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EPISODE 211: Inside Sales Expert Marc Gonyea of memoryBlue Offers Three Must Implement Strategies He Learned from Managing Hundreds of High-Tech Sales Development Reps
MARC’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Some of this might be trite but you must always be continuously improving as a selling professional. Knowing about the technology is key but it’s not nearly as crucial as paying attention to your sales PERFORMANCE. You have to treat your selling profession as a true craft and keep working to get better at it. If you’re not doing that, you’re going to lose.”
Marc Gonyea is the cofounder at memoryBlue.
He’s an expert on inside sales having managed nearly a thousand young SDRs (sales development reps).
We’re talked about how to optimize phone sales and how young sales professionals can optimize their careers.
Marc can be found on LinkedIn here.
Fred Diamond: Marc, it’s great to have you on the Sales Game Changers podcast. We’ve actually known each other for a long time, I met you and your co-founder before you even founded the firm, you’ve done a lot of work together over the years, you guys have done tremendous work for many companies. Tell us a little more about your journey as a successful sales leader and tell us what memoryBlue does.
Marc Gonyea: Fred, happy to be here. I’ll tell you before we get into me, I remember reading your articles in the Washington Business Journal some time during probably late 2002, early 2003. We started the company April of 2002 right after the dot com bubble burst and I think it was a weekly article. I said, “I got to meet this guy.”
Fred Diamond: Thanks, man.
Marc Gonyea: I cold called you and you agreed to meet me at Silver Diner for… I think we probably had breakfast.
Fred Diamond: We did, we had breakfast.
Marc Gonyea: Let’s say it was 2003, that was nearly 17 years ago.
Fred Diamond: Nearly 17 and actually we’re doing today’s podcast interview at memoryBlue’s offices, it’s in Tysons Corner, Virginia which is about 20 miles outside of Washington DC. There’s a buzz here, you’ve got a palpable buzz going on here. You’ve got tons of people on the phone doing great things, you’ve got a lot of signs, a lot of metrics so congratulations to you and your partner for your success.
Marc Gonyea: Thanks.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about memoryBlue, tell us what you do and let our audience know.
Marc Gonyea: I’ll give you the quick and dirty on the company. The original question, I started off at Computer Associates, C.A., I worked for a gentleman who was a guest on one of your other podcasts, Mike Miller, he’s the VP of Federal now at Veeam Software. I was fortunate enough, he hired me and I worked there for a couple of years on the inside and went to MicroStrategy which was a darling of the internet dot com boom, a great company to this day but they were certainly a high flier. In both those companies I was in an inside sales position and after the dot com bubble burst I wanted to start my own business and so did my co-founder/business partner, Chris Corcoran and we went through a bunch of ideas.
One of the ideas was inspired by what we had done as professionals which was inside sales so we said, “What if we started a company around what we did in the first couple years of our sales career?” Because at MicroStrategy I had graduated to an indirect field sales role. Chris Corcoran, my co-founder was employed at a company called F5 Networks, they’re still around, publicly traded, a little balancing to limited loosely software firm infrastructure company and we started the firm in April of 2002.
Now we’ve got 5 offices, San Jose, Austin, here, in Vienna, McLean or Tysons officially now, they changed the postal service so we all it Tysons, and then we’re going to Denver in February.
Fred Diamond: Good for you, you have a tremendous alumni network, I see a lot of posts on LinkedIn about people who used to work for memoryBlue who have now gone on to greater things in sales leadership. 17 years, that’s pretty incredible, you’ve brought a lot of great value for a lot of companies and we’re going to get to that on today’s podcast. Let’s get started here, what are the two biggest challenges that sales leaders face when managing young sales professionals today?
Marc Gonyea: That’s a great question. I think one of the key elements of managing young professionals is the fact that they’re kind of like Warren Buffet as a value traditional value investor. He likes to invest in assets that he thinks are undervalued as it relates to the stock market, we believe that most college grads today are value stocks with potential ridiculous subside. What I mean by that is you have to recognize that there’s a lot of inherent value there but to get that value you have to put the time and energy into developing and managing them. We hire people from all walks of life but the majority of the people we hire, this might be their first professional endeavor.
Fred Diamond: What might be some of the things that you help them develop? What are some of the high priorities?
