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EPISODE 201: Microsoft Partner Extraordinaire Paul Skurpski of XTIVIA Tells Tech Business Owners What’s Required to Become a Sales Leader
PAUL’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Impact your own success. Don’t rely on having that great sales engineer – you become the sales engineer. If you’re a sales consultant and you really understand your product and you can deliver value to that company, they will view you differently.”
Paul Skurpski is the VP of Sales at XTIVIA. He was the VP of Sales at PVBS, which was purchased by XTIVIA in March of 2018.
PVBS launched in 2003 and Paul has been the VP of Sales from Day 1. PVBS is well known in the Microsoft world.
This is one of the first interviews we’ve ever done with a business owner who took over the role of VP of Sales and has had tremendous success.
Find Paul on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Paul Skurpski: I started out my career on the operational side of business with roles of managing everything from warehousing to inventory systems for furniture distribution companies and then got into process re-engineering and ERP systems for a smart car manufacturer. It was that last role that really led to my career in sales. The general manager of that business unit mentioned to me that if I wanted to be a GM of a business unit or run a company I really needed to build my sales skills and knowledge.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us what you sell today? Tell us what excites you about that.
Paul Skurpski: XTIVIA is a technology company focused on delivering solutions for business intelligence, web portals, database management, CRM, cloud migrations and ERP solutions for government contractors. At XTIVIA what really excites me is that our focus is on how do we help our clients solve business challenges? We like to partner with key vendors to bring technology to bear and within my division, the focus is on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 cloud solutions for ERP and HR, and really helping government contractors to excel using these systems.
Fred Diamond: First of all, congratulations on the acquisition last year, March of 2018. Again, one of the interesting twists here about your career is that you founded the company with three other gentlemen and you took over the role of VP of Sales. Tell us about that, tell us about the initial days of the company and how did you become the guy who was going to be VP of Sales? Tell us some things you did at the beginning to shift from what you were doing to become a VP of Sales.
Paul Skurpski: It’s funny, I thought about getting into sales before we started the business. I thought this is an intriguing career, that a lot of my friends locally were in sales, had a lot of success but I had this entrepreneurial bug. My father owned his own business and I felt I always wanted to do it myself. What I didn’t think about was when I decided to start this business, that meant I was getting into sales because every business owner realizes when you start the organization, the #1 focus is, “How do I generate new business?” Really that never stops so by default, I was the guy that was going to be out front selling our products and solutions and I realized pretty quickly that I loved it.
Fred Diamond: You have a very good personality, you’re very outgoing, you have a great personal network but what was it about you that really allowed you to make that transition pretty seamlessly?
Paul Skurpski: I see sales like a competition and I grew up in a large family. There were 8 of us so everything was a competition, whether it was who could get to the table first to eat or it was out in the yard playing football or basketball. Sales is competition, I love to win and it’s so exciting to bring on new business and really help clients to achieve the success they’re looking for related to rolling out new systems.
Fred Diamond: Again, you’re the VP of Sales. Your company – originally Pleasant Valley – provided a solution on Microsoft Dynamics for Government Contractors so you probably had to sell to Microsoft as well to get them to recognize you and your company as a trusted partner. Talk about that for a little bit, again from the business owner side but also with the sales methodology and sales acumen that you had.
Paul Skurpski: One of the ideas that we had early on was initially we were more of a horizontal player. We would sell any system to any kind of company and early days everyone from Dulles Greenway to Landscaping businesses to computer resellers, but we saw this market for government contractors because there was limited competition and the competition in the area, Deltek, they didn’t always keep up with technology so we tried to convince Microsoft. We need to make an investment in this product around government contracting and we were going to build that out, but the support we needed from Microsoft was to support us from a marketing and to be in the market with us.
