EPISODE 139: SAP NS2 Business Leader Ron Police Says This Basketball Analogy from His Mentor at Oracle Pushed the Buttons that Fired Up His Sales Leadership Career
RON’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Create a life business plan for yourself and think about it in terms of what do I want to accomplish in life with my family, friends, and the community. At the end of the day, you’re going to have a detailed business plan. I have one and I look at it every now and then. It has helped me with my career because it helped me balance everything so I could have peak performance.”
Ron Police is the President of Customer Operations at SAP National Security Services also known as SAP NS2.
He held sales leadership positions at Apple and at Oracle.
Mark Testoni, the CEO at SAP National Security Services, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Institute for Excellence in Sales at the 9th Annual Sales Excellence Award Event on May 31st in Falls Church.
Find Ron on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Ron, tell us a little about you that we need to know.
Ron Police: Thanks, Fred. I grew up in the IT business and I had an opportunity to work with some great logo companies that you mentioned. Oracle was from 1987 to 2004, what’s interesting about Oracle, I was a young guy, junior rep and I will go down in history as the lowest paid base salary rep ever at Oracle. I made $18 thousand dollars based salary but I had the same variable compensation as most senior reps. That first year was a great year, I couldn’t believe it.
When I left Oracle, I joined Apple in 2004 and I was responsible for anything government at Apple, all the business across federal, state and local. I was there during some fabulous times, Steve was sick back door in his time, I went to his funeral and I actually left Apple right after his funeral. I decided to take a couple years off, flip pancakes for the kids while they’re still young and then recharge and decide to get back into the business.
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Ron Police: First of all, let’s talk about the mission of NS2. We focus on the core national security market in critical infrastructure, Fred. What excites me is doing something that is solving some of the biggest data problems in the world that focus on national security critical infrastructure and it’s playing a small part to actually make it better for future generations. That keeps me motivated, keeps myself and others focused and we also created a nonprofit at NS2 called NS2 Serves. It’s training veterans giving back, and that’s part of the fabric of who we are. As far as what do we do, we take the entire portfolio of SAP, we very much look at requirements across the national security space, we’re very selective on capabilities to solve some of these really critical problems and that itself is pretty exciting.
Fred Diamond: We’ll talk about that more over the course of today’s podcast. How did you first get into sales as a career?
Ron Police: Good question, you have to go back to Penn State 1982 grad, business logistics, minor in marketing. I had a choice, I could either go into a route of production plan and inventory control, warehousing, supply chain management or I can sell transportation services. I’m glad I went down the path of selling transportation services, that basically not only gave me my first job but I moved from Pittsburgh, from Penn State to Washington DC and I’ve been here ever since.
Fred Diamond: What does it mean, “transportation services”? What exactly did you sell?
Ron Police: I worked for a company called CF AirFreight, a part of Consolidated Freightways and what was interesting about it, a lot of my friends that were in sales, they’d enter the front office, I’d enter the loading dock with donuts, bagels, to basically talk to some of my customers. We competed with Federal Express, Flying Tigers at the time, Emery Worldwide and it was a very competitive business.
Fred Diamond: Again, in your career you’ve worked for three of the biggest brands in the history of technology: Apple, Oracle and SAP. Now of course you’re running with SAP National Security Services NS2. What were some of the lessons, Ron, that you learned from that transportation service being on the loading dock, if you will, that stuck with you?
Ron Police: Fred, it was really interesting. I always think back to, “I get up early, I work late” and it was a direct correlation to getting up early, arriving to my customers and just having face time. It was a direct correlation, I was a young guy, 22-23 years old, I moved to DC when I got involved with government as well and the more calls I made, the more face time interactions, the more damn donuts that I delivered, the more revenue that would be sitting on our dock that evening. There’s a direct correlation to the more face time, the more business.
Fred Diamond: I’m going to ask you a question about that. A lot of sales has moved to inside sales and of course people aren’t sending people on planes as much as they used to. What are some of the things that you tell sales reps today? Because you mentioned you were out there handing out donuts, handing out bagels, you were in Washington so during the winter it does get cold in Washington DC and it gets rainy and snowy. What are some things that you tell young professionals? We have young professionals listening all over the world. “Get out of the office, get off the phone, go to the dock”? How would you give them some advice today?
