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EPISODE 185: Red Hat Public Sector GM Paul Smith Details How Ambitious Sales Professionals Can Improve their IQ and EQ and Grow Their Careers
PAUL’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Put your cell phones down. This is a face-to-face business and I think unfortunately the younger generation of folks coming in have grown up with mobile technologies and they really believe that they can communicate in an effective manner by text messaging or social media or even email. The most important thing is networking and get face-to-face. If you’re going to use your cell phone, actually use it as a phone.”
Paul Smith is the General Manager for Red Hat Public Sector.
Prior to that, he held sales leadership positions at Veritas, Netscape and Oracle.
He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Institute for Excellence in Sales in 2017
Find Paul on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Paul Smith: I grew up in Baltimore, large family, 7 kids, started working very early on, have been in the sales career now for about 38 years. Just to let you know how we’ve matured in the business and how I’ve matured, early on we were always told when interviewing for a sales job, “What’s the most important thing that motivates you?” and it was like, “Money, show me the money.” As we’ve grown, as I’ve grown it’s really more about what makes you passionate about coming to work, what’s your why, money becomes an outcome over time. It’s really important to be associated with companies and with people who you like to work with, and for customers who actually you like to work for.
Fred Diamond: I remember we had a conversation a couple years ago and I asked, “How do you stay competitive and how do you get your people motivated in such a very competitive space that you run?” and you said it’s about understanding the customer’s why. Before I ask you some more questions, can you explain what that means? What does it mean to understand their why?
Paul Smith: We move around a lot in terms of how we think about ourselves and on that first piece I was talking more about me. I think when we talk to our customers we have to translate that into we, and with customers in particular it’s really about getting down and understanding what their mission is, how they define success and how we can relate to that. The passion really becomes about how do we help fix things, how do we identify problems and how do we help them achieve mission. There’s a real sense of accomplishment when we get to that point in our career. The money then from the beginning phrase of “Show me the money”, that’s pretty much an outcome. It comes from work that’s done over time and it becomes an outcome of good works and great accomplishments.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us what you sell today? Tell us a little bit about what excites you about that.
Paul Smith: Of all the jobs I’ve had in the industry I’ve been with Red Hat now for, if you can believe it, 15 years. I just completed my 60th quarter, so to speak and for Red Hat at the heart of everything open-source is Red Hat. We pretty much started this revolution about 26 years ago by making Linux as an operating system the one thing that stays the same so that everything else can be different. It wasn’t really as much about that as it was about a development model, open-source was really something that was all driven around community powered innovation so it wasn’t just Red Hat that was innovating.
The difference between proprietary software and open-source software is proprietary software I like to kid around and say is a problem looking for a solution. In community powered ecosystems it’s really groups of people and company and hobbyists that are actually trying to solve problems. What we do at Red Hat is we monetize that, so fast-forward a couple of years and we’ve actually taken that development model, Red Hat and open-source and turned it into a leadership and business model as well. The tenets that actually make open-source work for in terms of how innovation happens is actually a great leadership model too.
We really focus on things like collaboration, transparency and most importantly, meritocracy so that everyone in the community actually matters. It’s not just what the boss wants, it’s what the rank in file, the folks at the tippy end of the spear really feel and believe, and that’s where all the intel happens. It’s really exciting in that regard to be there. Fast-forward to the future and you look at open-source in the industry, everything that powers modern day clouds is open-source and we maintain very relevant in that space. It’s extraordinarily fun because as the industry has changed, Red Hat’s changed and the type of people that we attract really feel like they’re participative in the process.
Fred Diamond: Obviously your company had a huge announcement about a year ago, you were purchased by IBM so of course there’s a lot of great things happening with Red Hat and its growth. On the Sales Game Changers podcast we’ve actually interviewed a couple people who work in your organization. We’ve interviewed Lynne Chamberlain before, we’ve also interviewed Nathan Jones. You mentioned 38 years in sales, why don’t you take us back to the beginning? How did you first get into sales as a career?
Paul Smith: I think I got lucky [Laughs]. In college I was actually selling shoes to work my way through school and whether or not, that was in retail, if that was really selling or not I’ not sure but people were pretty well qualified when they walked in the store, they know they wanted to buy something. After school I interviewed with a lot of companies and got lucky and found a small company by the name of Exxon Office Systems which at the time in the 80’s was an oil company trying to see if they needed to change because of what might be happening in the future.
