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EPISODE 170: ThunderCat Technology’s Dave Schlosser Said This Realization Moved Him from Engineering to Sales Leadership
DAVE’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Don’t ever let anybody tell you you can’t do something that you really want to do. If you have a plan and a mission and you have the right people supporting you, you will get there.”
Dave Schlosser is the COO of the value added reseller (VAR) ThunderCat Technology.
Prior to coming to ThunderCat, he held sales leadership positions at NetApp and Sun Microsystems.
Find Dave on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you sell today. Tell us a little about your company and then tell us what excites you about that.
Dave Schlosser: ThunderCat is a value added reseller, we have 83 people now and we sell technology to the federal government and some to the sled market. In particular we sell to the data center. One of the things that most excites me about what we sell today is cyber security solutions, we’ve got a team of guys that sell cyber security and the growth in that space is incredible. That’s what most excites me really because we’re solving the mission of our customers and we sell a whole vast array of things.
My sales reps have situational awareness in that space, so I think we’re doing the government a good favor in solving problems for them. That’s probably the most exciting thing we’re doing today, but in general my sales reps are guys that sell you name it, anywhere from storage technology to virtualization to servers to everything that goes into the data center including switching and routing and all those technologies.
Fred Diamond: A lot of people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast like to know who the person I’m interviewing sells to. What type of titles do you sell to, IT directors, CIO’s, CTO’s? Who do your people call?
Dave Schlosser: I think everybody. Storage administrators, we get to the CIO level certainly in healthcare and a lot of other accounts. Storage administrators, sometimes administrators, sometimes it’s the guys that are writing code, some of the times it’s the people that are deciding what they’re going to do with the cloud but it’s pretty much everybody that has anything to do with IT.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned you were an engineer, tell us how you first got into sales as a career.
Dave Schlosser: I was always told when I was young, when I was in the engineering role that, “You belong in sales, you’re in the wrong job.” Probably one of the biggest mistakes I ever made when I was 21 years old was somebody offered me a sales job and I just couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t understand the math, I’m making a good amount of money, somebody’s going to pay me a lower base and I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s for me yet.”
The shame is I should have taken that job because a few years later I realized I needed to be in sales and then I spent this time getting through the engineering ranks to get into sales. Really I got into sales by watching and studying all of the other sales reps and trying to take the best I could see in them and bring it into myself, and then going out an testing it. I was rookie of the year in my first year of sales and everything else just led to really selling and then becoming a leader which happened in the year 2000.
Fred Diamond: You said that a lot of people said to you, “You should go into sales right away” but you questioned that. What was it about you, what did they see in you that led the people, that led your companies to think you should go into sales?
Dave Schlosser: I love to talk, I love people, I love meeting people and I just love relationships. I’m not a guy that sits alone at home, my wife will tell you, I’m pretty social so I like to be out with my friends and/or other people. I do a lot of technology events at night and I like meeting people, learning their names, figuring out what they do and figuring out how to position ThunderCat within their businesses. Loving people and wanting to be around people is really the root of it, but selling comes along with it. You’ve got to be smart about technology, you’ve got to be in a position that you’ve got to know whether you’re selling the right thing to them and whether or not they’re going to buy it. Relationships are everything and I think that’s what I like doing, that’s what I hope I’m good at.
Fred Diamond: What were some of the key lessons that you learned from some of those first few sales jobs?
Dave Schlosser: I think it’s understanding the mission of your customers more so than anything. If you go in and you’re talking about something that doesn’t match or you haven’t done your homework, it’s really about doing the homework and understanding and then gaining trust and getting people to think that you’re value added. Really we’re consultants and we’re interrogators, we go out and we interrogate our customers and find out what their problems are. If they didn’t have problems, we wouldn’t be selling anything but it’s really about understanding their problems and then being able to solve a problem for them. That’s what I teach my salespeople to do and I think that’s what the best salespeople do.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the problems that you guys solve for your customers?
