EPISODE 390: Amazon Web Services’ Sales Leader Sandy Carter Says Why a Bias for Action Is Critical for Today’s Sales Success

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers LIVE Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on August 5, 2021. It featured Sandy Carter, Vice President of Sales for Amazon Web Services]

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SANDY’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Have a bias for action. One of the riddles I like to talk about is if you look at a pond and lily pads on the pond, if lily pads double every day – so today you have three lily pads, that means tomorrow there’ll be six – at what day would the lily pad be half-full if on day 60 the pond is full? Of course, it’s 59 because on day 59 the pond’s half-full, on day 60, the pond is full. I use that analogy because that’s the speed at which the world works today. Everything is moving quick, so you’ve got to have that bias for action in what you’re doing. Bias for action in getting back to your customers, talking about value, introducing new technology. If you wait, you’re going to be sitting there, you’re going to think the pond is half-full and you’re going to wake up the next day and the pond is full. It’s going to be too late. If I have to say one thing, it would be commit yourself to have a bias for action with your customers, and that’ll make you a more valuable salesperson.”


Fred Diamond: We’re very excited today, Amazon Web Services is a Platinum Sponsor of the Institute for Excellence in Sales and we’re talking to Sandy Carter, she’s a VP at Amazon Web Services. Sandy, it’s great to see you. Thank you so much for being here, looking forward to talking to you, we have a lot of things we want to get across. But first, I want to talk about something a little bit different. You’re the Chairman of the Board of Girls in Tech. One thing that the Institute for Excellence in Sales is most proud of is our Women in Sales program, including our Leadership Forum. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Girls in Tech?

Sandy Carter: Thank you, Fred, so much for having me on and thank you for this great community. I really enjoy it. Girls in Tech is something that I have a big passion for, Girls in Tech touches women in college and two or three years outside of college. It hits that age range or experience level. We’re very excited, we have 55 chapters, we just added a new chapter in Ghana and we have one in Nashville, Tennessee, I was just there to do a session with them.

We have about 70,000 members worldwide. We really focus on entrepreneurship, technology, we do classes and machine learning and Python and something that you would really like. We do classes for entrepreneurs and one of our #1 classes for entrepreneurs who are tech is a sales class, because a lot of these women are phenomenal at technology. But you know, as a CEO or founder of a startup, you also have to be selling all the time.

That’s one of our most popular areas so we should connect and see if there’s something we could do with your Women in Sales group as well as with the Girls in Tech. Everybody who’s interested in learning more about Girls in Tech, just reach out to me.

Fred Diamond: We’re very excited about that. One of our big missions with Gina Stracuzzi, who runs our Women in Sales program, is getting more women into sales. We service tech, hospitality, media, all these various industries and we’d like to get more and more onto the career path that you’ve had, which has been quite phenomenal. Congratulations to you. Just before we get started talking about the sales side, we’re connected on LinkedIn and I saw that you had this post on what sales professionals should use as their email footer, and it had over a million engagements. Tell us about that for a little bit.

Sandy Carter: I was really surprised. I try to post interesting news on LinkedIn, as I know we all do. I serve a global role, so I have customers and partners all over the globe. I was sending email out and I was noticing that some people were responding at two in the morning their time, because I live in Seattle on the west coast.

I decided to add a truly human notice to the bottom of my email that basically said, “We work at a digitally enabled relentless pace and that can disrupt our sleep, our eating, our exercise, spending time with family. I’m going to send you this email at a time that works for me, and I only expect you to respond at a time that works for you.” I decided after a couple of my partners and customers said, “I love that, can I copy it?” and several people said, “Share it on LinkedIn.”

I did and I was amazed, I had 1.6 million engagements around that post, a lot from our customers and partners, a lot of those are sellers who said that this was just something that was very meaningful to them. Was a big show of empathy, a great conversation starter as they started meetings. I was just blown away with the response and I thought it was a really good lesson for all sellers out there. You don’t have to post something that’s super smart, you can do posts and do social selling on something that’s important to you. Because if it’s important to you, it’s probably important to others, too. And after all, sales is about a relationship with people, not with a company but with people.

