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EPISODE 207: Splunk Public Sector Sales Leader Frank Dimina Explains How a Growth Mindset Has Helped Him Tackle Every Sales Challenge He’s Faced Throughout his Career
FRANK’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Embrace the suck. Some of the territories that look really challenging or some of these projects that look really difficult, while hard and while challenging, can be the ones you’re most proud of and produce the greatest results. If you take on one of these challenging roles, if you are successful in that role, you’ll be legendary,”
Frank Dimina is the VP of Public Sector at Splunk.
Prior to coming to Splunk, he held sales leadership positions at Check Point Software and was at a number of startups typically in the cyber space.
Frank can be found on LinkedIn here.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Frank Dimina: Thank you for having me on the podcast. I’ve been in Arlington, VA about 20 years now which is crazy to think because I still consider myself a native New Yorker at heart. I just hit 20 years of marriage, I have two young kids, one middle schooler so life’s changing fast. I’ve been at Splunk about four years, it’s been a really exciting journey here. I would say for folks that know me well, they know my guilty pleasure is 80’s and 90’s hair metal bands, you can see from how my office is decorated.
I think I’ve seen Metallica live at least 20 times so that’s a little bit about me.
Fred Diamond: What’s your go-to song, Enter Sandman or something from Guns & Roses?
Frank Dimina: I’d say the Injustice for All album, that’s definitely I think when they’re at their peak.
Fred Diamond: That’s good stuff, I’m a big Tom Petty fan and Springsteen is usually where I wind up. What do you sell today? Tell us a little bit about Splunk and tell us what excites you about that.
Frank Dimina: Splunk is the world’s first data to everything platform and it’s designed to unlock trapped value by bringing data to every question, every decision, every action. Some folks out there said that data is the new oil and that’s a little bit of a stretch but I think there’s some truth there. When you think about data, there’s untapped value. Data’s coming at everyone, every agency, every educational institution from an unpredictable rate, an unprecedented scale and all of these agencies and schools are just awash in this data but their real challenge is turning that data into value.
A perfect example is just the state of threat intelligence today so a lot of noise out there, not a lot of signal. Extracting value from data is what really can make a difference for any organization, it can make the difference in whether you’re accomplishing the mission or not. We talk to organizations all the time about achieving a state of data leverage where they’re getting real insights, real value and actionable outcomes from the data they’re generating. This is not a binary state, this is actually a maturity curve and our goal here at Splunk is to help organizations progress down that curve and learn how they can extract more value and gain more data leverage.
Fred Diamond: A lot of people who listen to the podcast like to know who you sell to. Who is your primary customer? Is it a CTO, a CIO, program leader, who does your team typically try to go after?
Frank Dimina: It’s all of the above. Out of the box, Splunk is just a blank search bar. It’s an incredibly powerful platform that can help you make informed, confident decisions about cybersecurity, IT ops, de DevOps, application development, application management, cloud migration, even IOT and industrial manufacturing. The power of Splunk is the broad number of use cases and diverse scenarios where it can extract value from data.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk a little more about you. How did you first get into sales as a career?
Frank Dimina: Sales leadership is actually my third career. Well, it’s my fourth career if you count a 730 day stint in the retail world as an assistant buyer. I started in government IT contracting, did a short stint at the Pentagon and that’s where I started learning about cyber and quickly got involved in the cyber ops world, worked for some startups there and had a great run learning about what it means to be in a fast-paced, high growth, demanding cyber startup and in a cyber operations world.
After that, moved into a consulting job. In the consulting world got to see other parts of the business, business development, sales, marketing. When I was working as a consultant there was a time where I was helping the CEO go out and earn business and support him in his sales functions. We were traveling together to this large bank, work on a proposal we had submitted and do he oral presentations and on the way to the airport, his house catches fire, it literally catches fire.
His advice to me is, “Look, it’s just the two of us, you need to handle this sales call, you’re a great engineer and a great consultant, you can cover it.” I went down and did the presentation, it’s the whole board, president of the bank, first sales presentation I ever did solo. The customer said two things that I’ll never forget: first, they said that was ‘hands-down the worst presentation we’ve ever seen’ [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: Congratulations.