Dave Schlosser: You name it. It can be anywhere from data retention to not being able to get to data in a timely manner, get backup and recovery windows. It can be, “We’re going to stand up a bunch of new servers and we want an inexpensive way to do that” It can be, “We just sold a big networking deal to a new customer where we put tens of millions of dollars in new routing and switching to stand up a new building.”
We’re the whole gamut. On the cyber security space I really like that because we’re making them safe whether it be a firewall or another product, we are making our customers safe and giving them actionable intelligence about their data and about who’s trying to break in. That’s probably one of the best things we do and the thing that makes me most excited.
Fred Diamond: Just curious, on the engineering side we’ve interviewed some people for the Sales Game Changers podcast that came from the engineering ranks or the consulting ranks. Now you’re in sales, you’re leading the sales organization. Do you ever find yourself gravitating towards back to you as the engineer? Is that a part of what your job is today? You said you’re solving your customer’s problems so are you able to marriage the two?
Dave Schlosser: From my role it’s hiring really smart guys that can do the engineering thing, but the good thing for me is I have the background. I was a system administrator for a couple years, that helped. I was a pre-sales guy for a couple of years, that certainly helps and for me it’s about quickly assessing what’s going on and trying to add value to a situation.
We’ve got 13 engineers and I rely on their expertise and they all have expertise in different places. Like I said, some of them are network guys, some are cyber guys, so I rely on them and the leader, the Vice President of Engineering that works for me to help me make decisions and make sure we’re doing the right things for our customers and presenting the right solutions.
Fred Diamond: Let’s learn a little more about you. Tell us what you’re an expert in, tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Dave Schlosser: I don’t know if there’s anything brilliant, but I pride myself on relationships and finding people. I think probably the hardest thing is to find talent. What’s that about? I was just looking the other day and we were doing some reports and 90% of the people we hire are referrals. We have a huge network whether it be LinkedIn or recruiters, but it’s funny. Even though there’s tons of recruiters and we try to use recruiters, we find most of the people ourselves so it’s my sales reps saying, “You should hire this guy” or my engineers saying, “This is the right guy for us.”
If you look back, we hired a cloud guy recently, internal referral. We just hired another networking engineer, internal referral. For me, the biggest thing about the job is finding talent and finding people that fit our culture because I won’t let anybody come to the company if I haven’t interviewed them and that’s really important. You want them to fit in, you want to make sure they’re right and then there’s really five yes’s or you get a no here. I think that’s really important too, it’s something we put in place a long time ago so 5 of the leaders have to say yes or we won’t hire the person.
It’s funny how you’ll get 4 yes’s sometimes and you will get that fifth no and sometimes that fifth is me, but I think it’s a good methodology for finding talent. Other than that, I’m a coach. I love coaching every day whether it’s the young people that come here that are inside sales reps that want to be outside sales reps or the people that are taking on a new challenge. We get guys that are data center guys, they need to learn cyber so I’ve got to get them with my cyber team and they’ve got to learn how to sell cyber. I’m just part of linking people together and giving them some curriculum to learn so that they can get smarter.
My deal here at a reseller is you’ve got to sell everything and you’ve got to find a new product every year, you’ve got to keep expanding. I’m just this player coach trying to help people get along internally and externally and I’m always coaching them about how to do better and how to do more, and half of that is relationships. That’s the other piece too, it’s my relations, it’s just amazing being around 35 years in this industry. I know a lot of people and I know them well enough to be able to make the first call so that’s the other thing I like to do, help make the first call. Put them in touch with somebody at one of these OEM’s so that they can go make a quicker relationship and I hope that my reputation is good enough that when I make that call, the person they’re getting to says, “I know Dave, Dave’s a good guy” and that’s key. That’s very important to the whole situation, so that’s another value add. Every day it’s coaching and leading and really helping people get somewhere from where they weren’t before.
Fred Diamond: Dave, again you worked at NetApp and Sun Microsystems, they were two big hardware manufacturers in the technology space, now you’re with a value added reseller called ThunderCat Technology. What are some of the characteristics, some of the traits that someone needs to have to be successful in sales for a company like this?
