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EPISODE 195: Forcepoint Government Sales Chief Eric Trexler Says Focusing on this Outcome is Key to Determining Your Sales Success
ERIC’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Everything you do should be geared around results, Focus on your customer, yourself, your business and put a plan together and enjoy the ride. To the leaders out there, focus on your people, be transparent and direct with them. Have a plan, always look at how we make them better.”
Eric Trexler is the VP of Sales for Global Governments at Forcepoint.
Prior to coming to Forcepoint, he held sales leadership positions at McAfee and served in the US Army.
Find Eric on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Eric Trexler: Fred, thanks for having me, I appreciate the time. I think the most important thing to start with is I’m a husband and a father of three boys. My wife and I have been married since 2006, I’ll do the math, I think it’s 13 years now. Two boys are older, one is 21, the other is 26 and I have a 12 year old at home, he’s in 6th grade right now. My oldest is a doctor and the other is trying to figure out life.
Fred Diamond: Good for you.
Eric Trexler: He’s a doctor in the Army, I’m very proud of all three of them.
Fred Diamond: Thanks again for your service to the Army, you were there for how many years?
Eric Trexler: Four. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, didn’t have anybody paying for college. It was a great opportunity for me to get out of the house and prove that I was the adult that I thought I was – which I wasn’t. It was a great experience and it really set me up for life in the discipline and way of thinking, direction and guidance.
Fred Diamond: I mentioned in the introduction, some of our previous guests, James Yeager at CrowdStrike and Chris Townsend at Symantec said we need to get you on the podcast, “You’ve got to talk to Trexler.” Tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Eric Trexler: I work for Forcepoint, one of the best-known secrets in cyber security. We’re about three years old now and we formed in 2016 as a consolidation of a couple of companies that came together basically in three businesses cross-domain – which I won’t go into a lot of detail on this – for multi-domain operations in the US government. Obviously I’m on the government side. User activity monitoring and then finally we have commercial products where we really focus on users and how they interact with their data around user behavior.
The thing I love about it, it’s a very different approach to cyber security. Every security vendor out there pretty much is focused on the malware, the threats coming in, we really focus on you, the individual which as a sales person, obviously, that’s close to heart. Also, how you interact with data and we look at it from an individual perspective as opposed to, “There’s an adversary out here coming to get you and they’ve put this piece of malware on your network or on your system.
Fred Diamond: We’ve interviewed a bunch of people who sell in the cyber security space. You just clearly delineated where you guys fit. Are there so many vendors that it’s hard to get through the noise? Based on all the companies that are emerging in cyber security.
Eric Trexler: Yes, it’s tremendously difficult. There are so many startups if you go to RSA every year as a sales professional, as a business owner, whatever you may be in the industry, how do you cut through the noise? We haven’t seen the consolidation that we need that we have in every other part of information technology. There are usually two or three players and those are the market leaders. In cyber security I’d challenge anybody to determine who the cyber security market leaders are. You’ve got the Cisco’s, the VMWare’s, the Palo Alto’s, you’ve got the mid-tiers which is where I would put us. We’ll hit a billion dollars in the next couple years here.
The government business is a significant part of that. Then you’ve got a couple thousand niche players, the startups. It’s really complicated. The piece I love, we are highly mission focused and to me, that’s what helps cut through the noise. The government business is about a 400 person business, we own organic development on the bulk of our products, consulting and go-to-market. I own the go-to-market component so when we’re dealing with customers, you know what you can deliver on, you can bring in the people who are writing the code, you can bring in the people who are going to implement the solutions. When you’re dealing with cross-domain, you actually have physical equipment with the war fighter in their hands or on a satellite, it matters. It’s a great business.
Fred Diamond: Again, you’re the VP of Sales here for Global Governments. Take us back to the beginning of your sales career. How did you first get into sales as a career?
