EPISODE 072: Veeam Software Federal Sales Leader Mike Miller Stresses How Taking an Athletic Approach to Your Sales Efforts Can Lead to Huge Success
MIKE’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “It’s having an athletic approach to managing your business. It’s being driven. And when I say athletic approach, I don’t just mean the physical demands of it. I mean you have to look at what you do as a profession, you have to train for it, you have to be aggressive about it, you have to not take no for an answer and you have to understand that failure is a part of it. “
Mike Miller is a technology sales executive with almost 30 years’ experience in building winning sales and management teams.
His well-rounded background includes experiences in direct sales and leading teams from 6 people to over 1,000.
Mike has been the GM and SVP of North America Sales for CA, has run the public sector sales teams at Juniper Networks, has run world-wide sales for a few interesting startups, owns a sales training and management consulting business and now manages the federal business for Veeam Software.
Find Mike on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you sell today, and tell us what excites you about that.
Mike Miller: I work with Veeam Software, we sell high performance replication backup and recovery software all across the data management space and we have a lot that sales guys get excited about. From a technology standpoint, our software never breaks and I can tell you for somebody that’s been doing this for 30 years, you can almost never say that. It’s really exciting to have software that’s that reliable.
Our partners are Cisco, HPE, VMWare, IPM, Exagrid, NetApp, PureStorage, the list goes on. They’re all amongst the premier partners in the industry. Many of them sell our software direct and sell them on their own price list which is very exciting. We’re an 827 million dollar company still growing at 30% per year. In fact, in over 30% per year, year over year. One of the things that I’ve always looked for as a sales rep is we have a unique business value, in fact, we have more than one.
We’re the only company in this marketplace that can guarantee that back-ups will actually recover your environment. And as any sales rep knows, if you have a unique business value, that gives you something to sell. You find somebody that needs that and you focus on it.
Fred Diamond: Who typically do you sell to? Is it a peer IT sale or you sell obviously in the federal space. Tell us a little bit about your customer.
Mike Miller: Our customer ranges from somebody who is working at the data management storage level, so at the administrative level all the way up to program managers. The more important it is to have the applications back-up and running, the more mission critical those things are, the further up the food chain we have a tendency to go.
Fred Diamond: You’ve been a career sales person, we mentioned 30 years of technology sales with some great brands such as CA. Tell us about the beginning of your career, how did you first get into sales as a career?
Mike Miller: My first job in sales was with the Washington Bullets selling season tickets. I would drive around the Beltway to the capital center when in 1977, 78, when they were actually on their way to winning a world championship, so it was a lot of fun and it was actually easy to sell so I thought sales was like that. When I got out of college, I tried my hand at utilizing my degree in economics to manage a bank and ultimately because I also had to wait tables to make ends meet I started gravitating back towards sales as a profession.
So I took a job selling first investment products, so I was a stock broker and then I took a job selling home improvements because they gave us leads and then I met my future brother in law who was working for a little start-up at the time 1984 called Oracle, still a very small company, and he told me that they were paying him a base salary of 60 thousand dollars a year which to me was inconceivable at the time.
My biggest goal in life was to make 100 thousand dollars a year. He told me they were paying that in base salary plus commissions, so I knew I was in the wrong business and I wanted to get in that business so I started selling copiers so I could have business experience and reading the want ads every day, and eventually I found a job for software, didn’t say what the company was and that company turned out to be CA.
Fred Diamond: CA of course, was known as Computer Associates at them time and it was a classic technology company with a classic sales environment as well.
Mike Miller: Absolutely. In fact, if Charles (Wang) was still there, I’d probably still be there but Charles was an amazing man. He actually wanted to emulate EMC at the time, so he was very focused on getting the best sales people that he possibly could because he was one of the best sales people that I ever met, if not the best sales person that I ever met. It was a great place to grow up.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned you started your career selling tickets for the Washington bullets or sponsorships? What did you have to sell?
