EPISODE 106: Perspecta’s Sean Mullen Imparts How Starting His Career in Procurement Led to Biz Dev Success
SEAN’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Career improvement is really around success and success comes from focusing on your client. You’re in growth, you’re in business development. You could talk about it and be theoretical, but at the end of the day no matter what industry you’re in, you have to know your client better than who you’re competing against. Everything else flows from that.”
Sean Mullen is the Senior VP of Business Development at Perspecta.
He previously held sales leadership positions at DXC Technology, HPE and Northrop Grumman.
Find Sean on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Your company is now called Perspecta, that’s a rebrand. Tell us a little bit about that.
Sean Mullen: It’s a coming together of three companies. A few months ago things were put in motion and basically came together on one June. The public sector unit of DXC, KeyPoint, which does investigative services and Vencore came together and we formed Perspecta on 1 June. This market, this industry’s changing a lot. Companies are buying and selling each other and they’re all doing it for some different reasons. There are a lot of great companies coming together and doing cost takeouts and trying to gain scale.
What’s unique about us is really how complementary the companies were both in capabilities and where they cover markets. I’ll give you two quick examples to highlight that. Two of the primary companies – Vencore and DXC – were both at NASA, for example. Vencore was doing mission support for launches, we were running the desktop environment, completely different pieces of work but you can see when you do mission it needs IT to do it and when you’re doing IT you’re really supporting a mission so it’s complementary in capabilities.
And at the Navy, we’ve been running the Navy environment for a long time at the enterprise level. Vencore does mission planning for the Tomahawk missile. You can see distinct but you don’t watch Tomahawk without IT support, it’s running on a network. Really complementary and that’s what we launched on 1 June.
Fred Diamond: Tell us specifically what you sell today, what you’re responsible for and tell us what excites you about that. I’m getting to feel some of your excitement, the way you just described some of the services that you offer but tell us a little more about that.
Sean Mullen: I could give you a standard answer on what we sell and list a bunch of offerings. What I’d like to tell you is what we sell is a customer outcome. That is what’s unique about the public sector space, we’re not running around selling a laptop or a PC, we’re understanding a customer problem and we’re going to solve and get to a customer outcome. That could be anything, and you can think the variety of missions within the public sector space.
Helping loans become processed at the department of education, Medicare medicate claims being processed at CMS, supporting our national defense at homeland security intel and DOD, that’s what we sell, is that outcome. Clearly we get there with offerings and we focus it on cloud, we focus it on analytics, we focus it on cyber security and we have a great portfolio of IP, but what I really look forward to is solving that customer outcome. I would like to think that energy or excitement and passion you hear from me is not just the role of growth or business development but the market that I play in.
Being here in Virginia – the public sector space is very satisfying. It isn’t just about success of the company or individual success growing, it’s seeing you solve a problem and no matter what your view of the government is and the size of government, everyone wants the government to be efficient, everyone wants it to operate well. It’s seeing that outcome again, seeing those claims processed at CMS, seeing those loans being processed at education based on solutions that we’ve given them, that’s highly rewarding.
Fred Diamond: Very good. We do have people who listen to the podcast from all over the globe. Most of the people that we interview are in the public sector space or technology, we have a lot of people in hospitality of course. You gave a great answer because they want to know what is the value of selling to the public sector market places and what type of a pleasure, what type of accomplishment can you feel in that particular career. You mentioned that you started your career working for the government. How’d you make the shift into sales?
Sean Mullen: It’s a great question. I spent 10 years buying for the government. In our space the government has people who are acquirers and procurement people and so you learn to do that and I learned a lot. What I think I learned when I was a government person is really the value of good business development or salespeople. As a procurement officer I get visited by everyone, they’d all come in and talk to me and you could quickly distinguish who was there to bring value, who had value to offer and who was there just to talk about the Patriot’s game that Sunday. You quickly separate those people.
When I decided to go try outside the government, an old peer of mine said, “Why don’t you try this business development thing?” It wasn’t my natural training out of college, it wasn’t my degree but I saw I had an affinity to the mission, I had an affinity towards people, I said, “That’s a good start so let’s go and do it.” I got into it at that point, got training, had a great set of offerings and capabilities – you can’t sell unless you’ve got something to sell at the end of the day – and so I went into it and got off to a great start. Had great mentors and went from there, and just found great passion in talking to clients, understanding their objectives and missions, aligning it to what we as a company did well and coming back with a value proposition that was different from our competitors.
