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EPISODE 061: Chris Tully Brings Lessons Learned at Xerox, Dell and CoStar to Emerging Firms Looking to Get their Sales Programs Going
CHRIS’ CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Don’t spend your time trying to fix all the things that you can’t do. Find out what you can do, what you’re good at, what you’re repetitively good at and do the very best you can to do that thing. If you do that, good things happen.“
Chris Tully has had a 30 year history of leading sales teams at public tech companies such as Xerox and Dell and CoStar.
He also moved into the commercial remote sensing industry at GOI.
Currently he’s an outsourced VP of Sales with Sales Acceleration.
Find Chris on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you sell today, tell us what excites you about that.
Chris Tully: I do something I think is pretty unique. I’m an outsourced VP of sales with an organization called Sales Acceleration and what we do is we work with owners, founders of mid-sized growth oriented companies to help them scale their top line revenue. We do sales projections, we assess and re-organize sales teams, we design and implement compensation plans, we work to hire needed sales resources, we build and document a customized sales process for their business, we work to integrate that sales process with a CRM system so they can more effectively manage their opportunities and on a fractional basis we operate to help them manage the sales team.
What I think is really exciting about this is that the diversity of the client assignments is just remarkable. There are people doing things out there in this market I had no idea or actually they’re doing those things, there’s some very unique businesses out there so the diversity is important to me, the opportunity to work very closely with business owners and CEO’s of growth oriented companies to make an impact on their growth strategy and to help them realize whatever their growth ambitions are. Often times they’re driven by personal desires to grow the business in a certain way and I just love that.
Fred Diamond: Very good. We mentioned some of the brand named tech companies that you worked at, some of the biggest in the industry, of course Xerox and Dell. How’d you first get into sales as a career? Again, we mentioned you have a 30 year sales career, tell us about your beginning. What first got you into sales?
Chris Tully: I was an English major in college and while I learned a lot about how to learn and how to be adaptable, I wasn’t going to teach and I wasn’t going to be a journalist and I wasn’t going to go into some of the pre-professional things – a lot of English majors became lawyers. I needed to find a way to eat and pay the rent so I did a lot of people facing jobs to do that. I moved to Houston in the early 80’s after college and I really needed a job. The time the oil and gas market was really starting to boom and I was about halfway through an MBA in finance and I ended up as basically the subject matter expert for a computer services company that needed some help supporting their clients and some of their financial planning applications, so I spent probably 6 or 8 months with this company and I realized that the sales reps were having a whole lot more fun than I was having.
They had more freedom of movement, they were making more money and I talked to my boss at the time and said, “You know? I’m sure I could really help you as a sales person” and he started asking me all the questions and things that I had done before in my life and where I had served people in a variety of different positions. He finally said, “Well, OK. On a provisional basis we’ll let you take a crack at this.” so I ended up getting partnered with the #1 sales rep in the district at the time who was overworked and was unable to properly cover his accounts.
I honestly didn’t really know what I was doing, I put my hand in this guy’s shoulder and kind of followed him around for 6 or 8 months and learned how to interact with clients on an effective basis, how to develop an account, how to overcome objections, how to teach clients what they could do with our products and services. We had together a couple of really good years, after which I got recruited away to join Xerox where I got what I would consider to be an exceptional grounding in fundamental sales training, management development practices and had an opportunity to be there for 16 years.
Fred Diamond: Were you with Xerox in Houston or did you move here to Virginia?
Chris Tully: I started in Houston, I was in a division that married up very high speed reprographic engines with laser technology and it was a printing system’s division product that effectively was high speed output devices for big computing systems.
Fred Diamond: We actually have a number of people who’ve been on the podcast who were either consultants or engineers and they said, “I can do that. I can be in front of the customer, I know more about them, I can help bring some of the solutions to them.” I didn’t know that you started in finance but it makes a lot of sense because you’ve had a great career. Again, moving into Xerox of course at the time was the gold standard for sales and of course they had some of the world class sales training. What are some of the lessons you learned from some of your first few sales jobs that have stuck with you today and that you impart on some of the people that you lead?