Ron Police: I think any touch point is a good touch point whether it’s the social media, if you can talk to somebody on the phone but any way you slice it, that’s why there’s associations in your area. That’s where you go to a local deli outside of a big company you want to talk to just to meet somebody because if you’re out there, you’re talking to them, you’re introducing yourself, you’re listening, you’re going to make some connections.
Fred Diamond: Along the lines of that, what are you an expert in? Again, you’ve worked for some of these great brands. What are you an expert in? Tell us about your specific area of brilliance.
Ron Police: Area of brilliance? You figure this has been a 35 or so year career, Oracle I entered as a junior and during that time as well it was a period of growth. They needed folks that can scale the business. I started as a junior guy, I left as a senior Vice President at Oracle I really developed a brilliance, a skill for scaling and organization. In order to scale an organization, Fred, you really need to get to the foundation of creating an environment of success. What does that mean?
There’s so many things that go into creating an environment of success as a leader. First thing is sure, you’ve got to on board great talent, you’ve got to retain your really good talent but you have to empower people, you have to reinforce fundamentals, you have to give folks the leeway, you’ve got to know when to be a little bit more aggressive as a manager, when to give that type of space, you have to know how to incent individuals. If you create that environment of success for the sales team and everybody around them, that creates an environment that you can scale the business.
Whether it was Apple, a small group, turned it into a big group generating lots of revenue, whether it was Oracle, a small team, next thing you know there’s 700 people doing hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue. I would say by creating an environment of success that creates the foundation on how you scale a business would be something that I brought to different companies that I’ve worked for.
Fred Diamond: I have a question for you. We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, a lot of them work for small companies, a lot of them do work for large companies. You’ve mentioned that you’ve worked for some of the biggest technology brands, Oracle and SAP. If I’m a guy right now working inside sales for a large company like Oracle or SAP or Salesforce or Amazon or something on those lines, what should I be thinking about? What should I be focused on right now if I’m a small fish? You mentioned you came into Oracle as an $18 thousand dollar a year sales rep, what might be some of the things that you would tell someone to be successful in those large organizations?
Ron Police: Whether large organization or small organization, people buy from people. Whether you’re in government, financial services, any sector, there may be some language acronym differences and so forth but at the end of the day you’re doing the same thing. You’re focusing on your market, you’re listening to the customers, you have compassion, you have empathy and that’s some of the foundations that you’ll use across the board. I think it’s exciting for folks working in small companies, I think it’s exciting for people working in big companies because at the end of the day it’s all about what you make of your focus area.
Fred Diamond: You’ve worked for some great companies, you’ve worked for some great people. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Ron Police: I’ll point out a mentor of mine that is currently on our advisory board, he was recognized by you with a Lifetime Achievement Award and that’s Mr. Jay Nussbaum. I started working for Jay in 1990 and Jay is a master salesperson, he’s a master negotiator, he could write the book How to Make Friends and Influence People, he’s been able to create this environment of success through people. He’s a big sports guy, he always has these sports analogies. Shortly after he started I threw my hat in the ring, I was a sales director, I wanted to be a VP in state local and in Jay’s mind he knew I wasn’t quite ready or that wasn’t the right position for me, brought me into the office.
I said, “Jay, I’d love to be interviewed for this position please, let’s do the interview right now” and he goes, “Let me start off and tell you what I think you are and I want to hear your response. We’re a championship basketball team and you’re my 6 player. You’re not my starting 5, you’re my 6 player, I think you can get there but you still have to prove it to me.” At the time, super competitive Ron Police right now plus even worse in the earlier days, he knew how to push a button with me that fired me up for the next fiscal year. I overachieved in a big way then I ultimately became a VP in running the DOD business. He just knows how to motivate everyone individually based on the type of person they are and that’s why Jay has always been a mentor of mine.
