EPISODE 118: Former NetApp Sales Chief Mark Weber Emphasizes these Critical Points with the Catholic University Students He’s Preparing for High-Tech Sales Careers

EPISODE 118: Former NetApp Sales Chief Mark Weber Emphasizes these Critical Points with the Catholic University Students He’s Preparing for High-Tech Sales Careers

MARK’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Be humble. There are a lot of great kids coming out of college. They think they’re good, they think they can set the world on fire and that’s awesome but they have to be humble going into the sales profession. They don’t have the skill set, the knowledge so they have to be sponges. You’ve got to be confident but the definition of cocky is over the edge. That humble feeling but confident is critical so I impress upon them that every time I talk to them.”

Mark Weber heads the Sales Department and is the Executive in Resident at the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America.

He’s also a technical adviser to many companies across the country.

Prior to coming to Catholic University, he ran the Americas for NetApp and held sales leadership positions at Sun and HP

He also is a previous winner of the Institute for Excellence in Sales Lifetime Achievement Award.

Find Mark on LinkedIn!

Fred Diamond: You started the Sales Department at the Catholic University of America. For the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe today, the Catholic University is based in Washington DC and it’s a beautiful campus, a lot of beautiful buildings, a lot of high energy students walking around here today. I’m excited as we talk through today’s podcast about the things that you’re teaching them. You of course have had a great career in sales, a lot of success. I’m interested in what they want to learn.

I’m also interested in what you’re teaching them and how they’re advancing their careers, what’s prompting some of these young students today to move into sales. To get started, why don’t you tell us today what you’re doing? Usually I ask the question what do you sell today, of course you’re teaching great kids what you’re learning and you’re also advising the students, but tell us what you’re doing today and tell us what excites you about that.

Mark Weber: Thanks, Fred. It’s just a blessing of an opportunity what I get to do today. I’ve spent 30+ years in the high tech sales business running sales team and a friend of mine said, “Why don’t you teach a sales class? Why don’t you make up a sales class and teach it?” Sometimes things come around and you’ve just got to jump on them, that was one I jumped on three years ago and I made up a sales class. No kids at Catholic University were taking sales jobs and that was not because they didn’t have the skill set, it was purely because they didn’t have knowledge on what the sales industry was about and what sales is about.

Their view typically was not positive of sales and my job in that class is really to explain to them what the sales industry is about and what the profession is about. A lot of it is life skills, Fred, that I’m teaching: networking, preparation, how to ask the right questions, all those skills you can use in any profession. I happen to focus on sales but they could take those skills into any other kind of profession as well. I’m teaching them a lot of fun things and taking the negativity of what they though sales were on to something incredibly positive.

Fred Diamond: It’s interesting, full disclosure here, I’ve actually hired a couple of your kids as interns a couple years ago when you first got this program started and they showed up in suits and they asked the right questions and they came prepared and they showed up on time, it’s pretty good stuff. Also, for some of the people listening the podcast today, are the kids leaving? Are they graduating – I guess I’m going to keep referring to them as kids.

Mark Weber: I do too.

Fred Diamond: Are they graduating with jobs? Are you helping them get placed as well?

Mark Weber: Yes, I would say I’m a professor in the classroom but I spend 90% outside of the classroom with them coaching them, mentoring them and networking them with companies. As you know, you have a great big network and so did I so I get a chance to leverage that network to help these kids. I do not get them jobs, I don’t ask my friends to hire them but I do introduce them probably to opportunities they might not have known about and they have the skill sets to go get, they just didn’t know about them.

Zero kids took sales jobs three years ago, last year 43 kids took high tech sales jobs with an average starting salary significantly higher than what the business school generally would get hired at.

Fred Diamond: Now you’re in your third year of running the sales program here at the Catholic University of America. What are some things that you’ve learned, what are some things that you’ve grown to understand that maybe you didn’t think when you first got started?

Mark Weber: First of all, not everybody should go into sales. You have a lot of kids in your class and you don’t want to force anybody into any profession that they wouldn’t feel comfortable in. You’ve got to put yourself on the line every day in sales and you’ve got to feel comfortable with that. I’ve learned you just can’t force everybody to tell them this is the right profession. You coach them, you give them guidance, you give them all the knowledge and you make sure that they’re choosing, not you. You want them to be successful, you want them to have fun.

