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EPISODE 081: RiskLens Sales Executive Jesse Sun Shares Three Secrets on How to Successfully Sell Cybersecurity Solutions
JESSE’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “You have to be passionate about what you’re doing, otherwise it’s a very hard job to do. Along with that passion, you got to be proud of what you’re doing each and every day and take ownership. I think the difference between good and great sellers is that they take accountability and ownership of everything that they do.“
Jesse Sun is the VP of Sales for RiskLens.
Prior to RiskLens, he ran sales and marketing at Natural Insight.
Before that he was at Parature for nearly ten years. Parature, of course, was sold to Microsoft.
Find Jesse on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: For the people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, we’re broadcasting today from Reston, Virginia. It’s about 15 miles outside of Washington DC, not far from Dulles Airport.
Cyber, selling cyber solutions is huge in this area and Jesse, before we get into some details about your career, you’re in a very crowded space I guess, cyber in general. You probably have a specific solution. How clear is it to get your message out into the marketplace when there’s so many companies – there’s even an incubator not too far from here that has probably about 30, 40 companies so how has that been to get your specific message about how you help companies with cyber challenge get out there?
Jesse Sun: We focus our message on the business side of cyber and cyber risk so we don’t do any of the first or second line of defense, we’re not in the business of anti-virus or malware or DDoT preventing DDoS attacks o monitoring. What we’re doing is we’re providing a lot of the key executives at these organizations with a tool, a SaaS product to actually quantify cyber risk into the financial terms so that they understand how to clearly communicate to boards on what level of cyber security investments that they really need as well as how to prioritize where they invest those funds for second and third.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Take us back to the beginning of your career, how did you first get into sales as a career?
Jesse Sun: Oh, gosh. This is back when I was still in school at UT in Austin. I actually worked in an organic chemistry lab for two summers when I was still in school, it’s a prestigious position but only if you’re an aspiring chemist so the stipend really wasn’t anything to brag about and a friend of mine pulled me into selling cell phones part time so that I could make a little bit more money and all the while I worked for Sprint selling cell phones and our Southwest team was just doing a great job. That whole experience put me on a very different trajectory and course in life and I just never looked back.
Fred Diamond: One of the greatest entrepreneurs of the tech industry, Michael Dell, started out at University of Texas in Austin as well. Is that an area that’s ripe with entrepreneurship and has that helped you become a sales leader?
Jesse Sun: I was born and raised in Texas and I had to actually do something very different so I moved and I flipped a coin – heads I was going to go out West, tails I was going to come out East and here I am. I think Austin in that market back when I was still in school was still just coming around. Dell was a big deal, Rackspace had just got started, Motorola had a big campus there, Strong and Biotech but it’s nowhere near the same scene that it is today, especially with South by Southwest. It’s exciting, it’s an exciting time to be in Austin and a lot of companies are actually opening new offices there, they’re relocating their headquarters to Austin, Texas, it’s a great place to live and it’s a wonderful town.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key lessons that you learned from selling the cell phones back in the day at your first job out of school?
Jesse Sun: A lot of hustle, a lot of grit and never come home empty-handed. You got to be a good listener but you got to ask the right questions, you got to really understand who your customer is, where they’re coming from and perhaps try to walk a mile in their shoes to really understand what motivates them. As a function of that, you’ll start to understand how to solve some of their problems and that’s true if you’re selling cell phones or if you’re selling RiskLens.
Fred Diamond: You used the word grit, what does grit mean? Tell us what you think grit means as it relates to selling.
Jesse Sun: This actually reminds me of a job that I had between my time moving up here and getting started at Pariture. I was in a commission-based only job knocking on doors and grit basically says you can’t come home empty-handed. You have to really work a full day and don’t give up too easily. If we didn’t sell anything that day, you actually didn’t get paid at the end of the week so it really teaches you the value of hard work and determination.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Tell us a little more about you. What exactly are you an expert in? Tell us a little more, Jesse Sun, about your area of brilliance.
Jesse Sun: I think that some of the things that I think about that have helped me along the way is one, you got to find a good mentor that believes in you, that can give you some good advice when you’re not too sure about the next step in your career or your life but also observing how other people sell I think is a big one. I had an old sales manager back when we were selling cell phones and he said, “Jesse, you got to spend time with every single sales rep on the team and you got to watch for what they do well. Every person does one thing really well. Pick up all these really good habits, make them your own and you’ll do great things.” That’s always stuck with me over the years.
