EPISODE 054: MapD Federal Sales Head Monica McEwen Gets Analytical About Her Journey to Sales Leadership
Monica McEwen is the Vice President of Federal Sales at MapD.
In this capacity, Monica’s responsible for building out the federal division including the go-to-market strategy and the ecosystem around the Washington DC Beltway.
Monica joined MapD after spending six years at Qlik as a Federal VP where she started the federal division and developed and led a cross functional team of sales, inside sales, solutions architects and alliances.
She spent over 20 years supporting the federal customer and believes her success in business depends on her ability to lead through change.
This is true of both her prospect who was on a buying journey or in a leadership role. In today’s IT market change is constant. Being a trusted adviser to your customers has served Monica well.
Find Monica on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: Monica, tell us a little bit about what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Monica McEwen: I’m very excited to be at MapD, I’ve spent 20 years in the data and analytic space. I think that MapD really solves a very unique problem. Reporting in analytics have been around for a long time but in today’s world there’s just an increase of data coming at us, the increased use of sensors, the internet of things, even social media, the volume of data has become unmanageable to consume and MapD is focused on making this data available.
This is really sort of revolutionary in terms of the ability to handle in real time at scale billions of records that users can visually explore or feed to machine learning or some sort of predictive analytics. For the first time ever users can see large scale data in an intuitive interface and this can really help drive the mission effectiveness both in the federal government and commercially.
Fred Diamond: Who are some of the customers that you sell to?
Monica McEwen: Today we’re selling to the US government obviously, which is why I’m here, as well as some of our larger industries including financial services as well as telecommunication and utilities.
Fred Diamond: Let’s go back to the beginning of the career, how did you first get into sales as a career?
Monica McEwen: Honestly I stumbled into it, which is a little bit embarrassing to admit but I started my career as a consultant at America Management Systems now CGI and realized the part of that job I liked the most was the direct engagement with the client. From there I got a job as a pre-sales architect and really didn’t even know what that was when I took the job but had been told by the recruiter it was very client facing so that intrigued me.
When I joined Cognos at the time I was able to pick up the technology and learn it but really I’m not a technologist at heart in terms of really deeply understand technology. I can certainly talk to it and consider myself relatively technical. So I was in pre-sales a couple of years at Cognos and realized that while I was technical enough to give a demo I probably wasn’t going to be able to make an entire career of being a pre-sales architect and so I started looking around at the other roles within the organization and realizing that sales was really where I thought my skills might be in terms of that direct client engagement.
From there I had a sales leader who took a chance on me, I put my hand up and said I want to move out of pre-sales and into sales and they took a chance on me and I’m glad they did.
Fred Diamond: Think back to when you made that shift from being a pre-sales architect to into sales. What were some of the key lessons you learned that have stuck with you when you made that transition?
Monica McEwen: I really think that my time as both a consultant as well as in pre-sales is what has made me successful. The reason being when I was in pre-sales I had the opportunity to work with 16 different sales reps and in that time I was able to see what behaviors I wanted to emulate and most importantly which ones I did not. I could see what worked and what didn’t. Obviously I’ve evolved into my own sort of style today but I really took a lot of that with me and I think this sticks with me today even as I start to manage or as I am managing people, I’m managing different skill sets.
Fred Diamond: What were some of those skills that you had seen that you really were enamored with that have made it to you?
Monica McEwen: I think the most important thing is consistency of effort. I think you see so many sellers that might be excellent at prospecting but they’re terrible with a follow up or they’re excellent at networking but they can’t really carry a technical conversation and so you have various skill sets amongst a sales team and trying to get the best out of everybody is really most critical but it’s that consistency of effort.
