EPISODE 107: Juniper Networks Federal Leader Bob Dunn Explains Why Knowing the Solutions You Sell Deeply is Critical to Your Success
BOB’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “If you’re true to yourself and true to your customers, they will be true to you. If you could live that way and set a foundation that is firm that you believe in, you’ll be successful in sales.”
Bob Dunn is the VP of Federal for Juniper Networks.
He started his career at NYNEX before moving to Nortel. He also was a CEO at PacStar and also worked in private equity.
Find Bob on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that?
Bob Dunn: At Juniper, we focus on infrastructure build outs. That includes routers, switches, and firewalls and we have plenty of software overlay to make managing the infrastructure easy. I like to say we like to hit that easy button and engineering simplicity is our mantra of the day. We firmly believe in that.
We focus on service providers as customers, I in particular focus on our federal end users and I’m very proud of the fact that Juniper puts a lot of care into certifications and other requirements for our men and women in uniform.
Fred Diamond: I have a question for you, let’s just get started with a federal question. We have a lot of Sales Game Changers listening around the globe. What is it about the federal customer? You just alluded to their mission, but what is it about the federal government customer that has led you to serve them, to sell to that audience?
Bob Dunn: I like their process flow. I moved down from commercial, moved down here to Virginia about 16 years ago and an old mentor of mine said, “I need your help with this federal thing they have going on down here.” I came down here, joined the team, just a fantastic team. The one thing I did notice was that people are all the same. People that make buying decisions, they make buying decisions for a lot of the same reasons as commercial people do.
People buy from people they trust, people they respect, people they like and I found it very rewarding in working with our federal customers not only because of the mission. Obviously our federal customers are very much focused on the mission but also because of the process flow. It’s very straight, it’s direct. There’s even a process for overview and then they make their decision. I like that straightforwardness because I like to think of myself as very straightforward as well.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Tell us a little bit about how you got into sales as a career.
Bob Dunn: In the beginning it was process of elimination. I knew I wasn’t going to be a lawyer, I knew I wasn’t going to be a doctor and as I kept going down the list of not being a pro basketball player – I’m 5’8 and can’t dunk – I realized that I was very goal oriented. Being in sales every year you have to do it over and over again. Nothing is really there for you to hang your hat on, so every year you go for those awards, you go for the best, you go for the elite sales reputation and I’ve been doing that now for 30+ years and have loved every second of it. Not only carrying a bag as they say, but also mentoring people and helping them in their careers as well, other salespeople.
Fred Diamond: How’d you first get into sales? What was the first job you had?
Bob Dunn: My senior year at Boston College I was an intern at NYNEX so I did a lot of paper pushing but I watched the customer sales and the inside sales reps on the phone and I enjoyed hearing them deal with customer issues, making sure that they stepped up to all the challenges but they did it in a professional manner and I really learned from them.
When I graduated from Boston College, I took a job with Pillsbury and it was called a sales job but I was really stocking shelves with Bundt cake. I realized selling Bundt cake and stocking shelves wasn’t the sales career I was looking for. I got a call from my old boss at NYNEX saying, “If you want to come sell for us, you’re going to have to sell PDX voice switches.” I remember leaving Pillsbury. They said, “I don’t know who you’re going to be selling to, but I’m not going to be buying a $50,000 voice switch from a 22 year old kid.” When I turned 23 and I sold my first $78,000 data switch, I just sent them a little note saying, “Here’s a little bit of what I’ve been doing now. Hope you’re doing well with your Bundt cakes!”
Fred Diamond: Very good. Do you still eat Bundt cakes or not at all?
Bob Dunn: I try to avoid as much the Bundt cake as I can.
Fred Diamond: That’s quite interesting. When you went to NYNEX you said you got your first big deal, $78,000 data switch when you were 23 years old. You made that switch from Pillsbury over to NYNEX. What were some of the lessons that you learned early on to get you in position to have such great success early in your sales career?
Bob Dunn: That’s a good question, Fred. Initially it was you have to know your product and your solution. You have to know the business challenges of your customer, you have to know your customer and then when you put those things together, if you can come across as – and you are, frankly it is part of your DNA to be trustworthy, to be honest, to be transparent, once you show the knowledge base of what that customer needs, whether you’re 22 or 72 you can be successful. I found that that way of doing business has done very well by me.
Fred Diamond: Obviously you’re big in the federal space now. In your early part of your career was it more knowledge of the product that you had that set you apart or did you have some knowledge of particular customer base?
Bob Dunn: It was more of the product. At the time, especially at Nortel, we were divided up by territory, so it was really just getting out there and meeting people as often as you could. At that time I was in New York, part of my career was actually at the World Trade Center which is a story in itself. I was downtown New York and midtown New York quite a bit and it was not necessarily carrying a bag, but wheeling around a demo kit that showed the intricacies of our product.
