EPISODE 387: Afinity Customer Operations Leader Anthony Tuggle Gives Insights on Sales Career Evolution

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers LIVE Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on July 2, 2021. It featured Anthony Tuggle, President of Customer Operations at Afiniti. He’s also on the Board of the National Sales Network.]

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ANTHONY’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “I am a big believer in being your authentic self, because I truly believe you get the best out of yourself when you’re being authentic. I’m going to leave everyone with a little exercise that I’ve used in the past that has worked very, very well. I’ve used it personally, I’ve shared it with all of my sales professionals and sales reps around the world. That is, what’s your MVP? What’s your mission? What I mean by mission is what drives you. What’s your vision, what you aspire to be? Then, what’s your purpose? What guides you? That’s going to be the homework for my sales professionals. Go figure out what’s your mission, your vision and your purpose. Once you do that, you can be the best you can be and you can be authentic and be the best at who you are.”


Fred Diamond: Today we’re talking to Anthony Tuggle. Anthony, you have a really interesting story. You were at AT&T for a long time and now you’re with Afiniti. We’re going to be talking about what it’s like working for such a humongous company like AT&T. Afiniti is a smaller but it’s not really a small company, you have 2,500-some-odd employees.

Anthony Tuggle, you’re also the Vice Chair of the National Sales Network. For all of our trivia buffs who are watching or listening today, we both went to Emory. Go Eagles! You got your executive MBA at the Goizueta school and I of course went to Emory undergrad and as I tell people, my claim to fame, I was the editor of The Wheel. It’s great seeing you, how are you doing today?

Anthony Tuggle: I am doing great, Fred, great to see you as well. Thank you for forwarding me this opportunity to join the Sales Game Changers Live. Looking forward to it. And yes, it is a holiday week so we are very brave to do this on a Wednesday afternoon.

Fred Diamond: You were at AT&T for over 20 years and now you’re at Afiniti. What prompted you to move from such a large monolithic company in sales to a much smaller company?

Anthony Tuggle: First, I just want to say I had an amazing career at AT&T, great company to work for, want to give a special shoutout to all of my AT&T colleagues. Really appreciate the journey and the great experiences that I gained from working at AT&T. For me, it was about, hey, I’ve done a lot of great things at AT&T and I was ready for me to make a shift personally in my career and move in over to Afiniti.

Actually afforded me an opportunity to not only drive value that I drove at AT&T, but do it across many verticals, across many industries, across the world. I moved from being surgical-focused delivering on AT&T to now I can do what I did at AT&T successfully leading teams and driving values, but do it across many verticals, across many industries, across the world.

Fred Diamond: Tell us about Afiniti, tell us a little bit about what you’re doing there and then we’ll start talking about some of the challenges that you’re facing growing and leading a sales organization.

Anthony Tuggle: Afiniti is one of the world’s largest providers of applied artificial intelligence for customer experience. What that really means is we operate throughout the world and have measurably driven millions of dollars and incremental value to our clients with our patent enterprise behavior pairing solution.

In short, what EBP is for those who do not know, we use artificial intelligence to identify subtle and valuable patterns of human interactions to pair individuals based on that behavior, leading to successful interactions, successful sales, reduced churn, etc. It’s a very exciting world to be a part of.

Fred Diamond: We’ve had a couple of sales leaders in the AI space on and we’ve had some people from Microsoft who are getting very deep into artificial intelligence. Tell us, who do you sell to? Who are your customers for Afiniti?

Anthony Tuggle: For Afiniti, our customers are pretty much the large enterprises. It’s anyone from, think of telecom providers to healthcare to the cable guys. It’s pretty broad because what we do is really do pairing, think of callers with frontline agents. That’s really what we do, we do that behavior pairing that drives value back to the clients. At the end of the day, in this day and age, who doesn’t want to drive lifetime customer value?