Frank Dimina: Second, though they said even though it lacked style, it was the most amount of substance of every presentation we had and that’s why they chose us. I actually remember that, I keep that as my North Star today as I lead a sales team and the great team we have here at Splunk. Be a source of value, substance is always more important than style. That was my epiphany and I realized that I enjoyed it and I could be really good at it and even though I had no formal sales training, I decided then to make the leap, took a sales rep role in another company and the rest is history.
Fred Diamond: The ‘value’ word comes up all the time on the Sales Game Changers podcast and we’ve interviewed hundreds of sales leaders around the globe. There’s a lot of themes that have come through the show and probably the #1 theme is that you need to provide more value than you’ve ever had to before and sales has always been about creating value. Just curiously, how do you coach your team, how do you coach your players to bring that value? What does that look like in what you do today?
Frank Dimina: The different careers I’ve had is what prepped me, it was my training to be successful in the role I’m at today. Working as a practitioner in IT, working in cybersecurity taught me how to use the products that I would one day be recommending to customers. Then the time I spent as a consultant helped me to learn how to be an adviser to a customer, how to understand their problem set and come up with solutions there might be. I talk to the team all the time, “Don’t be a salesperson, be a source of value, be a trusted adviser.” I know it’s an over-used term in our industry. What that means is getting to know your customers, creating a high level of customer intimacy so you can understand their problems before they even do and you can come to them with solutions to their problems before they even know they have the problem. That’s what a trusted adviser or a source of value means here to us.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about you. What are you an expert in? Again, you’ve had a lot of different segments of your career, tell us about your specific area of brilliance.
Frank Dimina: I’m finishing up my fourth year here and that’s four consecutive years of growth, good run here so far. I’ll tell you, it’s a team sport. It takes hundreds of people here to make it happen so I’m very blessed, I’m very lucky with the team I have supporting me. There’s two answers to this question, if you ask me what my expertise is, I only have one real talent and that is that I’m very good at getting the right person in the right role. That’s about identifying talent, what their future capabilities will be and what that career path looks like for them. I’ll talk about that in a minute.
If you ask my folks, the folks on my team I think they would give you a different answer, I think they would say that I’m a very creative sales leader. When someone wants to brainstorm on a new strategy or they’re dealing with a tough problem or they’re not sure of how to even structure a deal, one of my favorite things is, “Let’s just get in a room and start white boarding” giving them some coaching, helping them work through the decision and that’s when I know I’m adding value as a coach and a leader here. It’s the most enjoyable part of the job.
Fred Diamond: Again, you’re the Vice President of Public Sector for Splunk. Again, we’re talking on the Sales Game Changers podcast today to Frank Dimina, you must have had some great mentors along the way to help you get to this point. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Frank Dimina: There’s one leader that I learned a great deal from when I was at Check Point Software. I worked for a gentleman named Chris Scanlan, he was our VP of Sales there at the time. One of the things Chris taught me was about the power of direct feedback. Chris had a philosophy that we didn’t wait for annual performance reviews. After every sales meeting, after every call we discussed the outcome, we discussed how the call went and feedback was given constantly and instantly. I try and adopt that with my team today, it’s something that I think as a salesperson to improve, to hone your craft you need that constant feedback, you need to constantly inspect how each event went, how that sales strategy worked out. Chris taught me a lot about that and I believe his philosophy has been very helpful to this day.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, how do you do that? What is your style? Do you text, do you call, do you tell people to come in the office early? What are some of your recommendations on the best way to get that across?
Frank Dimina: It’s all of the above. Sometimes it’s silly when you have a Slack message going on and a text message and you get an email sometimes from the same person, it gets a little ridiculous but I think the best method of delivering that is right after a meeting. Like the huddle with the team and it’s out in the street or at a coffee shop, so how did it go? What did we learn, what did we not learn? What do we still have to find out and what sales plays or sales motions were successful in that meeting? What do we need to iterate and tweak for the future? It’s a mindset of continuous improvement and I think it works well for our team here given that we are in such a fast paced environment. What we’re doing, selling a platform for machine data analytics, there’s no recipe book for that so it’s a lot of on-the-job learning and constant iteration.
