EPISODE 131: Sales Leader and Ironman Competitor Charlie Minesinger Shares Why Treating Yourself like a Professional Athlete is Critical to Sales Success
CHARLIE’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Think of yourself as a professional sales athlete. You want the best coaching, you want to train daily, you want to constantly try to get stronger, better, fitter, improve your game every day and you want to work on the details. You want to practice over and over, you want to welcome feedback, you want to seek it out, you want the harshest feedback, you want the toughest competitors and you want to work your butt off as a professional sales athlete. It’s a great way to think of yourself.”
Charlie Minesinger is the VP of Sales at Racktop Systems.
Prior to Racktop, he was at Distil Networks and at Siemens Enterprise Communications.
Find Charlie on LinkedIn!
Charlie Minesinger: Thanks, Fred. It’s great to be here. A few things, I think it’s always interesting to have a little background and most people might not know. For instance, I lived in Africa for 4 years and speak two African languages. You might say, “Why is that relevant in a sales situation?” I would say I learned a lot of really good active listening skills and empathy, the ability to understand what other people are going through.
Fred Diamond: What are the two languages that you learned?
Charlie Minesinger: I speak Swahili and Southern Sotho. I also have completed the Coeur d’Alene Ironman Triathlon, a Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa. Again, “Why does that matter?” I think a lot of sales, at least from my perspective, is about perseverance, pushing through, always striving, always working harder, doing all those things that seem tireless. The workouts in the dark and after hours, what have you, then you get your glory on that day when you actually run the race. It’s that sort of thing, and the last thing which is kind of neat is my grandfather I was named after actually ran the east coast sales for United States Steel back in the 40’s when they were selling steel on bridges around New York City and before that. A lot of sales pedigree in our family.
Fred Diamond: I’m looking forward to hearing how that’s applicable today, you’ve already begun to give us a taste for that. Just curiously, when was the last time you were in Africa?
Charlie Minesinger: It’s been a while, actually almost 20 years, probably.
Fred Diamond: You’re definitely the first guest that we’ve had who speaks two African languages, some of our guests struggle with English – no, that’s not true. They all speak tremendous English, I’m the one who struggles with English (laughs). Tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Charlie Minesinger: At Racktop Systems we sell a cyber-converge data solution. It’s a network attached data storage and it’s delivered as a software to fine storage. The things I’m really excited about are it has nation state security functionality and compliance features embedded and built into it. It’s the only product of its kind in this category and it outperforms the competition when security and compliance are in demand and requirements.
In fact, earlier this year we won the CODiE award and we beat out a couple of companies that are valued at well over a billion dollars. It’s a rock solid product and from a sales perspective it’s very exciting to be in a young company with a product that’s so mature and it’s got so much adoption already.
Fred Diamond: Who do you sell to? Who are some of the markets, is this primarily a government sale or is it commercial?
Charlie Minesinger: Funny enough, even though the founders are engineers that came out of the NSA, of course we sell to the government, but we also have had tremendous success in other industries like media and entertainment because they want high performance data storage, they care about protecting IP, healthcare, financial services, they have a lot of compliance requirements, they have a lot of security requirements and universities, research environments. Some of those research environments have a lot of security and compliance issues because maybe it’s secured or classified research. In other cases, just very large scale data sets and they need high performing storage and we can provide that.
Fred Diamond: Take us back to the beginning of your career, how did you first get into sales as a career?
Charlie Minesinger: I actually began locally here in the DC market after I got back from Africa, and I was doing consulting and then from consulting I got into some product management. In product management I got close to the sale and I got pulled into the sale and I was consulted on how to help do the sale. I think I felt more comfortable in the beginning because of my engineering degree, “I shouldn’t be out front”, but after a while I just couldn’t resist. It’s been a while now that I’ve gotten into sales, I really enjoy learning technology, solving problems and working with people. From those positions where I was influencing and supporting sales, I just stepped forward and moved in the front seat, picked up a bag, started carrying quota and off I went.
Fred Diamond: What were some of the key lessons that you learned when you made that transition?
Charlie Minesinger: One of the hard lessons is when you lose. I think that in the startup world we always talk about “lose often” or “make mistakes often and learn.” For me, some of the lessons from losing were people buy from people and sometimes it’s really not obvious that has anything to do with the product. It’s not clear that one product, even though you have all the features and everything, are the reason why somebody bought the product. I think that was a tough lesson as an engineer, “This is faster, you said you wanted something faster.”
