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EPISODE 172: 3Pillar Global Sales Leader Jennifer Ives Said If She Put Blinders On She Would Have Missed This Wonderful Opportunity
JENNIFER’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Don’t put blinders on. There have been so many opportunities that have opened up for me that if I had put blinders on and said – No, this is my path, this is what I’m going to do for a certain amount of time – I would have missed out on.”
Jennifer Ives is the Senior VP of Client Relationships at 3Pillar Global.
Prior to coming over to 3Pillar Global she held sales leadership positions at LiveSafe, Top Employers Institute, and Arlington Economic Development.
Find Jennifer on LinkedIn!
Jennifer Ives: You mentioned Arlington Economic Development in the introduction. I was there for many years. I led business investment for and crafted the innovation, economic development policies and strategy that the county has even today which laid the groundwork for the Amazon headquarters choosing Arlington. I’m really proud of that work.
Fred Diamond: That’s good, I saw that in the news. That’s big news for us. Again, we’re broadcasting to people all around the globe, we’re based here in the DC area so that’s big news and actually worldwide news, so good for you. Tell us a little more about what you sell today, tell us what excites you about that.
Jennifer Ives: At 3Pillar we build award-winning custom digital products for some of the largest brands in the world including PBS, NPR, Equinox, Forrester. What I also love is that we build amazing digital products for companies that no one’s heard of just yet until they’re acquired for a billion dollars and then everybody starts talking about them and I get to say, “I knew them when, we helped build digital products for them when” and then we stay with them when they’re acquired for a billion dollars and we continue to help build out their digital products.
It’s really exciting, we have about a hundred teams working on 150 different digital products in the marketplace all around the world and we were just recognized last week by the Software and Information Association and won a CODiE award as the Top Development Services Firm of the Year.
Fred Diamond: Tell us how you got into sales as a career. Again, you talked about technology but you’re also leading sales teams here so how did you get into the sales side?
Jennifer Ives: My story is a little different maybe than some of the other folks that you’ve spoken with and even some folk’s peers and others that I get to rub elbows with often. I started out actually on the engineering team at a company here in the DC area. My background was geospatial engineering and I was on the engineering team for a few years. My CEO – this was before the day and age where people and companies would really bring on solutions architects or solutions engineers into the sales process or even working directly with clients – he asked me to join him on a few meetings where there seemed to be a little bit of a miss between what the client or prospect was looking for and what we were trying to deliver.
He asked me one day in the hallway if I’d like to come to the meeting with him and try to figure out if we can really understand their headache. I always talk in terms of headaches and pain points and what the medication is for that particular headache. That was my first introduction to being on the revenue generation side as well as being upfront and very close to the leaders in not only companies that we were working for but also my CEO and my C-suite. Very quickly early in my career I moved from the first few years on the engineering team over to the revenue generation side and working with clients directly.
Again, really trying to figure out what their pain points were and making sure that we were talking the same language and understanding how to solution for their pain.
Fred Diamond: What did you go to college for? Were you an engineer major?
Jennifer Ives: Yes, geospatial engineering.
Fred Diamond: For people like me who don’t know what that means, just tell us real brief, what is geospatial engineering?
Jennifer Ives: I come from a long line of engineers in my family. In my family we are engineers of all sorts, mechanical, electrical, water resource engineers and when I got my degree in geospatial engineering about 20 years ago my entire family here in the DC area, in New England, Boston, beyond said, “Are you going to be able to get a job?” [Laughs] no one knew what that was because the super-secret agencies actually were hiring most geospatial engineers.
Today we all know Google Earth and we know Waze and we know all of these different technologies that are at our fingertips that consumers interact with on a daily basis. Geospatial engineers were the engineers to work on those projects and those products, so that was my life early on. Data, visualization of data and then making sure that revenue and that the businesses are growing based on data, that’s really what I love.
Fred Diamond: I’m going to ask you what were some of the key lessons you learned with some of your first few sales jobs when you made that shift, but as an engineer with an engineering background and a family in engineering, do you think differently as a sales professional? How do you think the engineering background has helped you in your thought process as a sales leader?
