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EPISODE 074: Red Hat Public Sector Sales Exec Lynne Chamberlain Shares Lessons Learned as a Woman in Tech Sales Pioneer
LYNNE’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “When you do more than you’re paid for, eventually you’ll be paid for more than you do. I truly believe that.“
Lynne Chamberlain is the VP of Business Development for Red Hat’s public sector division.
As the VP of Business Development, her responsibilities include major capture and selling to the system’s integrators.
She’s worked at Unisys and was involved in starting Network Appliance’s public sector division.
She worked at Silicon Graphics where she was involved with the Cray acquisition. She also spent some time at Digital Equipment Corporation, NCR and Tektronics. When she was at Tektronics, she was the very first woman ever hired in sales.
Find Lynne on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Very good. Tell us exactly what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Lynne Chamberlain: Red Hat is a great company. I’ve been here 14 years and open source is the wave of the future. If you see 14 years ago, people talked about Linux and what was that.
Today, we have a full breadth of products, from our operating system which everybody knows is Linux all the way up to the cloud. We’ve got a number of cloud software packages all the way into software defined storage, software defined networking and all the way up to our automation product which is called Ansible. What excites me is it’s a culture change for a lot of IT companies to move to open source and every government agency now is open source savvy which is exciting, so I’ve been lucky to be in a company where we’ve seen a lot of change.
Fred Diamond: You’ve worked for some of the hall of fame companies in the history of technology and have you always been in public sector? Has that primarily been the market that you’ve sold to?
Lynne Chamberlain: When I first came to Red Hat, I did go to the commercial side but most my entire career has been public sector. NCR Corporation, which was a great company to get started with, I sold to the officers club worldwide so it was a retail kind of sale but it was also to the government. One of the things I got to do is stay in the corridors, all the military bases and sold to the O clubs. It was a little bit different type of selling because when you go to an O club, they’re very busy till 11 O’clock at night when they close down and that’s when the sale starts. That was kind of an entree into my career.
Fred Diamond: You’ve spent a good part of your career in public sector. What is it about public sector, selling to that specific type of a customer that interests you and makes you passionate?
Lynne Chamberlain: Growing up I lost my dad fairly young, and he was in the military so I went to college and graduate school on the GI bill, MBA. They paid for all my schooling. With that, one of the things I really wanted to do was give back to the government for taking care of me through school, so my first opportunity was to sell into the government, and I’d just gotten real appreciation for what my dad did in the army for all those years and I always felt like I wanted to stay working for the department of defense. I’ve done a lot in the IC community and I’ve had some exposure to civilian but it’s been mostly on that side of the house.
Fred Diamond: Wow. Again, we mentioned some of the companies you’ve been selling to, and we mentioned you were the first woman in sales at Techtronics. How did you first get into sales as a career? You mentioned you went to grad school. What did you major in in grad school, what kind of degree did you get?
Lynne Chamberlain: My masters was in business and I really wanted to work on Wall Street. That was my aspirations all the way through college into graduate school, but then when I worked for NCR Corporations – and I always thought sales was more like a used car salesman, I would never have thought of going into sales – but when I did this audit for the small business and I contacted NCR and they asked me to sell them some cash registers and you could see that they really needed cash registers to keep their back office automation so they could keep their inventory under control and that they could also manage their guest checks, because whether it was a positive for the customer, an error or negative, it was still a problem with how people manually created guest checks.
We put in a cash register, it saved them a lot of money and by doing that I realized that you can sell and it’s not a used car sales type of person. You’re actually bringing value to a customer and bringing value and benefits to that restaurant that I did. With that opportunity was right after I sold that cash register into this restaurant, they came after me, NCR, and said, “Hey, we have this graduate program.” It would be intense training for 6 months and it would be in Ohio where their headquarters were so I got to go up there and I went through 6 months of training and the rest is history.
