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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on December 3, 2021. It featured an interview with 3Pillar Global Sales Leader Kim Mirazimi and Akamai Sales Leader Jeremy Nye.]
Kim and Jeremy are IES Premier Sales Leaders. Learn more here.
KIM’s TIP: “It’s okay to fail and fail fast but learn from it. Improve from it, iterate on it, iterate your process, iterate your style. We’re all very stylistic in what we do as sales professionals and sales leaders. Last year was a year of resilience, this year is also going to be a year of resilience and that’s a key theme in my team, and we see in the market. Grow your clients and yourself through trust, and that’s how you’re going to grow your success as a sales professional and elevate your game.”
JEREMY’S TIP: “Be a problem solver. In your first conversation, ask that customer, “Give me a project, give me a task,” nothing relatable to having to sell something to solve that problem. Literally, ask for a task, come back and do it better and faster than anyone else and you will automatically earn the right to ask for the next thing, have a seat at the table, and you’ll be making a lot of friends when you deliver on that as well.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Fred Diamond: We’re interviewing some of our new IES Premier Sales Leaders. In November of 2021, the Institute for Excellence in Sales announced our new designation called the Institute for Excellence in Sales Premier Sales Leaders. We recognize 13 great sales leaders around the globe, we’ve been featuring them on the Sales Game Changers podcast. This is our third episode and we have Kim Mirazimi from 3Pillar Global, we have Jeremy Nye from Akamai. I’m excited to talk to you both.
We’re going to talk about how they’re motivating their teams and what they’re doing right now to ensure exceptional sales leadership. Kim, Jeremy, first off, congratulations on being recognized as an IES Premier Sales Leader, one of our inaugural Premier Sales Leaders, kudos to you. Kim, how are things going right now in your sales organization? Tell us what’s going on and tell us what it looks like right now.
Kim Mirazimi: Thanks, Fred. Appreciate being here and thank you again so much for such an honor from IES. I think as with everybody probably at this time of year with end-of-year, beginning-of-year fiscals, things are really outstanding, I’m happy to report, and they’re really busy. Closing out what we have seen here at 3Pillar global a very successful year, we’ve recognized exponential growth and managed that through the year, never a bad thing. Obviously, we are heads-down in planning for 2022 with a solid pipeline and really looking at executing our strategic changes that we have in the organization to drive and elevate our organizations and our teams to the next level next year and do even better than we did this year. You know that’s all in sales.
Fred Diamond: It’s been an amazing year for your company, you’ve had a lot of interesting things happen, great things happen. I encourage people to go check out 3Pillar Global, they’ve done some amazing things for a lot of great companies. Jeremy, you’ve been with Akamai for 16 years now.
Jeremy Nye: Yeah, 16 years. Not a long time at all, right? Wild at this day and age, for sure.
Fred Diamond: Your company, we just talked about some of the evolution of Akamai Technologies. How are things going for you? What are some things that you’re doing in your sales organization right now? How does it look?
Jeremy Nye: It’s great. We started the year in a really wild way, we basically combined the two businesses into one and consolidated east coast and a west coast business to call it Majors, which is essentially our largest retail, travel, hospitality customers in North America. It sets up the stage of that makeup of our business. When you think about COVID being a critical component of what’s going on in our business, we had a reorg at the beginning of the year which threw in a lot of disruption into the business. We consolidated it and basically transformed our go to market as a completely new business focusing on those verticals, which has been challenging in its own right.
We didn’t get it off the ground as quickly as we wanted to, so we started a little bit late but the team has done incredible. They persevered through a lot of disruption, a lot of change and ultimately have come through to deliver a record booking this year for the Major’s business, which is critical to driving revenue growth and it has a really trailing impact as we’re a month recurring services business. That outstanding financial performance coupled with the resurgence of that retail travel, hospitality, business segment has been huge for us. I’ll talk a little bit about how we’re able to really prepare and be there for that big resurgence and comeback. That’s been the big focus, delivering great outcomes for those businesses and really excited across the board.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about priorities. Kim, you mentioned it’s the end of the year. Everyone who’s in sales understands what that means, but let’s talk about priorities from a customer perspective. Jeremy, you go first. You just mentioned that one of the big segments you work in, retail, is beginning to come back. People are obviously getting out more so, they’re going to places to buy things and they want to go for those experiences as compared to constantly being online like we’ve been over the last year and a half. Talk about your priorities – and then, Kim, I’m interested in your thoughts – from a customer perspective.
