EPISODE 119: Michael Thompson is Growing Managed Disaster Recovery as a Service Sales at Sky Data Vault by Focusing on These Critical Aspects of the Sales Process
MICHAEL’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Put in the work, find the right people, put in the practice, enjoy it, have fun with it, make it a game and if you do that, the results will come.”
Michael Thompson is the co-founder and VP of Sales at Sky Data Vault, a managed disaster recovery as a service provider.
Prior to founding Sky Data Vault, he held sales leadership positions at Avaya, PAETEC and Cavalier Telephone.
Find Michael on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little bit about what you sell today, and tell us what excites you about that.
Michael Thompson: Sky Data Vault is a really unique position in the market in that we sell managed disaster recovery as a service. For any organization that’s looking to protect its mission critical data, information and software it really doesn’t get any better. We’re in the business of making sure organizations can focus on their mission and we can support them in the ever-increasing demand of protecting a network from malware, crypto lock, threats that could impact the business.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Tell us a little more about your background, how did you first get into sales as a career?
Michael Thompson: I’ve always wanted to be in sales. I don’t know how often you have someone that says that and admits to it, but I can remember even getting to my first retail sales job at a Footlocker in high school. I thought it was the best thing going and I still think sales is the best career to be in.
Fred Diamond: It’s interesting, we usually get two types of people on the Sales Game Changers podcast. We get those who’ve been selling lemonade since the age of 10 and we get those who were engineers or consultants, didn’t have a degree or anything related to business or market, they were a technology person or a consulting person and then someone said, “You’re really good in front of the customer”, or they noticed that they were good in front of the customer maybe 5, 10 years into the career and have made the shift. What were some of the lessons that you’ve learned from some of your first few sales jobs?
Michael Thompson: It’s interesting you mention that, Fred because some of the best sales people I’ve worked with and learned from have come from different aspects of business. I think it’s because one of the things I learned early on is that sales is a process. Having a gregarious personality isn’t sales, sales is understanding that there’s a start, middle and end and you need to understand how to work that process. Some of the engineers that I’ve worked with that have made that transition understand the process and do very well.
Fred Diamond: For the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, let’s talk a little more about the process. You mentioned front, middle and end but take us a little more specifically on your vision of what the enterprise sales process looks like.
Michael Thompson: It’s a dynamic process but it’s one that really starts with making sure that you’re identifying the right candidates for what your services are. It’s understanding what the client need is, a lot of time what we find is people will talk speeds and feeds or technical aspects of their product and they’ll miss out on the most important thing, is what is it for the client that you’re solving. Are you generating more revenue? Are you alleviating pain? Are you taking risk out of the organization? If you focus on that messaging, you’re going to be much more effective.
The other thing that I talk to people about is you need to make sure that you’re very efficient with your time. In other words, if someone’s engaged in the sales process with you and they’re qualified, they get all of my attention. A lot of times, people will focus on big deals because they want those to close because that will help with quota, that will help with their income but those may not be the deals that are going to close first. You need to put your effort where it’s maximized your return.
Fred Diamond: Very good. A lot of times through the Sales Game Changers podcast, process comes up all the time. Of course, typically on the Sales Game Changers podcast we’re interviewing people such as yourself, you’ve had 10, 15, 20, as many as 30, 40 years of sales success and you’re absolutely right. It’s just not about a winning personality, it’s about understanding the life cycle of the sale. I like what you said here also, it’s understanding what the customer needs. We talked recently about even understanding your customer’s why, not just what their pains are but what they’re hoping to achieve with their customers. Tell us a little more about you specifically. Michael Thompson, what are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Michael Thompson: That’s a tough question to answer and still be humble, but I think the thing that has separated myself in my career is the ability to get to the why for a client. I’ve done very well in organizations where it’s a dynamic sale, it’s service sale, there’s lots of moving parts so it can be a very challenging sale but I’ve been able to manage that very well, manage different personalities within an organization for the decision making process and get it to an area where we’re identifying the why and we’re addressing the client need.
Fred Diamond: Tell us one example of what a customer’s why might be, a customer you’ve dealt with. You don’t have to mention the customer, of course but give us an example of what a why might look like.
Michael Thompson: We were recently working with a client in the west coast, they’re an online university and they were evaluating whether or not to purchase and manage their own internal disaster recovery as a service. What it came down to through the discovery process of sales is that although they technically could do that, the mission of the organization was not to manage an IT network, it was to drive more student’s success through the university. That’s the difference between having someone do it themselves and have us manage it. Once we identified that what they wanted was a manage service, it was a very easy close because we were the only ones positioned to do that.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great example. One thing that’s come through from the podcast as well is the successful sales leaders we’ve talked about, they’ve understood that their mission is to help the customer be more successful at their mission. You’re absolutely right, if it’s a university their goal is to get more customers/students.
