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EPISODE 179: SyncDog CRO Brian Egenrieder Shares What Sales Training Legend GuruGanesha Taught Him that Helped Him Grow Legions of Professional Sales Careers
BRIAN’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Don’t be afraid to qualify out. Stop trying to qualify in, start trying to qualify out and if you can’t qualify it out, it’s a good lead, it’s a good prospect.”
Brian Egenrieder is the Chief Revenue Officer at SyncDog.
Prior to coming over to SyncDog, he held sales leadership positions at Deltek, IBM, Web Methods and Sterling Commerce.
Find Brian on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Brian Egenrieder: Probably the interesting aspect is this isn’t my first choice of careers based on my mother’s influence. Back when I was growing up, she did that research on based sibling position and all that kind of stuff and I’m the third of four boys, and her research came to prove that my two top careers could be either a game show host or a sales rep. Wheel of Fortune hasn’t called yet, so right now I’m selling but if Pat Sajak resigns, I’m heading that direction.
Fred Diamond: Did you pursue that route at all?
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that?
Brian Egenrieder: SyncDog has a pretty unique offering out there. What we’re doing and what I love about it is that we’re simplifying the way people do their jobs, so we’re making the end user experience a lot easier and a lot more productive. That word is overused, but what we do is we secure data on mobile devices but we do it in a way that it doesn’t rely on locking down the device itself. People can now use their persona devices or they can use a corporate device for both personal and corporate use without those two data influences mixing at all. It makes this complete separation of corporate and personal use no matter the device, so it just makes life simpler for everybody.
Fred Diamond: A lot of people that listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast like to know who our guests sell to. Tell us some of the entities, some of the people you sell to.
Brian Egenrieder: It’s the fun thing and the challenging thing about the job, is that I always say the people we sell to are the ones that are either carrying two devices, a corporate and a personal one or ones that their company says, “You can use your own device but you have to sign this document that says we can wipe or erase the entire device if you happen to leave the company.” The good part of that is it’s pretty much any sized shape company in any vertical so I can sell to almost everybody, but as a small company and as the person who’s running sales, business development and marketing, it’s a big challenge, too. It’s a great problem to have but it certainly makes finding that strike zone or sweet spot as I like to call it a little more difficult.
Fred Diamond: You told us in the beginning that your mother was helpful in getting you into sales, but tell us a little more about that. How did you first get into sales as a career?
Brian Egenrieder: I mentioned the three brothers, already have no sisters so I was almost forced to go into sales because growing up I couldn’t outmuscle my older brothers when I was younger and just in case you’re listening, I can now. I had to learn to talk my way through things either to get things I wanted or to get out of trouble that was impending based on them, so I hate to say the gift of the gab but it really taught me how to use my voice in a way to candidly influence people.
Then in college it just became beer and book money, I got a random job selling renewal subscriptions to an elderly magazine, probably the worst job I’ve ever had. It was all telesales, calling elderly, it was Prevention Magazine I think. It was just one of those things but I excelled, as bad as it was I found I had a knack for creating that trusted environment on the phone. From there I kept finding other jobs through school that payed for, like I said, beer and book money but then out of college went and talked to some people. I did a lot of programming, my dad was more on the technical side growing up so I got exposed to programming really early but quickly realized I wasn’t meant to be on the backside of the computer on the keyboard, it was more on the front. I started talking to some people and got advice from a colleague or friend of my brother who was in this business and gave me great advice.
He said, “Just start at the bottom and work your way up and really learn the ropes.” I got a job at Egghead Software with the last name of Egenrieder, it just made sense, I used to try to tell people I own the company, but at 22 it’s tough to really convince. It taught me the PC market, it taught me how to really understand how a computer works, how software works but probably more importantly you were incentivized then to, they always called it add on sales. Somebody comes in for a hard drive, sell them diskettes and things like that that were common back then which maybe half the listeners don’t even know what a diskette is.