Fred Diamond: Let’s get right to it. We’re doing today’s interview on June 30th, 2021. Believe it or not, we’ve been doing webinars every single day, Anthony, since the pandemic kicked in. It’s been an amazing experience talking to sales leaders like you, we’ve had 25,000 people who have attended our webinars since then. We’ve seen things evolve, it’s quite interesting.

I posted something on one of my LinkedIn posts the other day, “As we come out of the pandemic, what are some strategies you’re looking to do?” and someone replied right away, “You’re in a fantasy world if you think we’re coming out of the pandemic.” Of course, it’s raging around the world. Things are changing here in the United States, people are starting to do more things, the traffic is really big in DC and where I am and probably not too dissimilar to where you are down in Atlanta. Get us caught up, how are things going in your sales organization as we speak?

Anthony Tuggle: As you can imagine, things are going rapidly fast, we’re dealing with the same thing the rest of the world is dealing with. A large part of our workforce is working from home, so what we’re doing is trying to figure out how we continue to deliver, drive value back to our clients in a virtual environment.

As we pivot to virtual, we’ll probably be in a hybrid model for a while and then eventually move back to something close to what we all knew as our norm. But the message hasn’t changed, we still want to win, we still want to lead, we want to drive revenue, we want to be industry leaders. We’re just operating differently, but it’s still the same goal at the end of the day.

Fred Diamond: You just mentioned value. Value comes up all the time on the Sales Game Changers podcast. You said you want to continue showing value to your customers. Talk about what that looks like right now because people who watch the webinars and listen to the podcast, they know that we talk about this all the time. The great Neil Rackham said in SPIN Selling that sales is really all about value creation. Talk about the value that you’re directing your organization to provide to your customers. What does it look like right now?

It’s an interesting time. Like you just said, everyone’s still for the most part in a virtual world, everyone is still dealing with coming out of the pandemic. It’s 16 months in, people are still adjusting. We had a show the other day where sales professionals are still being taught how to present in a virtual world 16 months in. Talk about what value looks like right now to your customer base.

Anthony Tuggle: Value for my customer base, it’s really about incremental revenue to the bottom line. It’s about customer lifetime value, it’s about reducing churn. When I say value, I’m talking about incremental revenue, how we reduce the churn base of our clientele and at the end of the day, how do we really improve their overall customer experience? Because that’s really what we want, we really want to provide a solution where we can pair the callers and the agents and deliver lifetime customer value.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about your top priorities right now. As a sales leader, what are you focusing on right now?

Anthony Tuggle: For me, the top priority is growth. You’ll probably hear me say this, but I’m one of those that wants to stick to what the priorities are. How do we continue to grow? And more importantly, how do you grow with technology? How do you use technology to continue to provide that added value piece back to the business?

Today at Afiniti, our technology analyzes about 1.3 million interactions every day to refine these pairings. We are in that data space where we should be your trusted advisor, we should be the critical partner for our clients around the world because we’re looking at the data. We’re very data-centric, customer-centric but more importantly, revenue-centric as well.

Fred Diamond: I want to follow up on a word you just said, trusted advisor. For a lot of the people who are aware of the Sales Game Changers podcast, we talk about trust pretty frequently. One of our favorite guests is the great Charles Green who actually was the co-author of the book, The Trusted Advisor and he of course also wrote Trust-Based Selling. We talk about that a lot. What does that mean in your world? You said, “We want to be the trusted advisor.” Explain what that means from your world, what do you strive to do?

Anthony Tuggle: Trusted advisor to me means that we want to be brought to the table. As large enterprises are solving their most complicated business problems, we want them to say, “We need Afiniti as a partner, we want to bring them to the table and help solve our customer journey, help solve our revenue gaps, help us reduce churn in our customer base.” That’s what I mean about trusted advisor.

