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[EDITOR’S NOTE: We conducted this interview in early 2020. Since the show was released during the pandemic, we asked him what his advice is for sales professionals during the pandemic. He offered the following:
- Empathy in these unprecedented times is a leadership trait we must exhibit with customers and employees alike.
- I’ve been coaching the team that while we need to be sensitive in this current environment, we have services that can help our clients in these trying times, and to that end, prospecting can and should continue. As trusted advisors, the message must clearly articulate on how we believe we can help vs. attempting to prey on fear, uncertainty and doubt.
- I’m also making it a point to conduct skip level check-ins and call 2 or 3 of my direct field reps each day to see how they and their families are doing. This gives me the opportunity to reinforce with them all we’re doing at the corporate level to help, as well as gather feedback from the field on both their mindset as well as that of the customers with whom they’re speaking.
- Finally, with everyone being remote we are promoting the use of webex to drive more engaged conversations. I’m also about to launch ‘virtual office hours’ where multiple times per week members of the team can log in and ask any questions they may have or simply chat with myself and their peers.
EPISODE 214: Neustar Sales Leader Craig Pentz Gives Tips on How to Become a More Trusted Advisor During and After the Coronavirus Pandemic
CRAIG’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Prospecting can and should continue (during the pandemic). As trusted advisors, the message must clearly articulate on how we believe we can help vs. attempting to prey on fear, uncertainty and doubt.“
Craig Pentz is the SVP of Risk and Customer Information Sales at Neustar.
Prior to coming to Neustar, he held sales leadership positions at TARGUSinfo and FRANdata.
If you’re a loyal listener of the Sales Game Changers podcast you might recognize Neustar, we interviewed Dorean Kass about a year and a half ago and Craig works in his organization.
Craig can be found on LinkedIn here.
Fred Diamond: Craig, I’m excited to have you on the Sales Game Changers podcast, a lot of great things are happening with Neustar which we’ll talk about. Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Craig Pentz: Thanks, Fred, it’s great to be here today. I’ve lived in the DMV since I graduated from Penn State in 1995, been at Neustar for 16 years, I came over as part of the TARGUSinfo acquisition in 2011. As you mentioned, I work for Dorean Kass, I know there’s a good lineage of other podcast sessions with the likes of Darrell Gehrt who actually hired me at TARGUSinfo and Paul McConville who was one of my sales leaders during my tenure there. It’s been a great run going from a small private company to a publicly held company now back to a private company when Golden Gate Capital bought Neustar. I entered 2019 with 16 reps, I’m in a very high growth business, we’re exiting with 26 reps and I have a goal of having 36 reps by the end of Q2 so when I’m not busy doing interviews which consumes most of my time these days. I bought a house this year, moved from McLean, Great Falls, got married and became an “Instadad” to two great kids. It’s been an exciting 2019.
Fred Diamond: Being a Penn State grad I guess the first natural question is ‘we are’?
Craig Pentz: Penn State.
Fred Diamond: We’ve had a bunch of Penn State guys on the show as well so we’ll probably refer to them once or twice as well. My daughter went to Penn State so very great school, we’ve had a lot of ties on the podcast. Tell us a little more about what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Craig Pentz: I run the risk and customer information business so we work with Fortune 1000 enterprises who sell directly to the US consumer. My biggest customers are the large retail banks, insurance companies, healthcare providers, large retail, e-tail companies. We’re helping them optimize every interaction they have with the consumer whether that’s an inbound call to a contact center, an outbound SMS message, a visit to the website, whatever it is we’re helping to secure those transactions making sure, “Is actually Craig Pentz at the other end of that transaction?” and then providing them the intelligence to optimize that interaction. It’s really interesting, we do a lot of work with the banks and the fraud department and the fraudsters are certainly very intelligent folks and when you stick the finger in the dike here they’re figuring out the next place where they can identify a vulnerability. That’s one of the things that really interests me about this job, we are constantly finding new and innovative ways to use Neustar’s unique data sets to help our customers ensure they have a safe interaction with the consumer.
Fred Diamond: Neustar’s been around for a long time. Are you guys doing a lot of different things or is this the main business that you all do?
