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EPISODE 041: Alex Bartholomaus Correlates How Selling Experiences Has Paid Off for Him in the Wine Business and Tech Industry
ALEX’S FINAL THOUGHT FOR SALES LEADERS: Everyone I’m sure has heard the expression, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint” and I live that so I would introduce that people just need to understand ‘what race do you want to run in’ because it’s certainly not a sprint and if you’re in your twenties. Do you want to run a 10K, do you want to run a half marathon’? It’s just calibrating your life ambition, career ambition and just understanding and having a very clear vision at that point in your life what race do you want to run in so you could prepare accordingly.”
Alex Bartholomaus is the President and CEO at People Stretch Solutions, a Washington, D.C. based management consulting firm specializing in sales growth consulting and C level advisory serving the mid-market throughout North America and EMEA.
He’s also a published author and professional speaker on the topic of sales, leadership, emotional intelligence and elite business performances.
He started his career as a wine importer where he grew a family business from $1 million in revenue to $37 million in revenue over a 15-year period.
Find Alex on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: In the intro we talked about the fact that you are indeed a published author. Would you mind telling us the name of your book? I read your book. I thought it was great. I thought you were very open and honest throughout it. Why don’t you tell us the title of the book and just tell us a little bit about it before we get into the crops of the interview?
Alex Bartholomaus: It’s called Endurance Executive, The CEO’s Guide to Elite Business Performances and it’s really the stories and lessons that I learned, growing my last company and then working with a bunch of very impressive CEOs today and over the last seven years and just putting together all of the common stories and lessons and tactics and strategies that they’ve employed and I’ve employed to really get an elite business performance with consistency.
Fred Diamond: Alex, tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that?
Alex Bartholomaus: At People Stretch Solutions, we sell sales transformations and what I mean by that is we help mid-market companies go from one revenue plateau to another. What excites me is that we get to engage a CEO, his leadership team, the sales team and by engaging them, we’re coaching them, we’re training them, we’re helping them with process and we get to see them grow individually but we also get to see the company grow and seeing that transformation over multiple years is so satisfying. Now, we’ll tell you at times, in the short term, it can be very challenging but the medium and long-term payoff is pretty amazing when we can impact people’s revenue growth by 30, 50, 70% over multiple years.
Fred Diamond: We mentioned in the introduction that you came from a family business where you were in the wine business for about 15 somewhat years. Tell us how you first got into sales as a career.
Alex Bartholomaus: It predates that. In college, like many people who are in sales, I sold Cutco, not just for a summer, but for the first semester of my Sophomore year as an Assistant Manager. That was my first taste of sales experience and my first taste of sales management experience and I was hooked. I liked both sides of it and that really gave me a window into the opportunity to sell once I joined the family business. And, selling in the wine business was interesting because I got to sell to different types of customers and by selling to different types of customers, whether it was consumers at the consumer level, whether it was at the trade level or whether it was at the wholesale level, each different type of customer had its own unique set of challenges and it made it even more engaging because of how you had to switch from one environment to another.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about that. What were some of the key lessons that you learned from being in the wine business? You mentioned you had to sell differently to different types of customers. But, what were some of the things that you learned from the wine business that you have deployed in your consulting today?
Alex Bartholomaus: Being a young person in an industry that predominantly is people with lots of experience, product knowledge for me was king. In order to really maximize product knowledge and know as much or more than the people I was sitting down with helped actually level the playing field, where it’s very easy for a young sales rep to be intimidated by people that are 10, 20, 30 years older than they are.
But, if you invest the time and energy in product knowledge, that helps mitigate or level the playing field. The other key lesson was just listening and learning. I was so lucky to have so many mentors in my first 10 years. People that saw me saw that I was passionate about the industry, saw that I was investing to become more knowledgeable and when they saw that I was investing, they actually took a chance and invested in me so I think that was a key lesson in just investing time and listening, learning and learning about product knowledge especially.
Fred Diamond: I’m going to guess that most of the people listening to today’s podcast are not in the wine industry. Can you tell us something about the wine industry and selling wine that we may not know that we may find interesting?
Alex Bartholomaus: Well, there’s a parallel to selling wine and the sale that I do today and it boils down to an experience. In the wine industry, the experience is when the final consumer chooses to engage in the product. In consulting and sales transformation, the key experience is when growth happens, whether it’s a sale or whether it’s a leadership conversation, thanks to that the work that we did we can impact that positively. Back in the wine business, the wine impacted the experience positively. That’s the commonality, that at sometimes people don’t think about.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Alex Bartholomaus: My focus is elite business performances and that is the nexus of taking someone’s performance around emotional intelligence, skill and then connecting that with process and a lot of times people are quick to point out the process side of the equation and that is important. But, what’s also important is really investing the time and energy in yourself, nurturing yourself, understanding, willing to be vulnerable and working on your emotional intelligence, in particular, self-awareness and self-regulation.
