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EPISODE 155: Cricket Media’s Bob Sanregret Says This Insight Took Him From Product Management into Sales Leadership
BOB’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Keep your eye on the metrics that are important. When you determine what the metric is, then focus on the impact that paying attention to those metrics will have on the end user/end customer because if you’re doing your job correctly and you’re doing your job well, you’re having a positive impact on people’s lives.”
Bob Sanregret is the Senior VP of Sales at Cricket Media.
Previously, he held sales leadership positions at Learning Tree International.
He was the co-founder of the Hot Lava Software company that was sold eventually to IBM.
Find Bob on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Bob Sanregret: I grew up in Southern California, Newport Beach, Seal Beach. I went to Loyola Marymount, my first job out of college was at Learning Tree and I was there for 14 years starting off in product development and moving on through to ending up as a VP of sales for about 5 years. That’s where I met Mark LaFleur as well, I think I hired him in his first outside sales job, super good friend today.
Fred Diamond: Very good. He’s a great guy and he’s been a good friend of the Institute. Cricket Media, tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Bob Sanregret: Cricked Media is a 35 year old children’s magazine book publisher. They brought me in, most of my background was in software as a service and educational technology solutions and they brought me in to basically take their 35 years in digital assets and find other things we could do with them. It was an exciting opportunity to take award-winning, super high quality K-8 content and bring it into the world to be reused. Today if your children are in first through eighth grade, 80% of the time they’re using Cricket Media content for any type of testing that they do. They’re reading it, they don’t know it’s Cricket Media content, it’s ETS or one of the other testing companies but that excites me. We improve the lives of children and teachers by bringing them super high quality tested, proven, published content that they can use.
Fred Diamond: For the listeners on the podcast today, who do you sell to? You mentioned that the end user may not know that it’s Cricket Media content, but who do you, who does your team go after, what type of people?
Bob Sanregret: My team is pretty diverse. I have one person who focuses specifically on K-8 and she sells bulk subscriptions to use in classrooms. They use our content, our actual physical magazine as reading material, supplemental reading material, daily reading material. Our content covers science, history and also straight up reading but the more exciting piece of it in a lot of ways to me is we’ll take our same content and we’ll sell it to all the big publishing companies: McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin, Pearson and then the big testing companies like ETS. They’ll use our content to integrate into their straight books that are used for publishing to the classrooms, to their educational technology products or to the testing/reading intervention solutions.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned right after college you went to Learning Tree, did you start in sales? You mentioned product management originally.
Bob Sanregret: My first job was in product management and I pretty much did not like salespeople, I thought sales was an absolute disgusting necessary evil. My first job was in product management and I managed a series of courses that had to do with data technology and all kinds of stuff back in the 80’s and 90’s early days, and moved in after a period of time to helping salespeople design custom programs. Then from there I saw how the sales process worked and absolutely fell in love.
I met some amazing salespeople that were very talented at listening to what customers wanted, sat in a room, I’m taking notes to design the programs but they’re communicating with these customers and they truly cared about what the customers needed. I really fell in love with sales.
Fred Diamond: How did that go, you just went to the boss and say, “I want to move out of product management into sales” and they said, “Sure, here’s your quota, go”?
Bob Sanregret: It was kind of like that. The CEO basically said, “You have management potential, we want to move you back east so that you’re in actual operating unit instead of at corporate and really get more engaged with the people.” I took a position as operations director and I ran all of the physical operations components of Learning Tree in Reston, but that also included helping out the onsite, the custom group. I ended up moving more of my time into the custom group and then they brought me in and said, “You’re going to be our senior sales engineer and basically help for all these deals.” I got positioned into it by going into management and then moving around.
Fred Diamond: Curiously, how long was the transition? You mentioned in the beginning that you weren’t a big fan of sales, but obviously now we’re talking to you on the Sales Game Changers podcast and again you went into a sales role after taking operations. How long was that transition, did it take you a year, two, three, five years before you woke up one day and said, “You know what? This is where I should be”?
