EPISODE 062: Link Labs Sales Leader Reed Fawell is Succeeding in Helping Companies Understand the Opportunities within the Internet of Things
Reed Fawell began his sales career shortly after college at a boutique professional services firm in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he helped American companies grow in the Argentinean and Chilean markets.
Upon returning to the US, Reed joined the Corporate Executive Board, CEB, as a sales executive selling best practices research and decision support services to human resource executives.
Over his 14 years at CEB, he grew to lead over 100 sales and account management professionals across the human resources, sales and marketing and finance practice areas.
Currently, he is the CRO, the chief revenue officer at Link Labs, the leading provider of Internet of Things technology for large enterprises.
Find Reed on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: Reed, why don’t you tell us what you sell today and tell us a little bit about what excites you about that.
Reed Fawell: Link Labs provides connectivity and technology solutions to large enterprises and we’re in the Internet of Things space. Specifically what we do is we provide the wireless sensor integrated devices to help companies more efficiently track and monitor their physical assets. We have an innovative lower cost way of getting that data to the cloud and then we provide a user interface to help our customers realize the ROI on the internet of things. It really comes down to two primary use cases for us, they’re both oriented around helping our customers reduce operating costs as well as better serve their own customers.
The first category of use cases is simply tracking assets, so it turns out that there’s a tremendous amount of waste and inefficiencies in companies of all shapes and sizes when staff members simply cannot locate the right type of equipment and materials, they need to get their job done at a particular time. For example, if you take a hospital, the hospital staff if they are turning over a surgery room to wrap up on one surgery and get ready for the next, often times they will not quickly be able to locate the right type of idle equipment that they need to conduct that surgery. That happens hundreds of times throughout a day, not necessarily in a surgery room but throughout the hospital.
We’re able to help them wirelessly monitor the thickness of those pipes that are transmitting the chemicals and oil and monitor their corrosion rates and identify where in this large complex are certain pipes more likely to develop leaks which obviously have lots of health risks as well as cost risks involved. We’re able to send wireless alerts to our customers and help them understand exactly where in these large complexes they’re likely to run into a potential health problem. There’s lots of different use cases, that’s one of the exciting things about this. I’m personally excited about this because I’m someone who doesn’t like waste. Personally, I’m the one who always is turning out the lights in the room when nobody’s in there so to be able to uncover with our customers opportunities to do that at the scale of millions of different assets throughout large companies is really exciting for me. Secondly, the Internet of Things is a very hot place right now. Depending on whose report you read there’s billions of assets that are connected today. In fact, I think the prediction by Gartner was that there will be more connected devices on the planet than people this year in 2017 so there’s a lot going on and so I appreciate the opportunity to educate our customers in terms of all the noise in the marketplace. What is true north, what’s an innovative, low cost way to get the job done and I enjoy being able to help them figure that out and being there to help them cut through the froth and foam, if you will, and identify what’s real and how to go about doing it.
Reed Fawell: There’s a couple different ways. Our largest customer segment is the direct end user, so they’ve often been trying to solve this problem in the past through machine to machine communications or through what have been solutions that rely on very costly and cumbersome infrastructures. In many cases, we’re able to come in with a cheaper, more effective way to do that due to some innovations that our technology and engineering team has developed which is namely addressing the two biggest barriers to ROI when it comes to the Internet of Things. The first is the cost of the device itself. When you put a tracking device with different sensors integrated into it and you multiply that times tens or hundreds of thousands or millions of things, that gets really expensive so if you can figure out a way to make that smaller and make the battery last longer, that’s the first biggest way to open up new ROI.
The second is the cost of transmitting that data over cellular connections when you’re using a cellular network or if you’re storing that data and so we’ve also been able to reduce the amount of data that’s being transmitted by that 90%. That’s the second biggest cost [Inaudible 06:59]. The first group of customers are those who are looking for a better way to do it or they’ve been trying to do it but never have been able to justify the cost because they just couldn’t get the right ROI and we’ve been able to make that real for them. The second are, this is where we tend to work with small innovative companies who are trying to integrate our technology into their own solution services, so they’re the ones who are going out and selling with the end customer and we’re supporting them, and that’s where from a sales strategy we’ve partnered with a number of companies so we actually have some really interesting channel partners who are out integrating out technology into their solutions.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about your career a little bit. How did you first get into sales as a career? We mentioned in the introduction that you started off your career down in South America helping companies but you and I also chatted before the interview that you’re a history major. Tell us about how you first got into sales as a career.