If you’re a phenomenal prospector but you’re not great at follow up, as a sales rep learning to identify that the consistency of the prospecting is going to pay off and then trying to leverage somebody else’s skills potentially in the follow up or honing further in on your own skills.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Let’s talk about you specifically. Monica, what specifically are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Monica McEwen: I think analytics, certainly, but I think one of the things that I’ve carried from every aspect of my career is really being engaged and curious. Being engaged and curious not only helps you to work with your prospects but also to continue to learn as the technology evolves so the analytic space has changed considerably since I began in it about 20 years ago but it continues to excite me because it’s ever changing and because it’s so relevant to every organization. It was when I started 20 years ago and it still is today probably even more so in today’s environment.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little bit about an impactful sales career mentor. You had mentioned at the very beginning that you went and made the shift from being in pre-sales or as a consultant to move into sales and you talked a little bit about the person who gave you that chance, but tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Monica McEwen: I really had two mentors. The first is my friend Porter Shomo. Porter had the confidence in me when I didn’t have it in myself and that was the biggest lesson he taught me in terms of taking a chance on me in my career but also for me, as I started to lead people, to try and install that same confidence in them to help them continue to grow. He saw potential in me and gave me an opportunity to grow, he knew that leadership was something I was interested in and so after just 3 years as a direct seller he was willing to promote me into a regional director and that really began my journey as a leader in sales.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned a second person as well.
Monica McEwen: My second is Brian McCarthy and what I’ve learned from Brian over the years is just how to build a team and Brian’s teams are incredibly loyal to him, primarily because he supports and mentors every individual in the team to be successful and so I’ve tweaked my selling and leadership styles based on the lessons I’ve learned from both Porter and Brian.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned something when you talked about Porter. You talked about how you were questioning the move from pre-sales to consulting and a lot of people who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast are making that shift. They became a sales professional like you, they kind of stumbled into it as you said, some people use the term “accidental sales professional”, someone saw something in them that they really felt would be helpful in sales. What were some of the challenges that you overcame in the very beginning to get to where you are now? What were some of those things you had to get past in the beginning?
Monica McEwen: I think I mentioned this earlier which is never stop being curious and interested, and I think one of the things that I struggled with when I first started in sales is how to engage with a client and how to engage with prospects. What I started to learn is from the second you start with a prospect – especially if it’s a top prospect – try and figure out as much as you can about that individual before meeting with them. The more you can learn about that individual before you pick up that phone and ask for the meeting the more relevant you’re going to be.
You’ve got to be genuine about it as well, so as you continue to engage with a client I think being very genuine and true to yourself is important so ask a lot of questions, be curious, try and get the customer to talk about what’s important to them. I think a lot of times people thing, “Oh, I’ve asked a lot of questions, my question should be when are you going to buy.” And that comes across as disingenuous.
However, if you ask a client, “What’s an important deadline for you, when do you need to be in production and what are some of the critical milestones you have to hit between now and then?” You get the information that you might need to help identify if and when there’s an opportunity but with a much more genuine approach as opposed to, “When are you going to buy my software?”
Fred Diamond: You’re an expert in the federal market for a number of years, for most of your career it seems. Can you do that with federal customers as well? Can you be engaging with the federal customer who has more rules to follow, contracts, laws?
Monica McEwen: It’s certainly a lot more challenging but I think that in general if the customer perceives that you’re trying to help them and if you are curious and engaged, you are genuinely trying to help them, I think they will open up as much as they can and certainly they have to comply with acquisition rules along the way but I think it’s still easy to try and uncover from the customer what’s their biggest pain, what’s keeping them up and night and how can you potentially help them.
Fred Diamond: Monica, tell us the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader.
Monica McEwen: I think there’s a number of challenges today, the sales landscape has changed considerably. I think one of the most challenging parts of leading a team is inspiring multiple personality types. Everyone has a different skill set, everyone has a different motivation level, everyone has something different that might inspire them personally so getting to know the team on a personal level for me, I think has really helped me connect more effectively and motivate these individual personality types. As I mentioned, there’s different skill sets that everybody has as well so trying to work to each skill on the team and identify where people’s strengths are so you can put a team together and make one plus one equal three and really try and get everybody working together.