Fred Diamond: One of the other words that comes up a lot on the Sales Game Changers podcast is elite performance. We’ve seen a flesh out in a lot of the sales organizations that we deal with where it’s been a tough year for a lot of people. We actually did a poll last week where we asked how comfortable you were going from face-to-face to virtual, and more than 50% of the people said they struggled with it. Either it was difficult or very difficult. What are elite sales professionals doing right now? If you could also answer this, what are the elite sales leaders doing?

Anthony Tuggle: I would say for me, it’s normally three tenets whether you are a sales professional or an elite leader, there’s three areas you really should be focusing on. People, process, technology. From a people standpoint, it is about are you creating an environment where everyone can win? Are you creating that culture? Because you just talked about being virtual, some in the office, so it is about building that culture so that people can operate regardless of where they are.

When I talk about process, do you really understand the sales process of your clients or your customers? Do you watch the engagement models? How do you make meaningful connections? Remember, we’re in a virtual world so how do you make those meaningful connections? What are you doing? Are you having a wine tasting in the afternoon virtually as opposed to meeting them for drinks at a restaurant? You have to think differently.

The last thing is about technology, how do you use technology like apply artificial intelligence that we provide at Afiniti to solve business solutions but more importantly, to drive incremental value? I like to think of it as how do you go from one plus one equals three?

Fred Diamond: You’ve managed and led so many sales professionals in your career. What would you tell junior sales professionals? It’s interesting, a lot of the companies that are sponsors and members of the Institute for Excellence in Sales, large B2B companies, they hired a whole bunch of people who started their career in the pandemic. They started their careers in their parent’s basement if they’re at their first, second job out of college or in a small apartment maybe with two other guys or something like that. It’s been a challenge for a lot of them, they haven’t been to the office ever. How are you coaching these people? What would be your advice for the junior sales professionals out there either in your space or other B2B or telecom related markets?

Anthony Tuggle: If you’re a junior sales professional, regardless of the space that you’re in, for me it’s about making those connections. How do you make those important connections virtually? You got to think out of the box, you also got to think how do you get to know your colleagues virtually? You’re going to have to really work and be intentional and deliberate on building those long-lasting relationships. Where you would have had an advantage because you come in every day Monday through Friday, you see them 7, 8 hours a day, you walk into the break room, etc. Remove all of those things. Now step back and say, hey, how do you do that?

Let’s use Afiniti, for example. I had joined Afiniti in February, so I too had to figure out the same team. How do I get to know the senior leadership team? How do I get to know their employees? How do I connect to what’s really going on? I was intentional, I set up one-on-one Zoom calls, I set up virtual gatherings where we would say, everybody bring a drink of choice at the end of the day. You have to just think differently and think out of the box.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about your conversations with your customers. It’s been an unbelievable journey for people. In the very beginning, everything was about one or two places. If the customer was really deep into serving the needs of the market, obviously, they were working around the clock trying to figure that out. If their market went away like entertainment or restaurants or catering or hospitality, then obviously they had different challenges that they really had no control over.

Right now, what type of conversations are you encouraging people to have with customers? What do customers want to be talking about right now? Are they looking for strategy? Are they still looking for, “Get me through this pandemic”, so to speak? What are you seeing out there, Anthony?

Anthony Tuggle: Customers want someone who they can talk to about strategy, but they want to figure out how they deliver the strategy. How do they execute on it? My coaching is always going to be technology. How are you really utilizing technology to truly see? I live in a world of art of the possible. With everything that’s going on, that’s the conversation we need to be having with our clients and our customers. What is the art of possible?

For me, the art of possible comes back to technology. At Affinity, we’ve been successful because we have optimized more than 600,000 agents around the world, 700 million customers. We know how to do this on a global scale and virtual doesn’t mean anything because we still are able to deliver a software solution regardless of whether we’re in a virtual or in the office or hybrid operating model.

Fred Diamond: Are there any characteristics that you look for? Obviously, you’re hiring people so you’re going to be looking to build the team, you talked about growth. What might be some of the characteristics for people who are listening to the podcast, that they need to have to be successful selling in your particular space?

