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EPISODE 143: NetApp Public Sector’s Rob Stein Says This Approach Will Lead to Sales Success in Transforming Industries
ROB’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Find something that you believe in. It could be a cool product, it could be a technology, it could be an industry, it could be a customer set like I’m passionate about serving the Defense customer. Once you find that, put everything you have into it. Just immerse yourself and then finally find somebody to hook your wagon to, to help you, guide you along the way and help bring you along.”
Rob Stein is the VP for US Public Sector at NetApp.
Prior to coming to NetApp, he held sales leadership positions at Oracle and a number of defense contractors.
Find Rob on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Rob Stein: Thank you, Fred. It’s great to be here. Let me start off with the fact that I never really wanted to be in sales. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer growing up, a mathematician, an engineer and when all the people came looking for sales folks at my college I’d refuse to interview with them. That’s how I started out, obviously things have changed since then.
Fred Diamond: I’m looking to see that transition. What happened, what made the shift? Did you start out in engineering after college, and where did you go to school, by the way?
Rob Stein: I went to Washington University in St. Louis and I did start out in an engineering job after college. One of the parts of the job was I worked for a consulting firm and not only did you do engineering work, but you had to write a lot of proposals and I loved writing proposals, I loved the strategy, I loved ultimately the win that you would get out of the proposals. That’s when I started to think, “Maybe sales isn’t a bad place to be.”
Fred Diamond: What happened? Tell us about how you first got into sales, what made that transition?
Rob Stein: As I was writing these proposals early on in my career, I said, “I want to do this more, I want to develop business more than I do the engineering side of things.” What I did was I found a position in a company that I met through writing a proposal and teaming with that company who wanted to bring on a full time business development person. I said, “I’m in” and I went over to that company and I started doing that full time, started doing capture management, going out prospecting and using and actually owning win strategies for the company. When I started doing that, I was hooked and I knew that I wanted to be in sales.
Fred Diamond: We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, what does the term “capture management” mean? You just used that term.
Rob Stein: Capture management is a longer term strategic initiative around a program that a customer has where it’s very complex, you bring in multiple teammates in different functional areas and you manage the effort to go win that program.
Fred Diamond: You’re the VP of US Public Sector at NetApp. Why don’t you tell us what you sell today and give us a little sense of what excites you about that?
Rob Stein: At NetApp we sell data management solutions. We’re known as a data storage company which we have been, but we are evolving now and our evolution is around helping our customers use data to transform digitally. Obviously there’s a lot of data out there, there’s a lot of customers, a lot of organizations that are trying to figure out how to leverage that data whether it’s to increase their effectiveness, to better support their mission for example in the government space or just to go find new markets in the commercial world. NetApp is in the business now of helping our customers leverage their data and become visionaries with their data.
Fred Diamond: We’re going to ask a little bit later on about some of the challenges that you face as a sales leader but you used the word “transform” and you mentioned that NetApp had been a data storage company, now has transformed into data management solutions. Give us a sense, if you don’t mind, from a sales perspective what type of challenges that now means for selling professionals who’ve been selling data storage for 10, 15, 20 years.
Rob Stein: It really is a challenge because we’re asking folks to think differently. Typically selling data storage is about putting a box in the data center, but now data can live anywhere. It can live in the cloud, it can live on a device, it can live anywhere. Now it’s about really understanding how our customers use their data versus understanding how much data they need to store or how fast they need to access it. It’s no longer just speeds and feeds, it’s about what’s the value of this data to you and making that transformation from being able to sell a specification to selling value to support a customer’s or an organization’s business or mission area is a big transformation for some folks.
Fred Diamond: As a sales leader who’s responsible for that, what are some things that you do? Is there a whole lot more training that comes in, do you have to hire different types of people? What does that look like for the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe?
Rob Stein: There’s training that the company provides, there’s other sources of training as well but a lot of it is closely inspecting, getting your hands dirty, rolling up your sleeves and getting in there with the sales teams to watch how they’re conducting sales calls, to watch how they’re preparing for their sales calls and offering very constructive feedback to evolve towards what this new way of thinking has to be. It all starts with somebody needs to say, “I need to change” and then they need to get enabled, go out and do the training that’s out there, keep up with where the industry is going as well as have good managers and leaders that are in the trenches with the teams helping them evolve.
Fred Diamond: Let’s go back to the first part of your career when you made that shift from engineering, you started doing capture, you decided you enjoyed doing proposals and you made more of a shift into BD. What were some of the lessons that you learned from some of those first few sales jobs?
Rob Stein: First thing I had to do is figure out what are the right things to be doing and I wasn’t sure what a salesperson did but I had a manager. I asked that manager frequently what are the right things to be doing. High activity level, calling on new places that currently don’t have our products, cold calling, just getting out there, being able to talk about the breadth of offerings that a company may have. Then ultimately bringing value to that customer, that was the first thing I really thought of from a customer facing standpoint. Being an engineer, I knew how to add value to the customer. I’d bring a technical solution to them and talk technically but being a salesperson, I had to think what are the other ways I can bring value? Early on I figured that out so my customers wanted to see me when I called them up to say I’m coming to make a sales call.