Marc Gonyea: We believe that what we primarily do as a service to other companies can be done in-house, can be done by our clients and we believe you should do it in-house assuming you can put into place these key objectives that you need to do to develop folks professionally. Continuous ongoing training, not just training someone when they first start for a week, for a couple days and then never do it again but you’ve got to do it every week, come hell or high water. Every Wednesday we do training whether you like it or not. Continuous improvement around the craft of selling.
We have a technology that we’ve purchased called ExecVision which is a technology you can integrate into your technology sales stack which allows you to require your employees to listen to what they sound like on the phone and what they say and how they’re saying it. Both of these things, having people listen to themselves on the phone and improve each week and providing some rigor and some critical thought to how they sound, people don’t want to do that because nobody likes how they sound on the phone. You’ve got to put a lot of time and energy into that one aspect of ensuring that they break down these calls and listen to them when the managers provide feedback. It takes a lot of work to come up with a training syllabus each and every Wednesday for the majority of the year, time and energy.
Fred Diamond: I’m curious, you’ve hired a lot of people right out of college, you said first, maybe second job out of college. What are some of the things you look for in someone who’s coming out of college that you think will help them be successful?
Marc Gonyea: Two things. Recently – when I say recently I mean maybe in the past 5 years – sales is a much more appreciated value or discipline of study in undergrad business programs nowadays. Many schools have sales teams and they compete in a selling program, you might have a minor in sales, you might have a professor of sales and if you’re recruiting the student out of one of those schools then those are people who’ve already raised their hand and said, “I want to get into sales.” Those are the young professionals, the young adults who’ve recognized that this is a tremendous opportunity in sales and they’ve self-selected in to getting to that profession.
That itself is amazing, not everyone goes to a school where that’s an option and not everyone may have that common affinity for sales. Another one is someone who’s shown some dedication or commitment to something over a longer period of time. Your GPA is important but that’s not necessarily a cutoff to go into sales, it’s not at memoryBlue. It might be someone who’s started off as a reporter at the school newspaper and worked their way up to sports editor and that took 3 or 4 years, or someone who maybe had the same summer job 3 summers in a row. You have to be a responsible, disciplined young adult to show that sort of commitment to the same job or extracurricular activity over the duration of your college career.
Fred Diamond: Interesting, how about athletics? Do you hire athletes?
Marc Gonyea: Absolutely. We love athletes, I love them because certainly they’re used to winning and losing, they’re used to hearing things or things maybe happening, perhaps they get injured or you were a star in high school and you get to the college level and you might not be a star anymore. Particularly the individual sports like swimming, wrestlers, tennis, particularly a sport like swimming, the time is your time and you have to compete with yourself to get better and there aren’t a lot of areas or avenues for excuses. Anyone who certainly plays athletics in college or even high school, not everybody’s gifted enough to play in college, it gives you a level of self-awareness that you may not have otherwise.
Fred Diamond: Again, your company primarily does phone calls for companies, the goal being the outsource inside sales, if you will. You must have made at least millions, maybe tens of millions of phone calls, I guess. Tell us some things you’ve learned over the last couple of years, what are some of your key observations from the millions of phone calls that your people have made?
Marc Gonyea: This is the #1 thing, you have to use other facets of ability to touch someone to get their attention, to get them curious and interested so it’s email, it’s email cadences, it’s voicemails, it’s LinkedIn. To us, it comes down to the phone. Why does it come down to the phone? Primarily because nothing happens until you actually speak with someone, you can’t qualify someone over email, you can’t figure out what’s going on in their environment, you’re not going to get better as a sales professional by just simply emailing and LinkedIn messaging someone, but it’s difficult. The more things change the more they stay the same, it’s very difficult for people – young professionals or mid-stream to more senior – to want to get on the phone and get uncomfortable talking to someone that they don’t know, a stranger.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious, you’ve hired over a thousand people to work in memoryBlue, what’s the weed-out like? Once they get here again, you said that you recruit from colleges where they’ve already self-selected, so to speak but once people get out of school or something is there a weed-out type of thing that happens as well?
