EPISODE 087: Salesforce Public Sector Sales Chief Dave Rey Shares Why Patience, Persistence, and Passion are the Cornerstones of his Successful Career
DAVE’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “You need to find a mentor, you need to emulate the traits that you admire, you need to get some formal sales training and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, always working to earn your customer’s trust and do your homework about their mission.“
Dave Rey is the Executive Vice President for North America Public Sector Sales for Salesforce.
Prior to coming to Salesforce 5 years ago, he spent 18 years at Oracle running the public sector technology sales.
He was with Falcon Microsystems which was one of the leading sellers of Apple products to the government. He also spent some time as a consultant at Booz Allen, interestingly he began his career as an employee of the National Security Agency, the NSA.
Find Dave on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: You’ve been in public sector sales most of your career. Give us a little bit of an insight into what that looks like.
Dave Rey: Let me give you an example, just one example of the many things that we’re doing and working with all levels of government. If today you use your mobile phone, you probably have a favorite sports team, you do banking but frankly you probably don’t interact with your government very much. You still do the traditional way, you may have to go into an office, you may have to work 9 to 5 and what we’re working on is delivering services 24 hours a day when you need the service.
An example would be you can go to your app store and download a city application for 311, that’s non-emergency type of actions and a citizen can actually one day need to open a case and they can open that record, monitor what’s happening, how it’s routed to a particular department, they can track the progress of it, they can also interact with other citizens. There’s actually a way that they can chat, there’s a knowledge place for that and ultimately it’s a way that the city can communicate with their citizens as well, put out when there’s council meetings etcetera and then finally, this is great for the local governments to collect analytics.
They can see what kind of a problem they have, they can see how fast they can close their cases. For me, that’s what really excites me about what I do.
Fred Diamond: I’m excited to get to ask you some of the questions that we typically do. I just have one basic question. Again, we mentioned that you were at Oracle for 18 years and you’ve been at Salesforce for the last 5 years running North America public sector. Oracle was one of the companies that really had a huge role in the technology infrastructure for the federal government. Salesforce, obviously, is the leading cloud company in the world. Is it a similar type of relationship that you have with Salesforce with the federal government than Oracle did? Is that taking hold or has it already taken hold?
Dave Rey: When I started back at Oracle, things were client-server. There was a big paradigm shift in the way we delivered services, so yes. Fast forward 18 years later, there’s a new paradigm and that’s cloud services. It’s obviously very prominent in commercial area and it’s actually becoming a strategic initiative for federal government as well as state and local government so I’d say that there’s some parallels as we enter into the different faces of technology.
Fred Diamond: You’re the first person that we’ve interviewed who started their career at the National Security Agency. Why don’t you tell us about how you first got into sales as a career?
Dave Rey: Right after college I went to the department of defense and like you said, worked at the National Security Agency. I spent several years there focusing on contracts management, it provided me an unbelievable basis for understanding how the government does transactions. I left there and went to Booz Allen in Hamilton where I actually got a chance to spend several years on the other side working on the same types of projects.
That actually gave me an incredible foundation for beginning my sales career. I wasn’t brand new right out of college going into sales, I didn’t start in sales but the foundation that I earned through my service at the government and then at Booz Allen was a great kick start for me in my sales career.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the lessons that you learned in those first few sales jobs?
Dave Rey: I think being a great sales person takes time and experience like a fine wine. I’ve been doing this 33 years but I continue to look at my sale skills, I’ll look at the sales methods, I still focus on how we can refine the steps to close but there are few things that I learned in my first sales job that have been constant throughout my career. The first one is that people buy from people they like and trust and this to me has been the foundation for a long term relationship with your customers.
The second thing is to learn and appreciate the task or mission of your customer that you’re solving for. Let the people know that you’re going to be there in the good times and the difficult times and that will over time build the trust that you really need to have a long term relationship with your customers.
Fred Diamond: There’s so many great themes that have come from the Sales Game Changers podcast and one of the most common themes from the leaders that we talk to is that you really need to provide much more value now for your customer to help them achieve what they want to achieve with their customer.