One of the first things that we were able to achieve is convince Microsoft to bring to bear their resources. One of the first things that I remember is Christine Zmuda was able to identify an opportunity for Steve Ballmer to come here and speak to the government contracting market about Microsoft’s commitment to government contracting and the systems that we could bring to them.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, for a lot of the business owners who are representing your product in the marketplace, if you will, it’s not a one-time call and the company’s on board especially when you’re supporting a company like Microsoft bringing their technologies. They must have had dozens if not hundreds of employee shifts and turnover, you’re probably not working with the same people you did back in 2002-2003 when you started. For the business owners out there, what might be some lessons that you’ve learned for them to be as successful as possible when you work with an Oracle or Microsoft, Salesforce, etcetera?
Paul Skurpski: Whenever you have a vendor partner, especially one like Microsoft like you mentioned, Fred, there is turnover so you’ve got to always build those relationships. That’s the thing that we focused on, to be at the Microsoft events, Worldwide Partner Conference, the Microsoft Dynamics partner conference. We wanted to always be in front of Microsoft, identify resources across the country that could help us and really it’s about relationships so we tried to continue to show them we could help them to be successful. If you can help the Microsoft rep be successful, in turn they want to help you.
Fred Diamond: As the VP of Sales for a company that’s brand new in the marketplace and again, you mentioned a company that pretty much owned the marketplace prior to you guys getting into it, talk about building a local network and making the word. Again, we talked about how you got Microsoft on board, you must have had to form a lot of relationships with other companies locally so that they would understand there’s another solution in town.
Paul Skurpski: That was my night job, I would say. Every night I would be out in the marketplace trying to connect with the CPA firms, the banks, the lawyers, everyone that is a recommender and selling into the same market, I wanted to invest time to let them know, “There’s another option out here, come learn about us and in turn I want to help you, I want to learn about your business.” Because when it comes to networking, people want to know one, who can help them. If I help them first, I know in return I’m going to get that support but I was also building friendships. It became an opportunity for me to meet people in the area and I’ve got lifelong friends from that networking. It’s really been paying dividends.
Fred Diamond: Did you enjoy that side of it? Have you always enjoyed the getting to meet people and helping them and bridging relationships?
Paul Skurpski: Again, I think growing up in a big family and being a middle child, one of the things that you had to do is you had to bridge those relationships. I had the older siblings and younger siblings but I had to interact with both of them and really, I love being out meeting new people, making long-lasting friendships and helping people. I think what it comes down to is if you help others, it always comes back to you.
Fred Diamond: Paul, what are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Paul Skurpski: I don’t know if I’d call it brilliance, but I would say that the things that I excel at would be one, from a technology perspective. I really understand systems, I’m a math guy at heart and I love technology so I like to get deep into technology and understand exactly how does it impact the client. People don’t want to implement technology for technology’s sake, they want to sell the business problem. I think I’m good at understanding that as well as understanding what the client’s needs are.
Finally, I think that being able to read and understand people because one of the things that I realized early on is one, people don’t want to be sold to but when you’re trying to communicate your products and services, you need to deal with somebody based on their personality. If they’re a type A personality you’ve got to sometimes get on them a little bit, you can’t always sit back. Then there are some people, you need to give them space because we sell mainly to CFO’s and a lot of them have strong personalities and they want someone that’s going to stand up to them and challenge them because they want to continue to educate themselves. I think that’s something important.
Fred Diamond: I have another question for you. Again, we’ve brought up a number of times that of course, you’re the VP of Sales but you’re also the business owner, you’re the face of the company in a lot of ways along with a couple of your partners in different segments, so to speak. What else did you do to help the company get to the point that it did when it was acquired as the VP of Sales? What I mean by that is a lot of the people we interview on the Sales Game Changers podcast, they’re VP of Sales, they manage anywhere from 5 to 500 people, manage pipelines, those types of things. You’re also the face, you had to be out there in the market, you had to present. What are some of the other things that you had to do that maybe were nontraditional VP of Sales activities to get the company to where it was?