Dave Schlosser: ThunderCat is a lot different than selling for NetApp. NetApp, you’ve got a brand name, that’s different. You pretty much get a territory where there’s something that’s being sold. At this point certainly the hundreds of millions, they do. At ThunderCat we partner with all of those OEM’s and we have end user relationship. We’ve got to have the OEM relationship that’s broad, you can’t just sell, I always say, “You can’t be a one-trick pony.” You’ve got to have broad relationships and then we have the end user relationship so it’s the combination of knowing the customers deeply, understanding OEM technology and taking the right thing in to support the mission. Is it different?
My guys get paid off of profit, the OEM guys get paid off of booking so it’s a little different there, too. I look for guys that have 10+ years’ experience at an OEM customer and then bring them in, they’re usually good at selling one or two products and we broaden their portfolio and they go sell more stuff. If they weren’t selling cyber, they sell cyber. If they weren’t selling cloud, we’d teach them how to do cloud and the same thing with collaboration which we’re doing a lot with today.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Dave Schlosser: I’ve had many and I think there are so many. When I was at Sun Micro, believe it or not, the growth was so crazy I had 21 bosses in 18 years. Part of it was because I was getting promoted and changing jobs going from technical to sales, but I learned a lot from many of them and I’ve been around guys – you’ve done other podcasts with guys – I’ve been around the best inspirational leaders. I try to model myself after the inspirational leader. When you find a vice president or leader of sales that’s going to get involved in an RFQ and actually add value, that’s amazing. There aren’t many of them, most guys hire really smart guys and stay out of the way but I’ve had leaders that also can add value to a situation.
We did a big procurement one year and the leader was the one that wrote the introductory to this RFP that was 110 pages. You would have never thought he was the guy, but he got the spirit of the whole RFP. As a leader myself, I’m always intrigued by these other guys, the other quality I really like is people that are quick and that understand a situation quickly so I can tell them about a deal and they get it and if I talk to them a couple weeks later they still get it. I think listening is one of the key traits and being able to evaluate a situation.
Most of the best leaders I’ve ever worked for have inspiration,, they help in a procurement, they help make the whole team better, they can get involved in a situation, figure it out quickly and they’re good at making the right decisions. That’s what I try to do is pride myself on that too, I take everybody that I ever worked for and build my own style, and try to do the same thing for my people.
Fred Diamond: That’s powerful. What are two of the biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Dave Schlosser: I think it’s always hiring, it’s just so hard. If you look at the market and how low unemployment is, it really comes down to building a company of culture and having a place that people want to come to and selling our brand. If you go out there, I think people pretty much know about ThunderCat. I had a guy in here the other day and he said, “No one ever leaves.” That’s a pretty good thing, why is that? We want to be recognized as one of the best places to work, we constantly evaluate ourselves and we do a survey every year, we take that survey and we say, “What are we doing wrong?” It could be as simple as somebody wants a different soda in our room because we provide drinks and we provide food in our office so that our reps and our staff are happy when they come here.
It can be simple as just getting somebody something that they want, whether it’s a snack or soda. It’s a little thing but we have a gym membership so the hardest thing I do is find good talent but the more I build a culture here at ThunderCat and we have a family and a place people want to come to, the easier it is to find those people. Again, when they’re referrals you’ve got somebody here that’s helping me sell the position and then it’s about getting the math right and making sure that they’re the right person putting them in a situation where they can thrive. It’s still probably always going to be that. There is one other thing, it’s making sure we stay diverse and we spend a lot of our time looking at technology trying to figure out if we’re doing the right things.
Cloud was something we were talking about for 4 years and cloud is something now we’re trying to focus on, that’s the other hard part is making sure we make the right bets for our business. It’s very important and it’s what as a leader I owe the sales reps and the staff, to help them figure out where we should be going and to make sure we’re relevant. Cloud, cyber security when I first got here is one of the things that we started, that’s my job and my boss’s job is to go out there and make sure we understand the industry and that we change our business constantly or sell new things that help our reps survive and help the company survive. Those are the two biggest challenges.