Craig Pentz: There are four main businesses at Neustar. We have the communication services group which is the legacy business of Neustar. We used to run local number portability if you wanted to switch your phone from Verizon to AT&T, we did that. That’s one business unit, it’s still the largest from a revenue perspective and it actually throws off a lot of great insights and you might hear me make that reference a few times during this. We have what I like to call unstealable attributes that some of our businesses provide to my business to help our clients. An easy example is a fraudster can get a burner phone and register a name and then register another name and then keep changing names because they know companies look at name phone verification. Because we run caller name as a service, we can see those changes to a name so when we see a high velocity of changes, it’s a great insight that while we might say Craig Pentz and that number go together, there’s a lot of risk associated with that linkage.
We have a security business that helps ensure that company’s websites don’t get taken down by a distributed denial of service or DDoS attack, so that’s our security business. We have a marketing analytics business which helps more with getting the customer to raise their hands and then my business takes over once that customer has raised their hand and is enrolling or interacting, that’s where we come in.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you take us back to the beginning of your sales career? How did you first get into sales as a career?
Craig Pentz: As we were talking a little bit offline, I had planned to become the next great governor from the state of Pennsylvania, I was an international politics major, moved down to DC, started interviewing on the hill and it just wasn’t really taking for me. As a Penn State alum, DC is the largest chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association and there are a lot of fraternity brothers down here who were very successful in sales. Started talking to them, was driving down from Pennsylvania to interview, interviewed with a telecommunications company and took a job as one of their field sales reps and my territory was wonderful Route 355, basically between Bethesda and Gaithersburg, that was my stomping grounds.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key lessons that you learned from some of those first few sales jobs?
Craig Pentz: It’s interesting because I think that sales job more than anything taught me what sales was not. From the first training they fly you down to Florida, you’re a 22 year old straight out of school and one of the first lessons they taught me was when the decision maker comes out of his office after you find out who manages their Bell Atlantic account was to shake their hand and turn your body to get between them and their office so that they would have to invite you in. I thought that was interesting, slightly on the bullish side – maybe very on the bullish side. That sort of sale, it burned me out. It’s come in from the day, stamp your cards, how many appointments did you go to, how many phone calls did you make? Certainly all important metrics but it just wasn’t for me.
FRANdata was actually one of my first customers at that telecommunications company, got to know the CEO pretty well, he told me if I ever wanted to do something else I could come work there so I did and I actually got out of sales for a while. I took a consulting gig so spent a lot of time learning about franchising, learning about the problems that companies were facing and then started talking to customers about research reports that we could put together. That’s where I started to learn there’s a lot more to sales than shaking a hand and bulling your way into an office. That consultative sale helping a customer solve a problem was something that I very much enjoyed and it’s all history from there.
Fred Diamond: Talking about solving problems, let’s get a little deeper into you and your background, tell us what you’re an expert in. Why don’t you share a little more with us about your specific area of brilliance?
Craig Pentz: I was thinking about this, I wish I could say it was golf but it’s certainly not, but it’s a passion because it is a pursuit for perfection but you can never have a perfect round of golf. You can have very good sales years, I don’t know that you can ever be perfect and I thought about it. I would say I’m a great problem solver but as I sat and asked myself questions about what made me a great problem solver I came to I’m a very good question asker. That ability to understand before being understood is what I think I excel at and it’s helped me both as an individual contributor but then ultimately as a sales manager and now as VP of Sales to help my team ask the questions to figure out what we’re really trying to solve.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that for a second. Craig, one of the things that comes up a lot on the Sales Game Changers podcast is that you need to become a better listener and then I usually say, “How do you become a better listener?” and a lot of people will say to become a better question asker, or ask better questions. Give us one of your insights into question asking, what are some of the things? How do you instruct your team to get better at that?
Craig Pentz: One thing that we do is we practice it, and we practice and we practice [Laughs]. One of the things I’ll say in what the young sales professionals need to do to improve is get out of your comfort zone. Lots of salespeople don’t like role playing, I find role playing to be the most valuable exercise people can go through. It’s something that we do and something that we practice if not on a daily basis, certainly on a weekly basis.
Fred Diamond: You must have had some great sales mentors along the way. You worked – was it continuous, TARGUSinfo right into Neustar?
Craig Pentz: Uninterrupted for 16 years.
Fred Diamond: Good for you. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful mentor that you had along the way and how they impacted your career?