Eric Trexler: I’m the byproduct of salespeople. My mother was a salesperson, she was a secretary back in the day and my parents got divorced when I was five. She became the sole provider for the family, she worked her you-know-what off, I would literally sit there and watch her working until 2 in the morning at many nights. I’m reading, I’m helping her out, I’m running the microfiche for her, I’m filing, I’m giving her pricing, everything was paperback in those days. She took me on sales calls. My dad was in sales. My wife is a lifetime sales rep so I’m a byproduct of sales and I love selling. I fought her, no one wants to do what their parents want them to do, and my mom being a sales rep told me I would be in sales.
Fred Diamond: What did she sell?
Eric Trexler: She sold office products, chairs, pencils, at the corporate level. When she died – it’s a great story – she had 150 or so customers come to her funeral. It was amazing the stories they told. Back in those days she was in Pennsylvania, I grew up in Pennsylvania like you, it was a small area, the Reading-Allentown Philadelphia area, lifelong customers, you didn’t switch jobs a lot. She knew them for decades, 30-40 years. It was really great having that education growing up where you watched a sales professional, an expert at their job and you were part of it.
Fred Diamond: Once again you went into the Army right after high school and then you obviously went into sales. Tell us about some of your first sales jobs, what did you do as a sales person in the beginning?
Eric Trexler: I started as a consultant. When I was in the Army in my last year and a half or so, we’ve got something called a computer and I was an airborne ranger and nobody knew what a computer was, let alone how to use them. I wanted to get a jumpstart on college which is my goal for joining the Army so I picked up the computer and I decided to move into the operations office and figure it out, which was really my start in technology. Got my degree working at the time as a technologist, I was a database expert so I became a consultant and I did a lot of consultative selling.
I moved very quickly into sales engineering and I took that route. I believe there are two tracks primarily for sales, traditional tracks, I should say. You can come up from the technology, the engineering route or you can come up through the traditional inside sales, somehow you get your start. They’re very different but they lead to the same place. I mix technology and I’m a consultant, they moved me into sales engineering because they saw I liked to talk to customers, I like to solve problems and then very quickly I moved into sales because I was a very good technical sales person. That was my path.
Fred Diamond: I have a quick question, were you conscious of that sales approach? We’ve interviewed a bunch of people on the Sales Game Changers podcast who started out in engineering or the tech side, and then someone tapped them on the shoulder and said, “You’re really good at explaining this to our customers.” Some of them were taken aback like, “No, maybe I will consider this sales route” and other people identified that’s the route they wanted to take. I’m just curious, you went up through the SE route which is definitely a smart way to go, but were you aware that you wanted to move into sales at some point or was that not part of your plan in the beginning?
Eric Trexler: Remember, I was actively resistant to moving into sales because my mother told me I need to move into sales. My mom was all about the freedom, the flexibility, the money, controlling your own destiny so I was actively resistant. Those were different days, they didn’t pay the same and I was the sole provider for the family. At that point I probably had both of my oldest sons and the first commission check I got, I received as an SE was wow. I was able to buy a kitchen diner room set, I remember it vividly today and I said, “This is good.”
I also remember a class I had with Mike Bosworth of Xerox, Solution Selling and it really opened my eyes to sales and the concept of controlling the deal. I didn’t always agree with my sales reps, but my job was to support them technically and I absolutely did that, but Mike really opened my eyes to the possibility. I overcame the hesitation in fighting back with your parents, I also matured at that point and the money obviously is much better.
Fred Diamond: That’s interesting, we’ve interviewed, obviously, a lot of people on the show and sometimes the guests will refer back to taking a class with someone like Neil Rackham who wrote Spin Selling, and Mike Bosworth, for people who may not know, is one of the founders of Solution Selling which is still around. It’s owned by a company called SPI, Sales Performance International. Attending a class with a guy like that even back in the day, you probably still remember some of the things that were discussed that day.
Eric Trexler: I really do. I remember his statement was, “20% of salespeople are eagles, you let them fly, you get out of their way. The other 80% you need to have a very structured methodology. You need to guide them, you need to monitor activity levels and things like that.” I couldn’t tell you where I am but it was a really good lesson at the time for me. The other thing he taught was understand the customer problem. Back in those days and probably even worse today, we do a really good job of training our people on products, features and functions.