I still lost the sale, so understanding the other dynamics around the sale and the other thing that you learn in sales is – it’s an engineering concept, too – sales is about results. At the end of the day, results come from effort. You can always try to do things smarter and you can always try to engineer a better sales process, be more efficient, work faster. In the end, you want more results, you put in more effort. You can’t seem to ever get away with it.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, what does that look like to you when you say you need to do more effort? You mentioned before when you were doing your practicing for the Ironman, you were running during the night, running in the morning when it’s dark. What does that look like in sales?
Charlie Minesinger: In sales, the reality is that there’s always competition and if you’re always thinking that you’re all set and resting, we all can look at the technology landscape every 5 or 10 years and look at who are the top 10 companies, who’s rising, who’s falling and there’s a lot of movement. There used to be a company called Yahoo! we thought were going to rule the world and who in the late 90’s had ever really heard of Google? I guess they started right around them, but honesty the turnover in the tech company is you’ve got to always be looking over your shoulder.
It means you’re always measuring, you’re always looking to do things differently, you’re always looking over your shoulder. I think if you want the kind of job like maybe when my grandfather was selling and things were somewhat set for a period of time and you could work for a company for 25 years, great but those things are long past.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about yourself, tell us what you specifically are an expert in. Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Charlie Minesinger: Following up on my last response, things are transient. Expertise in this day and age is transient. “I’m an expert in fax machines”, that’s great. “I was really good at dial-up modems, Fred.” It’s one of those things where at one point, I was really good at FORTRAN coding. “That’s super, Charlie. That’s not very valuable, not.” At the moment, my expertise within the company – I think of it within the company and outside the company. Within the company I’m focused on the problem of scaling sales, a technical sales organization so it’s all about feeding the funnel, managing the funnel, automating as many steps as we can and building processes and such that will allow us to scale.
Things are growing very fast, the way we do things today will not work 12 months forward. What does it need to look like, what are the tools we need to put in place, what are the processes and things that we need to automate and just make some decisions in some cases? Separately, expertise outside the company, I’ve been doing cyber security now for about 6 or 7 years and that’s a very broad market at this point. It’s obviously a hot market so I’m going to continue to invest learning about some of the different technologies of different companies, the technology landscape, the threat landscape and related to that is compliance and how that relates to cyber security efforts, what’s working and what’s not.
Fred Diamond: You’ve had a nice career in sales, you’ve had a nice, long career. I’m sure you’ve had some mentors along the way who taught you some things and got you focused, why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Charlie Minesinger: That’s a great question. I think in general, I try to learn the best I can from each person I interact with. I’ve had mentors who I really didn’t like – I won’t name them, obviously – but I learned something from them you can take away. I think you always have to try to learn what you can. In this case I’d say I’d call out Rami Essaid, Rami was the founder of Distill Networks. As a sales leader, Rami instilled in me a mentality which I wouldn’t say I’d lost, but I don’t think I had the ferocity that he has, his relentlessness of, “We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to do this.”
It never would rest until we had the solution, had he answer, got things going and he made me even more demanding on myself and more data driven than ever before. I think Rami brought out this relentlessness and this data driven mentality which, frankly, has been very helpful. I think as part of that, the idea that in sales we’re always going to be testing, hypothesizing and that’s become mine. I’ve developed that myself, it ties into my engineering education, you’re making hypotheses, you test, you make measurements, you evaluate and you iterate. It’s consistent with this transience, things are always changing, you’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on to the data.
Fred Diamond: Let’s go back to that for one second. We did a great show a couple episodes ago with a gentleman named Ed Beaurain, Ed’s with Tableau and he talked about what it means to be a data driven sales manager. You just brought that up, tell us what that means. What kind of data do you look for, how often do you look at the data, how do you consume it, what do you demand from your team, how to use systems? You don’t need to answer all those questions, but just give us a little synopsis on what does that really mean, what type of data driven stuff do you need to have.
Charlie Minesinger: It’s a great question, Fred. The thing I’d want to quickly point out is data is not everything, for sure. In more transactional sales or high velocity sales, the data can be very meaningful. In online or self-checkout situations it’s very different. No one’s buying Racktop Systems at a checkout, it still involves human interaction and such so we use the data to influence what we can. I don’t try to get more information or try to do more with the data and automate more than I can with the data.
