EPISODE 122: Learn How the Marine Corps, Mentors and Sales that Went Awry Shaped M3Com and Virtacore Sales Chief Paul Borror into the Fearless Leader He’s Become
PAUL’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Show up to give. I think too many of us in the sales game show up to get. We need a PO, we need a meeting, we need the next thing – why don’t we show up to give? Make every interaction with your customer and prospect as valuable as possible and leave the folks that you meet better for the time that you spent together. Show up to give.”
He has held sales leadership positions at NetApp and Concur.
Paul served in the US Marine Corps.
Find Paul on LinkedIn!
Paul Borror: I look at sales as a deeply personal endeavor. It’s something I really want to do, it’s something that has really become a part of me. I’ve been at this for a while and the thing that I’ve noticed is that we’re really in the hero-making business. We want to make our company a hero, our boss a hero, our sales teams heroes and really when you think about it, we want to show up and make our customer a hero for choosing to go with the solution that we have.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great way to say it, I don’t think anyone’s ever said it that way before. A lot of people talk about how they want to make their customer successful and most people who’ve reached your level have been very successful in doing that, interested in hearing that story. Why don’t you tell the audience listening today what you sell today? Tell us what excites you about that.
Paul Borror: Thank you, I appreciate that. There are two sides to our business, you introduced me as the VP of sales for M3COM and Virtacore. M3COM has been around since 1998 and essentially we design, engineer and provision and then manage private line, MPLS, DAA, essentially international networks for large companies around the world. We stick to four verticals, basically media, financial, manufacturing and service provider and they’d be names that you would recognize, everyday names across the country and across your daily work. The second side of the business is Virtacore and this is traditional private cloud so think co-location, infrastructures of service, compute storage, disaster recovery and we provide those services to small, medium and large companies.
My favorite of our customers is Cal-Maine, and I hadn’t even heard of Cal-Maine. Cal-Maine is the largest domestic egg producer and they have relationships with several other companies that we traditionally buy eggs for but Cal-Maine has this wonderful business model, they’re a big company. When it gets right down to it and I’m talking to Bob on the phone he goes, “Paul, how many eggs is this going to cost me?” They really do measure things by what they have to produce to be able to pay for a solution. We also do data center migrations, so if you’ve got a big company or a small company and you just want to get out of the hardware/software business and collapse out of where you are, we’re happy to take that from you as well.
Fred Diamond: Very good. You mentioned you were in the Marine Corps; you went to the Naval Academy if I recall. How did you first get into sales as a career? We’ve interviewed a bunch of people who have served the country but you might be the first grad of the naval academy that we’ve had, so thanks for your service first of all and how did you first get into sales as a career?
Paul Borror: That’s interesting, thank you. It was funny, I was in the Marine Corps and I was looking at transitioning out and I got a call from somebody and said, “You’ve got to try this out, this is an opportunity to get started” kind of a ground floor business. I love selling, I had a paper route when I was a kid, it was one of these paper routes that you have to go out and you deliver the paper for free and then you have to go bang on the door and ask for money, so really you’re selling your service all the time. “Listen, I put it up on your porch when it was raining, I put it in a bag” and that’s how you start doing that. You get a little better at that and people say, “Can you mow my lawn? I’ve got some weaving to do.”
I found myself in business for myself and that was neat, I enjoyed that. After the Marine Corps, I was looking for a way to continue along that service and this friend of mine called me up and said, “You’ve got to try this out.” He didn’t tell me what it was. What I found out it was, was selling insurance and investment which wound up being a really difficult but a really eye-opening way to get into sales because there’s this balance between what the customer really needs and you’ve got to make your quota.
Do you do it in one visit, do you do it in two visits, do you do it in three visits? How do you do that? The transition may not have seemed logical, a lot of my friends were going and being airline pilots or transitioning to the beltway bandits or have an aerospace engineering degree – perfect degree for sales. Going into the more traditional fields, I thought I really wanted to do something where I could interact with people more, and sales was going to be that outlet.
Fred Diamond: Interestingly, you sold newspapers, you had a paper route like I did, by the way. You then went to the marines and then you started selling insurance. Interestingly, I usually ask the question, “What are some of the lessons you learned from the first few sales jobs.” I’m going to ask you it slightly different and you can answer however you want. I’m just curious what you learned from the Marines that has suited you in your sales career.
