EPISODE 007, TrackMaven’s Tim Koubek Tells Sales Leaders to Learn, Earn, and Return
Tim Koubek is the president and CRO of TrackMaven, a five-year-old start-up that was just named #183 on the Inc. 5000 for Fastest-Growing Companies. He’s led sales functions at various start-ups and large companies including RealOps, NFR, Contact Solutions, BMC Software, and Conviser Duffy—a start-up within Harcourt Brace—some of which have led to successful exits for the employees and investors. Over the past 26 years, Tim has also run basketball camps with his brother in upstate New York for more than 900 campers a year. He is a coach at heart with a competitive spirit that we will explore during the next 30 minutes.
Find Tim on LinkedIn!
Here’s a transcript of the podcast:
Tim Koubek: It’s funny, because I was in sales all along; I just didn’t realize it. In my first job I worked as an auditor over at Coopers & Lybrand when it was in the Big Eight, and while I was there I drove client business over $1.5 million as a 23-year-old,. Then I went on to coach college basketball, and what I realized was that in basketball, it was the people I’ve recruited, the kids that I’ve recruited. So here I was selling myself to coaches, the program, explaining why they should spend the next four years at RPI, which is where I coached, and I didn’t realize that that was selling until the end of that, and at that point I decided, Why not do this as a profession?
Fred Diamond: What exactly do you sell today? Tell us what excites you about that. What does TrackMaven do?
Tim Koubek: We sell marketing analytics software to marketers who want to be data-driven, to help them make better decisions. What excites me about that is there’s so much data out there right now that our customers are having a hard time looking at the data, analyzing the data, understanding what it all means, and if we can spoon-feed that in an easy-to-understand manner it makes their jobs easier, and we’re ultimately delivering value to them.
Fred Diamond: You sell to chief marketing officers?
Tim Koubek: Ultimately the CMOs will be the economic buyers, but we sell to VPs of marketing, heads of digital, heads of social media, so different people within the marketing organization will consume our value.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned you started your career at Coopers & Lybrand. Are you an accountant by trade as well?
Tim Koubek: By trade, originally. My degree is in accounting. You don’t see a lot of CROs who were accountants, but eventually it did help me. It helps me in my job today.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the lessons you learned from some of your first sales jobs? What are some of the things that have stuck with you over the years that you learned back then that have become part of your process?
Tim Koubek: If there’s anything I learned it’s making sure people are happy at the end of that purchase period.
Fred Diamond: I imagine you’re a mentor to a lot of the people here today, and from what I know about you, you also have that type of coach mentality, mentor mentality. Talk about a successful or an impactful mentor that you’ve had in your sales career.
Tim Koubek: I’ve got a lot of mentors inside and outside of the professional world. Inside the professional world, Steve Hindman comes to mind, over at Visual Networks, and Sean McDermott over at RealOps. But probably the most influential in regards to the profession itself was John McMahon, the COO of BladeLogic. He tied it all together for me. He made the profession of sales truly a profession and put on the final touches of what is process, execution, and people.
Fred Diamond: That’s a word that comes up in all of these podcasts: profession. Talk a little more about how John helped you understand that it was a profession.
Tim Koubek: He took the Parametric Technologies from a $1 million company to a $1 billion company in nine years. It was about the delegating. It was about having a process, and ultimately those things all led to scale. Those things really helped me. I was always very interested in the development of people.
Fred Diamond: The people you manage, the young people, do they seek you as a mentor? Do they understand the concept? Are they aware of it? How do you see that happening?
Tim Koubek: One of the reasons I took this job was to learn—not just to teach but to also learn. My hope would be that they seek me out for that and not just in the job; [not just] “How do I sell better?” but “How am I approaching the job and how am I a better holistic person?”
Fred Diamond: Take us back to one specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Tim Koubek: I’ll break it into two parts. At RealOps we were a small start-up. I love start-ups because ultimately I like to build things, and I like to make a difference in building things. At RealOps we sold a $2 million deal to Sprint, and it fundamentally changed their workflow and how they did their job. So it was extraordinarily accretive to Sprint, but it also changed the way we went to market because when you’re in a start-up you’re evangelizing a lot. You’ve got to get people to believe something that they don’t yet know they have a need for. And that process took an extraordinary amount of time. I think we had to interface with 50 different people from Sprint all the way up to EVPs.
Fred Diamond: You’ve had a great career in sales. Sales is hard. Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s not for me. I want to coach basketball full-time” or “Being an accountant, sitting in an office, plugging data into spreadsheets—it wasn’t really too bad.” Did you ever have those moments when you thought about sales as a career and whether it the right choice ?
Tim Koubek: I would say I don’t think I doubted the career of sales, because sales is absolutely everywhere. I always knew that naturally I like dealing with people and I liked helping people, and the quickest way for me to help people on an everyday basis is doing what I do today. I truly believe we make a difference in marketers’ lives right now and, therefore, within the company.
