EPISODE 628: Uncovering Hidden Sales Opportunities with Infinite Electronics’ Jason Koshy and Sara Wakefield

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Today’s show featured an interview with Infinite Electronics sales leaders Jason Koshy and Sara Wakefield.

Find Sara on LinkedIn. Find Jason on LinkedIn.

SARA’S ADVICE:  “Know your customer, and that’s really always 101 type of stuff. But at the same time, don’t cast the net wide. Focus, know how you’re going to measure success, and then pivot if you need to.”

JASON’S ADVICE:  “It’s self-awareness. Figuring out where you are and what’s going on around you and figuring out how to navigate it. Because there’s a lot of things you can do, but we have to be much more prescriptive in what’s going on in the world. That’s self-awareness and understanding of where you are, where you want to go to, what you’re facing, can really create a result-oriented successful result for the business and individually.”


Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us a brief introduction? Sara, why don’t you go first, give us a little bit of an introduction of what you do at Infinite Electronics, and then Jason, you give us a little introduction as well, and then we’ll get right into the meat of the conversation.

Sara Wakefield: From a title perspective, VP of Sales and Service. I have ownership for what we call our Customer Success Center, because we’re very customer centric, obviously. Everything that we do has the customer in mind. Really three roles within the Customer Success Center, being our inside sales team, our customer service team, and tech support. I think what’s interesting from an Infinite perspective with tech support is it’s really a differentiator for us. Many folks think about tech support as, “I bought something, something’s gone wrong. Let me call tech support.” This is actually offered free pre-sale. We help engineers understand what they need for their project, and make sure that they get the right part and get it quickly from Infinite.

Fred Diamond: Jason, how about you? Give us some introduction about you, and also tell us, a lot of people who listen to the podcast, they always ask me, tell us who your guest serves. Without going into a huge detail, just tell us some of the customers that we’re going to be talking about today.

Jason Koshy: I’ve been with the company and in sales for 25 years, so it’s a long time. You don’t always see people staying with the same company for a lot of years. But through the years of acquisition and various experiences, I started in individual contributor sales with an engineering background, did tech support, and then really moved into management roles. Over the years, I’ve been very lucky to move into this current role of Vice President of Global Sales for Business Development. Really the outside team, the tip of the spear of generating new opportunities and adding new customers really is the focus of my group. I think in general, most people from a B2B perspective are always looking to figure out how to structure their people and how to, especially with everything changing, how do you get to the customer nowadays with the post-pandemic situation. That’s really where a lot of my focus and time is today, is how do we get to customers with everything going on in the world.

Fred Diamond: Actually, we service, at the Institute for Excellence in Sales, some of the biggest brand names in tech, and professional services, and B2B. Every sales leader that we talk to says that is the number one challenge, is how do we be, today, moving forward, not just because we’ve changed and the world has changed, but because our customers have changed. They’re trying to figure that out, and our customer’s customers are trying to figure out that as well. Let’s get grounded here today. Again, we’re doing today’s interview in August of 2023. Where are we right now? Obviously, it’s been challenging for all the reasons everybody listening is familiar with. What are you seeing today from your customers in terms of their outlook on the marketplace? How are they being with you, which has led to some of the transformational ideas that Jason just brought up?

Sara Wakefield: I think we’re seeing what a lot of the other industries are seeing. I think it depends on the type of customer in the market that they’re in as to what their mindset is, whether it be aerospace and defense, which is extremely strong, or telecommunications, which maybe is not. But I think what is really key from a sales perspective is to understand your customer and understand what market they are in. Are they working through excess inventory? Are they a smaller customer that is really just struggling to survive at this point with what’s happening in the market coming out of COVID, et cetera? I do think it’s different based off of the customer that you’re speaking to.

Jason Koshy: The biggest thing for our group is just really navigating the individual customers. You asked a little bit about where are the customers and who do we talk to. We’re in various industries that start from telecommunication, military, energy. We’re in some emerging markets like EV charging and involved with the large carriers that you would know that are advertising all the time for their cell phone packages, all the way to very small customers that are startup that are looking for the same thing. Sara talked about technical support and a little more handholding to help them get their platforms to broader customers.