Chris Tully: Sales is really not about you or your company. It’s really about whatever wonderful widget it is that you have. It’s really about learning enough about the client’s pain and their problems to be able to actually help them and so when you learn that, if you’re not asking questions to understand what’s really at the root of the customer’s problem, you can have what you think is the greatest solution in the world and it won’t be any good at all. It would be very difficult to advance that sale. That was one thing that stuck with me for a lot of years.
Another one is that for me, at least, and I think for a lot of people the most difficult part of the sales process is really not prospecting. It’s not finding people to talk to, it’s qualifying properly. I think and I certainly have experienced this, that sales get lost when we don’t qualify properly. We spend time talking to people who can say no but they can’t say yes and then we wonder why the deal never closes. For me, really learning was go figure out who the right people are that can actually make a decision and spend your time with them and try to cut through the ones that are not able to help you.
Nobody wins every deal, so to some degree the numbers game that we talk about and are taught from time to time, “You have to have x number of opportunities in order to get to some that are qualified in order to get to some that close” that is absolutely relevant, and in my own practice, it’s something that I look at today to try to make sure that I’m on track for what I’m trying to accomplish. You should have a sales process that’s repeatable. In other words, there should be some ability to follow a road map that gets you to the end of the road with the right result. CRM systems are your friend, it’s very difficult for you to manage things in your head.
I didn’t have a CRM system when I was a sales rep at Xerox in 1980 or whatever year it was and so the tools that are out there today are much of a help to help you stay on track. Probably the last thing is in terms of lessons that Arnold Palmer quote that people always repeat about that golf is a game of inches and the most important ones are the six inches in between your ears, that’s true about sales, it absolutely is. Sales can be very lonely and you have to believe in and trust yourself. I went through a couple of tough patches early in my sales career we’ll talk about at some point later on where you really have to believe in yourself or things just go off the rails.
Fred Diamond: Yeah. A couple things you said there, if you don’t have the pipeline, pipeline’s got to be constantly rich and fresh. One of the words that keeps coming through on the Sales Game Changers podcast is mindset. There’s going to be times when you’re down, there’s going to be time when you have things to deal with at home, things at the company, if you will, but that’s no excuse. You need to continue being focused. Chris, tell us a little more about yourself. What are you specifically an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Chris Tully: Sure. One thing that I have in my background that’s a bit unique is that I haven’t actually worked in two businesses that are the same from one job to the next, if that makes sense. In other words, I’ve been in the document production and solutions business, I’ve been in the hardware and software sales business, I’ve been in the remote sensing business, I’ve been in the commercial real estate information services business, I’ve spent some time and managed security services and each of them has something really unique about it.
What I learned early on is that for me at least, it was less important to be a subject matter expert in the technology and much more important to figure out how to connect the dots between the businesses to figure out what they have in common. I’m really curious, so in a client engagement I ask a lot of questions. I was taught early on that you shouldn’t talk about your product until you absolutely had to and until you knew enough about the client to know if you could help them. What I focus on is I need to know first if I’m capable in my offerings at actually helping a client or not and then if I can’t, who is? Because I’ve come to believe that there’s a lot of value in introducing a client to somebody that can help them and be of service to them whether I get the business or not. I’ve also learned in the process of some of these different roles I’ve been in to connect the lessons learned from one engagement and bring them into the next.
I have made, Fred, every mistake in the book over 30 years and I’m really good at avoiding them now so I know what doesn’t work. In terms of adjusting strategy, I think that people that I work with or have worked with would say, “Chris can figure out pretty quickly whether we’re capable of winning and adjusting strategy accordingly.” There was a time in my career where I had written down Jack Welch’s six rules and one of them stuck with me which is that if you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.