Craig Pentz: If I go back to my TARGUSinfo days, I was 30 years old coming out of a dot com bomb and went to TARGUSinfo and the TARGUSinfo CEO, George Moore, an Irishman who was a very successful businessman in addition to owning TARGUSinfo he owned Galway Crystal and Belleek China, so a master at time management. I think he has probably been the strongest influence on me as a salesperson in addition to being probably the greatest question asker I’ve ever met. George was also the master of the one-liners and one of his great one-liners is have the courage of your convictions. That is something that has stuck with me throughout my career. Fail fast, succeed fast, ask the questions that get you to a fast no whenever possible empowering your people to make decisions, I find that to be a big piece of having the courage of your convictions.
Fred Diamond: That’s an interesting word and we’ve done over 200 Sales Game Changers podcast interviews and a lot of people ask me, “What is the secret to being successful in sales?” and I realize it comes down to one thing, it’s courage. You’re not going to be totally fearless but I love that, having the courage of your convictions. How have you done that? How have you taken George’s advice to be more successful? Again, you’re the Senior VP of Risk and Customer Information Sales at Neustar, how have you applied that?
Craig Pentz: I apply that by enabling my people to make decisions. As much as I have the courage in my convictions, it’s about teaching others to have the courage of their convictions. That was another lesson I felt like I learned a lot from George. When I first got into sales management I thought it was, “Okay, I have five direct reports, those guys have three problems each, I have 15 problems to solve.” The more time spent with George I realized that’s not what it’s about, it’s not solving problems for people, it’s enabling people to solve their own problems. Again, back to the question asking, sitting down with someone, exploring all of the possible scenarios, having them think through the problem and present the opportunities, challenging them, asking them follow up questions and then basically helping them figure out their own path to solve the problem.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great distinction there. Along those lines, what are the two biggest challenges you face as a sales leader today?
Craig Pentz: First and foremost is the scaling of this business. As I mentioned, we came into this year with 16 reps, we’re exiting with 26. Three came through an acquisition that we made in January but the rest were all organic hires. Finding qualified talent is always a challenge but finding it at the scale that we need has been a real challenge. Fortunately I’ve got a great leadership team under me and when we realize we’re going to take on this challenge one of the things we did is spend a lot of time looking at our interviewing process.
What I found is a lot of us were asking a lot of the same questions so we actually brought in a consultant, worked with Dorian and the team and developed a new interviewing process where everybody was interviewing for a different set of skills. Then at the end, something that we reintroduced which was how I was initially hired at TARGUSinfo was we actually spend time with the candidate at the end of the process. They come in and they have to do a pitch to us selling a Neustar product and it’s interesting to see how many people get through the normal interview process but then when you get to the pitch it’s just not there.
Fred Diamond: Questioning seems to be a big theme in the conversation here. Do you have a favorite interview question that you love to ask that you always make it a point to ask?
Craig Pentz: I ask somebody to walk me through a successful sales engagement. Right out of the gate if they’re able to quickly articulate what the value proposition was and the problem that they were able to solve for that customer, that’s a leading indicator to me. Something that goes hand in hand with the question asking is that intellectual curiosity, the most successful salespeople in this organization have that. I wouldn’t call it a skill but that’s what it is, it’s the want to really understand not only Neustar’s business but the customer’s business. You can go in with that open mindset and listen to their challenges and not think a round peg into a square hole and mess that one up all the time. That ability to deeply understand and be able to get to the customer’s real issue and solve that problem.
Fred Diamond: You said the question you like to ask is to have someone take you through one of their great sales successes. Why don’t you tell us about one of yours? Why don’t you take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of?
Craig Pentz: The business that I run today, we used to be combined with the marketing analytics business so as the business continued to grow and as Neustar made investments in what was the legacy TARGUSinfo business, our sales guys were the subject matter experts. It became more and more difficult to go from having a conversation with someone in the CMO’s office about a digital advertising campaign to talking to the Chief Risk Officer about a fraud model. We got engaged with the senior compliance executive at one of the top 5 retail banks in the country and he was facing a problem that wasn’t on our radar, but after hearing about that problem we did some research and realized there was a huge market opportunity for us here.
