EPISODE 097: Former Symantec Sales Leader Randy Cochran Offers Tips on How to Hire for Growth and Consistent Performance
RANDY’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “When you get to that point where you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on because the wind’s going to change, somebody’s going to come along, a call you made six months ago and order a six figure order from you. If you’re out there in the marketplace making the calls and doing what you should be doing every single day and you haven’t had a lick of success but you’re doing all the right things, it will happen. “
Randy Cochran has over 30 years of software, hardware and cloud experiences in direct, indirect and telesales go to market strategies.
He’s well known for leading the partner and channel programs at Symantec.
He also ran the Northern Virginia practice for Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm focusing on VP level and above assignments.
He’s had a great career leading sales teams and working with top sales executives.
Find Randy on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Randy, it’s great to have you on the Sales Game Changers podcast, why don’t you tell us a little more about yourself and fill in some of the blanks?
Randy Cochran: Thanks for having me, Fred. I appreciate the opportunity to be here. A little bit more about me, as you mentioned, 31 plus years in sales, sales leadership positions, very fortunate to have been with a number of really good companies and really good people, that’s been my career throughout so if it wasn’t sales it was sales leadership and all facets of sales whether it was direct, indirect, telesales, I’ve had a real gambit of experience, if you will. Really enjoyed it and wouldn’t have changed much.
Fred Diamond: Very good. We mentioned 30 years’ experience so obviously you’ve seen a lot of things change and evolve over time, so look forward to chatting about that throughout the podcast. Randy, why don’t you get us caught up, tell us what you’re selling today and tell us what excites you about that.
Randy Cochran: I’m an advisory board member of an early stage company called Secure Home and when most people think about security, they think of physical security – the doors, the windows and such. We’re that next level, we’re a virtual security for all of your IOT devices on your network, a thing that we like to call IDAR. We actually inventory all of your pieces, they’re on the network and then we actually can show detection where we’ve got anomalies going on. We’ll alert you that this is going on and then we’ll remediate. No one’s doing this right now in any great way and we think we’re on to something, Secure Home.
Fred Diamond: Tell us how you first got into sales as a career.
Randy Cochran: The first real sales job for me was with Xerox Corporation and looking back on it now, it probably couldn’t have been a better place to start because Xerox spends a lot of time on training down to the basics. I was actually sent out to Leesburg, the Xerox training facility out there for a couple of weeks just to learn how to sell typewriters. Very thorough, videotaping the whole nine yards, it was excellent. When you leave there you are definitely ready for battle and felt equipped to do so, so I got a really good foundation from Xerox in their training facility. After being with Xerox for about 4 years, I went to a company called VM Software, is about an 18 million dollar early stage company right here in Tyson’s Corner and when I left VM Software we were about 160 million and they later got acquired ultimately by CA.
Fred Diamond: Very good. I didn’t know about your Xerox background, a lot of the people who’ve been in sales for 20, 30 years who we had on the Sales Game Changers podcast have gone through Xerox training or IBM training or NCR training a couple people have been through. What about that has stuck with you over the course of your career? Again, for the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe today, the Xerox training center in Lansdowne I guess not far from Leesburg was a legendary place where all the great sales professionals went, Neil Rackham and all those people put the programs together and help really birth consultative selling as we know in a lot of ways.
Randy Cochran: It’s a great training facility, they’ve captured you, you’re kind of locked in, locked down but there was a lot of expectation as well so they told you was what to be expected and if you didn’t deliver, you went home. Opening day there were tests and that was all based on material they sent you ahead of time. If you weren’t ready, you got sent home so there was a lot of emphasis on being ready and I think one of the overriding principles that Xerox instilled in me and in others was to be prepared and to listen to the customers, the old adage of two years and one mouth and use them in that proportion. They really drill that in and it’s not a feature’s dump or a feature’s benefit kind of thing, it’s more about listening to the customer, what are they doing today and how can this machine make their life easier, make it better.