Understanding your competitive advantage and figuring out very quickly whether or not it’s applicable in the situation that you’re in, because honestly if you’re in sales, you have your time, you have your relationships, you have your intellectual horsepower, your persistence, all that sort of capital. You have to spend all that stuff as wisely as you can.
Fred Diamond: I‘m sure you’ve had some impactful sales career mentors who have helped you and guided you to your career of sales leadership. Talk about one or two of the sales mentors and how they impacted your career.
Chris Tully: I’ll give you a couple of them, they’re actually both from Xerox. When I left the field sales organization in Houston, my aspiration was to become a district sales manager and at the time, if you wanted to do that with Xerox you had to take a trip through US headquarters up in Rochester, New York and you had to demonstrate that you had more than one or two skills. When I was there I had the experience of working for a woman named Linda Becker who ran the printing systems marketing organization and she taught me an enormous amount about persistence in the face of long odds.
She was the smartest, hardest working, most articulate and creative person I had ever come in contact with up to that point and together against very long odds we developed and implemented the most successful, competitive attack program that that business had had up to that point. I appreciated very much the energy and enthusiasm, the spirit that she brought into the workplace every single day. It was one of these people that had never seen a problem that couldn’t be overcome and so she was a tremendous mentor for me in sort of helping me through some of the issues we were having at the time in the business. We’ve remained friends ever since.
I also worked for a while for a guy named Joe Mulcahy who ran the major accounts program for Xerox for many years and he taught me of the value of long term customer relationships. Joe with responsibility for the major account program for Xerox at the time had long standing, deep relationships with many customers and many people in the business that turned out to be tremendous supporters, both of him and our district over time so it was a pleasure to work for people like that.
Fred Diamond: For the Sales Game Changers listening on today’s podcast, Chris, we have a lot of younger professionals. People who are just getting started in sales or have come to the realization that they’re pretty good, they want to take their career to the next level. Again, we’ve referred to Xerox a number of times before. A lot of the people listening to the podcast may not have known about Xerox’s history but for people in the 70’s and 80’s Xerox was probably the best place to work for in technology sales.
Chris Tully: Certainly at the time, they also made an enormous investment in sales and marketing training which is, as you know, as leader at Institute for Excellence in Sales, is very difficult to find in big companies. They took it seriously, they put a lot of time, energy, effort and money into it and they also spent a lot of time building future sales leaders so there was a very disciplined process to figure out who are the future sales leaders in this company, what do they need to know in order to make them successful, how can we challenge them by giving them stretch assignments and then what can we do to support them once they get into the role. For me, at the time as a young sales leader and certainly as a young sales person in both of those roles it was a wonderful place to work and I learned a ton.
Fred Diamond: Chris, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Chris Tully: I think the first one relates a little bit to pipeline management and prospect management. When you have a sales team and your pipeline as a business leader is the roll up of all of the opportunities that people are working on and you happen to be looking at your report in sales force or whatever other CRM system you use, you’re taking the information that your sales team has populated upwards and you’re essentially saying, “OK, our business is going to develop and deliver this amount of revenue in the next quarter or for the year or what have you.
It’s great to be able to have that summary view but in other things, the devil is very much in the details so as a sales leader, really ringing out the truth about each of those opportunities whether they are actually closeable, whether they can be closed in the time frame that the salesperson has said they can be closed and whether they’re worth as much as the sales rep has said that they believe that they’re worth is a huge challenge and you spend a lot of time on it. At the same time, if you get it right, it’s really reassuring to know that the pipeline quality is actually really good. It just takes a while to get to that point and a sales leader can really struggle when their sales pipeline quality is not good.
For me, it’s worth spending a lot of time on. The second one relates to people and adaptability and I think it’s difficult to find really good sales candidates that are adaptable across industries. In other words, if you have somebody that may be selling in the healthcare sector, is it possible to get that individual to move across into an adjacent market or a completely different market and have them succeed? It’s that part of the recruiting matrix has been challenging for me and I think a lot of other sales leaders probably wrestled with that, too.