I loved it and the training that they had actually was more like the Xerox selling and it was the benefits, the right questions to ask and the value selling and I really appreciated that because I learned that there is a real need that customers have, whether it’s IT needs or whatever and by being able to provide them solutions that helps them in their everyday lives and in their businesses, you’re making a change, you’re making a huge difference for them.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you learned in some of your first sales jobs with NCR, for example, that have stuck with you till today?
Lynne Chamberlain: One of the things that’s interesting, there’s a famous quote that I love to say and it’s by Judy Garland, and the reason I always picked up Judy Garland is because when I was a young kid, my grandmother took me to her funeral and I saw the red slippers at the end and it always stuck with me about her. So I read a lot of stories on her, but she had a quote that said, “Always be the first rate version of yourself instead of the second rate version of somebody else” and that is exactly how I’ve always felt. Do the best you possibly can in every job that you do, work hard, make a difference from your standpoint and not anybody else’s and with that my career has developed.
Fred Diamond: Very good. The public sector’s gain is Wall Street’s loss, I guess.
Lynne Chamberlain: thank you.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about yourself. What are you specifically an expert in? Lynne Chamberlain, tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Lynne Chamberlain: I would say in the IT side from the sales perspective, I have grown up through the sales environment where it’s been very tough trying to sell into some companies. Every company I’ve been with as you said that they were all leaders in their industry, but when I started with them, they weren’t. People never even heard of Silicon Graphics. Sun and Digital was the strongest company. When I went to Red Hat, nobody even heard of Linux. It was hard to sell there, we didn’t have an installed base as we have today so selling was critical.
Understanding the customer’s needs, being able to listen is #1 to what they needed and being able to provide them a solution or value and I believe one of the strengths I’ve had as a woman in this industry but not only that but as a IT professional in this industry is being able to listen. That is so critical. There’s so many people that come out and start sell – and I’ve been on many calls with people that have worked for me in the past that day 1 or the moment they walk into that room they’re selling who that company is that they’re working for, and that is not the right choice. You have to be able to listen for a long period of time with that customer and then be able to provide the benefits.
Fred Diamond: Give us a little more insights into how you’ve gotten good at that. That’s one of the threads that’s come up not infrequently in the Sales Game Changers podcast is the need to be a better listener, to be more effective because you really truly do need to bring value to the customer. But tell us some of your strategies and tactics o maybe some techniques on what you’ve learned over years to be a more effective listener.
Lynne Chamberlain: My first training, as I said, back when I was working for NCR Corporation, I had 6 months of training which was almost like the Xerox training school where they brought you through processes, and a process is really important. You learned the benefits of selling, asking the right questions, not accepting no for an answer but even going deeper into what the customer meant, by what that customer said and being able to hold your tongue. There’s so many times you want to throw something out and you just can’t do it. You’ve got to sit there and it’s hard.
It is hard when you first start because we are so excited about the products we have, we’re excited about what we sell, we want to talk to the customer right away because we feel like we have an answer. In more times than ever is when you listen to the customer, all of a sudden you pick up, “That isn’t what I thought the customer was going to say” and so that’s why it’s so important and I think the NCR Corporation’s training really helped me through that.
Then actually being pushed into an environment where at the beginning of my career, I was the only woman in sales for many years and trying to be the best because you’re competing with men and they’re always looking at you thinking, “Eh, she’s just a woman.” I will honestly say that and you wanted to be #1 not just for yourself and everybody wants to be #1 but just to show that women could do this job.
Fred Diamond: You’ve worked for some of the amazing companies like we’ve talked about, you’ve obviously achieved a lot of great stuff in your career. Tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they specifically impacted your career.
Lynne Chamberlain: I had some great mentors growing up through the sales ranks, but one person – we didn’t have social media back then, so when you hired somebody into your organization you really didn’t know a lot about them like you do today because you can Link-In, you can Facebook, you can find out anything. I was asked a digital equipment corporation when I was running BD and the civilian side to help a new person that they just brought in. Her name was Doctor Grace Hopper.