Fred Diamond: Congratulations on that. We’ll be talking about empathy. We’ve been doing webinar every day since the pandemic kicked in and there are so many words that keep coming up time and time again. Empathy is one of the big ones. Let’s get right to it. How are things going for the public sector sales organization specifically today?

Sandy Carter: It’s going really well because of the value that our public sector customers are seeing from the AWS cloud offering. In COVID, we found that a lot of our customers who are agencies and governments around the world, healthcare institutions, not-for-profits had to do a quick pivot, Fred, to the cloud. In some cases, they had one or two years to get to the cloud, they had to accelerate that to weeks or maybe months. We saw a big need for helping them get to the cloud quickly and not just getting to the cloud, but once they were there, they saw such an explosion of value that they wanted to do even more.

One of the big a-ha moments too was just how much our partners were needed because a lot of those agencies, governments, healthcare organizations, etc., they didn’t have the skills that they needed. They borrowed from partners and our partners were really adding a lot of value, they were able to pivot really quickly. We’ve seen great growth and the value that we’ve been able to deliver, and growth through the partners who really supplemented a lot of skills in those areas.

Fred Diamond: For people who don’t understand what a partner does in this context, could you explain for them what exactly is the role of the partner that you’re talking about here?

Sandy Carter: Our partners have solutions, so in some cases they would deliver a solution built on top of a cloud. Think Salesforce, Salesforce has a CRM solution and that runs on AWS. We also have partners that help deploy, so it could be someone like a Alida who has a healthcare platform, Lockheed Martin in space or an Accenture or Deloitte who help our customers as a partner deploy that software. That means get that software running and customize specifically for their business. Those partners really supplement skills.

If you look, Fred, at one of the #1 reasons why customers don’t move to the cloud faster, it’s really not about the technology, it’s about the skill sets. People have a set of skills and being able to upskill them quickly takes time. That’s where partners have come in to upskill different partners pretty quick.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about priorities. What are the top priorities right now for your sales organization?

Sandy Carter: #1 for us is supporting the mission. In public sector, and again, it’s global and it touches so many different areas, mission is not something that’s driven by the IT organization. Mission is driven by the true purpose of the organization. For a healthcare organization, that would be digitizing a hospital. For government, it may mean enabling a call center to be set up to answer questions about COVID. It could be designing the next space mission, maybe synthesizing oxygen on Mars. That’s a mission, and we have found and have data to back up that mission opportunity is about five times greater than the IT opportunity. That’s really our #1 perspective right now. There are so many business areas, these mission owners who now have an IT budget and they actually need more help than the IT spenders in that space.

The second area of our priorities is around migration, which is really helping our customers get to the cloud. Our sales teams build business cases, how much does it cost to move over? Time frames, value props to do that. Sometimes it’s not just around picking up a work load. For example, we have data led migrations, we just worked with USCIS and Databricks and we were able to take the number of data sources that they use for real-time decision making and increase that tremendously. That adds real value to our customers.

The final area that’s a priority for our sales teams is around helping our customers modernize. Like the state of Utah just took their mainframe and they upgraded all that code to Java applying AI and ML in different situations like electronic caregiver and healthcare containerizing your IOT. If you’re not technical, you’re probably like, “What is she talking about?” But essentially, it’s about taking where you are today and taking it to the next generation of our technology. Those are our three priorities and for each of those, it enables our sales team to really demonstrate value to customers and speak their language.

Fred Diamond: One of the key ways to understand that is by understanding your customer’s mission. The elite sales professionals that we come across, they live and breathe that. They understand what their company’s bringing to the market, of course, they have to, but the ones who are most successful are the ones who are deep into the customer’s mission. They believe in it, they’re always thinking of ways that they can solve it. Let’s talk a little bit about the word elite. How can a sales professional be elite right now? What are the best sales professionals doing? Also, I’m just curious on your thoughts on what the elite sales leaders might be doing as well.

Sandy Carter: I agree. My #1 there would be they obsess over their customers and they don’t think short-term, they really think long-term. And when I say customer obsession, I don’t mean customer focus. I really mean working backwards from the customer and helping the customer look around the corner. That may mean you sacrifice in the short term to do the right thing for the customer in the long term.