Marc Gonyea: We try and do a really good job of letting people know what it’s like to work here before you start, and when I say we try, we have folks take a personality assessment based on the DiSC methodology around trying to profile folks who may have a certain aptitude or maybe a mindset to come in and do well. Does it mean that it’s universally right or wrong? It’s a filter to try and pre-screen folks. We’re also very candid, it’s a very difficult job. We do a lot of great things here, we will develop you, you get to work with some of the most intellectually stimulating, game changing technology companies around on the planet but you better be ready to handle the rejection and the no’s. It’s hard to tell before somebody starts if they’ve got the gumption to do that so one of the ways you can do that is by being very transparent during the interview process of what their day to day is going to look like.
That’s one of the ways we do it and we like to develop and bring people along which means that we deal with the failure of people not doing that well but we try and deal with it by getting out in front of it as soon as possible because you can control most of the things in sales. You can control most of the elements in sales to help you be successful.
Fred Diamond: Typically when I interview a VP of sales I always ask this question, “Sales has gotten harder, people don’t return your phone calls, they don’t answer your emails.” You mentioned before, you said there needs to be not just the phone, although the phone is the most important thing, complemented with LinkedIn and emails and other types of touches. Give us one or two things that you’ve seen over the last year or two that may be of value to our listeners. For example, you should make in every call before 7 o’clock in the morning. You have guys come in at 3 in the morning to make phone calls?
Marc Gonyea: This is gold, what I’m about to drop right now, Fred. We have a young woman who works for us out of our Boston office and her mother is a sales professional. she’s a Vice President of Sales out of a company. One of her clients is a cyber company, an emerging cyber firm and it’s difficult to get folks in cyber on the phone, but you can get them on the phone and they’re very reticent to share with you details of their day in and day out because they’re in the cyber business. She was experiencing some trouble getting folks on the phone so talking with her mom outside of work, her mom suggested that she leave voicemails on a Sunday evening. She left 26-27 voicemails coupled with a LinkedIn message to the prospects two Sundays ago.
I don’t know what day it is today, but of those she got six responses and she booked two meetings, if I remember correctly. That’s a non-traditional approach where you’re calling a prospect on a Sunday evening leaving a short relevant voicemail, hitting them with a short relevant LinkedIn note and that’s the first thing they pick up when they roll into the office on Monday and it says a lot about you as a professional. You’re willing to invest the time and the energy into doing that on a Sunday and then you’re able to stand out from the crowd.
Fred Diamond: That’s good.
Marc Gonyea: That’s not programmatic. It could be programmatic if you wanted it to be but it’s certainly someone who’s trying to be resourceful.
Fred Diamond: You’ve got to be resourceful, my friend, you’ve got to be creative. That came up recently with a podcast we did with Frank Dimina over at Splunk, you’re talking about process, you have your strategies, times to make phone calls, the ways, the embrace, but you’ve got to be creative. Making those 26 calls on a Sunday night to everyone’s voicemail, coming in the next day with the LinkedIn messaging, you’ve got to be thinking about creative ways to do it. You’ve managed, again, we mentioned hundreds of young sales professionals. Where are they excelling today and where are they struggling?
Marc Gonyea: I think the most difficult thing about being a young professional nowadays is probably the culture of being driven to distraction or the culture of interruption. They’re always on in the sense that they’re easy to communicate with. I remember my father was working and if I called him at work I was probably going to get in trouble that night. There was a strict ‘don’t interrupt your dad as long as he was employed with the US Army’ type deal. I think nowadays with the onslaught of social media it’s easier for folks to be interrupted when they’re at work which is good and bad.
The bad thing is in a sales profession what we do here is uncomfortable, it takes people out of their comfort zone. We schedule two calling blitzes each day where you need to be on the phones and if you’re not on the phones, there’s a problem in the sense of how you’re managing your time and your day. It’s easy for that phone to interrupt you when you’re calling a CSO from a major retailer. What would you rather do, text your buddy about your fantasy football result on Monday morning or would you rather call the CSO from the Gap who probably isn’t exactly looking for your phone call on that Monday morning? It’s easy for them to be interrupted and thus in term be distracted, and not just on their phone but the use of the internet.
It almost equates to – I’m dating myself – my father, maybe if he had a TV and a VCR on top of his DVD player, on top of his desk, at lunch he popped in a movie and watched the movie at lunch, that type of stuff wouldn’t have flown where he is but that’s what people do. Younger folks might light up their phone and watch Game of Thrones on their phone at lunch during work but it’s work. It’s lunch time but it’s easy for that distraction to creep into something else later in the day.
