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EPISODE 002, LiveSafe Sales Leader Mark LaFleur Shares Insights into Growing Your Sales Career
We interviewed Mark LaFleur, vice president of sales at LiveSafe. Mark shared great insights into how sales professionals can grow their customer relationships and their careers. The interview originally took place when Mark was the sales leader at banking training company Omega Performance.
Find Mark on LinkedIn!
Here’s a transcript of the podcast:
Fred Diamond: I am thrilled today to be here with sales leader Mark LaFleur. Mark is the senior VP and chief sales officer at Omega Performance. So how critical is it for you, as a sales leader managing salespeople, to let them know that the company is behind them, that sales is important, that the company will treat them the right way and help them to be successful in their careers?.
Mark: From my perspective as a sales leader what’s really critical is that you want to make sure the entire company is aligned around the mission and vision of the business, and if you have that, then really it’s all about hiring really talented people and inspiring them to do great things. And so if you’ve got that whole mix in place, then the people see that the company is behind them and that they’re a really critical piece of the success of the business, and they respond.
Fred: Very good. I know you’re a Boston guy.
Fred: And we’ve talked about that many times, of course, but where’d you get your start? What was your first job in sales?
Mark: My first job after college in Boston, I was working for a private asset management firm, and like probably a lot of people in their first job I quickly realized that’s not what I wanted to do. Luckily I had a brother-in-law who was in sales and did very well, and he was actually working for Learning Tree and he recruited me to come there, and so I actually moved from Boston to Northern Virginia to work for Learning Tree. I was an inside sales rep selling e-learning, b-to-b, but all over the phone, and it was really great entering into the sales profession. It was a great opportunity to start things out.
Fred: Is there anything that you think about from your childhood that helped you become the sales leader you are today?
Mark: Oh, I definitely think so. You know, once I was able to lose the Boston accent, people could actually start to understand what I was saying. I look at the type of environment I grew up in. It was one where there’s an emphasis placed on hard work, on character, on being a straight shooter, on keeping your word. You know those types of fundamental values, to me, really are the types of things that separate salespeople who tend to be more transactional from those who tend to be more relationship and strategic. You can’t be a relationship-based salesperson and a strategic salesperson if you don’t have those types of characteristics.
Fred: You know, one thing that I’ve always been impressed by you, Mark, is that you care a lot about the people who work for you and ensure that they are in position to be successful. I’ve seen you mentor and coach them. Do you have any examples where you were mentored by somebody you look back on fondly who helped you get to the next level?
Mark: Absolutely. You know that’s one of the real blessings of my career, when I look back at it and see that I’ve had an amazing number of people who’ve helped me out along the way, and I’ve really tried to pay that forward and do that for others. I was an inside sales rep and there was an outside rep who told me, “You are the CEO of Mark LaFleur Inc. when it comes to selling you. Everything regarding your success or failure is going to be up to you, so don’t sit around asking where the marketing leads are, and don’t sit around asking for this or that. Go out, make things happen. Make good decisions based on the needs of your customer and work harder than everybody else, and good things will happen.”
Fred: That is great advice. Do you keep in touch with that guy?
Mark: I do. He’s retired now, and he’s a great guy.
Fred: It’s up to you at the end of the day. It really is up to you.
Mark: It really is. You can find all types of reasons to fail. The question is, what are those things that are going to make you be successful? Focus on those things and that positive attitude really goes a long way.
Fred: So how would you describe your style?
Mark: I’m more pragmatic but probably in a very persistent sort of way. I’m all about intellectual honesty and let’s cut to the chase. A big mistake that I see a lot of salespeople make is, let’s say with pipeline management. When you sit and you go through everything one by one and you start to ask some very straightforward questions, and you hold them accountable and you say, Tell me the answer to this, this, and this, and at the end you say that you really think you’re going to close this next month, and they look at you and say, Okay, yeah maybe not, because I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I think that intellectual honesty, when we look at our own sales pipeline and try to manage our performance, is really critical. It’s critical for individual contributors, and it’s critical to us as sales leaders to really be intellectually honest and inspect everything and make sure that we really have a good handle on where everything is going to be, and I think that’s the pragmatism. And that plus—and I’ll keep going back to this—the work ethic of making sure that you’re constantly working existing customers. [At the same time] I’m constantly looking for new customers… I want to understand what your activities have been, how are we building up our future business, and then how we are evaluating those business opportunities, and do we really think that we’re making good progress.