Paul Skurpski: I would say one of the biggest things was dealing with client issues after the sale. The sale didn’t end when we turned it over to operations for me and I think that for us, that was an advantage. I think back to something that happened just a couple years ago. We had a client that had some issues during their go live and the CFO called me up and said, “Paul, I need you to come here to see me in Buffalo, New York. Of course, I grew up in Syracuse so I’ve got a fondness for Upstate New York, but I got on the plane went to see them and we resolved their issues. What happened is now we’ve got a raving fan there because he knew that no matter what happened, I was going to be there to support him and it wasn’t just turned over to another group. I think that made a difference for our business.
Fred Diamond: I have another question related to that. How well do you know your product? Again, what’s the name of the product? It used to be known as Microsoft Dynamics for Government Contractors, do you still go by that?
Paul Skurpski: It’s Dynamics 365 Business Central for Government Contractors and now we’ve got a new website out there, a micro site, govcon365, that highlights our solution.
Fred Diamond: How deep did you know the product?
Paul Skurpski: I was forced to know it really deep. Like you mentioned, on your early days as a startup you wear more than one hat so I was not out there just selling, I was also the sales engineer. I learned it and I enjoy learning products so that was something that I liked to do, to be an expert. I could also have really detailed conversations with a CFO because I wanted to not only understand the system, but I wanted to understand, ‘as the CFO, what’s important to you?’ so I could have a peer to peer conversation.
Fred Diamond: Again, you serve primarily the government contractor marketplace, it’s a complex world. You have to know compliance, there’s a lot of regulations in working with the government, there’s unique audit type things that you need to maintain to ensure that the government will continue to work with you. There’s a lot of things that you need to know and we talk about that not infrequently through the Sales Game Changers podcast. Paul Skurpski, you were kind of learning on the fly, you became the VP of Sales although you wanted to move into sales. You must have had some people along the way who mentored you and helped you get to this point. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Paul Skurpski: I would say the two people that impacted me the most, one is a gentleman named Leonard Kay. When we first started the company, Leonard had been in ERP sales for 20 years and one of my business partners had worked with him. I reached out to Leonard and told him I wanted to learn more about selling ERP systems. Leonard was gracious enough to come and actually go on meetings with me and educate me on everything from those initial meetings that you have, requirements to when you demo to the follow through to get them to make a decision, really someone that had experienced an ERP to help me understand the business line. Still friends with him to this day, he’s 82 years old living in Leesburg and just went and met with him.
The other person is a personal friend of mine, Craig Mueller who is VP of Sales over at FireEye. Craig has been someone that whenever I ran into a rut, he would be the guy I reached out to. The key things that Craig always taught me was, “Remember to go back to basics whenever you’re having any kind of challenges.” The basics were things for him like always be responsive, follow through, he said that great salespeople always follow through on the things they commit to to the client and they’re great at the simple things. It’s not always those unique strategies that prevent someone from winning a deal, it’s the guy that’s always in front of the client doing the right things.
Fred Diamond: Paul, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Paul Skurpski: I would say the #1 challenge in the DC metro area is finding and retaining top talent. We’ve got a lot of technology businesses here and finding individuals that have the skill and the drive and keeping them happy here I’d say is the biggest challenge. I’d say the second thing is continuing to educate myself because in the last 20 years sales has changed so much. It used to be where telemarketing direct mail pieces were the way that we got to our prospects. Now our prospects are out there researching us and by the time I meet with them, often times they know more about us than we know about them and it’s just a different world.
Fred Diamond: You sell a complex product, you just mentioned that the customers now know – and we hear about that a lot, obviously. It’s been recorded in numerous books and we talk about that all the time, about how you need to provide more value for your customers. Do your customers really know everything that they think that they know or do they know enough to think that they know enough?
Paul Skurpski: I would say that’s probably one of the biggest challenges, they come in with these preconceptions because they’ll read about your solution in general, the Microsoft solution but they might not necessarily know about what have we done to change it. We’ve got to get in there and sometimes you have to re-educate them. They’ve got some misconceptions and sometimes those misconceptions come from the competition or from other people in the marketplace. Sometimes it’s even more challenging because you’ve got to tell your story, help them understand what makes you different and sometimes that goes against what they originally thought was the case.