What we don’t do very well today is teaching our people about the customer and listening and understanding the business problem they’re trying to solve. The big buzz word these days is outcomes but I really like it, understanding what outcomes you desire. The industry has even pushed customers to not understand their outcomes in many cases, they just want the biggest, baddest product but they don’t understand why they’re buying it. Mike was really impressionable on me at a very young age, it was a class that was a turning moment. We were talking before the interview, you remember points in time very specifically. For me, I remember that week-long class and it really set me off in understanding the customer, in changing the way I sold.
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you’re an expert in, tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Eric Trexler: This is a tough question, I’m like many of your interviewees, I don’t feel I’m an expert in anything. I do enjoy managing more than selling, I love managing sales teams because you get to mix the two. Personally, I believe you’re great at selling or you’re great at managing. One of the things Mike Bosworth always mentioned, typically the best salespeople get promoted into management positions and they usually make the worst managers. I was a good salesperson, I am a good salesperson, I love managing, though.
I love helping out my personnel, I love seeing them win more than me winning – don’t get me wrong, I love winning – but I love watching my teams win. I love nothing better than when a functional team comes together, they solve the customer’s problems, the customer is happy, we’re happy. To me, that’s really the best. What am I an expert in? If I had to pick one word, I’d say learning. I’m a lifelong learner, I believe in education, reading, podcasts, you name it. That’s probably the one thing, I’m always learning and I know I don’t have all the answers.
Fred Diamond: Curiously, what are you trying to learn right now? What’s at the top of your list?
Eric Trexler: It’s interesting as I was thinking about today and preparing for this, this is about me, my background and my experience. Most of the interviews that I do these days are about technology, products or areas or business problems and it was very interesting. That’s where I spend the bulk of my time. How do I optimize a sales team? How do I optimize a business?
Building on my MBA learnings, I read the Wall Street Journal every morning, I listen to a lot of podcasts, I’m a photographer. When I’m out photographing I try to calm my mind and it helps me actually think about the business. I’m always looking at optimization, for me optimization is a key function of a leader’s job. How do you deliver optimized results? How do you deliver greater results, outsized results? How do you get more out of your people? I spend a lot of time there when I’m not working on cloud computing or cyber security or whatever it may be.
Fred Diamond: We didn’t mention this during the introduction but you’re also the host of a successful podcast as well.
Eric Trexler: I am.
Fred Diamond: Real briefly, what do you interview your guests on?
Eric Trexler: It’s a non-denominational, non-Forcepoint advertisement. Obviously we host it, so if you go to our website you can look about Forcepoint but it’s really conversation based. We talked to Chris Krebs about how he manages what he’s doing at CISA but the best part for me was how he cycles every day to work. He’s the director of CISA, probably the largest cyber security component in the world. How he does the separation between his large family and the really important job he has, how he clears his mind, that was fascinating to me.
We do a lot with users and data, I had a behavioral psychologist on the line the other day and we talk about human mind and the human thought. We’ve done a ton on trust and really delving into the concept of trust. We’ve got these topics that are cyber security related but they’re about people because at the end of the day, selling, our jobs, everything we do is about people. We’re trying to do a job.
Fred Diamond: Speaking about people, you’ve worked for some great companies: SalesForce, EMC, Sybase, McAfee, of course now you’re the VP of Sales for Global Government at Forcepoint. You must have had some impactful mentors along the way. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and tell us how they impacted your career?
Eric Trexler: I don’t know that I have a lifelong formal mentor, I really had some people in my life that have changed my direction similar to Mike Bosworth. Dave Rudnitsky at Salesforce.com, he had these 10 rules, he called it the sales playbook which he brought to us. It’s something I’ve continued on, I’m going to read the rules because I think they’re so powerful, if we could link to them in the show notes. Things like, “Think big, have attitude.” It doesn’t mean be arrogant, but be in charge, think bigger than just, “I’m going to sell you a product.” “Get your face in the place.” Go see your customer. ‘No deal is won or lost alone’, work as a team, use all of your resources. ‘Connect the dots’, never cold call, do your research.