Paul Borror: I tell people all the time I never had a bad day in the Marine Corps. I had some hard days, I had some days that were a real emotional struggle. I never really had a bad day, and the thing I learned in the Marine Corps is that there is a comradery that transcends the day to day. In the Marine Corps, somebody always has your back. In the Marine Corps, it is a true brotherhood and it doesn’t matter what it is you do, it doesn’t matter if you’re a rifleman or if you’re an aircraft mechanic or if you drive a tank or if you’re in logistics. Whatever it is, the Marine Corps is the Marine Corps, you are one team. I’ve tried to bring that to whatever sales team I was on by being a good employee because I think you have to be a good follower to ever be a good leader, and the best way to honor your leader is to be a good follower and I learned that in the Marine Corps as well. I think also if you have the privilege of leading people, that you make sure that you’re worthy of being led.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great answer. Tell us a little more about you specifically, what exactly are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Paul Borror: Thanks, that’s a bit of a loaded question. I made myself some notes and when I read that question, that’s the first thing I thought, “That’s a bit of a loaded question.” I’d like to think, Fred, that I’m good at finding and developing real sales talent. There’s a maxim to let your leaders lead. If you find a good leader – or even if you don’t – to find out what somebody can really do, you have to let them fly a little bit. They can’t be under your thumb all the time. I think it’s the same thing with salespeople, you’ve got to give them a chance to fail. In my house, my wife does a very good job.
We have olders and youngers, we have 6 children, we have 3 out of the house, I’ve got one at UT Knoxville and then I’ve got 2 still in the house, one at Cooper and one at Langley. What my wife has provided is an environment in our home where you always have a soft place to land. Even the olders, if something happens they know that they can always come home. They know that they can tell their mom or me anything and we’re going to love them first and help them solve the problem second so listen first, solve second. Having that compassion I think is extraordinarily important.
Fred Diamond: Interesting. Talking about leading people, you’ve probably had some great mentors along the way. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your sales career?
Paul Borror: There are a couple. One of the things I wanted to mention is I really started paying attention to what it is you had and you have a sharpening the saw thing later, I’m looking forward to that. I really started to watch what you all were doing when you honored a guy that I used to work for, a boss’s boss, a guy by the name of Mark Weber (Mark was also interviewed on this podcast here.) Mark has been one of those guys, he was very clear. You talk about things that you learned, clarity of purpose. What is it you want? I could remember we would go for bring your child to work day, and one of the things that Mark would ask you to ask the kids, “When you go home tonight and tomorrow night and the night after, when your mom or dad comes home you ask them, “Did you sell anything today?”” There’s some joy in that too, but that’s fun. That’s really interesting and I’ve tried to develop that as well to have a fun way to remember the business we’re in and the job we’re doing.
I also worked directly in that same environment. I worked directly for a woman in two different jobs by the name of Regina Kunkle and Regina is one of these great leaders who brings a little bit of everything to the table. She’s smart, she’s dedicated, she’s hard working, compassionate and honestly she’s fearless. She knows what she wants and she’s very clear about making sure that you understand what our mission is, and then she also has the ability to let you go ahead and do the things that you might need to do to win the business, whether that’s building a coalition where I need more support, I need more engineering support, I need pricing support, I need support from headquarters, one of those kinds of things, she’s right there. “I got your back” or if it’s just to say, “Listen, let me get back to you, let me find out what the customer really wants and we’ll come back” and she’ll sit down and challenge you and help you get to the answer that we need.
Most importantly again, all those great attributes: strength, fearlessness, everything else, but remember the Marine Corps. She always had my back, Mark did as well but she always had my back and that’s one of the things that I’ve tried to make sure that I always had for the folks that I was able to work with.
Fred Diamond: I have a question for you. By the way, Mark Weber has been interviewed for the podcast. You just used the word “fearlessness” and we talk about fearlessness in sales. What does that mean? How does that represent itself in today’s economy?
Paul Borror: I think to be truly fearless you have to be grounded in what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Fear is a word that I think gets a little bit overused. What are you afraid of? I’m afraid of heights, there is a fear there but I can conquer it by working through certain things or just staying away from the ledge. When I mean fearless, what I really mean by that and especially in the example I used with Regina and what I try to do is be confident in what it is that you’re trying to convey to your customer, and be confident in what it is that you’re trying to do with and for your company. Be grounded, know what it is you’re selling, know what it is that your solution does to help your customer. Don’t be shy about letting them know, be fearless.
Fred Diamond: Paul, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Paul Borror: People – finding the very best and keeping the very best. The hardest thing is finding the right person in the right environment at the right time to do the right thing. You’d think that would be simple, “It’s sales, how hard can this be?” It’s really difficult. Culture gets in the way, life gets in the way, economic pressures get in the way, needs get in the way. You get all the way down the road with something, everybody’s going to be fine and then IBM buys your company [laughs]. I got a note from a friend of mine, “You’re never going to believe this, a buddy of ours from NetApp left, Monday was his first day at Red Hat.” He had no idea he was going to be an IBMer!