Mike Miller: Season tickets. They would have a stand at the end of the portals in the capital center and sell season tickets, and the team was doing so well that it was easy because we would sell season tickets by getting a deposit from the people that were interested in going to see the team last year and everybody that wanted to buy play-off tickets got first on the list if they were a season ticket holder.
Fred Diamond: We actually interviewed Patrick Duffy who’s the VP of partner sales at Monumental. Mike Miller: Great firm.
Fred Diamond: Yeah, great firm and of course, they actually won an award from the Institute for Excellence in Sales last year. What are some of the things that you remember from that, or even maybe selling some of the investment products you did that have carried with you today?
Mike Miller: The earlier lessons that I had were that sales were hard. It was a very difficult profession and it was something at the time that I found much more intimidating than exciting. The Washington Bullets piece was actually reasonably easy because again, people wanted to get access to the playoff tickets, so I thought sales was just going to be simple, was just a matter of showing up. And as it turned out, a lot of the early sales that we made cancelled, because all they really wanted was access to playoff tickets and they were perfectly happy to give up their 50 dollar deposit on season tickets. Later on, after the season was over I learned that it was much more of a grind, it was much harder getting out there and trying to get people to give you money for a product.
Fred Diamond: Interesting. Did you like selling the sports products?
Mike Miller: I did, I liked everything about being 17 years old and being associated with the world championship basketball team and being able to go out to the capital center and meet great players and ownership and be able to see concerts because I was out there. All that sort of stuff was fun. The job itself was great during the season and became much more challenging during the summer time when once again, we were out going from business to business trying to convince businesses to buy season tickets. And it was back at the time when season tickets weren’t very expensive, they were 9 dollars for center court per game.
Fred Diamond: When along your career path did you make the shift into selling into the federal marketplace?
Mike Miller: That’s a great question. I was at CA for 7 years. I started as a sales rep selling commercial with the worst possible territory which is sort of how things were in most companies and certainly it was how it worked in CA. I did really well in my first year, I did double my annual quota in my first year so I got a good territory. In my second year I did triple my annual quota and then I got moved into management and I was terrible at it. I begged to be demoted and I was.
Eventually, I got a really good mentor who taught me how to manage so I was moved back into management and when I was ready to make the move from regional VP position into a senior VP position, that was when I was moved to commercial from public sector.
Fred Diamond: You just raised up something that comes up once in a while during the Sales Game Changers podcast, the missed notion that you should move your top reps into sales management. Obviously now, you’ve had a great career as a sales leader and you mentor a lot of people, and you’re leading federal sales as you mentioned before and you mentioned during the introduction that you’ve managed as many as a thousand people.
Take us back to that moment, though, because we have a lot of people listening to today’s podcast that are you 20, 30 years ago that want to get into a rich and growth career in sales. What triggered the notion for you that you hated it and you wanted to be demoted out of sales management?
Mike Miller: That’s a great question. When I moved into management, I always felt as a sales rep that it was going to be easier because you get to spread the risk, you get to mitigate the pain a little bit. What I learned when I moved in there was that in fact what you’re doing is you’re not spreading the risk, you’re no longer having one quota, you’re having five quotas. It’s one big quota, but it’s still for five people. what I was finding myself doing was that I was still selling really well with my existing customers and the people that worked for me responded well to the way that I responded from a management standpoint.
They did well, but the people that didn’t respond well to that didn’t do well. So I went from doing double and triple quota to barely scraping by and doing less than half the quota. As it turned out, there were some fundamental lessons that I had not learned and the most important one that one of my mentors taught me later on in my career was you have to get to know individual people.
You have to get to know what drives them, what inspires them and what motivates them and then coach that way. That was a valuable lesson for me because it’s something I didn’t have when I first moved in and the last thing I wanted after a year of making half as much money as I’d made the previous few years was to manage people.