Reed Fawell: As a history major I had a concentration in Latin American studies and this was in the 1990’s when emerging markets was a big trend ad a lot going in the media about emerging markets. I had an interest in Latin America already and I had a friend who had moved down to Buenos Aires, Argentina and he was working with an investment bank down there. That was a time when Argentina was opening its economy, privatizing major parts of its economy. Buenos Aires is also a very fun, interesting place to be so I thought, “You know what? I’m going to take a flyer and go down there and see what I can make work.
So I went down there without a job, slept on my friend’s sofa, pounded the pavement and landed a job at a boutique consulting firm that was helping small to mid-sized American companies get into Chile and Argentina, helping them understand from a market research perspective how their product was [Inaudible 08:39] in the market, pricing, packaging, all that kind of thing. We actually latched onto the Home Depot who was opening up in those two markets and so we created an itch business of representing a number of their suppliers and helping them be successful in that market. I served as the client services manager which was really a very junior client success type role and the first sale I got was just through a personal connection I made down there. I got to know an attorney for an American firm who was also an ex pat and told him what I was doing over lunch one time and a few weeks later I got a phone call and he said, “Hey, I actually have a client who I think might need what you guys do.”
And that was my first sale. So I got the bud when I moved back to the states, I connected with Corporate Executive Board now Gartner through a friend who was already working there and that was my first real formal sales role. I was hired as a sales executive selling best practices, decision support tools to heads of HR and that was my first exposure to a real sales process. I had a manager who was already a proven sales professional, he’ll coach me and I had peers around me that were really there to support me so I feel really fortunate to have landed there from my first formal quota oriented sales role.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious, what are some of the lessons you learned from some of your first few jobs down in South America? What were some of the things that you learned there that have stuck with you through your sales career?
Reed Fawell: When I was there in South America I had an excellent manager but for most of my experience in Buenos Aires, my manager was in Santiago, Chile. I was in my early 20’s trying to figure things out as a first employee in the country and so I learned how to be resourceful in that experience. There was no playbook, there was no sales training, so I learned resourcefulness from that experience. I also learned how to prepare on how I communicated things because even though I learned to speak Spanish well, speaking Spanish in a business environment and wanting to be influential in my communications I really had to spend a lot of time with a Spanish-English dictionary the day before an important meeting or in crafting an email. I had to prepare very well for that and I also learned when I did come back to the States and I was in a structure where there was more organized support around me, I learned to really appreciate that and I didn’t take it for granted because I knew that I had been trying to make it without that up until then. When I did have that around me I felt like I really needed to soak it up and take advantage of it.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What specifically do you believe that you’re an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Reed Fawell: I appreciate the word brilliance, I’ll take it. I’ve been told a number of times that I’m relatively coachable so I think I’m pretty quick to pick up on what is working for other people or what’s working for me. Where I try to make that part of my success in more than just an individual contributor way was as I became a manager and as I became a manager of managers, I really focused on trying to understand what were trends that I was seeing, how could I document and put those into a framework that A, I could understand better myself and make sure it was real and then B, how could I teach that back to other people to make them more effective so they could always point to something and say, “Oh, this is what’s happening right now.
An example I’ll give just coincidentally, my career started at the Corporate Executive Board which was also the genesis of the Challenger Sale, as you know. Before the Challenger Sale was a well-researched, documented methodology I was picking up from my peers who were better than me and more experienced than me that they were leading with insights and they were teaching as well in terms of how they engaged with their prospect executives. I really picked that up and I employed that myself, I found that that worked and then as I was a manager at one point myself and one other team manager were trying to get our teams better at doing this – and again, this was before Challenger was a thing. We created a similar methodology that was by no means as well documented as theirs and sales collateral that really employed for our team, here are the six problems your executive probably has. Here is the documented insight with a graph case study and then a series of steps.
Here’s how you’re going to help that executive after you teach them the best way to go about solving the problem they have. Here’s the futures and benefits etc. that are going to help them get there. We called that inside-out selling and we called these documents engagement documents and those were the standards by which we used to help up-skill people and help them take that out into the marketplace. I’ve always thought to figure out how am I enabling others with a methodology that they can adopt to their own voice and tailor to their own personalities but gives them something to point back to as to, “Here’s what I’m doing. Here’s where I am in this conversation right now.” That’s something that I feel has benefited me and benefited others, hopefully.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about some of your impactful sales career mentors and how they impacted your career.
