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EPISODE 209: FireEye Public Sector Sales Chief Craig Mueller Says by Focusing on These Specific Skills, You Will Be on the Path to Elite Sales Performance
CRAIG’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Find a coach, find a mentor, find someone that you emulate and understand how they’re being successful and to help you write down goals that you want to achieve. Doing these things will ensure that you will establish and then stay on the right path when times get tough.”
When we interviewed Craig Mueller, he was the VP of Federal Sales at FireEye. He has since been promoted to VP of Public Sector.
Prior to coming to FireEye he held sales leadership positions at Cisco and BMC Software.
He was listed as a mentor of past podcast guest Paul Skurpski with XTIVIA
Craig can be found on LinkedIn here.
Craig Mueller: I’ve lived down in the DC area for over 25 years, I’m married to my lovely wife, Lynne, have two wonderful children, Jack and Nicole, an eighth grade boy, fifth grade girl. I spend most of my time running them from one place to the other for practices and activities and all sorts of stuff which doesn’t allow me to do as much snowboarding as I would really like, but it’s all good and thanks for having me.
Fred Diamond: I’m excited to have you on the show. What are the sports that your kids do that you shuttle them back and forth to?
Craig Mueller: Soccer, basketball, lacrosse, football, rugby, a lot of different things.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about FireEye, we’ve interviewed some other Sales Game Changers who’ve been in the cyber space so tell us a little more about what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Craig Mueller: FireEye is a company in the cyber-security space, we’re about a hundred million dollar plus company here in our federal business and the government customers invest in FireEye for three core things: to prevent a security impact, to reduce the impact of a security incident and to improve the productivity and efficiency of those personnel working in that defensive cyber-security operations perspective. What excites me most about the role and the opportunity we have in FireEye are a few things. The first one is the relationship that we have with our customers. I’ve been here 6 years and the visibility that FireEye has into the state of the threat, we pride ourselves in knowing more about the adversary than anyone else. To be working hand in glove with those customers on that important cyber mission really excites me.
The equities we have as a company to help solve those customer challenges are second to none and what really excites me is the sales team that we put together here locally. I’ve got two super first-line sales leaders that run our civilian and DODIC business. They’ve just assembled, in my opinion, the best sales organization, the salespeople that I’ve seen, that I’ve had the pleasure to work with because they’re very customer-centric, they’re mission focused and they recognize that if we can help solve customer problems together, the commissions and the reasons that we’re in sales will follow. I’m just very excited about the opportunity in front of us.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about you, tell us about your career. How did you first get into sales as a career?
Craig Mueller: I grew up in central New York, came from a typewriter town, graduated in the early 90s. There was this little thing called a PC that impacted the local economy, there weren’t any jobs teaching – that’s what I was certified to do – so I got in my car, drove down here, was living underneath a buddy of mine’s dining room table and needed some money. Answered an ad in the paper, next thing I knew I was selling copiers door to door, was successful at that, got promoted and there I was, a sales professional.
Fred Diamond: It’s interesting, on the Sales Game Changers podcast we’ve done over 200 shows by this point and we’re well on our way to 300. We’ve interviewed some people who started out selling copiers and fax machines and things like that door to door, why don’t you tell us some of the key lessons you learned from some of those few sales jobs?
Craig Mueller: That is the first sales job I had, it really taught you a couple things. The first thing was persistence, it was very metrics driven and that was another thing that it taught me. There was a tried and true formula of, “If you have this much activity, eventually it will lead to a sale” and that’s how we got paid. I think persistence, the ability to actually go out there whether it was rain or shine, kind of the same perspective as the US postal service, you need to go out and have that activity no matter what. The ability to handle rejection, to understand that not everybody is going to be completely interested to purchase something from you or even talk to you about something you might want to discuss at all points in time.
Then the idea of helping to emulate other folks that are successful, find somebody in the organization who’s had success, pick their brain, start to build that relationship not necessarily as a true mentor-protégé all the time but just to actually understand, “What is this person doing that makes them successful?” Then to try to incorporate some of those habits in your day to day. I think that was a really good lesson for me to learn as a new sales professional just out of college.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, did you sell door to door, did you go knocking on doors?
Craig Mueller: Knocking on doors, man, yeah.
Fred Diamond: For the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, we’re doing today’s interview in Reston, Virginia. We’ve done some interviews here before, it’s about 20 minutes outside of DC without traffic, not too far from Dulles Airport, there’s a real strong tech corridor here, we’re in a beautiful building, you guys have a real nice vibe about your building here. How do you look back on those days of knocking on doors trying to sell copiers door to door?