Fred Diamond: Jay is a tremendous guy. The Institute for Excellence in Sales, one of our sponsors give a lifetime achievement award and Jay was a recipient in 2012, definitely an amazing leader. We also interviewed Mark Testoni who works with you at SAP NS2 and Mark actually listed Jay as a mentor as well. He said Jay taught him how to be bold. I have a quick question for you, Jay Nussbaum knew what to say to you, he didn’t say you were the 12th guy, he said you’re the 6 guy but you said you then took that to heart. What went through your mind and what did you do?
Ron Police: I’m sure I turned beet red. At the time I was really in shape, lifting a lot of weights and my veins were probably bulging out of my neck and I said, “Do I respect him? Is there truth to it, did he hit a chord with me playing sports through high school and other sports in college?” I didn’t know how to take it, I just knew I was going to prove to him that he was wrong. We would always bet, I actually recently won a $250 bet that he actually owes me so if Jay is listening, he owes me $250.
Fred Diamond: [Laughs] we’ll make sure he listens. The thing is you acted upon it, that’s one thing that we hear. Maybe give some advice for the Sales Game Changers listening to the podcast. Of course you were with Oracle which was a great place to be but you could have said, “He’s wrong, I’m going to take it a different way” but you took it but you responded.
Ron Police: I responded and I proved that I’m part of the starting 5, it took a year to do it but I ultimately hit the objective and Jay ultimately promoted me to a senior vice president a few years after that.
Fred Diamond: A year is not a long time. Ron, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Ron Police: It’s easy to lead when times are great, you’ve got to put a little more heart into it, desire into it and it’s leading in tougher quarters, tougher times. Over my career I had a lot of great times but I had some tough times. In the organization when you really need to know how to motivate folks during those harder quarters, what buttons the push, how to keep people focused? That would be one of them.
Another one probably everyone would say, “How to hire and retain”, I’m not going to say that but that’s important as well. The other one would be, especially right now we’re taking the objectives from the CEO, company objectives, and boiling it into the go to market strategy and how it’s executed by sales is a little art, a little science combined. That’s another tough one because organizations may have sale success but it’s not achieving the strategies and objectives of the CEO of the company.
Another one that goes along with leading in tougher times is how to align strategy and execution from the C suite down to where it’s executed at that vital customer facing component. That is really important, I always have that checklist with aligning plans from the high level down to the execution.
Fred Diamond: You’ve worked for some of the biggest brands in the history of technology: Apple, Oracle, SAP and now SAP NS2. Take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Ron Police: Over the years there’s a lot of great successes. Let me give you a generic one and then I’ll give you a specific one. Generic success is when a virtual account team, the salesperson is the maestro managing tech resources inside sales, consulting resources, everybody, the management chain and it’s orchestrated to close something significant. There’s a win celebration and everyone feels that they’ve added value and they’ve accomplished something big. When I say that, it’s just cross-functional success, that’s huge. I’ve seen that all the time but every time I see it I get psyched about it.
A specific one, I’ll mix it up and tell a fun story. Back in 1986, my first tech job, it was a transitional job before Oracle at a little company called CPT. Word processors, early stage office automation, we had this full spring word processor and it was great at doing Arabic. I was the gym rep, government, education and medical in the DC area but part of it was the embassies. Myself and the marketing support rep – Cindy Hardeman, you may know Cindy – we were at the United Arab Emirates embassy in Georgetown at the time. We were there pitching this Arabic word processor, all of a sudden all the doors close, the embassy locks down and we become hostages because there was an outbreak, a terrorist crisis in the Middle East somewhere. The embassy was at a lock down so we were hostages for not quite 24 hours, but long enough through the course of a full day that we had a chance to have more face time with the customer, more bonding time.
They actually felt bad for us, when they finally released us we were able to talk about the business, we did a lot of listening and we closed one of the biggest deals that year with the United Arab Emirates all because of a – we may have closed it anyway, but I like the idea that we were hostages and we turned it into a fun situation.
Fred Diamond: One thing you talked about a few moments ago was face time, you didn’t really plan that whole thing.
Ron Police: No, it wasn’t staged. We didn’t stage the terrorist outbreak in the Middle East. [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: Fortuitously. We’re talking to Ron Police today, president of customer operations at SAP NS2. Ron, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, again you were at Penn State. What was your major again at Penn State?
