EPISODE 162: Nortec Sales Leader Deb Wiker Says She Learned This Critical Sales Lesson Selling Salmon on the Bering Sea 

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EPISODE 162: Nortec Sales Leader Deb Wiker Says She Learned This Critical Sales Lesson Selling Salmon on the Bering Sea

DEB’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Sales is a team sport. Don’t be a lone ranger. Get out there and use the resources at your fingertips to help you close. By helping each other, everybody wins.”

Deb Wiker is the VP of Sales at Nortec Communications.

Prior to coming to Nortec, she held sales leadership positions at American Greeting Cards and AT&T.

Find Deb on LinkedIn!

Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that?

Deb Wiker: Today what I do is I help to improve employers’ and their internal employee’s productivity operations and communications capabilities. I do this by helping them leverage technology specifically through the Microsoft stack. I work with Nortec Communications which are a gold competency partner with Microsoft. With our consulting services, we’re able to help people do seamless transitions for communications and messaging and data services.

Fred Diamond: You started off at Lord & Taylor and then American Greeting Cards. Did you ever see yourself moving into technology?

Deb Wiker: At the time I didn’t, because I went into Lord & Taylor because I was looking for a buying position. During that journey working with them and through a variety of different positions, I decided I think I might want to see what life is like on the other side of the table. That’s how I got into sales and then being in a mature industry like Greeting Cards after some period of time I realized that the future was with technology. Once again I made a big change and went from corporate consumer product sales to technology. I’ve loved it and been in it ever since.

Fred Diamond: We’ll talk I’m sure the majority of today’s podcast about what you’re doing at Nortec Communications but we’ve never interviewed anybody who’s worked in a card greeting industry. Again, we have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, can you tell us what that’s like selling for a Greeting Card company.

Deb Wiker: It’s interesting because specifically working with American Greeting Cards there’s really just a couple big players out there. American Greeting Cards and Hallmark and people traditionally have seen them in the past in the card shops. Now there was a big transition and one of the reasons that I enjoyed working with American Greetings is they were visionaries in that they went right after distribution. You will typically see them – as well as Hallmark now – in grocery stores, retail outlets like Target and Walmart, pharmacies because they sought early on that people had very busy lives and it was really an impulse purchase.

The best way to get the consumer was to have these large greeting card displays in retail establishments and they were super successful. My role is I was a sales manager, I had a number of reps working for me and I dealt with the corporations where we did product placements, card designs, layouts by demographic areas to improve sales. The retailers won because they were getting huge margins as opposed to other products that they were able to sell in their store. When you looked at the dollar per square foot that they were making with greeting cards as to other products they sold, it was a game changer for them and it really boosted their margin and profitability level.

Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us some of the things you learned from some of those first few sales jobs?

Deb Wiker: From some of those first few sales jobs I really learned that you have to be a persistent listener, and that when a customer gives you a “no”, “no” doesn’t mean “go away” necessarily. No means you’re not listening well enough because you’re not solving the customer’s problems or it could be, “No, I don’t need your products or service right now but I do want you to come back.” It could be code word for, “We need you to try a little bit harder, keep us on your Rolodex, so to speak or put a little item in your Outlook Calendar to call me in six months because I really do need your service but I don’t need it right now. I may have to budget for it because it’s a bit more than we anticipated.

We needed to spend to solve our existing problems.” Those are some key lessons and that goes to developing and maintaining customer relations. If you don’t get the sale, stay in touch with that customer because they may need it later and we’re all busy. The inbox never stops, so the best way is to continue to develop that relationship and if you’re staying relevant to the customer they’ll call you and you won’t have to work as hard.

Fred Diamond: I have a question, Deb. Not infrequently on the Sales Game Changers podcast the guests that we talk to mention listening. You’re the first person to use the term “persistent listener” so I love that, but what are some tips? Again, we have a lot of Sales Game Changes listening around the globe who are on the early stage of their career. What are some physical things you do to be a better listener that we could tell them?

Deb Wiker: That’s a great question, I think it comes down to your habits. One thing I have done for a super long time and I continue to do today is when I’m listening, I repeat back to my customers what their questions are and I flat out ask them, “Is this really what you need?” Sometimes, they don’t even know what they need so I just suggest and break down into small bite-size pieces ways that will help identify their needs and then I offer solutions to them. One would be repeating back to them, talking about what their mission and their corporate goals are and then we discuss together how we can address that. Then we come up with solutions.

Fred Diamond: Deb, what are you an expert in? Tell us more about your specific area of brilliance.