Fred Diamond: Take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Paul Skurpski: Good question, Fred.
Fred Diamond: Was it the landscaping company? (laughs)
Paul Skurpski: The landscaping company was pretty cool and in fact, I still talk to that guy to this day. I would say the most memorable one is a local company called DLT Solutions and actually they were just acquired. What I remember was this was probably about 14 or 15 years ago. I met with the CFO of the company and we had just developed our government contracting solution. In this meeting, the first thing the CFO says to me – his name is Craig Adler – he said, “I’m a big fan of Deltek, I’ve been using cost point for many years, it’s going to be really hard for you to convince me that this system is better than what they can provide.”
What I understood was their business was different than the typical services contractor that was here and what we were able to do was really uncover their business challenges, show how we were different. This was a company that was a huge Oracle partner with a CFO that loved Deltek and we were able to convince them to buy Microsoft. It was a huge coup and Craig, to this day, is a great friend and a mentor to me. Not only did we get a great client but I got a great friend in the process.
Fred Diamond: I want to follow up with that quickly. We’ve actually interviewed a couple DLT sales leaders, Chris Wilkinson and Chris Dewey on the Sales Game Changers podcast. Before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, I want to ask you about that.
Again, for people listening to the podcast you mentioned Deltek a couple of times. We actually interviewed the VP of Sales at Deltek, Matt Strazza as well but nonetheless, they owned the marketplace which was selling an ERP solution to government contractors. You guys came to the market and you said, “Hey, we can bring a Microsoft solution, we can create a business” but like you said, most people knew Deltek, it was almost like tissue or a Kleenex type of a thing.
Tell us some of the things that you’ve had to overcome because here you are, you’re talking about your biggest or most successful deal with this company called DLT, and the guy, first thing he says to you is, “I’m a big fan of Deltek” and most people probably just assume they were the only game in town. For the listeners around the globe who have to struggle against a bigger brand, tell us some of the things along the way that you’ve done to get to the point of your success.
Paul Skurpski: I think it’s the challenge that a lot of companies face when you’re the smaller guy. People would say, “You never get fired for buying IBM”, that’s the same way they felt about Deltek. “I’m not going to risk my career by buying Deltek but if I buy your solution it’s a challenge if it doesn’t work for me.” The thing we try to communicate to them is what we provide from my perspective is something different, something really in the day revolutionary because we’re delivering a fully integrated system with some cloud based capabilities early on. What we try to show them is that the Microsoft investment and partnership long term is going to provide tremendous value. The thing we need to do is be more nimble, we needed to care more about the client because we were the underdog. When you’re the underdog sometimes you’ve got to do a little more to win.
Fred Diamond: Paul, again, you took over the role of VP of Sales when you started the company, you had that mentality, you had that mindset and you stuck with it now for close to 18 somewhat years but did you ever question that? Did you ever question becoming the VP of Sales? Did you ever go to your partners and say, “You know what? I just want to be in the back and manage customer service” of course, what you probably did as well [Laughs] but manage the consulting side or something else?
Paul Skurpski: No, I think once you get the sales bug, and I played sports my whole life. I go back to that competition analogy, if you’re someone that likes competition and you like to win, I just got the sales bug and there’s nothing that really I’ll ever want to do other than being out there selling.
Fred Diamond: Paul, we have listeners around the globe. What’s the most important thing you want to get across to them to help them take their sales career to the next level?
Paul Skurpski: I would say don’t forget the simple things that differentiate you from the selling competition. I mentioned earlier that idea of being responsive and one of the things we say at XTIVIA is as soon as somebody hits our website, we want to contact them. That creates that initial experience of, “Who is XTIVIA?” I would say be responsive immediately to anybody that reaches out, I would say #2 is follow through on your commitments. If you tell somebody, “I’m going to get back to you tomorrow”, get back to them maybe today. You need to create that sense of ‘this is who we are as a business’.