Fred Diamond: Again, as an engineer it’s obvious. You know the technical specs, you know the details, you know how the technology solutions fit in in their environment. What were some of those things that hit you when you moved into sales?
Rob Stein: I think the value piece to me is multiple dimensions. What I really focused a lot on was the business model and cost is a big driver for folks, so what’s the return on the investment that our customers are going to get? I focused a lot on that, I quantified it quite a bit and then the mission benefits. What’s really the mission of an organization? What are they focused on, what are the pressures that they have as well? Figuring out how to address that with the offering that my company had.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about what you’re an expert in? Tell us more about your specific area of brilliance.
Rob Stein: I got really good at building business models, and basically I would be able to show a customer in a spreadsheet – I’m pretty good with spreadsheets – what their cost might be over some period of time, say five years, if they did nothing. Then I compared that cost to the cost that they’d have if they took me up on my proposal. I typically would show them a return on that and also I’d couch that in maybe 4, 5, 6 pays proposals that I could put in front of them and brief them at an executive level or on the ground at any kind of level they might need to show that value, not only quantify the value in the business model that I’ve set up, but also articulate the benefits and the risks if they did nothing. I think that’s the skill I really hone was focusing on that business model and then a very concise value proposition.
Fred Diamond: You must have had some great mentors along the way, why don’t you tell us about an impactful mentor and how they impacted your career?
Rob Stein: I don’t think I’d be here if it weren’t for a couple real mentors in my world. First, the person that brought me over to NetApp was Mark Weber who is my predecessor and I’ve known Mark for 30 some years and I knew him since he was an individual sales rep. He very much helped me progress my career from being an engineer into sales and then progressing as I went along.
I also had a great mentor in my last boss at Oracle, a gentleman named Dave Ray who actually runs Public Sector at Salesforce today and Dave was the best at getting in the trenches with me when I was a sales rep. He would help me knock down obstacles, he would set the stage for not giving up on anything and he really brought a high intellect to the sales process that I learned very much from him and thinking through a lot of issues. Again, whether it’s the value that the customer has or its particular problem that’s in the way of closing a deal. Those two folks are most notable to me and I attribute a lot of where I am to their mentorship.
Fred Diamond: Interestingly, we’ve had both of those gentlemen on the Sales Game Changers podcast, we just published one with Mark Weber which was a great episode. Of course, he moved from NetApp and has created a great program at the Catholic University of America. We did interview Dave Ray as well and that was actually one of my favorite interviews. We’ll post a link to both of those podcasts in today’s show notes. Rob, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Rob Stein: We talked about transformation, and as a sales leader you’re only as good as your people. Finding the right people that are willing to transform or have transformed and are looking at customers in a very different way who aren’t afraid of disruption, who have maybe disrupted themselves or been in an industry that’s disrupted a lot of what’s going on in IT. Getting the best people in that regard is really a big challenge and then the corollary of that is keeping those people once you have them. Your high performers, it’s very competitive out there for sales roles so keeping your best people, keeping them motivated, incentive to continue to perform where they are is also a big challenge.
Fred Diamond: Is it also a challenge for a company like NetApp? Again, arguably you’re one of the most successful companies in the history of technology, a very well-positioned company, if you will. Is it still a challenge to find good people and to bring them here?
Rob Stein: It is, because the industry is changing so much, there’s so many exciting companies, startups that are coming out of nowhere, cloud companies that are really starting to take over a lot of our business. The grass looks greener in a lot of other places so our challenge is showing the individual that the grass is pretty green here and the shiny object is still at NetApp.
Fred Diamond: Again, you’ve worked for NetApp, of course you’re leading US Public Sector and you worked at Oracle and a couple defense contractors. Why don’t you tell us about the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of?
Rob Stein: I have to think back to probably my first big win when I was at Oracle. It was an enterprise license agreement for one of the navy commands and it took about 3/4 of the year to create the value, to work the sales motion and basically we got the CIO of that command to say yes three days before the end of the quarter. They actually put it in procurement which in a government situation is not always a short time frame and they got it done in a couple three days and I got the order. I felt so excited about this, I literally took my family to Disney World the next quarter.
Fred Diamond: Again, in today’s Sales Game Changers podcast, we’re talking to Rob Stein, VP of US Public Sector at NetApp. Rob, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, again you made the move from engineering. What was your degree, by the way?
Rob Stein: Called System Science and Mathematics which is basically the math of all the engineering disciplines.
Fred Diamond: When you were in college coming out, you said you had no aspirations to be in sales. Now you’re running one of the top sales teams in companies that are focusing on the US Public Sector marketplace. Did you ever question being in sales? Again, you made the shift, you talked about what happened when you started working on proposals and you started to see the value in what you were doing, but did you ever thing to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s really just not for me”?