Fred: Is it harder today or easier today to be a successful sales professional?
Mark: I don’t think it’s ever been easy, so I do think it’s hard. That said, if you brought somebody in here who sold in the 1960s or if you got your time machine and brought someone who’s selling in the 2060s, they will always tell you it’s absolutely the hardest right then. So it’s all a matter of perspective. I think what tends to happen is that there’s always influences in the world, whether it’s social media or some other new technology that comes along. I think sales is a hard profession. I think that companies and individuals make it harder, sometimes, on themselves. So I think you just have to understand the environment that you’re operating in and adjust to make sure that you are doing everything possible to support your sales organization to go make sales.
Fred: What are some of the things that you would tell a young sales professional to do to keep their career going at an accelerated pace?
Mark: I would tell them to always focus on being the top performer. At the end of the day, if you want to build a career in this space and you want to have as much happiness in life in general, including your career, it’s all about making sure that you have options, and you’re going to have the most options by being a top performer, so always focus on your results. There are a lot of people I meet, especially younger, newer salespeople, who will talk about all kinds of different things that aren’t the results, And at the end of the day I want to make sure that that’s what we’re focused on, so that’s the first piece of advice. From there it’s really about, as I mentioned before, keeping it simple. I think the thing that hasn’t changed in sales, whether it’s easier or harder now, is that there are some kind of truisms that are true today and always happen and always will be, which is to sell to decision makers. You have to look at things from the perspective of the customer. Again, a lot of salespeople I’ve seen who haven’t made it have a lot of great activity, and then when you walk through with them you realize they’re selling to the wrong person and organization: the person doesn’t have a decision-making ability, or they’re putting solutions together that might be in the best interest of them or our business and not of the customer.
Fred: What do you do to sharpen your saw? What do you do to stay fresh? What kinds of books do you read?
Mark: I believe that if you think about sales as a couple of key component, it’s relationship building and then also adding value to your customer. From the relationship side I like to read as much as I can on the widest variety of topics. Because I’ve found that when you develop relationships with customers you may talk to a customer who’s interested in baseball or another customer’s interested in history, and to be able to talk about a lot of different topics is good. However, you also have to add value from a business perspective, right? And so for me I read The Wall Street Journal.
Fred: Let’s say you had someone who wasn’t a performer and you made the decision that this person really shouldn’t be in sales. What would you say? Would you tell them?
Mark: I think sometimes new sales leaders really fear having that conversation with the salesperson who isn’t holding their own. My experience has been that the underperforming sales rep is the first person who knows, and they’re usually just as anxious or more so than anybody else, and when you approach them about it, while there’s some additional anxiety there’s also a sort of sense of relief, like this is the first step to addressing this one way or the other. I have had experiences that have gone both ways in my career. Probably one of the most rewarding things that’s happened to me as a leader is I had one rep who was underperforming, and what I said was that I felt he was sweating too many details on things like operational implementation and things like that and not spending enough time selling and as a result his results were not where they needed it to be. I had a discussion with him, put him on a sales plan. It was a very honest, open conversation. We talked about the things that he did well but also the things that if he was going to be a successful salesperson he needed to fix.
Fred: Tell me something about you that I don’t know. Tell me something about you that you do on a daily basis to continue to become the sales leader that you are.
Mark: I do take 15 minutes to try to do some self-reflection on what happened today and what I need to do tomorrow, what would I have done differently today. I try to take lessons learned out of each day and also just mentally review everything. Because again, it goes back to that intellectual honesty we talked about.