Jennifer Ives: That’s an interesting question. Again, as I’ve grown in my career and I have peers and those that I look up to in sales and revenue generation, it’s actually quite methodical. It’s quite similar to engineering, there is a very specific process and a craft that’s related to revenue generation and strategic growth and sales. I think the engineering background really feeds in nicely to that. I was a curious person by nature growing up, I was curious when I was an engineer and I’m curious to this day so maybe coming at it from an analytical perspective trying to figure out what it is that people are saying, where their pain is and then how to solve for that. Again, the best revenue generators that I know and some of the most successful business leaders I know approach it in the same way whether they have an engineering background or not.
Fred Diamond: Again, when your CEO asked you to join on that sales call you then made the shift into sales. What were some of the key lessons you learned in some of your first few sales jobs that have stuck with you through today?
Jennifer Ives: I think establishing credibility very quickly is key. No matter what kind of selling you’re involved with or what kind of product you’re representing, you need to know that product well, you need to know the industry well, you need to have deep education and background in it. Again, I highly recommend establishing credibility very quickly. I also recommend having empathy for the buyer, for the person – you’re going to hear me talk about pain points quite a bit – having empathy for what that buyer is going through, what he or she is dealing with on a daily basis and how your product or your services can really help him or her through that. Being a Sherpa of information trying to problem solve and get out in front of where that pain point might be.
Fred Diamond: We already talked about geospatial engineering being one of your areas of expertise, but tell us a little more about what you are specifically an expert in. Tell us a little more about your area of brilliance.
Jennifer Ives: I’m a revenue generator, I love to connect a problem set with a solution, that’s how I think of sales, that’s how I think of revenue generation. My area of expertise is really revenue generation, that’s why companies call me, that’s why friends lean on me, that’s why in my network people contact me, is to talk with them about strategically growing their company, how to do so, how to sell the particular product, what the product market fit is.
Fred Diamond: I have another question. We mentioned at the very beginning you talked about being employed by the Arlington Economic Development. How has that helped you? You made the shift into the commercial side, tell us about how working in the public sector for strategy and economic development has helped you as a sales leader.
Jennifer Ives: This is very interesting, too. I started out in the private sector side of the world and then when I saw what was going on in Arlington I really thought, “What if you took a community almost as a business?” – and their revenue really is the tax revenue into the county – “How would you grow that as a business if you were looking at the economy of a locality as a business? How could you grow that?” Some of the lessons that I learned there are some that are both public and private sector facing. They are credibility, building trust, knowing your client, your customer, your prospect, knowing them inside and out, what their pain points are, what their desires are, what their goals are sometimes before they even know what their goals are. If you can really elicit that and pull that out of them, again whether it’s public or private sector, that’s really the goal.
Fred Diamond: You’ve worked for some great places, you’ve worked for some great people. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Jennifer Ives: That’s a great question, I’ve had two that really come to mind. One actually was at Arlington Economic Development and he taught me early about credibility. He also taught me about really driving deals forward and asking the question, not just trying to solve the problem for your client or your prospect or the person that you’re working with. He was pretty wonderful, Terry Holzheimer, he passed away a few years ago and I thought the world of him as a wonderful mentor.
The other is someone that I worked with more recently in the last few years, Johann Labuschagne, he’s the head of Global Sales at Top Employers Institute, he’s based in Amsterdam. He reinforced through his actions that notion of one, that he was a leader who really put the team ahead of himself, that empathetic leader that builds trust with the team. Trust to him was more important than almost anything else. Earning trust with his team was #1. He knew revenue and business growth would follow. Johann is someone that to this day I will tap into every so often and we keep in touch personally as well, but he’s really someone who taught me about empathetic leadership and being one with the team. Without the trust of your team, without the backing of your team it’s very difficult to grow and to develop revenue.
Fred Diamond: What are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Jennifer Ives: I would say finding talent. Finding sales leaders who truly understand the process of revenue generation, of selling and of sales is not easy throughout the country, it’s definitely not easy in the DC area. I love to find diamonds in the rough, those folks who maybe think that they’re not salespeople and the more we talk, the more I say, “Actually, you are a problem solver, you enjoy doing X, Y, Z right around problem solving.”
