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EPISODE 174: Chris Brady Explains How PRIDE – Passion, Respect, Intelligence, Discipline and Effort – Are at the Root of Learning Tree’s Sales Culture
CHRIS’ FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “If we all bring some of those basic elements of PRIDE to our work each and every day – if we’re passionate, respectful, intelligent, we have a disciplined approach and we bring a lot of energy and effort to the job each and every day – we can have successful outcomes.”
Chris Brady is the head of North American Sales at Learning Tree International.
He spent his entire career at Learning Tree International and has held multiple individual and management roles before becoming the head of North American sales.
Find Chris on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Chris Brady: Learning Tree International is an IT training and service company. The exciting thing about Learning Tree and what we sell and provide to our customers is our constantly expanding suite of services. For the first 20 or so years at my time here at Learning Tree we primarily focused on instructor led multi-day training courses, but over the last 4 or 5 years we’ve really evolved quite a bit in terms of the service catalogue that we provide to our customers.
Whether it’s upfront skills assessment, post-course coaching and mentoring, acceleration workshops to ensure that the practical application of skills delivered in the classroom are applied to projects, you name it. It really is about the improvement of an organization rather than just individual training classes.
Fred Diamond: What kind of training do you do, what kind of classes do you do?
Chris Brady: You name it. IT, professional development, business skills, project management, business analysis. We’ve got a suite of over 700 different titles and services that we can provide to customers, it’s really broad and robust on catalogue of services for sure. The exciting thing about this is not only our evolution but in my role of North American sales working with the 60 employees we have on the team to make sure that they’re all focused on servicing our customers in this quickly evolving and dynamic environment.
Fred Diamond: We’ll talk about it through the course of the podcast, obviously your industry has changed over the years so your leadership has had to evolve and how you actually sell to your customer. Curiously before I ask you about your career, who do you sell to? What types of people do your sales team sell to?
Chris Brady: You name it, we’re about 50/50 between commercial customers and government customers, federal, state and local. Typically it’s a collaboration between, if I were to say, the HR suite including learning and development professionals and then the IT organization – a Chief Information Officer in his or her subordinate organization. Typically it’s a combination of the two, it always works best when it’s a collaboration between learning and development HR and IT. If one of those stands out alone in a silo, typically it doesn’t always optimize the outcomes for an organization.
Fred Diamond: How did you first get into sales as a career?
Chris Brady: It’s funny, I was thinking about this and this is a little story I’ve told a couple different times. I graduated from Mary Washington which is now Mary Washington University in 1995 without a clue in the world of what I wanted to do. I had worked through schools so I had a couple bucks in my back pocket, I went to Old Dominion University and got a graduate degree in sports management. I thought for sure I was going to become the general manager of the Boston Celtics or something close to there, maybe selling sponsorships really was what I focused on a little bit later.
Two years later, master’s degree in hand, I was getting $18,000 dollar job offers to go work for the Washington Bullets at the time, as an example. A lot of folks in that industry are working really hard for very low pay. In the meantime, two of my best buddies in the world that I graduated from Mary Washington with were working at Learning Tree in operational roles.
They said, “We’re making a pretty good salary, we’re enjoying life, it’s a great place to work. Why don’t you come on over and interview?” I had an interview with a sales manager who happened to graduate from Old Dominion University where I had just graduated and here we are 24 years later. It really was more a story of a young man that didn’t know exactly where he wanted to go, found a comfortable landing spot more because of the people that were around and a comfortable environment. It has been a very stable successful place for myself and provided me the ability to raise my family as well.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key lessons you learned from some of those first few sales jobs?
Chris Brady: Thinking back to the early days, it really was about persistence, discipline, learning to cultivate the ability to listen – which at 22, 23 years old I’m not sure I was particularly focused on – but more than anything, it was starting to learn and create a passion not only for the career but for customers and their mission objectives. I think we’ll talk a little bit more about some of the particular accounts that I’ve been working on and success that we’ve had, but what drives me today is sitting down with customers and understanding their mission.
It can be very unique in different sectors, what the organization is really all about, what they’re trying to accomplish but typically if we can gain a good understanding of what that mission objective is and how learning can subsequently support those mission objectives, we’re a lot stickier with customers. Outcomes are a lot more successful and at the end of the day it’s just a heck of a lot more fun, too. Those are the kinds of things that I think we were planting the seeds early in the career and they feel very good and strong at this point.
Fred Diamond: Chris, listening comes up not infrequently in the Sales Game Changers podcast, you talked about how challenging it was when you were in your early stage of your career. What are some things that you do that you could give advice to for the people listening to the podcast to become better listeners and sales professionals?