Fred Diamond: Tell us what happened when you went to management and said, “I want to get back into carrying a bag, back into being a solo individual contributor”, if you will. Because a lot of people that listen to today’s podcast, they’re striving for the next position. They believe it’s in management and I’ve seen a lot of the people listen to the podcast kind of hold on a little too long when they’re really not in the right place. What happened when you went to your management and said, “I want to get back into the bag carrying role, I want to pound the pavement again.” What was the response?
Mike Miller: He was nurturing in his response, he actually said that I thought I could do it but he appreciated the fact that I was having a financial impact and maybe now wasn’t the right time. Before he would let me go down and take that position, he made me do one of the hardest things that anybody has to do which was to let somebody go and said that part of the challenge was me not knowing how to do that and part of the challenge was the sales reps not being able to deliver for me and we both were going to pay a price, and that was something that he made me do. It was one of the hardest things I ever did as a sales professional.
Fred Diamond: Thanks for sharing that story, because that’s definitely one that has come up not infrequently and we hear all the time the notion that the best sales professional doesn’t make it into management and a lot of it is timing. A lot of it is you need to learn, you need to mature and then maybe later on in your career, you’re ready. I’m sure we’ll hear some of that story in a little bit. Mike Miller, what are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Mike Miller: That’s a great question, Fred. My sense is asking really good questions is probably one of your areas of brilliance, fair?
Fred Diamond: Yes, it is.
Mike Miller: Awesome. For me, I’d say it’s two things. We talked about in the pre interview was that one of the key things, one of the most important things from my perspective, from a success standpoint is being apathetic. What I’ve seen from sales reps who are the most successful is they are the ones that listen the most, they are the ones that are the most sympathetic and they are the ones that care about their clients. I genuinely care about my clients, I care about my company, I care about my product, I care about my customer’s mission. I think that’s why I gravitated ultimately towards public sector once I got in there, because I really and truly do get excited about the mission I was supporting at federal government.
The reality is that if you have that characteristic, then your customers know it and they trust you, and one of the hardest things to ever get in sales is that development of trust and that’s something that comes with that sense of empathy. The other things that I’m really good at is that I’m coachable, so at this stage in my career I still look to be coach and I have people that I rely on on a regular basis. I also consider myself to be a good coach whether it’s for sales reps, whether it’s for sales managers, whether it’s for 10 year old baseball players.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Mike Miller: I’ll tell you about two of them. One was the person I just mentioned. His name is Mike Guido, he was the president of the Americas for CA back in those days and my senior vice president. These are just over the course of that number of years. The first time that I had a really successful quarter was my second quarter at CA and I had done half of my annual quota in that one quarter. One of the things that he said to me was, “Congratulations”, obviously he gave me the high fives that you would expect, but he also said, “Anybody can do it once. A real sales professional can do it over and over again.”
That made me put a chip on my shoulder and it also made me thing what do I have to do to be that person that can do it over and over again. He was really helpful in that regard. He also had a lot of things that I still incorporate as part of my daily activity. One of the things that we talked about was maximizing your face time and being athletic with the way how you manage your territory, that was something I got from Mike.
The other mentor I had from CA was a guy named Rick Chiarello. He’s done a lot of phenomenal things in his career. What he did for me was he was that person that taught me how to manage. He taught me how to understand individuals, and he didn’t just focus on me managing a team and focusing on a number, but he focused on me as an individual and how to make me better, and taught me ways to do that and I really appreciate that. That’s stood with me through all these years.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Actually, for the Sales Game Changers listening to the podcast, when we were walking into the interview someone actually came up to you and you mentioned to me that’s someone that you’re mentoring. Do you get a lot of requests to be mentored yourself? Or to mentor, I should say.
Mike Miller: Yeah, there are people that have gone through sales training with me through the years or people that I just know from my network. I can tell you that when I was coming up early in my career, I relied upon people that were in sales and that were successful and I would pick their brains and ask them their advice, and I had people that would share that with me because there were no degrees in sales when I got out of college.