Reed Fawell: I feel very fortunate to have had an excellent group of mentors over time. I think of this as a little bit of a composite so I find myself drawing on them in a number of different situations so if it’s OK, I’ll cite three but I’ll be quick about it and they all impacted me in different points in my career. My first was Nandini Basu who’s now a chief executive officer at an organization in England. What she taught me was when I was a new manager, how to tailor my communications to different people on my team, not everyone was going to learn things the way I learned them. She really got me to think twice about how I was communicating to people and how to adjust and tailor that, and also to musk up the courage – and this is scary for anybody, I think, to get a direct informal feedback in the moment in terms of how am I doing, what are ways that I can change how I’m managing you more effectively. The second was Mike Archer who was the global head of sales for CEB for a number of years, and what I took away from him was that to be as effective as possible in the marketplace for your organization, for your teams was to know an organization from top to bottom. That is knowing your peers, the CFO, the general council, the head of product, understanding what their challenges are, understanding what their limitations are to get to the organization’s goal, but also making sure you know just as well the entry level.
What’s the feedback that they’re observing in terms of the company strategy? What do you think that they understand that they don’t and the companies get better at communicating? He really made sure if you know the organization from top to bottom, you’re going to be in a much more impactful place. Last was Steve Mire, he was the global chief revenue officer, again another – he’s today a CEO. By the time I reported to him, I was with a small number of other sales leads and we had all proven our effectiveness as sales managers, if you will, but his challenge to us was to be a really effective world-class leadership team. He imparted on us the importance of how do we make decisions as a leadership team, how do you have debates out in the open without taking things personally, how do you once you’ve made a decision, let’s say you and the minority disagree with the decision, how do you show cabinet solidarity so the team feels confidence that the organization’s taking the right path. All three of them imparted on me important lessons that I find myself drawing on in a number of ways currently.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Be coachable, understand your organization from top to bottom, what’s driving them, what’s important to them and then also be part of a strong team. Reed Fawell, tell us some of the biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader. Tell us the two biggest challenges that you face.
Reed Fawell: If you look up IOT or Internet of Things, there’s a lot of buzz going on the space right now and so a challenge and opportunity we have as a company is helping educate our customers, A, on what are all the options and how to help think through all the options for themselves, And, B, not just what are the technology options but how do you make the business case for all those different type of deployments that you can go with. The third would be – sorry, this would be my bonus one – is simplification. There are so many derivatives of use cases that different companies can use and how to find a good ROI but we find that asset tracking is a nice horizontal that cuts across industries. You can find a good return on investment for asset tracking across most companies and most industries.
Our challenge and opportunity is simplifying that starting point with our customers as much as possible and help them understand, “Here’s the business case, let’s get started on rolling out some pilots and see the ROI there. Let’s get to scale of asset tracking and then we can start looking at all the different ways you can measure and monitor different parts of your business as well as integrating our product into your own products and services to generate your own revenue and better serve your own customers” which has also been a secondary line of conversation we’ve had with customers once we’ve helped them with their own internal operations.
Fred Diamond: Very good. You’ve had a lot of success in your career. Again, you started off helping American companies moving into the Argentine and Chilean marketplaces. Again, you connected with companies that were selling via Home Depot into those markets. Then of course you went to CEB, Corporate Executive Board, now a part of Gartner for a number of years. Take us back, Reed, to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Take us back to that moment.
Reed Fawell: The most gratifying experiences I’ve had by far usually have to do with teams and other people being involved. There’s a few examples I can draw upon but one that comes to mind is at one point we did a large restructuring right after the financial crisis at CEB and we mostly got it right, but there of course after any major restructuring there’s a couple of areas that we realized after a year or so we needed to tweak and adjust. Specifically, we realized that we did not have necessarily the right talent and organization deployed against the right part of the market which was in potential customers who had no current relationships with us. Some might call those new logo sales. I was asked to pull together a team with talent from other parts of the company and other practice areas bringing them together into one centralized team, bring on external and internal managers to help me manage that team and make sure that we had the right culture for that team, the right compensation plans for that team, the right training and development for that team and that we were really deploying them to the market in the right way.