That’s one challenge on the hiring side, the other is lead generation. It is a very different world today than when I, more than 20 years ago, started joining my CEO for conversations with clients and prospects. The kinds of deals that we could get done and the quickness and the pace at which we could close a deal is very different today. Lead generation is really interesting and it can be very challenging no matter what industry you’re in.
Research shows over and over again that buyers today spend much less time with someone in sales or someone who can help them solve their problem, they’re doing much more research on their own. Sometimes that takes them actually in a different direction that isn’t helpful to them but I think the most recent research shows that the majority of buyers come to you 70% of the way through their buying process. Again, many times they could have gone off in a direction that you could have helped guide them much earlier and save them time, energy, money, committee decisions, all sorts of things.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you take us back to the #1 specific sales success or win from your career you’re most proud of?
Jennifer Ives: I’ve had a really great career, I’ve worked with amazing people so to answer one, I’d have to say in the last few years we were working with a company that was having some trouble identifying. They thought they knew what the challenge was, they thought they knew their headache, they thought it was a migraine headache and it wasn’t, it was a stress headache and those two headaches are solved very differently. It took many conversations and many bringing in a number of our talented solutions architects and engineers and data engineers to really walk through and help them identify which kind of headache they had. Then when they got it, “Yes, that is the answer to my pain point. It took a little while to get there, thank you for hanging in with us during that process. We’re going with you, we’ve chosen you and by the way, our hair is on fire as you know and we need to start tomorrow.”
Literally tomorrow which clearly couldn’t happen, we needed to get through some contracting, we needed to get through a little bit of process but we were able to turn that around in very short amount of time and get started with the client and work with them, and bring results in a fraction of the time that it would normally take. Again, I am all about team and to see my team both on the sales side and the solution side and the engineering side, #oneteam all the way. I was really proud, it was a large global enterprise corporation, big brand, they had never worked with a company outside of their own partners that they had worked with before. We just solutioned it brilliantly, I’m really proud of the work that the team did and they’re a client to this day and they’re very happy. It was a wonderful experience.
Fred Diamond: Before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, again you started off as an engineer, geospatial engineering, that was a lot of your background. You also worked in private and public sector for some great companies, you’re doing some great work now with 3 Pillar Global, now you’re in sales. Did you ever question the move to sales? Just curiously, when your CEO asked you to participate in those conversations, what were you thinking? Were you thinking, “This is nuts” or were you thinking, “I’m interested, I’m curious”? Just curiously, where was your mind back then when your CEO first asked you to engage in these conversations with him?
Jennifer Ives: I thought, “This is the greatest day of my life! You mean I get to go and talk about technology and ask a lot of questions to the people that we are helping?” I was creating digital products and they would go with the client, so now I was actually able to sit and talk with them. I remember to this day, I thought it was the greatest moment of my life, I really did.
Fred Diamond: Did you ever question being in sales?
Jennifer Ives: No. [Laughs] I’ll beat you to it in the other piece of that. No, I love growing businesses and the way I think about sales is really bringing an answer to someone’s problem. I love it, I love that every day is different, I love that every year is different, I love playing and being involved in different kinds of technologies, in different kinds of digital products and solutioning pain points.
My entire career I have sold to the C-suite, even early on in my career when my CEO first came to me and asked me to play a little bit of a different role I’ve always sold to the C-suite. To be honest, I believe I’ve been very lucky that way because I’ve seen for over 20 years the decisions that C-suite executives need to make and the money involved, and the weight that they carry with those decisions. So no, I love it, every day is different and the experiences that I’ve had, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Fred Diamond: Jennifer, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals listening around the globe to this podcast to help them take their sales career to the next level?
Jennifer Ives: We’ve talked about it a little bit already today, but a couple of things one of which is build out your network and build it out in a credible way. To be in sales is not to be selling every moment, it’s in service of. Early in your career be in service, ask what you can do, build your networks, volunteer with different organizations, get on committees. Really understand who it is that you’re selling to, be part of their world in a credible way.