Fred Diamond: What are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Frank Dimina: I’ll give you two and I would say both are what we call ‘first world problems’. They’re challenges that I would have killed for at any other organization I’ve been at. As we’ve grown tremendously here at Splunk in the past four years, as our customer base has grown tremendously there’s two things I think about constantly.
The first one is around our customers, how do we ensure our customers how to be trophy customer experience? What that means is that they’re leveraging Splunk in a very successful way, that it’s not shelf ware and that requires us to really understand their mission, to get high levels of customer intimacy so we can make sure that whatever use case they’re using Splunk for is highly successful, it requires brutal focus in sales. In a lot of sales organization you close a deal and you move on and for us customer success is so important, it’s how we learn about the product and get to that next successful use case around the mission space.
The other one is around our employees and our team members. I’m stealing a line from our Chief Human Resources Officer, but we want their experience at Splunk to be a trophy work experience. We want all these folks years from now when we’re all retired or onto our next adventure to be able to say, “I was at Splunk when…”, “I was there when this rocket ship ride happened and it was great from my career and I learned a ton and I had this great coaching and development opportunities.” If we can pull off one of those, that’d be great, if we can pull off both of them then this really is a special place and a legendary experience.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you talk about that for a second? What makes Splunk a trophy place to work at, especially in sales?
Frank Dimina: I think everyone would give you a different answer. For me, I’ve talked about having a great team. Having a great team is wonderful but having a great team you trust, that’s way better. When you have a great team you trust, it enables risk taking so I know that I can be a little bit over my skis and take some risks because I have such amazing men and women backing me up to make sure that we stay on the right path and that the plan works. I built that trust by being accessible and that gets harder and harder as this organization grows.
One of the things I also think about is how do I continue to leverage being accessible? Because that’s what got me here, but as the organization has grown so much and we’re now 300-400 people, how do we continue that culture and that methodology and keep building that trust? In the end it sounds silly, but just carving more time for one on one’s and understanding all the team members, what they want from their career, what motivates them, it’s a difficult task but it’s important.
Fred Diamond: Frank, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, I’m just curious. Again, you’ve worked at Check Point Software, you’re with a number of startups, you started your career in retail, you worked at the Pentagon. What’s the #1 specific sales success or win from your career you’re most proud of?
Frank Dimina: I’ve told other people this line often, I can’t remember all the deals we’ve won but I can remember every deal I lost [Laughs]. We take a lot from those ones that we lost. I’ve been in this role about a year now, a little bit more, and what I enjoy the most is being a coach and mentor and seeing other folks succeed. Just even last quarter, we had a very strong quarter, public sector, team contributed a great amount to overall company success.
There’s tons of success stories, there’s individuals where you see them really struggling for a year or two and then the lightbulb pops and they have a great year and they land a big account. The coaching moments really are the fun ones but if I had to pick one, one of the things I’m quite proud of here is we have many young sellers or early sellers we’ve helped kick off their career.
When I got here there wasn’t as many advancement opportunities or coming up for folks that were in inside sales or in more junior roles and in my four years here we’ve promoted at least 12 inside sales representatives into field sales representatives. More than 12, but 12 of the folks that we promoted have already made President’s Club. We’ve seen some folks really advance their career her and do well and other reps that have moved into frontine managers, frontline managers that have moved into AVP’s. The career progression that I’ve helped enable is probably what I’m most proud of.
Fred Diamond: Before we take a short break, quick question. Did you ever question being in sales? Again, you’ve worked in the consulting side as well. Did you ever think to yourself, “You know what? It’s just too hard, it’s not for me.”
Frank Dimina: I never introduce myself or consider myself a sales guy. Early in my career I would definitely say when I was an engineer I had a very myopic view of sales, sales was a dirty word back then and I couldn’t see myself in that role. Frankly, I thought you went to sales if you couldn’t land a real job, but of course I couldn’t be more wrong. First off, it’s incredibly difficult. It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world. There’s extremely talented, smart people who work here and what’s attracted me to working at Splunk.
Second, what I’ve learned about sales, it’s where you find some of the most creative minds you’ll ever meet in the business world delivering on a very complex mission with limited resources, lots of unknowns, lots of constraints, it’s a challenge and it takes creativity to be successful at it. I’d say third, for the folks here on my team I know working in public sector sales why we don’t question despite all the difficulties is the mission’s important. We get to help brilliant men and women across government, across educational institutions, deliver on some really important things and help this country and help citizens and deliver citizen services. As a son of a World War II vet, the fact that we could contribute to the success of the mission really means a lot here.
