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EPISODE 191: Ellucian Sales Chief Dan Maier Shares How Elite Sales Performers Now Must Service Transforming Verticals Such as the Higher Education Market His Company Serves
DAN’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Have fun with what you’re doing. Fuel the things that you’re most passionate about. It’s not just about winning, it’s about how you get to the finish line. I encourage everyone to take risks, have fun but more importantly, go make it happen.”
Dan Maier is the Senior VP of Sales for Ellucian.
Prior to taking over sales leadership at Ellucian, he was at CRS, Illume and PTC.
Dan also served 4 years active duty in the 82nd Airborne Division.
Find Dan on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Dan Maier: I started my sales career a little under 20 years ago after serving in the military and often times I try to equate some of the things I learned in the military to how I lead my sales organization. I think there’s a lot of things that are similar but I also think it’s important that you’re able to really demonstrate and lead from the front which I think is critical when you’re managing a sales team of the size I manage today here at Ellucian.
Fred Diamond: How did you make the transition from the active military into sales leadership?
Dan Maier: It was actually pretty easy. When you’re in sales the men and women you’re working with are like a family, you come to rely on one another but you really got to be able to look yourself in the mirror from time to time. Not only to say, “Can I do this?” but more importantly, “I’m going to do this and this is how I’m going to accomplish it.” I equate it to jumping out of airplanes, a lot of people don’t choose to do that for a living, I did for a while. It’s one of those things where you learn a lot about yourself, you have to push yourself certainly at times when there could be some challenges. More importantly, being able to persevere and always look for next steps. That’s how I’ve lived my life.
Fred Diamond: How many jumps did you do?
Dan Maier: Just under 30.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about Ellucian?
Dan Maier: Ellucian is a 50 year old company that solely serves Higher Education. We provide student information systems, finance, HR, financial aid as well as admissions, retention and advancement solutions solely dedicated to Higher Education. We’re based here in Reston, Virginia, been in business for about 50 years and we have about half the market in North America.
Fred Diamond: Obviously you didn’t start out as a CRM type company. What did you guys do originally?
Dan Maier: The company has really matured, obviously. It’s been 50 years, right Fred? Hopefully you mature, because that’s how you stay in business but the company really has grown into the market leader in terms of the solutions institutions use today to run their business. We have some really formidable competitors out there but one of the big differentiators we have is the fact that our solutions are uniquely architected and built for the business of Higher Education.
Fred Diamond: A lot of people who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast want to know who our guests sell to. Obviously it’s Higher Education, but who is the buyer? Is it the CIO for a university or a CTO or the president? Who are the actual people that your team sells to?
Dan Maier: We predominantly interface with the IT organizations within the institutions we serve. However, as we start to really look at some of the challenges facing Higher Ed today, it’s critical that the sales team that I manage and run day to day has the ability to interface with not just the CFO and the boards of the institutions we serve but the presidents. Higher Ed has really changed dramatically over the last 20 years, it’s going to continue to change and there are some very unique things that they need to do to continue to transform. My team is working hand-in-hand as they work through that transformation today.
Fred Diamond: You alluded to that. What are some of the challenges facing your customer today?
Dan Maier: It’s a different demographic picture today than it’s ever been in terms of this type of student going to school. When we all went to school, Fred – I’m not going to date you and I, but typically an 18 to 20 year old male or female would go to school. The average student today is almost 30 years old so it’s a much different world in terms of education not just being an event but something that’s continuous. We do a lot of work with schools as they now are looking at how they make and service a continuous learner versus someone just going to school for a couple of years.
Fred Diamond: Take us back to the beginning of your career. Tell us how you first got into sales as a career.
Dan Maier: I left the military a little bit begrudgingly, it was one of the toughest decisions I had to make. It was about a year before 9/11, the military was still in a period of transforming itself after the first Gulf War. I decided to pursue a career in the commercial industry, I wanted to be in sales, I wanted to provide for my family, I wanted to raise a family but I also wanted to be able to spend time with my family. That’s one of the hardest parts about being in the military, is the time away from home. I think I’ve done a poor job with the job I have today because I probably spend as much time away, but I’m not deployed from 9 to 12 months at a time in a foreign area. It was really around providing for my family, making sure that I could build a living that I was really proud of and more importantly, being passionate about the product that I was going to sell.
Fred Diamond: Curiously, when you were a kid or in your teens were you one of those kids who sold books, lemonade or did you first become aware of the career of sales once you got into the military after college?
Dan Maier: Probably because I tried to ask people out on dates and they kept saying no, I guess I got used to that and that probably hardened me up a little bit in terms of my ability to continue to persevere. On a serious note, I was always into sports, I was very active with the boy scouts, I was lucky enough to earn my Eagle Scout before I went into college. I always had a very competitive nature, I’ve always been a very competitive person, I like to win. People label me as a sore loser, I’m a real sore loser. If I’m going to lose, I better take away two or three things that I’m going to do different so I can win the next time.
Fred Diamond: We talked before about some of the relationship that being in the military led towards being in sales. You alluded to one or two things, but tell us about some of the lessons you took away from the military that have helped you as a sales leader. Again, now you’re the senior VP of Sales for Ellucian, tell us some of those things.
Dan Maier: I’m a big proponent in terms of continuous improvement. I also think it’s really important and Coach Wooden talks about this – John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach – about if we fail to adapt, we fail to move forward. I think in sales today if you’re not able to adapt and really evolve your selling strategy and the way in which you can interface with your clients whether they’re a prospect or an existing client, you’re not going to be successful. In the military you’ve got to be able to make very dynamic changes, you’ve got to be agile and you’ve got to be willing to take some risks from time to time. I think it’s some of those things that I’ve tried to bring here into my sales career.
Fred Diamond: A lot of people listen to the podcast, they’re curious on the customer that the Sales Game Changers are selling to. You mentioned some of the things in the education space where it’s changing and you mentioned that the average student is now in his or her 30’s versus early 20’s.
Dan Maier: 30 years old, yes.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the other challenges that are facing universities? Tell us a little more about that particular customer and what is it like to sell to Higher Ed and to universities?
Dan Maier: #1, it’s a lot of fun because it’s something that I have a lot of passion for. People often times talk about the emotional paycheck of being able to service and provide services to Higher Education. It’s all in our best interest, we want to continue to educate not only the youth but the adults and those that want to get the education, frankly, that they deserve. Higher Ed is very costly, it’s becoming more and more expensive so the need for institutions to really be able to quantify what a student is getting for his or her money is super important.
That’s why not only getting a job but more importantly what that first year salary is going to be, what the average earnings will be, the first 10 years out of college. Those are the really important things. There are things that Ellucian does to help with those items, but the big thing we focus on is how they can continue to evolutionize and provide the preeminent student experience. Making sure that they’ve got ready mobile applications, students are not going to wait in line, Fred to pay their bill at a bursar’s office anymore. They’re going to want to pay on their phone and they’re going to want to pay at any time of day or night and they’re not going to wait in line to register for classes. They’ll want to be able to do that from either their dormitory or their home if they’re a commuting student and whatnot. We provide those types of technologies that really provide the preeminent student experience.
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you’re an expert in, tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Dan Maier: The area that I really pride myself in is being able to really lead sales teams of different calibers. We’ve got a growing inside sales team here at Ellucian that we continue to build out, that inside sales team is made up of sales development reps as well as inside sales reps. We have a very strong enterprise field sales team with different roles and responsibilities and then I’ve got different facets of the business from a business advising perspective. We’ve got a full, nice diversity of roles that are on my team so it’s really important that I help provide the glue that keeps them together moving in the same direction with aligned goals so we can really make the institutions we serve most successful.
I don’t want to be refereeing sales teams saying, “You do this and you do that.” We’ve got to work in a very aligned manner and I see many of the enterprise companies today out there struggle with that, it’s really important that sales teams have aligned goals so the customer is as successful as our internal teams are.
Fred Diamond: It’s quite interesting, I’ve done 190 somewhat interviews of the Sales Game Changers podcast, we keep doing them and they’re fantastic. Every once in a while somebody will say a statistic or some fact. The one that you just said were the average age of students now is in the early 30’s versus 21, there are so many ramifications for that. You’re now more of a consumer, the student, so – I’m just guessing here, you can confirm or not – universities must be more challenged with providing real value to their customer.
Dan Maier: Tangible value. If you’re going to leave school with some amount of debt which is ever-growing – you can just read about that, just Google “Student Debt” and you’ll see all the stats – it’s super important that folks and students are getting the value from their education. It’s not just an event anymore, it’s going back to school. Often times if you have a degree in marketing and you graduated 20 years ago, some of those things in marketing are not applicable in today’s world, especially as we look at some of the dynamics and marketing like account based marketing. A lot of people go back to school or they go back to get some type of credential or specialization to be able to allow them to get that next job in their career
Fred Diamond: You must have had some impactful sales mentors along the way, why don’t you tell us about one or two of them and how they impacted your career?
Dan Maier: One person I really have to highlight is the gentleman that brought m here to Ellucian, his name is Paul Cunningham. I had the pleasure of working with Paul for north of 15 years, I worked with him when I was at PTC, he took a risk on me back in 2005 when he asked me to move to China with my family and we took an overseas assignment. It’s really from that point forward that I’ve been able to build not only a professional relationship but also one in which I’ve asked him a lot in terms of career advice, what are some of the things that need to be top-of-mind for me as I look to continue to shape the organization.
I think the really important thing in sales is that you have mentors that you can go to, ones that are not going to have a hidden agenda, ones that are going to shoot you straight whether they agree or disagree and being open to feedback. One of the things I really appreciate about Paul is his ability not only to provide feedback but to listen, and I think it’s really important in a mentor. I really challenge folks out there if you don’t have a mentor, go find one and make sure when you find one that you’re willing to listen to some of their feedback versus just checking in or getting a sense on what he or she may think about one thing. I think it’s really important.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little bit about what it means to be a good mentee for all the people who want to mentor.
Dan Maier: One, you have to hold yourself accountable to setting up time to speak with your mentor. I think the opportunity to be a mentee and to get some advice from a mentor isn’t when you need it and within the next day. Set up a recurring schedule, make it something that’s habitual, make it a recurring appointment on your calendar. Use your calendar, set up time and do that. I think the second thing is to bring some different ideas to market, bring some different sales ideas, some different sales strategies. Then don’t be afraid to do what I would call some mock-type environments, do a little role play.
One of the things that Paul did a great job here at Ellucian is bringing in elements of role-play. It can be really hard but it can be really easy to have this successful role play exercise when you employ the tenets of committing yourself to doing it. It makes you that much better in front of your customers, but you’ve got to make time for it, Fred. That’s really the most important thing.
Fred Diamond: You also said that Paul brought you to China and you packed your family up and brought them up to China as well.
Dan Maier: I did.
Fred Diamond: What was it like to be a sales leader in China, and when was this again? When were you in China?
Dan Maier: This was in the end of 2005 and I was there through about the end of 2007. It was a great experience, talk about getting outside your comfort zone. When you go to China with a two and a half year old and a wife, that’s a big ask, it’s almost a bigger ask for them than it was for me. Then talk about not only culture shock but really making sure that you’re able to do the things that one, the company is asking you to do and secondly, making sure that you’re a part of the culture.
It really made me understand the importance of understanding your surroundings, understanding traditions. You can really go backwards quickly when you’re in a foreign culture if you don’t understand their customs and courtesies. More importantly, it was the best thing I did from a career perspective because it made me get uncomfortable. You’re not going to progress in your career if you don’t find ways to get uncomfortable with what you’re doing because it’s at those times that you really learn the most.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, were you selling to the Chinese market?
Dan Maier: I was, I was helping set up our distribution so I worked for at that time a computer aided design, a computer aided manufacturing product life cycle management company. I was asked to go help grow our distribution in China as well as in Taiwan, Korea and Japan.
Fred Diamond: Briefly before we move onto the rest of the questions here, this was 2005, some things have changed in the last 14 somewhat years, but give us one brilliant insight that you had in selling to the Chinese.
Dan Maier: They really have a culture of consensus but they really build their decisions based on trust. It’s really important that you earn that customer’s trust if they’re going to do business with you. That trust wouldn’t be a Monday to Friday meeting, if they asked for you to come out on a Saturday, the expectation is that you came out on Saturday, you listened to what they were looking for, you would show them the proper courtesy and respect and you would be available. It’s very much a culture built on trust out there. If they don’t trust you, they won’t do business with you.
Fred Diamond: What are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Dan Maier: One is time management. It’s so important when you’re in sales or in sales management to properly manage your time. The best part of my day – and I joke about this a lot, Fred – is when I actually get to spend time with customers. I really challenge those out there that are either sales leaders or those that are inspired or aspiring to be sales leaders to make sure they don’t lose their customer time. You can get out of touch if you’re just managing without being in front of customers, so one is time management.
Secondly, is you have to be thinking ahead, you can’t be thinking about next week or the week after, you have to be thinking ahead. I can’t lead an organization of the size I do if I’m not thinking about not how I’m going to do this quarter, but how I’m going to do next quarter and how I’m setting up for next year. We’re very deep here, here we are entering the last quarter of 2019, I have a pretty good sense of what I want to do in 2020. The best sales leaders out there are thinking ahead, that’s critical.
Fred Diamond: What was the #1 specific sale success or win from your career you’re most proud of?