That didn’t ultimately succeed but it was actually run by an ex-IBM Office Products Division folks – OPD’s, as they were known – and these were just sales folks extraordinaire, they really focused on training and the sales process. The sale cycle at that time which was word processing and in fact selling the equipment was really a fast cycle so you went from identify, qualify and close very quickly. It was really a good school of hard knocks. I got into it at that point and then over the course of my 20’s moved into about 3 or 4 different jobs as I matured through the industry trying to find what was the right fit for me. Sales seemed to work extraordinarily well.
Fred Diamond: I would say so. It’s interesting, for the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe we have a lot of people who are in the beginning stages of their career and they listen to the podcast to learn about how they can take their career to the next level. I’m sure most people are going to be stunned to hear that Exxon was indeed in the Office Products business at one point. Just curiously, the next question is going to be, “What are some of the key lessons you learned from your first few sales jobs” but was it a challenge selling Exxon products as Office Products? Did people expect you to come in and sell them gallons of gas or something like that?
Paul Smith: It’s funny, when you were at Exxon Office Systems I remember my boss telling me, “Listen, when you walk in there I known you’re proud about being from Exxon and we’ve got these great products and services but you might as well say you’re from Texaco. That’s what it sounds like to your customers.” One of the early lessons that I learned was brand matters. When I think about brand I actually think about it in two dimensions. First of all, the company brand and secondly and as importantly, your personal brand. What that really drives down into is things like trust, integrity, skills, capabilities and continuous learning. As a company I think Red Hat as an example has demonstrated a great trust with our customers over the 26 years that we’ve been in business and we’ve shown great capabilities in terms of our ability to change as the industry has changed.
Making use of open-source communities actually helps us out in that way, but as a personal brand you’re not only representing the customer but your reputation follows you forever. I think Warren Buffett talked about the things that he likes to look at for salespeople or people in general when he’s looking at talent and he talks to integrity as #1, intelligence and then he talks to motor. When I say motor I make a colloquialism about how fast you can run or do you have energy, can you really make things happen? Those things really define not only a company brand but also the personal brand. Exxon was probably a good way for me to learn that brand does matter.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about you specifically, tell us what you’re an expert in. Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Paul Smith: I really don’t like to talk about myself and I think in those regards I’m still a work in progress 38 years in. One of the things I think is important for me is to realize there’s a lot that I still don’t know and that brilliance might be knowing what I don’t know and being a continuous learner. Some things that I think people may say about me that they say I’m fairly well skilled at is I pay a lot of attention to not only IQ and IQ is something I think is not god given, it’s something you can actually learn over time.
Also, EQ and I’ve done a lot of reading and a lot of studying over the years in terms of what Emotional Quotient is all about, it’s really how you relate to people. Probably the #1 asset to have there is empathy and empathy is also not a god given skill either, it’s something you actually have to learn. Sometimes you learn it by experience and sometimes you learn it just by living through some tough times. I like to quip sometimes and say empathy is extraordinarily important and until you have it, fake it.
Fred Diamond: Paul, I have a question for you. You say you’re a work in progress, yet you’re leading Red Hat’s public sector, you’re the general manager here, you’ve had a great career, worked for some great brands like Veritas, Netscape, Oracle and you say you’re a continuous learner. What are you trying to learn right now? What’s the focus that you’re trying to get more educated on?
Paul Smith: The industry is just changing at rates we’ve never seen before so just learning all about cloud computing, what it is and what it isn’t, in our industry in the government, cloud smart, what that means, how people define it. Other IOT’s influencing everything, mobiles influencing everything and AI and machine learning are going to be changing everything in terms of what we’re doing, in terms of how information is processed and analyzed and so forth. There’s still plenty to learn and that’s part of keeping it young, at my age it’s just staying fresh on those topics.
Fred Diamond: Again, as I mentioned in the beginning a lot of people asked when we were going to have you on the Sales Game Changers podcast. A lot of people look up to you as a mentor, you must have had some impactful sales career mentors along the way as well. Why don’t you tell about one or two of them and how they impacted your career?
Paul Smith: Without getting really gushy about this, I’d say there’s two things I rely on in terms of mentors or maybe role models is probably better for me. #1 is I’ve got a very strong faith and I’m a work in progress there, too. I really believe having a strong faith in some regard helps you understand your humility and your vulnerabilities but be strong at the same time. I think it helps me be grounded in terms of hope and as I often say, in industry hope is not a strategy but hope is something that people need to know so that they have a feeling that if they do the right things they do have a chance at success and also a belief that things can happen.
Faith I think is very important for me and a lot of people will define that differently so I won’t go down that path. I think #2 in terms of role models are my parents, a working class family, 7 kids, we never knew we were poor, we all worked hard, we had food on the table but if we wanted something, we had to actually work for it. I learned early on watching my dad work 7 days a week maybe, 12 hours a day, my mom actually helped out a lot as well, she worked part time, she made sure we got through school. Hard work matters and nothing worth achieving comes terribly easy.
I think those two things in terms of high level but I also rely of the wisdom of crowds and the wisdom of other great people. I do have some morning reading that I do and this is stuff you can get through very quickly. Tim Ferris has got that collection of books, of stories called Tools of Titans and I love the one story on Scott Adams. Scott, you may know is the author of Dilbert and you love Dilbert, but Scott actually coaches people in some ways and says, “If you want to have a good life, a successful life, you can go about that without a lot of effort. You just keep your nose clean and work and things will work out moderately well for you, but if you want to be extraordinary in life there’s a couple paths you can take. One is you got to be extraordinarily good at one thing.”
Not many of us can be extraordinarily good at one thing. How many golf professionals actually make a strong living? How many folks can actually make it to the NBA? Without being extraordinarily good at one thing, what’s good for the rest of us? He calls it the Triple Threat and basically he says you just got to be in the top 25% tile of two things. He says for himself as an example, he’s not the best stand-up comic in the world but he’s pretty good, but he also can draw and he’s not the best artist in the world, but he draws well enough and when you put those two together, it put him at the top of an echelon where he can make an extraordinary amount of money.
The Triple Threat with Scott is he’s also got business acumen, so he can draw from that. I take that metaphor and I move it in and I think about people like our Jim Whitehurst who’s the CEO of Red Hat. Triple Threat for Jim is he was a comp-sci major, undergrad so he had an engineering degree. He went on to Boston Consulting Group so he learned consultative selling and problem solving. From there he went to Harvard Business School so he tied an engineering degree with a business degree. The Triple Threat for Jim is he’s got great EQ so he’s really good in terms of the IQ, he’s very good in terms of the EQ and for when I think about how I like to approach my life in terms of mentors or in terms of role models I think of those folks and Jim has just been a great guy to follow throughout the career. He’s created an awesome culture because it’s really focused on empathy, really focused on everyone in the organization achieving success.
Fred Diamond: Paul, I want to ask you a question. Before we ask you about the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader, you’ve brought up EQ a couple of times, Emotional Quotient, emotional intelligence, if you will. Give us a little bit of insight, again we have a lot of Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, they’re in the first or second stage of their career. You’ve brought it up a number of times, you just related to how your CEO is also so good at that. Talk about what some people listening on the Sales Game Changers podcast could possibly do to get better at growing that component of their personality.
Paul Smith: Again, this is a skill, this is not a gift. This is something that you can learn over time and Harvard Business Review actually wrote a four book series on the emotional intelligence. I already talked about empathy but one of the other key pieces in there was mindfulness which is just knowing who you are, having self-awareness but also happiness. Happiness is one of those things I think early in careers people think, “When I have X I will be happy.” “When I drive this BMW, I will be happy” – or maybe taking it a little further, this Ferrari – “When I have this house, when I have these kids, when my kids go to the school…”
It’s about attaching yourself to possessions but really happiness is an activity. What we find over time in terms of EQ is trying to get a sense of presence in terms of knowing who you are, what you like to do because the happiness is actually a daily activity. Helping people, philanthropic endeavors as well as things you’re doing at work, there’s serotonin, I’ve talked about that before, some of the neurotransmitters that fire off when you actually feel like you’re needed. That’s the happiness I think people need to pay attention to, and these are things that are very well documented in a lot of research and it’s real science. That’s how I try to ground myself.
Fred Diamond: Paul, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Paul Smith: Just listening in on the radio today about employment in general, in our technology industry we’re close to zero unemployment so keeping, attracting and retaining talent is high on everyone in this industry’s list right now. That’s a huge challenge and that’s not just about the extrinsic stuff. People don’t leave companies just because someone offers them another $25 thousand dollars in on-target earnings, it’s really about their manager, their culture, their career aspirations, their life-work balance and a whole bunch of other things.
We continue to stay very focused on those types of things about how we meet that challenge and making sure the great talent stays here and they have a place to actually grow themselves. The second thing I would say is a challenge is as the company grows, as anybody in any company grows. When you were smaller culture was everything and as you grow keeping culture at scale is an incredible challenge. What you really need to do as a leader and as a manager is make sure that the vision is very well known, it’s communicated often and that people understand it and can be participatory in that so that everyone knows at every level what the vision is. It’s been communicated often and they know what they’re doing actually feeds into that. That’s how you keep the culture growing at scale.
Fred Diamond: Paul, you’ve worked at some great places, take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career you’re most proud of.
Paul Smith: Tough question because if you go back into the extrinsic realm, it could be about the size of the deal, it could be about how much money you made on the deal but when I really take a look at my life in the last 15 years here at Red Hat, my most proud moment was pretty recently. This group of 500 of us here that services public sector which is both federal government customers, the SI community and also state and local communities. The most proud moment I’ve had here was that we were the #1 division in the entire company in terms of growth, retention stats and I would say fun and happiness. Watching and actually being at the helm, so to speak I’ve got a lot of first mates here.
No one gets to drive this big boat without a lot of help but watching the success of this larger organization thrive is actually a very proud moment for me. It’s almost like being a parent and watching your kids do extraordinarily well in sports or in academia or other pursuits that they’re having. That’s where I derive a lot of my good feelings, hoping that I’ve had some impact on people achieving success makes me extraordinarily proud.
Fred Diamond: Paul, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, again you’ve had a great sales career, you started off selling shoes like we talked about. I want to ask you one quick question, you mentioned your father working 7 days a week, 12 hours, what did he do as a career?
Paul Smith: My dad was a printer. He started off in his teens as a press man and they worked on these large presses that printed corrugated boxes and other packaging and then he moved his way through middle management throughout the rest of his career.
Fred Diamond: Before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, Paul, you’ve been in sales for 38 years. Did you ever question being in sales? Did you ever think to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Paul Smith: No, actually not. Getting in at an early age took all that fear out. They say the best soldiers are young because you really don’t think about firing bullets, people are firing back and you don’t think about that. On a serious level, I look at sales as an extraordinarily noble profession, nothing in business happens until something is sold. It’s a team sport so all the metaphors work there, we use a lot of military metaphors in terms of training and shared experiences, we use a lot of sports metaphors, it’s really true there.
Nothing happens, anything that we’re wearing, anything that we eat, anything that we drive, anything that we live in, someone is involved in the selling process but I don’t look at it as something where it’s a win-lose. It has to be something where you’ve got something that somebody needs and you’re helping them solve a problem or achieve a great mission.
Fred Diamond: Paul, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening around the globe to help them take their career to the next level?
Paul Smith: When I think about talent management or just types of folks you want to have in the organization, the first thing you think about is diversity. A lot of people will want to check the box of diversity inclusion today which makes a lot of sense because you get people from a lot of different race, creed and color, so to speak, you’re going to get a difference of perspective.
When I also think about diversity, I’m thinking about career paths so I think about early-career, mid-career and folks like myself – I don’t say late-career, I say mature-career. For early-career folks, this is a great book that my kids have all read and I’m actually going to sign up and read for, too. I’ve read the book summaries on it, it’s called The Defining Decade and it’s really why the 20’s matter in your career. The 20’s are a time when for the most of us, research will say by the time we get to our 30’s, 70% of whatever we’re doing we actually define that by what we discovered in our 20’s. It’s really important to do a lot of self-introspection, take a look at your work life, take a look at your family life, a lot of us meet our future spouses or significant others in our 20’s, some don’t but a lot do. It’s really important to take a look at that because your 20’s really do matter.
I would say for the early-career people, don’t be afraid to experiment, get out there and try things. Thomas Edison was one of the great inventors of all time but people don’t know that he had thousands of failures for all the big successes that he knows about so failure is not catastrophic but failure in general is actually extraordinarily important. Get out there and in your 20’s do some introspection, experiment, try things and move along.
Fred Diamond: I know you said you do a lot of reading but tell us about one of your selling habits that has led to your sales success.
Paul Smith: Early on when the kids were young – I’ve got three of them – I found that my quiet time, my “me” space, I like to speak in the second person most of the time in terms of we but at 5:30 in the morning it’s me time. I try to get my day going by waking up early, the first thing I’ll do is get a cup of tea or coffee, sit down and do some inspirational meditation or reading. While I’m doing that, the gym in my house is actually either heating up in the winter or cooling down in the summer and I get a workout 6 or 7 days a week, that’s part of my routine. It’s a habit that actually helps me keep grounded on all three, spiritual growth, intellectual growth and physical growth because they’re all so deeply intertwined.