Michael Thompson: Absolutely. I think it changes with the different markets you address so if it’s a non-profit it could be to focus more on that core mission of driving the service. If it’s a business, it could be sales velocity. If it’s a professional services organization, it could be to bill more effectively.
Fred Diamond: That’s interesting because another theme that we keep hearing from the podcast is that successful sales professionals today need to truly bring more value and the value isn’t, “Here’s how my product is better than the competition” it’s, “Here’s how we can help you solve your challenges, grow your sales” whatever it might be.
Michael Thompson: Here’s the real challenge, Fred, in my mind. Everyone is going to say their mouse trap is better than the others, it doesn’t matter what the service or product you provide. The key to sales and the sales process is understanding what the client needs, and sometimes the client doesn’t know so probing questions, triangulating within the organization to get multiple people that are stake holders to understand what they’re trying to accomplish depending on how complex the sale is, is all important to understand how to align to the business objectives.
Fred Diamond: Very good. You’ve worked for some great companies, we mentioned Avaya before and Cavalier. Now we’re talking to Michael Thompson, he’s the co-founder and sales VP at Sky Data Vault. Tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Michael Thompson: I’ve been incredibly fortunate, not only have I had multiple sales mentors that have been great but I’ve worked with great people and I think what you should do as an individual in sales is look around. Sales mentors are great but peers can be just as powerful. In fact, the gentleman that I co-founded Sky Data Vault with was a potential client of ours 10, 12 years ago when I was at Cavalier Telephone. Working with him and staying in contact with him and networking with him has led to us starting a company 4 years ago, so you never know where it’s going to happen.
One of the things that I learned from one of my best sales mentors is just doing the work. I know it sounds simple, but I will tell you and you’ll probably hear this throughout this podcast is that you have to put in the work. Doing the role playing, doing the peer networking, doing the networking outside the office, doing the reading, thinking about how to position yourself, how to position with the client, working through the dynamics of how to get to the different stake holders within an organization. Sales is incredibly rewarding but it is a lot of work.
Fred Diamond: There’s no shortcuts, there’s no silver bullets. You get more proficient, you get more efficient, you learn more ways to contact customers more effectively and how to communicate, and you want to constantly refine yourself as a professional. Time and time again, everybody we talk to, you got to do the work, you got to make the calls, you got to be smart about who you’re talking to, you have to understand the value that you’re bringing to the customers. What are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Michael Thompson: I think you touched on that, Fred. I think the traditional methodology of contacting a prospect or a qualified potential prospect has changed. The market now is focused on making sure you have the right SEO, your website is getting hit on Google not from necessarily a prospecting standpoint but what I’ll call a validation standpoint. Someone here is told about Sky Data Vault, the first thing they do is they get on their handheld device and they look up on Google who is Sky Data Vault or whatever search engine they use. The sales process has changed slightly and I think it’s much more dynamic. However, nothing beats picking up the phone and making a phone call. In fact, I’ll tell you some of my personal best wins have been from picking up the phone and making a phone call. It’s still to this day.
Fred Diamond: At the Institute for Excellence in Sales we’ve had a hundred or so great world-class speakers. People ask me all the time, what’s the #1 thing you’ve learned by running the Institute for Excellence in Sales and it’s easily that the phone is the most important sales tool on the planet. I’m really glad you said that.
Michael Thompson: Here’s the other thing, too. I think a phone call and specifically a voice message has carried more weight now than an email because if you think about the number of emails that you get in a day and then you think about the number of voicemails you get in the day or the number of phone calls you get in the day that’s outside of a standard conference call or a conference call scheduled, it stands out. It’s almost like doing a hand written note to thank you after a meeting. Little things like that can be the difference makers for you.
Fred Diamond: Absolutely. You’ve had a nice, long career of success here. What’s the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of?
Michael Thompson: I’ve been fortunate, it’s been a good run. When I thought about this, the first thing that came to mind was when I was in my first outside sales job, I was working for a company called Net 2000 which was a dynamic fast growth competitive local exchange carrier back in 2000. I had been there for about 3 or 4 months, I was new to the industry, I had come from energy and so telecom was new to me. I had been struggling because I had been working the process but I hadn’t seen the same level of success as some of my peers.
I went to a meeting with my VP of sales at the time and it was the first day of the new month, new quarter and it was a deal that I had been working on for the last 60 days. We closed it and I was 100% of quota on day 1 of that new quarter. I remember driving back with him, he had a convertible at the time, the top was down and I was like, “Doesn’t get any better than this.” That feeling of being over quota day 1 and making things happen. It was the first one that came to my mind.
Fred Diamond: Did you take off the rest of the year?
Michael Thompson: Absolutely not [laughs] that’s when you put the hammer down, you start accelerating from there.
Fred Diamond: Absolutely. Again, Sales Game Changers podcast, we’re talking to Michael Thompson today. He’s the co-founder and sales VP at Sky Data Vault. We’ve talked about the need to understand your process and to be totally adhering to your process understanding the various stages. We talked about the need to understand your customer’s why, what are they trying to achieve? Michael talked about an online University that was a customer of his (or is a customer of his) and once Michael understood that their mission was to get more students, of course all of the sudden the value he was able to bring with his managed services were able to be more effective. Michael, 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”?