Back in the day one of the things that you told me, Fred, when we worked together was they’re buying you. As the sales rep they’re not buying XTIVIA, they’re buying Paul Skurpski. I want to be responsive, I want to follow through on my commitments and if I don’t have an answer for them I’m not afraid to tell them, “I don’t know, but I’m going to get you the answer and I’m going to get it when I tell you, I’ll get that answer to you.”
Fred Diamond: Tell us about one of your selling habits that has led to your continued success.
Paul Skurpski: I would say one of the things that I’ve created as a habit is trying to build relationships because in our business we have a very long sale cycle. When you sell ERP solutions sometimes it takes three months, sometimes it takes three years. I would say I build long term relationships and even if I can’t get that sale today I want to really stay in touch with that person. I’d say nurturing, staying in touch with people are things that are good skills that I’ve created. The last would be always doing the right thing by the client and the prospect.
Fred Diamond: I have a question for you on what you sell. How often or why would someone buy a new ERP system? Are they looking to replace or they were acquired? What are some of the key factors that will lead to you making the sale, besides having the great solution?
Paul Skurpski: I would say that the two most common scenarios are #1, high growth. A company will be growing and then government contracting, I’ve got a client that was about a hundred employees, they called me yesterday and said, “We just won to contract, we’re going to add over a thousand new people.” When people experience that explosive growth, often times they don’t have systems to support it so growth like that is a huge change. Then #2 is change in management. When new management comes in they have a different vision, and sometimes that vision doesn’t match up with the solution they have and they look to match up their technology with where they’re looking to take the business.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Paul Skurpski: I would say that the biggest thing that I’m working on today is trying to understand the new way to market. It’s like I mentioned earlier, it’s a new world, you don’t reach out to them, they don’t pick up the phone, they don’t answer their email so how do we get to them? I’m trying to learn more about how do I leverage social media? Writing blogs, content marketing, things that are the way that the new generation buys, I’m trying to educate myself on being an expert in those areas.
Fred Diamond: Paul, before I ask you for your final thoughts I want to thank you for all this great insight. Again, your success has been notable, congratulations again, we’ve mentioned a number of times. You brought a big player into a market, you really did convince Microsoft to move into this vertical market which then led Microsoft at the time to pursue some other verticals like not for profits and some other places, if you will. Your company really did some revolutionary stuff in the technology marketplace and has really done a lot of good for a lot of the companies that service the government not just around town but around the world.
Before I ask you for your final thoughts, you mentioned this a second ago, it’s hard. Especially for a small company that’s going up against a Goliath, so to speak. The market’s changing, the customer thinks they know everything, why have you continued on the sales side? You mentioned competition, but what is it about a sales career that has kept you going?
Paul Skurpski: I think deep down it’s who I am. People that are meant to be in sales, you know it when you meet them and I think that sometimes people think of sales as used car salesman but as you meet people that are in technology sales, what you realize is that these are the people that drive the business. They are the ones that have the biggest impact and I love to have a big impact on XTIVIA bringing in new clients and helping keeping the existing ones happy. It’s a great way to have a huge impact on any organization.
Fred Diamond: Paul, give us one final thought. We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe today, give us a final thought to inspire them.
Paul Skurpski: I’ve met with hundreds of technology sales leaders, sales reps, sales engineers and one of the common threads I always hear is that one of the biggest advantages is having a great sales engineer, that’s what drives new sales. What I’ll tell my salespeople and what I tell myself is that you should impact your own success. What I mean by that is don’t rely on having that great sales engineer, you become the sales engineer. You’re going to still have the sales engineer with you but if you’re a sales consultant and you really understand your product and you can deliver value to that company, they view you differently. You’re not just a salesperson, you’re a great resource to them so continue to educate yourself, become your own sales engineer and a sales consultant and I think it’ll drive more sales for you.