Fred Diamond: Dave, you’ve had some great successes, again you’ve worked at NetApp, Sun Microsystems, now you’re the COO of the very successful value added reseller ThunderCat Technology. Take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Dave Schlosser: There’s no one deal, it’s more about taking the guys that were in the position I was. There’s a bunch of other people out there that were engineers, I was one of the first guys that was blessed as an engineer back at Sun Micro that became a sales rep. If there’s an engineer that I think is in the wrong place, meaning they’re these type A’s, these guys that have the technology and they’re in the wrong job, I try to help them get there. There are many people across this beltway that I have helped so my favorite success is mentoring guys that come from a different place and end up having success, and some of these guys are running companies now.
That’s my proudest moment is to help people the same way I was helped by all of my friends and the best leaders I was around. It’s really about mentoring people, and some people don’t know, they don’t understand that they’re in the wrong place and they’re scared and they need a mentor. Mentoring is so important, everybody should have one and I had mentors way back. Everybody that’s a young sales rep or aspires to be a sales rep should have a mentor and should pick somebody.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious about that. Again, you were an engineer and originally you didn’t make the move into sales but then eventually you did, enough people told you that you were good for this. Was there a moment, something that happened earlier in your career? Because a lot of people listening to this podcast are thinking about moving into careers in sales or they know people who should. Was there a moment where someone tapped you on the shoulder or someone said, “Dave, you’re in the wrong job, we really think you’d be a better suit here”? Tell us how you physically made that transition from engineering into sales.
Dave Schlosser: I think once I decided to stay in that engineering role, it was just a time thing. There weren’t any engineers that had ever become sales reps and I had a lot of people telling me but I think I as a pre-sales engineer started studying the sales reps and seeing what made the best of them. Then I just made the decision I want to be in sales and I went after every job that was out there. I interviewed for many jobs, I got turned down a bunch of times and I finally found the right fit and I ended up calling on the US Marine Core which was one of the greatest customers ever. In the leadership role, I sold for a bunch of years and I was tapped on the shoulder to become a leader.
I was picked out and somebody said, “You need to be in a leadership role” and that was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me because once I got in that leadership role it was my favorite thing I ever did – not that sales wasn’t great, I love sales. Anybody that’s thinking about it should do exactly what I said, find a mentor, find somebody that’s going to help you. If you’re in a technical role, go out with the sales reps, start studying them. Why do people like them? Why do they sell? Why are they successful? Take the best of them and make it yourself, that’s what I did and that’s what I would suggest everybody else did. When I went into leadership that was it, it was the place I wanted to be and the thing I loved to do that gets me up every morning and sends me to work happy and motivated.
Fred Diamond: Usually I ask at this point, “Did you ever question being in sales, did you ever think to yourself, ‘it’s too hard, it’s just not for me’?” But I think you just answered that question.
Dave Schlosser: Not a chance [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: Before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, I just want to ask you one quick question. You just talked about how much you really enjoy sales leadership and you’ve talked about mentorship. What is your favorite thing to do as a sales leader? Is it to mentor, is it to look at a spreadsheet? Tell us the one thing that really gets you juiced in the morning.
Dave Schlosser: Seeing customers and/or talking about deals or difficulty within a deal and people asking my advice, “What should we do? How should we position this?” That’s probably my favorite thing, back to that coaching side where trying to add value whether it’s in a relationship or situation. Those are probably the most fun things I do and my door’s always open, we’re always having counselling about something. Sometimes I’m being counselled but most of the time I’m just trying to add value to a situation and that’s the most fun thing, that’s the part I love the most.
I do love seeing customers, sometimes I don’t see them enough, that’s probably still one of my favorite things because I love the first relationship and making that first relationship. I don’t know that I’m teaching anything there, but I’m certainly adding value when I go out because I try to be a friendly guy that remembers people’s names, shakes people’s hands, listens to them. When we get out of this sales situation, we come back, we get a strategy and I think going there helps me out.
Fred Diamond: Dave, 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?
