EPISODE 102: Lookout Federal Sales Exec Bob Stevens Tells How His Competitor at Cisco Became His Mentor and Helped Him Grow as a Leader
BOB’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “I’ll say that a lot of salespeople think, “I can’t ask for the purchase order” or “I can’t ask the difficult questions like do you have the money, do you have the time, what is the timeline?” Frankly, these are not difficult questions. These are questions that our customers expect us to ask. I would say don’t ever be afraid to ask the question, because if you don’t ask the question the answer’s always no.”
Bob Stevens is the Vice President for Public Sector for Lookout Federal Systems.
Prior to coming to Lookout he was at Symantec, Brocade and Juniper Networks.
Find Bob on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little about yourself.
Bob Stevens: Happy to be here. A little bit about myself: I started my career actually in air force, first stationed at Andrew’s air force space which is how I ended up in the Washington DC area. I got lucky enough to have a really good job in the air force, it was basically computer science before anybody knew what computer science really was. Got out of the air force back in 1991 and started out as an engineer but quickly realized that the money was really in sales, not in engineering although the engineers do most of the work and I don’t think that’s changed, really, today. They still continue to do most of the work, sales guys get all the credit.
Fred Diamond: Absolutely true.
Bob Stevens: Works out well for them. I’ve now been in sales for almost 30 years, been a sales leader for about 28 years, 28 of those 30 years which I don’t tell many people so I guess everyone’s going to know now. I only carried a bag for about two years of my sales career but apparently somebody saw something in me that had them promoting me to the management side of things.
Fred Diamond: That’s very good, and again the Sales Game Changers podcast has listeners all around the globe so I’m excited to help you get your story out there. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Lookout Federal Systems? Tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Bob Stevens: Lookout is a mobile security company, that is 100% of our focus. We are securing Android and IOS devices, both smartphones and pads. The company’s been around for about 10 years. I enjoy working at Lookout for a couple of reasons, one is the technology – and this is probably going back to my engineering days – the technology is really interesting, it works and it works well and we have the opportunity to protect people’s information and protect people in the government.
One of the things that’s always excited me about sales is not just getting the purchase order – of course, that’s fun for all salespeople – but also the opportunity to help with the mission and I think what we offer potentially helps people secure their mobile device so they can be used in the mission in order to protect the US.
Fred Diamond: Interestingly, again you’ve had most of your career in public sector?
Bob Stevens: All of my career in public sector, yes.
Fred Diamond: We have people listening around the globe who may not know the public sector marketplace, and a lot of the people we’ve interviewed on the Sales Game Changers podcast have devoted their career to serving the federal customer. What is it about the federal or public sector customer that has appealed to you to devote your career to it?
Bob Stevens: I mentioned it a little bit, it’s really about the mission for me. I enjoy helping DOD perform their mission, also homeland security, good, important mission for all of us. Really for me it’s about helping them accomplish their mission in a more effective manner and if you look at some of the companies that I’ve worked at, we’ve been able to provide technology that helps them do just that.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned that you were originally an engineer and then you quickly moved into sales. Did someone notice something about you or did you just happen to notice that the sales guys were having more fun? Tell us a little bit about how you first got into sales as a career.
Bob Stevens: It’s probably a combination of both things you talked about. One, I knew the sales guys were making more money than me and that was kind of appealing but there was a person who’s name is Will McKenney who’s actually an ex colonel in the Air Force, probably the craziest pilot you would have met in your life but he saved a lot of lives during Vietnam, so a really great guy. He noticed some skills of mine like developing relationships and being able to get things done, doing what I say when I say, things like that. He said, “I think you ought to try this sales thing” and he actually made me a sales engineer to being with which is basically an engineer that has a quota. It was a nice transition from engineering into the true bag carrying salesperson.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the lessons that you learned that have stuck with you till today when you made that shift from engineering to sales?
Bob Stevens: It’s probably a few things. One is don’t be stubborn, here’s an example of what I’m talking about there: I was negotiating a contract with a customer and the vice president that I worked for at the time asked me how we were doing and I said, “Hey, we’re stuck on this one thing” and she said, “Bob, is that thing really important to you? Is that thing really that important that you need to dig your heels in and stall this entire contract?” and I said, “You know what? It’s not. We should probably just move on.” We did, we closed the contract and everybody was happy, so that’s one thing.
Try not to be stubborn. Another thing is to develop a strategy. I think salespeople today often just try to wing it and the days of winging it are gone, and I say that because I used to be a person that would wing it as well but I just don’t think you can do that anymore, nobody has time for winging it. You’ve got to lay out your plan and you have to execute on the plan. Those that do I think are a lot more accomplished. The other thing I would say is use all available resources. Another thing that drives me crazy today is that you find too many account managers or salespeople that want to try and go alone and then they can’t figure out why they weren’t able to accomplish what their objective was.