Fred Diamond: You’re probably the fifth or sixth Sales Game Changer that we’ve interviewed on the podcast who has exactly said that you’re given two ears and one mouth and use them in that order. As a matter of fact, we had a podcast recently with one of our mutual friends, Gary Newgaard, who actually used that expression as well. I wonder if that came back from the Xerox days, I don’t think he started off at Xerox but one of the themes that has come across from day 1 has been listen versus speak. I’m just curious, what are some of the things that you’ve done over your career to be a more effective, active listener?
Randy Cochran: There are times when you’re listening to somebody that you want to step in, you want to interrupt and stop them and you’ve got to resist the tendency to do that. I usually have a pad of paper and I’ll take notes as I’m listening and I’ll star them if I want to come back to them and reiterate or pound home a particular point but I think more importantly what it shows the customer is that you are paying attention to them, that you’re listening to every word they’re saying and that that’s important to them that you feel that way.
Listening is a skill set, also being prepared about their industry, knowing a little bit more about them than maybe they even knew themselves. It’s a very good thing if you can go back to a potential customer and tell them about two or three thing you learned about their industry, it shows that you care.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Tell us a little more about you, what specifically are you an expert in? Randy Cochran, tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Randy Cochran: Not sure I would use the word brilliance but having said that I think we all have times where we’ve shown or shined a little bit brighter, that something really worked well. I think it really goes back to being a peer to somebody and I learned this very early on from one of my bosses who was clearly my boss and when he introduced me at a work social setting as, “This is Randy Cochran, somebody that I work with”, not work for, and it was that little change in the sentence and I’ve never forgotten that because it made me feel proud and big and I remembered that. People don’t work for you, they work with you and I’ve tried to do that every time I worked with my team as well.
Fred Diamond: You’ve led teams along the way, what are some of the strategies that you had to make the people feel that they were at that level with you?
Randy Cochran: I think knowing them personally, knowing their world, who they’re married to, how many kids they have, all those kinds of things, remembering somebody’s birthday, just little tiny things and if you forget, that’s OK. Go back around and say, “Hey, I forgot last week was your birthday”, noticing little things like that and anniversary just picking up on things. Just talking, maybe you don’t talk about business at this meeting, maybe you talk a little bit about business but we’re going to talk about you, the individual. Where do you want to go? Find out what they’re up to, what their aspirations are.
Fred Diamond: Who was an impactful sales career mentor and how did they impact your career?
Randy Cochran: I’d probably have to say two, come to mind. One was Bob Fitzsimmons at VM Software. Bob was kind of a military crusty curmudgeon kind of guy. Some people liked him, some people loved him, I happened to be the latter and he was a big motivator for me, very down to earth, straight ahead let’s go but also a very soft heart. We were both colleagues and friends and there was probably 12 to 13 years between us in terms of age so felt really good about that.
The other one would have to be John Thompson, CEO of Symantec. I used to describe John as silk, you’d see him in a room, a board room with 20 partners around the table where I’ve got an advisory council meeting and he’d literally go around the room no paper, no pen, no nothing, I had that. And he would sit there and go around the room to each person and ask them or have them ask him questions and then as they went around the room he’d come back and he’d summarize each person’s point as he went around, pure memory, and then loaded up and everybody around the room jaws hitting the table like, “How did you do that?”
Now of course, I had everything described and we were recording the meeting but nonetheless he was just phenomenal and fantastic memory for names. I remember being at a quota club in Hawaii, he’d never met my wife but he knew what her name was when he came up to be introduced, “You must be Noreen” and that stuck with my wife.
Fred Diamond: We interviewed Gigi Schumm for the Sales Game Changers podcast, she’s currently the sales VP at Threat Quotient, I know she spent a good amount of time at Symantec as well and I’m reminded that she also listed him as one of her mentors.
Randy Cochran: He’s that good, definitely is.
Fred Diamond: That would be a great skill to have. Randy, you’ve led sales teams. What are the two biggest challenges that you believe sales leaders face today?