Find somebody who knows somebody and get in there. ‘Focus on the ‘why not”, not the why, but why won’t this deal happen? What’s going to prevent it from happening? Then address that. ‘Always take the deal off the table’, when you can. The other one is ‘Be proactive on all your paperwork’, make sure your sales force is up to date, your CRM tool, whatever you may be, make sure your contracts are ready, get your paperwork the quotes, make sure they’re tight. Another one which with the political situation today I almost hesitate to mention but it’s so powerful: ‘Always get quid pro quo.’ Every quarter we go through these compliance mandates where you basically say, “I didn’t give them something in trade that wasn’t documented.” That’s not what Dave was talking about, what Dave was talking about is when you’re in a negotiation with a customer, if they are asking for a lower price that’s okay, but you need to get something back. Maybe you’re getting a video marketing reference, maybe you’re getting three introductions to somewhere else. Always get to give is all we’re saying here, and it doesn’t have to be financial but always get to give. ‘Share best practices’ across the organization and always focus on game changers. When you’re looking at your strategy, how do you go big? How do you change the game?
Fred Diamond: I have a question for you. As I listen to your list there, especially the first couple of ones, describe for us what you think the ideal mindset is and maybe what your mindset has been as a sales leader.
Eric Trexler: I think mindset is a huge part of selling. I’m going to tell you a little story that I think will articulate it for our users. When I was at a prior organization we had an account that none of my senior sales reps wanted. It had a low quota but we hadn’t done much there and it was a difficult account – they were all difficult, but it was labeled as a difficult account. I had three sales professionals with 30+ years of experience that turned down that opportunity. I had a junior salesperson came up through the inside sales ranks, used to be a music producer. He didn’t know any better, he just wanted to get into selling, that was what he wanted to do.
He took the account, top sales rep the following year. He ran through walls, he didn’t even know he was running through walls. He did things that the experienced professionals wouldn’t do because he had this, “Never fail, I’m going to get it done, no quit” attitude and he tried things. He was smart, hardworking and we talked about hustle, but it was all about the mindset. “I am going to be successful, I want to be in sales.” I’ll tell you, mindset, I don’t care if you’re an athlete on the ball field, the Nationals just won the World Series, or if you’re a sales professional. So much is in the mind, you’ve got to have that can-do attitude, it’s an open mindset, a growth mindset versus a closed or fixed mindset that I find so important to success.
Fred Diamond: Eric, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Eric Trexler: I think the two are time and focus. Where do you spend your time? I’ll count that as one, so let me give you three here. Then getting your people to think outside of the box, think outside of the way they’ve traditionally been told to sell. Looking at value selling, I’m working with Steve Thompson right now who’s a value selling coach, essentially and he’s brilliant. He talks about the customer, the value cycle and the deal and how it’s not about a deal, it’s about a relationship. He’s got one phrase that he uses from Theodore Levitt at Harvard University. “People don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill…”\
Fred Diamond: “…they want to buy a hole.”
Eric Trexler: “They want to buy a quarter inch hole”, right? We sell drills all the time, so one of the biggest challenges is getting the entire sales team – especially the engineers, because they’re trained on drills – what is the outcome the customer is really looking for? Even training the customer to think about, “Do you really care what the product is? Do you really care about how we solve the problem?” Usually they do, but what they really should care about is that quarter inch hole. How do we get the hole at the most cost-effective, most efficient whatever way it may be?
Fred Diamond: Take us back to the #1 specific sales success or win from your career you’re most proud of.
Eric Trexler: This is a deal I’m going to have to be very careful because it was in the classified space. The customer had a very unique large scale problem that dealt with nation state activity. They brought us in, they did not in this case want to buy a drill. They had a problem and they didn’t even know if a hole is what they were looking for. In working with them, my team and I were able to collaboratively work with them to define the problem, really to find the problem, brainstorm ideas and options around the problem and then bring some of those capabilities to bear in a multi-partner environment. In fact, we had competitors in the mix that we brought in to solve the problem.