What that taught me is to listen, you had to really understand what people were coming in for that hard drive for, ask them questions about their use, is it gaming, is it work and then it just creates a conversation and trust. You can sell them things that they need, not just because I’m getting a bonus because they’re walking out with 7 or 8 different items in their hands, it’s helping them do one trip and they like you more for it. That taught me a lot.
Fred Diamond: Egghead was primarily retail, correct?
Brian Egenrieder: Completely retail. That’s not even true, I did move into a corporate sales division later on there but I started in retail, literally in the street corner in DC, it was just a shop down there that got mostly corporate type of people. But yes, people were just walking off the street and you had to create a bond with them pretty quickly.
Fred Diamond: We have Sales Game Changers listening from around the globe and a lot of them are relatively new to sales. People used to buy their software products from a store similar to the way people used to get videos at Blockbuster which of course nobody does anymore.
Brian Egenrieder: That’s exactly right.
Fred Diamond: Tell us some of the other lessons you learned from some of those first few sales jobs.
Brian Egenrieder: It’s what I eluded to earlier, talking to people and listening to people. I’ve now based my whole career on having a very empathetic approach to sales, it’s not just listening for the sake of a sale, it’s not listening for the sake of figuring out what to say next. There’s that old adage, are you listening or are you just waiting to speak? What I learned very early on is create a conversation and make sure there’s comprehension in that conversation so it’s not just saying words. It’s making sure they understand what you’re trying to convey, make sure you understand what they’re trying to convey which just builds a trust and builds a dialogue that ultimately helps you learn about what they need, what you can do for them and you’re selling then on value and how you can help versus just because there’s a commission check.
Fred Diamond: Brian, we’ve done three interviews today on the Sales Game Changers podcast and you’re the third sales leader that we’ve interviewed who’s used the word empathetic or empathy. Would you mind going a little deeper and describing that in a little more depth to the people listening to today’s podcast?
Brian Egenrieder: I will, because it’s something that jumped out at me because I’m in interview and if my wife listens to this, she’ll completely disagree that I’m empathetic. I at one point in my career had a chance to go into financial planning type of sales, financial management sales and it was just on a whim that I took the interview. It was one of those where they do all the personality testing and things like that, so they came back with the results and they said, “You tested right in the marks of everything we want except for one category” and it was empathy. They said, “You’re kind of way off the charts for us on that, this is cut throat” and they kept saying all this stuff.
I turned to the guy and I said, “Listen, there’s a difference between empathy and sympathy and you seem to be confusing. Empathy is understanding what people are feeling, needing and wanting and sympathy is acting on it.” I always said that opened my eyes a little bit to maybe a quality that I have but also how to leverage that and take advantage of it, which is really again just listening to people, what people are saying and trying to almost by the definition put yourself in their shoes so you can walk side by side with them through the storytelling and the adventure of buying software from a vendor like me.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Brian Egenrieder: It’s a great question, it may be just what we were talking about. Being that empathetic listener because I think that flows into a lot of the other things I think I pride myself on. When I was a direct sales person, I felt I always did really well in negotiations and there’s derivations that come from that empathetic listening because if you know the problems they’re solving, negotiations become a lot easier because there shouldn’t even be a negotiation. You understand their problem, you’re helping them solve it and there’s that adage out there that when somebody’s having a heart attack and somebody comes up and said, “I’m a doctor”, you don’t ask, “How much do you charge?” If you can find that pain point and you’re able to listen then negotiations are a lot easier.
I think that empathetic approach also led me into some strengths I think I have as being a leader, not a manager and that’s always been a really important nuance to me. I had some really good managers in my career and I had some really bad ones, and you get to learn from both equally, maybe even the bad more so. What I found is that the managers who only manage the people that are worried about their own job and using the people below them to get all the reports and data and everything to look better upward tend to be really difficult people to work for.