Fred Diamond: Interestingly, we’ve got two types of people that we interview on the Sales Game Changers podcast: we have those who were selling lemonade when they were 10 years old and went melee into business or sales and then we’ve got some who were engineers, who were consultants, who were technologists and they realized that they had a gift for communicating or they really understood the mission of the customer. You’re probably the first person that we’ve had who’s been in procurement for the government. Is that common? Are you the only guy you know who has made that shift? Because I don’t know too many.
Sean Mullen: I think you’ll see pockets of it. There’s a couple people, different types that come into the public sector space. You get a lot of ex-government people and we teach them how to sell or you get natural salespeople or growth people and you teach them the domain. The government as a whole, this industry is not easy to an outsider. The language is different, the missions are fairly unique so those are the kind of where you come from but either way you have a blind spot you have to go fill in.
I didn’t grow up as a kid thinking I was going to be a BD person or a growth person but I think we all exhibit work styles and tendencies early on that go to the right place along with proper mentorship. You mentioned a couple of mine, I think I have the ability to communicate, I have an ability to collaborate I think within this industry, I have an ability to see where the market’s going to go two or three years from now and that’s what led me to where I am today.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the other lessons that you learned when you made that shift? When you first started moving, all of the sudden you are in sales now so you have a quota, you have goals you need to reach.
Sean Mullen: I’ll tell you, when you’re in the government space the first trait you learn is patience because the sale cycle is so long. That’s the fundamental difference between public and commercial, there’s a lot of process in our industry so you have to learn patience. I think as you know as anyone who’s been involved, you have to have some level of thick skin, you’re going to lose some deals, you’re going to get no on occasion. How do you pick yourself up and keep going? As you move up the ranks, that’s where you show real leadership.
It’s easy to show leadership when things are going great, but when you’ve gone after a deal and you weren’t successful, but you did everything right but you just got beat, that happens. That’s when you show leadership and you try to teach the team how do we learn from that, go forward. Those are some of the things you learn.
Fred Diamond: For the people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, one of the unique things about selling to public sector is that people who did what Sean did in procurement, there are laws. There literally are not just rules or guidelines, there are laws on how you need to go about the procurement. Did knowing that help you when you moved into sales? Obviously you understood the process, but understanding the mentality of procurement.
Sean Mullen: I think the commonality of growth between commercial and government is the elements are still there. It’s customer focused and it’s certainly still a process no matter who you’re selling to or who’s buying, there’s that. When you’re the public sector space, you’re dealing with tax per dollars. There’s certainly processes also enforced by law, because so that just makes it different but you still have to build that relationship. You still have to understand the client, you still have to bring them something of value. Knowing how the government operates is clearly beneficial. I know how they’re going to get to their decision, I have a good sense on what factors go in to make that decision but I would not have anyone out there shy away from it if they didn’t grow up in the government space.
Fred Diamond: Sean, I’m going to ask you a slightly different question we typically ask because of your background. There have been very few people that we’ve interviewed on the Sales Game Changers podcast who have been buyers. Most of them have been sellers, maybe they were users of technology or were various types of products and or services. Again, at procurement you were a buyer for, you mentioned the first 10 years of your career. For the people that are listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, most people who are listening to today’s podcast are in sales, of course. They want to take their career to the next level or learn from the experts that we bring onto the podcast.
Can you give us a little bit of insight into what it was like as a buyer? You mentioned that you looked at the certain type of sales professional. Did they want to talk about the Patriots or did they want to help you. Give us a little bit of insight for the people who are listening who are trying to get better at the art and science of selling, of the mind of the buyer and some things that you were constantly aware of.
Sean Mullen: In reference to some of our training practices we have here – and I saw on the best BD people when I was a buyer – first of all, you have to have the skill of inquiry. When I was there, are you asking me questions? What are those questions and are you actively listening? And their value add question. Again, it’s not about what you did over the weekend, it’s what you’re problem, what’s the objective, what’s your mission, what are you trying to accomplish? It’s active inquiry. As you know, in any growth cycle it’s persistent and it’s multi touch. How does inquiry then turn into advocacy? At some point I want something of value offered back to me, I just don’t want to have multiple meetings as a buyer or a seller of, “Let’s talk about my problem statement.”