Fred Diamond: I’m curious, again working with a lot of young professionals, you mentioned LinkedIn, of course the phone we’re talking about and email. Do you allow them to use other types of social media like Instagram or Snapchat or anything in the sales process or is it pretty much phone, email, LinkedIn?
Marc Gonyea: I would allow them if someone could prove to me or show me that that’s a reliable and repeatable process. Sure, if it’s relevant to the prospect, absolutely. I think you need to build up some credibility but my guess is there are people in high tech who are clients we want to sell to who are pretty active on social media. Twitter probably primarily even though Twitter is not Instagram, it’s not Snapchat. The answer would be yes, but you need to do it with some thought.
Fred Diamond: You’ve listened to and managed millions of phone calls, why don’t you give us the best practice for being successful today at inside sales? You talked about the focus, you talked about call blitzes but give us something today, what are some of the best practices that you need to have being deployed to be successful in inside sales today?
Marc Gonyea: I think one of the key elements – I’ll hit on it again, I’ll just wear this topic out – is treating the profession as a craft and you have to, like any professional – athletes will watch game film and break it down, comedians who develop routines, they harness and fine-tune those routines over hundreds of sets and they record and they listen to themselves. I can’t speak for everyone but I know a great many of them do. If you’re a sales professional you need to review and listen to how you interact with the prospect, how do you sound, what does your tone sound like? Are you comfortable with silence, do you ask questions, do you talk too much, are you not talking enough? It’s usually the opposite in salespeople. I would advocate listening to your sales calls, breaking them down including hand-written commentary like getting down into it and then asking someone else to break down those calls for you, ideally your sales manager. That’s what we do here.
Fred Diamond: Before we take a short break, how many calls does a typical memoryBlue SDR make on a daily basis?
Marc Gonyea: The minimum is a hundred dials but that’s a leading indicator. It needs to be a hundred.
Fred Diamond: Marc, you’ve given us some great advice. For lack of repeating, I might get some similar answers here but you’ve given us so many gems already. Again, as an experienced sales and business exec, again you’ve managed nearly a thousand or over a thousand sales development reps, what advice would you give to young professionals starting out their careers particularly in the tech and sales industries? I guess my question is a little bit different. The people that you’re bringing in, you don’t keep them for a long time, a lot of them go to work for some of your clients and you’ve done an amazing job keeping that flow going. What would you tell them to have a long term career, things they should be thinking about? Obviously you’ve got to come in, you’ve got to make almost a hundred phone calls a day or a hundred dials a day but what might be some of the advice you would give them to have longer term careers?
Marc Gonyea: Some of this might be trite but the idea of continuous improvement. You have to try and get better at the role and I don’t want that to be confused with ‘we’re a high-tech sales profession’ but some folks, particularly maybe early on in their career become really obsessed with the technology – and it’s good, knowing about the technology is key but it’s not as crucial as paying attention to the sales performance. I keep going back to this, to the craft of selling. You want to educate yourself along the lines of what the technology is and what it does and the value it brings but in today’s world if you’re a technology company and you want to develop a new feature or function, it’s easier to do that now than it ever was.
You outsource the development to the Ukraine or to India or even Argentina or you can do some of it in-house. The vendors are all saying the same thing about what the technology does for the most part, so what distinguishes you is your ability as a sales professional to separate yourself from the other sales professionals. You have to treat your selling profession as a true craft and you are working to get better at it. If you’re not doing that, you’re going to lose and it doesn’t stop when you’re 22, 25, 30, 35 or 40 – I’m older than all those four, but that’s the difference.
Fred Diamond: The Sales Game Changers that we interview, at least half of the people I interview for the podcast say it’s about continuous improvement, continuing to learn. You mentioned technology changes so much every single year it’s like you’ve got to stay on top of it, but I like what you just said that you really got to get good at the sales process versus the technology. I’m just curious, again we have a whole room here, we’re doing today’s podcast on the floor of memoryBlue in Tysons, Virginia. For our Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, it’s about 20 minutes from Washington DC. For those of you who don’t know, there’s a lot of tech in this area, there’s a lot of history with technology so you have a lot of great companies here. I’m just curious, what would you tell your 22 year old self, Marc, about how to be more successful in sales?