Michael Thompson: I would say everyone is going to question themselves at some point because sales is not a standard day to day. It is a constant management of ups and downs and that’s the reality of the game. What I will tell you is although I’ve never doubted that I shouldn’t be in sales, I have had to re-think my process. If my sales process wasn’t working, I’d have to take a real long, hard look in the mirror and say, “Is the process broken? Do I need to enhance the process?” Or again, self-reflection, “Am I putting in enough work? Am I making the right number of calls, am I doing the right things outside of the business? Am I preparing myself correctly for the opportunities that do come up?”
That self-reflection is important, if the process isn’t working you’ve got to be willing to tweak it.
Fred Diamond: Michael, people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast around the globe, they’re listening to our podcast for tips, things that they could do, little ideas that they might not have thought about. I want to hit on something you just mentioned, you said you take some time for self-reflection to think through your process. Do you need to re-tweak it, do you need to do something? Just tell me specifically, how do you do that? What does your moment of self-reflection look like? Do you go to the beach, do you go to the mountain, do you spend Friday morning from 8 to 9 in the morning just thinking? Do you go to a mentor? Tell us how you specifically do that self-reflection.
Michael Thompson: It’s not very structured with me, I’ll just call it on demand. It could be as easy as when out walking the dog, that 45 minutes of reflection just to think about what’s going on. I do think it’s important when you do a reflection that you are away from your device, so if your break is getting on a bike and biking for an hour, you want to put yourself in that neutral position and allow thoughts to happen. I think it’s important depending on what you do, some people do yoga, some people do mountain biking, hiking, play sports, go to the gym. You need a break from it at some point and somehow so whatever it is, whatever your key is, make sure you turn the phone off, make sure you put yourself in a quiet state of mind and just think: am I doing what’s effective?
Fred Diamond: Michael, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Michael Thompson: That’s another tough one, Fred because it doesn’t come down to just one thing. I think you mentioned there’s no magic bullet, I would say the thing that you need to do, especially when you’re new, is to practice. I know people aren’t necessarily comfortable with role play so if you’re not comfortable with that, stand in front of a mirror, record yourself, call a friend, bounce an idea off someone.
You and I talked about softball and baseball, I will tell you sports is a very tight equivalent to sales. I watch a lot of baseball with the Nationals and I watch a lot of baseball for the kids, and the amount of time that they take to prepare for that plate appearance, hours upon hours for that five minutes and it’s really the same thing. For every call that you have, you should have run through that call and what could and could not happen at least a dozen times or at least be in a situation where you’re so comfortable with your message that you can actually be receptive to what the client’s saying, or else you’re going to miss the why.
Fred Diamond: Absolutely. What are some things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Michael Thompson: You mentioned mentors and I talked about the importance of having strong peer relationships as well, I would say that not only reaching out to mentors to get a chance to bounce ideas off of them. Picking people out that aren’t necessarily in the same sales profession is a good idea, talking to an engineer, talking to an accountant, what’s important to someone that’s a CFO when it comes to evaluating the business? What’s important to a COO when it comes to evaluating the business? Reach out to your peers and use them as a sounding point. Someone that’s new to sales, that might be a little bit difficult but find a good mentor, read what’s important, whatever magazine or article you want to read but think about how does that impact the client that I’m talking to.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What’s a major initiative that you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Michael Thompson: It’s an exciting time at Sky Data Vault. We’ve had an incredible growth in our agent program. We’re building out new agent relationships throughout the United States as it is right now and the dynamic opportunity there is that it gives us full reach in the US but we’re working with folks that are maybe new to the technology and what we service. There’s a learning curve on that side so we do a lot of coaching, not only how to message but also how to sell and how to make sure you’re addressing what the client requirement is for organizations throughout the US.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Michael, sales is hard. People don’t return your phone calls or your emails, of course we talked about the value of picking up the phone. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Michael Thompson: I would say it’s a challenge, Fred. If you have a week where you’re not getting the calls back and you’re not getting the emails returned, deals aren’t closing, that’s a challenge but if you’re doing the process and you’re practicing and you’re putting in the work, you know that that’s going to turn. When it does, it’s a great feeling to know that you’ve accomplished it. I can’t think of another career that is as dynamic in terms of how challenging and how many different factors have to be brought in for you to get to a success point. I would say it’s a challenge.
Fred Diamond: Again, we have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe. Give us a final thought to inspire our listeners today.
Michael Thompson: That’s a tall order, Fred but I’ll tell you that as challenging as sales is, it is such a rewarding career and if you’re new to it, it’s a challenge. Put in the work, find the right people, put in the practice, enjoy it, have fun with it, make it a game and if you do that, the results will come.