Fred Diamond: Why are some of these kids taking your courses? You said there wasn’t a program three years ago, they might have had a misperception of what enterprise, corporate selling was all about. Why are they taking the courses?

Mark Weber: I think it’s a different course. Most of their professors – no disrespect – are academics, they teach books and they teach knowledge and facts and figures and my class isn’t that. My class is much more alive, meaning role-plays, you better be prepared and when you come into class you’re probably going to talk 5, 6, 7 times every single class. Rather than receiving information, you better be giving information out. It’s pretty alive, that’s a pretty different learning method than most of their other classes and you know what? They like to be put on the spot. You’d be shocked, they do.

Fred Diamond: We mentioned at the very beginning you’ve led sales teams across the world in NetApp, Sun and HP, some of the great companies in the history of technology. Tell us about the beginning of your career, how did you first get into sales as a career? What got you into it, what were some of the factors that led you into a career of sales?

Mark Weber: It’s a simple factor, I watched my dad. My dad was a lifelong sales guy and I loved the lifestyle that he had in sales. He was not in a high paying profession like high tech, we get paid pretty well, Fred. He was in the appliance industry still doing B to B sales but not a lot of margin, but I loved the lifestyle he had meaning he never missed any of our sports games. He’d work some days 20 hours but he was always home when he needed to be there for any of our events, that flexibility to be a great family person.

I loved that aspect of it and I loved that he could control his own day. He decided where he was going, what he was doing and every day was different. Every day he was going somewhere different and meeting somebody new, so I loved that aspect of it.

Fred Diamond: You followed him into sales?

Mark Weber: I got an engineering degree at Virginia Tech, I was more of a math and science kid but I got an engineering degree to do one thing, to sell expensive stuff. My dad said, “Don’t get a history degree, get something technical so you can sell something maybe higher end.” I was well coached by him, it was a different path a long time ago to get an engineering degree purposefully to go into sales.

Fred Diamond: What was your first sales job?

Mark Weber: I got hired right off of campus at Virginia Tech by Hewlett-Packard to be a sales rep.

Fred Diamond: Right into HP, what did you sell back in the day?

Mark Weber: I sold their technical computers, HP UX unit computers back in the early 80’s. A lot to engineers at NASA, scientists doing test and measurement, doing things like that, taking data acquisition and data and analyzing it, back then you needed an engineer to do some of that stuff. Nowadays every kid is technical.

Fred Diamond: Not every kid knows UNIX.

Mark Weber: No, but nowadays you think like my students, now they think, “I couldn’t go into high tech sales” but they all can. The greatest people to train you in high tech sales is the company that hires you, so every kid with a business degree can go into tech or into any other industry.

Fred Diamond: For the Sales Game Changers again we have listeners, Mark, all around the world. Going from Virginia Tech which is a very good technology school based in the US in the southern part of Virginia going right into HP which was one of the companies in various times throughout the course of the Sales Game Changers podcast interviews, we’ve interviewed people who’ve been at HP. HP was the quintessential entrepreneurial firm based in Silicon Valley and became one of the most successful companies in the history of technology. You went from Virginia Tech, you had a tech degree, right to HP selling things to the government. What are some of the key things you learned from your first few sales jobs? 

Mark Weber: What I learned was the customer is probably going to be smarter than you. I’m calling on engineers, I’m a 20 year old kid and I’m calling on 40, 50 year old engineers who live, eat and breathe what they do. I am bringing knowledge to them on some kind of topic, I had to have knowledge to bring to them. It could be knowledge of my computer, knowledge of how to take that data off of their instrument and do something with it maybe a little more technical or a little faster than what they were used to.

You couldn’t waste their time and try to act smarter than them and I find that is still true today. Typical sales rep better have knowledge to bring to their clients, you just can’t be a great gripper and grinner, you’ve got to have some kind of competitive knowledge, industry knowledge, product knowledge, knowledge is critical to create value for yourself as a salesperson. I found that as pretty critical a long time ago and that hasn’t changed, I teach that still.

Fred Diamond: That’s good stuff. The whole concept of value, I need to do some more podcasts on specifically what value looks like because it comes up all the time. I liked that you said when you were in your early 20’s that you realized that right away, that you had to bring some significant things to people who were probably – not probably. You’re selling things to rocket scientists.

Mark Weber: They were.

Fred Diamond: Your first customer literally, they were rocket scientists.

