EPISODE 552: Strategies for Elite Sales Leadership Success with Splunk’s Pat Boland

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with Pat Boland, AVP, US & Canadian Public Sector at Splunk.]

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PAT’S TIP: “Success isn’t defined until the customer is really extremely referenceable and selling for us and the value of our products when we’re not around. The greater sellers are doing all those things and more. Foster a high degree of self-accountability. You have to be your own biggest critic, and you can’t be satisfied, are some of the major things that I feel like produces the best sellers.”


Fred Diamond: Pat, it’s great to see you. We’ve had a number of people from Splunk on the show before. The great Frank Dimina has been on a couple of times. Bethann Pepoli, from your partner world has been on the show as well. Splunk has been a sponsor of some of IES’s things in the past, so it’s great to have you here. We did a show recently with Sohale Razmjou, and he brought up your name. I’m excited to hear what you’re going on.

Why don’t you give us a real brief introduction? Tell us what you do with Splunk, and then let’s get right to it. How are things going for the public sales organizations right now?

Pat Boland: Fred, I really appreciate the time and being able to be on the podcast. It’s an honor to be able to be a part of that. I’ve really enjoyed listening to the past podcasts and definitely a tough act to follow with the likes of Frank and Bethann and even past splunkers like Jude Boyle at MuleSoft and our partners of ours like Sohale and the guys at Blackwood. Hopefully I hold up to their good podcast while I’m here. For my perspective, I am a VP of public sector sales covering half of our US civilian agencies, the Canadian Federal Government and non-profits for Splunk.

Fred Diamond: Someone you just mentioned, the great Jude Boyle was on the show a couple of months ago. He sends his regards. He says he’s very excited to hear what we’re going to be talking about here. How are things going for the public sector organizations right now? For people who don’t know, it’s the beginning of what they call the federal buying season. The US Federal Government, the fiscal year ends September 30th. So any organization that sells and provide services to the government, now’s when the vast majority of the transaction start happening. What are you seeing and how’s it going?

Pat Boland: Things are great. Honestly, I feel like after two plus years, the pandemic things are starting to get back to a sense of normalcy internally at Splunk and engagements with customers too. We had our first all hands sales training out in San Diego in May which was a blast, getting to see fellow splunkers and then do some training with them, and really sharpen up our knowledge of our products and what we can do. Then had our club trip in Mexico with a bunch of splunkers. It was great to connect with them.

From a customer standpoint, one of the best weeks of the year for me every year is our users conference. It was the first time we’ve had it live and in person since 2019. So having been to about eight or so of those over my 11 years at Splunk, I love going to them. It’s really a lot of fun to meet with customers, spend three days with them. But it’s an inspiring place to be able to hear from customers from around the world about what they’re doing with the product.

I always learn a lot from those presentations and conversations with my customers and just random people you meet out there that are customers on the commercial side or partners we’re working with. It’s really good and I’m looking forward to things really fully getting back to normal with more customer meetings on site and all that kind of stuff.

Fred Diamond: We’ve done over 500 Sales Game Changers podcast episodes. I am broadcasting here from Fairfax, Virginia. It’s right outside of Washington, DC and because of the locality, we’ve had probably close to 100 public sector sales leaders on the Sales Game Changers podcast.

One of the interesting things is that it almost seems like things have been stopped for two years. When the pandemic kicked in, almost everybody that we’ve interfaced with that provide sales or services to the federal government had to get the government into the cloud, and then you had to get all of those things going. Then that happened in April and May of 2020, which then got us right into the federal public sector buying season, like we just alluded to, and it seems like it’s been almost nonstop for the last two years.

Pat Boland: Yeah, it’s been unbelievable. It’s incredible to see how much the government and really industry as a whole has moved to work from home. I feel fortunate being at Splunk, and for a couple of reasons. During the pandemic and I think things kept rolling. Being an industry leader pre-pandemic, we already had a lot of these relationships with great government customers, and we already had plans on what we wanted to do with them and joint plans right over the next two to three years.

We were in a lot of those conversations, and then the pandemic hit, the world stops for a second, and there are some solutions that are not related to Splunk that agencies needed. But as they got that, and everyone moved to remote work, they still needed to monitor all those employees to really understand the systems and services. Are they still running efficiently and effectively and people, are they able to do their job?

They use Splunk for that, and being able to provide some of that insights into their environment. We became just as relevant as we were in the past, even more so specifically with the pandemic. I think we also had some fortuitous products of Splunk Cloud being FedRAMPed pre-pandemic. As customers are realizing, we need to do more SaaS adoption and get out of on-prem, I think that was a benefit for customers and for us.

