EPISODE 128: CARTO’s Joe Pringle Talks about the Opportunities and Challenges When You Move from Consulting to Sales Leadership
JOE’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Sales is all about solving problems for customers. It’s about figuring out what problems your company is good at solving, identify what customers have those problems, do the hard work to go out there and get engaged with those types of customers and those specific people and that makes sales fun. It really makes sales rewarding and it makes you successful.”
Joe Pringle is the VP of Sales at CARTO.
Prior to coming to CARTO, Joe held leadership positions at Socrata and Forum One Communications.
We also interviewed Ben Mathew, CARTO Chief Revenue Officer, on the Sales Game Changers Podcast.
Find Joe on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: I’m looking forward to hearing your story. Again, Ben talked in detail about CARTO. His podcast episode was about a year ago, so why don’t you tell us what you sell today? Tell us what excites you about that.
Joe Pringle: CARTO is a platform that helps customers get insights and value from location data. We combine special data science and analysis with intuitive user experience to solve different types of location based problems. I love the space we’re in right now because it’s a bit of a wild west. There’s so much location data being generated right now, it’s pretty much a cliché, everybody in technology is talking about the growth of different types of data. Location data in particular has always been very challenging to work with and get value from, and that’s what we focus on. There’s so much innovation happening right now that it’s exciting to be part of that space.
Fred Diamond: Who do you sell to? Who are some of the types of entities that purchase your products?
Joe Pringle: We sell to both commercial entities and public sector banks, insurance companies, healthcare, transit, transport, retail, real estate, state, federal and local government entities of all shapes and sizes.
Fred Diamond: I know you haven’t been in sales your entire career. Of course, now you’re running sales of North America for CARTO. How did you first get into sales as a career, how did you make that shift?
Joe Pringle: I was working at a technology consulting company, and we did custom software projects and also user experience and strategy projects. We were small, so I was wearing multiple hats. I was running the delivery organization but I was also involved in a lot of sales and BD efforts.
Fred Diamond: When you made that shift, what were some of the key lessons that you learned?
Joe Pringle: As part of that and as part of my more recent sales experience, one thing I learned is that it’s easy to get so excited about your own technology and spend too much time in meetings and calls talking about yourself and your own capabilities. At one point, the lightbulb went on for me that I felt I was doing really good presentations and demos but I wasn’t getting the traction that I was hoping. One lesson for me was to spend more time listening and not feel this compulsion to put the kitchen sink on the table and show ever feature in every meeting in hopes that one thing would be of interest. It’s more important to listen and understand, and then focus what you talk about based on that.
Fred Diamond: Joe, listening comes up not infrequently and we’ve heard expressions like the 66th solution, you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that order if you will. When you had that realization and then you started making that shift personally to be a more effective listener, what are some of the things that you did to get better as a listener? What are some of the things you do today or that you work with your team on to be more effective as a listener?
Joe Pringle: I would say part of it is doing your homework before meetings and conversations. You understand more about the person you’re talking to, so when they talk, whatever they say is going to make more sense. If you understand their space or their problem or their sector more, then you can process better what they’re saying in real time and react to that.
Fred Diamond: I like what you just said there about that realization that you had, that observation. We have listeners all around the globe, a lot of them are younger people, younger in their sales career, a little more junior and they’re taught to talk about the features and the benefits because they want to get as much as they can into conversations but then the people that we interview for the Sales Game Changers podcast have made the shift. They realized that it’s not about them and what they’re saying, it’s about what the customer is saying and how do you get the customer to say things that they’re going to need from you.
Joe Pringle: I couldn’t agree more. Again, I think you get trained in this idea that as a seller, you have to go out there and position your own offerings or your own product. I guess the natural inclination is to feel like you have to explain everything, so I think it’s natural. I think it takes a while to learn that the people you’re selling to are really busy and they get sold to a lot, they get lots and lots of sales pitches that are generic. Again, it took me a while to learn it as well and I know it’s pretty common.
Fred Diamond: I’ve got one quick question before we ask you about your area of expertise and what specifically you’re an expert in. Again, you said you were holding multiple hats when you worked at that consulting company and then you made the shift 100% into sales. Did you go in kicking and screaming, or did you go in gladly? Did you raise your hand and say, “I’m ready to make the shift”? How did that transition happen when you made that true transition?
Joe Pringle: It happened gradually. Early in my career I worked at large companies and then in the tech space I’ve worked at smaller companies where often multiple people in different roles contribute to sales. I’d been working in sales before I made that complete shift, but I had this realization that I enjoy problem solving. I mentioned this at the beginning where I really like solving problems, I like listening to customers, understanding what they’re trying to do and being part of the team that can figure out how to solve that problem. I did raise my hand and I asked to shift completely into the sales organization. I haven’t looked back since.
Fred Diamond: Talk a little more about yourself specifically. Tell us what you are truly an expert in, tell us a little bit about your area of brilliance.