Bob Sanregret: It was probably about three years because I did operations, I understood how all of that worked and I flew all around the world, it was the most awesome job out of college you can imagine. I was in London 6 weeks after graduating college for a week, so I loved it. Then I met the salespeople over there and started to really embrace it, and it was probably about two years and then I just fell in love with sales and I haven’t gone back. I had a sales job at Learning Tree for 6 months and then I was promoted to VP of sales.
The nice thing was that the sales team who I developed relationships with, there was like 12 of them, they’re the ones who wanted me to be VP of sales. I was the youngest VP of sales Learning Tree had ever seen, I was like 25 at the time and I was managing. Everybody was older than me, so I was the absolute youngest one on the team but I actually added value to what they did because as a product manager, I was giving them ideas and, “Why don’t you talk to the customer about this? Why don’t you suggest that?” The salespeople loved having a VP of sales that actually helped them instead of a VP of sales that tried to just tell them what to do.
Fred Diamond: When you made that shift, what were some of the key lessons you took away when you moved into sales?
Bob Sanregret: I think one of the biggest things was really focusing energy on the customer, focusing on what the customer needs today and might need tomorrow, and then finding ways to position it to the customer. I learned that through hundreds of hours of sitting with salespeople just listening, listening is the key to sales and the best salespeople I’ve known in my entire life have always been people that had the ability to say one thing and then listen ten times higher. It’s the old adage, “We have two ears and one mouth, use them in that order.”
Fred Diamond: That comes up not infrequently, the recommendation to become a better listener and people talk about the same analogy you just said, “You have two ears, one mouth, use them in that order”, the 66% solution. What are some of the tips that you have for the Sales Game Changers listening to the podcast to become a better listener?
Bob Sanregret: I think, Fred, to me one of the biggest challenges that I found in hiring sales reps – and this all goes to that same point – is finding people that actually care about what the customers do, actually truly have an interest in what the customers do. If you truly care about something, you’re going to want to learn more about it, you’re going to want to embrace it, you’re going to want to become a part of it. The only way you’re going to do that if you’re talking to Lockheed Martin and you’re trying to sell him training courses, you want to learn about what that division does, so you ask questions. When you ask questions, people love to talk, everybody loves to talk.
Fred Diamond: Typically people who are buying the type of thing that you’re selling in technology and software are not going to be talking about it at home, so if they find somebody who’s interested they’re always going to be excited to chat about it. Tell us a little more about you, tell us what you’re an expert in. Tell us more about your specific area of brilliance.
Bob Sanregret: I’ve been a VP of sales since I was 26, so that was many years ago, but the last 10 years I’ve really tuned the importance of identifying the correct metrics to measure which in the beginning you talk about relationship development and identifying problems, whether it’s spin selling or disc analysis. Really the metrics to measure for what it is that helps you find more prospects, more leads, how do you measure the success, it’s not just about opportunities and sales forcing. Of course everybody thinks it’s all about closed deals, it’s not about closed deals. It’s about what can you measure that feeds the ability for a rep to have an opportunity added to sales force, so that’s pretty much a very passionate area of mine today. I’m all about finding new lists, finding new prospects, using LinkedIn, using all kinds of other channels to help find replicable and repeatable ways to find new potential prospects.
Fred Diamond: Top of your head, what are some of the key metrics that you believe the sales leaders listening to the podcast today should be checking and thinking about?
Bob Sanregret: You need to get that flow down to say, “If I do an email send to 10 thousand names, how many people respond? Of those people that respond, how many people actually take my call? What have I used as the hook to get them to take the call, what have I used as the incentive to take the call and how many of those become opportunities?” I like to go as far back the funnel as I possibly can to say it’s the activities, whether it’s an email blast or a number of calls or the number of people in an organization that you touch that actually starts the whole ball rolling.
That’s a hard one, because to get more names and to get more activity you have to outsource telemarketing or internal telemarketing or do more email blasts and it costs a lot of money. Then everybody says, “Just tell your people to sell more.” No, to sell more we need to have better prospects and we’ll sell more and we’ll have higher quality opportunities added to sales force.
Fred Diamond: Again, you start out in product management, then you saw what the sales professionals were doing. You had a deeper appreciation as you went along the way, the company tapped you relatively early on, again the first company you were at after college. You must have had a mentor or two who guided you along, why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they helped you along the way on your career?