Deb Wiker: I’ll tell you, Fred. I wish I could say that I’m the go-to expert but what I’m really good at and I guess you could say is my forte is really good at bringing the right resources to the table, understanding what customers need. Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes they don’t even know what they need. They just know that things are broken they’re not working, their people can’t communicate, their systems don’t talk well to each other.

What I do and I guess you could say my area of brilliance is I help to bring the right resources and I really believe in the team approach. I might have engineering with me, I might involve some of my operational folks or sometimes even some accounting people because it’s a technology solution we’re bringing to the table but affects the various departments within the customer environment. By having that depth and breadth of solution that we can bring, it really helps them. If I can’t solve the problem, I have a very large network of resources that I can suggest and bring to them, and that way I become their trusted adviser.

My brilliance is being well connected, breaking down their problems into manageable bites and helping them understand it, and then we can come up with a plan that makes sense for them both from a timeline perspective as well as from a monetary perspective. We all know nobody has an unlimited budget and we want to make sure that our solutions fall within that realm and it’s really palatable and digestible for them.

Fred Diamond: You just used the term “trusted adviser.” That term has come up not infrequently over the course of the Sales Game Changers podcast. We recently did an episode with Phil Curran who’s a VP of Sales at USI Insurance services. For the people listening on the podcast today, what does the term “trusted adviser” mean to you?

Deb Wiker: To me, a trusted adviser could be a customer, it could be a client, it could be a prospect but when you get to that elevated position of trusted adviser, those folks are referring people to you, they really trust you. You’ve brought solutions to them that work for them, that make sense, that don’t cost them an arm and a leg. It’s almost like trusted advisers like you would speak with maybe your best friend or your family, your mom or dad call you up and say, “I really need help with X, Y and Z, can you help me?” and they take your words and your advice to heart. It’s a place that everybody strives to get to, it’s not easy to get there and it takes a long time to develop a relationship enough with another person, a customer, a prospect, a client. You keep having to work at it continually, you just don’t become and you leave it. It’s something that you manage and keep it going.

Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor or two and how they impacted your career?

Deb Wiker: There’s actually been a number of people that have helped me along the way. You never make it by yourself and there’s a lot of learning opportunities. I was fortunate enough when I was very young, I was actually working on a summer job and I had a great mentor, his name was Bob. One of my summer jobs was I worked on a fishing boat in the Bering Sea in Alaska and I was hauling nets. I met Bob and he said, “Deb, you’re really a people person and I think we have a better position for you in our fleet.” It was on a processing barge where we were selling salmon to the Japanese and our freighter was tied up to this processing barge. I would negotiate the price of fish and he gave me a range that I could – and I was just a college student.

We would have coffee or tea in the morning and would negotiate the price of salmon for the day, and the lesson that I learned from Bob was he was like, “Deb, you’ve got to stay in the range no matter how much you want to sell. If they offer they’ll buy X amount of pounds more that day if the price was that much lower, you have to know when to stop because it’s important to have a win-win relationship. If you lose money one day it’s a little bit okay as long as you’re making it up the next but you can’t lose because you’ll go out of business and you’ll put us out of business and we can’t offer our great service if we’re out of business.”

Having a win-win relationship with your customer and make sure the deal is right for you. You’ve got to make a little money, the customer has to have a price that makes sense from them and ultimately win-win, and I learned that from Bob at a very young age.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great story. I have a question, you said you were negotiating with Japanese fisherman, did you speak Japanese at all?

Deb Wiker: I didn’t, they had one person that was bilingual that spoke English. They actually would have a team of three of them and I spoke English, obviously. I learned a little bit of Japanese over the course of the summer, but basically the way it evolved was one morning they never really had good coffee so they’d come over and have coffee with us. We’d have coffee and chat, the next day I’d go over to their ship and then we’d have tea with them and we’d have the translator that would go back and forth, and we would come to a price every day.

Fred Diamond: Again, you’re a college student, I presume they were probably pretty savvy so how did you quickly build that trust and that type of relationship? Again, we have a lot of young people listening to the podcast and they’re dealing with senior customers so I’m just curious. What type of things did you do to get trusted with them to ensure that you were going to be in that price range?

Deb Wiker: It’s important to have a lot of integrity with them and the language was an issue. By being authentic and I was clearly very passionate about what we were doing and I was passionate about my product because we had tender boats coming up to our processing barge every single day. They saw that because they were tied next to us, but I had to really promote and sell myself and the integrity that we brought in our product and myself to them. They could hear the excitement, I showed them the product, they got to see our entire operation and I gave them a tour and I think I won them over by what I call the show and tell method. That translated to my honesty in dealing with them.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great story, one last question. You were around all that fish, do you still eat salmon?