I find that that’s when the magic happens, when you have all those things coming together in the right way. We had a good initial year, we started out with between 15 and 20 folks in that team. By the time I left 5 or 6 years later it was 70, 80 people on the team, it had been the fastest growing channel in the company and then also had been consistently the most successful over time. That’s largely in part to the folks we were able to get onto that team and the management team that was running it by the time I left, but I look at that as a particularly important success to me because the impact is greater when you’re doing things as a team and also just the personal gratification. I look back at those as fun times and I find when I’ve achieved wins with other people, those are relationships that last a long time because you’ve been through shared experiences together.
Fred Diamond: 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”?
Reed Fawell: Absolutely, and I think it’s probably healthy to ask myself those questions with whatever frequency works for each person, but in my case what’s always recommitted me after maybe having some questions has been really asking myself, “What’s the mission of what this company is doing?” Like many who may be listening or many you’ve had on this podcast, I consider myself an accidental sales professional. I wasn’t planning on this, I really fell in love with a company and a mission and thought, “I’m going to be proud to go out and recruit people and be a part of that.” Oh, that’s called sales and they’re called prospects. I feel that way today about what I’m doing so if ever I felt a little bit uncertain about what I’m doing I just reorient myself as, “Am I proud to be doing what I’m doing right now? Do I want to myself or help other people go out and recruit people to be a part of that? (Customers) That’d be #1. The second one was actually a phrase that I learned recently from a business consultant and speaker named John Warden and he has a term which is, “You don’t have to, you get to.” What he means by that is you don’t have to get up at 4:30 in the morning and catch that early flight to go out and see an important customer, you get to do that. That’s a privilege to do that.
As long as you’re proud of what your company stands for, you don’t have to prepare for that meeting on the flight while the person actually was sleeping or maybe watching a movie on the screen, you get to do that. As you become maybe a manager or a leader, you don’t have to have that potentially awkward or difficult conversation with a peer about something that needs to change, you get to do that because you’ve been given a privilege and responsibility to solve that problem and help other people. I think that two steps. Am I excited on what my company stands for and my role on that, #1 and then be, I think for most people in the world, they would probably trade places with most of the people listening to this podcast in terms of the opportunities we have and what sales provides so that’s how I’ve turned my head around whenever I have questions. I do think it’s smart to be asking yourself that on occasion.
Fred Diamond: Reed, 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?
Reed Fawell: I think that I would say two things. One is try to understand at a micro and macro level what it takes to succeed, not only in your craft but at your company and by that I mean at a micro level, what are the little things that the best are doing to prepare for a meeting? What are the little things that they’re doing in the first two minutes of the meetings? What are the things that they make sure they do at the end of the very first sales meeting? How do they follow up with customers? I remember learning for example specifically how someone who is better than me took notes in their live meetings. They had a specific methodology for how they divided up the piece of paper to take notes in the most impactful way for the customer and for themselves. Those little things, they’re like compounding interests or dividends, I find, that if you do all those little things with consistency you’re going to dramatically increase the likelihood of your success and your customer’s success. At the macro level that would be, “OK, now then take a step back for how I’m going to have the best experience for this prospect and this customer.”
Do I really understand what I would call the physics of my business? What are the inputs that are going to get me to where I need to get? For example, how many first sales interactions do I need on a monthly basis and how am I tracking to those? What are my assumptions on how many of those first sales interactions will turn into a new customer? What’s my average price point that I’m assuming as I make my plan to hit a number for a year and as I go along the year, am I above or below that? How do I need to adjust that? It’s taking a step back and figuring out where am I right now in my plan and where do I need to make adjustments to get there.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you’re doing specifically to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Reed Fawell: First, I try to stay healthy personally because life is busy and complicated enough so I try to get exercise, get enough sleep and eat well. There’s all sorts of data now that shows that that’s not just good to do because your mom told you to do it but we’re more creative and energetic and frankly more fun to be around the business world when we take care of ourselves. Secondly, I try to spend time with peers outside of my company as much as possible. I find myself very energized if I meet a peer who’s doing something similar to what I’m doing for breakfast or to meet up after work. Not only do I come away energized from that, I learn something but I also have seen some research from when I was working at CEB that when new executives especially transitioning into a new role, that one of the key indicators of whether or not they’re going to be successful is how much time they spend with peers or doing a summer role at other companies which I thought was a great insight I also personally enjoy doing.