You just don’t know what’s going to happen, so with all that lined up against you you need a special kind of person that perseveres, that sets through that. Then I also say there’s two people, there’s the guy you interview and the person that you work with on a day to day basis, and discerning between those two is also very hard.
Fred Diamond: Paul, you’ve worked for some great places, you mentioned you’ve had about a 30 year career. What’s the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? Why don’t you take us back to that moment?
Paul Borror: This would probably be almost 15 years ago now. I was in enterprise sales and you know what happens, at the end of the year in enterprise sales maybe you’ve got 5 people and you’ve got 20 accounts. We’ve grown from 5 to 7 so some of us were only going to have one or two. I went from 5 to 2 and I kept my anchor customer and then I got a customer from somebody else. I gave up 4 and got one back so I went from 5 to 2. I went to see my new customer and I was excited because again, a recognized name in the industry, a good long term customer and I had a reasonable quota against them. I’m like, “This is going to be great.”
I get up there and I get in the room and I’m thinking, “There’s an awful lot of people here” and the director of IT gets up and says, “I just want you to know, the reason you’re here is not to sell us anything else, we just want to let you know that we are going to rip everything out of yours. We’ve been a two vendor shop, we’re now going to be a one vendor shop and you’re not the vendor.” Short answer and I’m like, “That’s not what I expected.” I had two customers, now really I’m down to one. I go back, I talk to my team and everything else.
This is the funniest thing, about two weeks later I get a big order from these guys, a seven figure order.
Fred Diamond: Wait a minute, at that meeting they brought you in and they said, “Paul, FYI, we’re getting rid of all your stuff. Nice to know you, let’s validate your parking, take it easy” type of a thing and you left the building. It’s over.
Paul Borror: It’s over, I’m down to one guy and there’s no way I’m making my quota on the one guy, that’s what I was thinking. I wasn’t thinking about the greater good when I walked out of there, I’m thinking, “How am I going to tell my wife that we’re going to have to make some changes?” [Laughs] About three weeks later, I get this huge order, seven figures. You have to understand that they had multi-millions of dollars with both us and our competition so a million dollar order may have been 2, 3, 5% of the overall so this was not game changing for them, it was necessary.
I called the guy up and I said, “What’s going on?” and he said, “We need this swing gear so we can offload some things so we can get you guys out of here once and for good.” I’m like, “OK, I’m not selling it to you.” I said, “Just can’t, not doing it.” You can imagine that every alarm bell in the world goes off. He tells his boss, his boss calls my boss before I get a chance to get to them. Now it’s emergency meeting back in the office and we’re at a conference room table. Imagine being at that end at the conference table with no coffee cup and everybody else is at the other end.
You know that things aren’t really going your way. I remember I worked for great people, people who would let you fail as long as you could also, if you could make a good argument for what you were doing, they’d let you try. My argument was, “They don’t really know, we’ve lost control of this account. They’ve taken over, it’s time for us to provide value. They’re already mad at us, it’s time for us to go into that account and show them the value that caused them to buy from us in the first place and I’m just not going to sell them something because they want it. I’ll sell them something if we all agree they need it.” I went back up there, saw my guy who was still pretty angry – but I brought donuts.
Fred Diamond: Again, this was 15 years ago and donuts were OK to bring to a meeting.
Paul Borror: Yes. This was so funny, that became something. Every time I came up there if I showed up without donuts they were like, “Hey.” For two years every Wednesday I showed up with donuts. I talked to them and I told them what I was about and I said, “Here’s the deal, I want to retain your business but if I don’t get to keep you I want you to think this was the greatest transition off of a platform and onto another one that’s ever happened. This guy cares about me more than he cares about sales, that’s what we want to do and here’s my plan.”
I took my SE and I said, “We’re going to make you a hero one way or another” remember the hero making business. “Either you’re going to be a hero because you didn’t spend the million dollars to buy the stuff you didn’t need or you’re going to be a hero because you’re going to say, “These guys should have bought when they did and I’ll take all the blame” but one way or another you come out on top of this thing.” He’s like, “OK, great, sounds good.” We started spending time there digging into their environment, they really didn’t need what they would have bought. It’s just they hadn’t done a good inventory of what they had so we were able to move some stuff around and we were actually able to do the mission without spending the extra money.