I’ve always tried to change that dynamic and understand what my team, the people that are reporting to me need to be successful, because if they’re successful as a sales leader that means the numbers are rolling up to you and everybody’s happy above you. I’ve always taken that my team first which will then help me get the information that the people above me need to keep that alignment of what corporate’s driving for and what quotas and everything else are based on. I as a practice always end any conversation, no matter if I’m calling a rep to ask them for something, I’m like, “Okay, what do you need from me and how can I help?” and it just creates a level of trust with my teams and things like that. I guess that empathetic approach is what I feel has really guided me in my whole career.
Fred Diamond: One thing you just touched on that comes up not infrequently on the Sales Game Changers podcast is the ability to get in sync what’s required of you from coming above and making sure that your team is aligned with the challenges that the corporation’s looking to achieve as well. Again, you’ve worked for some great companies, Deltek, IBM, Web Methods, Sterling Commerce, you must have had some amazing mentors along the way. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Brian Egenrieder: There’s probably two people I’d point out, one only because it was very early in my career and I always had the habit of pushing recruiters and other people I work with to get me in front of people even if I didn’t exactly meet the qualifications. I met a guy named Tom Looney, it was back in my active software days in the early 90’s. I walked into the interview and he looked at me, I was in my early 20’s and he shut down the interview almost immediately and just said, “I’m looking for somebody with a lot more experience, we’re a California based company, I need you running the East Coast.”
I just said, “I understand” and we just started talking a little bit, and about an hour and a half later he was like, “You know what? I’m giving you a shot.” I was unqualified, I’ll be the first to admit it and I think he even knew it at the time but he gave me the shot and I stumbled a little bit out of the gate. I had a lot of learning to do because most of my career was more telesales or more structured sales, farming versus hunting, and this was a pure hunting role. He was patient, he gave me a shot and he coached me along but I ended up being rookie of the year that year and then I was the top rep for Web Methods I think every year afterwards. He gave me that shot.
The other mentor ironically was a sales trainer, it was a trainer called Guru Ganesha, he’s probably notable in this area. He was starting his career in the early 90’s and he happened to come to XDB Company, it was one of the first really early stage startups and that was early 90’s and he has a very interesting approach and very interesting dynamic to him. He was the first that really taught me the dare-to-be-different type of approach and the don’t be afraid to say no, which has really guided me at time just because I see a lot of sales reps. In a previous company I work for they brought me in to actually change the whole sales culture because all that company would do in the very first call, they were discounting and they just kept discounting and discounting and discounting until they finally won the deal but the margins were terrible and it was just a bad approach and you lose trust by that. Guru Ganesha was just all about, “If you feel it’s not going your way, beat them to no, don’t be afraid to say no, don’t be afraid to walk and any time they ask for something, ask for something back.” That’s been monumental in my career.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great one, actually the sponsor for the Sales Game Changers podcast, the Institute for Excellence in Sales, Guru Ganesha is going to be the speaker at the October IES Program.
Brian Egenrieder: I didn’t even know I was giving you a plug there, good. [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: Brian, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Brian Egenrieder: It’s funny because I just stumbled upon one of these somewhat recently. I’ve been in sales and sales management, sales executive roles but at SyncDoc I happened to work for a phenomenal CEO who moved me into this Chief Revenue Officer position which a lot of people think is one of those made up titles. It’s an effective position at that it’s sales, marketing and business development all rolling up because it’s all customer facing, it makes a lot of sense.
The biggest challenge I’m seeing right now is we are in more of a connected world than we’ve ever been but there’s almost an intentional disconnection now between people. People don’t answer phone calls hardly at all anymore, you almost have to trick them into reading an email which flies in the face of a lot of my methodology. When trying to build trust, the last thing you want to do is, “Hey, remember when we spoke a couple weeks ago?” and people are like, “I don’t remember speaking” but it’s just a way to get them to look at an email. Trying to figure out that nuance of how to inform people about what you’re doing going back to our product. We’ve got a next generation type of solution that we’re competing against an old way of going, so the first reaction is always, “I’ve already got some for that.”