I think those two areas for a lot of people, whether you’re in your twenties or you’re in the zenith of your career, you can’t spend enough time in this area and we often times find that thanks to our expertise, we can always make a difference in this area because people just don’t spend enough time focusing on it.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned mentors before. Why don’t you tell us who was an impactful sales career mentor to you and how did they impact your career?
Alex Bartholomaus: A gentleman by the name of Richard Driscoll, who is still at the company that acquired my last company. He was a great mentor and he was a great mentor because he saw that I was very aggressive and that I was very ambitious and he taught me that it was very important that all those things are good but negotiations in business relationships don’t have to be a zero-sum game.
The win-win, there’s more to the win-win and over the years I learned from him what win-win really meant and he was the first person that took time and energy and over many meals educated me about what that looked like and made a huge difference in my career.
Fred Diamond: Do you still talk to him today?
Alex Bartholomaus: We try to talk once or twice a year, generally over a nice glass of wine or an adult beverage, and it’s great to hear how he continues to be very passionate about the wine industry while I’m focused on a completely different industry but we still share the same passion for wine.
Fred Diamond: Good. People Stretch Solutions, you deal with some high-level sales executives and sales leaders and you help them transform and grow their business. Tell us what two of the biggest sales challenges, either you face today as a sales leader or your clients face as sales leaders today? What are two of the biggest challenge that you see facing sales leaders today?
Alex Bartholomaus: The first challenge that we help a lot of people with that we see in the companies we work with and outside the companies is that sales leader being at their best around accountability. Accountability is often associated with discomfort. Accountability is often associated with a lack of commitment on someone’s part to meet and or exceed a goal and rewinding and starting from the very beginning and making sure that accountability is set the right way. That’s a huge challenge.
The other challenge that sales leaders are facing is the notion of making sure that there’s alignment above them and below them. Depending on the industry, getting alignment from the C level down in terms of expectations, executing it at what percent over last year with what level of investment and making the right level of investment in the hard decisions with a lot of our mid-market companies that are growing above $50 million, $100 million. Those decisions and that alignment gets harder and harder as the company grows so the sales leader sometimes has to operate in an environment that they don’t have as much control as they’d like and at the root of it is that alignment starting from the C level going all the way down to the frontline sales person.
Fred Diamond: How have you helped or what are some of the solutions that you may offer to sales executives who are struggling with this up and down alignment?
Alex Bartholomaus: From a sales leadership perspective, it’s really developing relationships up and down. We spend time getting people to talk to one another and it might sound pretty elementary but sometimes it can be difficult because perhaps the C level might not want to hear what the frontline sales person has to say. The sales leader might be behaving as too much of a filter and not communicating the reality of what’s coming down.
At times, the sales leader might not be educating the frontline about the challenges about profit sustainability and other institutional things that they’ve chosen not to educate sales about. I don’t want to put the blame on any one area. There’s an important amount of information that needs to be communicated up and down and we help facilitate that. There’s also an important aspect of renewal of commitment and an organization sometimes misses out on making the renewal of a commitment towards a goal a consistent act as opposed to an event-driven act.
Fred Diamond: That’s powerful. That’s one that really hasn’t come up all that frequently is the alignment between the C suite and the sales leader and then down the food chain as well and communicating the right information up and down. I look forward to learning more about how People Stretch solves that particular solution. Alex, take us to a specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. I know that we’ve had numerous conversations in the past about some of your great successes but take us back to one, a specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Alex, take us back to that moment.
Alex Bartholomaus: The win that I’m most proud of is a pursuit that took over a year, it took 15 months, and transformed the business that we’re in today and what was interesting about that pursuit it was a pursuit where the CEO could have easily have said ‘yes’ after the second meeting. But, the CEO was dead set on making sure his leadership team bought into that and that extended the sales cycle pretty dramatically and it was the first time that I’d been exposed to that.
But, the flipside of being exposed to that, that made me aware of that variable and we’ve actually seen more CEOs for a major decision wanting to engage more people in the decision-making process and thanks to that original 15-month process we’ve been able to be way more proactive, way more interactive with the right people and once you’ve lived it once, I’m happy to say that we’ve been able to learn from it and without it I don’t think we would have been able to transform our business like we have. Thanks to that 15-month experience.
