EPISODE 287: Centrify Public Sector Sales Leader Bill O’Neill Says Focusing on These Key Things Will Help You Grow New Customer Relationships

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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 and hosted by Fred Diamond on November 4, 2020. It featured Centrify’s Public Sector sales leader Bill O’Neill.]

Register for Wednesday’s SALES GAME CHANGERS LIVE: Key Things Sales Professionals Must Be Doing to Be Successful Right Now with Intel’s Jason Kimrey and Granicus’ Howard Langsam here.

Find Bill on LinkedIn here.

EPISODE 287: Centrify Public Sector Sales Leader Bill O’Neill Says Focusing on These Key Things Will Help You Grow New Customer Relationships

BILL’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “You can’t focus 18 hours of your day on work. You really need to take time out and spend time with your family and friends and really balance that. If you don’t balance your life, it will lead to a terrible outcome. As a sales professional, as you drive into another next sales goal and continue building a big pipeline, please remember to stay close to your partners, your customers and your family and friends.”

Fred Diamond: My guest today is Bill O’Neill with Centrify. Bill, it’s great to have you here. First of all, you guys were a sponsor of the IES 10th Annual Award Event recently, thank you so much for that. It’s great to see you, you’re down in Florida, I’m up here in Northern Virginia, I’m excited to talk to you about what you’re doing today and what your advice is for all the people listening. Bill, let’s get right to it. How are you doing? How are things going for the public sector organization that you run and why don’t you tell us a little bit about Centrify? Give us a little bit of insight into what the company does and then let’s get right into it.

Bill O’Neill: Thank you so much, Fred for having me on today, I really appreciate the time that you’re giving me with your audience and we were very happy to sponsor the past event, we look forward to doing that in the future. It was great to see Craig and the others from Carahsoft being part of that inclusion and part of that big event. Centrify has been around for about 15 years, we do a lot of work in the public sector particularly around the DOD space and the SLED space and then our biggest customer is Walmart, it’s really around privilege access management and identity management. You asked how it’s going, I would say things are going pretty well. It’s been difficult with everything that’s going on in the world, we’ve got fires, we’ve got hurricanes, we’ve got pandemics and elections and all kinds of crazy stuff going on but we’ve been very close to our legacy customers and our new customers. I would say if you really look deeply into it, healthcare is top of mind today around Medicare, all the things that are going on with HHS and where that’s headed. We see that as a large area for cybersecurity to ensure protecting the health and the well-being also protecting our citizens with the pandemic.

Fred Diamond: One of the things that’s come up recently is mental health. As a matter of fact, I was on a panel yesterday and a couple other chief marketing officers for some large companies mentioned that their biggest priority for the next year is going to be the mental health of their employees keeping them focused. I’m just curious and I’m getting a little bit ahead with some of the questions here but as a sales leader, how are you helping your sales team with mental health?

Bill O’Neill: That’s a great question, thanks, Fred. What I would say around mental health – and I encourage all of our employees to take an extra time off or a day and we spend so much time on virtual meetings, we really need to take that time out whether it’s before work or at a lunch, try to really go out and work out. Take the dog for a walk, go take your family out for some time, you really need that extra time to think about it. I also think about mental health when it comes to our partners and our customers, it’s so important to really recognize the trouble that they may be going through with their family and friends and really take the time to think about how they’re doing with everything that’s going on in the world today. It’s very difficult around the pandemic and everything else with the virus, hurricanes, tornadoes and other activity that’s going on, not to mention it’s challenging with the elections happening as well. Then you look at how people really focus on their customers, how do we keep our customers focused around a mental health perspective and have them take a time out too? How do we keep engaged with the customers at the right level when they’re going through a lot of issues as our employees are?

Fred Diamond: We’re already getting questions coming in. A question comes in from Susan and Susan is in Maryland. She says, “As a follow-up to your comment about customer conversations, how are they going right now?” It’s been interesting, we’ve been doing a webinar a day since back in March and we’ve seen the evolution of everything that’s happened across the world and across the country. Here we are, it’s in November, it’s unbelievable that some things are in the past but you mentioned Walmart and of course you’re leading public sector. Talk about some of the ways that you’re directing your team to be interfacing and communicating with your customers.