Joe Pringle: I don’t know if I would call it brilliance, Fred, but I do think I’m pretty good at identifying and understanding customer problems and figuring how to solve them. I honestly do think this comes from my background in consulting where every project is different and one of the most important things was to do your homework on the customer and deeply understand them, understand their problems. This has been super helpful to me, I’m actually a bit of a fanatic about this and trying to make every interaction we can in our sales interactions about the customer rather than about us, our product, our features, etc.
One other aspect to this is some of the work I did in my tech consulting days was doing business analysis and user experience analysis for custom software projects, where I was really going very deep and understanding what exactly do end users need to do with technology. Now that I’m in the software product space, I use this all the time. It helps me provide expertise to customers and feel confident when I’m talking to them about what they’re trying to do. I have expertise that I can offer about how they can best serve their end users, how in our space they can make data and analytics more intuitive, more understandable and more useful. I think this background helps me offer insights and value rather than just come across like I’m trying to sell something.
Fred Diamond: You moved into sales, again you didn’t start off in sales specifically but you must have had a couple mentors, some guidance, advisers along the way. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Joe Pringle: I’ve been super fortunate in this regard and worked with a lot of amazing people. A lot of what I do, a lot of what I’m sharing today are bits and pieces that I’ve picked up from them so I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. A few that I would call out is you mentioned CARTO’s chief revenue officer, Ben Matthew. I also had the privilege of working with Bill Lawler and Joel Baller who led sales at Socrata and I can’t say enough about how much I learned from them. The majority of what I do every day is based on imitating a lot of the practices and approaches that they used.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned that you’ve worked for some growth companies, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Joe Pringle: I would say the first is focus. I mentioned that we’re in this hot space and it’s a wild west and there’s so much going on. There’s a tendency in sales to chase every single deal and run after everything that moves. An analogy would be putting a dog in a yard with 10 squirrels, most dogs are going to run around trying to chase all 10 at once and they won’t even get close to any of them. It’s easy to fall into that trap and I’ve been guilty of it. It’s super important to understand what your best opportunities look like and focus on those, not get distracted trying to chase too many things at once.
That would be the first thing. A related point is actually prioritizing how you spend your time, it’s easy to get into the rhythm of treating every deal the same and you have a process and you have team members that work on an opportunity, and you might go through the same steps for every opportunity. In our case, we have deals that are very different. Some are ten times as big as others and it’s important for the team to prioritize and make sure you’re devoting 10 times as much time and attention to those bigger deals rather than just spending the same amount of time on each one.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned about the notion of chasing a whole bunch of things, you’re in a hot space where things arise, things come quickly, things change. How do you focus? What are some things you do? Tell us one or two things that you have done over the years to ensure that you keep that focus.
Joe Pringle: Honestly, this is a work in progress, it’s a constant challenge. I would say the most important is understanding what your best opportunities look like, what do your ideal customers look like? How do you identify them? When you find those, how do you best position yourselves and optimize those interactions? It boils down to understanding what you’re best at and trying to focus your activity on those things.
Fred Diamond: Joe, why don’t you take us back to the #1 specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of?
Joe Pringle: From my last company, literally the day I started I took over a number of accounts that were maybe a bit neglected and troubled. One in particular, we didn’t have a lot of traction, we weren’t creating a lot of value, there wasn’t much trust. I helped dig in and work with our team to figure out how to help the customer, how to make ourselves useful, it was really getting super creative. How do we help the customer in different ways and be valuable for them? We had this mindset of, “Before we try to sell anything, let’s just prove that we can create value. Let’s make ourselves useful and sticky in some ways” and it was a long, hard effort. There was a lot of uncomfortable moments and stress and we gradually turned it around and turned it into our customer’s biggest account. This helped shape my philosophy around sales. If you can make yourself valuable to customers, then sales success will follow.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, how long was that sales process? Was it years, was it months, was it decades?
Joe Pringle: It was over the course of 3 years.
Fred Diamond: We’ve spoken to some Sales Game Changers who work in enterprise software, big ticket solutions, some of the deals take 3, 5, 7 years. I remember one Sales Game Changer we talked to, 7 year journey to get the customer.
Joe Pringle: I’ve seen that a lot, it takes a long time and it takes a lot of hard work.
Fred Diamond: I guess in a growth company you don’t get the 3 to 5 years, you’ve got to turn things around pretty quickly, you probably had some investors who were interested. The marketplace is changing like you talked about, a high dynamic marketplace. It’s a different type of a beast when you have a year or months to start getting some of the sales in versus 3, 5, 7 years.
Joe Pringle: That’s a constant challenge of short-term, long-term and it’s a balance that we constantly have to make.
Fred Diamond: Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me. I want to go back into consulting”?
