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EPISODE 204: Thomson Reuters Leader Larry Goeckner Relates Lessons Learned Living on a Farm in Idaho that Led to His Sales Leadership Success
LARRY’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Create your own way of keeping score. There’s the showing up at the time that you said you were going to show up, remaining focused for the amount of time that you said you were going to remain focused on this task, and making the outbound activity that’s necessary, for example.”
Today’s show was recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan where Thomson Reuters is based. This is the second of two interviews we’ve done with Thomson Reuters sales leaders.
Larry Goeckner is a Sales Director at Thompson Reuters, where he’s been his entire career.
Find Larry on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about you that we need to know.
Larry Goeckner: Originally I’m from the great state of Idaho which typically is met with the response of, “You’re the first person I’ve ever met from Idaho” which is pretty typical. I think for me, I always feel like I’m living proof that regardless what your background experience is, the sky is the limit on that. I think sometimes people have some limiting thoughts on where they’re from and their background and therefore it takes them down a certain path.
It’s always interesting when I meet with our new hires, with campus recruits, with people that come in for interviews, they always want to know a little bit about me and I think they’re surprised of the variety of experience. I grew up in a very rural, agricultural environment in Idaho, took a complete left turn after that, I got a liberal arts degree, ended up finding my way into sales and it’s been a great run. We’ll talk a little bit more about probably some of the keys to success as we go forward but where there’s a will, there’s a way if there’s a desire, a humility. Great things and opportunities await people going forward.
Fred Diamond: Thompson Reuters is a well-known brand, not everybody knows what you do, though so why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you specifically sell today? Tell us what excites you about that.
Larry Goeckner: At a high level, Thompson Reuters is focused on enabling professionals in the digital age. For the specific part of the business that I’m with, we’re focused on the tax and accounting firm space which is predominantly CPA firms. Historically, we’ve been a provider of software, tax research, other things related to compliance, sometimes professional services. Probably the thing that I’m most excited about now is that we’re really in this pivotal transformation right now with the introduction of additional new technologies.
We’re hitting the point where much of what accountants have done in the past is becoming very automated, and I think we’re hitting a point where if CPA firms continue to go down the path of just providing these more historical, after-the-fact things like a tax return or a financial statement, that job is going to be a little bit less relevant than what is going forward in more of the business advisory. Think rather than being historian, more looking ahead helping their customers see around corners and we have services that are really helping them through that business transformation. It truly is changing lives.
Fred Diamond: A lot of people listening to the show like to know who our guests sell to specifically. Do you sell to accountants or is there CIO’s at accounting firms or office managers? Who specifically does your team sell to?
Larry Goeckner: That’s an interesting question. If we look at the broader Thompson Reuters, it’s all professionals. Within the space that I serve it’s specifically the tax and accounting firms but it’s a little bit of a loaded question, too. I think any more of people say, “I’m just selling to CPA’s”, “I’m just selling to firm owners”, that’s a misnomer. We’ve seen with the research over the years that the number of people involved in a buying decision has grown dramatically as we’re into more of a consensus-driven sale. Yes, we sell to office administrators, partners, tax managers, sometimes the spouse of the owner as these are very much collaborative decisions so all of the above.
Fred Diamond: My father was an accountant for his whole career and he had anywhere from a four person firm to a 30 person firm. I’m visualizing his office in the suburbs of Philadelphia as we’re talking here. Just curiously, your customers, you mentioned the spouse, are they small firms all the way through what we know as a Big 4 or the Big 8, if you will?
Larry Goeckner: Again, Thompson Reuters customers is all of the above, anywhere from a sole proprietor with no staff up to the very largest CPA firms in the world. The space that I serve is what we call small to mid-sized and that’s that 1-30% professional space.
Fred Diamond: How did you make the move into sales as a career?
Larry Goeckner: That’s an interesting one, I was thinking about that. For me, I thought about sales only as a profession when it actually became a profession, I never really thought of myself being in sales but I reflect back on this, I think I was selling from a pretty early age between growing up on a farm, I was selling milk, milk to cow, firewood, fence post, you name it. But as far as a profession, what actually happened was shortly after graduation I had engaged a recruiter from Thompson Reuters at a job fair and I remember I was thinking about pursuing a path more along the lines of public relation, something that’s going to be more writing, communication, whatnot and I still remember to this day me never having been exposed to professional sales.