Dave Schlosser: I’d just say be tenacious and use your resources. When my reps don’t get a call back, we’re constantly trying to figure out, “Look at LinkedIn, who knows this guy? Who’s ever sold to him before? Who’s a partner that knows who to get to this guy, what this guy likes, what he wants to hear?” Obviously you’ve got to have the technology along with that, but I’d say to the young guy: never give up. First of all, you have to attack a org chart, you need to attack the whole org chart, go after the whole organization, tell the story about the other guys you’re selling to because that always helps.
Customers like when you talk about other customers that are in the account, but use your resources to get to the people. I think the young guys get discouraged. “I can’t get to the CIO, I can’t get to this other person.” You’ve got a whole company of people, somebody there sold to them before, one of your friends on LinkedIn knows how to talk to them and how to get to them. You’ve got to use all resources, never say no, never give up and put it on your list. It’s not going to happen overnight, sometimes it takes six months to get to the person you want to get to but never give up and use all your resources to get to them.
Fred Diamond: I have a question, you brought up the word “relationships” a lot and of course in the vendor/reseller world relationships have happened. As a matter of fact, one of the cool things about the Sales Game Changers podcast is I’ve interviewed people who have brought up people that we’ve also interviewed that they’ve been working with for 20 years. There are some people of course that we’ve interviewed already on the Sales Game Changers podcast that we’ve talked about prior to this that you have long and deep working relationships. Let’s talk about relationships for a second, how would you coach a junior selling professional in their early 20’s? What would you tell them to do to start building these relationships? What specifically should they be doing?
Dave Schlosser: I think on the OEM side it’s knowing their counterpart and getting to know their counterpart’s leaders. For me personally, if we have a problem I’m not going to talk to the sales rep usually at the other company, I’m going to talk to the leader. How did I get to know all these leaders? I was a sales rep one time, I wanted to know who was running the company because if you have a problem as a sales rep you’re ending up in conversation or you’re letting the conversation go, meaning you’re letting your counterpart at the OEM take it up a level.
I always took it up myself, so for me anything we’re selling, I have that relationship but I would say to young guys, “Don’t just know the sales rep you’re selling to, know his engineer, know his engineering boss, know the sales rep’s manager and try to know the VP at that company. It can’t hurt you, go to the events they’re going to be at, introduce yourself, tell them about the sales rep you’re working with, how you like them and why they’re good. It’ll only help you get a better relationship.”
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about some of your sales habits that have led to your sales success?
Dave Schlosser: I think it’s simple, meeting people, remembering their name, using whatever skills you have. Some of that is a smile, it’s charisma, it’s whatever skills you have. If you see them a second time and you can’t remember their name and don’t even know their face, that’s a problem. I’m a faces guy, if I see you I will know you 20 years from now, so I think that’s a big deal but it’s that first impression. It’s when you have that first conversation, figuring out that people want to talk about themselves. Let them talk about themselves. If you’re not good at remembering, go write it down.
When I used to sell to the Marines, I would go talk to the Marines, I’d have a conversation, I’d leave there, I’d write down, “This guy’s got two kids, he likes volleyball and he runs avidly.” When I went back to see him, I’d look at my notes and I’d go say, “How is volleyball going?” because I knew he was on a team. It’s huge to people, they want to talk about themselves. Beyond that, you’ve got to gain trust and you’ve got to take value to them. If you can take value to them you can break the ice with all of the little things that you remember from them, but if you take value to them and you can help their mission, they’re looking at you as a trusted adviser. You gain the relationship and grow your trusted adviser role, that’s what I like to do and that’s what I like to teach.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Dave Schlosser: It’s cloud. No doubt, I think everybody in the VAR space is trying to figure it out and trying to understand it. It’s different, so I think we’re doing the same, we’re trying to figure it out. I’m not going to say we have it completely figured out but we’re doing cloud deals, we’re learning from the cloud deals and we’re teaching our sales reps, I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s teaching our sales staff how to talk about cloud, how to be a trusted adviser because if you just say cloud, it’s another word, it’s another term. We’re teaching them what cloud really is whether it’s hybrid cloud, on-prem cloud or off-prem cloud and teaching them the value of an Amazon, the value of a Microsoft so they know exactly what those differentiators are, and the value of ThunderCat. ThunderCat services, if we need to do the on-prem stuff.