I was running a really small team at that point, I think I had four direct reports so myself and the guy who was still here and is still the perennial top performer spent a lot of time with this guy to understand his needs and I can still remember we were on a call, I was in our New York office at the time and we basically set the market for the solution. They thought they knew what they wanted, but again our research into what the real problem was and our understanding of our capabilities we proposed a new solution, he said, “This is exactly what we need”, thanked us for spending all of the time, signed that deal three months later. That became the backbone of a 50 million dollar line of business which is still the risk business’ largest solution set.
Fred Diamond: Again, we’re talking today on the Sales Game Changers podcast with Craig Pentz, he’s the senior VP of Risk and Customer Information Sales at Neustar. Craig, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, again you mentioned that your original goals coming out of Penn State was to be the next governor of the state of Pennsylvania, the Keystone state, second state in the country. Did you ever question being in sales? Again, you’ve been telling us some great stories here. Did you ever question making that shift? Did you ever think to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s really just not for me”?
Craig Pentz: In those early days when I was at the telecommunications company driving up and down Route 355 I was really questioning what I was doing but then getting the job at FRANDATA and then ultimately landing here becoming a trusted adviser and a consultant and helping people solve problems, that’s what excites me about sales. The earning is great, the controlling your own destiny, great. My position not so much controlling my own destiny as controlling the destiny of the 39-ish people that work for me but it still fundamentally comes back to that helping people solve business problems. That’s what excites me and keeps me in sales.
Fred Diamond: You really raised a great point here in the beginning. Were you doing door to door sales?
Craig Pentz: Yes.
Fred Diamond: For people listening around the globe, Route 355 also known as the Rockville Pike-Wisconsin Avenue, it’s a very high commerce area, especially the territory that you had with a lot of restaurants, a lot of businesses, a lot of things like that, supermarkets and things. You said you realized at one point that those little tricks weren’t really what sales was about and one of the key things that we keep hearing on the Sales Game Changers podcast is that you really need to provide real value to your customer. You talked about how eventually you became a trusted adviser, a trusted partner, consultative sales. I’m just curious, was it a moment or was it like a week going door to door in the rain and 20 degree temperature in January? How did that moment come to you when you said to yourself, “This ain’t sales”?
Craig Pentz: [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: It’s a while ago, you don’t have to reflect back.
Craig Pentz: No, I know the exact moment that it was. I was with my manager prospecting into a building that had a ‘do not solicit’ sign on the front of the building. We ignored the sign and went into the office and he was being very aggressive with the admin at the front desk and she pointed out a few times that there’s a no solicitation. “If you want to have a conversation here’s my card, you can call back in” and he was like, “We just want five minutes with the person who handles your Bell Atlantic bill” on and on until the guy came out of his office and threatened to call the police.
That’s when I was like, “This isn’t what Craig wants to be doing with his life.” I tried to learn from that, I tried to make the conversations more about, “What do you like about Bell Atlantic? What don’t you like about Bell Atlantic?” but it was a very commoditized sale. Ultimately I just realized I wanted something more and that’s when the consulting path seemed to be the right avenue for me until I realized what consultative selling was all about.
Fred Diamond: Craig, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening around the globe to help them take their career to the next level?
Craig Pentz: I mentioned this a little bit earlier. If there are two things I would tell everyone is get outside of your comfort zone. Practice, practice, practice. The art of selling, again it’s the pursuit of perfection, no one is ever going to be the perfect salesperson so the more you can practice, the more you can get used to overcoming objections and handling them more fluidly, the better salesperson you’ll become, the better listener you’ll become and then ultimately a more trusted adviser you will become. The other thing I’m trying to do a better job personally of leveraging is data is your friend, we have more information now sometimes than we can digest.
We use Salesforce, we also use a tool called Insight Squared and this year I’m trying to use data to help drive conversations between my sales directors and the field sales staff. We wanted to improve our ability to forecast and we did a bunch of work and we realized obviously your ability to forecast is to know what’s going to close when. One of the best metrics we found to look at is the average day, a deal was at a given stage. We have five sale stages for the most part in a normal sales process here so clearing those dates and understanding where people are in the buying process helps us understand the likelihood that that deal is going to happen.