One thing that’s come up a lot is the fact that it’s not just about us and it’s not really just about our customers, it’s about our customer’s customers and in many cases, we’ve got to be more conscious of our customer’s customer’s customers. Jeremy, give us a little bit of insight into that and then Kim, I want to hear what you have to say.
Jeremy Nye: It’s an interesting journey. When COVID hit, our priority was we had to quickly decide as a business, how are we going to react? How are we going to support our customers? With so many of our customers being in those challenged verticals, we quickly adopted a philosophy of, we want to help. When you have 300 customers that make up a $400 million business, if every single one of them asks for relief, it’s going to be a tough situation. But we were fortunately able to get creative and support those customers in those short-term asks. I think that was a critical time for true partners to define themselves. When times get tough, what are you going to do? How are you going to stand up to help?
We’re coming out of that short-term area where we were able to step up and help a lot of those customers in need, and now we’re preparing them for their comeback. That’s what we call it, the comeback. We’ve found by doing that in the short-term, we now have a strategic seat at the table where now we are having the conversations to get aligned to those critical technology and business objectives for the year. We’ve totally transformed our engagement by showing that compassion on the front end, and we knew it was the right thing to do. There’s no expectations by doing it, but we felt like if we were the true partners we believed, that would work out for us. Super psyched on that.
Fred Diamond: You made an interesting point there about how we all had to be in the first year of the pandemic, and we would talk a lot about empathy and having to shift some of our business processes, business models. We had to work with our sales organizations to stay in touch, but also to provide some value because everybody was going through challenges. It’s good to hear that that trusted partnership has really worked out for you, as I’m sure it was going to anyway. Kim, how about you? Talk about some of your customer priorities right now. How are your engagements looking from a conversational perspective?
Kim Mirazimi: I’m so happy to hear you refer to that, Fred, our customer’s customers. This has always been a core value at 3Pillar and a core goal of how we work with our clients, how do we help them serve their customers through helping them with their business outcomes and creating great, performing, revenue-generating, monetizing products to provide to their clients? What do the clients want now with the pandemic and with the shift in the world and global economies? Customer experience, as we’ve seen, has become really imperative, and we ask our clients, how are you going to service and serve that customer, that elevated need for customer experience, user experience, stickiness?
Have you done the research? Have you spoken with your clients or are you just assuming? We find there’s a lot of assumption there and we know assumption can be really dangerous in what does the client want. The market changes, the client changes, the business changes. How are we keeping up and serving our customers to serve their customers best? Really focused in intently discussing and collaborating on what that great customer experience we call “wow customer experience” looks like.
The conversations that we’re having, we find and we pride ourselves on as being very, very consultative. We all sell some level of technology, but we build highly performing digital products for our customers. Conversations are very consultative around from a technology lens, from a customer lens and really then from the business lens. We are building two outcomes. What are the outcomes you’re looking for to our client, what are the outcomes that your customers are looking for from our clients? When you back in, the amalgamation of those is extremely powerful to go to market and hit it out of the park.
Fred Diamond: We have a question that comes in here from Jose, “You mentioned that they are Premier Sales Leaders. How can I become a Premier Sales Leader?” Jose, you’ve got to keep working hard, but let’s talk about that. What does it mean today for elite sales leaders and sales professionals? What would be your advice for sales professionals to reach an elite stage, and leaders for that matter to reach an elite stage? We’ve used the word elite a lot over the last year mainly because of what you just talked about, Kim. Customers need things from us and they’re not always going to ask, and the value we’re providing is going to them with some solution. Kim, you go first and then Jeremy, what does it mean to be an elite sales professional right now and an elite sales leader as well? Jose, thanks for the question.