Mark Weber: Running wind tunnels, collecting data off of instruments, off of wings and clearly I didn’t know much about vortexes and things like that that they’re doing but I was able to hang with them because I brought some kind of knowledge. I treated them like they were smart and I didn’t try to be smarter than them. Also overly prepared, being totally responsive to people like that who can get lost in their day or in their research but you are consistent and you’re prepared. They respect that, they love when people get back to them and they’re consistent and they’re prepared.

Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you’re teaching your students today to ensure that they are overly prepared?

Mark Weber: It’s being totally prepared. You come to my class and you’re not prepared, typically what happens is I ask you to go home that day. It only has to happen once, Fred, and everybody comes prepared. It’s like you showing up at a meeting or you showing up for this interview and if you weren’t prepared it wouldn’t go that well. Not many people would want to do this interview again. I teach them how critical that is not just in a sales call but in every situation, every situation is being prepared.

Knowing who you’re going to go meet, doing a little bit of background check up on them, not spoofing them but having some knowledge on them because it’s about building a rapport with people. If you have some knowledge and you can find a linkage with them, you can quickly build rapport with people with a little bit of preparation.

Fred Diamond: Again, you’ve worked in some of the great technology companies: NetApp, Sun, HP. Tell us what you are specifically an expert in, tell us a little bit about your specific area of brilliance.

Mark Weber: I don’t think I have any brilliance but I would tell you I’ve thought about this a lot, why I was so blessed and had a pretty good, successful current. I would tell you the best skill I developed was hiring, I turned that into not just a gut, I treated it as a science. I did a lot of statistics on hiring, a lot of background on people, a lot of reference checking. Sure you had to use your gut, but I took hiring and picking talent as the most critical thing I did.

Fred Diamond: Interesting. What have you learned over the years about hiring? What were some things that have occurred to you that you might not have done well but then you changed over time?

Mark Weber: Don’t use just your gut because a lot of people who are in front of you are salespeople, and they can do a pretty good job selling. You’ve got to use more than your gut, you’ve got to use your network, you’ve got to use a lot of other data other than just your gut.

Fred Diamond: Very good. I mentioned in the very beginning you were one of our Institute for Excellence in Sales lifetime achievement award recipients and one of the factors in being selected for that is someone who has a down chain, people who’ve gone from working for you and then also have led great teams as well, there was a whole large, impressive roster for that. You’re teaching kids now, you’re teaching them how to move into professional sales, enterprise, business to business sales, you’re teaching them the skills, you’re teaching them how to perform, how to prepare, you must have had some great mentors along the way. Again, we’re talking to Mark Weber. Mark, why don’t you tell us about an impactful career sales mentor or two and how they impacted your career?

Mark Weber: I’ll go back and tell you my mentor the whole time was my dad. I didn’t think it was just about skill set, it was about how you behaved, how you treated people and my dad was probably the best at treating people with class and dignity and respect no matter how you were performing. I see a lot of that these days and I still advise a bunch of tech companies, Fred. I still see how people bring everybody into company with love and class, “We love you, thanks for joining our company” but then I see people when people need to leave either performance-wise or it’s time for them to go do something else and I see how they treat them on the way out – not so good, Fred.

That’s what I learned from my dad is it doesn’t matter. You treat people with dignity, you leave them with a lot of class and that comes around to you in spades. You’re not doing that so you get something back, it’s the right thing to do. Probably Fred, you’ll find out that when somebody did need to leave maybe that usually they’re still your friend a year later or 6 months later and they’re usually a better person for it. I’m all about treating people with class and dignity no matter where they’re coming, whatever they’re doing and I learned that a lot from my dad. I’d say he was my mentor, he was the guy I looked up to.

Fred Diamond: Mark, you deal with a lot of sales leaders, you’ve trained a lot, you’re helping kids now move into the sales career as their business career begins. What are the two biggest challenges that you think sales leaders face today?

Mark Weber: Like I said, Fred, I advise right now five high tech companies. I’m either on their board or some kind of coach mostly to the sales leader, the go to market team. I do spend a lot of time with the adult side of things too, not just the student side. Their problems haven’t changed, mostly it’s about finding talent. There are so many great jobs out there and finding the right talent is a huge problem right now, as you know. Our economy is humming along right now but finding the right talent, there’s a lot of people out there but not always the right talent, I think that’s the biggest thing they face. I think also people are so quick to expect performance out of some things, there is a ramp in life.