You’ve got to involve all possible resources, and what I tell them is you’ll hear a lot of sales managers saying, “Hey, you need to have ten meetings a week.” I think ten meetings a week is a fine goal, but it doesn’t have to be with customers. It could be with your peers in the industry because you can learn a lot from your peers. It can be from partners because you can learn a lot from the partners. It could be other OEM vendors, it doesn’t have to be customer focused all the time. These are all resources that you have available to you and are willing to help, you need to take advantage of it.
Fred Diamond: I like the point that you just made about not winging it and how the days of winging it are over. I think a large part of that and curiously in your thoughts is because the customer has much more control now with the internet and resources available to the customer. It used to be that the sales rep was basically a walking brochure 15, 20, 25 years ago. Now the customer’s coming with more information accessible to them via social market, social media if you will and just generally the internet.
Bob Stevens: You’re absolutely right. The customers are a lot more educated now than they used to be, which is why the role of the sales person has had to evolve or change over time. I think there’s still a lot of people out there that haven’t figured that out. They do understand the technology before you walk in the door, they understand your competitor before you walk in the door, they understand the differentiators. They understand your buying or selling cycle meaning I know that he’s going to come to me at the end of the quarter and offer me a sweet deal if I just wait it out. You’ve got to know all that in order to change all that.
Fred Diamond: Interesting. Let’s talk a little more about you – Bob Stevens, tell us what you are an expert in. Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Bob Stevens: I hope there’s a couple things. One would be putting together a strategy. I think I’m able to digest information about a particular opportunity very quickly, think a little farther out than most salespeople and help drive towards the end goal. I also think that I’ve been doing federal for so long I think I’m pretty versed at federal and understanding their buying cycles, what drives them, the different value that you can bring, things of that nature.
Fred Diamond: I’m curious on your thoughts, how has federal changed? 28 years ago you had your first job in sales. How has the market changed in federal specifically?
Bob Stevens: I think back when I first started, relationships were unbelievably important and most of the federal customers would take the time to develop a relationship with the vendors they worked for and with. Today, they don’t have the time for that. There’s too many of them for them to be able to develop relationships so I think relationships are still very important but they’re probably not as important as they used to be. I think what’s important today is bringing value to your customer. What can you bring them, whether information or technology that helps them get their job done or makes their job easier? And I think if you understand that, you have an easier job at trying to sell.
Fred Diamond: I think you’re 100% right on target. Great salespeople have always been value creators but even more so – and this comes across on the Sales Game Changers podcast all the time – the need for the sales professional to be successful means that they need to drive significant value more than ever before.
Bob Stevens: That’s true. If you’re not bringing value to the customer then they’re not going to see you. That’s the bottom line. I hear all too often a salesperson saying, “I’ve emailed and I called and I don’t ever hear back from them.” Well, I wonder what your message is, because it’s something that’s not resonating. You might want to think about changing it in order to resonate and provide that value that they need.
Fred Diamond: interesting, that’s very powerful. You mentioned a couple mentors before, I’ve heard that you’re also someone who likes to mentor as well but tell us a little bit about a specific, impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Bob Stevens: I’m going to give you two. One is his name was Jim Lawson – probably not supposed to use names, but that’s OK, I love Jim.
Fred Diamond: You’re more than welcome to use names.
Bob Stevens: He’s retired now, but Jim was the first sales guy I supported at a company called NET back in the day and Jim was just probably one of the best sales guys I’ve ever met. He could develop the relationship, I learned to bring the value part from Jim, he took the time to understand the customer situation and needs before he went and tried to talk to them about any technology that he had. He put in the hours, most salespeople don’t show up when an install was occurring, Jim was always there. I learned a lot from Jim, he was truly a great mentor for me.
The second one hopefully is a little interesting to you, this guy by the name of Wayne Fullerton. Back when I was at Juniper, Wayne was my competitor, he worked at Cisco and I had heard a lot about Wayne through friends and I had heard that he was at a point in his career where he enjoyed mentoring people and he probably did it throughout his career but I reached out to Wayne when he was my competitor and we got together and I asked him if he would help mentor me and he accepted.
We had a lot of great conversations about leadership, he provided me with a lot of great books to read about leadership and still to this day Wayne and I have maintained contact although he’s I think semi-retired now, but he was a great friend and a great mentor.
Fred Diamond: I want to make sure I heard you properly – he was a competitor.