Then I think from a customer perspective the buying journey has changed tremendously. The sales landscape is so much different than it was even five years ago. Everything’s available online and so the customer often has a preconceived notion of you before you even walk in the door. I think meeting the customer wherever they are on the buying journey and helping them see not only the technology but the other things that the organization is going to bring to them to make them successful is really important.
Fred Diamond: As a quick follow up on that, you’ve been in the federal marketplace for close to 20 years now. You talked about relationships and understanding what your customer is going through and what their pains are and what they’re hoping to achieve. Have you maintained relationships with certain federal customers for your entire career? And I’m curious how that has changed over time because of the changing landscape as you refer to.
Monica McEwen: There’s definitely some customers that I’ve maintained relationship with. I think almost as importantly in the federal space is the partner ecosystem as well so the large systems integrators that work with these clients day in and day out and are really an extension of the government workforce so certainly those relationships are absolutely critical to continued success in the federal market.
Fred Diamond: Let’s go back over your career. Tell us the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Monica, take us back to that moment.
Monica McEwen: I think I probably have two that really stick with me but I’ll try and pick out just one, maybe we’ll have time for two. I think the one that sticks with me the most is literally my first sale. I inherited a territory that was primarily wide open, I think I inherited one customer when I started in sales and the sales leader that took a chance on me said, “Give it a shot, let’s see how you do.” And I went and met with this existing customer and they were really unhappy. They hadn’t gotten value of the technology, things weren’t going well so my first meeting I said, “What’s working and what’s not?” And the list of what’s not working was much longer than the list of what was working.
So I put in place a get well plan, than plan included a weekly call, it included some training on our dimes and workshops with the client as well as a visit to the director of that agency. When I visited the director of the agency I had put together the get well plan and he said, “This is the first time anyone from your organization has been to visit me and you truly seem to understand what our problems are and what we need.” And a few months later they were successful and expanding their license, so that’s one that really sticks with me. Do I have time for a second?
Fred Diamond: We do!
Monica McEwen: Alright, well I think the second is more recently. There was an agency that I was trying to work with and I found out the day before a conference that the senior most military leader of that organization was going to be speaking the next day so I bought a ticket to the conference and I walked in and I sat in that gentleman’s presentation and I sat in the front row and I took a lot of notes during that presentation.
At the end he was surrounded by a group of people that were trying to shake his hand and meet him and presumably try and get a meeting with him. I introduced myself and he looked at me and said, “You were the one on the front row taking those copious notes, weren’t you?” And I gave him a quick value prop of what we could do for him based on what I just heard him present, and a few days later I was sitting in his office with a meeting and a few months later they purchased our software.
Fred Diamond: You started your career as a consultant and a pre-sales architect and now you’re running the federal division of a growing and successful start-up type of organization. Do you ever think back to those days that you were a consultant or does it feel so natural to you that you’re now in sales and that you’ve become this very successful sales professional?
Monica McEwen: I think sales is hard so it’s by no means easy. It requires work ethic and tenacity and a lot of thick skin because there’s a lot of bad days along with the good days. But I think the thing that I love about sales is being able to see a customer and how your technology can transform their organization. Again, if you can really understand the customer’s problems and make sure that your technology can help solve their problems, seeing that evolve is incredibly rewarding. I think that’s what keeps me going every day in sales.
Fred Diamond: I want to ask you one more question about that. Talk about the technology. How critical do you believe it is for a sales professional who’s selling technology to be truly conversant, truly understand, how deep do you think a successful sales rep needs to go when it comes to understanding the product that they bring to market?
Monica McEwen: I think it probably depends on the technology itself. But I think it’s really important for a seller to be able to articulate in the customer’s voice what it is that their technology can do to help them, because if you’re not helping the customer see the value that they might gain from your technology the conversation’s going to end quickly. So being conversant enough in your technology to really articulate to the customer what’s going to work for them I think is really critical.