It takes a while to build up. Sometimes guys expect results a little too fast and clearly when I was a sales leader I wanted results but it takes a while to sell some things and to build up your territory, build up your reputation, build up your customer base. A little bit of patience is something that’s missing right now too. By the way, we all got to make our numbers so I’m not advocating not making your numbers, I’m just advocating coaching people, not just expecting them to perform day 1.

Fred Diamond: You’ve had a great career, we’ve mentioned you worked for NetApp, Sun, HP, now you’re leading the Sales Department at the Catholic University of America, you’re working with a number of tech firms as an adviser. Take us back to the #1 sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of, take us back to that moment.

Mark Weber: I’ll go back, Fred. It wasn’t a deal, I would say the #1 success was hiring a couple of people. I’m a big believer that if you hire the right people and you – I use this word quite often – empower them, I think that was probably my biggest win. Somehow I was able to feel very comfortable hiring great people and empowering them, so they didn’t have to wake up and call me and ask me what they could do today or why they could do it, it was all about empowerment. It’s amazing when you wake up every day and you’re in charge, you can get coaching from your boss and you can get guidance but you don’t feel like you need permission.

I think that was my biggest success, is being able to feel comfortable empowering people and letting them do their job. You know what happens when people feel empowered? I think you get the best out of them, they show up and they have courage, they feel like they can make the decision. I think you get your best when people are empowered.

Fred Diamond: Mark, I usually don’t ask this question but I know you’ve had such an impressive down chain of people who’ve worked for you. How do you think these people that you said you’ve hired and empowered, how do you think they would describe you as a sales leader?

Mark Weber: I think they would describe me as tough, you bet. I think they’d describe me as involved, I think they’d describe me as fun, I like to have a lot of fun. I treat it as I’m the coach of a baseball team and I tell them that, I’m the general manager of the baseball team and I get to pick the talent, put them in the right positions and sometimes you’ve got to play a lefty at short-stop because that’s all you’ve got even though that’s heresy, but that’s what you have to do some days to win.

I don’t play those positions, I wasn’t the rep so when the ball was hit at a sales rep for a deal, I’m not the one who needs to dive for that ball and throw it to first base, they need to. If they don’t feel empowered and encouraged to do that. I think they’d describe me as somebody they like working for, I’m still best friends with most of them and they don’t have to be my friend anymore. I still play tennis with them, play golf with them, hang out with them, a lot of them hire my students now. I think that would say they’ve enjoyed it.

Fred Diamond: Very good. Just a quick note here, I’m a lefty and I used to love playing short-stop. I loved playing first base more, but whenever I played short-stop – of course, I couldn’t make the turn all that easily and that’s why I didn’t get further than high school.

Mark Weber: You understand what I’m saying, you can’t turn your shoulders fast enough, it’s going to cost you another half a second but sometimes you have to to win.

Fred Diamond: Exactly. With all the analytics now I wonder if we’ll start seeing things like that, probably not. Again, today’s Sales Game Changers podcast, we’re talking to Mark Weber. He heads the Sales Department at the Catholic University of America. He’s had a great career, he’s worked at blue chip companies, led world-wide sales teams at NetApp, Sun, HP and right now he’s doing a lot of advising to technology companies. Mark, we’ve talked a lot about sales today. Again, you were in Virginia tech, you went right into sales, you were selling things to NASA and other government accounts. Do you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?

Mark Weber: I know you wanted probably a unique answer here but the answer is no, never, Fred, not one day. I never got paid for anything in life except for results and never wanted to, so even in my advising roles they all want to know, “How much do you charge an hour?” I never get paid by the hour, I like to get paid by results for what I do and that’s how sales gets paid. There’s risk reward but you like to keep score, I’m a big time score keeper. I never questioned it, ever. There was a few days that you didn’t like it, I remember a couple of deals that I wish I had done something different but in general, no. It was the greatest career and I still love it.

Fred Diamond: Mark, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?

Mark Weber: I’m blessed that I get to hang out with a lot of the young talent, but being humble is probably – there’s a lot of great kids coming out of college. They think they’re good, they think they can set the world on fire and that’s awesome but they have to be humble going into the sales profession. They don’t have the skill set, the knowledge so they have to be sponges and I just impress upon them. You’ve got to be confident but the definition of cocky is over the edge. That humble feeling but confident is critical so I impress upon them that every time I talk to them.