Bob Sanregret: It’s interesting, I was thinking about that question. The two mentors that I would suggest to everybody, #1 was the CEO of Learning Tree. I was two levels away from him, but I was a young kid out of college and I worked 12 hour days as product manager so I would be there late at night. He’d be there late at night and we would hang out, everybody’d be gone. It’d be me and him and maybe one or two other people. He would sit me down and talk to me, he really drilled into me the importance of caring about the customer. It’s not even the company first, he almost made it like the customer first and that has been a rare situation that I’ve seen CEO’s actually focus on that. I learned a lot from David Collins about how important it is to put the customer and the customer’s needs first and going the next level when you’re involved with education. If you do that, you’re having a huge positive impact on society because if we could bring more technical skills in the hands of engineers and software developers, they’re going to have an impact in helping society move forward. David was a huge mentor to me.
The next one was a sales rep, her name was Marti Lutanski (Sanregret) and she was one of the top sales reps at Learning Tree and I was the sales engineer. We did a deal with Sun Microsystems where she brought me in as the product manager/product developer for a series of courses. It was the largest deal Learning Tree ever did in that realm, it was like $500 thousand a year which was very big for Learning Tree. She showed me the ropes of the deeper side of sales, because I would be in every meeting she was in and she always tells me to this day – because I married her later – she always tells me, “That’s when I had to kick you under the table. She would kick me under the table every time I would start something that would disrupt the flow of the relationship development with the customer. She ended up being a pretty big mentor to me over the years, and then later I was her boss which was ironic. I don’t know if she voted for me or not, but the rest of the team voted and I became VP of sales.
Fred Diamond: Tell us the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader.
Bob Sanregret: I learned a long time ago that as a VP of sales or as a sales manager, it’s not your job to motivate people. It’s your job to not demotivate people and protect them from becoming demotivated. Throughout my years even here, you find that sales reps often times get demotivated by other people in the company who basically say, “No, we can’t do something” which of course we can do, it’s just a matter of being creative. That’s been a continual struggle, is to educate the other executives in any company I’ve worked for as to how important it is to not demotivate the salespeople. Salespeople have to motivate themselves and you could try to understand how they’re happier, but I would say the key is not demotivating them and I found that that’s been a challenge, to get the rest of the company to understand how important it is to not demotivate salespeople.
Other challenge is also continuing the stream of where leads are coming in from, where prospects are coming in from, keeping an eye on the ball with the marketing team, if the marketing team is under you, stay on top of it. I’ve been VP of sales for probably 8 companies now, and the first thing you do is come in and basically milk the existing database that was never very well milked before and work the heck out of it. That’s fine and dandy, and that lasts for about a year or two and you make a ton of money but then after that you need to find new channels.
Here at Cricket it’s been a challenge because how many people need to license children’s magazine content? We had to get creative in who we looked for and how we founded new channels and added International, of course, as the next. Finding new places for your sales reps and new leads for your sales reps and sales team to work is the second challenge.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned you were the sales VP at approximately 8 companies. Why don’t you pinpoint the one success or win from your career that you’re most proud of?
Bob Sanregret: I was VP of Sales at Livemocha, a language learning company out of Seattle, amazing company with amazing people. The CEO, Michael Schutzler is one of the best bosses I’ve had in my entire life, very inspirational person. He basically handed me this team and I fired both the members of the team within probably three months because they were absolutely horrendous and had terrible attitudes. In sales, if you’re a sales manager and people have bad attitude, you want to get rid of them very fast especially if it’s a small team because they will drag everything else down, you will fail and be fired.
What I did was fire those two people immediately, took these two interns that were young kids out of college, made them the salespeople and we ended up creating a $4 million dollar revenue stream in two years from basically zero. That allowed us to then sell the company to Rosetta Stone. During that process, the two things that we did that were huge were create a product that could be sold in corporate and redesign the back end so that there’s administrative panels so you can see the activities that users accomplished, and we went into the library space. We opened up a brand new channel in the library space for Livemocha and that ended up becoming probably a quarter of the revenue and 3/4 was education and corporate.