And I think the deeper you are technically, it certainly helps.
Fred Diamond: Did you ever question being in sales? We kind of touched on this already but did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Monica McEwen: I haven’t, I’ve been very fortunate in that I have told myself my kind of career path is if I get up every day and I’m excited about what I’m doing, I feel challenged and I feel rewarded then I’ve selected the right career path. 20 Years later I still feel that way about sales.
Fred Diamond: Monica, what is the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Monica McEwen: This might be a little bit controversial but I would say to younger sellers don’t make your quota the only thing you think about, especially when you begin a conversation with a prospect. Instead, think about how you can be of service to the people that you meet. I think too many sales people are really quick to rush the sale in conversation before understanding if they’re even talking to the right prospect so take time to ask lots of qualifying questions to understand if this is a prospect that you can serve and then think about your understanding of the customer’s problem, and if you have something that can help with their problem and have intimate knowledge of that customer and you can bring them compelling value, you’re going to get to your quota. So think more about how you can serve the individuals that you’re speaking with as opposed to how am I going to close the sale.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. With the advent of marketing automation, a lot of young professionals believe that if someone went to their website they’re half way there. Well, as you and I both know, when you sell an enterprise sometimes you need to take years and sometimes you need to talk to five, ten, fifteen people to be successful.
Monica McEwen: Yeah, and you bring up a good point there, I just wrote an article of a compilation of New York interviews that a New York Times reporter did to CEO’s and one of the quotes that stood out from that article is one of the CEO’s that said, “Don’t be afraid to play in traffic.” And I took that as a metaphor that can be used in life but I think his point was you need to get out there and talk to people. So I think my second piece of advice for young sellers is the more people you speak with, the more you can understand customer problems, the more you can drive value.
Fred Diamond: Understand customer problems. What are some of the things that you do specifically to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Monica McEwen: There’s a couple of things that I do. Reading articles is – I’m a bit ADD, I would say – and so I read a lot of articles because they’re short, they’re consumable and it always stimulates a new idea or reminds me of good habits that I might have let languish. I use LinkedIn and Flipboard as my two main media outlets.
I also pick up good books, a couple that I would recommend, I think one that I read recently, The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, (by Anthony Iannarino) is a very good book and I’m also reading Legacy. It’s a story of leadership and how to install leadership across the entire team so that everybody on the team has a feeling of being part of it and taking a leadership role.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Monica McEwen: Having just joined MapD I’m focused on how to accelerate our existing customers to success which will in turn accelerate our revenue. I’m also very focused on how I can build a world class team that will be equally as passionate about helping the government solve some of the hardest data challenges as I am, the technology that MapD helps support is using massive piles of data to help our international security and help our military be mission ready.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Monica, we touched on this a couple of times about sales is hard, people don’t return your calls or your emails. Of course, in the marketplace that you serve, the federal marketplace there’s additional barriers that are up there as well. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Monica McEwen: I love the fact that it’s ever-changing. Every conversation that you have with a prospect and a customer is different so I have the opportunity to meet with people all day every day and have a different conversation. So I move from one meeting to the next and one meeting might be around how analytics can transform mission readiness, the next meeting might be around how analytics can help support national security.
The next meeting might be around how analytics can help support the readiness of our military. There’s just so many different conversations that you have throughout a day, it keeps it interesting and it’s ever-changing.
Fred Diamond: Give us one final thought to share to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast.
Monica McEwen: Sure, this one’s easy. Regardless of whether or not you’re new to sales or you’ve been doing it for a long time, look at the leader board each quarter in your organization. Who’s the #1 seller and reach out to that person, ask them to share the 2 or 3 things that they do every day that helps them achieve that success. Just like reading an article or a book, you’ll take at least one nugget away from that individual. I did that when I first moved into sales and I still do it today. Every conversation I have I get a new nugget or a new tip of a way that I can continue to improve and hone my skills.