Again, build networks, build credibility and I think the other ties into it just a little bit, into building the credibility and building your networks, educate yourself. If it means earning a certificate in a particular technology if you’re selling into those particular buyer, that earns you credibility, do so. If it means attending conferences not only to network but to learn if it means again being on committees, joining organizations, listening to podcasts like this, it is so important. I come from a family where learning is ongoing, we’re lifetime learners so my role models growing up were always getting degrees, they were always learning, they were always taking classes. My mom, my dad, my aunts, my uncles. Be a lifelong learner.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about a selling habit that you have that has led to your continued success?
Jennifer Ives: Again, it’s a selling habit that I don’t think of as a selling habit. I think of it as being in service to people. I try my best to always have other people in mind and always reach out with what we would consider in sales as warm touches. To me, it’s when I read an article, when I come across a podcast, when I remember something that someone told me, shared with me, I send them a note. It’s a personal touch in today’s day an age of technology, it’s still a personal touch. You might use technology to send them that information but always thinking about people that you’ve touched in the past. It never fails, I have done work with people that I haven’t had the ability to be in front of in five years, but we’ve kept up through LinkedIn or through text or through email and every so often if something reminds me of them or I remember that they had a challenge, I send them some information on it. It might be six months, it might be three years but they remember and again you’ve built the relationship, you’ve built the credibility and I highly recommend it.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about a major initiative you’re working on to ensure your continued success?
Jennifer Ives: Here at 3Pillar we are really from a sales specific perspective working on the lead generation piece of it. The MQL’s, SAL’s, sales qualified leads and really pulling that into the entire commercial process of 3 Pillar. From a 3 Pillar global perspective, we’re working on something called product mindset, it’s how we live and breathe here. Our CEO and our head of product strategy and design just wrote a book on product mindset, it’s just coming out. It’s really a way that we look at product and the design of product. Product is ever-living, it’s ongoing, it never ends and it’s really important from the first year engineer working on the project for the product and in support of the product all the way through to the program. I’m talking about the product manager and maybe the delivery lead and the client partner, everyone to be thinking about in terms of our client, how can that product drive revenue and success and engagement for our client? How do they get their customer to engage more with their product?
Everyone thinks of product in that same way, it’s not just coding for coding’s sake or designing for designing’s sake, it’s what does our client need to do with that information and how do they need to grow their business? And how can our designing and development of their digital products, how can it help their business grow?
Fred Diamond: Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Jennifer Ives: I find it exciting, pure and simple. I find helping people identify their problem, their real challenge they’re trying to solve and then helping them solve it, I find that very inspiring. Personally, I grew up an athlete, I was a competitive swimmer, I have goals I like to achieve and I really also enjoy growing companies. As I mentioned, I’m usually called in when a company is in a growth pattern or when they are looking to grow or when they are in an inflection point, that’s when I’m called in and I love that. I love creating the strategy, I love building the team to deliver on that strategy and I’ve been very specific about the companies that I’ve worked with and that I’ve been in support of, the companies I advise. I advise companies as well and I find it very exciting.
Fred Diamond: What was your stroke, did you specialize in any stroke?
Jennifer Ives: Yes, I was a freestyler and a butterflyer although my back stroke was quite excellent. It wasn’t my favorite, but coaches would often call on me to swim. Clearly I was very weak in breast stroke but the other three strokes were so strong that usually I could make it up and on the last length pull it out.
Fred Diamond: How far did you go with swimming?
Jennifer Ives: I went through high school. I burned out on swimming at the end of high school, I loved it from the time I was five and then I burned out a little bit and then I turned over into some other sports. I’ve stayed active and I will say, I love hiring people on my team who are involved with sports or have been involved with sports as children. Any kind of sports, it’s about goal setting, it’s about stick-to-itiveness and knowing where you are today and how you can get better and creating a path for that. Anyone out there who’s involved with sports or was involved in sports give me a call, I love hiring sports people.
Fred Diamond: We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire them today?
Jennifer Ives: Don’t put blinders on, I live by that. There have been so many opportunities that have opened up for me that if I had put blinders on and said, “No, this is my path, this is what I’m going to do for a certain amount of time.” For instance, if I had put blinders on when my CEO said, “Would you please come to a meeting? I’d love for you to discuss this particular product for these reasons” – if I had only identified as an engineer and not been open to, “Let me see what this is all about” I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve had wonderful opportunities that if I had put blinders on. So don’t put blinders on in your career and in your life.