Marc Gonyea: I probably would have told myself to make more calls [Laughs] People back in the days of the dinosaur picked the phone up more. It was harder to get information, I remember driving around Fair Lakes Circle here in Washington DC and I would go door to door in some of the lobbies of some of the buildings trying to figure out who I could call, go back and then call because you were allowed to go. Maybe you could have, I used to go door to door when I was in college painting people’s houses but I didn’t do it in my first professional sales job, but I think you only get better by interacting more with folks. So I would have told myself to make more calls, to talk to more people, to work on developing my game.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, when you’re coaching do you get on the phone as well?
Marc Gonyea: No, I haven’t been on the phone in a little while. I’d like to, but no. I go back and forth with the idea of having one day a year where everyone in the company makes calls. Doesn’t matter if you’re in marketing or if you’re in operations or in recruiting or if you’re Chris or Marc, you’ve got to make calls too to get a slight reminder as to what it’s all really about but we haven’t done that yet. It still takes a lot of man hours.
Fred Diamond: Again, your company is based on that, that’s what companies are hiring you to do and I’ve been running the Institute for Excellence in Sales now for 7 years and people ask me, “What’s the one thing you’ve learned?” and you’ve been reiterating this: it’s about picking up the phone – not texting – it’s about picking up the phone and making phone calls because you need to have engagement with prospects. And you just don’t call once, you sometimes call 10, 15, 20 times and like you also said, you’ve got to be smart about the complementation. Marc, let’s talk about selling habits for a second. What’s one of your selling habits that you’d like to impart upon the audience here to help them take their career to the next level?
Marc Gonyea: One of my selling habits that I think is critical for me – I can’t say it will be for everyone else – is trying to remember the fact that you want to treat people how you want to be treated. I try and keep in mind that if I was on the other side of the table or the other side of the phone, how would I want to be serviced? It’s tough to do that because everyone has competing interests, you’ve got to hit your quota, maybe salespeople are trying to maximize their comp plan or they’re trying to earn a trip to President’s Club or some sort of multiplier in addition to their comp or they’re getting pressure from their boss, who knows what it is? But I think it comes down to how would you like to be treated, and if you can stay with that manifesto along the lines of the other things like delivering.
Fred Diamond: Overpromise and under deliver.
Marc Gonyea: Yeah, and doing what you say you’re going to do, those things are important but I think if you keep that in mind over the long course, that’ll serve you well.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious, again you have your people come in the office every day, they’re on the phone, what do you tell them about building networks and what’s some of your advice for the people listening to the podcast?
Marc Gonyea: It’s a small world. The high-tech sales world is very small. You may think it’s big but it’s not that big and this goes back to – it might be an overuse expression – never burn a bridge. Try and never burn a bridge, there’s something to be said for the fact that if everyone loves you, you might not be doing something right. Everyone’s going to have their detractors, no matter who you are and what profession and how you roll, but I think it’s important for folks particularly early in their career to keep in mind the fact that the folks they’re working with now, they may see again or they may work with or they might get a call about their job performance or they might get an employment verification request. A, “What was it like working with them?” type of inquisitive question or nature by folks they’re going to work with down the road or in the high-tech sales world. VP’s of Sales, VP’s of Marketing, they’re not in the job all that long. Hate it or love it, there’s a lot of transition going on and someone you work with at company A you may work again with at maybe not company B, but D, E or F. You’ve got to keep that in mind.
Fred Diamond: We talked today on the Sales Game Changers podcast with Marc Gonyea, the co-founder at memoryBlue. Marc, you’ve given us some great insights today. Again, we have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, give us a final thought to inspire them today.
Marc Gonyea: That’s a good one. I think if you’re in the high tech sales world in 2019 heading into 2020 in the United States, I heard this morning on CNBC that we’re in the eleventh year of an economic expansion. I think from month to month over growth or expansion it might be the greatest economy ever in terms of expansion growth so you need to recognize that if you’re selling today, it may not get much better than this. You need to lean into it because there’s another recession coming, Fred [Laughs]. I don’t know when it is but if I’m selling high-tech in 2019 to nearly anyone, this is a great profession, it’s a great job to have. You’re in no better job, in no better place, in no better time economically speaking. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, be grateful for that.