While we were doing that, we discovered that they had this huge virtualization project – remember this was 15 years ago – and they needed help, we helped them. They bought some gear for that because our gear was better than their gear. Maybe we’re still going to have a foot hole. We get through that and then there’s a little bit more and next thing you know, they’re like, “Maybe we better rethink this whole thing and maybe we chose the wrong vendor to have a single vendor strategy.”
Long story short, we had a really good year and the other vendor didn’t. We came up with a 3 year plan that really had their needs first by stepping back, and we did all this within a year. To let you know, I still hit quota that year. By stepping back and putting the customer needs first and then trying to understand the landscape never forgetting that I was hired to sell for a specific company – we never forgot that. By re-prioritizing and helping the customer really understand what we were all about, not just boxes of spinning disk but real things that could make a difference really changed that.
Fred Diamond: Obviously you got the business. Was that a 5, 7, 10 year run of repeatable business that kept going?
Paul Borror: It was a 5-year run, we signed a 5-year deal with them.
Fred Diamond: One last question on this particular story which is quite interesting. Again, they invited you to come so you go back, you leave. Those three weeks before he called you back, how did you get the order? Via email, fax?
Paul Borror: I got an email and it didn’t even come to me, it came to the general mailbox. Sitting around the fax machine in the old days.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about those three weeks. Had you written them off? Basically you came back, you told your boss, “This is what happened.” Did you start planning for the rest of your, “How am I going to make my quota on my one customer now?” or did you send emails back and forth to them? I’m just curious what happened in those three weeks before.
Paul Borror: That’s a great question. The first thing I did was I came back and I found the original rep and said, “What the heck is going on here?” because they were still there. They gave me some background, so I start taking notes. Then I went to the engineer, I said, “What’s really going on here?” Come to find out, remember if we step back about three minutes I said, “We’ve lost control, we’re letting the customer make decisions for us” and that’s what happened.
We as an organization or sales team had lost control of a customer, and what we were doing was we were in the fulfillment business, we weren’t in the value creation business. That’s what I discovered, I will tell you that my other customer I knew I wouldn’t get a whole lot from because I just signed an enterprise license agreement with them. That was going to be good sustainable business for the next three years, it wasn’t going to be high dollar business because I’d be selling hardware only, the software was already paid for. It was going to be impossible to do that and I wasn’t going to get another client.
I had to figure out what to do with these guys and it was in those three weeks of talking amongst the sales team that we discovered if we can turn around, make price no longer an issue, make value an issue – price is always an issue in the absence of value. If we can build value for ourselves, then maybe we have a chance. Maybe we don’t, but back to my point, at least the exit strategy be the best exit these guys ever had, they have to remember that.
Fred Diamond: Paul, before we take a break and listen to one of our sponsors, did you ever question being in sales? Again, you started selling newspapers at an early age, you talked about some of your career success with the Marine Corps, you sold some insurance right after you were for the Marine Corps. Was there ever a moment though where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Paul Borror: Thank you for that great question. Fresh out of the Marine Corps, it’s selling insurance and investments. I went out and I was bound and determined to be the greatest sales guy ever. I read everything, did the Tom Hopkins stuff, did all that. I went out there and the first 17 customers that I saw said no, so I was 0-17 and I was like, “I’ve switched careers, how am I ever going to make any money? This is going to be horrible.” Had a great guy, Paul Gulbronson, still know him, we’re still friends now. Paul is like, “It’s going to be OK, I’ll go with you on the next one.” We went on the next one and I got that sale so I went from 0-17 to 1-18 and getting that first win, I just never looked back after that. There’s just something about persevering through the first 17 then getting that one, it was life changing for me.
Fred Diamond: Paul, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to selling professionals listening around the globe to help them improve their career?
Paul Borror: I would ask that you provide value to your customers first and foremost. I think it’s less about your product and your solution and more about the people that you’re serving. Remember I mentioned we’re in the hero making business, make your time with the customer count. Don’t show up unprepared, know what it is that they need, know what problem they’re trying to solve and know how you can do it.
Often times customers come up with their, “This is the solution I want.” This isn’t Home Depot, provide value by giving them options, opportunities, alternatives and the ability to be heard. I think the #1 thing of providing value – and I’m not really doing any of it here, we’re all talking – but the #1 thing in providing value is to listen. Ask probing questions because you know the customer’s business, you know your solutions, ask the questions to find the best fit.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you do today to continue sharpening your saw and staying fresh?