Fred Diamond: You’ve got to be creative, one thing that comes up not infrequently on the Sales Game Changers podcast is let’s say you’re having a bad month or things aren’t working out or there are issues in your marketplace. Of course, earlier this year the government had a shutdown so a lot of companies had to rethink what they were selling. You’ve got to figure out another place to sell or another market to go into or sell something different to your customer, that’s come up a number of times. Bob, did you ever question being in sales? Again, you made the shift from product management. Right out of school you went to a product management job, you even said in the beginning that you really had a distaste for the whole process of sales but of course now you’ve mentioned that you’ve been the sales leader at 8 different companies. Did you ever question yourself? Did you ever think to yourself along the way, “I’d rather go back into product management, this sales thing, it just ain’t for me”?
Bob Sanregret: Not really. I’ve wanted to go into acting and become a rock star but neither of those really had any possible outcomes [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: Do you play an instrument at all?
Bob Sanregret: I play a little guitar, but I’m kidding. From the beginning I loved sales at Learning Tree and did the disk training, did the spin sale training, did a conceptional sale training and the whole concept of sales to me can be whatever you want. You have the ability to be a product manager in sales, you have the ability to be a marketer in sales. You have such freedom in sales that you don’t have in other positions that to me, it’s an ideal vocation for anyone who’s inclined to that. The one thing about sales – I think I could have probably said this earlier – one of the challenges in sales is you have to be comfortable accepting rejection and a lot of people aren’t comfortable accepting rejection. I don’t have a problem with it, I love coming up with ideas. Sometimes I get mad at customers because I’ve given them a perfect solution and they haven’t agreed with it and I’m like, “You’re the one that’s going to lose out on this.” They’ve rejected me, but I’ve never really had a problem with that.
Fred Diamond: Bob, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening around the globe today to help them take their careers to the next level?
Bob Sanregret: I would say keep your eye on the metrics that are important. Learn and keep your eye on those metrics and pay attention. I’m in sales force probably 20 times a day – which may be a little bit overkill – looking at what’s going on, how deals are moving forward, what’s happening with our opportunities. We have probably 125 opportunities in sales force right now between the teams and I evaluate those and look at those and then dig in once in a while. There’s an old adage to say, “Inspect what you expect or you can expect failure.” Inspection of what you want your sales team to be doing and calling them out, helping them out and saying, “Do you need any help with this?” that’s a huge one.
The second is understanding the customer and understanding what the customer needs, and caring about the customer. That to me has been something that’s helped me in my career. As soon as I come in and I meet a customer and I do, truly, in my heart care but even if you can’t truly in your heart care, at least pretend that you’re caring to the point where they believe you because the more you care about the customer the more success you’re going to have. Then when you’re back talking to the executives in your company which are the ones that’ll determine whether you’re promoted, they will understand that you truly care about the customer and that will help you move up the ladder.
Fred Diamond: I think it’s not just the caring but caring about their business objectives. This has come up a number of times on the podcast as well, for you to really succeed in sales today you need to really earnestly think about what your customer is trying to achieve with their customer so you can bring them as much value as possible. Bob, what are some things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Bob Sanregret: I do a lot of digging and research into the newer technologies that are coming out in our area. Paying attention to LinkedIn feeds for what’s going on at the top 10 customer base helps me sharpen my saw in the industry and in general just pay more attention to what’s going on. That’s been very valuable, I read, I listen to podcasts, I read a lot of articles, LinkedIn is an amazing source to keep up to date. My LinkedIn, I’ve been there since the very beginning so I probably have 6,000 connections now and they have some great feeds. Some of them are funny, some of them are intellectual but I still love reading the feeds that are in podcasts from the people that I know. A lot of reading and a lot of paying attention to what’s going on in the industry.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Bob Sanregret: The marketing plans that we put together for Cricket cover about a two year period of time, and in those marketing plans a lot of what I’m doing is also benefiting the company, of course, and us growing as a company but also benefiting me. If I’m going to go to a trade show and that trade show is going to bring leads to Cricket Media then basically I’ll have the ability to also go to some of the seminars that are there and learn a lot. That will benefit Cricket too, but it also benefits me.
Fred Diamond: Bob, again we talked about your transition. One thing we really didn’t talk about – I just want to touch base before we move onto the last question or two – you were also the co-founder of a company that was quite successful, it was sold to another company and eventually made its way to IBM. Was that a detour along the way? Talk about that, how that impacted your career growth.