He said, “I think you should think about sales” and I remember giving him this look like, “What kind of person do you think I am?” [Laughs] that old stereotype of the used car salesman – no offense to any people on the show that might be selling cars. From that, we started talking about it and coming into the office and sitting with somebody and realizing. Historically, sales has felt to me like something where it’s about using gamesmanship to persuade somebody for something they don’t necessarily need and I realized all we truly are doing is helping people solve problems. It’s for their benefits, it’s the old Dale Carnegie adage of, “The best way to help get what you want is help other people get what they want” and that really is professional selling today.
Fred Diamond: Do you get that satisfaction in helping the accounting firms that you serve? Do you feel that you’re actually helping them grow their business, provide better services to their end customers?
Larry Goeckner: Absolutely. In fact, just the timing today is really great, I’m just coming back from our annual User’s Conference which is about 17,000 attendees. This year we were in Denver, Colorado and I probably couldn’t count on one hand, it’s probably more like on two hands the number of people that came up to our sales booth and either wanted to share their stories of what had happened leading up to the event or lives that were changed there where people said, “We were to the point where we were just sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the work in the firm and feeling like there’s no hope” and all of a sudden they look like the weight of the world lifted off their shoulders.
We really do help them transform their business, but the thing that’s even more fun about this with working with the smaller firms is it’s not even just about helping a business be more profitable but it’s individual. These are real-life everyday people that if we change their life it very much affects them individually, their families as well and that’s a pretty neat thing.
Fred Diamond: That’s amazing. One of the things that’s come through on the Sales Game Changers podcast is more and more you need to provide value and when you go to the Thomson Reuters website, the first thing it says is, “We are the answer company.” What does that mean and how much does that impact you in your day to day as you’re managing your team to provide more value for your customers?
Larry Goeckner: I actually really like the tag line, ‘the answer company’ especially as we move into the more intelligent age. Our goal continually becomes to help professionals become more knowledgeable, more efficient with the resources they have. When they’re doing work, the more we can do without them even having to ask the questions, think about serving up information. Gone are the days where you are preparing a tax return and you have to go do research.
How about we get to the point where actually as you’re working through the things that would fill out a tax return have intelligent information that actually serves up to make proactive recommendation to a client? To be that trusted source when maybe you could ask a colleague, maybe you could just do a standard Google search or pour through the IRS. We want to have that intelligent information available so that you truly can have the trusted answer to give you that confidence that your clients are getting exactly what they should be getting from you.
Fred Diamond: When you made that move into sales you weren’t thinking about it but you decided to pursue it. What are some of the key lessons you learned from your first few sales jobs?
Larry Goeckner: I think the thing that for me has been a hallmark of this job and is the biggest piece of advice I give people, it helped that I came in with no preconceived notions that I’m a great salesperson. In fact, I still look back and it’s about an annual laugh that I have with the person who’s become an incredible mentor for me, the person that hired me, her name is Elena Hesse.
I remember Elena interviewed me and she said, “Historically we hire CPA’s accountants, salespeople, people with previous tech experience. You have no IT or technical background, you have no accounting background, you have no sales background. Why would we hire you?” and it was this great honest moment. I said, “That’s a good question. The way I’d answer that is I grew up on a farm, I know how to work hard, I have a liberal arts degree from a very rigorous institution so I know how to read, to think, to communicate, to understand different viewpoints to probe.”
Lastly, I was newly married, I said, “I’m going to be incredibly hungry” but it brought me in knowing that I don’t have all the answers so I asked a ton of questions. Definitely remained humble that I didn’t have it all figured out. I’d get knowledge from somebody who’d been here 20 years, somebody that’d been here 20 days, so just being a continuous learner, that sponge. The biggest thing too, I think was just being willing to go try stuff. How often do people hear something and they say, “Yeah, I’ll do that” or, “Yeah, that’s a good idea” but they don’t actually do it? Gather it, explore it, vet it, then go test it and then come back and ask more information.