Paul Borror: I listen to your podcast. I can’t believe there’s 122 of them, that’s fantastic. I think there’s right now posted well over 100, so I’ve listened to some great insights by some amazing people and incredibly diverse. I think if you look at that, that really is pretty amazing. I like to listen to professionals in their field, and I’m a better listener. So podcasts, books on tape – forgive me, now they’re books on CD – audible, those kinds of things. I like to listen to how professional athletes overcame certain things, how professional sales guys, somebody who has made their craft their avocation, who has made their business their life. There’s so much to learn from those folks and that’s what I try to listen to.
I also try to remember to stay grounded. We’re a family of faith, I think that helps a tremendous amount but I also like to listen. My wife has my back and I can share things with her and she’ll give me the honest truth. You get honesty and clarity from the people you love and who love you back, so stay grounded with your family. At the pace of life and at the pace we’re often moving, it’s very hard to stay grounded. You have to work at that and I try to.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Paul Borror: We have two sides of this business, this business is customer service, customer focused. I have the opportunity now to change the way traditional private cloud and networks are sold and we’re off to a great start. My CEO, Jeff Freitas has built this incredible company. He built the M3COM company starting about 1998 and then Virtacore was an established company. He bought that company, refreshed the environment, refreshed the way we looked at our customers, refreshed the way customers looked at us. It really put a white glove approach onto a very busy, very competitive, very low margin – theoretically or potentially – business.
He’s turned this into a business where his customers don’t leave, and looking at expanding we want to double, triple, quadruple this business here in the foreseeable future. Looking at that, it can’t be sales as usual. We can’t rest on our laurels, we can’t look back and say, “We’ve done this great job.” What we have to do is we have to become as diverse in our approach to our customers as the marketplace has become diverse in its offerings. What that looks like I’m not quite ready to share yet but I’d love to revisit that in a year or so, let you know how it worked out, the goods and the bads.
Fred Diamond: We talked about some of the challenges, we talked about creating value, we talked about helping your customer, your employees, your company become a hero. Great story you told us about your greatest success and how you were basically told to leave and then you helped the customer understand where they really needed to go, took charge and gave them some control. Sales is hard, you’re starting an interesting challenge here, a new organization. People don’t return your calls or your emails anymore, why have you continued? Give us a little more insight into what it is about sales as a career that has kept you going.
Paul Borror: Sales is hard, and I used to tell my sales team. I did a stint at MCI and they were starting MCI WorldCom. I used to say I’m legacy nobody, MCI hired me and my first paycheck came from WorldCom so it was like that Red Hat IBM thing. I walked in one day, interviewed by MCI and hired by WorldCom. The idea was to make mobile phones more accessible to the masses, the same business plan that MCI and WorldCom had had for long distance. That was a hard sell, we were out beating the streets, I had 70 people working for me and you’d go out there and you’d get bloody. I was out every day with them and I used to tell them other people’s opinions don’t change who you are.
Remember I talked about value, to have the value to be fearless and to provide value to your customer, you have to know who you are and what you’re about. My wife’s opinion matters to me, your opinion matters to me, we’re professionals and you have made this your life’s work, of course I’m going to listen to you but I don’t have to listen to everybody. Especially if I’m out trying to get something done and for whatever reason, I can’t get the answer that we all want. This taught me something else: it is hard. Rather than try to get the yes, why not try to get to no quickly? I think we all are supposed to persevere, get the sale, get everything else.
My sense is that for every 100 people you see there’s 2 or 3 or 5 or whatever the number is that you have to dig in and really help. They need some education, they need some understanding, they need whatever and there’s a whole group of people who are ambivalent, they just won’t tell you. Then there’s some people with real clarity who will tell you no, you want people on both ends of that spectrum. You want the numbers right away but the ambivalent people you’ve got to find a way to get to know, get to know quickly so you can spend the time with the people who get it that either have a problem that you can fill right away or with just a little bit of gentle prodding you can get there, but don’t spend time on folks that are just stringing you along. Get to know quickly and that’ll help.
Fred Diamond: Paul, why don’t you give us one final thought? We have Sales Game Changers listening from around the globe, why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire them today?
Paul Borror: Thank you. I would say, what do you fill a room with? When you walk into a room, does in the energy in that room go up or does that energy in the room go down? What are you providing? I have my tagline on my email, so if you ever get an email from me you’ll see down at the bottom it says, “Show up to give.” I think too many of us in the sales game show up to get. We need a PO, we need a meeting, we need the next thing, why don’t we show up to give? Make every interaction with your customer, prospect as valuable as possible and leave the folks that you meet better for the time that you spent together. Show up to give.