Fred Diamond: What about you, though? What are you an expert in, what do you do really well that no one else does? You’ve reached the VP level of sales at a company called RiskLens. What is it about, what do you do specifically well that no one else does?
Jesse Sun: That’s a tough question to answer but I think that one thing I’ve really done a good job of is maintaining a strong network over the years and I think part of that comes with some of the practice along the way. One thing I would say is I like to call people and talk to them when I don’t need anything, actually. That’s one of the big things because when I actually do need something I still want to be able to get that person’s help and I think over the years I try to find time and opportunity during the day to give people a call and say hello and stay in touch.
Fred Diamond: Very good. You mentioned mentors, tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Jesse Sun: That’s an easy one, Ching Ho Fung is Northern Virginia’s finest. He’s a tech titan, he was an angel investor, not just at Pariture but also at Blackboard and he’s made a number of investments over his tenure but he gave me a chance. He had hired me at Pariture and put me under Lee Wang who’s over at Wedding Wire and I owe a lot to Ching Ho because he gave me a chance to actually build a career in software enterprise sales and he taught me over the 10 + years of things from managing expectations, not just at the executive level but at the board level, he had taught me about being a good leader and getting to know the team. Really impactful mentor for myself.
Fred Diamond: Do you still keep in touch with him?
Jesse Sun: Absolutely, yeah. He’s out in Kirkland.
Fred Diamond: Very good. As a sales leader, what are two of the biggest challenges you face today?
Jesse Sun: I think probably some that I share with a lot of other sales leaders. One is recruiting, we’re always looking for top talent – in fact, we’re hiring at RiskLens. It’s tough to find really good people as you know, right Fred?
Fred Diamond: Yep.
Jesse Sun: I think another challenge is building a scalable and repeatable sales machine and that means we have to fine tune everything from the top all the way down to the bottom but it starts at the bottom. It starts with a good foundation of training and on boarding and then we have to motivate our team, find the right people and then set goals but along the way that’s the fun part. That’s what I love about my job.
Fred Diamond: This is Fred Diamond, this is the Sales Game Changers podcast. We’re talking with Jesse Sun, Jesse’s the VP of sales for RiskLens. It’s a company that focuses on the business side of cyber, it helps companies understand the risk that they’re facing from cyber challenges, if you will. Jesse, take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Again, you’re running sales for RiskLens, you were with a company called Pariture for 10 years that eventually got sold to Microsoft and you were also with Natural Insight. Take us back to the one moment, your biggest win that you’re most proud of.
Jesse Sun: I think about a really big win, it’s a local company that we sold to here over in Rosslyn and it took over a year but it ended up being a significant win for the business because it pushed the business above and beyond the entire company goal. It definitely was one of the situations where it helped not just myself personally but everyone around us, everybody that worked on the deal, it was a big team win and I think back about the complexities of that win, there were a lot of lessons learned but I’ll tell you the funny thing. The CIO of this company eventually called me and said, “Jesse, I’m down here in Harrisonburg, I’m in the office at Harrisonburg and the only way I’m going to sign your contract is if you get in the car right now, you drive down to Harrisonburg to pick it up in person.”
Fred Diamond: Why would he do that?
Jesse Sun: [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: What was the point?
Jesse Sun: Well, you know me. I got in the car not even 10 minutes later and I’m driving down 66 and he calls me back, says, “Jesse, are you in the car? Are you on your way here? I’m waiting to sign this contract” and I said, “You bet, I’m going to be there in an hour.” [Laughs] he says, “You don’t need to actually come down here, I’ve already signed it and I’m going to fax it back to you” but I’d already gone more than halfway down to Harrisonburg so I said, “Well, I’m just going to show up and I’m going to get the contract.” Those are some of the fun memories that I have of that big win that we had.
Fred Diamond: What was the point, was he just trying to test you to see how committed you were to his business or was he just a joker? What was the point?
Jesse Sun: I think along the way we try to build good rapport with our customers and I like to think that we’ve still got a good relationship and as we were finding the opportunity to work together, I think he wanted to have a little fun along the way as well.
Fred Diamond: For the people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, it’s about 100 mile so Jesse was prepared, he actually did. He got in his car and drove 100 miles from – where were you, at Rosslyn at the time?
Jesse Sun: Yeah, that’s right, in Tysons Corner.
Fred Diamond: Jesse, you’ve had a nice career in sales, so far you have a long way to go. Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Jesse Sun: Never. This is who I am and I think like I said in the beginning, getting my first opportunity to sell cell phones back in the day, I loved it and this is who I am today. It’s how I feed my family, how I make a living and I’m proud of it.