Craig Mueller: I look back on them finely in the sense that, like I said, it did instill a work ethic. It’s like Forrest Gump, you never knew what you’re picking out of the box of chocolates, you never really knew what you were getting into until you walked into that door. One of the things that was instilled in me early on was the idea of gathering information about the prospect. We’d go in, we’d have a meeting and then we’ve got to identify who the people are, what the name of the business was, who was the decision maker, what kind of copier they had and then as you start to build this information up about your territory, you can then start to look at where the opportunities are. It just gave me really good fundamentals that I can apply every day and there are anecdotal stories for sure that I can share with some of the folks that work for me that I’ve been able to use for the past 20 years.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Craig Mueller: I don’t know if I have any specific area of brilliance, unfortunately. I think one of the things that I’ve been able to leverage very well across my career is sitting down and looking at an opportunity and asking a number of different questions that perhaps the salesperson hasn’t thought of only because of the forest and the trees type of mentality. I’m a huge believer of strategic planning, crawl-walk-run, identifying what the outcome is, how it aligns with what the customer is trying to accomplish. As folks start to put together sales campaigns I like to get involved early on and make sure that we’re looking at all potential ways to influence and drive a sales campaign.
Like myself, everybody is really only influenced by their experiences and impacted by their biases so if you can start to look at your strategic planning and have other voices in there early on, hopefully you’ve got a lot of perspective that you can use. I think that’s probably my largest gift, just to ensure that we’re bringing in the right folks to the table when we’re working all through our strategic planning process here at FireEye.
Fred Diamond: Like I mentioned before, one of our past guests, Paul Skurpski over at XTIVIA had mentioned you as being one of his sales mentors along the way and spoke very finely of you and the role you played in his success. You must have had some impactful sales mentors along the way, too. Why don’t you tell us about one or two and how they impacted your career?
Craig Mueller: I would say that probably the most impactful sales mentor was John McMahon at Parametric Technology. PTC was the second highest performing stock on the NASDAQ behind Dell in the first half of the 90s. What I learned there was sales process, the importance of sales process, the importance of qualifying. It was the idea that yes, there’s an art to sales but there’s also a science behind that art so being able to actually sit down and quantify what the next steps are and actually qualifying process was very beneficial. Then I think what I’ve tried to do from a leadership perspective is just pull bits and pieces from different sales leaders that I’ve had.
My current boss now, Pat Sheridan, one of the things that I really respect about him is his patience and then the way that he works internally with people to actually build stakeholders from corporate folks to ensure that they’re invested in his public sector and my federal business. I think if you talk to a number of my peers you’ll hear often people say, “They just don’t understand federal” or, “They just don’t get it.” It’s really our responsibility, in my opinion, as a federal leader to make sure that those people understand your business. You’ve got to be reaching across the aisle as much as possible and make sure that those important stakeholders in corporate are as vested. I’ve been able to pick and choose, hopefully, some of the best characteristics from some really strong sales leaders and I try to incorporate them into my day to day and how I work with the teams.
Fred Diamond: We have Sales Game Changers listening all over the globe at various countries and various industries selling multiple things at various stages of their career. We’ve interviewed a number of people who lead federal sales teams and gov-con or public sector overall, what is it about the federal marketplace that has inspired you? What is it about selling to the federal market that has kept you going?
Craig Mueller: I think it’s really mission focused, I mentioned earlier about my team having visibility into the customer’s mission. If you think about cyber-security in the situation that’s going on right now, we’re under attack every day by nation state actors as well as crime syndicates, but some of the same folks that we’re reading about and having trade deals in the news are essentially attacking our networks. To be able to sit down and go talk to the United States’ State Department or someone in the intelligence community or the Department of Defense and specifically sit down and say, “These are the observations that we’ve made as a company over in Europe specific to this Russian threat, let’s talk about how we can apply these countermeasures to your organization to ensure that things don’t happen here.” It’s pretty exciting to be at the forefront and the front lines of cyber-security with our customers helping protect the federal government.
Fred Diamond: What are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Craig Mueller: The first one is especially in cyber-security but you could probably expand this out to the rest of the industry, it’s identifying, recruiting, retaining and developing good people. In my perspective there really is no substitute for good people, coachable people, quality people, the kind of folks that you want to make sure you surround yourself with and build that team culture. I think that’s definitely the first one, it’s a huge issue in cyber just because there’s so many different companies so there’s so many different options of where people can go to build their career on.
That piece as a sales leader and as an employer, it’s incumbent upon us to provide guidance to our salespeople as far as, “This is why we want you to commit to the organization, here’s what our plans are, who you’re going to be as you mature through the organization” and show them a career path. I think that’s the first one around people, and once again this is a little bit specific to cyber but maybe it can be brought across the entire industry. It’s really hard for customers to understand how we differentiate versus ABC company and XYZ company, everything just sounds the same.