Chris Brady: I think the #1 thing is just to make yourself slow down a little bit. I think this is something that we in life in general these days, everybody wants instant gratification, we’ve got so much access to information and data. It’s finding the ability to take a deep breath, to pause a little bit, to let others speak and share their perspective and objectives and to just relax and enjoy that moment. I think at 45 years old that’s still something that I’m learning and working very hard on each and every day, especially in this role head of North American sales.
I think just understanding the customers and understanding their perspectives and that’s really what matters and will drive the successful engagement. Getting out sales reps to understand that, to be mindful of that when they’re talking with customers. It’s not about what we want to sell them, it’s about gaining an understanding of what we can do for them to be successful. Just remembering that and taking that deep breath and trying to slow down as much as possible, that’s really what it’s all about. Easier said than done, too for sure.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about you, what are you an expert in? Tell us more about your area of brilliance.
Chris Brady: The word brilliance I think would be a stretch for me in just about every category, so I’ll say that maybe self-awareness is a strength of mine. At this point in my life I’m pretty comfortable with what we’re good at and what we’re not good at. One of the things I enjoy most about my work here at learning tree is being surrounded by good people and having quality teammates. With that self-awareness, it allows me the ability to lean on other people realizing that I don’t have all the answers to all the questions. I think tied closely to self-awareness is also humility.
Once again, understanding that individual success is rarely accomplished, it’s typically a team effort. In all of our successful engagement in the last twenty something years, I think about the collaboration amongst internal Learning Tree team members that created success. In my mind I’m not sure that I’m brilliant in any typical area, fairly humble, fairly self-aware and I think I’ve got a decent ability to make people comfortable. We can sit down with customers, we can talk about their business challenges and hopefully start to stimulate some conversations around potential solutions that we might be able to provide. I’m not so sure that’s really a discernible skill or a competency that they’ll teach, but I feel that that’s part of what drives my role each and every day with learning tree.
Fred Diamond: You’ve been in Learning Tree for about 24 years now, you must have worked for some great people, had some great leaders who helped you along the way. I say 24 years, is it 24?
Chris Brady: Something like that, who’s counting? [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: Tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Chris Brady: I think before I even get to sales mentors, I think about my mother and father. That helps shape who we are as human beings and what we do in life. My dad was a career navy officer, used to go on multi-month deployments on submarines so he would get up early in the morning, go out and do really hard work for long periods of time. Just instilling the basics of what a work ethic is really all about, what discipline is really all about I think we started to learn some of that stuff before we really got into the sales field, and that definitely sticks with me and resonates today.
When I think about sales mentorship today and in the last 20 years, the #1 person that I lean on right now is our CEO, Richard Spires. Although I think he would agree that sales isn’t necessarily his focus or something that he’s spent a lot of time on his career, he’s been primarily an IT and systems leader. Understanding his perspective on leadership in general and about how we should engage with our customers in terms of generic leadership qualities. Once again, great listener. The CEO of our organization can ask a question, sit back, listen and absorb an answer effectively. Once again, establishing and demonstrating the real sales acumen and rapport that we’re looking for in our young people. He really carries himself as a sales leader.
It’s funny, I don’t think these people would think about themselves as mentors but one of the gentlemen that I was a graduate with from Mary Washington, his name is David Carey, he’s actually a proprietary of his own business at this point. Owns a training company actually competitor of ours, ROI Training. He at a very young age was more of a peer, but I was observing each and every thing he did every single day. I still observe him from afar, hardest working guy I ever met in my life. Disciplined customer focused approach that is unfailing, it’s always about achieving customer objectives. He’s one person that still provides some mentorship for me.
This is going to be a little bit goofy but my younger brother – who’s my brother in law, actually – a highly successful salesperson in the learning development space, it’s his ability to interact with people and I see how he interacts with customers. He was a long time learning tree employee, he’s moved onto other success but also just how he interacts with people in life in general, he’s a mentor to me each and every time I get to sit down with him just in terms of how he interacts. All of those skills apply in our sales world each and every day, how we interact whether it’s with internal team members or our customers
I’m sure that list of sales mentors was not typical, but I think that’s who I am as a person and how I view the world, and I think all of it has a practical application to my role here at head of North American sales.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great example, a lot of people we’ve interviewed on the podcast refer to their parents, their father who they’ve seen work really hard. Interestingly, a lot of them had fathers who were in sales and your father was a submarine. Actually, one of the people we interviewed for the podcast, John Asher, actually spent a lot of time on submarines and gave us some great insights into that. Again, you’re in an industry right now that has been disrupted over the years, it’s changed. How people get their training has changed, what they expect from a training provider. Why don’t you tell us the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Chris Brady: I think #1 is getting customers to understand that constantly evolving dynamic, not only that they understand that the dynamic has changed in terms of the L&D, Learning and Development industry but also that our portfolio of services has changed and evolved to better support them. A lot of the services that we talk about today we’ve been providing for customers for the entire forty something years we’ve been in existence, but it hasn’t necessarily been front and center in terms of our marketing efforts and the branding of Learning Tree. Richard, our CEO, when he came on board a few years ago that really has been a major initiative for him to make sure that customers get a solid understanding of our entire suite of services that we could provide. That’s #1, just that evolving landscape both on the customer side as well as internally.