There are some now, to the credit of some universities, but not many. They still tend to be more focused on marketing, so I’ve always seen that as a whole and I’ve always enjoyed helping people that are choosing this profession, because it really can be life changing to help them to see what it takes to have that kind of life changing success in sales.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the challenges that sales leaders are facing today. What are the two biggest challenges facing you today as a sales leader?
Mike Miller: Mine are going to be personal. It may not apply to all sales leaders, obviously. I have a really good team. In fact, I’d say they’re exceptional. Our company, which is also exceptional growing in at 30 + % per year, year over year, my federal team grew at 60% last year. I believe they’re talented enough to grow at an even faster clip this year. One of the challenges that we have is that we’re all home officed. Almost all of us work remotely, so building that sense of not just a team, which we have really well, but the sense of having a culture where people practice and role play and do the things that really do sharpen the spear. That’s harder to do. You have to be very disciplined about doing that, and that’s definitely a challenge that we face.
That’s something that I think really helps when you’re in close proximity, and as I mentioned as we were talking beforehand, I’m still a big believer in practicing. I do that with good friends of mine like Kevin Carr who was on your program earlier. He and I will hit situations where things didn’t go exactly as we thought they should of and we’ll call each other and role play and say, “What happened? Let’s try it a different way.”
The second biggest challenge, this is something that hasn’t changed much in 25 years of sales management. That’s getting people to move outside their comfort zone. People have a tendency to get into a rut. Sometimes it’s because they thought that the way that they were doing things was the right way and they got a little bit of success, and they think that that’s the way to the bank even though it’s super hard and super restrictive, and getting people to move outside of that sometimes is challenging whether it’s because the fear of not doing it the way that they used to or just because of the lack of comfort.
Fred Diamond: Mike, you’ve had a great career, we’ve mentioned 30 years a number of times here working for some great companies, CA. Take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Mike Miller: That’s a great question. Generally speaking, when I look back over my career I like to think of the people that have moved on and become senior VP’s and CEO’s and COO’s, whatever their vision was for themselves, so I do view that as my biggest success but if you want to think of my single biggest win: I was negotiating a deal – and this was at the time that I was one of three general managers in North American sales for CA. I was in a pre-meeting on a Monday night with my senior VP and his regional vice president and we were negotiating with a fairly large bank on a very significant opportunity, and I had through my career been one of those negotiators that was not always as consistent as I should have been, as far as asking for balanced concessions.
I would do the biggest mistake that you could ever do which is giving unilateral concessions. I had learned through some very good training that I had gone through and some very good experience that I had over the previous year, that I wanted to make sure that I had a really good principle negotiation. So in this particular example, we had what was the biggest deal I ever negotiated at the time. It was the biggest sale that we’d ever proposed at the time and we were going back and forth, and everything that they asked for I asked for something of equal or greater value in return.
Some of the things they asked for seemed insignificant but I wanted them to understand that the way that I approached their partnership was that I respected them enough to give them what I viewed as the best and final offer with the first proposal. So I didn’t give them something with a lot of fat to be able to trim stuff out of, and I wanted to let them know up front that that’s what they had but they were professional negotiators, they go to school. So we were going back and forth and everything they did, everything they asked for I asked for something in return.
There was one thing in particular that they asked for which was a concession on the maintenance side, which for a deal of that size I potentially could have gone to the CEO and asked for it, but I knew what the value that was and they were in heavy acquisition mode and I knew if they acquired more banks or if had had more merchers that it would be worth a lot of money. So I pushed back really hard on that one and I said that was going to be a deal killer if they had to have that. The two people who were in there negotiating who are also people you should probably speak with – Stu Flagel and Van Harmen, they both had looks of horror on their face because this meant a lot to them, this was more than triple Van’s annual quota and this was a big chunk of Stu’s annual quota. In the end they put that aside and we asked for a couple of things, we pushed back for a couple other things and eventually one of the people in the room on their side said, “I give up.” and I was afraid that I had screwed things up horribly and I was getting ready to apologize.