Fred Diamond: What are some of the priorities right now? What are some of the priorities of major sales organizations?

Pat Boland: For Splunk specifically, and I hope for any sales organization, the priority is always customer first. So it’s really, are we helping our customers and our prospects address the challenges they have today? Not every challenge is going to be a Splunk challenge that we can support with, so we’re going to make sure we’re listening and understanding and where we can help and support, we want to make sure that we’re giving the best guidance input to our customers, to our prospects and making sure that the customers that have invested in Splunk are getting the best investment and return on that investment they possibly can. That’s the number one thing.

I think as an organization itself and being a part of the sales leadership team, I’m super focused as a priority on making sure that my folks on the team are equipped to be able to help our customers efficiently and effectively evaluate Splunk to look into the product, and again, get that return on investment. One of the things I think keeps any sales organization great is keeping a high level of accountability internally, and that we’re responding to the bell when the customer is ringing, and that we’re holding each other accountable. It’s been something that’s been easier to do. I think at Splunk we have a lot of highly motivated people that are A players and want to be held accountable. It’s been good. Those have been our refocuses.

Fred Diamond: That’s great. A lot of the top sales athletes have made it their way to Splunk, so it’s a good thing to see. We have a question here that comes in. Lynn says, “I’d like to know what are some of the key things that Pat is measuring” Thank you, Lynn. Pat, let’s talk about metrics for a few moments now. Again, I’m just curious. Like, whether you lead a large organization, what are some of the things that you’re looking for from a metric perspective?

Pat Boland: Yeah, it’s a really good question. What are we measuring today? There’s things that I think a lot of sales organizations are measuring from pipeline to pipeline to help to deal progression to close rates, but also customer satisfaction when it comes to support. That’s something that our support organization is really investing more heavily in is looking at surveys and feedback from customers.

Those are things we’re measuring as a whole. I think from a sales leadership perspective, there’s a lot of data we look at. It’s hard to give two or three metrics that are just the one end all be all, but I think there’s a lot that we look at that gives us an understanding of, does a certain rep or a certain team need coaching or need help? Is there something that someone’s doing a lot of that’s leading to great results for our customers and how do we tap into that to make sure that our broader sales and sales engineering teams are aware of them?

That’s something we’re focused on. We have a lot of those metrics. It’s something that I’ve over my 11-year career been interested in. I think back to this article Bill Gates put out in the Wall Street Journal a decade or so ago, that really talked about innovations over time from the steam engine to modern day computing. The importance that really sparked those innovations was from Bill Gates’ words were the ability to measure things very small increments, and to be able to get better at measuring that.

That helps the engineers and the people that are tweaking the system underneath to get better results from the steam engine, again, all the way through modern day computing. From a sales leadership perspective, I think if you’re not looking at the metrics, not looking at different data points, you can get yourself into trouble. As you look at more and more of those, those can really give you a lot of great data points to act on and to improve and get better and ultimately make sure your team is providing a really good service.

Fred Diamond: Speaking of that, one of the big challenges over the last couple years is that it’s gotten harder in a lot of ways. We hear about The Great Resignation and things like that, but the sales profession has gotten harder. Just in general, a lot of companies are still having to do sales like this. It’s amazing to me, Pat.

I still hear sales leaders will come to me and say, “Hey, Fred, can you recommend somebody to train our people on how to better use either web or Zoom or whatever it might be to do presenting?” I’m like, it’s been two years in, and it’s still a challenge getting back and there’s fatigue, and all those things. What are some of the best sales professionals doing right now? One word that we’ve kicked around a lot, Pat Boland, is elite. What is your definition of what the top, the cream of the crop, is doing right now?

Pat Boland: That’s a really good question and it’s almost like how much time do we have to dig into it? When I think of elite and how you define that, I think of analogies to other sports. When you think of truly elite, there are very few people that are truly elite in any profession. You think about something like golf, I’m a big fan of sports. There’s something like 24 million golfers worldwide, and yet there’s only 125 guys in the world that have a PGA Tour card and now maybe live golf and some of the European tours and whatnot.

We’re talking about the 1% of the almost 1% essentially. There’s very few folks that I think are doing all those things. A challenge, when it comes to sales that I found, even just to be good or great, it’s not one or two things that folks need to be doing. It’s all a host of them. Something that’s unique, I think about sales certainly is that you can’t read one book. There’s no exact manual on how to be great. There’s a lot of guidance you can get, but you don’t just read something and immediately you become a great seller.