Secondarily, as a sales leader I find a constant challenge in terms of the frequency of communication to interact with our North American sales team which might be a little bit unusual, but finding the right balance in a 60 person group in terms of how often do we get together and organize team environments and chat with each other? How often do we break out into individual portfolios or smaller teams? How often is email an effective form of communication? What’s the right balance between getting on a Skype call or leveraging email or going over and walking and shaking somebody’s hand face to face? Finding the right forms of communication, prioritizing appropriately and making sure that the entire 60 person North American sales team knows exactly what we’re working on, why it’s a value to them and subsequently to our customers. Once again, that might be a little bit of a unique challenge for me personally but it’s getting my arms around that leadership role on a 60-person diverse team.
Fred Diamond: That’s a good one that isn’t one that has come up all that frequently. Just curiously, what are your favorite ways or most impactful ways to communicate to your sales team?
Chris Brady: #1, I’ve got a great group of team members, directors, we’ve got four of them in North America that I work with so they lead individual teams contained within that 60 person group making sure and trying to make sure #1 that as a sales leadership team we’re all on the same page. We’ve got clear objectives, we know what we’re trying to accomplish in both the short and long term, making sure that there’s clear consistent message that they can then share with their teams as well. I think then finding the right balance of formal meetings with our team and right now we’ve set alone a happy media of a monthly get-together where the entire group will get together for 30 to 60 minutes and talk about everything that truly matters from a strategic level within North American sales.
There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of things going on that we’re doing to support customers that includes sharing success stories. Where are we seeing success? Where have we won recent awards or contracts? Sometimes making sure that those success stories are shared across portfolios can be ultra-important because we want to repeat those successes with other customers. Once again, making sure that in that monthly session we really got a clear communication about what really matters and sharing some of those successes.
Then we do weekly lunch and learns, we do about two and a half per week and that’s really an opportunity just to get together to talk more about some of the tactical things that are going on that we’re trying to upscale our sales reps on, make sure once again that they’re in tune with all the products and servicing we’re offering our customers as well as things like customer successes, all of the things that go into their business day. It’s a pretty broad suite, I would say of elements that we use to try to tackle those objectives, but we’re finding our way there for sure.
Fred Diamond: Speaking of sales successes, why don’t you take us back to the #1 sales success or win from your career you’re most proud of?
Chris Brady: I thought you were going to say #1 and I can’t pin one down. I’ve had three that I think of so I’ll just run through them really quickly. #1 was we were involved in a multi-year contract with a national security agency for a software engineering program and project management effort. This was back in the early 2000’s and I was at the national security agency on the morning of September 11th which was a day that really changed a lot of our lives. Working with that particular organization, I talked earlier about mission objectives and understanding mission objectives. At that time in my life that gave me more of a global dynamic about what really matters to customers and what mission objectives really mean. That was one that changed my career in terms of perspective.
A handful of years ago we were awarded a multi-year contract with the state of Tennessee which I’ve been intimately involved with for the last 6 years. That really in my opinion is one of the most organized and senior led learning and development programs that I’ve ever seen globally. The state is really focused on providing their IT employees with the knowledge skills and abilities to do their jobs effectively in a 21st Century organization. They are really doing a bang up job and we’re proud to support them. Lastly I’ll just say this bucket of recent wins that we’ve had as a company here at Learning Tree. I say recent wins, it goes back to the evolving dynamic that Richard has created here at Learning Tree in better understanding how we can support our customers and making sure they understand that as well.
We’ve had recent wins with Bayer Corporation, a brand new logo for us. A recent partnership with Suntiva to support FDA, federal government Food and Drug Administration University on a multi-year effort. These are both examples of where we’re not only getting new business with new logos like Bayer but we’re going deeper and wider with government agency as an example with that evolving service portfolio that we have. We’ve got a lot of traction, a lot of good things happening here at Learning Tree across the board.