I’ll give you an example. We worked with the Cherokee Nation, the Cherokee Nation is the largest Indian tribe in the United States and they didn’t come to us with, “Hey, we’ve got to migrate this stuff over to the cloud.” They came to us and they said, “We’ve got a problem. Our language is almost as extinct.” Think back. Fred, I don’t know if you love history but the Cherokee language was used and couldn’t be decoded in several different areas where we use that in the US and different war situations. It was just heartbreaking.

We got together and we were brainstorming, how can we help the Cherokee Nation really preserve their language? We started working backwards with a customer, working with a partner, Presidio, we came up with a game to do that. That wasn’t what they asked us for, they asked us to help them with the language but we came up with this game for the next generation in the Cherokee Nation that has really caught fire. That would be one of the things that I would say an elite salesforce does.

Another thing – I’ll just give you two today – is that I believe they’re going to scale and grow with partners. For me, the ability to expand yourself by having partners that extend your sales reach is a very powerful mechanism. Publicly, we’ve talked about public sector for AWS having almost 70% of our revenue with partners. That is how we scale and grow. We don’t have all the expertise, we don’t have all the solutions, but we know we need to meet that customer’s need. In order to do that, we leverage our tribe that’s around us to accelerate those deals. I think that is really smart and that is what an elite salesperson does. They don’t say, “Oh, man. Now I got someone else in my account”, they collaborate, they team and they scale out with everybody they need to be successful.

Fred Diamond: One of the great things about partnerships is for people who’ve been in tech sales for a long time, the partners are going to be in business for a long time as well, typically. These are people that also understand the customer and you could develop these long-term relationships that will provide value as your relationship with your customer grows. That’s a great answer.

It’s the beginning of August right now when we’re doing today’s interview and there’s this thing called the Delta variant that is out there. I’m in Nashville, Tennessee, I’m at a convention, I’m at the Gaylord Hotel and it’s mask-mandatory. You have to wear a mask in August. I’ve been vaccinated, I’m going to guess half the people here have been, but even if you’ve been vaccinated, they’re asking you to wear a mask because people are gathering.

We’re almost 18 months, Sandy, into this. I’m curious, what has been the biggest positive surprise that has come out of the pandemic and the COVID relationship? Something that you’re most proud of, even though we all know it’s been as challenging as it’s been. You talked about it a little bit before with some digital communications, but I’m curious. What’s been one of the biggest positive things that has come out of this for you?

Sandy Carter: The first one I think is how we have written our own playbook because one didn’t exist with our teams. For us, our teams are most important and we just added a new leadership principle that says, “We want to be the earth’s most employee-centric company.” For me, that meant trying some different things out with our team during this time. I did a watercooler meeting every day at first where our rule was no work, you could just talk about TV shows, movies, games, whatever you wanted to talk about, but no work. Just like you would typically do at a watercooler at work.

We did team trivia, I brought all of my employee’s families in, especially if they had young kids, and we did a, believe it or not, farm animal visit where the lady wore a Go camera on her hat and we visited all these animals. People were just so excited. We’ve done virtual wine tasting, champagnes, teas, and we’ve been doing a day of generosity. You would be surprised at how many organizations had to pivot too and go online. That was probably my biggest surprise, just how quickly we were able to support our team during this big and challenging time.

The second was how quickly businesses around the world pivoted. It’s amazing, you can’t see it behind me right now because it’s over there. I like to dive, we go to Hawaii. One of the dive masters – of course, no tourists in Hawaii – he pivoted to making these glass turtles. I just think that’s fascinating. One of my favorite restaurants in Seattle pivoted to doing a white linen tablecloth when you did takeout with a Zoom concert so you could virtually have that same white tablecloth dinner. I was so impressed and so positively surprised with how many businesses were so creative.