Now, I didn’t know who Doctor Grace – I didn’t sell to the navy so I had really no idea at the time who she was and she was a little petite navy officer, wore her uniform, came in and I was to take her on sales calls and take her out because at that time, she was selling her Nano wire and she would go around and talk to all the navy customers. And I was there to help escort her and educate her on how to sell, but you know what? She ended up educating me on the value of discipline and the value of feeling passionate about something. She was the oldest person in the navy at the time as an officer when she retired. She was passionate about what she did and with that, I learned a lot from her. It wasn’t till years later that I realized who exactly she was and how inspirational she was to whole culture people.
Fred Diamond: It’s interesting. A little bit taking it back by who you mentioned as a mentor, I’ve studied high tech and I’ve been with a lot of great high tech companies. For those of you listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, take a second, hit pause and go Google Doctor Grace Hopper. She is one of the legends of technology, not just technology in the public sector space. I’m actually getting chills here thinking about it because I’ve spent a little bit of time with things and you were very fortunate to have spent time to take her on sales calls.
Lynne Chamberlain: Can you imagine if I had social media back then? I would have really known who I had at my fingertips.
Fred Diamond: See you driving around, instagramming, hurry eating at McDonalds. No, but seriously, good for you. I’m sure we could probably spend another whole podcast just talking about your sales experiences. Imagine, Sales Game Changers, going on a sales call with a legend. Imagine going on a sales call with Jack Welch or Steve Jobs, do you know what I’m saying?
Lynne Chamberlain: I absolutely know. Then I had a mentor when I went to Silicon Graphics, Bob Henry. Bob was a motivational mentor where there was never a day that he was upset or screamed at you. He never felt that you weren’t a high performer. He only hired high performers, but the thing about Bob, constantly you’d walk in there, “Good morning, Lynne!” and he really motivated you and you wanted to go to work. You don’t find a lot of leaders that do that, I’m fortunate right now to have a leader in Paul Smith that is the same way. He’s very inspirational. I’ve never had a leader that can get up on a stage and have so many quotes and have a recall of things that he had done in the past or recall movies or books and that in itself is inspirational to have a leader that can do something like that.
Fred Diamond: Lynne, what are the two biggest sales challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Lynne Chamberlain: Fred, one of the things we talked about is social media. It has really changed the way we do business. You cannot put out a message or a thought without somebody else being able to take that and podcast it, put it on Facebook, put it on Twitter, so you have to be really sensitive exactly about what you say and do anymore. Clearly we see that in what’s happening today. That’s changed the way we even market our products. Before, you used to go knock on – I mean, when I was at Tektonics, I literally knocked on doors for computer aided design companies, and that’s how I sold. And I go, “Hello, I’m Lynne Chamberlain, I’m here to sell.
Today, you don’t do that. We have inside sales reps, we have marketing activities, there’s so much going on that I didn’t have when I first started, so today that’s changed tremendously from when I started. I would say the other thing is just the type of products. We are growing so fast that the products that we have today you wouldn’t even have thought about two years ago. We’re into the cloud. One of the things that Red Hat has done really well that we’re in a subscription model and we created that when we first started as a company where people are trying to catch up in the cloud market selling services by the drink, where we didn’t have that. People are selling perpetual license. Red Hat has been very fortunate that we’ve always been in a subscription model which is very much like that. So even the models are changing and the way you sell.
Fred Diamond: You’ve spoken about some of the places where you’ve worked and you’ve given us some great insights, here. I’m not sure if you’re going to be able to do this or not, but take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Lynne, take us back to that moment.
Lynne Chamberlain: It goes back a while. I’ve been very blessed with some good wins in my career, but one of the ones I can remember is back in Silicon Graphics. We had a major opportunity with the IC community. It was about a 300 million dollar program.
Fred Diamond: Can you explain what IC means to people who don’t know?