While I think most companies do a fairly good job of educating their salespeople on whatever widgets we’re going to go to market with, it’s not as easy on the other side from a customer perspective. Everything sounds the same so what extra steps are you taking as a sales leader to ensure that your sales teams can differentiate your capabilities? And not just unique differentiators, “I’ve got this feature and they don’t” but really more of the comparative and holistic differentiators where it’s like, “This is why it’s in the customer’s best interest to do business with FireEye versus someone else.” I think as these marketing messages just get more complex and they all sound the same, what are we doing to cut through the noise and make sure that our customers are really evaluating the capabilities that we have at face value?
Fred Diamond: Take us back, before we take a short break, to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career you’re most proud of.
Craig Mueller: Probably the one I’m most proud of is I helped set up an inside sales function. BladeLogic we got bought by BMC Software and then that sales function turned into something formal where we actually created a career path in capability from newly hired inside sales people that were designed to get meetings to then show them how to become a hybrid inside-outside salesperson to then a fully outside salesperson. Prior to working with some folks on that, there was no career path, we were actually losing key people. There was no ability for somebody to come into the organization and then mature into an outside salesperson so I would say that’s probably my #1 success just because it impacted a number of different people and the company and they were better for it.
Fred Diamond: You’re in a space right now, cyber-security, like you said, the people who are selling cyber-security are even challenged with differentiating and you just made a great point that the customer has a deeper challenge. Did you ever question being in sales? Again, did you ever think to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Craig Mueller: I’m not sure if I ever questioned if it was too hard and that might have to do with how obtuse I am, but I definitely thought, like many sales professionals I’m sure across their career thing, “Should I be doing this?” I remember when I was at Linear and I’d gotten promoted to run in a sales team and people always thought I should go to law school so I thought, “Why not become an attorney?” Unless you’ve got a support system around you from a sales professional perspective, most folks that come out of college don’t really know what they’re getting into. Unless your parents or some close friend that’s actually been a sales professional can provide you that guidance, it’s really easy to go astray because sales is hard.
You face a lot of rejection, you get paid when you sell something. You might be working for a company that’s wonderful but have a tough territory, there’s all sorts of different nuances that make up the challenge that salespeople face. Luckily for me, I had gotten some good relationships with some folks who I trusted and believed in and wanted to emulate and they helped me through some of those challenges early on so I could look back and say, “This is what they’re telling me, here’s how I’m changing things, this is what the outcome is going to be if I do things a little differently” and kind of arrived here.
Fred Diamond: Craig, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening around the globe to help them take their career to the next level?
Craig Mueller: I would say the #1 thing is probably to appreciate, respect and practice your craft. One of the things that I encourage all of our folks to do here at FireEye is they’ll hear me say this ad nauseam, “Be a cyber-security professional” and that means a lot of different things. It’s not just to understand what’s in your portfolio but it’s understand what’s going on in the market, it’s understanding what’s going on with your customer. What are the impediments that they face? What are the initiatives that they have?
If you think about LeBron James, he’s been the best basketball player in the NBA for give or take 10, 15 years but he’s not just resting on his laurels, he’s out there practicing a bunch of different shots. He shows up at the summer every year, now all of the sudden he’s got a new turnaround jump or he’s posting people up differently, so it’s practicing that craft. It isn’t just, ‘let’s learn about what my portfolio is’ but it’s learn about more portfolio, understand what the customer is trying to accomplish, what’s happening in the greater market? What do my competitors actually do, what’s their approach? How about my partners, how are they positioning things?
It’s getting that holistic picture to understand, “I’m a sales professional, I need to be dedicating certain things outside of the 9 to 5 or whatever that time is that I’m going to be in front of the customer to get better. I would suggest to take extra classes, learn how to use Microsoft Excel better so that instead of taking 4 hours to do something it might take 40 minutes. There’s all sorts of different ways that you can be a sales professional and that’s what I would suggest that is probably the best advice for folks looking to get into this market.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great answer and actually the LeBron analogy is a great thing. Everything that he touches, everything that goes in, everything he eats, he’s constantly thinking to be the greatest and not just to be in the NBA, not just to be a professional ball player but to be one of the three or four greatest players of all time. We did a podcast with a guy named Alan Stein Jr. who’s a performance coach and he spent 18 years helping some of the most elite basketball professionals, everyone from Kevin Durant to Victor Oladipo take their career to the next level and he talked about training with Kobe Bryant at three in the morning.
Craig Mueller: That’s exactly the same thing, it’s that will to win. Everybody wants to win, but who has the will to win? It’s doing those extra things that make those people special. From just a sales professionalism standpoint I agree, there are other things that you can do outside of your normal day to day work and customer experiences that will get you on the right path.