I started apologizing and he said, “No, no, no. We’re OK.” and it turned out that one of the people in the back of the room who was not making any noise was just taking notes on his laptop, was a senior VP of finance and he printed out an addendum to our existing enterprise licence. I took a look at it, confirmed that it had everything in there, it matched all of my notes, I give it back and said, “That was good”, he signed it and handed it to me, asked me to sign it and hand it back and we walked out of there with a contract for 124 million dollars on December 18th. Didn’t even make us wait till the 31st and what makes it sweeter, and what makes it even a bigger win is that they did continue to buy banks and almost 12 months to the day but one year later they did another deal with us for 294 million dollars, and it was all because we saved that one clause.
Fred Diamond: Good for you. Mike, this has been great information. You’ve had a great career in sales, that was a great win that you just told us there, win for you and for the customer, of course for your company. Did you ever question being in sales? Did you ever say to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Mike Miller: I said that a lot of times. Do you know what my mom told me when I told her I was getting into sales?
Fred Diamond: No.
Mike Miller: She didn’t say anything, she started crying.
Fred Diamond: Oh, jeez.
Mike Miller: After she finished crying, she said, “I can’t believe you’re going to take this good University of Virginia education and you’re going to waste it on a career in sales.”
Fred Diamond: Oh, man.
Mike Miller: She later changed her mind, obviously, because it worked out really well but obviously when you have a career that has you go either every year or every quarter from hero to zero – and that’s if you did well – it’s challenging, you can feel like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up a hill. You get it to the top and you hit your number, then it rolls back down, you got to to it all over again. But I’ve learned over time how to manage the process, I get excited about it and I’ve learned that the better you get at the job, the easier the job gets.
Fred Diamond: The interesting thing there – going back to your mother there, for a second – is if you think about having a 30 year career in sales, especially with the story that you just told us, think of all the value that you provided to that customer. You mentioned the next year, they went off and bought even some more banks which then made the technology that they were purchasing from you even more valuable and helping them grow their business. One thing that great sales professionals get to do is you see how the customers are utilizing what you’re bringing to them and helping them make their jobs easier, and helping them achieve their missions.
Mike Miller: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: Mike, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them take their career to the next level?
Mike Miller: If you really want to take your career to the next level, and you don’t truly love what you’re selling and you don’t truly love the customers that you’re selling to – and I don’t mean that in any way other than caring about their mission, caring about what they do, caring about their timelines, caring about their success – then you’re never going to be successful. You owe it to yourself to find a product that you do have that level of passion for, and a company and a market that you do have that passion for and a customer base that you have that passion for because when you do, you get excited about your job. You get excited about your profession and frankly it makes the job so much easier.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Mike Miller: I believe sales is a learning profession, as I mentioned before. There was no such thing as a sales degree back when I was getting out of college and if there was I probably would not have studied it. That was not what I saw myself doing when I was in college, but the things that I regularly do is I still pick up a sales or a business book every quarter, something new because I want to be able to either learn something new for myself or I want to learn something new that I can teach my sales teams. I think it’s important to do that on a regular basis.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Mike Miller: Through the years I’ve been very business plan driven, from the time I was a sales rep I mapped out what it was I was going to do, where I was going to get my revenue from, where there were openings in my customers as far as which products they had from us, which products they didn’t have, which products they had from a competitor. I’ve been doing that from the time I was a sales rep up until the time I was managing senior vice presidency, very much a senior plan focused environment.
One of the things that I’m working on right now – and I’ve just rolled it out to my sales team at Veeam – is a very prescripted business plan. It’s a business plan generator, helps them to plan their year in advance. It also has what’s probably the most important element of every good business plan: it has check points they can see on a month by month basis and on a quarter by quarter basis not just by looking at revenue because that’s an easy gage, but by looking at the things that contribute to revenue to see if they’re on track.
Fred Diamond: What might some of those things be?