Going back to the golf analogy, Ben Hogan is one of the greatest golfers of all time and he strung people along saying, “I’ve got the secret to golf,” and he kept that secret to himself. Then towards the end of his career he said, “Well, I can’t tell you what the secret is, but I can tell you where it is. The secret is in the dirt.” What he meant by with that was that the secret really is you got to actually put the swings in, you got to go to the range, you got to practice.

In terms of what the best folks are doing, it’s a lot of different things. One thing that I’ll steal from Frank Dimina, one of our sales leaders here at Splunk, is the best sellers are really great investigative journalists. What he means by that is that they’re extremely informed, they have the ability to ask great questions for the purpose of truly understanding and discovering truth, they have the ability to capture or obtain key details, and they can really tell a story.

I think that’s something that’s needed just for any seller to be good. To be great, they’ve got to do a lot of things from being extremely proficient at follow up. They need to be able to align internal experts to be able to demonstrate the relevant value to that particular customer. They need to be a leader that inspires and hold their own internal team accountable. They need to be able to stay engaged post sale to earn the customers’ respect and trust.

The sales process, really, success isn’t defined until the customer is really extremely referenceable and selling for us and the value of our products when we’re not around. I think the greater sellers are doing all those things and more. What can someone do to be elite? I think you got to have to foster a high degree of self-accountability. You have to be your own biggest critic, and you can’t be satisfied, were some of the major things that I feel like produces the best sellers.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point that you mentioned that Frank said about being an investigative reporter. One of the words that comes up a lot, of course, is curiosity. We actually did a show just on curiosity with great Dr. Allison Horstmeyer, where she’s studied curiosity in businesses. We talk a lot, Pat, about bringing solutions to your customer and how the elite sales professionals are a step ahead. They’re doing the preparation. They’re reading things. One of the benefits of selling into the public sector markets is that the strategic plans are published. Almost everything is transparent. If you’re selling to any agency, you should know what their major missions are, and what they’re looking for, because it’s published. We as citizens own that and asking additional questions and going a little bit deeper. I love that.

I’ve never actually heard that before, investigative reporter, but it fits in with what so many people said. I’m just curious. I only have top sales leaders on the Sales Game Changers podcast. Your name came up from a bunch of people who said, “Oh, you got to have Pat Boland on. He’s really good. He’s a great leader, etc.” What are some of the things that you do? You just talked about some things that sales professionals should do. Tell me one or two things that you specifically do on a daily or regular basis to be at the level where you are.

Pat Boland: That’s a good question. At different points in my career, it’s been different things but I think going back to that curiosity aspect, I always want to care for the right reasons, and really focusing on caring about making my customer successful. That’s really where I want to drive my curiosity and my questions. What I’m focused on doing personally to get better is I’m trying to spend more time boxed out to read from whether it’s sales related books, or philosophy books, and really spend time reflecting on how I’m leading my team, how I’m communicating, how I’m trying to inspire folks. That’s where I’m spending a decent amount of my time these days and it’s shifted over my career in terms of what I felt like I needed to do.

Fred Diamond: Tell us about some of your customer communications. How are your customer conversations going right now? Again, you sell into the federal public sector. How are those conversations going today? Are they in person? Are most of them still over the web or how are they going and what do customers want to hear from you?

Pat Boland: It really varies. Splunk technology itself, we’re all about taking data and making it actionable. We make it extremely easy to put data in our software, to be able to ask questions of it, to build reports, dashboards and alerts to give customers results. Where our conversations go really depend on what the customer wants. It’s up to them to decide what data do we care about? What questions do we want to ask of it?

In terms of the conversations, they’re going really well. I mentioned our users conference that happened a couple of weeks ago, was the first one that was in person. A lot of the conversations there, they went from how to have more efficient security teams running things like risk based alerting, and making sure that they’re able to have the most efficient searches being run to give them the most efficient insights and to get more visibility into their environment.

It could be something from that perspective. It could be something from the IT operations perspective and understanding of critical service that’s being used by their constituents or their internal customers within their agency to make sure it’s performing optimally, and that if it’s not performing optimally, being able to dig into the details using Splunk, to find what the root cause of an issue was. They’re really spanning a whole lot of use cases and that’s one thing about Splunk that I really enjoy is that one conversation is going to be very different from your next conversation based on customer interests.

Fred Diamond: I’m curious again. We used to ask this question a lot in the beginning of the pandemic about, how have you changed as a sales leader? Especially as we started getting deeper and it became more obvious that this thing was going to expand. Well, again, we’re two years in. Do you know Tim Solms from D&B? Did you ever come across Tim?

Pat Boland: No.