Deb Wiker: I do, I love it but I will tell you, at the end of the season I came home and I had a backpack and I lived in it, and even though they had facilities on the ship that I was working on, I’ll tell you, I never forget the smell of salmon. [Laughs] it stays with you, but I still love eating it today.

Fred Diamond: Deb, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?

Deb Wiker: That’s a toughie because there’s a lot of different challenges out there. I would say the big challenge today is technology is evolving rapidly and it seems like it’s evolving more rapidly every year. One of the biggest challenges is recognizing the trends of the change and then being able to rapidly pivot, to not only understand it and embrace it but be able to translate that most importantly to our clientele so that they can embrace it so that we’ll improve their operational efficiencies and make it a lot easier for the customers to digest it and leverage it so they can work better.

Fred Diamond: Is there a second one?

Deb Wiker: I would say the second one is working the other part of that, working with our sales team so that they can understand it. Grow their skill set, certifications at Nortec are very important. We have to be relevant to our customers, we have two jobs, we work with our clients, we provide consulting services but in the same token we’re all still in school. We have to keep our certifications up, we have to keep on the cutting edge and we have to be able to communicate what that is to the sales team so they can communicate it to their customers as well. I would say those are my two biggest challenges right now.

Fred Diamond: Deb, what’s the #1 specific sale success or win from your career you’re most proud of?

Deb Wiker: I’ve been fortunate, I’ve had quite a few successes, it’s tough to pin it down to one. I guess there is one that stands out, and it goes back to relationship building. About 7 years ago, there was a very large multi-national, they still exist, they’re doing great, their world headquarters is in Zurich, Switzerland. They had an office here in the DC Metro area and they manage the Americas. They were having problems with their data centers, they needed to move from one data center to another, they needed to do a hardware refresh at the same time and they needed to improve the network connection and communication between the North Americas and the pairing company in Zurich.

There were a number of different bidders for the project, I worked very closely and once again I brought in all the right players. I brought people in to help support me from sales, I brought our engineering team some operational folks and additional people. We ended up winning the deal, it was a large multi-million dollar contract for many years. Our guys did such a great job that we educated them to be self-sustainable. Sometimes we work like that where we will do project based work and sometimes we do a lot of support work as well and everything in between, but they went on their happy way.

Fast forward to about three years ago, the market’s been changing, the technology landscape has been evolving and they wanted to go into the cloud. I stayed in touch with some of the principal leaders at their US office and they had experienced a lot of turnover. After a lot of conversations they’re like, “We really need some help” and I went back in there, and then I won another contract to update their systems and we helped migrate them to Office 365, support their current data center and we’re still working with them today. I guess you could say it was a terrific win, it was win-win because they knew us, we have that trusted adviser relationship with them and I was able to get another enormous sale.

Today we’re still helping them out a little bit and they’re quite happy with us.

Fred Diamond: One thing that’s come up on the Sales Game Changers podcast is some of the sales leaders that we’ve spoken to have had 10, 15, 20, 30 year careers in some cases selling to the same customer, either government or education or financial services. They’ve grown with their customers in some regard. You’ve just talked about an operation, a deal that you had a nice sale and then the customer went away and then they came back. You’ve had the relationship over years. For the people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, you’ve talked about relationships a couple times. Can you talk about how to maintain long-term relationships like that so that you can continue to be of service to them?

Deb Wiker: That’s a great question, Fred. I would say there’s a couple things that particularly young people can do. #1 is you’ve got to meet somebody but then once you have that first sale, you establish what I call a beach hold. You go in there and you want to what I call land and expand. To keep that relationship going, you need contact with them and a lot of times that gets lost because there’s a lot of social media out there and I’m finding that customers now are doing their own due diligence. They’re doing a ton of research and when there’s a variety of different sales professionals reaching out to them for their solution, they’ve done a lot of homework and that’s why you need to be relevant.

That’s going to be a real differentiator for you, but once you get that first beach hold – and it might be a small sale – you can grow that into a multi-million dollar sale by having frequent contact. It’s like if you’re on their radar and you’re at front-of-mind, they’re going to be there and available to you. We talk about there’s some habits that people can do. One thing that I do is after every meeting with a client, especially if it’s a first client, I always send them a thank you note. It’s the human touch that I find makes a huge difference because people are online, they’re doing their email, they’re doing this, that and the other thing but when you do something personally for them and remembering important events, sending them a thank you note, stopping in and just dropping off to say, “I was in the neighborhood and I happen to know that you love muffins so I just want to drop a couple off.”

People remember that because not a lot of people do that, so over time if something comes up they’re like, “Deb was really nice, maybe I’ll give her a quick ring and ask her what her thoughts are on whatever it is that’s at top of mind right now.” Those are ways that particularly young people can make themselves stand out.