Randy Cochran: First one is people, having the right people in the right chair at the right time. Everybody develops at different speeds but having the right people on demand, if you will, and what that means I think is you’ve got to be interviewing all the time even when you don’t have open reqs. You need to be in the marketplace interviewing who your next hire might be because you never know when somebody’s going to say, “I’m out of here, I’m retired, I’m going to the beach”, whatever.
The second thing I would point out that’s kind of tough to do is do not subscribe to bad breath’s better than no breath. If you’ve got non-performers on your team, either move them up or move them out. Sounds very hardcore but often times what I’ve seen is the person who’s not performing doesn’t really want to be there either so it’s convenient to have a check coming in every two weeks but if you’re not getting the performance it’s pretty obvious in sales so either get them up or move them out.
Fred Diamond: I ask what are the two biggest challenges sales leaders are facing today, you’ve had a 30-year career. Has that always been the #1 challenge?
Randy Cochran: I think so. I think people are what drive the revenue. Sales is a very clear path, you’re either making it or you’re not. You can have up years, down years, up quarters, down quarters but over the long haul there needs to be a consistent level of performance and having the right people to help you do that.
Fred Diamond: Again, we mentioned before you worked at VM Software, you started your career at Xerox, you had a very successful careers working for one of the top recruiting firms, Heidrick & Struggles. And of course you led the partner program at Symantec. Take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Randy Cochran: I think it would have to be – and we were fortunate to do it twice, once at VM Software and once at Symantec where my entire team made club that year. Club was not just 100%, you had to be one of the top performers over 100% to be able to go so having your entire team there at VM Software was very cool. We had pictures where we had the broom in front of us – clean sweep, that I think is extremely difficult to do and doesn’t happen very often so it was kind of cool.
Fred Diamond: Randy, you’ve had a great career in sales, you’ve given us some great examples. Did you ever question being in sales? Again, you’ve had a 30 year career of success. Right now you’re on the advisory board at a startup firm called Secure Home. Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Randy Cochran: I’m sure I did have those moments where like, “Holy moly, what am I into?” but the next sale gets you out of that slump pretty quick. I think like any sport you can go up to the plate and strike out and you’re wondering, “Am I ever going to be able to hit that curve ball again?” or whatever it may be, but I think you just got to step back into the box. It is the one career that I know of that is directly related to how successful you want to be. If you want more money then go sell more stuff, software, whatever it may be and that always intrigued me. You want a raise? Go sell something. It was very directly related to your performance.
Fred Diamond: One question before we take a break and listen to one of our sponsors. Again, you’ve managed direct sales organizations and you also managed indirect of course when you were at Symantec most notably. Are there any distinct differences between leading direct sales efforts and leading channel or indirect efforts that readily become available to you?
Randy Cochran: Having had experience on both sides of that equation I would tell you that they both are very challenging and they both are very rewarding but I would say indirect is more difficult because your partners have alternatives. A direct salesforce has to sell what’s on the menu. A partner can sell your competitor, a partner can sell anything but yours so how do you make sure that they’re always representing or at least a great percentage of the time that they’re always presenting your product? I would say indirect is a little tougher than direct but they’re both a challenge for sure.
Fred Diamond: Randy, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Randy Cochran: Be a sponge. Go after as much information as you can possibly get. If you’re in a sales organization, seek out the top hitters, who are the best performers, take them to lunch, pick their brain, what are they doing? You don’t have to figure it out, you have to go around to those that already have and pick their brain. I would also be a voracious reader of any of the information you can get your hands on whether it’s sales techniques, whether it’s the feature function list of the products that you’re selling, just continue to invest in yourself every day.
Fred Diamond: I want to take a short break and ask you a certain question. Again, when you’ve been in ground in sales for thirty somewhat years, you worked for some of the best companies, again Xerox had the world class sales training program. A lot of the sales training programs aren’t available anymore, they’re available but they’re not being as deployed by companies.
The sales lifespan of an average sales rep in some cases is much shorter. That’s great advice, how specifically would you tell a young person, would you tell them to spend their own money? Would you tell them to go to the company to put them in a training class? How would you tell someone specifically, what does it mean to invest and how would you encourage them to do so?