Fred Diamond: Again, we’re talking on today’s Sales Game Changers podcast to Chris Brady, he’s the head of North American sales at Learning Tree International. Chris, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors you mentioned you originally thought you were going to go into sports management. You thought you were going to be the general manager for the Boston Celtics, interesting for a guy who grew up in DC.
Chris Brady: I was born in Connecticut, my dad was a submariner as I mentioned and we used to go visit New England on the regular. Somehow I found this eclectic mix of teams including the Boston Celtics.
Fred Diamond: It’s interesting because you have a beautiful picture here of the Redskins when they won I guess their second or third Super Bowl right behind us here.
Chris Brady: In his navy career we moved here to Washington DC in the early 80’s right at the prime of the Redskins career. I was here for all three of their Super Bowls, now reside in Ashburn, Virginia, a stone’s throw away from Redskins Park so they are also near and dear to our heart.
Fred Diamond: That’s true. Did you ever question being in sales? Again, you made that move into sales, some of your buddies said, “Come work at this company called Learning Tree.” Did you ever question that? Again, you’ve had a great career here, you’ve been here for over 20 years, you’ve held various positions. Of course now you’re heading up North American sales and obviously from this podcast you’re quite passionate about the mission of Learning Tree and how you’re helping your customers. Did you ever think to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s really just not for me”?
Chris Brady: I mentioned that my dad was a submariner and he worked pretty hard. My little brother is a lieutenant coronel in the infantry for the United States Marine Core, I’ve seen him deploy more times than I can count all over the world, I’ve seen the sacrifices that his family is given for that duty. When we say, “It’s too hard” in sales, you can hear the emotion in my voice, I know what hard work is all about and we work really hard here at Learning Tree. We wake up at 4:30 in the morning and get started on our day but I’m not sure it compares to the hard work that some other people put in their mission.
So no, I’ve never questioned the hard work, I’ve never really questioned sales. I’ve thought sometimes about the desire to sell more directly to DOD in support of folks like my dad and my brother and I’m really proud of the work we do here at Learning Tree supporting our department of defense portfolio. All lines of business within the DOD we support very aggressively, so no. I’m pretty comfortable with the hard work we’re putting in right now and I’m very passionate about the future for our sales career.
Fred Diamond: Putting things in perspective obviously there’s challenges with sales and we talk about them on every podcast but being deployed over sees and I presume he’s been places that are quite dangerous so thank your brother and your father for their service.
Chris Brady: No doubt about it.
Fred Diamond: Chris, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening around the globe to help them take their careers to the next level?
Chris Brady: This year we came up with an acronym for North American sales. We’re really trying to instill some sales culture, make sure we have a clear understanding of who we want to be as a sales organization and we came up with the acronym PRIDE. I’ll just walk through that really quickly because I think this is what really matters for young people.
PRIDE starts with P and that’s Passion, making sure you have some passion in your life. I’m pretty sure that when I was a young person maybe coming out of school and just starting at Learning Tree I wasn’t necessarily passionate right away about the sales career but boy, did I have some passion in other areas of my life. I think it’s really important that you find that passion because even if it’s external, outside of work, will bring you great energy and strength to your sales career. Hopefully over time you will develop that passion, I’ve got quite a bit of passion right now not only as a leader of this sales organization but for the company that I’ve worked for for so long. We try to lead by example in terms of the passion we provide.
R is for Respect. These days I think it’s a little bit of a cultural issue that with some social media platforms and things, respect and basic human decency seems to go out the window sometimes. Not only when we’re dealing with our customers, obviously we want to provide them the ultimate respect, but when you’re dealing with your peers in other departments that are supporting our customers. Whether it’s the operations team supporting the Uni course delivery or the finance team making sure we’re getting our billing squared away. We want to be respectful of all people and that should be a basic standard when you roll out of bed in the morning.
I is for Intelligence, we want to take an intelligent approach to our customer engagements. This is one that I struggle with sometimes, I always want to be quick and that passion sometimes pushes me to get the quickest response. Sometimes like we talked about with listening skills, you have to slow down, take a step backwards, engage with the subject matter experts that you should and make sure you’re crafting the best solution, the optimal solution rather than just the quickest solution. Making sure we’re taking an intelligent approach in everything that we do each and every day.