Fred Diamond: Again, you’ve had a great career, you’ve given us some great stories, you worked for American Greeting Cards, AT&T and now you’re the VP of Sales at Nortec Communications. Did you ever question being in sales? Did you ever think to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s really just not for me”?

Deb Wiker: I think every sales professional does question at some point because sales ebb and flow. I always say, “Rising tide lift all boats.” When the sales are coming in, it’s really easy but then there are those times when you’re in the valley and you’re like, “I really need to get a sale, I’m getting pressure from my boss” or, “I’ve got to close the deal this month. I’m close to my number but I’m not quite there” and people question. Quite frankly, I’m no different, I’ve done that as well.

When I was in a sales position and the sales role, because of a corporate restructuring, had people work more in terms of a support function, as a sales to support the organization. I did question, I actually took a break from sales for about a year and I questioned it. Over that time, I did a little self-discovery and I found that I really missed it. To be a top sales professional it is more of a lifestyle and I found that I missed the hunt, I missed helping people and solving their problems. I decided to get back into it and I’ve never looked back.

Fred Diamond: Deb, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them take their career to the next level?

Deb Wiker: A couple tips. If it’s your profession, it’s not a 9 to 5 job. The most successful sales folks have a radar and it’s important particularly for young people starting out to keep your radar on. It’s not a time to be shy or modest because if you’re at the gym working out and you’re in spin class and the person right next to you, the guy or gal will talk to you and say, “Life is great” or they’ll say, “I’m really having struggles at work and our communication is not working and I had to stay late.” If your radar is on and you happen to sell communication services or products, it’s a great opportunity to talk a little bit in a very friendly informal way about what you do.

I will tell you that some of the biggest deals that not only myself but many people here at Nortec have gotten are through personal relationships when they have been off hours. You could be in the grocery store, you could be at Starbucks standing in line and you just strike up a conversation with the person behind you and they’ll just start to talk and tell you things. If your radar is on, it’s a great opportunity to get yourself into new opportunities.

I would say that’s one tip, another tip is having sales goals that are written down. Everybody says, “You got to have goals” but how many people write them down? I have found surprisingly there aren’t many. To piggy back on that, you need somebody that keeps you accountable. If you’re somebody that wants to make a million dollars in sales, I’ll tell you right now it’s 100% achievable without a doubt, but the only way it’s achievable is if you have a goal, you have somebody that keeps you accountable and you review that. You have a weekly, monthly review.

I actually even have my sales goals written down and I review it every day. I have this big sheet of paper in my office and I have, “This is my goal for the month” and then I look at what I’ve done and if I’m not making my goal, it gives me time to readjust. I don’t want to find out in October that I’m $700 thousand dollars away from my million dollar goal, if that’s my goal. My goal is actually substantially more, but whatever, it doesn’t really matter what the number is.

Once you have your number you can reverse-engineer, you can write it down and if you have your plan, you need to work your plan. You have to be prepared and deliver on it and then again, be willing and able to pivot. If something’s not working, reach out to people that can help you and you will still have time to get to where you need to be.

Fred Diamond: I loved both points, but the first point is so good where you said, “You’ve got to be aware, you’ve got to be conscious.” Don’t just wait for your lists or wait for LinkedIn, if you will. I remember one of my best clients ever I got waiting in line at a restaurant to take out. This was a client I was trying to get to for a long time and the person in front of me was wearing a polo shirt with the company’s logo. I was like, “How did you get that shirt?” “I’m the Director of Procurement” or something like that and I said, “I’ve been trying to get an introduction with…” somebody and, “Yeah, I sit two doors away from him.”

We just had a very pleasant conversation and I said, “Do you mind if I send you an inquiry or an email making the introduction?” and he said absolutely, I gave him my card. I think it was Saturday night, that Monday I then sent an email and it led to an introduction which led to a meeting. It didn’t happen that day but a couple weeks later, so that is such a great point. We have to break down those barriers. I don’t mean be creepy about it, you don’t want to be waiting in front of someone’s apartment, “Oh, I happen to see you work for blank” but be open.

If your kids play sports together, if you’re in organizations, we interviewed a guy named Carl Grant with Cooley, it’s a law firm, you can check out that podcast. He talked about religious organizations and social organizations, you’ve always got to be open to where you can meet people and just continue to show that you’re a person of integrity like you talked about, and that will lead to those meetings. That’s a great answer. Tell us about some of the habits you have, some of the habits you’ve employed. You’ve mentioned a couple of them like sending thank you notes, etcetera but tell us one or two habits that you’ve employed over your career that have helped you become a sales leader.