Randy Cochran: If the company you’re working for is not making that hard dollar investment in you or in training for the sales teams then I would seek out. I’d probably go online first because I suspect you probably don’t have a whole lot of money to be spending on these kinds of courses and there are online vehicles where you can get information. There are vehicles like what you’re doing, where you’re sharing information from other sales leaders about what works which you might want to try. It’s a constant effort to move the needle so you want to make sure you’re investing in yourself, try to learn something every day. It sounds hokey but I think it’s true, if you make that investment in yourself, over time it’s going to pay off.
Fred Diamond: I was talking to a CEO of a company recently, we were talking about millennials learning how to get better at the art and science of selling and we talked about do they have money to invest in these things and her comment was, “They’re spending 60 bucks a weekend on Uber from going to point A to point B, use some of that money in some of the investments.” So Sales Game Changers listening in, don’t do Uber this weekend, take Randy’s advice. Go online, listen to the podcast, it’s your career, right?
Randy Cochran: It is very much so.
Fred Diamond: Did you always feel that way? That even though again you worked for – again, I keep harping on Xerox because I love talking to people who started their career at Xerox because I know what you were given access to. But did you feel that it was your career, that you really went after it and it was up to you to be successful?
Randy Cochran: A check every two weeks was made out to me, so I think the short answer is yes. That’s the way you have to look at it, this is your career, what are you doing? Don’t rely on the company doing it for you, go out and figure out what you need to do to be better and I think that one piece of advice about knowing who the top hitters are and see if you can fit underneath their wings somehow, see if they can be your mentor.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great advice. They’ll probably answer your questions. You’re here today talking on the podcast because you want to give back, you want to give some of your ideas, you’ve had a great career. A lot of the people who have had careers similar to you who’ve been on the podcast I know that they want to give back. They want to talk about the lessons they’ve learned, they want to see people take their career to the next level. Speaking of that, today, Randy Cochran, what are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Randy Cochran: Read every day whether it’s online, just trying to stay current on what’s going on both in the world and in this profession. I’m starting a new venture with this Secure Home team and it’s a whole new world where everybody says, “Oh, it’s Secure Home.” It’s not what you think, it’s not physical, it’s virtual. It’s all the IOT devices that are on your network and most people that’s the big thing, you have no idea how many you have on your network and if your kids have somebody to come over, “Hey Mr. Fred, what’s your WiFi password?” that IP address is now on your network even when they’re not there. A lot of these pieces and parts are out there and having to stay current on all that for an old guy like me, I mean, sure I worked at Symantec but most people know it for any virus. It’s not IOT devices, so big difference, trying to stay current in an ever-changing world.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Randy Cochran: That’s it, just trying to stay current on my situation with Secure Home, being that sponge that I mentioned earlier trying to absorb as much as I possibly can and still have fun with it. I think the more you can draw analogies when you think about radar and then you think about IDAR, that’s how I put it together is terms of making it simple that I can understand.
Fred Diamond: Randy, you’ve given us some ideas about how sales is hard. Again, you’ve had a great career but I asked you the question about which is harder, direct or indirect and you said they’re both hard. Sales is, people don’t return your calls or emails, people can hide out more now, they don’t think they necessarily need the sales professional in the way they might have when you were back at Symantec and VM Software, but why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Randy Cochran: I think sales as a career is one of the few – there are others – but it’s one of the few that you can make a very good living at selling something that you understand that customers need and that they want. When those two vectors are there, the need and the want, it makes your job a lot easier. It’s just finding that right person at the right time and as an old boss used to say, when you get a no you’re just that much closer to a yes. Keep plugging away.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought? Give us one final insight to share with the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast around the globe.
Randy Cochran: I think regardless of what kind of career you’re in but certainly for sales you’re going to get a lot more no’s than yes’s and when you get to that point where you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on because the wind’s going to change, somebody’s going to come along, a call you made six months ago and order a six figure order from you. If you’re out there in the marketplace making the calls and doing what you should be doing every single day and you haven’t had a lick of success but you’re doing all the right things, it will happen.