Fred Diamond: Along those lines, tell us one of your selling habits that has led to your continued success.
Craig Mueller: Preparation is key. When I was at Lanier it was very metrics driven. “You do this many calls a day, it will lead to this many demos which will lead to this many trials which will lead to this many sales” and you could take it down the funnel but now I think it’s activity based when you’re talking about enterprise software platforms. Activity based meetings aren’t the way to go, then we’re just measuring quantitative, ’10 calls a week’. We need to really from an enterprise perspective measure qualitative. If we look at quality and we start to sit down, the first piece is preparation. It goes back to what I said earlier, it’s getting to know and understand your customer. What is the fit? How are we going to align to the mission? What are the outcomes that the customer is going to be able to get for this?
It’s that preparation piece that I’m a huge proponent of for the teams and then it’s consistent inspection along the way.
One of the sayings that I’ve picked up along my tenure as a sales professional is ‘inspect what you expect’. If there’s a process that you have in point or even if you’re just going to go ahead and give a suggestion you need to, as a sales leader, follow up on that and then make sure you follow through. To be able to actually sit down and work with the team along the way consistently going in and make sure, “Are we on pace? Are we going at the right direction? Are we at the right point?” I think those are some things that are super important and we do it all in a framework of something called MEDDIC which is part of a sales process that was learned early on to help qualify things at PTC. Try to formalize things, huge planner and then most importantly inspect what you expect because otherwise, if I tell my daughter to clean her room and then I never go check on it, next time she’s not going to clean her room.
Fred Diamond: Craig, what’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Craig Mueller: We’re rolling out something a little bit deeper this year, it’s called Command of the Message, it’s a sales methodology and it’s a lot of the stuff that I think people are doing today. This just allows it to formalize it a little bit better and it’s really outcome based. We’re fortunate enough at FireEye to have a large portfolio that’s monetized through our technology, through our threat intelligence or through our expertise. We have the luxury of going in to have a conversation with the customer about where they are, what’s their current state, what are some of the challenges that they have with that and where do they want to go, and then we can prescriptively talk and describe about a plan and path to get them to that future state and those benefits that they’ll derive from that.
I still see sales professionals want to come and talk about their portfolio prior to actually listening and determining from the customer what they want to accomplish. I think too often we end up as salespeople in one sided conversations, you get the, “Wow, that was really informative, thanks for the meeting” and then you don’t get another meeting in there for 90 days or 6 months. One of the things that we’re trying to do is be very conscious of the fact that salespeople have two ears and one mouth, and let’s make sure that we approach things that way.
Fred Diamond: We talked today on the Sales Game Changers podcast with Craig Mueller, VP of Federal Sales at FireEye. Craig, before I ask you for your final thought for the Sales Game Changers around the globe, sales is hard and there’s a lot of challenges. You just mentioned that you may do a great presentation in your mind to a customer, he may thank you for the information but you don’t hear from them again, they don’t return your calls, they don’t respond to your emails but why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Craig Mueller: I really enjoy sales and I’m glad I found it as a career for a few different reasons. One is that you get to meet a whole bunch of different new, exciting and interesting people all the time. You get to actually go out of your office, you’re actually in front of the customer meeting all sorts of different people and creating a relationship with them. Some people that I keep in close touch with are former customers, I would have never had the opportunity to meet them and now I know their children’s name and where they’re going to college and things like that.
The variety of the type of folks that you meet, once again going back to that mission, helping customers understanding what their challenges are and then helping solve a problem, that’s very rewarding. Then I think one of the reasons that people get into sales – although I was more out of it for desperation – we get paid extremely handsomely if we’re successful. I got a number of buddies that are still teachers, I was certified to teach, my dad was a teacher for 30 something years and the amount of money that they get paid for the amount of time and how important their job is versus a sales professional, I think we’re very fortunate to have our compensation weighted as well as it is.
Fred Diamond: But once again, we wouldn’t be in these beautiful offices if things didn’t get sold and everyone who’s been a guest on the Sales Game Changers podcast knows that. Actually, the people who are listening to the show know that as well. Why don’t you give us something to inspire our listeners today?
Craig Mueller: I would say that sales, especially for folks that are coming into this as a career and even folks that have been doing it for a while, sometimes you hit the doldrums. I would say practice your craft, find somebody, find a coach, find a mentor, find someone that you emulate and understand how they’re being successful. Then the last piece is help write down some goals that you want. Then by practicing your craft, writing down those goals and objectives that you have and finding a mentor that you can speak to when times are tough, I think what it really will do is ensure that salespeople establish and then stay on the right path when times get tough.