Dave Rey: I absolutely agree and I think that because I worked for the government and then worked in private industry, it really helped me understand that to be successful. While I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning, I also had this different appreciation about how to connect with our customers.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about you, Dave. Tell us what you specifically are an expert in. Tell us a little more about your area of brilliance.
Dave Rey: I’ve been a sales leader and I’ve been working in this business for a long time but what I personally enjoy the most is working along the enterprise opportunities trying to get to yes, working when a compromise is really understanding what they need to close the deal and working with other sales executives and sales managers.
I’ve been in the trenches and there’s nothing more exciting than being in the trenches and watching the journey of making this deal. Together, I’ve really seen the impossible happen and it’s an amazing feeling when that comes together.
Fred Diamond: I have one more question for you. You’ve been in public sector sales, again, you started your career actually as a customer working for the National Security Agency. We have a lot of people listening around the globe who don’t necessarily understand what goes into selling to the federal government, what you’ve devoted pretty much most of your career bringing solutions not just to the federal government but to public sector in general. Can you give us a little bit of insight, Dave, into why it’s an important customer? What’s so exciting about providing solutions to the public sector customer?
Dave Rey: I think for me personally it has been the mission. I get to see real change when I see that governments have embraced new technologies, that they’ve been able to change the way they’ve done their legacy systems for so many years. You probably follow the news, the federal government’s focusing right now in modernizing the federal government and it’s not easy. Probably almost 80% of the federal budget goes to legacy systems so for me, it’s personally rewarding to see this type of change and to be part of it.
I actually feel like I have part ownership in some of these accomplishments, even though Salesforce’s name isn’t on it.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Dave Rey: I have been so fortunate to work with so many wonderful people in my career and so they’ve all made an impact on me, they’ve imprinted something. But I would say that one of the folks that really stands out is Admiral Bud Langston. I met Bud when he was still in the navy and he retired and after he retired he actually joined Oracle and business development and I think what made such a big difference to me is Bud and I became friends very quickly and unlike other flag officers, he rolled his sleeves up, he jumped in, he wanted to understand the problem but the biggest thing that Bud did is he gave me that encouragement in the time of my career when I really needed to look at things in a bigger way, to think bigger and to become a better leader.
He taught me about the most important things of having character and that trust is such an important factor and to become a better leader. He has affected me personally and professionally and I’m really proud to say that admiral Bud Langston works at Salesforce today where he is imparting his wisdom with many young sales professionals here today at this company. He continues to make an impact and he certainly did in my career.
Fred Diamond: Dave, you manage a lot of sales professionals, you yourself manage many people. What are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Dave Rey: That’s an interesting question. I run the entire division so I spend a lot of my time working on what you would consider traditional sales issues, the opportunities, forecast calls, strategy sessions, providing enablement tools, but I spend a large part of my time on two strategic issues. The first one is I have to look out 12, 24 months. I’ve got to be able to see how I can steer the company and steer my team to where I think the puck is going.
For us in the cloud world, I spend a lot of my time looking at new government certifications that are down the road trying to make sure that our company’s positioned for that time when they become into effect. I look at new products, I look at new specific industries we want to enter into and that we’re ready and equipped when our opportunity arises.
I spend a lot of time in that area and then the second big challenge is that sales leader’s teams seem to jump on a big deal and big deals warrant everybody’s focus but what I found is to build the best sales team you have to look at the non-performers as well. It’s a shared responsibility, Fred, and I think investing your time in finding out why some people aren’t performing is a big challenge in running a large sales organization because sales isn’t for everyone.
Most of the time when you take the time to investigate and you talk to your sales managers, your lined VP’s, you can determine that whether they had the skills or frankly they need the coaching and mentoring to bring them up so that they can perform. I found that that investment has a huge return or performance and ultimately will build trust in your entire team because you’re investing in your employees.