It was really knowledge base of the switch and what it could do, then you had your pricing that the numbers always came into play and Nortel did a very good job at making sure we were armed with all the information that we needed. While it’s a complex sale – you’re not going to walk out of there at day 1 with a $50,000 dollar check at the time or more – you developed a relationship and that’s where the knowledge of the product and the relationship with the customer coupled and often turned into a sale. I did very well in my early career just carrying a bag.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Let’s talk a little more about Bob Dunn, tell us a little more about you. Tell us what you’re specifically an expert in. Bob, tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Bob Dunn: I surround myself with the best possible people right now and when I joined Juniper, which was a little bit over a year ago, I realized that we had to do some realignment. I don’t know if it’s brilliance, I just think it’s the nature of being a salesperson, respecting the men and women in that role and identifying what you need in that role to be a great salesperson and to earn the trust of your customers.
Then ultimately building a big group and then having those groups work together and building a great team, then taking the sales operations functions, pulling them altogether whether that’s HR or finance or other and then building up the best possible federal team that hits the street. I firmly believe right now we’re on a great trajectory, we’re doing very well, we’re growing month over month, quarter over quarter and I would say that we’re going to grow year over year as well. I’d like to think it’s just recognizing great people, great salespeople and hiring those and surrounding myself with those who really know what they’re doing.
Fred Diamond: That’s powerful. One of our mottos that we like the best is Jim Rohn’s quote, “You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” so surrounding yourself with great people, that’s fantastic. Obviously you’ve surrounded yourself with a great team but you’ve probably had some people along the way who helped you get going. Again, you had a great start when you went from Pillsbury over to NYNEX. Could you talk about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Bob Dunn: I sure can. I gave this some thought just in case you asked this question and my #1 mentor throughout by career has been a guy by the name of Anthony Cioffi, who just so happens to be my boss today. I say that because I’ve known Anthony for 25 years, he was my second boss at Nortel and I learned from him direct speak. He leads by example and he also tends to lead or tell people to get out of the way. Join or let others that know what they’re doing do it. I’ve always watched him and his direct approach and for me, that’s what I love, direct, honest, upfront, blunt people.
Not only did I get to work for him and learn from him, throughout my career I watched him and watched him move up in his career as I took different paths of my career and then 15 years later I’m back working for him. I got the call on Good Friday saying, “Bob, I have a challenge. I want to talk to you about it.”
Fred Diamond: Curiously, how did that impact you? How did you be a sales leader from what you learned with directness? Short meetings, early mornings, what are some of the things that you do in your daily practice as a sales leader to practice direct speak and things that Anthony taught you?
Bob Dunn: You make a good point, Fred, about early meetings or late meetings. I’m not a clock puncher, we are very flexible in the way we operate. We are laser focused on the numbers and exceeding plan, we are laser focused on making sure that we abide by the strategy and the overarching mission and vision of what we’re trying to accomplish and then watching Anthony as an example be very direct with everybody that he works with, works for and works around, his peers included. I think the worst way you can operate is to be passive aggressive.
I think there’s nothing worse than an individual that’s passive aggressive because you never know where you stand, people that work for you never know where they stand and I don’t know that you can build a cohesive team with that approach. The more direct, the more honest you are with people the better it is for them, the better it is for the team. Whether that’s building them up because they’re doing a great job or helping those that are struggling to be better or letting people know, “Maybe this isn’t for you”, I think the more direct you can be and the more honest you can be the better off you will be as a leader. Anthony taught me that.
Fred Diamond: That’s powerful. In line with that, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Bob Dunn: I think the #1 challenge is always exceeding plan. You have to do that year over year and the growth target’s handed down from above or sometimes as we all know, very difficult or a stretch. We’ve all gone through that in our careers. Not only exceeding plan but then building camaraderie and competitiveness and making sure that everybody on the team whether it’s 80 or 160 people are rowing in the same direction.
You have this ultimate goal that you have to exceed plan, but you also have to make sure that everybody on that ship is rowing in the same direction making sure that the team exceeds plan and it’s not necessarily about the individual contribution which is important but it’s more about the team and that mantra of one team, one fight.
Fred Diamond: What’s the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? Bob, why don’t you take us back to that moment?
Bob Dunn: I would say that moment was when I came down from New York. First time I was the director of business development for Nortel Federal and DISA was talking about upgrading their TDM network to voice over IP and I remember the director of DOD telling me – who shall go nameless although I remember his name very well, he was a bit of a curmudgeon – he said, “That will never happen. Don’t even bother wasting your time.”
That to me is a challenge, that’s a competitive gauntlet thrown down. We’ll see. Long story short, 6 to 8 months later I got to know Tony very well. Another very direct, firm but honest person, he tells it like it is and is very transparent in his approach. We upgraded DISA’s main core, all 8 switches to voice over IP.
Fred Diamond: From the moment he said to you, “It’s never going to happen” to the moment you got the order, how long did that take?
Bob Dunn: It took about 8 months.
Fred Diamond: 8 months, good for you.
Bob Dunn: Upgrading the core infrastructure for DISA on the voice side was obviously very challenging as data had its own challenges, we on the voice side had our own challenges.