Kim Mirazimi: It’s a great question, I’m sure, Jeremy, you get that asked a lot. I certainly do, we’re probably going to be very aligned and I love it because we all have to ask that and we have to ask that continuously. We have to always self-assess. In sales, whether you’re an individual contributor, whether you’re in leadership, never think you have it all, ever, because you don’t. As I just said, you change, your colleagues change, your business might change. You may go to a different business, the market changes, it needs change. You’ve got to keep up with that. I tell my teams all the time I want to see a thirst for learning, I want to see everyone seeking to improve always.
The other thing is to me, individual contributorship is outstanding, we all need that. People are sales professionals because they like to be individual contributors. However, team is critical. An individual without team does not do any good for me, it doesn’t do any good for the team, it doesn’t do any good for the business or the clients. I think my last piece which I don’t have to remind my team very much, but I come from a place that I did. Always be humble, be humble in your being, be humble in your role. Be bullish, be strong, be confident, but don’t forget the human aspect of that and remember to be humble.
Fred Diamond: Jeremy, what about you? Premier, what does that mean?
Jeremy Nye: Kim nailed it. I think she talks on a lot of the critical components that we totally believe in at Akamai. Specifically for my team I like to frame it situationally and with the context of, we have the most tenured long-term customers. It changes the way that we go to market, it really does, it’s not a transactional business. We are your partner, we basically show them through our actions how much we value them.
When I think of the time of COVID, the best sales professionals are the ones that are able to recreate how we creatively engage with our customers to capture their attention. It’s very easy to settle in with those warm relationships that we’ve had for three to five years, and then you’re single-threaded and if something changes, then you’re in a bad spot. We really try to push the envelope on expanding across the organization making sure that we’re able to demonstrate the business value that we provide to our customers, and not get single-threaded.
I think the second part of that is have courage to go and meet someone new. It’s harder than ever, it’s a lot easier at a dinner or drinks or social event to have your champion bring his buddy that you’ve been wanting to talk to. That’s how a lot of it happened. Now you’re trying to capture someone’s attention who is getting blasted all day long by people that are doing outreach that are trying to also get time. The best ones get creative, are able to be active and really show no fear in reaching out to someone new, and really connect the dots of, here’s the value we’ve been delivering, let us talk to you more about how we may be able to do that for you. That helps open the door and up level our executive alignment which is the critical piece of that as well.
Fred Diamond: We talk about that all the time. We talk about courage, we talk about having no fear and everybody has fear, but how do you get past it? That’s what courage is all about. We have a question here that comes in from Daniella, and this goes into what you were just saying, Jeremy. “Are you excited to get back to in-person events for 2022, for face-to-face networking and peer connection?” Every interview that I’ve done, even up to today it seems like people are still in their home office and it’s wintertime, so it’s probably going to continue at some level. Talk about that for a second or two. Daniella, thanks again for the question. Jeremy, you go first. Briefly tell us about face-to-face. Is that going to come back? Are you pushing your people? Kim, same thing for you.
Jeremy Nye: Kim’s going to probably chuckle, because after this session I’m going to meet my team for a team event. It’s the first one that we have had since this whole thing started, so team building event and then a dinner more localized to my team. Then actually the southeast office leadership team’s getting together tomorrow night. The timing’s amazing and it’s the first time we’ve been able to do it as a team.
I will say from a macro perspective, the way that Akamai has taken the stance is we’re open to go see customers. We’re trying to keep it within the confines of 20 people or less, but let’s just face it. The new way of doing business, you have to embrace both. The face-to-face, not everyone’s going to want to meet with you, virtual is going to take the larger piece of the pie. It’s just navigating and having artful conversations to that. It’s a sensitive subject and understanding how your customers want to engage. That’s how you’d pivot to develop your client and your outreach in any other way you’d go about servicing them. I’m super excited to see the team, so I’m glowing about that, the question’s pretty timely.