Ron Police: Business logistics, today it’s called supply chain management.
Fred Diamond: You were making a decision in where you should go in your career and you chose to sell transportation services. You’ve of course worked for some great companies, I’ve mentioned that many times. Did you ever question being in sales? Did you ever think to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s not for me”?
Ron Police: Fred, we’re folks that have been in sales for a career. We all have those weak moments, I haven’t really questioned. The only time I really questioned the change out of sales is after I left Apple. I wanted to take a couple years off, I was a consulted then I was going to be a photographer but I realized I still wanted to get involved with the game of technology so I’m back in it.
One thing I want to bring up is I think we all go through a change of those moments where there’s change and if one thing’s for certain it’s change. A quick little story for the listeners: this was probably around the year 2000, tech markets going crazy right before the bubble burst and I’m not going to say the name of the company but most folks would know this company, I was really questioning a change from Oracle to this other company. I decided to do it because greed set in, they offered me so many stock options and I remember resigning on a Monday to Jay Nussbaum, Jay literally throws me out of his office after he couldn’t convince me to stay, I flew to New York City, big global meeting at the Waldorf Astoria.
Halfway through the meeting I realized the reason, my Ben Franklin pros and cons. The cons came to light so much during this meeting, the afternoon at this big global forecast I went to the bathroom and said, “Jay, I made a grave mistake, please take me back.” He never actually took me out of the HR system by that point, went back the next day and it was a big lesson learned to me by saying we’re all in this business. We want to accomplish a lot, we want to make a lot of money and all this but at the end of the day, when something doesn’t feel right you don’t have to do it. There’s more to sales than a lot of stock options even though that’s important so you’ve got to look at the whole picture.
Fred Diamond: Ron, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening today to help them improve their career?
Ron Police: Thanks, Fred. When I look at advice I would give, whether it’s young, old, anyone in sales or anyone in business, there’s a set of fundamentals that you have to always execute. What are those fundamentals? It’s active listening skills, it’s prompt follow up, it’s having empathy with the customer.
All those basic things, as a young salesperson you’re going to look at, you’re going to read books and you’re going to say, “I’m going to execute the following. Let me tell you what I see happens all the time, someone gets a little experience, they become seasoned, you know what’s the first thing they do? They fail to execute the fundamentals. You have to go back and look at it and make sure you just had a meeting, you should do a follow up letter with empathy. Were you really a good listener, did you come such an expert in the area that you’re marketing, that you’re selling that you have two ears and one mouth but you decided to just go on broadcast mode versus really listening and understand the customer’s pain? It’s one of the biggest issues I see with senior, seasoned sales folks, they forget the fundamentals.
If you look at execute fundamentals, the other part is have a great attitude all the time. If you combine fundamentals with a great attitude, a great attitude is contagious. Our HR person here at NS2, when I talk to this person about fundamentals and attitude this person goes, “I read somewhere a little quote that said attitude determines altitude in an organization.” I wrote it on my white board because I loved it and I said, “Absolutely, I totally agree. Fundamentals, attitude, you can take your sales career as far as you want.”
Fred Diamond: What are some of the habits that you’ve deployed over the years to maintain your high level of sales excellence?
Ron Police: I’m going to go right back to what I just said. It doesn’t matter what position you’re in in sales, you’re a front line account executive, some of my best friends have been front line account execs all their life, they’ve been extremely successful. Whether you’re a front line manager, second line manager, third, you always have to have that discipline of you meet somebody, you send them a nice note, you give them a personal touch. I always empower people so I make sure there’s always a respect to that person that has front line accountability to the organization.
I never try to take that and I think if some of the listeners, if you are going on a call and your manager wants to join you, spend time and talk about a pre-plan meeting. Say, “Manager, thanks for joining me but I’d love to kick off the meeting, go through the process of the flow and just ask for your support. I’ll also summarize the meeting.” If the manager is not having that discussion with you, there’s nothing wrong with you having that discussion with the manager because as a sales leader, I like when the account exec takes control of a sales process and has good follow up, I’m like, “What a great rep.”