The biggest challenge for us really is being more prescriptive. I see a lot of sales in general, I’ll use the cold medicine analogy, we’re going to give cold medicine to everybody, and that helps some people if they have a cold. But if you got a broken leg, cold medicine’s probably not going to do anything for you. I am more focused on being prescriptive. Let’s understand from a sales team perspective, what does the customer need? What are their challenges? Because it is unique. We’re all seeing the same things, too much inventory, interest rates going up, the cost of money is more, employee challenges. We’ve got customers cutting back at violent pivots that I’ve never seen in 25 years. We’ve got large companies cutting back in the middle of the year spending by billions of dollars, not hundreds of millions, but billions. I think those are very unique things, and I think that’s why you have to be much more prescriptive in diagnosing what’s happening.

Fred Diamond: Sara, I want to go back to something you mentioned. We need to understand the customers. Like Jason just alluded to, there’s been a lot of disruption that no one, I hate to say no one foresaw to make it seem like we’re not paying attention, but it’s happened much more quickly than we might’ve anticipated. How do you suggest that sales professionals get to understand what their customers are going through? What are some of the prescriptive things, to use Jason’s word, and then, Jason, you could chime as well, what are you doing to ensure that you understand what your customers are really going through? Then how are you managing or working with your sales professionals to ensure that they have this knowledge and that they’re doing the right type of research or information gathering? Because customers don’t need you if you’re not providing real value. It’s real value right now, because like you alluded to, there’s so much disruption. Sara, how are you ensuring that your sales force and you are equipped to know those types of things? Try to get specific as you can. What are some of the daily things you do to be at that place?

Sara Wakefield: I want to answer that in two ways. One, Jason and I were talking about this the other day, and I think it’s more relevant now than ever, the human aspect. We cannot separate that from the business. We have all been through a lot, as the saying says, we’re all maybe in the same sea, but some of us are in a yacht. Some of us are treading water. We have to look at the human aspect, not just from our employees, but from our customers. I look at it as it is my responsibility to lead with empathy in order for the folks in my staff to also treat our customers with empathy. Because you don’t know what somebody is going through at the moment, and sales is relationship, so understanding the customer.

So much of what we do is via phone. A lot of it’s not even to where we’re on Zoom like we are today. It’s reading those cues, understanding the tone, and really leading with empathy there. On the other side, when we look at it from a business perspective, it is important to do our research. I think often in a market like this, we throw a very, very wide net and see what we catch. I think it should be much more focused. As much as you need to know your customer from the human aspect, you need to understand where that customer’s mindset is. Do your research before you pick up the phone. I’ll give you an example.

Currently, one of the things that we’re doing from an outbound perspective is we’re looking at customers that purchased from us last year that aren’t purchasing from us this year. One, we want to understand why. The why is so key. Asking those questions, the active listening, letting the customer talk, and then to Jason’s point, helping us understand how do we overcome their challenges? Maybe that conversation doesn’t lead to a sale until 2024, or maybe not. Maybe we gain more business today through that relationship doing our homework, looking them up on LinkedIn, what are they posting? What are they talking about? Really understanding what’s going on in their key market as well.

Fred Diamond: Jason, how about you? What are some of the information-gathering things that you are ensuring that your sales team does? I’m just curious, how adamant are you to them that they should be doing this type of thing? What are your recommendations for the people listening today?

Jason Koshy: I think empathy is a key word. Since the pandemic, and we’ve had to take everybody home, now that we’re doing a hybrid model, you look at all of those transitions and the weight that people had to deal with, the isolation. I think empathy is really important. For us, it’s about discovery and voice of customer. I really have to emphasize how important that is, because it goes back to the prescriptive opportunity that we can engage a customer, understand what their challenge is. It’s easy to just throw a bunch of products and, “Here’s what we can do. Hey, I’d love to sell you this,” but you know what? They might not need that.