Lynne Chamberlain: Intelligence community, in the IC, intelligence community and it was for one of the agencies in that community. It was 300 million dollars, I had a great team working for me at that time but at the same time we were getting ready to acquire Cray. You can imagine, Cray was competing with us on this program and you have to keep everything separate but you were still trying to win this opportunity. It was for the infrastructure for a major agency. As we worked through it, and we worked with like 3 different system integrators to win this and all system integrators were supporting either Cray or Silicon Graphics so we were heavily competing and yet we knew we were buying Cray Corporation.
The cool thing about this was they looked at our technology, we started from scratch where you did all your proof of concepts. And when you think about Cray and SGI, those systems were basically one offs. You built systems for that customer, not like you build and manufacture a lot of different systems, we build for that customer the networking needs, the storage needs they had, the internal workings of that processor.
The good thing is we started from a proof of concept, we designed the system, we manufactured the system and we had a capture team that went out and sold and developed the solution for that customer, and with that we won a 300 million dollar contract at Silicon Graphics. Cray came in a couple months later, and they were like, “Oh, wow, you guys won.” It was pretty exciting for us and the opportunity was huge and it put us on the map on SGI besides acquiring Cray which was a name brand recognition company, but that really put us on the map.
Fred Diamond: For some of the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast who are starting out in your sales career, Cray was a super computer and when I worked at Apple Computer, they actually made an investment in a Cray Computer to build the next generation of Apple computers and the joke was that we used a Cray to build Apple and Cray used Apples to build Cray.
Fred Diamond: But anyways, good for you.
Lynne Chamberlain: The nice thing, there too is another individual that I met, I got to meet Seymour Cray because we did the acquisition and another name recognition in the industry that was so a game changer as you would say for this industry.
Fred Diamond: Absolutely. For the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast, I’m actually getting chills. I’ve been a student of the technology world and we’ve mentioned some amazing names today: Seymour Cray, Doctor Grace Hopper, I’m still a little bit shaken, Lynne, from that. Just thinking about the impact of the people that you’ve spent time with and Paul Smith, you mentioned, as well who’s the general manager for Red Hat’s public sector business and he was the Institute for Excellence in Sales lifetime achievement award recipient in 2017. Obviously, you’ve had a great career in sales, Lynne. Did you ever question being in sales? I know you mentioned that you might have started your career on Wall Street. Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s not for me”?
Lynne Chamberlain: Never, never once, Fred. You know what? Every time you win, it outweighs any of the times that you’ve felt like, “Wow, I didn’t win, I got to keep pursuing.” But just the drive that I have in sales and the success, but also the people. I love the people, they are so passionate about what they’re trying to do in the government, and when you work with the chief information officer and the successes they’re trying to bring to their agency and that you can be part of that and help make changes and then you can actually when you install the software and the hardware, you can actually see those changes. It’s so rewarding. No, I would never say that I wish I hadn’t gone this path.
Fred Diamond: Lynne, what is the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Lynne Chamberlain: I think one of the things that professionals when you get started in sales, is you want to make sure you read as much as you can. There are so many great books out there that give you a really good background on sales and the proficiency of sales and how to become a professional in sales, and I would absolutely say that’s one of the things they should do.
Fred Diamond: Is there a book you’d like to recommend that has had an impact on you?
Lynne Chamberlain: For me, it’s an old book but I still have it. As a sales manager, “The One Minute Manager”. I listen to that and it’s a way I manage my people and it’s such an old book but it’s my bible in managing.
Fred Diamond: Very good. You mentioned reading, but what are some of the other things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Lynne Chamberlain: One of the things that I do at Red Hat, everything we do at Red Hat is Red Hat Open Systems, Red Hat Open Stacks, so it’s RHOS. One of the things I created, a community for women called Red Hat Open Stilettos. I like bringing women together and helping them progress in their careers, so quarterly I have a women’s activity that we go out and get together and we talk about women in this industry. I think that’s very critical, half my team at Red Hat are women and so nurturing women in this industry, showing women both in the sales side as both in the technical side and making sure they can develop in their careers.