Fred Diamond: He was on my show last June. He’s the public sector leader for D&B, and I said, “What is your biggest priority right now?” He says, “It’s managing the fatigue of our organization.” The word fatigue had never been uttered before on the Sales Game Changers podcast. I’m just curious, how have you evolved as a sales leader over the last two years with all the stuff that we’ve had to deal with, not just from a sales of technology perspective to a customer, but things like the need to be more empathetic and some of the challenges that women have faced in the workforce? The US Chamber of Commerce estimated that nearly a million white collar women workers, not just in sales, have left the workforce. I’m just curious, how have you seen yourself evolve and change over the last two years?

Pat Boland: That’s a good question, too. I think from a fatigue standpoint, the federal government are my customers, but also the people that I work with. I feel like I’m responsible for them. I don’t look at it as a work for me, I work with them and I get the privilege to do that. I think that keeping people’s energy up is a lot easier when you care about what is important to them personally and professionally, and challenges that are in their way from their ability to perform their job. If you’re understanding of that and you’re trying to help and you’re there and available for them at any hour of the day, that’s what keeps the energy up within an organization and internally, people respond to that. People know when people generally care, and I think that gives a lot of people energy and wanting to work with them.

I think in terms of how I’ve changed as a sales leader, I look at that in a couple of different ways, but the easiest way for me to think about it would probably just be the nature of my job itself. This year, I moved from a first line manager for three plus years to a second line manager for the first time. How I’ve changed is partially as a result of that. My responsibilities are different. I’ve had to spend my time differently as a result. I can’t be overly tactical in the weeds on every deal, because that’s not what scales for my reps, and all of them doesn’t scale with my RSDs, and it doesn’t really provide the best value for the company in the role I run. How I’ve changed where I spend my time is really focusing on things like overall growth and health of our business, the challenges impacting that growth, and then spending time on how I address those challenges.

What things are in my control? What things can I influence? Increasing collaboration with cross-functional teams between our sellers and the folks that engage with those teams and then broader team enablement. There’s a lot of coaching that goes on, and learning that goes on and one on one conversations. But when I’ve noticed challenges, I spend more of my time saying, “Okay, well, I’ve seen a trend or a theme here, and we need to share those.” Whether it’s a challenge or a success that I feel like other sellers are confronted with.

I’ve spent a lot of time changing that and getting out of my old behaviors as a first line manager. I think those are probably the biggest areas of change. I think the other thing would be just as a second line leader or as a sales leader in general, I focus more of my time on how do I get better at identifying those gaps, those problems, those challenges that my sellers or my directors are facing? Then how do I find ways to better coach and challenge them to find their own success?

I think it’s a nice thing having been at the company for 11 plus years is that I’ve been in a bunch of different roles. While I’ve had success in many of those roles, my success isn’t going to be the exact same way another seller or RSD finds his success. I’ve got to be able to identify where they’re having challenges and work with them to figure out how do they find and define their own success in that role.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here that comes in from Jensen. He says, “I’m a first line sales manager. I’ve been in the role for two years. What are some of Pat’s recommendations for how I can best work as a leader?” I know Jensen. Jensen actually was promoted right at the beginning of the pandemic. Jensen, thank you for your question. What would be some of your recommendations for someone who’s in first time as a sales leader? We always like to say it’s the hardest position in sales because you were probably a good individual contributor, and then you were tapped on the shoulder and brought into leadership and you’re very rarely given any official training. Usually, it might be in the form of mentoring.

Then if you think about it, a lot of these people were promoted in January of 2020. They probably now by this point have seen people, but the first year and a half, they were in their homes trying to manage people in the rectangle. What will be some of your recommendations for people like Jensen, people who are early part of their career, but they’re in their first line of leadership and they want to aspire to an RVP role or a VP role?

Pat Boland: That’s a great question. I’m still figuring out, learning the role of leadership myself, Fred, and I’m trying to get better every day. I think from my perspective, my experience, moving from an individual seller to a first line leader, there’s a sense of like, going back to a sports analogy. If you’re a good basketball player, you just know how to play. It’s the attitude of give me the ball, I can go play, I can win, and I can have a lot of fun doing it.

But as a basketball player, as an athlete, a sales athlete, you’re going through that, you’re recognizing your own gaps, and you’re very self-critical on what your issues, your shortcomings or growth areas might be, and you’re constantly working towards that. I think moving into the sales leadership perspective, you have to switch the mindset on other people’s gaps may be very different and needing to get away from the, “Well, I’m going to go solve their problem for them. I’m going to go do this because I know how to do it. I’ve played that game before.”