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Ron Police: If you’re looking at a major initiative to ensure my success, I’m looking at it in my current role. Something that’s great for me because it’s new and interesting, granted one thing we do as a subsidiary, we can acquire companies, we can invest in companies, it’s neat. A number of years ago, “What do you mean we’re going to get involved with mergers and acquisitions and actually acquire companies in?” You want us to set up a private equity fund and actually invest 5%, 10% ownership?
We do that at NS2 and that was exciting to learn something over the last number of years but what we’re doing now, we just launched what’s called NS2 Labs. It’s the innovation center for NS2, for the company, for all of SAP it’s the innovation center for National Security. What’s cool about it is we have a seat at the table along with all the other labs around the world like the Hasso Plattner Institute, the Palo Alto labs, the Hudson Yards lab and we’re there because we’re NS2 and we have the innovation center for national security focus. The whole company goes, “We need that.”
What’s nice about it is it relates back to the sales reps at NS2. Everything we do at the NS2 labs we monetize. You have a customer requirement we need to do, we need to innovate some additional capabilities? Monetize it, you can go sell more, go solve some mission problems. If there’s a partner, it’s a community for partners to come in to the innovation center and we develop something together to go solve a customer problem. It always goes right back to the customer, their mission, solving a problem that ultimately is going to impact mission.
Fred Diamond: Ron, as we’re talking today just to wrap up before we get to the final question, we definitely get your passion for selling. We get your passion for what you’ve been selling throughout the process but sales is hard. We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe today, a lot of them are situations that may not be totally appropriate or totally optimized for them. The customers are harder to get to, they don’t return your calls or your emails. You service the public sector space where there’s things like shutdowns and sequestrations and continuing resolutions and things like that. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Ron Police: Fred, that’s a great question. I’ll paint a little picture of our inside sales team to give you an image why. We have inside sales manager, we have a group of inside sales reps in the far corner of this floor and right across the cubicle area we have a little liberty bell. Let me tell you something, I get so excited when an inside rep or junior reps basically bring in a deal and they ring the bell. I’d say, “Text me when you’re ready to ring the bell” and I’ll video tape it and it’s so exciting.
We had our chairman of the board, a big deal came in, we do it for field reps as well, we had Fran Townsend and our chairman of the board. Big deal because you’re going to ring the bell in honor of this opportunity. I get goosebumps just talking about because that in itself, ringing a bell in an opportunity, it’s when the essence of all the hard work and effort, the excitement of executing a sales campaign, a sales play with the ultimate objective, solving a customer problem, generating the revenue and ringing a bell.
Fred Diamond: Solving a customer’s problem, that’s what it’s all about. Again, we talked today with Ron Police, president of customer operations at SAP NS2. Ron, you’ve given us a lot of great content here. Why don’t you give us one final thought for the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe to inspire them today?
Ron Police: One final thought for everybody. We all want to have peak professional performance and my final thought would be in order to achieve peak business performance, life becomes a balance. I attended which was the greatest leadership class ever in the early 2000, probably about 2002, 2003, Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor – we had Olympic trainers, it was about 15 executives and it was all about what leadership means and define it. We hiked in the woods in the morning, we had physicals and the whole thing but at the end of the day we got a little button that we could put on a lapel just as a token by saying what did you learn.
We have a nice little pin, it has that same button and the button basically has four little button holes in the middle of gold surrounded by a little round around the edge, another gold button and what it signifies is a balance in life between your family, yourself – the self is so critical, that’s actually first because if you don’t take care of yourself, good diet, workout schedule, the whole thing even with some of our careers, travelling and everything, pack your workout clothes, do that. Self, family, business, community and the circle was spirituality. The key is you have to fire on all cylinders because if you’re not firing all cylinders what’s going to be impacted is probably all of them, but a big one is business peak performance.
My advice would be create a little life business plan for yourself, think about it in terms of what do I want to accomplish with myself. “I’m going to work out so much and all that some hardcore measurable metrics. What I want to do with my family, family time, what I want to do with friends, the community, everyone has their own defining spirituality.
At the end of the day you’re going to have your detailed business plan, I have one of those plans. I look at it every now and then and I think it has actually helped me with my career because it helped me balance everything so I could have peak performance.