Mike Miller: Some of those things would be how big is your pipeline, how fast is your pipeline growth. Are you keeping track of how steadily things are progressing in the sale cycle, and is the sale cycle consistent?
Fred Diamond: Very good. Mike, we talked over the course of today’s podcast about some of the challenges facing sales. Sales is hard, people don’t return your calls or your emails. Why have you continued? Again, you told your mom that you were going to go into a career in sales and she spent all this money on this beautiful UVA, of course you were in state so it wasn’t really that expensive but what is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Mike Miller: In the beginning, honestly, it was fear. When I started at CA, it was two months before my daughter was born and prior to CA I don’t think I was that successful in sales. I was OK, I was getting by, I was pretty good but I didn’t work as hard as I needed to, and when she was born that lit a fire in me and it really changed how I approached my profession. I made sure that from then on, I was maximizing my customer face time. I was spending my evening with my young family, I would kiss my wife and daughter and then later my wife and son and daughter and put them to bed and then I would stay up and learn and I would take advantage of that time.
Now, I didn’t have to do that all the time, you have to have a life-work balance but I really did make sure that I was maximizing the time I had during the day, maximizing my selling hours because selling hours were money hours. I always found that if I approach my job that way, it became significantly easier and much more rewarding.
Fred Diamond: Mike, I want to ask you one last question before we get your final thought. You just mentioned maximizing customer face time. The more selling hours, of course, the more opportunities to make money. You sell into a federal space. It used to be that you could go into any federal building, you could walk the halls, you could go have your meeting. After 9-11, of course, security significantly ramped up. You can’t get into the pentagon anymore, you can’t get into a lot of federal buildings without an appointment and things related to that and the customer doesn’t want to see you as much as they used to. So what do you do about that? How do you handle that particular challenge and how do you coach your sales team to try to get that customer face time when it continues to get harder and harder to do?
Mike Miller: It definitely does get harder and harder to do. The longer you’ve been doing it, the easier it is for you to have some of the passes that can get you through. You might be badged in the intelligence community which means you can get into the pentagon without an appointment. However, there’s still ways to maximize face time even for those people that don’t have that kind of a clearance. And when I say face time, it’s not just sitting across the desk. It could be doing a Webex, it could be having a phone call.
It’s maximizing your customer interaction. It’s not sending emails, although emails are worthwhile. It’s not sending links to great demos or videos, it’s having a conversation. Ideally, it’s a face to face conversation because then you can see body language and you can see how they’re reacting. You can see whether their eyes are rolling or whether their eyes are staying focused and they’re not in their heads. But we have to find ways to be creative and maximizing that face time, and we also have to be doing some of the things that are old-school and new-school, which is when we’re having those meetings asking, “Who else here should I be meeting with? Would you mind walking me over there and introducing me to them?”
Asking basic questions like that so that you can maximize face time and you can find more people, and you can widen your scope of engagement because at the end of the day if you really want to solve problems, especially in the public sector, you have to talk to a lot of stake holders because it’s a very broad solution set. It’s never going in and selling a product, it’s selling a much more broadly focused solution set.
Fred Diamond: Mike, give us a final thought to share with the Sales Game Changers listening today to help them take their career to the next level and to inspire them.
Mike Miller: The best advice I ever got really does ducktail from that. It’s having an athletic approach to managing your business. It’s being driven. And when I say athletic approach, I don’t just mean the physical demands of it. I mean you have to look at what you do as a profession, you have to train for it, you have to be aggressive about it, you have to not take no for an answer and you have to understand that failure is a part of it. That there’s nothing wrong with no and that it’s not personal. That even the best baseball player hits one out of three. The best sales rep is probably closing one out of three which means that you’re going to fail twice as much as you’re going to win but if you stay engaged and you maintain your integrity, and you maintain your athletic, vigorous sense of work ethic, at the end of the day it’s the only profession I know of that can let somebody like me change my life as dramatically as I was able to.