D is for discipline, talked a little bit earlier about getting up early in the morning, planning your day. I get a little bit bent sometimes when I see folks rolling and they don’t seem to be very well organized and the day just kind of comes to them rather than them dictating how the day is going to go. I think part of discipline even after 20 something years, high levels of activity do not go out the window. I think a blend of activity whether it’s phone, work, email, face to face meetings, we all have different dynamics and activities that go into our day. Making sure you’re managing that volume of activities putting the appropriate energy and perspective, that takes discipline. You have to have that built into each and every day.
Lastly, E is for Effort. It goes without saying, we just said you need high level of activities and that’s a blend of activities for different people but if you don’t show it and bring it each and every day you will not be a successful sales professional. We’ve never seen one and I’m sure Fred, in your 180 something podcasts nobody has ever said, “Yeah, I just kind of laid back and let it come to me.” That just doesn’t happen. When we talk about PRIDE, I think these are some basic elements and competencies that we’re trying to instill in young professionals. Like I said, I’m not sure that I have necessarily that hardcore discernible skill set. We’ve got the ability to talk to people and communicate clearly, but you have to be passionate about it. You have to take an intelligent approach and #1, you’ve got to put the effort into it. I was lucky to be surrounded by people like Dave Carrie at a young age, like my parents, my brother, my dad, my mom. They instilled that hard work and passion into it and I’ve been lucky to build on that over my career.
Fred Diamond: That being said, what are some of the habits that you put into play on a daily basis to ensure your continued success?
Chris Brady: No doubt about it, planning is the #1 thing in my mind. For me it’s become a weekly exercise, I’d like to think I can start doing a little bit better on a monthly basis but we’re still getting there. Making sure that we’ve got the appropriate amount of time planned for the various activities. For me now it’s not only supporting the 60 person sales team and their customers but it’s collaborating with my peers internally making sure marketing and sales have a close collaboration, making sure our leadership team gets everything that they need for us to be successful. I think it’s similar for our high performing sales reps, they’ve got to find a balance between all of these activities in a given work day, work week, work month. I’m really trying to instill the idea of planning to make sure that you’ve got success week over week, month over month, year over year.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on to ensure your continued success?
Chris Brady: We talked about the evolving dynamic here at Learning Tree, in terms of getting in front of our customers we’ve got an entirely new brand that we rolled out just a few months ago. For 40 something years we had one logo under our previous leadership and ownership, this rebranding exercise has been fantastic, even for an old dog like myself it really has revitalized and provided a lot of energy. It’s amazing what a logo can bring in terms of a fresh perspective and energy. Behind that rebranding exercise is that ecosystem of learning services that we provide to customers making sure that that ecosystem is clearly defined for our customers as well as ourselves so that we’re providing an optimal level of service on all of our customer facing engagements. That’s really been a fun project to be involved with, the rebranding exercise itself provided a lot of energy but that really provides a lot of focus in terms of that rebranding initiative and all of the work that goes in behind it in terms of our learning ecosystem.
Fred Diamond: I want to thank Chris Brady on the Sales Game Changers podcast today. He’s the head of North American sales at Learning Tree International. Given us a lot of interesting things to think about, the acronym PRIDE, P-R-I-D-E, Passion, Respect, Intelligence, Discipline and Effort. Chris, before I ask you for your final tip for the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe tell us why you’ve continued. What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Chris Brady: I’ll go back to that mission objective of a customer. There is nothing, there is very few feelings in the world better than when you see a customer have a successful outcome. We all have family and friends that provide us some really good feelings, but in terms of work successful outcomes for customers is what it’s all about. At this point for me it’s not about individual success, it’s about the success of Learning Tree, all of our North American sales reps and subsequently their customers. It’s all about the mission.
Fred Diamond: Give us a final thought, we have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe. Again, you manage North American sales and people listening in Australia, Europe, all across the globe, give us something to inspire them.
Chris Brady: I think if we all bring some of those basic elements of PRIDE to our work each and every day, I know it might sound a little elementary and basic but if we’re passionate, respectful, intelligent, we have a disciplined approach and we bring a lot of energy and effort to the job each and every day, we can have successful outcomes. I’ve been really lucky in my life to be surrounded by great people who all brought those attributes and all of us can be successful in the game of sales if we provide all of those things.
Fred Diamond: You’re one of the first Sales Game Changers we’ve interviewed who had an acronym like PRIDE that has been throughout the organization. When I used to do marketing consulting I used to do that all the time with my clients, I worked with Apple Computer for a long time and we had an acronym called MIETDBWA – Make It Easy To Do Business With Apple. We had signs all over the place, we all knew about it, it’s not a word obviously but it definitely helps keep you focused. You can always say to your people, “Pride” and they get it right away. They get passion, respect, intelligence, discipline and effort.