If you have an opportunity that has been in a given stage 30 days longer than the normal deal is that closes, that’s a great opportunity to have that conversation with the salesperson to say, “What’s happening here? Why is this deal different than other deals?” It provides a way to get your internal happy ears off and really look at the opportunity. I would invite salespeople, you shouldn’t need your manager to do that for you, that information is at your fingertips. Again, it’s having that difficult conversation with yourself.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about one of your selling habits that has led to your continued success?
Craig Pentz: I think setting expectations in advance of anything is critical to driving the outcome that you want. I’m not saying you want to go in and say, “This is what you need to buy”, obviously you need to be prescriptive as you learn but I’m a bit of a student of the Franklin Covey so the notion of the end in mind and making that clear with your customer and your internal stakeholders of what your expectations are of this meeting and what you want that result to be. Then from there, timely follow up. It’s the key to becoming a trusted adviser.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Craig Pentz: Talking about getting outside of your comfort zone, Craig’s getting outside of his comfort zone. We have always been a direct sales force so we sell directly to the brands. As we’ve made investments and as we look to scale the business and as some of our products mature and become things that could be handled by an inside sales force, I’m working to develop a channel strategy this year. I’ll be bringing in a guy to run the channel team but channel is going to take two forms for us.
One, some very large deal channel partners to help with technical integrations like the large IVR companies, the Nuances and Avayas of the world, looking at them as a channel partner. Then also looking at niche providers who can help us sell into the long tail of our core verticals where it just doesn’t make sense from a capacity perspective to hire and train our salespeople, leverage the experts and the people that already have those relationships. That’s all new for me and again, getting out of my comfort zone but I think something that will really help us to scale the business moving forward.
Fred Diamond: Craig, I want to thank you for being a guest on today’s Sales Game Changers podcast, you’ve given us a lot of great insights. Again, we’ve also interviewed Dorean Kass with Neustar, we’ll provide a link to his show as well. Before I ask you for your final thought to inspire our listeners today, sales is hard, we talked about some of the challenges throughout today’s podcast. People don’t return your calls or your emails, sometimes people actually tell you to leave their office or they’ll have you arrested.
Craig Pentz: [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: But why have you continued? Again, you originally were thinking you were going to go into politics which is still a possibility, keep it out there, you’re a young man. What is it about sales as a career, though that has kept you going?
Craig Pentz: As a salesperson it was the problem solving and becoming the trusted adviser and really helping businesses to meet their objectives, that’s what excited me. As a sales leader that still excites me and I like to keep a pulse on the field – I’d probably go back and say that’s one of my other challenges with the rate that we’re scaling the business and all of my internal responsibilities, being able to keep my finger on the pulse of the marketplace. I do that by having conversations with the field staff, I dedicate time to doing that, I run a pretty flat organization that the whole skip level things isn’t really a management style of Craig.
I’ve known and worked with most of the field staff a lot of my career here so I’ve got really good rapport with them. Again, transitioning into the sales management moving somewhat away from solving marketplace challenges to solving internal business challenges and helping to really scale the bookings and revenue for Neustar, that’s what keeps me around the management of my team and the people that I work with. I always say first and foremost it is the people, I’ve got a great team, I love mentoring, if I had to pick another accomplishment that I’m very proud of, just yesterday we beat all four quarters last year, we’re adding all these new salespeople. I was able to promote two of my top guys into Vice President roles, two of our top performers are going to assume leadership roles and another more junior, hasn’t been around long but has shown great leadership signs, putting him into a player coach role. Seeing that development is something that gets me up in the morning every day.
Fred Diamond: Once again, Craig thank you so much for the great insights today, for the great content. I love a lot of what you said, have the courage of your convictions is a great one and all the stuff we talked about as it relates to questioning are great themes that I look forward to getting out there into the marketplace. Give us a final thought, give us one final thought. We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, give us one more thing to help inspire them today.
Craig Pentz: Look back and reflect and celebrate a little of the accomplishments in 2019. Something that I have become somewhat obsessive about is goal setting and it’s the time of the year to do it.
I would just leave everybody with the ‘take time every day to review your goals’ and the only way you can review them is if you have them written down. Then what I want you to do is look at your calendar and decide if you have time dedicated to achieve that goal and move that ball forward because again, it’s the whirlwind, as the Franklin Covey guys call it. We all have our day job of making the number but if there are things that need to be done outside of the whirlwind to move an organization forward, you’ve got to create the dedicated time to getting those things done.