Fred Diamond: By the way, my home office is a half a mile away from 3Pillar Global’s brand-new worldwide headquarters. I’m waiting to have a meeting there to see people, I walk past it every day when I go for my evening constitutional. Kim, what are some of your thoughts on that?
Kim Mirazimi: We would love to have you, Fred, of course, anytime. We moved into the office in COVID, so it’s been very quiet there for some time. Jeremy, much like your team in Akamai, 3Pillar Global, we are open and our timing has been really amazing. I sit in Boston but I’ve been back at headquarters in Fairfax and last week we had product talent and commercial combined meeting with about 30 people, which is the largest I think that we’ve really done intentionally and had global folks flying in. This was an internal much like you’re saying, Jeremy. There is just nothing like it. People were so excited and elevated, and the level of energy was nothing I’ve ever experienced because people are happy to be out and meeting with people in person. We all know that what you get done face to face and in person is much greater in so many different ways and nuances than you can really affect virtually. We’ve been really excited for that.
Clients we are seeing, I think in the market our clients are very similar where their offices may not be open yet, but individuals and stakeholders will be open to having a lunch or having a dinner. You just have to figure out where that comfort level lies and be courageous in your asks. Doesn’t ever hurt to ask, you’d be surprised how many people I think will take you up on that. Again, there’s such a human aspect and I do agree that virtual is not going anywhere anytime soon, and that’s harder on a sales professional. I love when I look at backgrounds like Jeremy’s background, I let people look at my background. Pick something out, tell me what you think, ask me some questions. Start that relationship. Harder to do, but still a necessity. Building a trusted relationship has become that much harder, so we all have to elevate our game in being able to achieve that and making our customers feel confident, because they know you from a virtual video screen.
Fred Diamond: We just started going back to live events, the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we’re based here in Northern Virginia outside of DC. Prior to the pandemic we would do a monthly event, we would get close to 200 people and then, of course, we decided to stop because of the pandemic. We started doing it again and there was something interesting that happened. We had a bunch of junior sales professionals who showed up at our last two events and they said, “This is the first time not just only seeing people who work for my company, but this is my first time at an event.”
Give some specific advice for people who are at the front stage of their career. You both are Premier Sales Leaders designated by the IES. You’ve had a lot of success, you’ve reached great levels. Talk about what would be some of your sound advice for people who are two, three years in? We’ve got a lot of them who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast. Kim, you go first. What’s your specific advice for somebody who’s just starting out, year two into sales?
Kim Mirazimi: My biggest one, and I’m just going to hit one, is be courageous and don’t be shy. I feel funny even saying that to salespeople because you wouldn’t be a sales professional if you were shy [laughs]. I’m a big proponent of mentorship. In my early days, even now, I will ask people, I will come right out and try to get to know somebody whether that’s in company, whether that’s out of company, and talk to them about mentorship and that you really want to lean in and start to learn. Ask them to be your mentor. I joke around with one of my mentors who is a CEO of a huge media company and I made him my mentor. I said, “You know I’m going to make you my mentor, don’t you?” Different ways, and it doesn’t have to be always in sales. It can be in different aspects of the business to give you those different lenses and different perceptions of how folks think.
Many times, depending on your job and your role, you’re dealing with different folks of the organization that could be senior executives, C-suite, whatever. Get those different perspectives, understand how they think, understand how they view the world. Get a mentor, whether that’s in the sales organization or across organizations or even in a client, get that different perception which really will start to elevate you and start to look at things differently. But don’t be shy to ask for it.
Fred Diamond: We talk about mentoring a lot and one of the advice that always comes back is if you’re going to go after somebody and ask them to be a mentor, be specific in what you need. “I’m looking for some mentorship in how to talk to people that are 20 years older.” “I’m looking for some advice on how to present more to senior-level customers.” “I’m looking for some mentorship on how to improve my communication.” That’s a great one there, Kim. Jeremy, how about you? A bit of advice for someone who’s one, two three years in. What would it be?