I think it’s always important to understand what the data can do in the sales process. What I’m saying is there’s a quantitative sales process analysis and there’s a qualitative. What are we saying, how are we saying it, how are we interacting, what’s the messaging and the methodology that we’re using in sales? For me, I use a variation of Sandler, I really like that methodology for selling. It’s really the combination, but for me Sandler is something that’s set, you go through that, the qualitative pieces at the moment I don’t think are things we need to work on. It’s always something you’re working on some, so I’m really focused on the data. That’s why I highlight that now, because I see that as the thing that we need to work on the most.
Fred Diamond: Again, you’ve managed teams, you’ve been in the sales game for a number of decades. What are the two biggest challenges you face today?
Charlie Minesinger: It’s a people game, the raw material of sales and sales organizations is people. I think the ability to identify, evaluate and then recruit and hire great people as you scale a sales team will remain as one of the things that is always a critical element to growing, especially in a high growth situation like this. It’s key because create all the processes in the world, put together all the greatest scripts, download great lists, if I have a bunch of people who are irresponsible, don’t care, unmotivated for some reason, not trustworthy, you can only coach around so much.
Finding great people who already have been there, done that and want to take on a role and own it, and run with it and be a part of a team is really great. Even at my age and people have been in the business for a while, people who are open to coaching, who are approachable, who think that they still need to learn and are emotionally intelligent – I’ll throw out that term. I think the other thing is creating the right atmosphere.
There’s a lot going on in the world about atmosphere, what I’m specifically talking about is the constructively competitive atmosphere, the ability for us to create an atmosphere where people are going to compete with one another but they’re going to do it in a way that’s constructive. If I’m better at something than you, rather than making fun of you I’m going to say, “Fred, why don’t you try this?” and I’m going to see weaknesses and rather than being cocky and arrogant saying, “I’m going to beat Fred every time”, I’m going to try to help Fred and see him as part of my team, and see him as tied to the team’s success.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you take us back to your #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of?
Charlie Minesinger: I think we all have a lot of great memories and there’s no doubt, it’s always a great question as a salesperson because we love telling our stories and I’m no different. I think for me, thinking about this podcast, the one that I always remember the most was a big OEM sale of call center software to Nortel. I remember it because, Fred, this was 10 years ago, I went through the entire process. I hunted the prospect, we got in a RFP proposal process, we went and we presented, I did literally everything.
From that, we were selected, we went through the selection process, then I helped manage the contracting. In fact, I was negotiating internally with the executives within the company, I was negotiating with the Nortel negotiators, signed the contract. It was a small call center software company selling into a multibillion dollar company. Because of that, once it was done I had to go work with their channel, I went out to Asia, I met with their channel conference, I seated the channel. It literally took about 15 to 18 months from when we originally made contact, but the exciting thing was in the first 4 months we sold ahead of it being generally available which from a big company like that is pretty difficult.
Sold about half a million and then we sold another one and a half million that tripled in the first three months. Tremendous velocity, frankly right out of the gate which was great having gone through the entire process and participated in sales, done the side by sales for that specific product. I got to go the entire life cycle of it and play a major role in literally every step. I think it was a lot of fun, it was a great learning experience and I had help obviously from various people along the way and the whole company at the end of the day. It’s a great experience, I look back on that as definitely one of my favorite stories just because rarely do we get to do everything. Most of the time we have a funny thing here or there, it’s not a lot of fun. In that case grueling negotiations was probably one of the highlights of that, just 4 or 5 hour calls on going through the contract.
Fred Diamond: Sales is rough, it’s the big leagues, companies don’t succeed unless sales happens. You just told us a great story of a deal with a big company that took you 15, 18 months to happen, you traveled around the world to make that deal happen. Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Charlie Minesinger: I don’t think I ever really did question it once I got into it. It was not love at first sight, but once I got into it and got my hands dirty, I was taken. It’s neat because I think sales is just like athletics, you can correlate your effort and your performance to the results. I feel like there are many cases when I started my consulting career early, I’d be sitting next to somebody, I’d be getting way more work done faster than them but we were paid the same per hour whether I did 15 of X and they only did 10. In sales, if you do 15 of X and they only do 10, you get paid more. We like that, I think once you get that, some people refer to me as competitive that way but it’s that competitive spirit, it’s the ability to feel like if I work harder I know what I can do and my worth is directly tied to my effort and my performance. I think it just makes life so much more straightforward.
Fred Diamond: It’s about the results and putting in the effort to make it happen.
Charlie, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening to today’s podcast around the globe?