One of the things that I think was the most impactful for me, I never struggled with the hard work but sometimes that efficiency of work and this is what I’d call time blocking. Rather than being in a world where I show up and I know that my job is to make sales calls, for me it’s been predominantly in a virtual environment but for some people that’s on the road. If all you do is show up and say, “My job here is to talk to customers” but there’s not a plan, what I would find is I would be busy all day long, I’d make a prospecting call, then I’d return a call, then I’d respond to an email and I never hit that flow.
What helped me so much was then just blocking time on the calendar and say, “Okay, from 8:30 to 10:30 today I’m prospecting on this specific list” and I would game plan for it before. In my early days I would try to have an accountability friend, we would plan for it, we’d put our list together, we’d talk to how we’re going to approach this, we’d do this call campaign, this call blitz and then we’d get together for a little bit afterward to debrief. It was amazing, by noon let’s say on a day like that, I’d get as much accomplished as I would by probably 4 o’clock on other days. Continuous learning, gathering information wherever you can, that expertise, putting it into action and specifically doing it in a way that was really bucket and targeted, then you hit that flow. I call you, we have a conversation, I call another person that meets your same profile and we segue from one to the next.
Fred Diamond: Speaking about expertise, tell us a little more about your specific area of expertise. Tell us what you’re an expert in and tell us about your area of brilliance.
Larry Goeckner: That’s a hard question, what is my area of brilliance? I think one of the things that has been impactful for me in the way I might describe this, here’s the thing that’s always interesting. Whether somebody listening to this podcast is in a front line role where they’re actually selling or they’re leading salespeople or they’re leading leaders, the roles aren’t that different, you just have a different customer. My customer is the managers that report to me or the reps that report to them, not just the customer.
I think for me, a great salesperson questions to the gaps, if you will. In a firm for your customer, your prospect you’re talking to, you want to try to figure out what are the holes in what they’re doing and you help fill those in to make them excellent. That’s where you’ve got to find that area of need, that area of growth and I think that’s been one of my things, too as a manager, as a leader. Helping probe in a thoughtful way, not in an interrogative way, but what are the gaps in people’s processes? What are those things that need to be filled in and helping with that. I think the second piece would be crafting a narrative.
The biggest changer for me as a salesperson was getting to the point where I had stories to share. It’s a lot easier to get behind a story, something relatable than it is reading off a brochure that sounds like, “We do A, B and C better than anybody else” and instead, sharing a story. I think we all want to have something that’s relatable as opposed to feeling like I’m reading off the label of some packaging and, “I sure hope it works out.” People want a story that they can fit themselves into.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about some of your mentor relationships and how they helped you grow your career?
Larry Goeckner: I think about this of the mentors I’ve had a little bit like the great Robin Williams move, the Dead Poets Society where I think I’ve got thousands of mentors. I’m such an avid reader and continuous learner so I’m continually listening to an audio book, listening to podcasts, reading books, so I would count a lot of those as mentors. It’d be hard to pin down particular ones but in the work environment, though I’ve had two really exceptional mentors that have been my boss or my boss’s boss over the years that have remained very close. One is one of my peers, Rob Beattie.
Another one is both of our mutual former VP of Sales, Rick Kursik and I think each of them gave me something different. Rick Kursik came from much more of an operational background before being in sales and his was very much the management and leadership by the science, ‘science as a science’. That was around more of the typical things, the metrics, if you will, so fundamentally sound on that from an operational standpoint. Then Rob Beattie’s was a little bit different, his was more like ‘art as a science’ and it was very much about crafting the narrative, telling the story, very much about the charisma as well as the other things. The science of his, it wasn’t like it wasn’t operationally sound but it was told in more of a narrative format. I think pairing those two things together make sure the underlying fabric is correct but then also having that narrative on top of it is equally as important.
Fred Diamond: We actually had Rob on the Sales Game Changers podcast as well, so we’ll provide a link to his show. You grew up on a farm, does your family still own the farm?