Bob Stevens: That’s correct.
Fred Diamond: You knew him as a competitor, you picked up the phone one day and said, “Wayne, I’m working for your competitor, I’d like you to be my mentor” and he said yes.
Bob Stevens: That is correct, yes. I know it’s kind of hard to believe, but that’s exactly what happened.
Fred Diamond: We hear a lot about the term of co-opetition. Did you help each other? I guess my question really is what drove him to want to mentor. Obviously he was probably from a large company, I guess, he probably had a whole bunch of younger people who he could have mentored. What was attractive to him to spend time with you, Bob Stevens, to mentor you?
Bob Stevens: That’s a great question. Maybe it’s just that somebody had the courage to actually ask him to do that as a competitor, I don’t know. Maybe he was trying to gain some additional knowledge about his competitor at the particular time. We didn’t really talk about business much, it was really about leadership and skills and situations and how to act in a certain situation, things of that nature.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious – give us an example. Something you remember that Wayne had passed on to you, if you can.
Bob Stevens: It’s been a while since those conversations occurred, it was back in 2007. I just remember it was a couple of situations that I was struggling with from a leadership perspective on how to work with particular salespeople and he was able to coach me through those situations so that we had a positive outcome in the end.
Fred Diamond: That is actually a great example and I appreciate you sharing that with us. That is probably the first time that someone had mentioned that a competitor had been a mentor. We’ve had some situations where a customer had been a mentor, Sam McKenna who was one of our previous podcasts was selling into the legal marketplace for the first time and she approached one of her customers who helped her understand the legal marketplace. Thank you very much for the share, I appreciate that. Bob, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Bob Stevens: Hopefully I’m going to give you a couple that others don’t. I’m sure everybody talks about hiring and retention, I don’t really have that issue. I’m fortunate enough to have a very loyal following so that the people that I bring in have been with me for a long time and I hope will continue to be with me for a long time. I don’t really see that one.
One of the bigger ones I see is getting account managers, salespeople to think more than 30, 60, 90. What I see a lot is that they’re so focused on the business that they have to close this particular quarter that they forget that they’ve got to build a pipeline so that there’s business to close the next quarter or the quarter after that. I think we’ve trained them, frankly, to think this way so now we have to un-train them and try and get them to think more long term. It’s only going to benefit them in the end, really.
The second thing – and we talked a little bit about this earlier – is getting salespeople to map out strategies. It’s almost like it’s a dying art or an art that needs to be re-trained. I’m sure that most of them will do something in their head or have something in their head but having them put it in a document so that it can be followed and you can hold people accountable and ensure that it’s executed properly is a challenge today. It probably goes back to time again, how much time do you want me to spend doing this? Well, I want you to spend as much time as it takes because you’ll find that it’s more effective in the end.
Fred Diamond: Bob, take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Take us back to that moment.
Bob Stevens: There’s been a few in my career as you can’t do 30 years without having a few, but I’m going to go back to probably the first large one which is a program called GIG-BE when I was at Juniper. GIG-BE was basically building an IP backbone for DOD. They had had a TDM network – a time division multiplexing, probably most people don’t even know what that means anymore so I’m dating myself. They wanted to build an IP network, I was competing against Cisco so I had a great competitor, they’re always fun to compete against. It’s a huge win, was over $50 million in the first year which basically put Juniper Federal on the map.
The reason I say that it was probably the best was the team effort that was required to win that deal. There is no one person that could say, “Hey, I won GIG-BE.” There was a team of probably 40 people at the company and our partners that were helping to ensure that we won that opportunity. I’m sure that the competition will tell you today, “Hey, you bought it with discount.” We didn’t. We put together I think a great strategy, we worked with the key people in the customer base, we provided insane value and in the end we won, so it was a great accomplishment.
Fred Diamond: Bob, you’ve had a great career in sales. You’ve given us a lot of things to think about. The word strategy keeps coming up, so maybe we’ll touch up on that on the second half of the podcast. Did you ever question being in sales? Again, you started out as an engineer. Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “You know what? It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Bob Stevens: Probably every day like every good sales leader will tell you – well, I hope anyway. [Laughs] it is a challenging career, there’s no doubt about that. There’s certain stigmatisms that go along with it, but in the end it’s fun and I’ll tell you why it’s fun: #1 I like to win and you get to win a lot. Yeah, you get a lot of rejection but you can get a lot of great wins and of course winning is fun. A lot of people will tell you that sales people are coin-operated and for the most part they kind of are, we do this for the money but I would argue that before the money comes success and I think we’re all driven by success. We want to win and sales can provide you that opportunity, that feeling, that euphoric feeling on a pretty regular basis.