Fred Diamond: What is the format of that? How do you do these quarterly programs? Is it at a classroom or is it over lunch? Tell us a little more specifically about what the physical-ness looks like.
Lynne Chamberlain: It’s actually I take them for happy hour and after one drink or just a cup of coffee, everybody has a tendency to open up and talk about things that are on their mind and questions about how they should maybe handle something. It gives them an environment that they feel comfortable with other women getting together.
Also, I’m a mentor for a few women and I really truly enjoy that. Women in this industry, there’s some barriers that still exist and it’s important for them to have mentors for them that they can go to and talk to and help them get through some of the scenarios that they’re dealing with and an area where they can talk to somebody that might have been through the same issues that they’re seeing right now, and how did I cope with some of that stuff.
Fred Diamond: The IES has had a Women in Sales program for the last couple of years. What might be one of the challenges that a woman in sales is facing today?
Lynne Chamberlain: In some cases there’s still the stigma. You’ve got more senior, older men in this industry that have a perception that women shouldn’t be in the positions that they’re in, and you still see that, and that’s in every industry but specially in IT and I see it and the one good thing I see over the years, like I said earlier, I started out being one of the only women in IT and I didn’t have places to go and people to talk to of the issues that I was dealing with.
Today, the fortunate thing, there’s a lot of women in this industry. Women in whether it’s small business, whether it’s resellers, bars. Last night I went to the AFCEA Winter Gala. There were so many women there. 15 years ago when I was at that Gala, you didn’t see the women so it’s very exciting to see how the industry has changed.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Lynne Chamberlain: Mentoring any individual that works for me. You always want to build strength in the people that work for you so that when you decide to make a career change or move into something else that those individuals are ready for their next role. For me, it’s really important to ensure that the people that work for me are educated for the next job position that they might want to go after and that they’re successful. My success is only dependent upon the success of my salespeople and it’s important for me to ensure that they’re well trained, that I’m mentoring them all the time, we have one on ones, that I’m giving them feedback. To me, the most important thing as a sales manager is feedback, because you don’t learn unless somebody shares with you the goods, the bads, the uglies and how you can improve.
Fred Diamond: Lynne, sales is hard. People don’t return your phone calls or your emails. We talked about some of the other challenges before with how social media and social marketing have changed your interactions with your customer. You sell to the public sector space, you can’t go into the pentagon anymore and just walk around like you might have done in the past. Obviously, security is a big concern but why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Lynne Chamberlain: Fred, I think we talked about the satisfaction. Yes, if you keep calling somebody over and over again and they don’t return your call it is totally frustrating, but there’s different avenues to get to that individual. With LinkedIn now, you can find somebody that knows that person, you can reach out to that person and say, “Hey, I know you know so and so, can you connect me?”
There’s so many different avenues to try to get to the individual that you’re trying to sell to and so I think the perseverance and the continued drive to go after that individual. You don’t know how many times I’ve had an inside sales rep say to me, “I’ve tried so many times to reach so and so. I can’t get a return phone call.” And we’ll go through the process, “Well, have you tried LinkedIn? Have you tried to connect with somebody? Have you sent a letter?”
It’s so funny, today everybody it’s social media. It’s being on your phone. The good old days, we used to send letters, personalize something. Even when I go on sales calls, I will send thank you notes still. Nobody does that anymore but the personal effort that you make in reaching out to somebody makes a huge difference and it still does today.
Fred Diamond: Lynne, this has been a great interview. She also talked about – I’m still a little bit taken back by some of her mentors, Doctor Grace Hopper and she also spent a lot of time with Seymour Cray who of course created Cray Research, the company that created the Cray super computer. Lynne, this has been amazing. Give us a final thought to help the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast take their career to the next level.
Lynne Chamberlain: I started with a quote from Judy Garland, I’ll end with a quote. When you do more than you’re paid for, eventually you’ll be paid for more than you do. I truly believe that.