Fred Diamond: I’m glad you brought up the first one about the honesty in the pipeline. As a consultant, as a marketing leader and a sales leader I’ve sat in many meetings where I know that the rep had no chance of making a deal, “Oh, it’s 60%. They responded to my email.” It’s either 0 or 100 so…
Chris Tully: You bring up a really good point. I won’t pick on sales force but CRM systems have gotten us used to thinking that the weighted value of the pipeline is actually what we should be looking at and the reality is it’s binary. You either won the deal or you didn’t win the deal. You can’t win 60% of the deal, there’s no way to get to that. Using CRM systems, it’s gotten a lot easier.
They’re tremendously powerful systems, they’re very easy to use and I would tell my own clients, “You have to have one, you also have to understand what it’s not going to do for you, which is not going to replace the due diligence around the opportunity that you need to do as a sales leader with your rep to understand what the chances of that thing actually happening really are.”
Fred Diamond: One of the things that we see, too, with marketing automation type software is you mentioned at the very beginning sales is hard and you got a lot of rejection, you have a lot of rejection, you’ve got a lot of no’s, if you will. For a lot of the people if they see that someone has done something, opens an email, downloaded a white paper, there’s a tendency to celebrate that as if it’s really critically important in the sales process and bump up the pipeline without realizing that it might take you 50 touches to get to the prospect as their need, you mentioned pain in the very beginning, are you talking to the right people, etcetera.
One thing that I’m proud about with the Sales Game Changers podcast is we’ve had a lot of feedback from younger sales professionals who were kind of like, “Gee, I didn’t realize that there’s all these steps involved, and I didn’t realize that that really isn’t 50% because they downloaded a white paper. It’s nice but I didn’t realize I still need to do this, this, this times 20 to get to the point of a new deal.”
Chris Tully: What we teach as Sales Acceleration advisers is this: you have to have a repeatable sales process, yes. You have to have a sales process that’s tie to your CRM system so that you can see a sale unfold over a period of time. Most importantly, you have to have a set of gating questions inside each of those steps that will enable you to know if you’ve really cleared it or not. It could be as simple as, “OK, did you identify the decision maker.” “Yes, I did.” “Well, who is it?” “It’s Fred Diamond” “Did you meet Fred Diamond?” “No, I didn’t meet Fred Diamond.” “OK. Well, you can’t get out of that qualification phase until you go meet Fred Diamond.” Does that make sense?
Fred Diamond: Take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Why don’t you take us back to that moment?
Chris Tully: I was working as the head of sales for a commercial satellite imagery company. For those that don’t know what that is, they’re commercial satellites that fly around the earth and take pictures of every spot on the earth and sell the imagery back to government customers, they sell them to mapping companies, people that do the maps that are on your phone, that imagery is commercial imagery. It’s not classified, it’s sharable, it’s very high quality.
GOI at the time was the gold standard for the most accurate, best quality commercial satellite imagery available in the market and over a period of a year or so, I was very involved with one of our sales managers who was responsible for our commercial sector as opposed to government or international to renegotiate a multi-year agreement with a commercial client that you know and many others know that increased the value of the deal from somewhere in the neighborhood of about 60 million to well over 100 million so at the time it was the biggest deal that I had ever worked on and he had ever worked on, that the company had seen, and we over what felt like 5 years but was probably more like about 13 or 14 months renegotiated the most complicated and longest negotiation cycle to the point where at the end of it, everybody inside the company and with the client was very happy with the deal, they felt like they both won despite the complexity of the deal.
These things, as they unfold, you don’t know from one day to the next are you making progress, are you stepping backward or what. For us at the time it was a marquee win, can’t tell you the company name but it was just an exceptionally valuable win for the company and one that required not only the customer to agree to all of the things that they agreed to but for the executive team and our company to agree that yes, in fact, we’re really going to do this deal which was the biggest one we paid attention to at the time.