At some point I’ve got to solve the problem and I want an outcome. When does it go from inquiry to advocacy? I come in as a buyer and now hopefully as a seller but I look for those people who can come and advocate. If I have a network security problem, I could tell you that five times but eventually I would like you to come and tell me how you’re going to help me solve that network security. It turns to advocacy. Ultimately in our space how does it turn into a valued proposition, a discriminator that makes me look different than the two or three other companies?
As a buyer, that’s what I really look for. Who is interested in my true mission, who is listening to my mission, who actively showed next time they met with me that they took what I said and turned it into something that brought value back to me, that mixture of inquiry and advocacy is key.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about what are you specifically an expert in. Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Sean Mullen: What am I an expert in? Here’s what I would say. I think the discussion we’ve had, I think my understanding of a complex environment is a skill that I bring. Again, I’ll attribute a lot of that to my 10 years of being on the other side. I think that helps me move forward. I think I have some level of excellence in talent identification, I think I have some level of excellence in understanding where the market’s going to be, not where it is today.
Fred Diamond: Good. Most of the Sales Game Changers that we’ve spoken to have had some impactful sales career mentors along the way. Can you tell us a little about one or two of those mentors and how they impacted your career?
Sean Mullen: I think mentorship especially for me was early on. It was a big move to go from being a government employee/buyer to being an industry person who’s going to sell. Those first one or two sales managers, BD managers I had at Northrup who really taught me the ropes. It was about those skills we just said, take what you learned as a buyer and now flip the roles and bring it. Just don’t go in there and depend on your Rolodex because you know a bunch of people and say, “Hey, let’s go and do this and this.” What are you going to offer them? Go in there, be persistent, understand you’re going to get rejected at times, understand your relationship is going to change but it’s for the better.
You’re going to go bring them value. Those early mentors to me were incredibly important. When I came here, in 2010 to HPE which has become DXC and now Perspecta it was a different type of culture than I had at Northrup Grumman so I need some people to guide me here to be successful. That’s something I look for now, is that mentorship for new entrance, new people come on the team or new employees. Getting them off to the right start is key.
Fred Diamond: Sean, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Sean Mullen: I might bundle up into one issue which is talent. This is a tight labor market and getting the best talent on your team is something I worry about every single day. Recruiting it, retaining it and growing it. Everything else pales compared to that because we are as good as our team. Growing the business in this space I imagine most industries have some level of team sport collaboration. You grow that, you learn that over time, the teams become better over time. It’s one, it’s issue two, it’s issue three. It’s talent, talent, talent. Getting it, identifying it, getting in, growing it and keeping it.
Fred Diamond: Sean, what’s the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? Take us back to that moment.
Sean Mullen: This is where I don’t want to be too selfish on this thing, because I don’t want to go back to something that necessarily was about me. What I like best about the public sector space is when a team under me gets success. We’ve won a number of big deals across the industry and there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a team who’s executed the plan, they’ve talked to the client, they’ve developed a solution, it’s discriminating and in our cycle two or three months later we get the call at 5 O’clock saying, “You’ve been selected.” Seeing that team celebrate, to me that’s the most joy. I was lucky enough to be part or lead those teams to get individual successes early in my career.
As I moved up, I found that I began to get more enjoyment seeing those teams when those deals – whether it’s a big outsourcing deal for the navy, whether it’s mission support deal in the intelligence community – to know that you gained a thought leadership with that client and they decided to pick you over other companies. That’s the rush of this job.
Fred Diamond: Sean, you made that shift again, you were a government employee in procurement for 10 years. Was there ever a moment when you questioned being in sales when you made that shift? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Sean Mullen: We all have moments. You get an outcome that you don’t want and you sit there and you go, “What happened?” but I can tell you with absolute clarity there is no role that I would rather do than the role of business development. There are some people who go through and they decide, “Do I want to be into general manager, do I want to be an account manager?” I’m BD, I’ve never had that point of conflict. I love business development, I love all that goes into it, I love the collaboration, I love the communication, I love the interaction with customers and I like the outcome.