Charlie Minesinger: There’s really two things, first of them is straightforward. It’s a bit general, but try to learn something every day or at least every week. You have to build a self-directed learning program into your weekly routine, you have to make it a habit. There’s no two ways around it, things change so fast now and they’re always changing, there’s no way that the top companies are going to be the top companies 10 years from now.
Pay attention, try to learn something technical, learn skills, learn software but learn. Related to that specifically as a sales professional, work on your craft. We all say it, but it is so real and it’s something you can do every week. What’s your hypothesis this week? “This week I’m going to alter my cold call script with these three words. I’m going to do half of my calls with this, I’m going to do my other half with this, I’m going to tally the results and I’m going to see what happens.”
I think all those little things every week will give you the ability to hone in on performance and it’s the right mindset in sales. You’re never perfect, you’re always going to be working on it. When I think of the top athletes, “I made the Baltimore Ravens, I guess I don’t have to work hard anymore.” No, you’re going to work that much harder, you’re going to get that much more coaching, it never goes away and it’s the same in sales. You have to think of yourself as a sales athlete and you want to be a professional sales athlete, you need to get the best professional coaching and you need to train and work on your craft.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Charlie Minesinger: Besides going to IES events?
Fred Diamond: Besides going to IES events [laughs].
Charlie Minesinger: Besides listening to the Sales Game Changer podcast? [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: We could stop it at that. No, seriously.
Charlie Minesinger: It’s a great start, and I’ll say it is kind of general. I try to listen to and read about the industries that I’m prospecting into, I want to know what’s going on in my prospect’s world. In sharpening the saw, I always want to be learning anyways so I enjoy learning about new industries or learning about new aspects of the industries, new technologies in the industries and how that maybe relates to other things I’ve been doing. That’s important and I’m learning that way, and the other way I might review in all seriousness some sales podcasts, some sales content here and there or I might go back and look back at some of my Sandler stuff. It’s nice to do that once in a while just to say, “Oh yeah, I haven’t tried that. Look at my notes over there.” Like I said, you just have to approach it as an athlete, work on your golf swing or what have you. It never goes away.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Charlie Minesinger: The great thing about Racktop Systems and our cyber-secured data storage is it’s a fantastic product and it’s a very mature product at this point. It’s mostly about prospecting at the moment, building out our sales organization, sales processes so we can prospect at higher velocity and we’re just building a scalable organization. We’re obviously looking at efficiency, we’re looking at tools and things like that. It’s an exciting time, we’re building a company and it’s a lot of fun because it’s going well.
Fred Diamond: Sounds like you’re enjoying it, sounds like things are going pretty well. We’re actually doing today’s Sales Game Changers podcast interview at the office of Racktop Systems and a lot of buzz, it’s a nice office, a lot of energy, people seem enthused to be here. It’s in a very nice location as well, a nice facility here over at Fulton, Maryland. Charlie, sales is hard, you’ve had a good career. You’ve had some success, you’ve told us about some monster deals that you sold over time and how you stay fresh and how you stay passionate and energized, but you know people don’t return your phone calls. There’s a lot of options for the customer, the customer thinks that they can find out what they need to know on their own. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Charlie Minesinger: It really just gets down to competitive spirit, getting back to the sports analogies. You don’t like to lose, you don’t like people to tell you you can’t do that, you can’t tell you’re on the losing team, you fight back, you want it and by the way, you can make more money. That’s a big part of it started from a self-motivation, that’s got to be there. That’s fundamental to every salesperson, not everyone can be a salesperson but some of us are just driven.
I think the other thing is I just enjoy problem solving. It goes back to my engineering, I see sales often as problem solving whether I’m doing problem solving within the company on processes or I’m helping customers problem solve which is I think why I began my career, doing some consulting. Again, people were paying me to figure out problems they couldn’t figure out on their own. It’s the same way, it pays different now obviously but problem solving and a competitive spirit. That’s what gets me out of bed every day and gets me excited to be here.
Fred Diamond: Charlie, we have people listening to the podcast all around the globe, they listen to get some tips, some advice, some inspiration to help them take their sales career to the next level. Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening to this podcast around the globe today?
Charlie Minesinger: Fred, I’ll go back to my other comment. My inspirational advice is think of yourself as a professional sales athlete. You want the best coaching, you want to train daily, you want to constantly try to get stronger, better, fitter, improve your game every day and you want to work on the details. You want to practice over and over, you want to welcome feedback, you want to seek it out, you want the harshest feedback, you want the toughest competitors and you want to work your butt off as a professional sales athlete. It’s a great way to think of yourself.