Fred Diamond: Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Chris Tully: I don’t know if spending time as a financial application specialist and an English major is like a double whammy or not but I was pretty convinced I could do anything and I found out at 25 or so that this was a lot harder than I had given it credit for. I was selling high speed laser printing solutions, these things were 400 thousand bucks a piece and up, the sale cycle was very long, it was complicated. It required you to sell essentially to the CFO, the CIO, the CEO depending on the type of company and certainly through the data center operations organizations and I hit a patch probably in my 3rd year of doing this where absolutely nothing was working and it was hard to get up every morning and go because I’d spent my time trying to develop prospects, I’d gotten them developed, I thought I had one and things would stop.
“Sorry, the funding went away.” “Sorry, we decided not to upgrade.” “Sorry, we bought your comp-” all the objections that you could hear in the world and I was kind of shaken. My head had gone, “Boy, am I in the right spot, yes or no?” and things eventually did turn although that third year it took a while. It took probably three quarters for things to kind of resell. Some of it was external circumstances but we talked about earlier this game is in your head a lot and if you lose confidence in your ability, even for a brief period of time, the fly will affect meaning it takes you a while to get restarted. I was reading everything I could get my hands on, I was listening to tapes in the car, I was going to networking opportunities to try and learn from people. I was role playing sales situations, I was doing all that and it was for a little while, not working.
When it finally started to turn, I was like, “Hallelujah! This is actually the right career.” I still remember, I was reading Zig Ziglar, I was reading Tom Hopkins, I was reading all the books I could get my hands on and I still remember this affirmation that Tom Hopkins was espousing at the time and it went something like, “Today I will win. Why? I’ll tell you why. I have faith, courage and enthusiasm, success and happiness will be mine because I walk, talk, act, think and believe like the successful person I am becoming.”
I was like, I needed to do that every day to kind of get up and rolling, and eventually things did turn.
Fred Diamond: That is a great story and I actually just made some notes here. Affirmations are big, visualization’s big. The reality is if you’re talking about working with a company like Xerox, Dell, CoStar, a lot of the people listening to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast are working for great companies. You’re in the big leagues, so you have a lot of competition. Customers are changing – we’ll talk about that in a little bit, but the whole concept about how the customer gets his or her information has changed so you’ve got to compete at a high level and you can’t take off because your competition’s not taken off, and your company expects a lot from you to be working for those types of blue chip companies and even a mid-sized company that’s growing or emerging.
One thing that we’ve learned in the Sales Game Changers podcast is your company is making a big investment in you. There’s a lot of expectations of how you’re going to achieve and you are an athlete. Gary Newgard was one of our guests and he said this is the selling for big brand name and technology, it’s the NFL of sales. I was talking to Anthony Robbins today who was also a guest on episode #09 and we talked about that, that when you’re selling for big brands and markets that are competitive like government or healthcare, it’s equivalent to the NFL etcetera.
Chris Tully, what is the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Chris Tully: Fred, I wish I could distill it to the one thing, but for me it’s not been one thing, it’s been several so I’ll go with several. I think the first thing is particularly for a young sales rep, whatever comfort zone you have, get out of it. Go figure out something different, a different approach. Don’t be afraid to take what I would call a smart risk. Try something that you’re not sure is going to work and see if it does. There are lots of creative ways to reach prospects, your presenters at IES talk about these things a lot, and so what you find is that there are many different ways to communicate.
You actually have to find a way to be good at several of them, but try something you haven’t tried before particularly when you’re looking for new business. Don’t be afraid to learn from people that are smarter and more experienced than you are. You have a mentor program that you’ve run at IES over time, there are plenty of people out there that are willing and able to share what they know, particularly if you’re a young sales person or sales manager especially take them up on it. Becoming a sales manager is a really tough transition to make, particularly if you are taking on a leadership role on a team that used to be on the team and now you’re the leader on the team. Go find somebody who’s done that, ask them what the hard spots were in that. Probably the last thing is really fundamental.