Fred Diamond: For a blue chip company like Salesforce, how much leeway do you give someone who’s not performing? Meaning, is it a, “you want to get them out as quickly as possible, this isn’t for you, maybe you should pursue a different career with a different company” or is the commitment to mentor and figure out and help grow?
Dave Rey: Salesforce is an amazing company. We focus on enablement and enablement certainly isn’t a problem. We spend a lot of time understanding our products, we spend a lot of time coaching them with formal sales training as well but also learning their customer. At the end of the day it’s really up to the sales manager to make sure they’re working daily, or certainly weekly with these account managers to make sure that they’re penetrating their account. If you take your focus off that, it leaves a hole in the organization so we tend to focus on that.
There’s no set time, Fred, as to how long people have but you can wait too long as well and that can hurt the organization. It’s a challenge that I constantly focus on because I want everyone to be successful but it’s important that everyone participates for the overall success at the division.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you take us back to the #1 specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? Why don’t you take us back to that moment?
Dave Rey: I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of memories and I’ve learned from all of them but there is one that I’ll bring up. This is decades ago when I first started at Oracle and I was assigned the army personnel command and I went in there and did my homework and really understood what they were trying to do and I knew that I needed to get to a particular program director who controlled not only the programs but the budget.
I remember going into that building and trying to get to see this director who was actually behind a cipher lock door, so I would go there and I would knock on the door and they’d open the door and I’d say, “I’d like to see this gentleman” and they said, “Listen, he’s too busy, come back later.”
And I persisted to come back and visit that door probably almost five months and on the fifth month I knocked on the door, the door opened and they said, “Yeah, he’ll see you.” I sat down with that executive and he said, “Dave, you’ve been coming here for five months week after week knocking on the door and I admire your persistence. Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about what you’re trying to accomplish?”
I spent the next few months building a really solid relationship with this director and that led me up to a proposal I needed to deliver and I worked with my boss, got the presentation ready, was super excited about delivering the proposal the next day, went home, was anxious. Went to bed, 3 o’clock in the morning my eyes popped open, I could not sleep. Made a pot of coffee and I went over it for about three hours, my proposal, and I was convinced by the end of that 3 hours that we’d undervalued the proposal and I actually raised the price.
When I met my boss about 7 am I said, “Listen, this is great news, we’re undervaluing our proposal” and he was white as a ghost at the time, couldn’t believe that I had changed it but I went in there and I presented it to about 20 folks and I just nailed it. It was an amazing feeling, I remember driving on the way home and I felt like I had been at the bar but I hadn’t drank a thing, I just was on the top of the world.
What I got out of that was – and I can think are the 3 P’s that really stand out for me – I had patience, I had persistence and I had passion for what I wanted to accomplish and a month later we ended up closing the first stage of an enterprise deal for the higher price and it was a lesson I learned about those three P’s that has stuck with me throughout my career. I think that if you have those things, you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you’ll be successful.
Fred Diamond: The 3 P’s: patience, persistence and passion. I’m just curious, 5 months it took you to get the guy to open the door and to let you come in. Did you ever think about just saying, “Oh, you know what? Forget it. There’s a reason why I’m not being allowed in”. Again, Oracle was known – for a lot of the Sales Game Changers listening in – as having one of the top, world-class most aggressive sales organizations. It’s one of the reasons why it’s one of the top 3 software companies of all time. Did you ever think to yourself, or it just wasn’t in your DNA? How did that work?
Dave Rey: I think I was so new in my career, I had a solid basis of business but in sales I was fairly new and I didn’t want to blow it. I think in my case it worked for me, if I was too aggressive – and I wasn’t – even though I went back and I was persistent, I was professional and I think that really made a statement because this program director probably had every high tech company knocking on his door and he didn’t have the time to see people and I could have easily made the mistake and I think it would have changed my entire career if I had turned back so my advice is if you have the patience and persistence and passion for the work that they’re doing, you’ll succeed.
Fred Diamond: Has that become your motto? The three P’s. If I were to ask the people on this floor what are Dave’s three P’s, would they know what that is? Or is it something you kept to yourself?