How to open that door to really get somebody to learn about what you might be able to do for them that’s more effective yet less expensive which most people would want to hear about is a big challenge. In that, then all the challenges downstream of how to tie in all your SEO and then get sales reps to pick up some different methodologies and training how to go about it. That connecting with a disconnected clientele in a highly connected world is one of those strange nuances that’s hard to explain to anybody.
Fred Diamond: What are you doing about that? What are some things you’re telling your sales team to do?
Brian Egenrieder: It does tie altogether, it brings sales and marketing and SEO and business development, it’s working a channel strategy that I believe in, finding complementary technologies and complementary companies that can benefit from leveraging our technology within their own. It’s that one plus one equals three type of methodology, so finding those people that already have established customer bases that you can grow that way and then leverage their experiences in use cases and things like that.
The biggest effort is just trying to become thought leaders in the industry putting out weekly blogs if not even more often of just things that are going to help people understand the industry, and of course you put a little tie into the company, you put a little tie into the technology. Just letting people know that you’re out there to help them and to help them be more efficient or to get more done or to save costs and things like that. That’s the ball game, just trying to get it out there and obviously lure people back into our specific technology to help them, that at least just strikes the conversation.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you take us back to the #1 specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of?
Brian Egenrieder: That’s a good one. I had some pretty big wins in my career, I’ve always strived to no matter what company I was in, I always wanted to be the top rep or the top director or the top VP or whatever. As a result, I’ve had some pretty good successes. I did a multi multi-million dollar deal with Bank of America that put me over 400% of my number which gives you just a game changer to your bank account in a way. I don’t know if I’d classify that as my best and ironically my best win was probably my biggest loss, too. Early in my career it was with a company called Visix that I work for.
We were low level C, C++ development tools that really helped people build out the original user interfaces. We had technology called Springs and Struts that would help you build out and it was cool technology but ahead of its time. I was selling to Marriott for their entire reservation system which is a very large opportunity and we won it. A young guy and it was a massive deal that we won, it was game changer for the company and I had all the resources around me. My VP of sales, even the CEO, we had the full team working this and we were all in the closing meeting.
The CIO was like, “We’re going with you guys, it’s a done deal” to the point back in the office, champagne, cigars, back then we were doing all that, high-fiving and everything and the next day, the CIO got let go. It was one of those that I was the hero, we closed this deal and it was really big for the company and then it just got put on hold and then eventually fell off the cliff. In a way it was my greatest win, my worst loss but probably my biggest lesson and multiple lessons in there. One, you obviously don’t book it until…
Fred Diamond: It’s not a sale until the check clears.
Brian Egenrieder: That’s exactly right. It also taught me an indirect lesson of having the team around you, there’s a lot of reps out there that are kind of the lone wolf and in a sense, I was one of those in a lot of parts in my career. Leveraging that team around you and then I always say, “As long as your commission doesn’t get altered because you use two resources or five or ten, use every resource that’s available to you.” Having that team around me that we were all there, there was no finger pointing, it was a team win and a team loss.
That taught me that lesson and again, I pride myself on negotiations and a lot of things like that so it was always a struggle sometimes to bring that, I felt like the used car salesman of bringing my manager and doing negotiations. I always did the have-it-all-done and then bring them in to close because it validated their jobs and titles and it also helps the person across the table from you say they’re not just negotiating with a lowly sales rep, so to speak.
Fred Diamond: Why did they choose you? Curiously, what were some of the reasons why they went with you versus a more established company or a larger company?
Brian Egenrieder: This was the early 90’s so there weren’t the really big established companies that there were today. They certainly existed, the Oracles and the IBM’s were by all means around, but it came down to trust, it came down to we convinced them that we were going to be side by side with them the whole way through. First of all, we convinced them we could do it, we had the right technology for it but then it just came down to we were going to be in the trenches with them, it’s not a throw it over the wall and say good luck as long as that check clears, like you said.