Bill O’Neill: If you have a legacy customer you have a relationship so you can drive that relationship. What I find very interesting is new customers and how we explore getting in front of the right customers at the right time. It becomes a challenge when you’re dealing with folks like in New York City which is a very challenging city with everything that’s going on in the world. How do we get in front of them and how do we communicate with them around their mental health but also think about how we help their mission too? Everybody’s working from home today, how do we help from a cybersecurity perspective and protecting their environment? I would say the conversation is really around being in front of them and then making sure they understand that we understand what their issues are whether it’s mental health or empathy, what’s going on with their world. A lot of companies and a lot of government institutions are on a week one week, off the next week, how do they keep that continuity of service around their mission to drive that behavior in the right way?

Fred Diamond: We have another question that came in from Jerry and Jerry is also in Maryland, Jerry is a frequent attendee of our webinars. “How has Walmart helped you in the public sector?” That’s interesting, you’ve been in public sector your career, there’s always companies entering the public sector marketplace. Having Walmart as a customer has got to be a great thing, how has having Walmart as a customer helped you with your public sector ventures?

Bill O’Neill: Thank you for the question. I would say Walmart is almost like the PXs or the other large institutions that are on military bases but also throughout government whether it’s federal or SLED. You have those large institutions that are delivering services to their customers whether it’s family, military families or civilian families or state and local market. What I would say is our point of sale and what we do around that in protecting that point of sale in the government space relates directly to Walmart. If you think about the financial community and the medical community which we’re extremely strong on, brings Medicare Medicaid, MHS, Military Health, the VA, those other customers into the equation as well. I believe there’s a direct relationship, we’re not different, I’d just say we’re a little bit unique around the requirements but if you think about HIPAA and the other security requirements that drive into whether it’s Walmart, HHS, DOD or SLED market, it’s a direct comparison.

Fred Diamond: This is an interesting question, we get this not infrequently, “Do your government customers care that you did a lot of work with Walmart, that you’ve done so much with them? Is that a sustainable and a good reference for you all to use?” That comes up a lot from people who are in the public sector space about using commercial entities as reference accounts.

Bill O’Neill: It directly relates because of the scale and size so if you look at the size of a Walmart and you equate that to the size of the navy or to New York or Florida or California in the SLED market, or particularly if you look at HHS in the civilian market or DHS, that is a direct relationship because the sale scale of that environment is very particular and the certifications are the same. Whether it’s HIPAA or you need a particular certification, FedRAMP or an IL5 certification, that directly relates to is. If you look at it from a perspective of does Walmart or does some of those other commercial entities look at what we do in the public sector, they take that whether it’s FedRAMP or another certification directly in comparison from all the NIS requirements that are required for that environment. It really drives a best-in-class behavior into the commercial environment.

Fred Diamond: Bill, what are your organization’s top priorities right now? Again, we’re doing today’s interview in the beginning of November, the federal fiscal year ended about 30 somewhat days ago. What are you directing your team to do? What are you having them focus on right now?

Bill O’Neill: It’s interesting, Fred, thank you for the question. What I would say we’re specifically looking at is DOD has already received their funding on the civilian side, they’re still on a little bit of a CR environment and the SLED market is driving interesting perspective. You can see a little bit of reduction in funding, not a tremendous amount but it’s all about the work at home and how does cybersecurity affect that work from home with the schools, if you look at universities, the K through 12 and how that affects that. What I’m driving with my team specifically is to focus on those areas we can make a significant impact from a cybersecurity perspective around the remote workforce and how we drive that in a significant way because that’s where it’s going to be.

The question that we talked about before was how do you manage a remote workforce? Which becomes a very challenging perspective. A lot of people have been focused on, “I’ve got to show up to the office.” Now everybody is basically working from home and we have to manage those employees whether it’s from a mental health perspective or a training perspective, how do we ensure that people take their time out, take a vacation day? It’s really hard because everybody is like, “I need to go to the Caribbean” or, “I need to go to Europe” and you can’t do that today. How do we ensure people are taking the right time with their family and enjoying the Halloween or enjoying Veteran’s Day or Thanksgiving? There’s a lot of opportunity to take time with family and I really encourage that because I think it’s a time out. I can get up in the morning as everybody on this call does and I can go for a walk, I can work out and then it’s 7 o’clock, I’m in front of my computer for 12 hours. From a mental health perspective that becomes a challenge. I like to take a time out and go out for lunch or try to get away from the computer a little bit to really drive that behavior.