Rob Stein: I have, particularly at the beginning I wondered, “Am I too methodical? Am I doing sales like I’ve been an engineer? Am I sociable enough? Do I build enough relationships?” Begin a technical person, I’m used to working on a problem and being very methodical about things so when I finally was able to release myself from having to have perfection every step of the way and having to be methodical on everything I do, I then started to think, “This isn’t a bad thing.” Particularly when you start getting some wins you really are sold on sales as a job.
Fred Diamond: What’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them improve their career?
Rob Stein: As I mentioned early on, I think bringing value to the customer is really important. Understand the details of your product, understand the details of what the customer is trying to achieve so you can actually bring that value and be methodical about it. You don’t have to be slow, but there is a process, there is a logic to a sales motion so be methodical if you know the details about all aspects of the customer and your products. I think that’s how you can bring value.
Fred Diamond: What are some things you do today to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Rob Stein: One of the things I do and I love doing is getting out there in front of customers with engineers. Our engineers are critical in the IT industry to talk about our products so I learn every time I go out there with our technical folks about our products, about the value that it brings as well. I also call up and talk to sales reps who have wins or losses and I get details from them as to why they thought they won and why they lost and I ask a lot of questions to fully understand, “Are there new things in our environment that we need to deal with across the whole sales organization or are there specific things that that sales rep needs to better understand that they can learn?”
That helps me learn and helps me stay sharp with things that I have to do around sales. The last thing I do is I try to find things to do outside my sales job so whether it’s helping with a diversity initiative within the company or other change agenda issues that the company is having non sales related, I just learn a lot more about business in general and about other functions.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Rob Stein: The major thing we’re doing we’ve touched on a little bit is figuring out how to transform our sales organization from this hardware selling group of folks to the future and what our customers are going to be looking for, the new digital world that our customers are trying to get to. To me, that is the #1 thing on my mind and I’m working on that every day.
Fred Diamond: You talked a lot of things, the whole concept of transformation is one that’s really interesting. Obviously a company like NetApp’s been around 30, 40 years?
Rob Stein: About 25 years, actually.
Fred Diamond: 25 years and of course now with the cloud. A lot of the conversations we’ve had on the Sales Game Changers podcast are people who are either selling into the cloud or trying to figure it out or their customers are trying to figure it out. We’ve interviewed people from Amazon Web Services and IBM and other places like that. The whole notion of transforming, especially if you’ve been successful for 15, 20 years and all of a sudden so much has happened in the last 5 years, it’s got to be such an enormous challenge. That makes sales even more challenging, of course we hear about people not returning your calls or your emails. We’re doing today’s interview in the early part of 2019, the show is going to be broadcast in the winter of 2019. We’re also going through a partial government shutdown right now, so of course you focus on your leading the US Public Sector, there’s macro challenges that come in, there’s micro challenges. Why have you continued? You made that big shift from engineering, you didn’t think you were going to go into sales. For our sales listeners on the podcast today, what is it about sales as a career, even in challenging times like this, that have kept you going?
Rob Stein: I think the primary thing that keeps me going is the people interaction. In a sales role, that’s really what it’s about. It’s about being out there, creating relationships, maintaining those relationships, interacting with all kinds of folks. At the end of the day, to get a deal closed you’re asking somebody to put something at the top of their inbox that may not be there so you have to have a good relationship with those people. Then all the folks you have to collaborate with to go win a deal from a customer, so the people interaction to me is what I really love about sales also. Ultimately, I’m very competitive. I grew up playing sports so I think the thing that really keeps me going is winning and every time I win something, that just gets me excited to go on and try to win the next thing.
Fred Diamond: Rob, I got one last question before we ask you for your final thoughts to inspire our listeners today. We talked before about one of the challenges is hiring people and we talked about there’s a lot of competition, shiny new companies out there, if you will that maybe are just getting funded. Why would someone want to come work at a company like NetApp when there’s plenty of options to even medium performing sales reps, let alone the stars?
Rob Stein: First of all, NetApp has an incredible culture where from the CEO on down people are all involved with the business. We get any kind of help we need from anywhere. Secondly, I think the transformation that NetApp has made from this data storage company to this data management company is very attractive because we’re going to where our customers want to go. We’re understanding that our customers have a lot of different ways to manage and control their data and NetApp’s going to be in the middle of that or not just in the data center anymore or in the cloud. We’re wherever our customers want to be. We’re following one of the biggest shifts we’ve ever seen to the cloud and you can be a part of that if you join NetApp.
Fred Diamond: We have Sales Game Changers listening all around the world, why don’t you give us a final thought to inspire them today?
Rob Stein: I think it’s so important to find something that you believe in, and that something can be a lot of things. It could be a cool product, it could be a technology, it could be an industry, it could be a customer set like I’m passionate about serving the defense customer. Once you find that, that’s the first thing that you need to do, put everything you have into it, 150% put it all into it. Just immerse yourselves and then finally find somebody to hook your wagon to. I was fortunate, I mentioned a couple mentors that I had but make sure you have somebody that’s going to help you, guide you along the way and help bring you along. Find something you love and find somebody that’s going to help you with it, and I think that will be the key to success.