Lastly, I do listen to podcasts. I’m not just saying that as a plug for your podcast which I think is quite good, but when I do spend time in the car I think that’s a great way just to pick up one or two things from somebody else, so I’ll listen to podcasts in my industry [Inaudible 27:42] of what’s going on, I’ll listen to business oriented podcasts and then I also try to listen to podcasts that aren’t necessarily about business but that feature interesting, successful people so I can maybe get inspired from places I don’t expect it.
Fred Diamond: That’s very good. What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Reed Fawell: I think with Link Labs it touches on what I mentioned earlier. Simplifying our message to our customer base and to our prospect base about all the things you could do when it comes to connected devices, different types of sensors, different ways to achieve ROI through the Internet of Things. What are the few things that are going to be the easiest to do and achieve the best ROI before you start taking on the more complex things. We as a company in terms of our messaging and our content marketing are really trying to home in on those messages and as we interact with our customers we’re trying to make it easy for them to make the business case, understand their business so that they can start to deploy our way of achieving that outcome.
Fred Diamond: We’ve been getting some great insights today from Reed Fawell, he’s the chief revenue officer with Link Labs, a company that’s involved with the Internet of Things helping companies improve their operational processes, reduce costs by using Internet of Things technology. Reed, we’ve talked about some of the challenges that you faced over the course of your sales career but sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your emails. Why have you continued? Again, you were an accidental sales leader but what is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Reed Fawell: I think that if you believe in the mission of your organization, that is inspiring and then if you believe that you have the right tools to go out and help the company achieve that mission by communicating that message and managing the process well and doing right by our customers, I find that very inspiring and exciting. That’s first and then secondly, there’s a lot about sales that can be very individualistic and there’s a lot of times when probably every person who’s been in sales career felt a little bit alone and like they’ve got a big mountain to climb but I also enjoy working on teams. Everywhere I’ve worked so far – and I work hard to do that myself in leadership roles – is to really make it feel like a team outcome so that everybody in the team sees, “Here’s what’s expected of you but here’s how what you’re doing fits into the broader outcome.” I think that that’s a lot of fun, so to have a measurable timeframe – usually a quarter or a year – and a measurable outcome that you can orient yourself towards and others towards is just a really gratifying way to live, that’s why I read up year after year for this type of challenge.
Fred Diamond: Very good. We’ve talked today with Reed Fawell, chief revenue officer, CRO at Link Labs. We’ve gotten a lot of great insights into helping your customers achieve their goals, helping them understand the value that you can bring by making them more successful. We also talked about understanding the need to understand everyone’s role in the organization and one of the key themes that kept coming up time and time again, Reed, is the value of teams. The excitement you get from being on good teams. We’ve had a number of people that we’ve interviewed for the Sales Game Changers podcast who also have come from CEB, that’s one of the common themes and of course things that relate to the Challenger and helping ensure that you show your customer true value. Reed, I thank you for being on today’s podcast. Give us a final thought to help inspire the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast.
Reed Fawell: Sure, I guess my final thought would be as you dedicate yourself to your craft and whatever it is in life that you’re trying to be the best you can be by understanding what are the tactics and strategies and skills I need to develop. I would also consider in my observation, when I think the highest of somebody, when I think to who are the peers that I respected the most, they’re not only very committed to being an excellent sales professional, but they’re also great colleagues and so my thought would be – I actually went to talk recently by the author and New York Times columnist David Brooks. He used a phrase which really impacted me who’s called resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Eulogy virtues sounds very heavy, doesn’t it? What it really means is we should all be striving to achieve things, whether that’s meeting or exceeding your customer’s expectations, your company’s expectations.
Maybe it’s making president circle or chairman’s club at your organization but the people who I have found to be the winners and the most successful professionally and personally are doing all those things but they’re also a force for good in their organization. The people who are positive energy givers, not energy vampires who may be a negative force in the office around peers. They’re the people who not only have the most rewarding relationships with their colleagues and with their customers but guess what? They’re also the people who I find have the most long-term business success because people want them to succeed. People will send them business leads even when they don’t work with them anymore because not only do they respect the professionalism with which they’ll treat those business leads but they actually want them to do well because they really respect them.
They will refer them when an executive search firm calls and says, “I’m looking for somebody to fill a really exciting role.” They’ll say, “That person is really competent and really excellent at what they do but they also have a high degree of character and I’m actually proud to be associated with them by referring them.” So my last thought would be to work on your resume, work on your achievements but also be a great colleague because I think that you will find the respect that you’ll garner from your peers is way beyond those who simply hit their numbers and go home at the end of the day.