Fred Diamond: I have a follow-up to that, this question has come up a number of times. We’re going to have thousands of people who are going to be listening to this conversation as a Sales Game Changers podcast. For them, a lot of the people work either as an individual contributor or first line manager, they’re not quite sure how to ask for the time off or to make those requests. So many people, like you said, they get up, the computer has got to be on now, a lot of companies have said, “You’ve got to keep your camera on the entire day” so people are feeling this drive to be in front of the computer the whole time. A lot of people we’ve seen recently, Bill are struggling with the amount of time that they’re having to sit. What would be your advice for individual contributors, first line managers, maybe even second line managers, how can they communicate to the VP, the guy or lady who’s running the sales organization that maybe they are struggling a little bit? Or how can they approach their leaders to ask for guidance, coaching or some assistance?

Bill O’Neill: That’s an awesome question, I get that a lot from employees and customers and partners, how do we manage that broader workforce? It’s an interesting paradigm that we’re in today. My company in particular, we didn’t have Columbus Day off but I encouraged everybody to take Columbus Day off, I said, “It’s a national holiday, you should take the day off and just get away. We have Veteran’s Day coming up, a lot of companies don’t give Veteran’s Day. People should really take that time and spend time with their family, get out and do activities with their friends or family. It doesn’t have to be specifically walking the dog but it could be to go golfing with a friend or go to lunch with a friend or get away. I drive people to do that because people are so focused on their work every day, it doesn’t cleanse their mind to really think about that mental health side of it.

Many companies that I work with have a recharge day, they give a day off a quarter or whatever it may be, I really think as a leader whether it’s with my partner, it’s with my customers or employees in our company, how do we think about that and drive that the right way? I get back to you can’t go to Europe, I get that but you can also take a day and go to the beach with your family. Some beaches are closed, we all know that but you can do different things, you can get out and do other things with your family and encourage people to do that because you need a break.

Fred Diamond: How can I reach decision-makers right now during this remote work environment?”

Bill O’Neill: The last conference I went to was AFCEA West which was a big deal back in early March and then everything shut down. How do we deal with that and how do we focus on customers that we can get to? A lot of this through relationships today but you also have to take that one step re-route. You can look at a colleague or partner and leverage that partner to get to the next level. What I think about that is pick a program, NGEN which is very interesting, that’s making a transition right now while you’re moving from one company to another company and how you leverage that and who’s the decision-maker on that other side in that new company and get ahead of that. I would really drive for that today and lean on those new contract vehicles that are coming out and those activities that are going to happen with those specific new partners and get ahead of that. It used to be you could pick up the phone and go have lunch with somebody or you could go see somebody at a conference, not so much anymore so it has to be one degree of separation and how we drive that. I think everybody in our business whether it’s SLED or fed or even the commercial market, we can drive that in a specific way with a relationship that a colleague may have or a partner may have or an SI may have to drive that.

Fred Diamond: Bill, talk about a positive surprise. We’re talking about the challenges and we’re talking about how hard it is, we talked about mental health which is a huge challenge but what are some of the positive things? You’ve been a sales leader for a long time, you’ve been with some great companies, Raytheon, Nortel, CenturyLink, of course now you’re at Centrify which is doing some great things. What are some of the positive surprises that have come out of the last 7-8 months that you’re proud of?

Bill O’Neill: Cybersecurity has jumped off the page. If you really look at the remote workers and what’s going on with our country and the things that we need to do, the upsurge in cyber and the upsurge in other defense mechanisms and the upsurge in health and how that has to impact our nation, really around that, I think there’s a surge in technology around those specific things. When I talk about that, I look at cybersecurity, privilege access management, identity management and you really drive those factors to the next level. People are working remotely every day, how do we ensure their security from their home office back to their company back to their customer back to their end-user, whoever that may be?