Fred Diamond: What is the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Tim Koubek: The advice that I would give is, you actually have to own all of your own development. If you’re in a current job today, you have a current boss, that boss might be great… but in five years you’re probably not at the same company. You’re probably not with the same boss. So you need to own your own development from job to job, day to day, month to month, year to year. You need to take that on yourself and own it.
Fred Diamond: That’s great advice. What are some of the things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Tim Koubek: Wow, that’s ever-evolving, especially as busy as we all are. It’s part spiritual, right? So I make sure that I meditate. It’s part physical; I work out three, four times a week. We just did the Tough Mudder as a group here. That was great, and it was super that this 49-year-old guy was able to finish. But I also stay committed to my craft. And again, it’s looking at sales as a craft, right? I am committed to being an expert, and that really comes in two ways. That comes in reading a lot of books, but it’s also going to association meetings, conferences, and speaking to other people and not just VPs of sales, not just leaders of the business but different functions: development, partnership, people because it’s that whole ecosystem that makes a difference.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Tim Koubek: I have a motto, it’s “Learn, earn, and return,” and that’s sort of how I manage… The major initiative for me is learning. Ninety percent of the population at TrackMaven is millennials. When I look at that it’s like, “How do I learn but still stay consistent in what I know?”, “How do I not give in to everything I hear?” and so for me my major initiative is to be truly aware of my surroundings and making sure I’m listening as much as I can to the people around me, which, at this point in time is not just customers, because a lot of my customers are millennials too.
Fred Diamond: So, a little diversion here. Why don’t you give us a moment or two on managing millennials in sales? What are some of the things that you, when you wake up in the morning and you come to the office that you’re conscious of because of the millennial or the young professional? Talk about two or three things that you’re very conscious of as it relates to managing that age group in a professional sense.
Tim Koubek: I think I have a great advantage because I don’t only manage millennials but I am managed by a millennial. When I started here I was just about 48 years old and my boss, Allen, was 24. So I was literally half his age, and the amount of respect that I have for him and what I have learned just in my conversations, he is truly an old soul. So when you have a conversation with him—übersmart, an old soul, he’s very empathetic—what I realized is when I now manage millennials as well, it’s not always in the delivery. They may believe something because they’ve heard it or saw it somewhere and not have the context. So I try not to overreact to the way the delivery is in what they’re telling me or how they’re saying it. What I have found is millennials tend to be really open to feedback when done the right way. And I think that’s important. It’s not that they don’t want to get better, but there is a lot of pressure on them. When they read, they’re on social media, they’re looking, they’re thinking that they should be president of the United States by 35. Like, no, that doesn’t necessarily happen, and I think that the group of people that I’m lucky enough to be around are very reflective in that way.
Fred Diamond: In the beginning part of your career and my career, you wanted to stay with the company as long as you could. Now when you look at the LinkedIn of a typical millennial in sales and an area like D.C. or Atlanta or the Valley or Boston, they’ll typically spend a year and a half with a company, then will move to the next opportunity. So as the president of the company, how are you dealing with knowing that even though you might have some great people here they may jump ship in 18 months for something that seems brighter?
Tim Koubek: It all does fit together like a puzzle. You have to be having conversations with people on an ongoing basis. But, it’s super important that they’re learning. What I do notice about millennials, if you go back to my “Learn, earn, and return,” yes, they want to earn, but that is not the majority of the people I work with. That’s not their driving force. They want to learn. They want to be challenged, and that is really the call of a manager.
Fred Diamond: Tim, sales is hard. People don’t return your calls. They don’t return your emails. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Tim Koubek: I like a challenge. If you’re not a competitive person, you probably shouldn’t be in sales, because you’re going to get rejected way more times than you are going to be accepted. But again, it comes back to the value. I want to help people, and I can help people on a daily basis by delivering the value, not selling the value. That’s important too, obviously. But I have to connect the two, and if I’m not delivering that value, I’m not helping people. That joy of when you see that and you deliver that presentation, that’s why I want to do it. That’s why I keep doing it.
Fred Diamond: Learn, earn, and return.
Tim Koubek: That’s right.
Fred Diamond: Very, very powerful. Tim, you’ve been giving us some great information here, some great advice for sales professionals at any part of their career, looking to take their career to the next level. Give us one final thought that you can share with the audience today to inspire them to go deeper in their career.
Tim Koubek: I believe sales is truly the foundation of every single profession. I mentioned that earlier. If you’re a writer and you write something great that you can’t go out and market and sell, you’re in trouble. You have to get it to the right publications. You have to get the right audience for your message, and it’s true in almost everything. If you’re an engineer and you create a great product, there are thousands of great products that they’ve created that never came to market because people couldn’t sell it. They couldn’t sell their idea to an investor. They couldn’t sell the product to an end user. My final thought is to focus on the good and you’ll get the value and the joy.