. They’re thinking about their future. They’re hiring a sales coach. Tell us a little more about how you decided to employ the services of a sales coach.
Joe Markwordt: Well, I don’t see Joe particularly as a sales coach. I think Joe would probably say at this point in the career, I could probably coach him on sales. I’ve hired him on basically helping me with my planning for my, more like life planning, life coaching, career coaching. I plan on staying in the business and I plan on retiring in this business but how can I get more out of, how can the next ten years be the best ten years of my career and that’s really what he’s helping me with. And, I’m trying to figure out like what that looks like because I needed to stop a little bit and think about that because it’s coming fast. It’s coming fast.
Fred Diamond: Joe, sales is hard. People don’t return your phone calls or your e-mails. With your particular customer, sometimes it’s very difficult. You used to be able to walk through the halls of the Pentagon and government buildings. And now, of course, it’s much more difficult to do it but why have you continued? And, you just mentioned you’re going to continue for the next ten years of your career. What is it about a career in sales that keeps you going?
Joe Markwordt: Well, I consider myself to be a technology sales professional. When anyone ask me what I do, I go to a Duke college reunion or something like that, “Hey, Joe, what do you do?” “I’m a technology sales professional.” I am proud of my profession. I equate what we do to what other certified professionals do and that the best of the best in this career have a plan. They approach this profession the way a doctor or attorney might approach a surgery or a day in court. They have plan. They don’t wing it. I like to use that analogy with my reps. Like, a doctor going in for surgery has a plan for that surgery. An attorney going in to a day in court has a plan for that appearance in court.
We need to approach this as professionals. We are professionals. Professionals don’t wing it. They’re prepared. They leverage their resources and virtual teams. They get the right resource in front of the right opportunity at the right time and that’s really critical. This job is challenging but that’s not unique to technology sales. All high-stake jobs are challenging. Fred, you couldn’t give me one high stake career that isn’t challenging and doesn’t come with a lot of stress and pressure and obstacles and hurdles to overcome. But, they’re all equally rewarding and this has been a very rewarding career. It’s a financially rewarding career so we plow through the tough stuff to get to the fun stuff and the way it is in just about any professional career.
Fred Diamond: Give us a final thought. Give us something you’d like to share to the sales game changers listening around the world to inspire them today.
Joe Markwordt: Well, it’s very interesting and I thought about this question and many years ago the President of a Division hired me to run his sales organization and in one of our first meetings he said that I needed to hire a rainmaker. It’s like the solution to the selling problem we had was I needed to go out and hire rainmakers and I literally laughed out loud when he said that and he was confused and he asked me like “Why are you laughing?” and I said that there’s no such thing as a rainmaker and that legendary sales person that can sell ice to Eskimos doesn’t exist either because Eskimos don’t need ice and I told him the truth about what we do.
It takes 3 things to get significant revenue growth and all 3 things, you need all 3 of these to get significant revenue growth. You need a well-trained and professional selling organization and that is the job of folks like me. Our job is to basically build and manage and operate sales professionals that know how to go in and run a sales campaign start to finish, from prospecting to close.
But, you also need a differentiated product, differentiated products, understanding the differentiation of your product, understanding why it has, what the unique value propositions. And then, the third thing is you have to truly identify the target market for that unique product, that unique service, that unique solution. You give me all 3 of these. You give me a well-trained selling machine.
You give me a differentiated product that has tremendous unique value propositions and you give me a target market that needs that product and I look back on the Silicon Graphics days. We were selling these unbelievably complex graphics. No one else really had them. There were tons of prospects for them. But, when you found one you could close them. And so, there’s the 3 things: sales acumen, differentiation, target market. And, you get focused. You don’t waste time.
You stretch yourself. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learn from those mistakes. Have a plan. Don’t become a part of someone else’s plan. Find a great product to sell. Find a mentor. Find someone you can humble yourself and listen to that can help you be a better technology sales person. And then, go out find organizations that need what you have and you will have a long and successful career in technology sales.