Fred Diamond: Very good. What are some things you do to stay fresh and sharpen your saw?

Mark Weber: I work for five high tech companies now, three of them startups, one’s a very early stage startup, a couple of publicly traded companies so I have a mix of companies I’m working with, that keeps me pretty sharp. One of these companies is going to grow from 5 million three years ago to 500 million next year, so that’s a pretty big growth and you’re advising the sales team, so you stay pretty sharp, you’re in the game.

The other thing I do is I network like crazy still, one to help my students get opportunities. I could tell you I used to hang out with a lot of my peers and interact with them, a lot of the VPs of sales in this town and other places, now I hang out with more the inside sales leaders because they’re the ones that are going to hire my students. I do a lot of networking. I still network with a lot of the VPs but I think networking and hanging out with your peers, you learn a ton, you learn what’s going on with them and what makes them tick.

Fred Diamond: You said that 43 of your students last year graduated into sales jobs?

Mark Weber: They did. The average student at Catholic last year from the business school started in the low 50’s, the average kid started here 20k more than that so in the big range. It’s not just about their starting salary, Fred, it’s more where they’re going to be in a year or two or three and what the progression that company offers them. I try not to get them to worry about that first number, it’s more about what number they’re going to be at and what position they’ll be at in two, three, four years.

Fred Diamond: You get them into the right company and they perform, as we all know, the future is unlimited, possibility is unlimited. Mark, what’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?

Mark Weber: My whole life, Fred, I’ve owned something. I was the owner of the sales team or the owner of this, I had the number. You go to a role where you’re advising, being on the board, that’s a way different skill set when you’re giving advice and they don’t have to take it, they can do what they want. You really have to learn how to not have 100% of the information because you’re not an insider as much anymore, you’re only around the company so it’s a way different muscle to have to flex to give advice and realize it might not be taken.

You usually were in charge, and it got into play or at least in some form it got put into play so that’s keeping me sharp learning how to coach people and give them counsel. I try not to ever tell anybody what to do even when I owned it, but even less so when you’re an adviser. Different muscle.

Fred Diamond: Mark, sales is hard. Why have you continued and why are you continuing to bring people into the B to B enterprise professional sales world? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?

Mark Weber: I think it’s the greatest profession in the world, Fred, I just love it. I love that every day is different. You’re going to meet somebody new every day, every situation you might think you’ve figured it out but when you walk in that room, something’s different in that sales situation. Some personality is different and it’s not about facts and figures, it’s not about facts and figures, it’s not about speeds and feeds, you’ve got to have a good product but it’s a lot about personalities and figuring out what is the value you need versus the value somebody else needs out of a product. It might be the same kind of thing but your value you’re looking for is different.

Trying to figure that out is really interesting, it keeps me going, it keeps every situation so different. People don’t have to return my call anymore, I don’t have – like I did at NetApp – 2.000 employees working for me per se, but I still think I get a lot of phone calls for adults asking for advice and I help a lot of students, I help feed their sales teams. One of my networking rules, I told you I like to keep score but that’s more on posting numbers and selling. One thing I don’t keep score on is networking. If I did, I wouldn’t be hanging out with these students because there’s not much they can help me on with my career, I can help them.

There’s still a lot of people out there that probably need my advice because I’ve been there and done some of that. In the networking world, you find out who the really good people are and they don’t keep score on networking. They’re just there to help you when you need help or you help them when they need help. It’ll all balance out, it’ll never balance out networking and helping people at an individual level, it’ll balance out overall but never at an individual’s so don’t keep score on your networking and who you’re helping and who you’re not. That’s what I find and people who don’t call you back, you figured out what their game plan was. Probably not someone I want to hang out with anyways.

Fred Diamond: Mark, you’ve given us some great insights here as I knew you would, why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe today?

Mark Weber: Fred, we’ve all been blessed to be in this great profession industry of sales. The majority of people that listen to you make a great living, have a great career, I think it’s our responsibility to help the next generation and to coach them on how to get into our profession, how to get started. The hardest thing in the world to do is to get sales experience, that first sales job. Help the youth, take an interest, our profession of sales is only going to get better if we get the best talent in it. The kids that have great virtues, great ethics, we need those kids in our game. That is what your game is about, is building trust with customers so I would just ask you, take an interest in the youth and help the next generation. Invest in them, train them, get them into your company, it’s amazing what your culture will be like when you have multiple generations working there. I love that part of it.

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