What they might need is a faster lead time and they already know what they want. They might need help in technical ways to make this product perform better, cost savings, alternatives. I feel that resources for our customers are just like us. We’re all cutting back and we’re being responsible with the business, and being responsible with the business for a lot of our customers is significant cutbacks and headcounts. People in these organizations are being asked to do more, greater volume, less time, and go, go, go. It’s meeting after meeting, it’s calls.

I think that getting every salesperson to understand that, we do a lot, me and Sara spend a lot of time collecting data. We have a common place where we have salespeople fill in information on key questions we want to ask key customers. We take that across multiple markets and we see what it looks like and look at the individual market and see what’s happening. Then we work with sales team from a coaching perspective, and we say, “Look, these customers, we’re seeing these kind of things. This is what you need to focus on.” I think that’s where you can get very prescriptive. For salespeople, it’s a routine. Prospect, develop your funnel, close the business, and it becomes routine. I tell them, “None of my sales guys are the same. Why do you expect our customer interactions to be the same?” Each person that we’re dealing with from a customer perspective. From the engineer, all the key influencer sourcing, the financial impact person, all of those people are individual personalities.

Let’s work on solving a problem, understanding what the customer’s need is, and then being prescriptive and being responsive. Sara said it before, I can’t tell you how many customers have told us, “Hey, your competitors don’t respond quickly. They take a day or two to respond.” We want to respond same day within a couple of hours. If we can’t respond and have an answer, let them know, “We will get back to you the next day.” That interaction is important, especially for somebody who on the other side is super busy interacting with lots of people. We want to make it easy for them, and we want to make sure that they’re not worried about our interaction with them and that we’re going to be on top of it.

Sara Wakefield: I wanted to add something. I absolutely agree with everything Jason said. I think one of the key things as well is being very targeted with the approach. As I mentioned earlier, just throwing the wide net is not what’s all always going to work, but having a way to measure that success and being humble enough to determine when it’s not working, and to correct-course, and to explain to our folks why this didn’t work, what was beneficial coming out of it, versus what is not, what do we learn from it, and what do we move on to the very next thing. Being very focused and very targeted in very specific activities with being able to measure that success and quickly be able to pivot if it is not working, I think is extremely key as well.

Fred Diamond: Again, there was a lot of turmoil during the pandemic, of course, and everybody was rediscovering things. Some people would say, “Well, I’ve been through the 2008 recession and 9/11 and all those things.” The last three years were obviously completely different than those once we started getting into them. How have you managed your sales professionals? How have you helped them? You used the word empathy. We did a survey of all the words that have been uttered over the Sales Game Changers Podcasts over the last three years, empathy was number one with a bullet. Empathy came up in the 285 episodes, 212 times. Empathy is big and it’s strong. How are you using that as leaders with your team?

Jason, you mentioned that sales professionals, they know what to do, but not necessarily. They’re trying to navigate this, and they are still navigating maybe what their spouse has gone through, or some of the remnants of being an at-home teacher, and all the things in our lives that we’re still struggling with. Sara, why don’t you go first? How are you as a leader being empathetic towards your sales team? I’d like you to break it down, if you could, by senior sales professional and by junior, someone who’s maybe in their first five years of sales. There may not be a difference, but I’m just curious if you could distinguish that.

Sara Wakefield: That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure that I would answer it differently based off of tenure. I think it’s about the individual’s experience coming in, regardless of how many years they’ve been in sales. I used this word earlier, transparency. I would hope that if anybody in my org was asked what type of leader I am, they would use the word transparent, because that’s extremely important to me. I think when you lead with transparency, you build trust, you build rapport, to where when there are issues with your employees, they’re going to feel comfortable having a conversation with you. I feel I can be pretty tough, but always very fair. I believe in accountability, but I also believe in bending over backwards for our employees that come in, work hard, have a strong work ethic. I’m going to be flexible all day long with those individuals because I have a happy employee, I have a happy customer as well. But it all goes back to transparency and leading that way to be able to build that rapport with your team regardless of tenure.

Fred Diamond: Jason, how about you? How are you working with your sales professionals at this point?