Fred Diamond: We talked before about customers so right now you’re dealing with federal customers. The federal government employee went through a huge shift like everybody did but even more so back in March when they all went home. They’re human beings, they deal with the same challenges that we do with everything that we’ve all had to adjust with and deal with. A question comes in here from Jerry again, Jerry wants to know, “Can you be empathetic with the federal customer?” I’m looking at the list of people here, we have dozens of people watching today’s webinar, I know some of them are selling to public sector and some of them are not but the federal customer. There’s rules, there’s laws, there are certain ways you can and can’t engage, it’s gotten even harder over the last couple years because of security in buildings. Talk about your conversations with the public sector federal customer. How has that changed and will we see that changing in the foreseeable future because of all this?

Bill O’Neill: I obviously have lots of colleagues that are in the industry as you do as well and everybody on this call does, you know people in government, you know people have partners and customers that size internally. You look at that and you think about the empathetic side of it, everybody’s concerned whether they have a loved one or family member or colleague that has been affected by the pandemic. You have to take that with what it is, it’s a terrible thing but also, how do you help that customer or partner get to the next level? You get to turn it around and say, “I understand you’re going through a terrible situation.” Have a little empathy around that because we just don’t know where their head is at and you think about that and then you say, “What can I do to help you with your situation?”

That may be, “How do I get that PO over the line?”, “How do I do a demo with you?”, “How do I put a service person on the ground in your environment in a safe way?” Everybody’s got to wear a mask now, everybody has to wear goggles, gloves, different things but if you’re going to have to go on the ground, you have a service member of your team that has to go into a site and perform a mission critical solution for a customer whether it’s in the navy or if it’s in the city of New York, that’s a tough thing to ask an employee to do or even a customer or a partner to do. I look at it as a change element and you have to really drive that particular environment with that customer to ensure their success and there’s a lot of test points there. You think about, “What do I need to do if I’m going to send a person into that environment? How do I drive that to make the customer feel comfortable as well?”

Fred Diamond: We have a bunch of people here at different stages of their sales career, I see some people here who are senior as well. How would you coach people who are seasoned/senior in their sales career who work for you and how would you coach some of the people who are junior as well? Let’s start with the people who are a little more seasoned, if you will. Everybody’s still going through challenges, the world has changed in a lot of ways. We did a webinar a couple weeks ago with the great Alice Heiman who’s from the Miller Heiman family and she talked about, “Yes, we’re remote now but it’s still sales.” At some level that’s true but there are some curveballs that have been thrown in. How are you coaching your 20 year vets out there? And then tell us how you’re coaching the people that might be 2-3 years into their sales career.

Bill O’Neill: The seasoned professionals that have been part of our organization, part of partner teams and SI teams for an extended period of time are really jumping in and helping the junior folks. If you think about how we generate leads, how we generate pipeline today, it’s gotten more difficult. If you had a pipeline that started a year ago, you’re still nurturing that pipeline, you’re still working that pipeline. We’re looking at next year and how we drive a different pipeline, how we get in front of that. I go back to the contract vehicles, who are the people that are making those decisions? Whether it’s a senior person and you say, “How do I work with great companies like immix or Carahsoft and help them drive their behavior and generate that pipeline?”

That’s one way, the other way is to get to the big SI’s whether it’s general to immix or Lockheed, Harris, some of these larger companies and work with their contract vehicles – Leidos is another great company, Perspecta, there are so many out there that you can go nurture and you don’t necessarily have to be in front of those people on a day to day basis. I’ve managed teams for the last 30 years remotely so it’s not a change in our behavior, salespeople are out, we expect them to be in front of customers or online talking to folks and that’s the nature of our business. It’s a little bit different and I understand that when people have to work remotely but I still see the drive and you still have to have that empathy around driving the customer but then taking that time out. People used to say, “I’ll have a 7 o’clock meeting for breakfast”, they’re not doing that much anymore.

The seasoned people are really driving a lot of that behavior and I would say for the younger folks that are inside sales that are driving different behavior, they’re looking at elements, how do they step their game up and how do they change that? What I mean by that is you have to drive it through a specific partner that has a contract vehicle to get to that end-user in a specific way.

Fred Diamond: A follow-up question to that, we have a number of junior people here, a lot of senior people as well. We get over 7,000 people who download the Sales Game Changers podcast. Looking back over your career, Bill, again you’re leading public sector for Centrify, you’ve led sales organizations at great companies, what are some of the things that you think have gotten you to a senior level, to an executive level in sales that you would recommend to people? Back to your career, what are some of the things, Bill, that you think have set you aside to get you to this level that people listening might want to emulate or think about?