Fred Diamond: Again, we based the podcast out of Washington DC although we’ve interviewed sales leaders around the globe so we’ve interviewed a bunch of guys and ladies who run sales teams for public sector and it always comes back to the mission. I also like what you just said, too. There’s no linear path to success in sales, you’ve seen that with entrepreneurs but in sales it’s the same way. You need to know process, you need to know your product and how it works, of course and of course you need that mindset but you also need that creativity because things get thrown your way. Sometimes the company needs you to do something different to generate some things that might not be in your course, but I would agree with you 100%. Sales is easily one of the most creative jobs in a company and as we know because of the podcast, one of the most critical.
Fred Diamond: Frank, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening around the globe to help them take their career to the next level?
Frank Dimina: I could think of two. First off, I think there’s a myth I’d love to dispel that you don’t have to be an extreme extrovert to become a great seller. I’ve met great sellers that come in all shapes and sizes, we have such a diverse team here and some of the best sellers we have are introverts. I think one of the things, when I meet folks outside our industry and they ask about being in sales, they think of the used car salesman, they think of everyone being extreme extroverts and it’s amazing the different types of personalities you see that, if they figure how to leverage their strengths, be successful in sales, especially in enterprise sales.
Second, something I’ll steal from one of my mentors here, our president Susan St. Ledger, is the importance of career pivots. Having a diverse work history is what makes me successful, what makes me better at my job. One of the things that I always employ to my own personal career decision was taking a long-term view. As I said, sales is really my fourth career and each of those other professions I had, I was moving up the management ranks, I was having success but I saw a long-term opportunity often by taking that pivot and moving into a new career field, I took a step down to take a step up. Sometimes everyone’s worried about what’s next and what’s the short-term plan. Having that long-term plan and being able to take a chance with some different types of careers and different types of job opportunities is what led me here today.
Fred Diamond: You said you started your career in retail, has that helped you become a sales leader?
Frank Dimina: It was interesting. I saw what a slow growth industry was like and I learned about competition, I learned about some of the decisions you must make when resources are constrained which was a great training ground. I worked for a company straight out of college called May Company and they got acquired by Federated, but they had an excellent management training program so straight out of school they put me through a several month long training program where we learned about marketing and pricing and gross margin and how to manage budgets. That training is used today, it was a long time ago but it was very valuable to my career.
Fred Diamond: I actually applied for that same program with a company called Bamberger’s which was purchased and I did not get in, so congratulations to you. Tell us about one of your selling habits that has led to your sale success.
Frank Dimina: First off, I talk about it so much here I think the folks are tired of hearing about it, but I really do believe in the power of a growth mindset. How it came about for me was a little bit naturally through those career pivots. Early in my career I worked in a security operations center and as a cyber consultant. In those environments, very fast-paced, very challenging technologies, constantly adapting, you have to be nimble, you have to be constantly learning and I had to learn technology I had no experience with. You’re going out to do a security assessment of an HPUX system, an operating system never seen before required that I created a discipline, I got very good at teaching myself. I may not know how to tackle this problem but I know I can learn about it, I know I can learn how to tackle this challenge so my skill became being confident enough that I could learn something new quickly.
When I switched over to sales, my first year in sales was okay, I didn’t hit my target but my second year in sales I was the #1 sales rep at my organization worldwide, and that was strictly because I didn’t know how to do it but I had the confidence that I could learn how to be great at sales. The growth mindset to me – and I drive my team crazy talking about it – is knowing that I can take on a tough challenge and I may not know the answers but I will learn how to figure out the answers, I will get smart about it, I will learn to be the best at it.
Fred Diamond: That’s actually a great point. A little twist here, we started using the hashtag #growthmindset when we post the Sales Game Changer podcast episode and almost every episode now trends on the hashtag #growthmindset so good for you.