Then, of course, I have to say our partners. They moved quickly to collaborate on COVID solutions from helping to document different cases to mapping data. One of our partners PA Consulting, who won a partner award for Amazon Connect helped tens of thousands of people get through isolation safely by shielding the elderly at home during COVID. We moved on a dime, it wasn’t here and then it was here and you had to move. I think all of those were really surprising, but all of those were about people. They were about customers, the people and the customers who pivoted, our partners who pivoted to help others and my team, and my leadership team who pivoted to do the right thing for our employees.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here that comes in from Michael, and Michael’s in the DC area. Michael, good to see you. Michael says, “Talking about partnerships, talk specifically about how your conversations are going with your partners right now and with your customers.” Also, I want to add something to that. Many federal customers were new to working in the cloud or remotely just a few months ago, it hasn’t been that long. How has that been going?

Sandy Carter: Our discussions with our partners and customers have changed a little bit. At first, they were, “I’ve got to get to the cloud, I cannot process this many calls coming in about COVID.” For example, in one particular state, the whole time was over eight hours just to get a question answered. Their systems couldn’t scale up, so moving to the cloud helped them and gave them that ability to scale.

Now, the conversations have morphed into, “Now that we’re not afraid of the cloud anymore, now that we’ve taken that first big step, how do we do more?” and most of it’s about data, Fred. It’s about how do I now use the data to give me real-time decision making? That could be to provide medical care, to protect the elderly and their home, it could be around, how does this help me with making the best next element for a spaceship or clean energy? How does this help me take the next step for artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc.?

I’m really impressed that our conversations have become much more 201 and 301 versus 101, get me to the cloud. Now that they’ve seen the power of it, it really has switched over and our partners are very appreciative. We did a lot of things, special credit, special things for them during COVID. We have a really strong partner ecosystem, we love our partners and so I think it really has enabled us to take that next elevated conversation.

Fred Diamond: We have a question that comes in here from Crystal. Crystal says, “Can you ask Sandy how she’s changed during the time in the pandemic?” Thank you, Crystal. How have you changed? Everybody’s been changed like you just alluded to, but how have you specifically changed as a leader of such a large sales organization?

Sandy Carter: One, I have sweatpants on more than I used to [laughs] but seriously, I think that I have become a more empathetic leader. We’ve become much more flexible hearing dogs barking or kids running, or just flexibility on times. One of the ladies who leads my operations team, I don’t know how she did it because she had two young kids. I have high school aged kids, she had young kids, she was homeschooling at the same time she was working so we gave her flexibility on the time. She would work different times so she could be with her kids during that time.

I would say myself personally, I’ve become a more empathetic leader. I know more now about my team than I ever did before. For example, on our Slack channel, given we can’t get to know each other in person, this morning I said, “Hey, it’s raining here in North Carolina which is where I am today, so I’m watching movies. Give me your favorite movie.” I learned that one of my employees was named after a character in a movie. I learned different people in my team had met different actors or had wanted to be an actor. I think I now know my team better, I know my partners better. Again, more empathy which I know we’re going to talk about as well. Those are some of the things that I think that I’ve changed on.

Fred Diamond: Speaking of empathy, like I mentioned before, we’ve been doing webinars every single day and there are so many words that have come up time and time again. You mentioned value, we’ve talked so much about the need to provide value from an elite sales professional perspective. Talk about empathy as it relates to sales. We’ve even devoted complete episodes just on how you can be more empathetic. Some people are still not totally sure what it means as compared to maybe sympathetic or maybe obsequiousness, if you will. How can you be empathetic and still move the business forward, specifically with your federal customer?

Sandy Carter: I would say the first thing that we’ve been doing is letting people know that there are three really important words, “I need help.” It’s okay to ask that question now. It could be, “I need help with a deal.” It could mean, “I need help onboarding.” Or, “Hey, I need help, I’m stressed out, I need to go take some time off so that I can rejuvenate in this new crazy normal.” We have done several sessions with our teams just to say it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s more than okay, it’s really positive to ask for help.

The other one is just to be able to model the support. I think that people learn by watching, they learn more by what you do than by what you say. If I, which I just took my first vacation, if I tell people, “Don’t work on your PTO” and I work the whole week, they’re going to copy me. I’ve tried really hard to model doing fun things for my team, taking a real vacation, saying, “I’m frustrated right now.” Just being real being very authentic.”