Jeremy Nye: Kim nailed it. I started Akamai as not even in inside sales, it was market outreach. I was setting up meetings and we’ve all been there. I think it’s such an important time to never forget, because if I think about when I was in that role, the executive at the time that was in my role, I was like, “I don’t even know how to have the conversation.” I was afraid or it was very intimidating, and I would say, “It’s not that scary.”
Find a way to do the outreach and have a conversation. The exec’s always happy to talk with someone starting out, just have the courage to put yourself out there, be a little vulnerable, understand you don’t know everything. Nobody expects you to know everything, but the more of those conversations you can have and perspective, you will grow and learn exponentially. It’s similar to how we work with our customers, you have to get to power to get decisions and to be recognized. It’s the same thing internally within our businesses, and those executives are always happy to make time to have the conversation.
Fred Diamond: We had an interesting conversation. We had a couple CIOs on the show a couple months ago and I said, “Do you want to talk to salespeople?” and I expected them to say, “If they’re bringing me value,” but they said, “I’m always interested in talking to salespeople if they’re going to tell me something that I don’t know.” Like how to work with your company, or maybe something you’re seeing somewhere else. Even if you’re junior, I just don’t want to talk but bring me something specific, even if it’s something that’s relatively simple. How do you buy from us better? It’d be pretty impactful. I’m curious, what do you see reps doing wrong? You’ve got to see this all the time and I really liked both your answers. You just got to start, you just got to do and eventually you’re going to learn and keep refining. Your boss is not going to be mad if you make a mistake, your boss is going to be mad if you keep making the same mistake. But what are people doing wrong, Jeremy? Then, Kim, I’m interested in your thoughts as well.
Jeremy Nye: I think it’s real easy, especially for reps on the junior side to get impatient. It’s something professional buyers can smell a mile away and it’s the biggest turn-off there is. Once you understand deals and process and can see things a little bit differently, you truly realize where you are within a sales cycle. You can’t push it, it leads to a lot of bad things. I’ll pretty much leave it at that, but I do think that it’s also one of the greatest things that you learn over time because the more you see, the more situations you can recognize and the more likely you are to not make that mistake and just show up and throw up or come at it too hard at the wrong time. It all goes into that impatience zone and that’s something you learn with experience and over time.
Fred Diamond: Kim, how about you? What are some things you see people doing wrong all the time?
Kim Mirazimi: Jeremy, I’m right there with you. The impatience, and I think people feel the need when they’re nervous and/or impatient to prove themselves to the client, to prove how smart they are. What I coach there is I think there’s always improvement against that. How do you not do that? Active listening is one of the things we work on a lot here, and I always preach it and people get sick of hearing it, but I don’t care. How does that happen?
When you’re with your customer, go in and be more consultative. Understand something that happened recently in their business, bring something that they know that you care, that you haven’t walked in the door and you want them to tell you everything. Tell them something, make an assumption with them. “I read this today about your company, congratulations. I also was thinking about what your competition is doing and it looks like this may be happening. What are your thoughts on that?” Ask a provocative question. Throw them a little off guard, you prove yourself without talking but asking a question.
Then what do you do? You actively listen. Listen first, understand what they say, ask smart questions, do not tell, always ask. Understand again from those question and then, and only then, know that you are in a position to triage and consider providing recommendation to them. You’ve earned that credibility, and I think it’s human nature to show up and throw up. We’ve heard that for a thousand years, it still happens all the time. Talk and prove your smart through proper context and understanding. If you don’t do that, it really does disqualify you. It’ll disqualify you right out of the gate. There is a process to follow and patience is not your friend. I have no patience.
Fred Diamond: You just used a key word. It’s a sales process and the customer’s always in charge. I agree with you 100% on what you just said, and Michael says the same thing, “They can sense your distress.” I’ve got one more question, and this question comes in from Jenny, “What are your customers expecting from you right now?” That’s interesting. It’s unbelievable that we’re almost two years into how we’ve been since March 2020 and we talk a lot about empathy and those kinds of things. Jeremy, you mentioned before that some of your markets are now really coming back so customers, besides pivoting and responding, they really need to put action things in place. Kim, you go first. What are your customers expecting from you and from your sales organization right now?