Bill O’Neill: There’s many different leaders as we know out there, I look at myself as a player/coach type of person and I like to be in front of our folks. What I mean by that is if I have a person I’d say, “How are we going to do this?” We all do QBRs – Quarterly Business Reviews – and it drives a little bit of different behavior. I can just say, “Go do it and whatever happens, happens.” I’m more, “It’s all about the planning 2 weeks before that quarterly business review and what the steps are that we need to do to look at the opportunities that are coming out. What partners and what SIs are we bringing into that discussion?” When you think about that, your question is specifically around what we do differently, I look at that. It’s more about the conversation and the player/coach mentality.

If I’m going to be a dictator, that doesn’t work. I need to be the player/coach out there really getting people and I’m open to ideas, I’m not a perfect guy. Constructive criticism is a great thing that you can take and you can walk back and say, “I probably didn’t do that quite right.” To get to the next level you have to be that player/coach person, you have to take that constructive criticism. When I started at Raytheon, I was there 17 years and all the other companies that I’ve worked for, I still reach out to people in my previous employment and I ask them how it’s going. “We took down a 350 million dollar deal, how did that really go? What could have we done differently?” We won the deal but we probably could have done a few things differently to really change the outcome and get the deal in sooner. I would say constructive criticism is a big deal, I’d say player/coach is a big deal and I’d say looking at empathy from your past employers and your customers and really talking to them and talking to your other folks that you’ve worked with in a previous career and checking in with them.

Fred Diamond: This is such a relationship type of a market and not just this marketplace. For a lot of the sales leaders that we interview in multiple markets, hospitality, financial services, commercial markets, they all have those same relationships. Most people don’t jump from industry to industry, you’ve made some jumps from service to product but most people are in the same general industry. Maybe somebody you’re working with today you’ll be working with again in 20 years. Before I ask you for your final thought, we have one more question here that comes in from Neil and Neil is in Virginia, “What are your expectations?” Again, you lead sales professionals right now, what are your expectations for your team right now? It’s November 4th, the pandemic is still here, lockdown hasn’t happened but we’re still in some degree of work-from-home which we’ll continue to be for the foreseeable future. Before I get your final action step for our listeners, tell us what your expectations are for your sales team right now.

Bill O’Neill: The expectation for the sales team really is to forward look around pipeline and building a new pipeline. There’s technology out there, there’s lots of different technology, how do we put our technology part of other solutions? You look at alliances, I look at technology alliances. You take Centrify and you put it with Splunk or you put it with another company and how do you build that technology alliance? But it’s also with the SIs and it’s also with the partners. How do we build that in such a way that we can really create the pipeline for next year? That’s my drive, I manage public sector which is SLED and fed and it’s a little different timeline around those two different markets but it’s also about the technology alliances and driving that technology alliance to the next level. It’s all about pipeline, I get we’re all working from home, I get there’s lots of things going on and I know we all want to get out of 2020 and get into ’21, it’s been a tough year for a lot of different people, for our family and friends and colleagues but we really need to move to that next level. That’s where I’m driving my folks, looking at the future and how we create, how we change the outcome.

Fred Diamond: We like to say that the pipe is the key so everything really in sales comes down to your pipeline at the end of the day no matter what time it is, what you’re going through or what you’re having to deal with. Bill O’Neill with Centrify, I want to thank you so much for all the great insights today. Bill, give us a final thought, give us an action item that people watching today’s webinar or listening to the podcast can do today to take their sales career to the next level.

Bill O’Neill: We talked about it earlier, you’ve got your mature salespeople that have been doing this for a long time, you have younger folks that are coming into the business. It’s a real tough time when kids are getting out of college and they’re trying to start their career and then you have seasoned professionals. What I would say is you can’t focus 18 hours of your day on work, you really need to take that time out and spend time with your family and friends and really balance that, have that empathy, have that mental health going forward here. If you don’t balance your life, it’ll be a terrible outcome but as a sales professional and driving into a next sales goal, we need to build big pipeline too. Keep your friends very close in the community and your partners and your customer and your family and friends. Take the time to spend time with family.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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