Joe Pringle: I – I think like everyone – have difficult moments and challenging days but I do think I have the benefit of working in a lot of different roles and facing challenges and difficult days in those roles as well. I think this gives me perspective in a way that I honestly don’t find myself asking that question too often. I definitely have tough days and challenging days, but it doesn’t make me question being in sales
Fred Diamond: Joe, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Joe Pringle: Great question, Fred. We’re hitting on this theme over and over again, but it’s something I believe firmly. First and foremost, focus a ton of your time understanding customers. Most people earlier in their career, they focus most of all of their time on understanding their own product and features and mastering their demos and their sales pitch. I would say spend more time understanding your customers and develop expertise, figure out how to make yourself credible and how to come across as helpful when you’re interacting with customers and prospects.
Also, don’t use a cookie cutter definition of a business problem. I get a lot of inbound sales messages, people who are wanting to sell things to CARTO and support the sales team, I get a lot of inbound sales activity and a lot of that has a cookie cutter definition of telling me what my problems are. If it’s not on target, if it isn’t right then I don’t spend much time reading those messages. I would urge folks to really do their homework and figure out how to show that they understand their customers.
Another thing is I would say avoid jargon like the plague, be as concise as possible. Be to the point, the people you’re selling to are busy so use the simplest language possible. There’s always this urge in technology to try to make yourself look unique and interesting and sometimes the marketing folks, bless their hearts, they come up with these fairly jargon-y ways to describe yourself. I would urge sellers to be as simple and concise as possible and use words that you don’t have to explain to the person you’re talking to.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Joe Pringle: I like doing prospecting and making calls to inbound leads. I’ll go in and steal a couple leads from our SDR team and make calls myself, it gives me a chance to talk to real life customers and stay sharp about what they care about. Also, I make sure when I’m talking about CARTO I’m on top of our latest greatest approach to that, that helps me constantly refine how we’re doing it and help the team do that as well. I also mentioned how I get a lot of inbound things, and I like stealing ideas. I get prospecting emails and other things, and I’ll forward those out to the team and say what I liked or didn’t like. Those are things that I do to help me stay sharp.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Joe Pringle: We’re working on this focus issue and because we’re in a hot space, there’s lots of opportunity out there. We’re working really hard to figure out what are our best opportunities, what do we really want to go after, what criteria do we use to decide that and what process do we use. It’s hard to turn down a deal if we have a lead or an opportunity, so we’re working on that in this effort to be more focused on our best deals and our best prospects.
Fred Diamond: One thing we talked about over the course of today’s podcast, we’ve interviewed people who work at large companies like Microsoft, Sales Force and Amazon Web Services, talked to a bunch of sales leaders at growth companies where the dynamics have changed and the challenges are different. At the same time, sales is still hard. People don’t return your calls or your emails, you mentioned a couple times that your prospects don’t have a whole lot of time so you need to not fluff around, you need to be able to quickly show them the value so that they’ll want to engage. What is it about sales as a career, Joe, that has kept you going?
Joe Pringle: I’ve learned to not take things hard, you mentioned people not returning your calls or emails. One thing I realized is that you don’t remember that if I’m getting inbound people who are trying to sell me stuff, I don’t remember or judge anyone that’s sending me sales emails or anything like that. Sometimes as a seller it beats you down, it makes you feel bad to get turned down a lot. The other thing is a lot of times, I’ve felt like I’ve done a gazillion follow ups with a particular prospect. Sometimes on the 11th time they’re like, “I’m really glad you kept after me, sorry, I’ve been busy. Let’s start talking.”
Sometimes it’s easy to assume that you’re annoying people when you’re pestering them and this is just part of the job but that’s not always the case. I don’t let that stuff bother me. Again, I’ve been on a different journey in my career and just from a “what keeps me going” standpoint, it’s really about that problem solving aspect of what I do. It gives me a fresh challenge to work on every day.
Fred Diamond: I really like what you just said there. A lot of times we’ve heard one of the big challenges that people say is that there’s no follow up. We’ve seen stats like this, people stop after the second call because the customer didn’t reply or the customer’s not giving them the attention that they want. If you’re providing value and you continue to show value and you stay persistent and you figure out ways to not be intrusive, maybe that 9th, 10th, 12th call is the one that triggers it. Maybe they weren’t ready for you and all of a sudden there’s a change in the business. For the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast around the globe, stick with it, be persistent, listen to some of the things that Joe’s telling you. If you stay with it and you’re selling the right things into the right market, you will have success. Joe, you’ve given us some great insights today. Why don’t you give us a final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe to today’s podcast?
Joe Pringle: Obviously, the theme for the day that I’ve been hitting on is solving problems. I would say sales is all about solving problems for customers, it’s figure out what problems your company is good at solving, identify what customers have those problems, do the hard work to go out there and get engaged with those types of customers and those specific people and that makes sales fun. It really makes sales rewarding and it makes it successful. That’s what I would leave your listeners with.