There’s a beginning and an end, just don’t linger forever. You find out whether you’ve won or not and it’s competitive and I love that. You augment that with the fact that I love doing this in this industry which is so special to me to be in the public sector because it’s so interesting with the variety of missions and now clearly as a member of Perspecta’s leadership team, a company that has so much potential. Put altogether I don’t have much doubts. I don’t lay awake at night wondering whether I made the wrong career decision.
Fred Diamond: Sean, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior sales professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them improve their careers?
Sean Mullen: Improving careers is really around success, success comes from focusing on your client. You’re in growth, you’re in business development. You could talk about it and be theoretical, but at the end of the day no matter what industry you’re in, you have to know your client better than who you’re competing against. Everything else flows from that.
You have to know what they want, you have to know what they need, you have to understand who the decision makers are. If you’re looking for success, even with all the blind spots we all have, what you can always focus on is your client no matter what industry you’re in.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Sean Mullen: Training. Again, the recognition that we always have blind spots. What I’m lucky enough here with Perspecta is also the energy and the insight you gain from a new leadership team. We have a mixed team that came from the legacy companies and it refreshes you because you see new perspectives, you see different points of view.
None of us have all the answers. I’ve learned more and less since one June just being part of a new leadership team because we all come from different places. You don’t always get to have that choice to refresh, but stay on top of your training. Stay part of associations, stay engaged, this career field requires energy, it requires passion. This is not a career field for someone who’s not completely in.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Sean Mullen: As you can imagine with the launch of a new company, training is #1. You can’t be successful growing the business unless you know what you have to bring to your clients. Coming from multiple companies that brought different things, job 1 is to make sure our customer facing teams – whether it’s in business development or the people running programs – understand the full set of capabilities from mission support, cyber security. We talked earlier about inquiry and advocacy, those are all under pin by understanding what you bring. Training is top of mind right now.
Fred Diamond: I have a quick question. A lot of the Sales Game Changers listening to the podcast today are with new companies, or maybe they’re going to a new company. You obviously have a brand new brand of Perspecta. How much of your time and energy right now is going back to the customer to educate them on what the mission is of Perspecta? Have they been reading the trades and pretty much know, or what do you think?
Sean Mullen: Major focus a leadership team. Right after the launch, I was lucky enough to be part of a leadership team that went on a first week tour of major customers and employee events. I think we’ve done a tally, 100+ of the customer engagements, town halls, all kinds of numbers of the whole leadership team. Our CEO has really passed all of us to engage with our clients to make sure the brand gets launched. We have some company here in the room today and their marketing communication team has done a great job with the launch. You’re going to see our brand everywhere and you’re going to see it often and people are going to know what we stand for.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Sean, we talked about a lot of the challenges and I loved your answer a few seconds ago that you need to know more about your client than the competition does. One of the main themes from the Sales Game Changers podcast is how much more value you need to bring to your customer. The customer can get information anywhere, they don’t need you to educate them anymore per se, but how do you understand and how do you bring value?
It’s hard. The customers don’t always return your phone calls. You even mentioned before too, they’re not on your time frame. Of course, with the government there’s a buying cycle but sometimes it could take years if not many years. Why have you continued? Again, you made the shift from being a procurement officer with the government, 10 years in you moved into sales. You gave us some great reasons why. What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Sean Mullen: Again, I know I repeat myself but it’s really that passion, the outcome that you can see. There’s a beginning and an end, it’s competitive, we compete with every company in this town. That brings out the competitor part of us. It is the industry satisfaction. When we win, we see the outcome about what we want with efficiency for citizen facing organizations or supporting national defense. If you can’t get excited by that, I’m not sure what gets you excited as far as a work excitement. That’s what gets me up every day, that’s what drives us every day. Again, I love this career field and I love this market.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Today’s Sales Game Changers podcast we talked to Sean Mullen, senior VP of business development at Perspecta. Sean, why don’t you bring us home? Give us a final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe today.
Sean Mullen: Sales and BD is a noble career field. It’s an important career field, no matter what industry you’re in. It is what drives growth, it is what creates jobs for employees, it’s what drives customer outcomes. I can’t think of many other career fields that have the impact of that. I think people figuring out what they want to do should think strongly about business development and growth. This isn’t some just salesman walking around with a suitcase, this is impactful stuff for both your company and for your customer base. I think it’s highly rewarding and satisfying.