Frank Dimina: We talk a lot about it here and I’d say there’s another one too, and it’s something that I think is important for the culture we’re trying to create here at Splunk Public Sector is just be direct. There’s so many folks in this industry that are not authentic, that spend a lot of time on trying to give you the answer you want instead of the answer you need and I think lastly it’s a rule we have here, just don’t be an asshole. Treat people the way you want to be treated, your reputation and brand is important.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Frank Dimina: At the risk of coming off a little cheesy here, everyone at Splunk really does believe that data literacy and data is the next big wave of technology, that we want to actually change the world. If you think about the past 20 years, the big changes in society, in economic opportunity were spurred by ways of technology. Access to the internet, mobile phones, ubiquitous Wi-Fi everywhere. We believe here that next up, that big wave is data literacy. Data literacy is an essential element to individual and global prosperity so we’re committed to creating tools that democratize access to data and make it easier for folks to use data. If you ask folks around here, we do believe that the ability to ask data-driven questions will help with confident decisions whether it’s education, legislation, public investment and to actually create economic opportunities for folks.
I’d end with saying that our goal is that more importantly than data, the tools that help people understand data will be pivotal to new opportunities, overcoming the toughest challenge and creating economic opportunities for all. A great example of that is what we’re doing here with our veterans initiative, right outside the office here we have a veterans wall where we recognize all the Splunkers that are veterans and what we’ve done over the past few years through our Spunk for Good organization is make all of our online training, all of our curriculum free for veterans.
We talk about how can Splunk change the world, how can we raise data literacy? One of the first areas we decided to invest in is the veterans’ community and we have great tools internally, we have great resource groups but externally, creating educational opportunities for folks coming out of service and how can they learn to become a data expert or raise their data literacy.
Fred Diamond: I want to ask you one last question. Sales is hard, it’s gotten tougher, as we talked about. I like your point here about ‘be direct’, there’s not a whole lot of time to waste, if you will but what is it about sales as a career that has kept you going? Again, for the Sales Game Changers podcast listeners around the globe, we’re doing today’s episode from Splunk’s public sector headquarters in Tyson’s, Virginia, it’s right outside of Washington DC. There’s a nice vibe, again we walked through the office, there’s a lot of energy, a lot of stand-up desks, a lot of beautiful colors here, if you will but what is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Frank Dimina: First off, the diversity of people you meet. As I was talking earlier, we see sellers, customers, partners that come from all walks of life. Even though you’re constantly meeting folks and it is such a diverse, unique crowd, in public sector sales the beltway is a closed community and you get to know everyone, you get to know the customers quite well. In the commercial world I think there’s more attrition and turnover in the customer base so that sense of community and the folks that work in public sector IT are a very interesting group of people.
I think second is just the dynamic nature and constant change of what we do. Talking about it earlier, we’re creating a market here at Splunk, machine data analytics is something that is new to a lot of folks or hasn’t been done before so it’s constantly changing. There’s no model we’re following, there’s no recipe book to do this but what I can tell you about that, the end result, the byproduct is that we never get bored [Laughs]. I’ve never had a day that was like any of my other thousand days here at Splunk and the work is really interesting, it’s really challenging sometimes but it’s really exciting. I never get bored here.
Fred Diamond: Give us one final thought to inspire our listeners today.
Frank Dimina: I do talk to a lot of folks here that are mature sellers, that are early sellers and my advice to them is often this: it’s so important to see the long game you’re playing for and to go after that. I think so many folks in sales are by nature short-term focused. They’re looking at a quarter ahead or they want to see the next year ahead and that year lined up. It’s an instant gratification approach sometimes and the folks that do really well consistently over a number of years, and I can think of a few of them here, they can see that they will sacrifice some of that short-term gratification. They have that long-term vision, that long-term plan and a lot of it comes down to just doing the hard work.
Folks, if you do the right things every day, the results will come and that has been my philosophy for the past few years here and it’s worked out very well. When you take that long-term view, the other pivot on that is embrace the suck. Some of these territories that look really challenging or some of these projects that look really difficult, while hard and while challenging, can be the ones you’re most proud of and produce the greatest results. If you’re somewhat early in your career and you take on one of these challenging roles, if you are successful in that role, you’ll be legendary, your resume is set. My advice is to focus on the long-term, don’t always just think about the quarter or year ahead. Where do you really want to go and how do we set you down that path? Take the tough road, take the challenging road.