Larry Goeckner: They do.
Fred Diamond: Do they? Do you ever go back?
Larry Goeckner: We do, it’s funny. For summer, my wife and kids and I go back out there and almost all of my family now has remained in that area, even those who have moved away. I’m the one who hasn’t moved back so that’s always the question, like “When are you moving back?” I’m in a really good spot here, I like where I’m at here but we go back and the kids always really enjoy it a lot. I joke and tell people that that’s the one or two weeks a year that I do real work [Laughs] because it is that different perception of the working with your hands versus the intellectual work.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned a couple times getting the process down, not just about the hard work per se but putting the process in place to be successful. You talked about hard work, of course and being able to sell things like all the food products and other things from the farm. Is there anything else on the farm that has stuck with you every day as you’re leading teams? Again, we know about hard work. Do you get up earlier than everybody, just curiously? You had to have gotten up early on the farm. Are you an early riser today getting here in the office or how does that work?
Larry Goeckner: I’m definitely one of the first ones in the office. I don’t know how much I’d say that is a hallmark of what I do. There’s a corollary to hard work, it’s funny, I sometimes use agricultural analogies that you can see other people just don’t understand it. One of the things I just think about is the job needs to get done, you have to start with the intention that at the end of the day, the job has to get done, somebody else isn’t going to do it. I think that’s something that’s a frontier mentality, if you will, that if it’s got to get done, it’s got to get done and it’s probably going to be you that has to get it done. I will sometimes use the analogy of ‘the cows have to be milked’.
Every morning at a certain time and every afternoon or evening at a certain time the work has to get done. You don’t choose, “I’m not going to work hard today, I’m not going to “milk the cows”, the work has to get done and there’s an element of that, there’s a responsibility in that, that I think you don’t have the choice of whether or not to hit your quota, do this hard thing because it’s hard or you don’t feel like it. The cows have to be milked.
Fred Diamond: Larry, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Larry Goeckner: I think this is one probably most people would answer some variation of at least on of these, and I think there’s this challenge of finding talent and talent isn’t just people but it’s the right people and it’s the right people for that particular role. I think the roles have changed a little bit over time but I think the finding of talent and the keeping, developing that talent is a really important one. The other one that fits along there – again, I want to make sure that we differentiate a little bit on this, it’s not just about finding quantity of talent but it’s finding the right talent.
The second part for me is how do you integrate technology or enablement tools to help that talent be the absolute most efficient, most valuable, most satisfied producer? I think these things go together really well because I think the future state is probably one where we don’t need as many people, you just need the right talent to be really teched-out well. If you just go with technology without being implemented well, it actually doesn’t help you out very much so it’s getting the right talent, keeping that talent and then integrating technology in a way that is thoughtful and really is an enabler for that talent.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you take us back to the #1 sale success from your career you’re most proud of?
Larry Goeckner: I’ll answer that more from the seat that I’m in now, but I could probably think of some when I was an individual contributor. I think there’s nothing to me in the world that’s more humbling than being recognized for something that you know you got there because of others, when it’s not just the individual accomplishments. I remember the first time I won our prestigious annual President’s Club as a people leader. I’d won it before as an individual contributor but it was not nearly as satisfying or as humbling as when I won because of others and having some of those members also on that trip as well. That’s the culmination of this humbling element of that, of being recognized for success but you know that while you do deserve some of that, there’s others that helped you get there.
Fred Diamond: You didn’t expect to go into sales as a career and when the recruiter came to your school they said, “Have you thought about going into sales?” Looking back on it now, did you ever make that question? Did you ever think to yourself, “You know what? It’s too hard, it’s really just not for me”?
Larry Goeckner: I don’t think I ever did. I think there might have been times when I questioned maybe whether I was such a natural for it, but as far as being too hard, I never did. Again, that probably goes a little bit back to the farm mentality, I’m thinking it’s really not hard work in the way that I’ve been accustomed to hard work, it’s more maybe a fitting-ness of me for that role but never really that it was too hard.