Dave Rey: I don’t know if that’s my motto but it’s certainly something that I believe is a trait that all successful sales people have.
Fred Diamond: Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Dave Rey: No, I really didn’t but I sure made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. There’s no doubt about that, what helped me was a lot of coaching. Some people said, “You just got to get out there and make some mistakes and you learn from those mistakes”. I think that’s why I would like to mentor young sales people today, because I know that that kind of coaching and mentoring makes all the difference in the world, because sales isn’t for everybody, it’s hard.
Fred Diamond: What’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them take their career to the next level?
Dave Rey: Fred, as I mentioned earlier, you have to earn the trust of your customers and you have to do your homework. Learn what your customer’s mission is. You’ve got to be present, I spent a lot of time eating in my customer’s lunchroom so that I was present, I was visible, I was seen. The other thing that I would recommend is you need to take some formal sales training. There’s some real methodology to becoming a great sales professional, it doesn’t just happen. You may have charisma but you’ve got to refine those pieces of the sales process. You could be great at prospecting but not great closer, for example.
So it’s trust, it’s do your homework and the other piece I would say is you need to have a little bit of ice water in your veins. There’s a lot of pressure in sales to close the deal and there’s tremendous pressure to get that job done, and you have to be able to keep your emotions – you have to have the passion, but have to keep your emotions out of it. Otherwise, it can become so stressful that it can push you out of the business so a little bit of ice water doesn’t hurt.
Fred Diamond: Dave, what are some of the things you’re doing today to sharpen your saw and stay at the top of your game?
Dave Rey: For me as a sales leader of the entire division I spend a lot of my time with customers and I think that certainly as you get higher in an organization you can end up doing so much of the administrative stuff that you lose your edge. For me, the single most important thing that keeps me sharp is getting out there and still meeting our customers every single day. Salesforce is also mazing at its enablement in training, products and use cases and so.
For me to keep sharp, I watch the different podcasts we have, I take the enablement trail blazer training that we provide but I get out there and I talk to our customers and that has kept me sharp. Anyone that’s been doing this for 10, 15, 20 years that’s stuck in an office needs to force themselves to get out at least once a week.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Dave Rey: I’ve been very fortunate to work for an amazing company. I work with amazing people and I have amazing customers so I’ve kind of hit the trifecta. When it looks to my major initiatives, I have it all but frankly we need to continue to work on investing on where the government’s going so I spent a lot of my time as I said before on government certifications, investing in my team and enablement, sales training, speaking skills, presentation skills and of course mentoring.
Those are my major initiatives that I work on today. Salesforce’s got a great product, we’ve got great people here but you still can’t take your eye off the ball. You have to stay up on top to speed on all of the training and we have a lot of new people, we’re hiring, we’re a high growth company so we want to make sure people understand our methodology and how we do it here at Salesforce so that’s been our major focus and initiative.
Fred Diamond: What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Dave Rey: Sales is hard and as I said earlier, it isn’t for everyone. People can be rude, it’s highly competitive, it’s high pressure so for me, I’m a competitive guy. I like to be in the trenches, I get a lot of excitement for that and it’s both rewarding that I see the results of my work in products that come out that citizens and employees can use and it’s financially rewarding.
For me, personally I thrive on that and I feel I make an impact. I think I’ve made an impact for public service, so for me that really drives me and that’s what keeps me going in this business after 33 years.
Fred Diamond: Dave, why don’t you give us one final thought to share with the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe to inspire them today?
Dave Rey: My advice would be for anyone that’s beginning or even in the middle of their career to find an industry that you are passionate about and I think once you find that industry – mine was public sector – you seek out companies that support that passion. I think that’s been the secret to my success, is my passion and surrounding myself with amazing people. You need to find a mentor, you need to emulate the traits that you admire, you need to get some formal sales training and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, always working to earn your customer’s trust and do your homework about their mission. Fred, sales is an amazing field and I’m very grateful to have done what I’ve done so thank you very much.