That was the reason for that but I think it’s the reason for almost every deal closing, is they buy from people they trust. They don’t always buy the best technology, they buy from people that know when things go bad, you’re going to be there to help them. I’ve got a saying that hardware eventually fails, software eventually works and I think the industry is aware of it but no one admits to it, but there’s going to be bumps in the road. You just got to be there to support it.
Fred Diamond: Brian, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, did you ever question being in sales? Again, you had two options from your mother: one, you could be a game show host which you decided not to pursue, or you could go into sales but did you ever think to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s really just not for me”?
Brian Egenrieder: Honestly, no. I did struggle with moving from direct sales into sales management because you lose money. If you’re a good sales rep, it’s tough being reliant on the 3, 5, I think I’ve had up to 13 people reporting to me. In management you have to have a vast majority of them above their numbers to make money, so there is a struggle with that but my ultimate goal is I want to be leading a company, I want to be a CEO or maybe even the role I’m in because this is ideally suited for what I’m doing, but I struggled with that decision. Do I leave direct sales and move into sales management? Hopefully some people listening that have reported to me will say that I maybe made the right move, we’ll see. [Laughs] We’ll see what feedback I get.
Fred Diamond: I’ve got a question about that. A lot of times we hear that all the time where not the best performer is suited for sales management, but you were rookie of the year, you had done really well along the way. How do you think you were able to make that transition?
Brian Egenrieder: I think it goes back to the empathetic approach that I take and I totally agree. Michael Jordan, phenomenal basketball player but not a great coach. There’s things that come natural to some people and then other people work on, and in a sense I think I’ve lucked out with having both. There’s some natural abilities that I have but then there’s also the study and the preparation and the work that just goes into it, and the practice. It really just comes down to having been in the trenches as long as I was, having been a direct seller.
I think I can also relate and be empathetic towards the plate of the direct sales rep and the fact that they’re going to have good quarters and bad quarters and deals that fall off the cliff because of not even their fault, just other things that are going on. I think that has helped me a lot but it’s also that being the chameleon. There’s a lot of very good sales reps who move into management and say, “This is what worked for me, so I want my entire team to do it like I did it because it works” but that can’t work. Everybody’s got to figure their own style, so I’ve always tried to nudge people to figure out your own style, help me understand your style and then I will play whatever role I can best fit in to help, again try to find the one plus one equals three type of a mentality there.
Fred Diamond: Brian, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the sales professionals listening around the globe to help them take their career to the next level?
Brian Egenrieder: The guidance I would give to everybody that’s trying to become better or just starting is be a sales professional. You’re the front line of any company and of course you need a product to sell so engineering is very important, you need people out there talking about it for marketing but unless you’re bringing in that revenue, pay checks aren’t getting paid and all that. Take pride in that and in a sense, take the responsibility on, too so when you’re representing your company do it professionally but stand your ground. It’s what I eluded to before or being able to say no.
There are people out there that are like, “I love what you do but I want it for free” and people are like, “How about I take a 90% discount?” but you take that pride and you stand up for what you believe in and have pride in the company and the product, and people sense it and they feel it. Find a product that you can be prideful of, I think that solves a lot of the problems. People would just go in and they get this discount strategy and all I’m here to do is to get somebody to close, but it isn’t. It’s really to represent the product and the company in a way that adds value that people aren’t asking for discounts even. “I get it, you solve a problem”, it goes back to the person having a heart attack and the doctor. If they’re going to fix you, you don’t care what it costs, you just want it fixed and finding that balance is really important.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about a sales habit that you have that has helped you become successful?