Deb Wiker: A couple things I do is I’m an early riser. I get up early and I find that some of my habits are when I’m trying to reach out to people, key decision makers, they’re busy people too. Typically busy people will get to the office early because it gives them an opportunity to get their meaty stuff done before everybody else comes in and starts asking them questions or bugging them for help or whatever the case may be, and/or they stay late. One of the habits I do is I either get to the office really early or I work from home and I start calling the people I need to reach. I will tell you, 90% of the time I can get somebody at their desk by 7 am.

That’s one habit, another habit is you only have so much time in a day, you need to work the full day so I plan out. I put my little to-do list together at the first of the week and I might revise it at the end of the day and then I set up a new list, and then I have a plan, I work my plan. If I can’t get it done then I have the three or four most important things that I address early on. I have my to-do list, I make my phone calls and then in addition to that, some of the other little habits that I do is you had mentioned the thank you notes, there’s no shortage of people out in the world that need whatever service you’re selling. I actually schedule time in my calendar to reach out to specific people that I want to connect with. Then I also have the habit of belonging to certain organizations I feel that I can do networking. I spend at least every other week at some event or participating at some function where I have an opportunity to meet other people and put myself out there.

Fred Diamond: I’m going to ask you a quick follow up question. You mentioned before 7 o’clock you’ll sometimes make phone calls to people you’re trying to get in touch with. Does that include customers as well?

Deb Wiker: Absolutely. A lot of it can be new customers and some of it is probably more prospects and new customers. Other people that I’ve been working with for quite some time, we have pre-arranged meetings, it’s not difficult to get to them but people that are really hard to reach, the prospects, I definitely get them early and I get them late.

Fred Diamond: Did you ever hear of the book called The Morning Miracle?

Deb Wiker: No, I haven’t.

Fred Diamond: For the Sales Game Changers listening, it’s about what you do between 5 and 7 in the morning. It was written by a guy named Hal Elrod and he has a podcast called Achieve Your Goals Podcast. A lot of the people we’ve interviewed are early morning people, obviously to help become as successful as you are. We’re put a link to that for the people who are questioning the ability to get up early but it’s definitely a trend that we’ve seen with the people that we’ve interviewed on the podcast. Deb, what’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?

Deb Wiker: There’s a couple major initiatives that we’re working on right now. As I mentioned before, we’re a Microsoft Gold certified partner managed services and right now the initiative is to move people from their on-prem messaging and data environment up into the cloud. A lot of organizations have huge investments in their internal infrastructure and as the hardware comes due and licensing support renewals come due we speak with them, we work with them and we help migrate them to the cloud services in areas that it makes sense. In addition to that, we continue to support in a hybrid fashion their existing environment.

That’s one initiative, the second major initiative we’re working with our clients are with security services. It seems it’s top of mind for a lot of organizations, I’ll tell you a lot of companies haven’t done but they’re now paying more attention to improving their security posture to reduce their susceptibility to the growing number of viruses and phishing attacks and malware and ransomware and brute force attacks. What we’re doing, what I’m specifically focused on now is providing the right solutions to the company in a cost-effective way so that they can embrace the right security solutions to enhance their profile.

Fred Diamond: Again Deb, I want to thank you for the great content you’ve provided today. Before I ask you for your final thoughts, I want to get your impression on this. Sales is hard, people don’t return your phone calls or your emails. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?

Deb Wiker: I love sales and I’m a pretty passionate person about it. I love solving problems for people, so what I love about it is I take their issues, I can break them down into bite-size pieces and I help improve lives, the way I see it. If I can solve their issues, that will enable employees to stay at work for the time they need to be at work, it gives them time to spend time with their families, attend their children’s events, participate in a coaching or mentoring fashion to whatever volunteer work they want to do and they actually sleep better at night. What keeps me going is I know I’m making a positive impact directly on people’s lives and I love it.

Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire them today?

Deb Wiker: Sales is a team sport. Don’t be a lone ranger, get out there and use the resources at your fingertips to help you close business because at the end of the day your sales manager wants to make sure that you make your number. By helping each other, everybody wins so it’s win-win. In order to find win-win situations, you need to be committed to what you’re doing and you have to be passionate because if you’re going to be the best you can be, if you’re passionate, whoever you deal with in whatever industry you work with, they’re going to feel it, it’s going to resonate with them and they’re going to want to work with you.

Overtime, you’ll find that your prospects will become customers and your customers will think of you as their trusted adviser and they’ll be calling you. If you keep learning, you keep growing, you stay passionate, you’re going to have a terrific life and a great sales career.

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