Fred Diamond: What was your favorite thing about growing up on a farm? I’m sure there’s tons of things, but what did you really enjoy most about that life?
Larry Goeckner: Part of one of the things I most enjoyed about it has also been what was probably one of the biggest struggles also shifting into a “white collar job”. It was always so satisfying that most of the work that I did was very tangible. At the end of a day there’s a barn full of hay, there’s a pile of firewood, there’s something that I’ve done, worked the earth, the cow is milked, whatever it might be and there’s an element even when you’re exhausted where you can see the fruits of your labor and that’s a challenge.
Maybe we’ll get into this in the future comment here, but I think that’s one of the challenges sometimes about having a job like sales particularly where you have so much prep work that you do, the equivalent of working the ground, seeding the seeds, all the work that has to be done before you get to the point where you actually see things sprout up and you get to harvest, IE sales. It’s not as visible so it’s easy to get beaten down. Maybe to the previous question about the ‘it’s too hard’, I think sometimes you have to change the narrative of how do you keep score, how do you see that I can’t harvest the grain today but I can see that I worked the earth, that I put in the fertilizer, that I put in the seeds, I can see the seeds growing, I can see them sprouting.
Fred Diamond: That’s probably one of the best analogies we’ve had. There’s a whole bunch of themes that have come through on the Sales Game Changers podcast interview after interview and one of them is preparation. That was definitely the best analogy on what type of preparation really is needed because that comes up from every Sales Game Changer guest that we’ve ever had on the show, is that to really be successful you need to prepare not just your call, but how are you going to service this customer? I’m going to guess for a lot of the people on your team, they probably haven’t had a whole lot of experience with tax and accounting firms so they have to learn what their challenges are and what kind of compliance issues they have.
Fred Diamond: Larry, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the sales professionals listening around the globe to help them take their career to the next level?
Larry Goeckner: I think the thing I would say that is most important is make sure that you see that you are not just a passive player, that you have a role, you have a responsibility. What is one of the biggest detriments to success is when people find themselves in this fatalistic situation where the market’s not good, the leads aren’t good, everybody else has better opportunities, “I’ve got all the dead beat customers” and so much of that is really about mindset. It could be that maybe those things have some validity, if you will but one of the books that was an absolute game changer for me is one called Extreme Ownership.
Fred Diamond: Sure, Jocko.
Larry Goeckner: I love this book. Part of it is it’s just a great book, it’s an amazing way of telling a story and that you’ve got a story from the battlefield that makes it engaging, you’re drawn in. Then what’s the lesson they’re trying to teach and then thirdly, how does that play on the business world? There’s this element in there of ownership and there’s always something you can do. When I see people sit back and say, “The leads are no good”, great, does your phone dial outbound? Do you have the ability to affect that or is the only thing you can do wait for what’s coming in? What are you doing to learn, what are you doing to develop yourself, what are you doing to go around figure out from a leader board in the company or successful salespeople you know to pick their brain? It’s really fascinating.
I think gone are the days in most organizations where the individuals that are at the highest level hold everything close to vest. I think most people are willing to share, but you have to ask so it’s that element of ‘be proactive, own your outcome’ and then I think the continuous learning. There’s always this element of continuous learning and I listen to all kinds of things. Things from entrepreneurs, I read history, I read sales books, leadership books, sometimes sports stories. Gather information where you can because you’ll pick up a nugget, something that you take to the next call, something that you take to the way you structure your day. If you continually do those things on a regular basis, you work hard, you remain humble and then act, good things happen. They really do.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about one of your selling habits that has led to your continued success.
Larry Goeckner: I do think the biggest one that’s from a tactical standpoint was getting to the point where I really structured my day with the bucketing of activities rather than having a time where it’s, “You do this thing.” I see so many people that even if they put in the hours, they do a little bit and then they walk around and talk to somebody, they do a little something, they walk around and talk to somebody as opposed to if they just said, “Okay, from this time I have the equivalent of blinders on and what I’m going to be doing is I’m doing this particular thing, I’m well prepared for it” and then reward yourself at the end of that. You may say, “This is going so great, I’m going to keep at it.” Just that bucketing of activities whether it is research, maybe whether it’s calls or maybe it is something with learning or something with seeking out a mentor. If you structure those things correctly, you’ll accomplish more and you won’t feel guilty sometimes about doing the stuff that is fun because you’ve earned it.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success.