I had a competitor at the time, their consulting was on my paper because I had a contract. I was literally selling my competitors’ consulting implementation services to solve the customer’s problem. The best part of it, it was a multi-year engagement and it resulted in tens of millions of dollars in sales for my company and others. The best part, though was the way we were collaboratively together. The individual I was working with was relatively senior but he didn’t have the entire budget and needed buy-in. We were down on the Hill working collaboratively together, we were in the Pentagon working together, we were within the organization working together. It was just a team effort to solve a national problem that we had, we saved lives, we saved tons of money at the end of the day through that program.
To me, there’s nothing more satisfying than that mission-focused outcome. I don’t care who your customer is, but when you know you’re helping them, when you know you’re doing something that really matters. That’s the best part.
Fred Diamond: Especially in the beginning where you said that they weren’t even quite sure what they needed. They weren’t sure, they definitely needed drill, they weren’t sure what the hole was and here you are coming to them, helping them come up with the solution. Eric, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, again, your mother was in sales so you said you went into sales kicking and screaming, so to speak. You even went the engineering route before you actually moved into direct selling. Looking back, do you ever question being in sales? Did you ever say to yourself, “You know what? This is too hard, it’s really just not for me”?
Eric Trexler: I never said it was too hard, and after I went into sales I never really questioned it. I have a different approach to sales. I remember reading an article on you, actually, your upbringing in sales and you were an editor. The editor, as the article goes, thought that they were the all-powerful, all-knowing and I think your comment was something a little more pragmatic. “If we weren’t able to sell the content they were creating, it really didn’t matter, did it?” I am so proud to be in sales, I love sales.
Sometimes we get derided as another used guy sales person, whatever, but the reality is from the beginning of time, if we didn’t have sales in some format or fashion, society wouldn’t exist. I see that as an enabler, I love what we do, I love watching my people sell and I really don’t question it. Fortunately in my role I’m able to podcast, I’m able to read, I’m able to write op-ed pieces, I write all of my own content, I’m able to speak. It gives me the ability to really diversify what I do, keep it fresh but also focus on what is really – my mom was right back in those days – it was my calling, it was my lifelong calling.
Fred Diamond: Eric, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the sales professionals listening around the globe to help them take their sales career to the next level?
Eric Trexler: We talked a little bit about mindset and attitude. I think the biggest thing, focus on the customer, focus on their outcomes, their needs. In the example I gave, the customer didn’t even know. I was in there working with them every day and I really said, “What if we tried something like this?” Which started the dialogue. Be courageous, you’re never going to be ready but jump in, if you want to be in sales be aggressive, be courageous, go in, be afraid. Don’t be afraid to fail, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. As long as you’re smart and you work your ass off – your hard work is probably another huge component – you’ll be successful.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about some of your selling habits that have led to your sales success.
Eric Trexler: Research is a big part, being prepared before going into a meeting. Too many times I see people go in and they wing it and that is a recipe for disaster. Focusing on the customer and their needs again, understand deal levers, communicate your desires, understand and tease out of the customer what their outcomes are. Know your outcomes, know theirs, communicate them. Then we have something and I’ll credit Steve Thompson again, he calls ‘deal levers’.
Know how you’re going to match your outcomes, your desires as a seller, if you will. You want to close the deal by a certain date, etcetera, you want to grow the size of the deal, you want to retain the size, you want to solve an enterprise problem, not a small departmental problem. Know how to map those with the customer outcomes and go for that win-win. The deal levers are, “Okay, we can do this but I need you to do this” and the deal levers are actually the techniques you use to map those outcomes together.
Fred Diamond: Let me ask you a question about that. I’m thinking here, when I interview the Sales Game Changers for the podcast, we talked about this before the show, typically the people I interview have been in sales leadership for 10, 15, 20, sometimes 30-35 years. There’s a lot of commonalities but one of them is that you’ve had relationships with customers along the way. I remember I interviewed Tamara Greenspan at Oracle, she’s been in the same general job for 30 somewhat years selling to the same customer so she’s had a 30 year journey. You talked about your mother’s funeral where there were 150 of her customers there so it’s not just a transaction like, “One time I went in there and I sold a whole bunch of desks”, Tamara sold something once and then she was out. You’re talking about a lifelong, in a lot of cases, relationship. Talk about that for a second, how critical are those long-term relationships in continuing to be successful? Because people don’t want to be sold and second of all, the customer is in control now. The customer is in so much more control that they make much more of a decision than you selling them, per se. It really is about the relationship and helping them achieve their goals.
Eric Trexler: I think the perception is they’re in control, I don’t know that they are actually in control. They have a lot more access through digital media to, “This is what I want” but I don’t know that they’re fully in control. Going back, it does make it difficult in relationships. I’ve been in the government a good bit of my career now, I have a commercial selling background also. We’ve seen a lot of turnover in the government. I don’t hire people based on their relationships, I hire people based on how they sell and how they build relationships.
You and I haven’t known each other for a long time but this is the start of a relationship. Trustworthiness, hard work, are you going to deliver on what you say you’re going to do? Are you going to overpromise or not? That’s how you build a relationship. I think relationships are at the fundamental basis of selling, but it’s not necessarily, “I go out golfing with Fred every week so he’s going to buy from me” because you may not. I may not have the best product, I may not meet the need. Relationship are important but they’re different. I have always sold on my technical ability and my commitment, my word. What you never want to do is just sell a deal and know it’s not going to work or sell something because you’re just trying to cash a paycheck. Those are the worst relationships, the worst selling experiences, I think and it can tarnish relationships, reputations, really personal and corporate level.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Eric Trexler: I mentioned learning, that’s a big part for me. I do use an executive coach, I’m always trying to get better. I listen to a lot of podcasts, I read a tremendous amount and I’ll read Stan McChrystal’s Team of Teams and how do I take that and apply that to a sales organization. It’s not always sales books, Neil Rackham is not necessarily on my best-seller list although I’ve read his numerous books. Podcasts, Ted Talks, the other thing I think is vacationing is important. I hope my people are listening. In this rat race world we never take time to come back and appreciate what we’ve done, what we’re doing. It’s always about the next deal but you’ve got to take time to reflect. For me, talking about a major initiative, just getting salespeople is a quarter to quarter year engagement and if you allow that, it will chew you up. Enjoy the ride, enjoy a vacation now and then. Take your vacation, it’ll clear your mind and make you a better salesperson, it will make you better for the customer. Learning is my answer.
Fred Diamond: Before we ask you for your final thought, I want to thank you for all the great insights you’ve given us today. I’m glad that James and Chris insisted that we get you on the podcast, you’ve given us a lot of great things here. Sales is hard, people don’t return your calls, again you went in kicking and screaming like you mentioned in the beginning because your mother was in sales and you saw her working till 2 o’clock in the morning every day. What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Eric Trexler: I like the challenge, I like winning, I like competing. I feel like I’m repeating myself here, Fred but watching my teams go into battle, the strategy piece, the planning, the execution, the win. What we do when we lose, how do we recover? How do we handle that when a deal slips? For me that’s fascinating, but it’s really about enabling. As a sales leader I think one of the big differences I see from an individual contributor is the span of control allows you to move a larger needle or move a larger problem. For me, the whole strategy is hard, it’s a challenge, it’s fun, it keeps me waking up every day. My commute is an hour and a half on the average day, I’m in the office whenever I’m not in front of customers because I love being around my people, I love being around sales.
Fred Diamond: Give us one final thought. You’ve given us so many great ones along the way, just give us something, one final thought to inspire our listeners around the globe.
Eric Trexler: I think results matter in sales. Everything we do should be geared around results, that’s what we’re here to do more so than anywhere else, we can measure them but it’s not always about the numbers. To the sales personnel, the individual contributors, the aspiring salesperson out there, focus on you. Don’t be envious of your peers, everybody thinks everybody is making a million bucks a year, it’s not the case. Focus on your customer, yourself, your business, put a plan together and enjoy the ride. To the leaders out there, focus on your people, be transparent and direct with them, have a plan, always look at how we make them better, how we help them. Again, focus on the customer, they are the reason we exist.