Jason Koshy: Just for clarification, when I was talking about salespeople knowing what they’re doing, I think that is the problem, because I think you’re doing the same behavioral things that you would’ve done prior to the pandemic. There’s been no time in our history that we’ve seen war, pandemic, a fantastic year like last year where supply chain challenges created massive orders, and now we’ve got overstocking as a core driver of why we’re not getting new business, and people are trying to shed the inventory. Then we’ve got people cutting back for greater profitability. I don’t think there’s ever been a time as a sales leader where we’ve ever seen a time where so many of these things exist.

I think it’s important to get salespeople to get out of themselves and see the change and be able to navigate it. Not just a change of how to deal with a customer, but how technology, and even AI, what’s happening with all the AI things going on. I think it’s really critical that you do look at, and maybe a little bit different spin than Sara, you got to look at the senior guys versus the new guys differently. The new guy coming in with less experience, from an experience level, they’re much more of a better sponge. The senior guys come in with, “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, 30 years, and I know what I’m doing and I know how to create a pipeline.” But how you interact with customers, LinkedIn, social networking, trade shows are different. Think about what trade shows used to be and what they are.

There is a lot of violent change, and that’s where the coaching part has to be really emphasized with everybody’s teams, and the KPIs, to what Sara said. If you don’t have good KPIs that are showing you the right result, you have to pivot. Change management and pivoting is probably the best lessons learned coming out of the pandemic, in my opinion. How many times have we had to pivot? “Go home. Come back to the office. Hey, we’re having great sales, you can just sit back and get a PO.” This year, everybody’s in the same bucket of business with even more competitors trying to get the same sale. How do you get the sale versus everybody else? These are massive pivots in the last six months.

Fred Diamond: They really are. It took 19 minutes for us to utter AI. Again, we’re doing today’s show in August of 2023. I want to ask you a different question that’s not going to be, how is AI impacting everything? Because I’m sure we could probably uncover that, but we’ve addressed that and we’ll continue. I wanted to ask you a slightly different question. I interviewed a Senior VP of Sales at a top 10 technology company recently. He said that they are taking linear algebra classes again to understand the nature of how their technology is impacting what customers need to do. Remember, in high school, people said, “No one’s ever going to ask me if I’m ever going to need to know linear algebra.” Well, this is a guy with a company that everyone listening to today’s show has heard of, he said, “We literally went through a class on rethinking and learning linear algebra.”

Different question here, Sara, you go first. What are you learning right now? What are you devoting your time and energy to learning right now as a sales leader in a technology organization, a sales driven organization? Jason, same thing for you. What is something that you’re each having to learn or learn again, and I’m not going to ask you to unlearn, but what’s something you’re learning right now, you’re devoting time and energy to learning?

Sara Wakefield: That’s a really good question. I almost have to ponder that for a moment because I’ll tell you, the first thing that comes to my mind is Googling to try to help my fifth grader with her math homework, is what I am trying to learn right now, because things are so different these days. I keep going back to the same thing, Fred, but to me, my role is to set my folks up to be successful. If they are not successful, I’m not successful. It goes back to, I’m not going to pull AI or any of those things, those are just tools. I think that we’ve forgotten some of the soft skills. It’s important to have the right tools in place, et cetera, but I think everybody has to step back for a moment. We have to look at where we are in the world today, and we’ve become so desensitized to so many different things.

Again, going back to a comment I made earlier, sales is relationships. It’s going back to some of those one-on-one types of things. That’s what we’ve been focusing on, even with our sales team, is those soft skills. When you say you’re going to do something, do it and do it every single time, the follow through. I don’t know if it is something new that we are learning, it’s the fundamentals that sometimes I think that we forget. That’s what I’m focused on right now, personally and also with my team.

Fred Diamond: Jason, how about you? What is something you’re learning?

Jason Koshy: Well, and I think this is a continued learning, it’s data analysis. It’s seeing the data with all the different ways it’s presented nowadays. When previously you look at revenue and say, “Hey, did I hit my revenue goal? What are my customers doing? What does that really mean?” We look at data very differently, I think, today, and coming out of the pandemic, there are more companies offering consulting services, looking at your data, predictive models, looking at trends, seeing things that we might not have historically focused on. Right now, with the competitive market, I think being more data driven and looking at even the outliers of information that’s out there and making slight pivots there can help with struggling businesses. I think that is an area that, for me, from a growth perspective, I try to focus on all the time. We have a fantastic CEO, and our CEO, spending time with her, that’s one of the focuses for our business over the years has been, is what does the data tell you? What do the customers tell you? Then when you take those two things together, what is it that we want to do next? I think that’s important.

Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final action step, I’m going give you an opportunity, which I very rarely do, even though I’ve done over 650 episodes of the Sales Game Changers Podcast. I’m going to give you 30 seconds to pitch to sales professionals why they would want to come work at Infinite Electronics. I’ll be honest with you, I very rarely do this. You both have done a great job talking about what sales professionals should be doing and/or thinking right now, but why is Infinite Electronics a great place to work? I don’t know where you are with hiring and all those kinds of things, doesn’t really matter, but I’m going to give you both the opportunity. Jason, you go first. You got 30 seconds, you got a great candidate who’s deciding between, which is a gift for them to be deciding between two or three of your competitors, or maybe even a company outside. Give me 30 seconds on why they should come work at Infinite Electronics. Then Sara, I’ll give you the same opportunity.

Jason Koshy: I think we do a great job from a culture perspective. If you look at our sales tenure, we’re in the 15-year range. I’ve got guys that are 34 years in sales, if you can imagine. I got one guy that just finished his 35-year anniversary. I think that speaks volumes of what our organization currently is. For those who don’t know the organization, I really think it’s a culture. It’s about winning together. My management style is not just to manage, to get in the trenches, work with our customers, help our salespeople, and really, it’s to make them better professionals in what they do in their job. If they can do their jobs better and we can provide coaching, training, and improve the areas that they need to grow in, they’ll be more successful. Winning is key. I’m a very competitive person, and I tell all my sales guys, “I hate losing. Let’s focus on how we win.” I think getting to your goal year over year has been a great success for our sales team. That’s why people say, because you reach your goals, you make your commission, you get your accelerator on bonuses, and I think that really explains a winning culture where people want to be a part of it.

Fred Diamond: Sara, give me the 30 seconds. Why should I come work, if I’m a successful sales professional, at Infinite Electronics?

Sara Wakefield: I actually have been with Infinite for a little over a year now. On the flip side, from what Jason shared, I was with another company for almost 25 years as well, and quite frankly, thought I would retire with them. But when I started talking to the executive leadership team at Infinite, I knew right away, they offered me the job, “I’m going to make that change.” It was a huge, huge change for me. The reason I did it is the same exact reason anybody should come and work at Infinite. There’s two things. One, from a professional standpoint, they’re going to give you the tools to be successful in your role. But I also think that often companies do not look at the whole person. They look at the professional side of the person. That is not the case at Infinite. You’re not treated like a number. We do not work in silos. We are all marching to the same beat, and we all know what success looks like, and we make sure that our peers, the folks that are in our reporting structure, our executives, all of us, we’re setting everybody up to be successful, personally and professionally, and that’s important.

Fred Diamond: As we end every Sales Game Changers Podcast, I want you both to give us a final action step, what people should do right now after listening to the podcast or reading the transcription. You’ve given us some great ideas. Jason, why don’t you go first, something nice, concise, and crisp that people should do at this moment?

Jason Koshy: It’s self-awareness. Figuring out where you are and what’s going on around you, and figuring out how to navigate it. That really is the best action item I can give anybody else. Because there’s a lot of things you can do, but we have to be much more prescriptive in what’s going on in the world. That’s self-awareness and understanding of where you are, where you want to go to, what you’re facing, can really create a result-oriented successful result for the business and individually.

Fred Diamond: Sara, bring us home.

Sara Wakefield: From a sales perspective, right now it’s knowing your customer, and that’s really always 101 type of stuff. But at the same time, don’t cast the net wide. Focus, know how you’re going to measure success, and then pivot if you need to.

Fred Diamond: Once again, I want to thank Sara Wakefield and Jason Koshy for being on today’s Sales Game Changers Podcast. My name is Fred Diamond.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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