Fred Diamond: That’s pretty powerful. It might have been great to have gotten the ‘yes’ after the second meeting but what it allowed you to do, it sounds like, was build more rigor into your business. Find more solutions. Understand the true value that you’re providing and figure out some good strategies on how to communicate that to your upcoming prospects.
Alex Bartholomaus: Yes, absolutely, and just as a quick follow up, a lot of the work that we do is in complex sales. And so, in a complex selling environment, you’re not selling to a single person. I think that was our first success in a complex sales environment and that’s really helped us grow in making others better at selling in a complex environment. Until you’ve lived it, it’s very difficult to be as effective at teaching others to be effective so it helped on multiple sides, not just us performing but also us becoming better teachers.
Fred Diamond: Alex, you’ve had a very, very successful career in sales. Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment, Alex Bartholomaus, where you thought to yourself “It’s just too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Alex Bartholomaus: No. I haven’t only in that because I started in college and I think one of the things that some other people have taught me about selling is making selling fun. To me, selling is as much or I try to make it playful and keep it fun. I’ve, for better or for worse, been exposed to some other greater challenges that give you perspective. I mean without going off down a rabbit hole. My mom passed at an early age, relatively early. I’m sure many other people have experienced some major challenges in their life. If you keep things in perspective, sales is sales. And so, it is challenging. There are difficult people out there but if you keep perspective, sales to me is a lot of fun.
Fred Diamond: Alex, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to selling professionals to help them improve their careers?
Alex Bartholomaus: Two things. Number one, scripting your questions. A lot of times when asking questions, more junior sales people ask questions to satiate their curiosity as opposed to asking a question that really adds value. We’re getting less and less time with prospects. I think that applies to just about everybody. By scripting your questions, you can be very precise in asking the questions that serve you the best just because you’re on the clock and you’re going to run out of time.
The second thing is and it’s related to this, is just the preparation piece. For a lot of athletes out there, they’re used to kind of that mental preparation visualizing their success from a sports perspective. Sales is no differently mentally preparing and visualizing your success at a very early stage in your career is vital because you’re just going to get way more ‘Nos’ than you’re going to get ‘Yesses’. And so, you have to stay focused on the yesses in order to overcome the ‘Nos’.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you’re doing today to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Alex Bartholomaus: There’s three things that I try to do. Number 1, I try to journal on a daily basis to capture my thoughts, to reflect on what I could have done better.
Number 2, I find myself, related to journaling, white boarding. My mom was an artist and I’m not a very good artist but I do find writing ideas on white boards very comforting.
And then, number 3, from a running perspective, I find doing something outside of work that gets me out of my comfort zone so for the last going on 5 years I’ve been doing distance running. And so, now trying to move up from a marathon distance to next year a 50-miler and we’ll see if I can get up to a hundred miles. That’s pretty challenging and I can’t look at my clients in the eye and tell them to get out of their comfort zone if I’m not willing to do the same thing.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success? That 100-mile run?
Alex Bartholomaus: Microlearning. A lot of the, just like there’s less time to ask questions to prospects. People are getting busier and busier in terms of their ability to be coached, their ability to do group training. And so, one of the ways to overcome that is through microlearning. We’re guilty of potentially being an ADD culture so we have to really make learning in bite-size chunks, 2 to 7 minutes tops so that way people can really get the most important nugget from what we want to expose them to.
And so, I think it’s a leveraging technology and in particular we’re looking into microlearning from a video standpoint, a podcast standpoint and even a shorter SMS texting standpoint of what we might be able to push to them and get them to consume in order to help them become more effective.
Fred Diamond: Alex, sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your e-mails. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Alex Bartholomaus: The ability to engage people. I’m outgoing and I love to connect with people, especially from my perspective, we’re looking for people who want to grow and to really challenge themselves and to take their company to the next level so that gives us the opportunities to talk to people.
I was fortunate to be in the wine business. Being in consulting, gives us an ability to be even more impactful in terms of helping people individually and helping companies from an enterprise perspective and that I’m very passionate about that. The passion that I have for what I do keeps me coming back to the sales part and the rejection part which is part of sales.
Fred Diamond: Alex, give us a final thought that you’d like to share to inspire our listeners today.
Alex Bartholomaus: Everyone I’m sure has heard the expression, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint” and I live that so I would introduce that people just need to understand ‘what race do you want to run in’ because it’s certainly not a sprint and if you’re in your twenties, ‘do you want to run a 10K, do you want to run a half marathon’. It’s just calibrating your life ambition, career ambition and just understanding and having a very clear vision at that point in your life what race do you want to run in so you could prepare accordingly.