Bob Sanregret: I was VP of sales and business development at Global Knowledge and I was on a plane and I had a palm pilot in my hand. Back in the day there’s no cell phones, so you’re putting your calendar in and maybe playing a game of chess or something and I said, “This is really a computer. I wonder if we can do training on this thing.” I came up with this idea and came back and talked to my wife Marti and we basically brainstormed on, “I wonder if there’s a way to actually have education delivered on – back then – palm pilots and pocket PC’s.”
That started a hobby still keeping my VP of sales job. The background we were doing some work, we were working with some outsource contractors spending a bunch of our own money and basically building this thing up, just messing around with it. It all of a sudden took off and we received a large grant from the Kauffman Foundation. Everything else was dropped and all focus was in on Hot Lava. It was a hobby that turned into a business that we sold.
Fred Diamond: We’re talking here on the Sales Game Changers podcast, a lot of our listeners are sales professionals, executives like yourself and people who want to strive in their career to reach your level. Any lessons from that experience that have shifted or crafted you as a better sales leader?
Bob Sanregret: For sure, Fred. One thing that was a really great eye opening lesson is we had an idea and we started with that idea, and that idea didn’t really take off so we pivoted and then we tried another idea, and that idea didn’t really take off. These are all things that we’re doing on the side, we’ve got other things going. Then we pivoted again and the third pivot which was the same core technology but used in a different fashion and basically marketed and promoted in different fashion took off. We had customers all over the world, fortune 500 customers worldwide that basically loved what we did, allowed them to author their own content, put it on their own devices but originally our thought was about content. We shifted and created a content development tool and we turned it over to be, “No, this is about the content development tool and we’re going to give that to other people, let them create content.” Pivoting is the key.
Fred Diamond: Tell us why you’ve continued, what is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Bob Sanregret: In certain positions that I’ve had, the response rate has been worse than others and some of them it’s been really good. Some people you call 20 different people and one person responds and is interested and some people, depending on what the product is, you call five people and one person responds. When that one person responds is the reason I love sales, when they all the sudden embrace it and they engage in it and they say, “If we take this Cricket content and we integrate it into our learning technology product that’s delivered on phones or tablets, we can make a better product for kids.”
I always feel in my own heart that I’m a part of the bigger picture solution that that end customer is bringing to their audience, and that’s why I love sales, Fred. If you look at all of my past positions, it’s always been about that. For instance, let me give you another example. At Livemocha we did a deal with a company called Blue Bunny, ice cream company out of Ohio and they had a large team that spoke Spanish, didn’t speak English and we sold a deal to them to teach them English. I felt we’ve actually done a good job helping people learn English to become better, give them more opportunities and they’re going to end up making better ice cream because now they’ll be able to communicate better. Feeling a part of that solution is what keeps me going.
Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final tip, one thing you said before which really resonated with me, it was a great answer, when we talked about the position of sales and how it’s one of the only positions that you can really create. Of course you need to achieve your goals, you need to sell, you need to reach your quota if you’re working for a company, of course but you can go about doing that as far away as your creativity will take you. We tell people on the Sales Game Changers podcast that you need to think of your career as if you’re the CEO of Joe Smith Industries, and right now Joe Smith Industries is working for Cricket Media or Learning Tree or IBM, wherever it might be. What do you need to do? How can you be creative to help you take your career as a Sales Game Changer to the next level? Bob, thank you so much for the great content, I love the interview. Thank you Mark LaFleur who was our first guest for getting into our cycle here. Again we have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, give us one final thought to inspire them today.
Bob Sanregret: When you determine what the metric is, then focus on the impact that paying attention to those methods will have on the end user/end customer because if you’re doing your job correctly and you’re doing your job well, you’re having a positive impact on people’s lives. Always keep that as the target point of why you’re doing what you’re doing. To me, that really helps you drive, helps you make those extra phone calls, helps you make those extra sales calls, helps you do those extra email sends, whatever it takes, you just need to keep pushing and stay consistent and focus on your own personal metrics as well as the company metrics and use those as your driver every day.