Fred Diamond: RiskLens works on the business side of cyber, helps companies understand their risks and helps them understand what some of the challenges they may face as they encounter challenges in the cyber space. Jesse, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Jesse Sun: I think this is a good question. I think about high activity as one, so staying busy and being busy means a lot of different things. Not being busy with email, not being busy with Facebook but instead being busy that’s customer facing or prospect facing so maintaining high levels of activity is really important and then also role play. Role play is a really big one, this is how we actually to continue to improve a lot of the training and ongoing education here at RiskLens. It’s all about putting yourself in an uncomfortable position and perfecting a lot of those imperfections.
Fred Diamond: You’ve mentioned during the course of the podcast that you’re hiring, what does an ideal sales professional look like at a company like RiskLens?
Jesse Sun: I think a lot of people that are probably one or two years out of school that have some level of professional experience but you don’t need to have a background in cyber. You have to be willing to learn, coachable but also motivated and competitive. We want to continue to build out top tier, top talent sales team here at RiskLens and I think a lot of junior selling professionals out there that have those characteristics could be a good fit.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What are some of the things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Jesse Sun: I love to talk to people that are in my network, I love to talk to people that are also doing very different things. I try to be a good student of industries and products that I don’t know and also read. I think reading is a really important aspect of the day.
Fred Diamond: What are some things that you read?
Jesse Sun: I do like to look at a lot of industry material that’s relevant for my business now. I got to go back to be a good student being in the cyberspace, it’s a new space for me but some of the other great books that we pick up along the way from Founders at Work to Good to Great, those are some of the nice reading material that I keep.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Jesse Sun: I find myself talking to other department heads that are inside my business and trying to think about the business from a whole, not just from my own department but getting feedback from other areas of the business and company is really important because what I’ve learned is successful organizations are very much sales driven, revenue driven and everybody carries a different role when it comes to contributing so you don’t have to actually be a quarter carrying rep to help the business grow.
Also different people in different places are motivated by different things and also prioritize differently as well so trying to understand the business as a whole is one of the things that’s important to me.
Fred Diamond: Sales is hard, people don’t return your phone calls or your emails. Would you consider this company to be a startup or early stage, how would you describe it?
Jesse Sun: I would consider it an early stage just because the product is very new but the methodology that’s behind the product is not. It’s been 7, 8 years of very hard work pushing this rock up a hill, there’s been a lot of resistance to what we do which is quantifying cyber risk, people say it can’t be done.
For years and years the industry has taught individuals to actually measure risk based on qualitative metrics so it’s a lot of heat maps and red amber green, high medium low calculations and what we’re doing is we’re putting dollar figures next to risk – especially cyber risk – and finally the product being relatively new for a couple of years in the market, I would say it’s an early stage business.
Fred Diamond: Just one of the quick questions about your sales process: Do your prospects get it? Is it an easy sale, is it an easy sale to communicate? How would you describe the challenge that you have in selling the products and services that RiskLens brings to market?
Jesse Sun: I don’t think it’s an easy sale but I do think that when people take a minute to learn more about the value proposition, they immediately understand. People that are in the industry say, “I get it. I have the same challenges and I can relate” and there’s a lot of math involved and that’s what our product does, it removes the complexity of the math and for a lot of people that want to get into the details of understanding the math it’s a little bit longer of a conversation but for those executives that are managing a multi-million dollar cyber risk budget and accountable for communicating to the boards, they get it very quickly.
Fred Diamond: All those things being said, obviously sales is challenging. What is it about sales as a career? You mentioned before that it’s just who you are. What are some of the things about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Jesse Sun: It’s fun to talk to a lot of different companies every single day. I do this thing, Fred, where every new place, every new office or customer site that I go to I try to take a picture of the front lobby and usually there’s a logo, sometimes there’s not but I’ve collected hundreds along the way and I love learning about new businesses, how they run, how they operate and then connecting the dots for us as sellers and providing the value proposition and adding value to our customer’s business. It’s a win, it’s a really big win and it’s meaningful so that’s why I take a lot of pride in what we do.
Fred Diamond: Jesse, why don’t you give us one final thought to share with the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast?
Jesse Sun: I think that #1 you got to be passionate about what you’re doing, otherwise it’s a hard job to do. It’s a lot of no’s but I think along with that passion, you got to be proud of what you’re doing each and every day, take ownership as if you were the owner. That’s a big difference maker. If you act as if you own the business and it’s your business – in fact, I think that’s the difference between good and great sellers is that they take accountability and ownership of what they do.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo
Produced by Rosario Suarez