Cloud’s probably the scariest thing for most people, we’re embracing it and trying to figure it out. If you can talk cloud and you can end up selling cloud or having a conversation about infrastructure, we end up having the cloud conversation and selling more infrastructure that we already sell because we become trusted. We’re giving advice on whether they should put an application in the cloud or not and I think it’s important to understand the application level and whether or not something should go to the cloud or not.
That’s what we’re teaching our people and it’s probably the biggest thing that we’re focused on for the future because we’re not exactly sure if we’re going to be doing hundreds of millions of cloud or it’s going to change. Right now we’re still selling infrastructure every day and we’re very successful but we see the cloud thing and it’s not a passing fad, it’s something that’s real. We’re paying a lot of attention to it.
Fred Diamond: It’s interesting as you’re talking here, the whole concept of how much product knowledge that you need to have. The real differentiation between the guys that are hugely successful, you really know the product and you really understand how it fits into your customer’s environment and where your customer’s going as compared to relying upon. Back in the day when you were an engineer, I worked with a lot of engineers when I was in Apple and Compaq and a lot of the engineers felt that they were more valuable than the sales professional because they knew more. Now you’ve got to know stuff to be at that next level, you really do.
Dave Schlosser: You certainly should be teaching yourself every night and reading something about technology or it’s the same thing, we’ve got very talented engineers. I find myself going to the product pitches and listening to the product pitches. I may not get 100% of it at this point but I get enough to be knowledgeable and that’s what every sales rep has to do. If you hear of a trend of somebody starts talking about something like hybrid cloud, you better figure out what it is because you look like a fool if you can’t articulate on any of these technologies that are buzz words and that people are talking about.
Fred Diamond: The customer doesn’t need you at that point.
Dave Schlosser: Exactly.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned trusted adviser before, the customer needs you to help them achieve their mission. You said that in the very first answer is understanding the mission of the customer, doing your homework, getting these trusted relationships. Dave, we all know that sales is hard. Like we mentioned before, people don’t always return your phone calls or your emails. You deal with the federal government which of course has had challenges like shut downs and continuing resolutions and budgets being delayed, all these things that we hear about. Why have you continued? We can get through this podcast interview, we get your passion for your customer, we get your passion for building relationships and working with partners but what is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Dave Schlosser: It’s just what I love to do and I think it goes right along with the diversity of the company. Again, I’m either learning a little bit about technology or like the whole could thing. The VP of engineering and me were the ones that did all the research and then we presented to the CEO and said, “We want to do this” and getting buy-in, it didn’t happen overnight. It took months and months and years to do that. I think diversifying this company so that we’re around as the most important thing. I get to go out and see customers and sell but also figuring out where we’re going to go is the most important thing because some day I’m going to retire.
When I retire I want this company to be here and I want it to be thriving so right now we’re focused on cyber security and cloud as newer initiatives. There will be something coming down the road, we’re going to study it, we’re going to live it, we’re going to know it and we’re going to teach it to our people. I think that’s the most important thing. The government is not going away, they’re going to continue to spend money, we need to make sure we have the knowledge to sell the right things to them as things change.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us a final thought to inspire our listeners today?
Dave Schlosser: In particular the young sales guys, don’t ever let anybody tell you you can’t do something that you want to do, or if you’re an engineer that wants to become a sales rep. I had plenty of people tell me that I couldn’t do something and if you believe that then you’re going to live it and you’re going to think you can never get there. I go back, don’t ever let anybody tell you you can’t do something that you really want to do.
Have a plan, pick a mentor, figure out if you need to go take more training, figure out if you need to get in more sales environments. If you have a plan and a mission and you have the right people supporting you, you will get there. Don’t ever let anybody tell you you can’t get where you want to go. I didn’t let them do it for me and you shouldn’t let them do it for you.