Kim Mirazimi: It’s such a double-edged sword to answer this one. It’s an easy one for me. It’s a hard one because we have to think about where our customers are today. They’re not meeting in person with people, they’re forced to do the majority of their research on who they’re going to buy from long before they actually talk to you. They’re probably 70% the way there when they speak with you, literally, and that’s something that has changed over the years. They could already be leaning towards a certain answer, product, vendor or partner. How do you get around that? What do they want from you? They certainly don’t want to be sold.
My answer is, my customers and I think many customers today want more consultative selling. Our customers want to hear how we can solve their greatest problems, not only from the technology, the product or the service, but how do we solve it from a business outcome perspective? Whether that’s product monetization, increase market share, faster time to market. How do we drive those business outcomes through our relationship and really speaking to what the customer need is and that consultative hat? You have to have that consultative hat on all the time. That’s what we see in the market and that’s what we see our customers really striving for.
Fred Diamond: Jeremy, how about you? What are your customers expecting right now?
Jeremy Nye: Kim nailed it. Be understanding of our situation was the theme and it still is. Mine comes back to the example of don’t be impatient, because think about it. Going into the pandemic from a sales team perspective, we have 6, 9, 12-month sale cycles where we’re really transforming a customer’s security posture or standpoint. If we had those things in the works and they all got paused and everyone’s like, “Can’t do that right now, we have this macro thing we’ve got to figure out first,” once they start to come back we can’t be like, “Remember that thing we talked about? You ready?” No. Absolutely hard no. It’s stay patient, be consultative, teach those customers how others are reemerging from this challenging time, how they are coming back. Change is the game and you’ll naturally get back to the conversations you were having, but don’t do it and don’t push too soon.
Fred Diamond: I want to acknowledge Kim Mirazimi and Jeremy Nye, the inaugural IES Premier Sales Leaders. I want to acknowledge you both for reaching that designation and also for being nominated, it was very cool for us to learn more about you, just to acknowledge you for reaching this level and the value you’ve brought to your customers. As we like to do with the Sales Game Changers podcast, give us one final action step for reps to take their careers to the next level. Jeremy, why don’t you go first?
Jeremy Nye: We’re at a critical time, a transitioning time as we finish this year, start a new year. A lot of change typically, and Kim and I were talking about new go to market, planning, etc. Whether you have an existing customer or you’re getting a new customer that you have to learn, I love this. Be a problem solver. In your first conversation, ask that customer, “Give me a project, give me a task,” nothing relatable to having to sell something to solve that problem. Literally, ask for a task, come back and do it better and faster than anyone else and you will automatically earn the right to ask for the next thing, have a seat at the table, and you’ll be making a lot of friends when you deliver on that as well.
Fred Diamond: Kim, bring us home, give us your final action step.
Kim Mirazimi: Well said, Jeremy, we live that as well. I think for me, it’s okay to fail. We live that here, I’ve never worked at a company where it’s really truly been okay to fail. It is okay to fail and fail fast, but learn from it. Learn from it, improve from it, iterate on it, iterate your process, iterate your style. We’re all very stylistic in what we do as sales professionals and sales leaders. Last year was a year of resilience, this year is also going to be a year of resilience and that’s a key theme in my team, and we see in the market. You can look anywhere. Be resilient, look at how you’re going to grow, grow your clients through wearing that consultative hat. Grow your clients and yourself through trust, and that’s how you’re going to grow your success as a sales professional and elevate your game. We’re talking about Game Changers, how do you game change? Fail fast, grow through trust, be humble and be brave. These are things we all know, you just have to execute. We could talk about them all day long and we do as leaders, how do we help our teams execute and how do you help yourself execute? I think that’s the most important thing going into this year.
Fred Diamond: Very powerful. Once again, thank you so much to Kim Mirazimi and to Jeremy Nye. My name is Fred Diamond, and this is the Sales Game Changers podcast.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo