EPISODE 045: Asurion Sales Leader Rob DiRocco Helps the World’s Leading Brands Support the Tech that Keeps You Connected
Rob DiRocco is the Senior VP and General Manager of Retail Solutions at Asurion, the global leader in technology protection and support sold to the top retailers, manufacturers and carriers. Rob has overall responsibility for growing and managing the retail and manufacturing business including all aspects of sales to drive growth for their client partners.
Rob and his team helped top brands such as Walmart, Home Depot and Amazon sell services that support their sale of technology enabled products to consumers. Prior to Asurion, Rob spent almost 5 years leading sales and marketing at mindSHIFT Technologies which provided cloud based IT management to small and medium sized businesses. He started his career in Federal Sales at Bell Atlantic.
He received an undergraduate degree in finance and marketing from Virginia Tech, and an MBA in finance from George Washington University.
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Rob DiRocco: Fred, first, let me thank you for the opportunity today to talk to you. I’ve got to tell you, I think your podcast is phenomenal, one of the things I’ll talk about later is I’m a big believer in continuous education and self-study and I can think of no better way than things like podcasts and you’ve had some phenomenal leaders on yours so a lot of great insights there for everyone that listens to them. I live in Vienna, VA and a fun fact my wife is the mayor of Vienna so I’m definitely involved a lot in local Vienna activities and things around the area.
Asurion’s based in Nashville. I have a broad responsibility for the P&L of this business but I always say at heart I’m a sales person and so sales is certainly the biggest thing that I oversee, and I always tell people if you cut me open you’ll see a sales person’s DNA inside through and through. Thrilled to talk today about sales and all the things associated with it and see if I can help share some advice that’s helped me over the years.
Fred Diamond: Rob, what do you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Rob DiRocco: Asurion provides technology support and customer service to consumers but we do it under the brand name of the leading retailers, manufacturers and telecom providers, some of the people that you referenced early on. We help them sell and support the technology enabled products and services that they offer to their customers and so we are the brand behind the brands.
A lot of people don’t know Asurion by name and that’s by choice because we’re really focused on promoting our client’s brand but we actually have 300 million active consumer contracts that we are managing on behalf of those clients so we have a very big private business that we run on behalf of our clients and support them.
And what excites me is that we provide a great service and there’s a high need for it. With all the advancements that we all see in connected products and smart home and internet things, all of that is fantastic but people need more help than ever in interconnecting those devices and getting the most out of their technology and we’re great at this. We have a big focus on customer experience and our net promoter scores are industry leading. What excites me as a sales leader is that we have a product that I believe in, that I know is great, and there’s a high need for it.
Fred Diamond: You definitely represent some of those great brands. You mentioned in your introduction about your DNA that you’re really a sales guy. How did you first get into sales? Tell us a little bit about your entry point into the career.
Rob DiRocco: As you noted early on, my undergraduate was at Virginia Tech and I was a finance and marketing major, that was a double major there. If you’d ask me in college, sales was not even on my radar, something that I wanted to do. I wanted to work in finance or I wanted to work in marketing, I had internships in both of those over the years.
It was not uncommon for big companies like Xerox or Procter and Gamble or IBM, companies that had very strong sales acumen to come onto a campus like Virginia Tech and ask who the student leaders were and then they would actually pursue them directly for sales positions. So I wasn’t looking for sales roles but I started getting solicited and then offers for these great sales positions at some really established companies that I thought a lot of, and it kind of opened my eyes to that as a career that I hadn’t really thought before.
I started thinking of a different lane and I eventually accepted an offer with Bell Atlantic which became Verizon predominantly because they were based in DC area where I was, and they had a great training program out of college. So I thought they had great training, it was in the area that I liked, got to handle large federal clients right away once you got through that training so for all those reasons I was drawn towards that and I really ended up making a great choice.
Fred Diamond: Curiously you mentioned you were a campus leader. How were you a campus leader at Virginia Tech, what did you do?
Rob DiRocco: I was the president of an organization called the Student Alumni Associates. It was about 300 people that supported things like campus tours and various fundraising programs for the school. I was president of my fraternity and chaired the Danceathon we had every year so I just did a lot of things like that. A little fun fact – I was the Greek man of the year.
Fred Diamond: Very good. So you mentioned your first real job in sales was with Bell Atlantic which eventually became Verizon. Tell us, Rob, some of the key lessons you learned from some of your first few jobs in sales.
Rob DiRocco: I will tell you first I was blessed to have a great first boss that I worked for, a guy named Bill McKinney. Bill was just a great coach, great person and a great person to learn from right out of college especially. And there are three things that always stuck out for me, two from Bill and just one from the position as a whole.
One is Bill was an early bird so I got in the habit really early of getting in the office early and planning out my day and that’s something that has stuck with me the whole career. The second thing is I learned is really knowing your product and your service well and knowing your client really well and the industry that you operate in. At the time that for me that was the federal space and I put in a lot of energy and learned a lot about preparing well to know that client extremely well to be successful in working with them.
And then the third one was patient but steady pursuit. That comes as a byproduct of selling to the federal government and what I was selling at Verizon had a long sell cycle. It was a high dollar sale and so one of the things you learn was you’re not going to have a quick sale. A lot of times it was going to be a long sale cycle and you had to patiently work through it but you had to advance the sale so you had to do things to continue to create momentum and move your sale forward even though you knew it was going to be a long sale cycle. So those are three things that always stood out to me that I’ve carried forward.
Fred Diamond: Early bird and getting to the office early, know your product and your services well and your client, and I liked the last one, patient but steady pursuit. It’s a marathon, most of the people I’m interviewing – as a matter of fact all the people I’m interviewing as part of the Sales Game Changers podcast have been in 20, 30 year careers, have lots of great lessons learned along the way and here they are 20, 30 years into their career at a very high level of success. You have to have had that patient but steady pursuit.
Rob DiRocco: That’s right, exactly. That’s a great summary.
Fred Diamond: So tell us more about you specifically. Rob DiRocco, what specifically are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Rob DiRocco: I hate to disappoint your listeners, I don’t know that I’d say I’m an expert in anything. What I would say is I’m an expert in knowing what I’m good at and leveraging that, and knowing what it is that I need. I work with the great people on my team or great people to work with in adjacent roles to plan a parallel path together and leverage each other’s strengths.
What I’ve learned over the years – and I think that’s important for anyone to really understand what they’re good at and what it is that is something they can improve a little bit but they’re going to always need someone else as a compliment to help them in terms of rounding out their skills – but for me, personally, I’ve always been extremely organized. I’ve always worked on my communication skills so that’s something that I’ve always learned to leverage in building relationship with clients as well as internally. I have always been a fairly decisive person which in running a business unit is something I find is very important to be able to get the facts and make a decision to move forward one way or the other in a direction.
And I’ve always been a very resilient person, that’s something that I’ll talk about I’m sure over the course of this podcast, but that’s an important skill to me and one that I know how to reset myself. So we all have a bad day, a bad meeting, what have you, I know how to reset myself. And the last one is I like to infuse humor. People that I work with would say that we have fun, we laugh and you have to, you have to see the humor in things and be able to enjoy yourselves in working with your peers to make the day one that flies through.
Fred Diamond: Well let’s touch back on that resiliency thing because it struck me as interesting. Tell us a little more about that, what do you mean and what are some of the things you specifically do – you mentioned – to reset yourself?
Rob DiRocco: Yeah. That’s something that over the years I have really worked on and I have a very specific set of ten things that I do every single day, so I have a checklist. So for me I always get up at 5am unless I’m travelling and something changes that. I will always pray, I will always read a verse of the bible, I will always do a little brainstorming in a journal, I will always work out, I will always meditate and then I will always listen to something positive, podcast, something. Whether that’s when I’m working out or I’m coming to the office, depends on what I’m doing that day from a workout perspective but I will always do those things in the morning.
And then at the end of the day I’ll always plan out my next day. So I plan out my week on Sundays and I plan out my next day every evening, and I find that set of things is for me a grounding mechanism and particularly the things I do in the morning. I always start my day productive because I always do those things before my work day even starts and so you almost feel like you already accomplished a lot before the day even begins. For me if something’s bad one day, by the next day when I do that reset, I’m good to go.
Fred Diamond: That is powerful. One thing that I’ve seen over the last year is the whole concept of morning ritual. It has become such a huge thing. Do you follow Tim Ferris at all?
Rob DiRocco: I know exactly, the four hour work week, yes. I’ve listened to his stuff before and I’ve read his books, yes.
Fred Diamond: He’s a student on morning rituals and those are things that you do to keep grounded so that’s impactful. You talked about your first boss, but tell us who was an impactful sales career mentor and how specifically did they impact your career?
Rob DiRocco: The other one that would stick out for me over the last 12 years is Tony Nader. Tony Nader for those who don’t know him was the CEO of NEW, NEW was the company that I worked for originally that got acquired by Asurion. Tony is just an exceptional person. He is the CEO of the Inova Board of Trustees and he now runs an investment firm, SWaN, plus he’s on a bunch of different boards. But what I learned from Tony is number one, having incredible balance. Someone that really stresses balancing business, family, his faith, philanthropy and really stresses that. When he was here as a CEO he always really encouraged people to find that balance and to make sure that they go to their kid’s soccer games, for example. That’s really important but then also did the right things that you do in the business side.
The second one, he is incredible at preparing. He’s a very diligent preparer for a meeting, anything important so I’ve learned a lot from him about how you prepare for an important client meeting or anything you have going on. And then the third one is he couldn’t be more respectful to everyone he meets. I don’t care who they are, what level they are, he’s always interested in them and it’s genuine interest and knows about them, knows about their family and just a genuine person. So I’ve gotten a lot out of observing him over the years and the personal coaching he’s given me.
Fred Diamond: That is great. Rob, I’m going to take you a little bit off course here for a second, because I want to go back to the introduction when we mentioned companies like Walmart, Amazon and Home Depot. For a lot of the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast, they’re striving to work with some of the big companies in the world. I’m going to take a little short detour if you don’t mind. Can you give us some insights into how you work with some of the largest companies in the world like that? What are some of the things that you’ve had to think about as you pursue companies like that from a sales perspective?
Rob DiRocco: Great question, Fred. I would say, I don’t know that it’s any different dealing with a Walmart or an Amazon as it is dealing with a large federal agency or other type of commercial entity. What I find – and some of the principles that I believe in that apply to this – is #1 you have to know your client really well. We spend a lot of time understanding what’s important to our client, understanding their buying structure, who the key decision makers are, all the things you need to do in selling into a very large organization, and when you’re selling into a large organization it’s not one decision maker, not one buyer. There are multiple people, it’s a very complex sale so you have to understand all of that, and you have to understand the arena that they’re working in.
So for us right now, it’s understanding what’s going on in retail, the dynamics of it. How that affects their business and then most importantly, how can we help them to be successful in their arena. It’s paying attention to those kinds of things. And then I also would say for us, we work hard to treat every client differently. I have two clients in sporting goods. They are both sporting goods retailers, but I can tell you that the way they operate, their cultures, very different and so we ended up having programs that were very unique for them and how we work with them were very unique because they view their marketplace differently. So understanding what’s unique about your client is really important.
Fred Diamond: That’s powerful. So let’s talk about some of the challenges that you face today as a sales leader. Rob, tell us the two biggest challenges you face as a sales leader today.
Rob DiRocco: The two biggest challenges we face as a business and it affects very much on the sales side relates to what I just talked about a little bit which is, retailers first of all, some of them have really struggled the last year. So I mentioned Sports Authority, that was a very big client for us and they went out of business. Now, we can’t control the fact that they went out of business and there’s lots of things that go into that but as a sales person and as an organization we have to find a way to make up that revenue, right? So we have a number to hit and we want to grow our business and so you end up saying, “OK, what am I going to do to compensate for this fact that I can’t control this client going out of business but can I grow other clients, can I bring in some new business?”
So it’s the team looking and saying, “How do we adjust our business model to recognize that this thing outside of our control has happened that impacts our business model?”
The second one is everyone knows that retailers are more and more looking at digital channels so whether that be selling online to apps and different mediums and so we’ve certainly had to adjust our business to make sure that we are a leader there. And that meant we’ve had to add staff that had expertise there but it also means everybody has to raise their knowledge and awareness of working in an Omni-channel world. So those two things are things that we’ve really had to adjust our business for and focus on to be successful.
Fred Diamond: Rob, you’ve had a great career to this point and you’re going to continue having a great career, but tell us the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud us. Rob, take us back to that moment.
Rob DiRocco: Picking out a #1 is hard, I don’t know if I have a clear #1 but what I would tell you is you always remember your first big sale. For me that first big sale was NASA, when I worked at Verizon that was one of the accounts I had early on and it stuck out for me, so it was a first big sale I had. It was an integrated voice and data network that we sold to them, it was several million dollars, long sale cycle.
What really stuck out to me: #1 they were a great client. I really liked working with them, it was an agency that I had a great passion for what they did and I believed in what their mission was and so first and foremost I genuinely felt pride in helping them advance that mission with what we were doing.
Number 2, in having a long sale cycle, lots of competition on the particular business that we went after there had to do a lot of learning and adjusting our stealth strategy and how again you advance the sales I talked about earlier over a very long window in dealing with multiple decision makers.
And then the third thing that stuck out was that was by no means just my sale. That was very much a very large team sale and so a lot of people were involved and you had to really work collaboratively and I remember feeling a lot of pride and again excitement as a team when we not just closed that sale per se but actually implemented it and it was working really well and the client was really happy and that was a great feeling. So it’s something that I’ve carried forward all these years, is how do you adjust your sales approach and then the joy you have in working in team environment. I find that the most fun kind of selling is when you’re working with a cross-functional team and you’re working together to make it happen. There’s a lot of joy in that.
Fred Diamond: So Rob, you’ve had a great career in sales. Did you ever question being in sales? Now again you started off as a finance major. Did you ever question in being in sales, was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me?”
Rob DiRocco: The short answer is no, honestly. I’ve always really enjoyed sales. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of it and the rewards of it. Now, having said that what I would say is that some point I certainly wanted to move up into sales leadership which I got the opportunity to do at Verizon which is great and then I’ve been able to maintain that throughout my career. And then at some point I started wanting to run other functional disciplines as well, marketing and product and operational things and so again I’ve had those opportunities.
So for me, I’ve been able to move my career but always maintain that sales base, sales is still very much the most important thing that I focus on but I would say that I’ve never thought, “I don’t know if I really enjoy the sales part of it.” That’s actually been the part that I enjoy the most, even when I’ve had these other disciplines and responsibilities. At the end of the day I leverage and lean on my sales experience and I really enjoy that the most at the end of the day. I’m happiest going out and seeing clients and working with clients.
Fred Diamond: Rob, what is the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them improve their career?
Rob DiRocco: There’s 3 things that I think are really important for anyone in sales and things that I would stress to anyone who wants to really get better and better at it.
One is your work ethic. I always say I would never want to lose because someone out-worked me, so you always want to know that you absolutely put everything you could into winning that sale and to working with that client. So work ethic’s important and never feeling like you’re going to let anyone else out-work you.
Number 2, and I talked about it earlier, but you have to be an expert in your customer. You have to really know their buying organization, the people involved, the processes, what’s important to them, how your product and service can really truly help them but you have to really be an expert in that, and if you’re someone that doesn’t have a set client list, maybe you have an industry. You have to know that industry and what’s important in that, so you’d have to really know the arena that you’re operating in and be an expert in it.
And then the third one is resilience, we talked about a little bit earlier but you’re going to get no’s, you’re in sales. You’re going to have bad days, you’re going to have a bad meeting, you’re going to have a bad presentation and you have to figure out how you reset yourself so it doesn’t carry forward. I like sports analogies and it’s a quarterback in football that gets beat for a touchdown or a quarterback that throws an interception and any of those scenarios they have to be able to bounce back the very next play, right? And so it’s no different in sales. You have to figure out how you can’t ever let one bad day become two bad days.
Fred Diamond: That’s interesting. What are some of the things that you do specifically to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Rob DiRocco: I talked about the routine that I follow, that’s really a big thing for me. What I would say my number onething I would say is exercise. I always tell my kids this, too. It’s like whenever you have a bad day, a bad meeting, whatever, to me nothing recharges me like exercise. It completely changes your perspective and gets you out of your head. The only other thing I would say is I’m big at thinking through if something’s challenging on whether it be with a client or something internally, whatever it is, then I’ll often take a step back and say, “OK, let me brainstorm some of the things that can be done to action on this.”
And so that helps me so that it’s not something that feels outside my control, that I can give myself back some control of, “OK, what can I control here?” or “Here’s some ideas I have, I’m going to take some action on a couple of them.” And that always sort of gives me energy again to sort of deal with whatever the challenge is.
Fred Diamond: So you’ve mentioned routines a couple of time. Just curiously, on your exercise, tell us what you do. What is your exercise routine? What are some of the things that you do?
Rob DiRocco: I mix it up, I have a pretty good gym at home but I also belong to Lifetime. But I’ll do yoga, I’ll run, I’ll lift weights, I’ll do a P90X, I’ll do Stairmaster, I mix it up. My biggest routine is I don’t have a set routine, I constantly change it up.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Rob DiRocco: I talked about how with our clients one of their big challenges is being more digital so for retailers in particular they want to be more in a digital arena whether that be online or app-based or other kinds of channels for sales and service and so. For us, that’s a really big focus. It was a big focus this year and it’s a big focus of ours next year, is really making sure that we are leading in that category both in how you sell services online but as importantly how you service consumers online and meet them at the way that they want to be serviced whether that be through an application, through a website, through a portal, different means to be able to do that but really focusing on that digital environment and making sure we’re leaders in it.
Fred Diamond: Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Rob DiRocco: Well sales certainly offers financial rewards if someone does well in sales there’s often great upside potential there, so along with the challenges you get a little higher reward from it. And the second one I think there’s a reward that is a great satisfaction, when you do sell something new into a client and you get it implemented and the client loves it, that is a really rewarding feeling so to me the financial and that personal sort of satisfaction you get.
Those two things are often what drives me, and then I think how you deal with it is you have to view sales as a process and you’re going to get no’s and that’s your way of giving you a sign you have to make some refinements to your approach and figure out a different way to go at things and sometimes the timing thing. I can tell you as a general manager of a business unit, I get someone soliciting me every day, multiple people. And I can’t literally return every phone call, I couldn’t, I would spend all of my time doing that so I tend to look at the ones that really are meeting a need that I’m adjusting in that very moment and I might put them in a folder say for later if they’re intriguing to me and some of it’s timing. So you have to view it as the no’s are some of the process, you just have to keep working at it and know that some of it’s timing.
Fred Diamond: Rob, give us one final thought. What’s a final thought you would like to share to Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast?
Rob DiRocco: I think the only thing we haven’t talked about is I think it’s really important to teach yourself to see threats or challenges as opportunities and it’s something that I genuinely think you have to teach yourself to do and I’ve learned over the years. But we’re all going to face challenges whether it’s a sales situation or other things in your life and one of the things I often do is I’ll take a step back and say, “What good can come out of this and how can I look at this differently so this is actually an opportunity for me or for the business?”
And I think that’s a really important different perspective that has helped me a lot over the years. I also find if I then brainstorm sort of again solutions I could use to tackle that, I talked about it earlier. But I always feel like there’s a counter move so if you always have that mindset there’s always something, some action you can take to address that challenge and I think you can go a long way.
And the last one is to feel 100% accountable so even though I talked about situations like a client going out of business, it’s outside of your control, at the end of the day I’m a big believer in being accountable for your results and your success and dealing with your challenges and so you have to take that 100% accountability and figure out another way around your problem. So those are the things that really stick out for me that I try and stress to my own life.