That’s a habit that I start at and in terms of how I approach work, as you know, Fred I always prepare for everything. For this conversation I probably put about an hour and a half of introspection sitting down just thinking about things I would like to talk about. I treat customers and my family like the same way. Preparation is key and then you can think about where you want to go in terms of questions you want to ask and be thinking about the outcome. Where would we like to have this conversation end? Those are some of the habits that I practice on a daily and weekly basis.
Fred Diamond: Paul, we’re coming down to the end of the Sales Game Changers podcast, I have a curious question here. How do you think people would define you as a leader? Again, we talked about emotional intelligence a couple times, we talked about happiness, we talked about happiness more on this podcast than any podcast we’ve done before. We talked about fun, we talked about team sports, I’m just curious. How do you think your team would describe you as a leader?
Paul Smith: I hope well, I’d like to project that since I’ve been here a while and we’ve got a really good crew of folks that are tenured, a lot of people have been here 5 years, 8 years, 10 years, a couple like myself, 15 years. I think the main concept I like to use is what I call management by walking around. I do this with customers and I do this with associates at Red Hat, just reach out in the morning, I treat it like doctor’s rounds. If I’m in the office and not on the road, I make a round around the office and just say hi to folks that are here. “What are you up to? How was your weekend? How are your kids? Tell me what’s going on in your life.”
That personal connection really matters and what is it you’re trying to achieve? I also do a lot of reach outs for one-on-ones. I do some mentoring of all three stages, early-career, mid-career and even some mature-career folks just so that we can have that communication. The door always open is a real thing, it’s not a cliché. I would like people to believe that I care, that I’m involved in their success and frankly at a high level if you don’t focus on yourself and you’re focused on the team, you’re focused on your customer, when they’re successful by default you’re successful. All that other good stuff happens, the spoils of victory happen when your team, when your customers actually achieve what they’re trying to achieve.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Paul Smith: I treat my career like my golf game. It’s never as good as I would like it to be and sometimes I get into some bad habits. Right now I’ve actually re-involved myself with executive coaching, this is about the third time in my career I’ve done this. I’ve done a lot of extracurricular course work and things of that sort, but an executive coach is actually like going to the golf courses or the golf range. Look at the PGA tour, if we talk about these folks that do one thing extraordinarily well they’re not the Triple Threat, they’ve got the one thing that works really well.
Why are these folks, these guys that are on the FedEX Cup as an example saying, “I’ve got some work to do this week”? They’re actually going through swing drills and they’re practicing, and I treat an executive coach for leadership and for sales in the same venue. I’m out there trying to see where my gaps are, where I might have gotten a little lazy, what things that I’ve known I’ve actually forgot to do and practice and swing coaches are good for that.
Fred Diamond: We talked today on the Sales Game Changers podcast with Paul Smith. Paul, before I ask you for your final thought, sales is hard. Again, you worked for big brands over your career, your customers go through challenges, people don’t return your calls or your emails. Why have you continued? Tell us a little bit about what sales as a career has meant to you and how it keeps you going.
Paul Smith: Early on some of the learnings were, “Listen, this is what sales is all about: cold calls + demos = sales.” Of course today’s a lot more sophisticated than that because you have to have a lot of cold calls to get to prospects and so forth. Today we’ve actually gotten into using big data as an example and analytics, really sophisticated targeting type of campaigns. I would say for early career folks in sales it’s a lot easier than when I was in sales and I was told to go to that building and start on the 20th floor and work your way down. The sophistication, that targeted marking that we get today with the really scientific marketing approach actually gets us to people who want to be gotten to, so that’s really nice.
Then as we get later on in our career and especially I enjoy at my level, I don’t really think about selling. Some people might think that is a negative connotation as much as consulting and as much as advancing folks’ mission especially in government and what they need to do. I find that it’s fun and there’s no problem with having fun at work. We learn to have fun at a very early age, I think George Bernard Shaw once quoted, “We don’t stop playing when we grow old, we grow old when we stop playing.” This is grownup fun and it’s playing but you have to have that concept.
Fred Diamond: Give us one final one, give us a final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe.
Paul Smith: Thanks, Fred and thanks for having me today, it’s been a lot of fun especially being involved with the organization over the years and our sales team have gotten a lot out of the content that your group delivers. I would say the one final thought I have is a benevolent admonition, which is put your cell phones down. This is a face-to-face business and I think unfortunately the younger generation of folks coming in have grown up with mobile technologies and they really believe that they can communicate in an effective manner by text messaging or social media or even email. Email is not a collaborative type of medium. It’s a good medium to wrap up meetings and so forth, but the most important thing is networking and get face-to-face. If you’re going to use your cell phone, actually use it as a phone.