Then just encouraging work-life integration. Fred, you talked on that truly human notice, encouraging that work-life integration. It really is true. I don’t expect my team when I’m on the west coast, and many of them are in DC, to answer my email because I get finished with helping my kids calculus at 10 and my time to answer my email is at one o’clock or two o’clock in the morning. Setting that expectation is really important.

Fred Diamond: I’ve got two more questions here. Sandy, you’re known as being a great coach. Talk a little bit about how you’ve coached your people during this period and I’ve also curious, how you’ve coached your junior people and how you’ve coached your senior people.

Sandy Carter: One of the things that I think is really important regardless of working virtually is staying really close to your customer. Fred, you brought that up right up front, I talked about customer obsession. Many of my sellers would say, how can I obsess over my customer? I’ve never actually met them in person. For me, I’ve traveled to 87 different countries, I’m always out on the road talking to my customers. How do you do that in a virtual world? I kicked off something that was an experiment, I called it a hundred by a hundred. I was going to meet with a hundred of our partners and customers in a hundred days. I wanted to do it on their time zone, remember, I have a global role, so I set up time that was APJ friendly, set up time that was European friendly and US and Latin America friendly and Canada as well.

I did the hundred partners in fourth quarter and it was amazing. I learned so much and, talking about positive surprises, there’s no way I could have done a hundred of those meetings if we had been in person because I’d be flying to different countries and taking time to travel. I try to lead by example and show them, you can form virtual relationships with your partners and your customers. You just have to be creative in the way that you do it. I think that was #1.

#2, we had a whole training session that we sponsored on how to really work with your customer on some of these complicated concepts virtually. We set up through some of our partners, again, they have great software where you can actually whiteboard virtually and you can play and collaborate together. We tried all kinds of tools and really experimented with that and coached them on how to use those tools. It was really important to us that we were enabling them to learn, to be part of the Amazon culture, to get closer with their customers during this period just like they would have, had they come in person.

Fred Diamond: Sandy, I want to applaud you. You’ve impacted so many careers, you’ve impacted so many customers. Again, Amazon, obviously is such a huge player. Amazon Web Services in the federal space and getting the customers onto the cloud so that they could continue to drive their mission to help the citizenship. When people ask me, why you have all these government leaders on? I say it’s because they’re all about helping citizens be safe, be more productive, travel, be healthy.

I also want to acknowledge you for Girls in Tech, I had just learned that recently and again, our Women in Sales program is one of the proudest things that we do at the Institute for Excellence in Sales. I’m very excited to connect you with Gina Stracuzzi who runs that. It’s a global program right now, we have women all around the world who participate in our leadership forum. We definitely want to figure out a way to get connected so that we can continue that string of getting women, Girls in Tech, when you attach them and you connect with them, all the way through the IES as we run our Women in Sales program.

Thank you so much and congratulations on that. I want to thank your team for getting you connected with us, I want to thank Amazon Web Services for being a Platinum Sponsor of the Institute for Excellence in Sales. It’s been such a pleasure to work with Ali Condah and Katie Maxson and Irena and all the people there. We always love to see the Amazon Web Services people show up at our virtual and live programs.

You’ve given us so many great ideas but give us something specific people watching today’s webinar or listening to the podcast should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Sandy Carter: If I could give one piece of action for the folks on the line, Fred, it would be have a bias for action. One of the riddles I like to talk about is if you look at a pond and lily pads on the pond, if lily pads double every day – so today you have three lily pads, that means tomorrow there’ll be six – at what day would the lily pad be half-full if on day 60 the pond is full? Of course, it’s 59 because on day 59 the pond’s half-full, on day 60, the pond is full. I use that analogy because that’s the speed at which the world works today.

Everything is moving quick, so you’ve got to have that bias for action in what you’re doing. Bias for action in getting back to your customers, talking about value, introducing new technology. If you wait, you’re going to be sitting there, you’re going to think the pond is half-full and you’re going to wake up the next day and the pond is full. It’s going to be too late. If I have to say one thing, it would be commit yourself to have a bias for action with your customers, and that’ll make you a more valuable salesperson.

Fred Diamond: Sandy Carter, thank you so much.

Sandy Carter: Thanks, Fred, it’s an honor to be on the program.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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