Dan Maier: It’s interesting, you did prep me with a few questions but the one I have to go to is probably the first sale I made when I left the military. I was in my first week, I was an inside sales rep, it was right after Memorial Day, it was the end of May, I had my manager saying, “You’ve got to sell something, let’s get something done” and I was working with Dickson Tool and Die in Pennsylvania. I was working with them on a very small add on to their computer aided design, computer aided manufacturing. When that order came across the fax I had the biggest smile on my face because I finally said, “Okay, I can do this” and then the clock restarted, it was June first and it was time to get the next month going.
Fred Diamond: Do you still keep an eye on the fax looking for deals to come through?
Dan Maier: The fax has certainly gone away, then it became an electronic fax and now it’s just become DocuSign. DocuSign is nice because you get a nice notification when someone signs.
Fred Diamond: You were in the military but you love sales, we can get that from the interview here. Did you ever question being in sales? Did you ever think to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”? Once again, I’m asking this to a guy who jumped out of a plane 30 times.
Dan Maier: I think it’s normal to doubt yourself when you’re in sales. As a matter of fact, if you don’t then I think you should have your head examined. I think it’s how we get better as salespeople. I’ve had an affinity for sales, I like being in sales, there are times when you get your butt kicked when you’re in sales but it’s those butt kickings that make those wins even better because you’re able to really reframe and more importantly learn from the things that you could have done better.
Fred Diamond: Dan, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening to this podcast around the globe?
Dan Maier: There’s a couple things. I talk a lot to my teams about this: one, it’s about activity. You’ve got to have a high level of activity if you’re going to be successful in sales and you’ve got to make sure you manage your time to be able to drive that activity. The second thing is you’ve got to be accountable. Sales leaders like myself are always looking for people who want to move up, I look at those that are accountable and that can be both in a positive sense and in a negative sense. If you don’t get something done say, “I didn’t get it done, but I’m going to get it done by this date and I commit to it” and then you fulfill that commitment.
You’ve got to take chances, you’ve got to learn from mistakes. Part of being in sales is taking risks, if you’re not taking risks and you’re risk averse, you’re going to have a real hard time scaling your career. You’ve got to be genuine, customers do business with salespeople that they trust and that’s whether you sell to Higher Ed, that’s whether you sell to the aerospace and defense industry, it’s whether you sell to consumer products, you need to be genuine in what you do. The last thing is do the things that fuel your passion. If you’re excited about selling and you’re excited about making it a career, make sure you’re all in. If you’re not all in to doing sales, go do something else because customers are going to see that right away.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about one or two of your selling habits that have led to your sales success?
Dan Maier: One, I really hold myself accountable to making sure that I’m driving as much time as I can with my team and helping them be successful. I think it’s super important as a sales leader to have that servant leader approach in terms of making your people successful. If your people are successful, they will follow you. I’m only as successful as the people on my team, I don’t finger point, I take accountability for things but I’m also very direct with people about the things they need to be able to do better to perform better. If you want to aspire to be a sales leader, if you want to manage a large organization, I think it’s super important you’re not only able to lead from the front but you’re able to be that servant type leader to them.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success.
Dan Maier: We work, as we talked earlier, Fred in a very transformative vertical right now. Higher Education is going through a lot of change, you’ve got schools like Southern New Hampshire, Western Governors University, we continue to see the growth of online education. I continue to take a really good look at our go-to-market model. I think it’s important as sales leaders when you’re looking at your sales model and you look at how you go to market that you always take a look at it from a critical perspective. If you’re not balancing your field sales with an inside sales complement, you really need to re-look what you’re doing.
There are some great consultancies out there that do a great job into helping advising you but you really need to be thinking about the different types of go-to-market from a sales perspective. It’s not just about hiring someone, giving them a bag, telling them to go do 8 appointments a week in a very defined territory. You’ve got to be thinking about different channels.
Fred Diamond: You alluded to that but before I ask you for your final thought, what would make a great sales rep for someone like Ellucian? You’ve talked about a lot of great habits and features but what will make the ideal sales professional for your company?
Dan Maier: First and foremost, attitude. You’ve got to have a great attitude, you got to bring high energy, you got to be passionate, you got to be coachable and you got to be prepared. We need to be prepared and I feel very confident Ellucian’s prepared to help our institutions continue to thrive in the environment we’re in today. We’re here to help them transform their business.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us a final thought? Again, we have listeners around the globe. Give us a final thought to inspire them today.
Dan Maier: My final thought is you’ve got to have fun with what you’re doing. If you’re in sales, make sure you’re having fun with what you’re doing. Fuel the things that really you’re most passionate about. I would say it’s not just about winning, it’s about how you get to the finish line. I encourage everyone to take risks, have fun but more importantly, go make it happen.