Fred Diamond: Especially when you work for some of the great brands and get some achievements and you get to see the impact of your work. The sales that you’re providing are to help the customer achieve their mission which is helping all of us as citizens so the work that you’re doing, it’s not just like you’re selling pens or something – no disrespect to pen sellers – but you’re helping critical organizations achieve critical missions.
Bob Stevens: That’s true. Again, as I said earlier, that’s a large part of the reason that I do this. Of course I love getting purchase orders but at the end of the day if I can go home and say, “I may have helped save some lives today” I think that’s a great thing.
Fred Diamond: Bob, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Bob Stevens: I will say that there’s one thing that no one can take away from you and that’s your hustle. You should never be out-hustled because that’s 100% up to you, 100% in your control. Think about that every day, what can I do to ensure that I’m not being out-hustled? Because as a salesperson there’s a lot of things that are just outside of your control. That’s one thing that is completely within your control and you should think about it every single day. Don’t get out-hustled.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What are some things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Bob Stevens: I like to surround myself with people that are smarter than I am, which isn’t very hard, but we have a federal advisory board here that’s made up of a bunch of great people. We’ve got General Hawkins who used to be the DISA commander and General Napper and Kirsten Todd and several others so I like to spend as much time with them pumping them for information. I also like to spend a lot of time with our CEO who is also a accomplished, he’s been at five different companies and been very successful in his career so I can learn a lot from him. I try and hang out with people that I know are better than me.
Fred Diamond: Bob, what’s a major initiative that you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Bob Stevens: That’s a good question. It’s probably a couple of things. One is like I mentioned, it’s spending time with all the folks that are on the advisory board and others in the industry. I like to do a lot of reading about leadership and how to hone my skills and as an example I was at your event last weekend, there was a book that was mentioned that I want to go out and get and read because it sounded pretty cool.
One of the things I like to do is collaborate a lot, so I like to ask all the time, “How could we do better?” or “How could I do better?” Unfortunately because I’m in the position that I’m in, the answer that you get a lot is, “You did great.” I don’t want to hear I did great, I want to hear how can we be better so collaboration is very important to me in trying to grow my career and my skills.
Fred Diamond: You’ve led some great teams, you’ve worked for some great brands in technology but sales is hard. We talked before about how the customer used to be all about relationships, now the customer doesn’t have time to develop relationships. Sales reps don’t want to be strategic, they don’t have the time for that, if you will. What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Bob Stevens: As a sales manager, it’s the success of the team. I really enjoy their accomplishments and helping them celebrate their accomplishments. As we mentioned earlier, sales is a different, tough career. You have to stop and understand the little things along the way and I don’t know that a lot of salespeople do that, generally they’re like, “Hey, when I get the purchase order that’s when I’m successful.”
How many steps did it take to get there, 10, 15, 20? All of those a little accomplishments. You need to take time to celebrate those, so for me what drives me every day is the success of the team, helping them grow, helping them accomplish their objectives and helping the customer meet their mission. We talked about that earlier.
Fred Diamond: Bob, why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe to today’s podcast?
Bob Stevens: I’ll say that a lot of salespeople think, “I can’t ask for the purchase order” or “I can’t ask the difficult questions like do you have the money, do you have the time, what is the timeline?” Frankly, these are not difficult questions. These are questions that our customers expect us to ask. Again, they’re better educated than they used to be. If you don’t ask, are they scratching their heads saying, “Who am I really working with, here?” I would say don’t ever be afraid to ask the question, because if you don’t ask the question the answer’s always no.
Fred Diamond: That is a great point. One of our past guests, Steve Richard with ExecVision, they’ve surveyed millions of phone calls with sales professionals and I’ve always asked him what is the one thing you noticed in the millions of calls you evaluate? And he always says it’s the same thing, they don’t ask for the next step. They don’t take them to schedule an appointment whatever it might be, they leave the conversation without the next step in place.
Bob Stevens: I’ve seen sales people that have been selling for 20, 30 years that’ll leave a meeting with the same thing. There’s no list of actions, there’s no next steps, there’s always got to be some sort of action or some sort of next step. Otherwise, you’re never going to close the business.
Fred Diamond: And your customer wants to be driven, they want you to provide them. Especially you mentioned the need for more value, the customer wants you to bring solutions to them. They want you to help them achieve their mission, give us something we don’t know. If you leave without taking it to the next level, you’re definitely doing a disservice to your customer.
Bob Stevens: You are, as we talked about earlier, out of sight, out of mind. They’re so busy they’re onto the next thing so there has to be some sort of next step. There has to be follow up.