Anthony Tuggle: Selling in my space and probably selling in any space. There are a lot of competitive smart people, I’ve seen thousands and thousands of resumes. Checkbox, yes, everyone’s very successful, lots of great credentials and education, thumbs up. Now, I’m looking for someone who’s a team player, someone who has conviction, I want somebody who wants to win.

If we’ve got to work this hard and spend this much time together, I want to win at the end of the day. To win, you’ve got to be able to have your strategic thinker, someone that can connect the dots of what’s going on across the various industries, the world and more importantly, someone that can figure out how to drive value back to the customer base that they support.

Fred Diamond: Anthony, you’ve led, you’ve hired, you’ve directed hundreds if not thousands of sales leaders. We talked before, you spend a lot of your time at AT&T, now you’re at Afiniti. What are people doing wrong? Give us a little bit of advice for the sales professionals out there. What are some things that you see time and time again, especially now as we’re in the middle of the pandemic, what are they doing wrong that they should be correcting?

Anthony Tuggle: That’s a set up question. What are sales reps doing wrong? Strangely enough, they’re focusing too much on securing the sale. They’re missing the most important piece, the relationship. They’re so busy skipping over to jump into getting the final sale, they’re missing the critical point around establishing connections. Connections that will last a long time, that will in turn afford them an opportunity to continue to grow their relationship. The sales will come.

There is a quote that says, like sales, communications is driven by relationships. I’m a true believer in relationships, relationships, relationships. I like to use this term, winning the hearts and minds, and to do that, that requires trust, that requires partnership and once you do those things, the sale comes very natural, very easy. That’s probably what I would say sales reps do wrong each and every day.

Fred Diamond: I want to follow up on that concept of relationships. Again, you were with AT&T for over 20 years and if you’ve been anywhere for that long, you have to have developed some amazing relationships with your customers, with your partners and of course, internally. You’ve talked about this a number of times, about sales professionals, especially those on the early side of their career building some of these relationships.

Talk a little bit, especially for the young sales professionals who haven’t had the experience. Give us some of your advice, what are some things they could be doing to start the process? You in your career, you’ve been working at this for over 25, close to 30 years. You’re a vice chair of a very large organization that brings people together as well. Give some specifics about how the younger sales professionals can go about building these strong relationships that eventually will get to where you are?

Anthony Tuggle: I would strongly say, do not underestimate networking. Networking internally, externally, within your organization, across your organization, and especially during times of the pandemic where we weren’t allowed to come together. How are you going to network? That’s going to require you to be intentional and deliberate and reach out to people. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get the no’s and don’t be afraid to take advantage of organizations like Fred mentioned.

I am the Vice Chair of National Sales Network and it is an organization that focuses on the development of sales professionals and sales leaders. We bring the best and the brightest and we are focusing on minorities. Not limited to minorities, but the organization’s designed to focus on minorities. We connect professionals together, but the soul purpose is about developing those sales professionals into great sales leaders.

Fred Diamond: We mentioned before that you went from AT&T, you started a new job with Afiniti in February. How have you changed over the pandemic? We like asking this question and it’s obviously evolved over time. Last year when we asked the question, people were saying things like it’s been nice having dinner with my 10-year-old and my 8-year-old. “Typically I’m on a plane 200 days out of the year and it was nice seeing them play little league.”

Be a little bit introspective here, how have you changed as a leader in the past few months? I say few months, but it’s really been the last year and a half.

Anthony Tuggle: For me, I am definitely more connected with my family because of the pandemic. I will agree with them, and connected in a good way. I have a teenage daughter so it’s been great to reconnect and be here for those important moments as she continues to grow on her life journey. But for me as a business leader, the transition from an executive AT&T to now President of Customer Operations for Afiniti, an applied artificial intelligence software company that operates worldwide, I’ve evolved.