There’s a lot of different ways to get from point A to point B, and you got to let people find out and learn their own way to get there and give them guidance. For me, I’ve tried to focus on creating an environment for people who want to seek out coaching and they want to seek out guidance. You got to create an environment. For me, I found that allows people to feel like they can be completely honest about the challenges that they’re experiencing and know that failure maybe they’ve had isn’t going to be ridiculed. To be something they’re looking for support from their leadership on how do they address it.

I think it’s also a culture of saying don’t just come to me, don’t come to a sales leader with all your challenges. Work with the peers that you have. Work with people around the business and collaborate with them and you’ll find a lot of answers in exploring that. I think it’s almost teaching sellers and making them feel comfortable with reaching out to the extended community to collaborate. I found when trying to do that in that kind of environment, coaching and learning can have a lot more success to really take hold. That’d be my advice. I’ve seen a lot of people that will try to do the job or somebody will tell them what to do versus creating a culture of where people can solve their own problems.

Fred Diamond: Pat, we’ve got time for one more question before we ask you for your action step. What are your expectations for people who report to you right now? Again, I like what you just said, you can’t just sit around waiting to be coached, you got to figure it out, etc.

Everyone who’s gotten to the level that you are or above, they’ve had a couple of things. They’ve had mentors, probably, they’ve been in the right place, right time. That always helps, working for a company that’s doing well, being passionate about the customer. But at the end of the day, anybody who’s reached your level, they’ve done it on their own. You mentioned accountability, their own volition. It’s like, what do I need to do? What do I need to learn?

Especially at the VP level for markets like public sector, people always ask me, “How do I become great at sales?” I say, “Find a market and become an expert in the market.” Public sector, Sohale Razmjou who was on the show yesterday, said, “It’s not just federal government,  the healthcare side, or the defense side or intelligence, whatever it might be, but truly becoming an expert.” What would be your expectations of your sales organization right now?

Pat Boland: My expectations have really been a couple of things, whether I’m interviewing someone or whether someone’s on the team. To be a successful seller, you have to be, as you mentioned earlier, constantly curious and you have to be curious for the right reasons. You got to care about your customers and care about their success. I expect that from my sellers. I expect them to have a high figure-it-out factor.

Like a lot of organizations, especially at Splunk, we have so many different teams and resources that sellers can use to help them and help their customers. There’s not a perfect manual on how to bring all those groups together, and it’s up to them to go figure that out. We have a lot of people that have done it, but they have to have a high figure-it-out factor to figure out, “Okay, what’s the best way to leverage the team, and to get them in front of my customers at the right time to provide the best value for those customers?”

I think as a result, that has to be natural collaborators and internal value networkers, not networking for the sake of networking, but networking for the sake of trying to figure out who within the organization can help them and help their customers. The ones that do that, the ones that have a high figure-it-out factor and naturally collaborate network are going to really accelerate what they see in terms of results within their territory.

I think the other thing is mindset. I find that the best sellers and the folks I expect to have on my team, to be able to have a mindset where they have honestly, it’s a high pain tolerance and unrelenting persistence. It sounds bad, but I say high pain tolerance because there are a lot of challenges that every seller has to confront on a daily basis, quarterly basis, yearly basis that they can’t predict. They need to be able to understand that that’s going to happen. That’s a part of the job.

Our job is not to necessarily just, it’s not selling, it’s solving problems. That may be a problem for a customer or an internal one. I expect my sellers to know that those challenges will come and that they have to have the attitude that they’re going to control their emotions and go about, okay, how do I effectively attack that challenge, and how do I share once I’ve solved it with the rest of our sellers and rest of our teams that we can all get better? I think that’s a big piece that’s super important to sales that isn’t really talked about or addressed enough.

Fred Diamond: I think that’s a great point. I want to just acknowledge you for the great answers you’ve given us today. People saw you were going to be on the show. I got a lot of people who reached out and said, “I can’t wait to hear what he has to say. He’s done such a great job in his career.” People were excited for having you be a guest on the Sales Game Changers podcast. Pat, as we like to end every Sales Game Changers podcast episode, you’ve given us so many great ideas, 15, 20 things we could do, give us something specific, something actionable, that the people who are listening to today’s show can do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Pat Boland: I mentioned it earlier, but if I had one thing, it’s something I’m personally focused on as well. There’s a quote from Harry Truman, it says something along the lines of, not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers. I’m trying to dedicate more time now in the day to be able to read things that I think will help me and to be able to reflect on that and figure out how can I be better at sales? Then go put that into action. As Hogan mentioned, the secret of golf is in the dirt, the secret to sales and having success is getting out there and producing and having enough at-bats to do it.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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