Brian Egenrieder: I think beating the empathy drum pretty extensively, but I think from there it’s patience and planning. As a sales rep your job is to really get a deal done as quickly as you can, but sometimes when you have inadvertent or sometimes intentional downward pressure to get things done, you hurt both the sale and you hurt the company and the product. Having the sensible patience of figuring out the natural timing of it and doing what you can to reel that in a little bit.
Going back to Guru Ganesha, they have a great mantra of let your customer lead the dance but make sure you’ve chosen the music. I think I might even have that on my resume, because I’ve believed in that from day 1. Let it be a process that it’s a mutual process, you’re working with them, they’re making the decisions but you’re setting the tempo, you’re suggesting next steps and you’re doing what we’ve all been trained to do but in a way that you’re not coming in as a bowl in the china shop, you’re there as a partner having that patience.
Then I think the other thing that I’ve always been able to do pretty well is to juggle a very large number of deals. Again, in my career I’ve managed people that are the elephant hunters and the ones that just don’t like the big deal, they just do a bunch of small ones. If you can build the skill set to be able to do both, I always call the little ones the pots and pans deal or keep the lights on deal. If you can have 5, 10, 15 – depending on what the nature of your plan is and things like that – have a good number of those going that you’re constantly working while at the same time working 2 or 3 of the elephants, you don’t have this unnatural stress that you’re pushing too hard on one.
You have this nice balance and when you have that balance, you’re almost creating a sense of desire from your customer, too. I always say sales is probably one of the biggest psychology experiments there is, I always equate it to dating. If you’re calling and clearly, hopefully everybody can tell I’m a guy but if I’m calling the girl more than she’s calling me back, there’s something wrong in this balance and vice versa. Have it be a mutual respect and relationship. If you can get it there, everything balances out and if you’re focused on other deals, the customer senses it and is like, “Where is he? I want him around more.” Then you know who your real prospects and customers are and people that are truly interested. It helps you prospect as well and qualify.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Brian Egenrieder: I think that goes right back to the CRR role. Again, working with Jim who’s the CEO here, he’s given me free reign to do whatever I feel necessary and he really brings me in in all corporate decisions. He’s given me a lot of insight to how to truly run a company. What we’re really focusing on again is finding that really nice balance of sales, marketing, business development channels and things like that that we’re able to connect with customers in a way that they understand what we do. It’s not overly pushy anymore, we’re not sending them one email every day for three weeks until they finally say, “I give up, I’ll give you 10 minutes” and they’re just annoyed the whole time. It’s a struggle and I’ll be the first to admit it but we’re chipping away and we learn every day of something that’s working and not, and the more we do this AB type testing, the more we hone in on it. We’re getting better every day.
Fred Diamond: What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Brian Egenrieder: It’s that psychology experiment and that’s what I love about it. If you think about it, no day is ever the same, no week is ever the same, no job is ever the same. There’s no predictability to this business whatsoever and there’s no predictability to how customers are going to react, one customer is going to do one thing and one’s going to do the other. I once got interviewed for a person writing a book on sales methodology and he’s like, “What’s your process?”
“My process is that I don’t really have a process” other than the choosing the song and letting them lead the dance because as soon as you have a process, you’re trying to force somebody into the way you do it versus really trying to have an empathetic understanding of what they’re going through. It’s what I love about it, there’s no predictability and it’s a chess match. You never know what the next move is but you’ve got to try to predict it, you’ve got to try to prepare for it and then if you do it right, it works really well and if you don’t there’s still chances of trying to recover and then pull you back in. It’s building trust, it’s just being ahead of it and being prepared.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe today?
Brian Egenrieder: At a high level I’d say again be proud of the role you’re in and understand the responsibility you have to the company and to the product that you’re representing. Do it to the best of your ability and don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal that’s going to hurt everybody. At the micro level and in something I mentioned before is don’t be afraid to qualify out. It’s probably one of my bigger mantras with my teams is, “Stop trying to qualify in, start trying to qualify out” and if you can’t qualify it out, it’s a good lead, it’s a good prospect.