Fred Diamond: Let’s get deep into, if you don’t mind, for a second or two. You get this customer who says, “It’s never going to happen.” You obviously talked about direct speak, you’re not going to let that be the case and as a matter of fact, all the Sales Game Changers that we’ve interview would have taken that as a challenge. I almost can guarantee you, having to reflect back on some of the interviews that we’ve done over the last year. Tell us some of the highlights along the year or the 8 months that got to, “It ain’t never going to happen” to, “You’re installing the switches for the core.”
Bob Dunn: I think part of it was definitely my stick-to-it-iveness. Tony would often say that I’m a friendly pest. I’m not sure still to this day how I take that, but I earned his trust and once we got past the technology speak and we knew it was the right thing to do and Tony got all these engineers. It wasn’t just Tony but you got all these engineers in the room and they knew it was the right thing to do, and then we started getting into pricing.
Because I earned that trust, he felt comfortable with the numbers I was giving him and I walked him through every way and option that he had to pay for the switches because it was not inexpensive. I think over time it’s building that relationship, again going back to showing the knowledge base of the solution, the timeline, the team that’s going to be involved and how we would stick by him 100% of the way while making it cost effective for him and ultimately DISA saved money as a result of the upgrade to voice over IP, I think made the difference.
Fred Diamond: Bob, you’ve had a great career in sales. You’ve given us some great examples. Do you ever question being in sales? Do you ever look back on that Pillsbury Bundt stocking days and say, “It’ll be nice to throw some things up on a shelf for a big brand like Pillsbury”? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Bob Dunn: I think every January 1st when I got my new quota. I suppose we always have our doubts. Was I a manager fast enough? Was I a director fast enough? Did I get to VP fast enough? But I look back on my career, the greatest times I had were when we were at Nortel and we had the row of the five killers. It was Steve and Laura and Brian, we all were competitive but we were all very friendly. We all wanted to win but we knew as a team we covered each other’s back.
From that point to the job that I have now which is the most fun I’ve ever had in any position right now and the best team I’ve ever coached, if you will, right now I have no regrets. Never really wanted to go back and wonder if I could be regional manager of Pillsbury, I don’t know that it was really meant for me.
Fred Diamond: Bob, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to emerging sales professionals to help them improve their career?
Bob Dunn: It’s what I talked about initially from my own career which is know your solutions. If you are in the true sales game, know what you’re selling. Don’t count on anybody walking in there with you knowing more than you have to know. I’m not a big fan of the 4-legged sales call. In our industry in technology often you have the account manager and the pre sales engineer. What we’re trying to do, at least in our civilian territory, is build that team that really has got an engineering background but can also be that salesperson, that account manager that the customers ultimately trust. It seems that that experiment’s paying off. Sometimes, the solutions are just too complex and too customized and that’s not always going to work. I respect that, but I think if salespeople who are coming up know their solutions, are transparent and trustworthy, they will do very well.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you do today to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Bob Dunn: I always stay on the Juniper website, always know and understand the latest releases of code that are coming out on our solutions, understand the strategic vision of our CEO Rami, Bikash our CTO, Manoj our chief product officer, understanding where Anthony wants to take the Americas and staying attuned to those messages and those visions. Then I just took a strategy offsite with my team.
After a year I said, “OK, we’re doing very well tactically, but now how are we going to double our numbers in three years? That takes a little bit more strategic vision. I’m not going to pretend to know everything, I want to hear from everybody on this team because you have a lot of great thoughts and you’re all successful in your own right. That’s another way that I stay up to speed with everything that touches our group.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Bob Dunn: We are going after those big rocks as they’re called to make a big difference in a certain sector with a certain customer. I’m not saying we’re ready to prime, because that’s typically not what a trusted technology company does in the marketplace, at least in federal, but we are looking at bigger strategic initiatives that may not close within 6 months, may take 18 months but that’s how you’re going to build the bigger pipeline and get to those bigger numbers.
Fred Diamond: Bob, sales is hard. People don’t return your phone calls, especially with your customer base and of course Juniper has a great brand but customer makes it more difficult to get to, there’s more security requirements, you can’t walk around buildings like you used to. Why have you continued, though? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Bob Dunn: The goal and the competitiveness of the goal. Anthony Cioffi has 8 sectors, if you will, go to market teams. Federal right now is #1 and going between #1 and 2 it’s competitive but we operate as a family. We’re the America’s family and federal is a part of that America’s family. Initially when I joined, it was this notion of the island of misfit toys because federal is “different”. OK, we’re different in some ways and procurement is different in some ways and perhaps there are too many acronyms – IDIQ and GWAC – but again, it’s the people buying from people and we can learn from what the commercial entities are doing because they’re also selling Juniper solutions. If we take their best of breed, add our certifications, add what we need to do for our federal customers, we can knock it out of the park – and we do, we’re doing very well.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe today?
Bob Dunn: If you’re true to yourself and true to your customers, they will be true to you. If you could live that way and set a foundation that is firm that you believe in, you’ll be successful in sales.