Larry Goeckner: One of the challenges we’ve had here with Thomson Reuters – and this is probably not solely a large corporation but it maybe is a little bit more pronounced here. Thomson Reuters historically has been what I would say is more of a holding company, if you will. The Thomson Company that became then Thomson Reuters acquired a lot of best-in-class businesses but they operated more siloed and right now we’re trying to really pull that together in a thoughtful way. We approach the customer and we rally around the customer segment as opposed to, “We’ve got these products, how do we bring those to the market?”
Instead I say, “All the products that we have, how do they fit with the CPA firm?” and then we really do start with the CPA firm. Right now we’ve got the historical software focused business and the historical research focused business that have operated very differently. In some it’s been more of a field model, in some it’s been predominantly inside remote virtual model and figuring out how we marry those together in a cohesive fashion. It’s one of those things that I can solve in three seconds on a PowerPoint, but in practice when it’s real people and changing habits and that’s both directions, that’s a pretty Herculean effort.
Fred Diamond: What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Larry Goeckner: I often times tell people I think sales is the best job in the world. How many people go to “boring” conferences, “boring” continuing education? There’s times where I feel incredibly guilty when I either do internal training, go off site or frankly even having the chance to just sit and visit with you. Sales is not a specialized skill in the way that we think about studying neuroscience, it’s people. If I go through a two day workshop on sales training I will probably make as many notes that apply to my personal life about things that will help me be a better spouse, a better parent, a better peer, a better communicator outside of my job, and that’s pretty magical. To have something like that that’s just from a skill standpoint, it’s just people, it’s all about people.
Then the part that I think is probably the most gratifying, I love a game where we keep score every single day. There are times, if you ask me on a different day I may say, “That’s really tough that we keep score every day.” It’s not like we get to the end of the year and then we say, “Okay, how did we do?” and you do a performance review. We keep score every single day but I do love that it is something that we can keep score and having something that does touch the customer is really fantastic in a way that if we’re developing a product that then is carried to somebody else, we’re removed from the people that are actually impacted by it. I love sales in that capacity.
Fred Diamond: We have listeners around the globe and someone actually reached out to me recently, it was probably a month ago, and said that he listens to the shows as often as he can and he says he believes he’s become a better friend. You’re right, you have to do the process, you have to put your thought into it so that you are better at the science of sales, like we talked about before and there’s so much science to it. We’ve continued to uncover that through the Institute for Excellence in Sales and through the Sales Game Changers podcast but it also is about, “How do you be in the world?” A lot of times people say to me, “You know, I’m not in sales” but as we tell them, if you have a spouse, a parent or a child, you’re in sales.
Larry Goeckner: [Laughs] so true.
Fred Diamond: Larry, you’ve given us great insights today, so many great things to think about here. Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the listeners around the globe?
Larry Goeckner: Maybe just to pull it all together. The final thought I would say is this element of ‘you control you’. There’s always something you can do and I think that’s something that other people rally behind rather than be, again, this fatalistic approach of, “Everybody else has a role to play.” Yes they do have a role to play but in the meantime there is always something you can do to help inform those other roles to help them have greater success, which helps with your share of control. The last thing – and I could have said this, too about for the new salespeople but I think is a really great final thought – create your own way of keeping score.
If all you’re thinking about is hitting quota, if all you’re thinking about is hitting your month, hitting your year, hitting your quarter, hitting whatever those goals are, you’ll have those days where it’s very challenging to find success versus if you say, “There are different things beyond just making the sale.” There’s the showing up at the time that you said you were going to show up, remaining focused for the amount of time that you said you were going to remain focused on this task, making the outbound activity that’s necessary, find a way of keeping score to keep you on track. It’s always that element of if you do those fundamental things, the results will follow but if the only way you keep score is just on the lagging indicator, those results, you’ll have a lot of tough days in between.