At AT&T I was the expert, I was very surgical, I knew what I had to deliver and I had to bring value, reduce churn and all of those fun things as a sales leader. Afiniti has afforded me an opportunity to have a much broader perspective. I can see what’s going on across multiple verticals and many different industries. It also allows me to think more strategically on a global scale. I can connect the dots from where I sit now across the world, that is actually very powerful.

The last point for me is I can become a lot more laser-focused on driving incremental value to my customers, clients and employees. That’s probably the sweet spot for me, it’s about driving value from a laser focus because I have a lot more experiences not just from AT&T which was great, but now I’m able to expand.

Fred Diamond: We have time for one more question and then I’m going to ask you about your final action step. You’ve given us a lot of great ideas about networking, demonstrating value to your customers, building your relationships and your networks. Again, you’re new to the organization, you’re building it, they’re growing fast, you’re helping the organization evolve during the pandemic and moving out of the pandemic into the next stage. What are your expectations for sales professionals right now?

Anthony Tuggle: My expectation is understand technology in your industry, how it can help evolve, how it’s part of your strategic roadmap, how it’s going to help you in the future. I think that’s probably going to be the most critical thing we can do at this point, especially sales professionals. The other thing is having deep, deep understanding of customer behavior, especially your customer’s journey and the role your solutions, whatever you’re selling, will tie into the customer journey. You have to be able to connect the dots, there’s no way to get around it. That’s how you make a difference.

Fred Diamond: I want to thank you today for the great insights. This has been a really interesting interview, I’m actually always thrilled to interview somebody from Emory. I think you might be the first person I’ve ever interviewed from Emory. I’m trying to think if I interviewed any of my fraternity brothers, but I haven’t because none of them are really in sales, they’re all doctors and lawyers. I did interview my friend Rich Applebaum from high school, so it’s always good to talk to somebody from Emory.

Congratulations again on the move, you’ve had a successful career at AT&T, now you’re the Vice Chair of the National Sales Networking. You guys are providing tremendous value for the sales professionals to help them not just take their career to the next level, but to really help their customers engage and help their customers achieve their goals.

That’s one of the critical things that we’ve learned over the last year, we try to think in terms of our customer but a lot of sales professionals get stuck in “us”. “Here’s what we do, here’s what we provide, here’s how we can help you.” A lot of people have realized over the last year and a half that they have to make the shift and not just to their customer, but to their customer’s customer, and to their customer’s customer’s customer. It’s been a dramatic process and it’s going to be interesting to see how we hold onto that.

I want to congratulate you again on the great success you’ve had, the people that you’ve helped with their career and of course, through the organization as well. You’ve given us so many great ideas, give us one specific go-to action step that the sales professionals listening to today’s podcast should do to take their sales career to the next level.

Anthony Tuggle: I am a big believer in being your authentic self, because I truly believe you get the best out of yourself when you’re being authentic. I’m going to leave everyone with a little exercise that I’ve used in the past that has worked very, very well. I’ve used it personally, I’ve shared it with all of my sales professionals and sales reps around the world. That is, what’s your MVP? What’s your mission? What I mean by mission is what drives you. What’s your vision, what you aspire to be? Then, what’s your purpose? What guides you?

That’s going to be the homework for my sales professionals. Go figure out what’s your mission, your vision and your purpose. Once you do that, you can be the best you can be and you can be authentic and be the best at who you are.

Fred Diamond: That’s such a great point. We talk about that so many times, we talk about understanding your why and your customer’s why. If you don’t understand your value and your mission and what you’re on this planet to do – are you familiar with an author named Lisa Earle McLeod? She’s actually based in Atlanta. She wrote a book called Selling is a Noble Profession and we’ve had her on the show a couple of times.

What she basically comes down to saying is you’re all about helping. Whatever your purpose is, if you really want to be successful, you really need to grasp that, you really need to understand that. Once again, Anthony Tuggle, thank you so much for the great insights.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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