It’s a little bit like saying, “Do your homework.” You have to do the work, you have to make the calls and above all, this came from a guy that was telling me yesterday that starting up in commercial real estate is a two year period where not much happens, don’t quit. Don’t give up. If you’re doing the right things – first of all, make sure you’re doing the right things but do not give up because persistence will trump strategy most of the time.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned in the early part of your career when you hit the three year mark and you were trying to get past an abyss that you were in and you started reading some of the classic sales motivators like Zig Ziglar and Tom Hopkins. What are some things you do today to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Chris Tully: I think there’s plenty out there in the world. You know this because I’ve been part of IES for a while, I like going to the Institute for Excellence in Sales. I think that you bring content to people who have made professional sales, business development, sales leadership their thing and it’s difficult to find the kind of world-class content in one place. I like digging in a little bit with John Asher as an example, as presented a couple of times. John’s got some books out there that are terrific to read.
Mark Hunter does a regular program on prospecting, paying attention to Mark’s newsletter, digging into the links he’s got there to find out what’s new in his mind. There’s a guy named Keith Rosen who has a sales coaching practice, he’s written a book on really learning how to coach and making that your skill set if you’re a sales leader. I like to read a lot, I’m recently re reading The Challenger Sale again, there’s a lot in The Challenger Sale that’s applicable across a lot of different industries.
I’m also reading The Strength Based Leadership book, many people have taken The Strength Finders. There’s a version of that out called Strength Based Leadership which talks about the strengths that you really need to lead businesses. Lastly, networking with people who are at the top of their game if there are industry organizations that you can join that will expose you to other people who are subject matter experts or top performers in their particular field. The time that I invest with those types of people to me is very valuable.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Chris Tully: LinkedIn is an exceptional tool and I’m working in 2018 to really be very intentional about my LinkedIn relationships to see where my strongest connections are and see if I can find a way to make them stronger. I’m also focused on very deliberately trying to leverage a CEO outreach program. What I do in the end really helps the CEO or the founder of a small to mid-sized company and the more that I can interact with those folks directly, I think the more easily and quickly I can help them.
Fred Diamond: Why have you continued in a career in sales? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Chris Tully: If you’re involved in a long and complex sale cycle, after you have either overcome or eliminated all the obstacles associated with trying to get that deal and you’ve managed to handle all of the objections associated with it and you finally actually get ink on paper for several million dollar transaction or whatever the size of it is that happens to be big for your business and your product line, there’s absolutely nothing like the feeling that you have when the thing finally gets done. I think that’s been an exciting thing that’s kept me around and has kept me involved.
There’s nothing like it. I also really like to lead people and I fundamentally believe that a sales leader exists to help his team become stronger and better prepared and more effective. Some of us are wired such that it’s almost more rewarding for us to see someone that we’re responsible for succeed than it is to do it ourselves and for me, that’s been the case. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to lead sales teams and see somebody that came in with a certain set of skills get better and achieve their own goals and do what they wanted to do with their life, so that’s been a motivator for me.
I guess in the end I kind of like the fact that despite all the difficulties and some of the issues that you have to deal with, sales is still one of the few professions out there where your creativity and your desire and your persistence are the only limiters, really the only ones that limit your income and your career growth. That’s getting me around for a while.
Fred Diamond: Give us one final thought to share to the Sales Game Changers listening around the world to inspire them today.
Chris Tully: I believe in the end that the lord has put us on this earth to do the very best we can with our time and our talents for his glory and for the betterment of others. I really fundamentally believe that. What that translates to for me is figure out what you’re really good at, not all the things you’re not good at but figure out what you’re really good at and go do more of that. Don’t spend your time trying to fix all the things that you can’t do, find out what you can do, what you’re good at, what you’re repetitively good at and do the very best you can to do that thing. If you do that, good things happen.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo
Produced by Rosario Suarez