EPISODE 110: Hortonworks Sales Leader Shaun Bierweiler is Passionate about Helping the Public Sector Solve Big Data Challenges
SHAUN’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Find your passion. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing it’s not going to feel like a job. And network. Network, mentor, get out there and talk to your peers because you never know when you’re going to be working for them, working with them or they’re going to be working for you.”
Shaun Bierweiler is the VP of Public Sector at Hortonworks.
Prior to coming to Hortonworks, he was at Red Hat in sales leadership.
He started his career as an engineer at Raytheon.
Find Shaun on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Before we get into some of your background tell us who do you sell to?
Shaun Bierweiler: My team is responsible for selling to the US Government, and that includes federal, state and local as well as the US educational institutions and the federal system integrators. Quite a bit of breadth across the team that I support.
Fred Diamond: Very good. We have listeners all around the globe, we’ve had a bunch of people in tech and hospitality and media. You focus on big data use cases. For the Sales Game Changers listening who don’t really know what that means, just give us the one minute overview on what is a big data use case.
Shaun Bierweiler: First, the big data problem is when you think about the new sources of data, the variety and the rate at which data is being produced, the velocity. Traditional infrastructures and systems are no longer able to really support that, so you have customers that are consuming and storing significant amounts of data but they’re not able to extrapolate any information from it. You hear people say they’re drowning in data; really they’re just not obtaining any insight or value from that data. Especially in the government space where you have sensors and drones and a significant amount of information. It’s incredibly important to be able to combine that information to obtain insights to then provide value to their mission.
Shaun Bierweiler: I probably have one of the most unique backgrounds, I’m a computer engineering undergrad. I came out of school actually developing systems and working on intelligent systems at Raytheon. I worked my way up into engineering management and eventually started doing program management. A lot of customer facing activities which pulled me into business development.
I realized I had a passion for being in front of the mission and helping to relay the technology to the business value and vice-versa, the requirements back to technical capabilities. Business development on the integrator side is really sales on the commercial side, so I was able to translate that skill set with my business degree into a career in sales.
Fred Diamond: Very good. When you were younger, was sales something that attracted you? You said you were a computer engineer. We typically get two types of people who are guests on the Sales Game Changers podcast: those who’ve been selling lemonade since they were 10 years old and those who weren’t too far from you. They were a consultant, an engineer, a financial analyst and they realized that they liked being in front of the customer or someone tapped them on the shoulder and said, “You have a really good way of communicating our value.”
Did you think back in the day when you were younger that this might be something you’d be doing?
Shaun Bierweiler: No, I never would have seen myself in sales and when I was growing up I wouldn’t have seen myself supporting the government either. I think I grew up with the negative aspects and connotations of sales. Once I was exposed to it, it’s been one of the things that has helped drive me to see the value and the goodness that you can bring in that role.
Fred Diamond: Very good. That’s what we celebrate on the Sales Game Changers podcast. What were some of the lessons that you learned from your first few sales jobs when you made that transition?
Shaun Bierweiler: As an engineer, I’ve always been very analytical and detail oriented and one of the things that has really resonated throughout my career and something that I enforce to my team today is how you do anything is how you do everything. It’s really important to focus on those small details, the things that are often overlooked. It’s incredibly important in sales when you think about the basic blocking and tackling of prospecting, account management and overall following through and delivering that value to your client.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that for a second. How has that translated into sales leadership? I’ll be honest with you, you’re definitely the first computer engineer that we’ve had on the show, and you’re definitely the first person who’s ever worked at Raytheon. I know that for a fact. How has that analytical background translated into sales leadership?
Shaun Bierweiler: I think sales is very process oriented but it’s the small details that will differentiate an average performer from those consistent A team players. Whether it’s being an inside rep and putting the discipline behind cold calling and email campaigns or as you’ve got a territory, really understanding your customer and understanding the customer land and the map, those small things really help to educate you and to ensure that you’re going to be prepared when you have the opportunity in front of your customer.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk a little bit about you specifically. Tell us what you’re an expert in. Shaun Bierweiler, tell us your specific area of brilliance.
Shaun Bierweiler: I appreciate the terms, I’m not sure I would use any of those descriptions but I think my background really does give me a unique perspective and it gives me an ability to communicate at various levels of an organization both on a business and program management and leadership perspective on the technical side. I’ve got a unique credibility on both sides of the organization. More importantly, it gives me a perspective to be able to understand the requirements and the overall message from the customer’s perspective and I think that’s another incredibly important point.
We can talk all day about what we think we’re doing and why we think it’s valuable but if it’s not from the lens of the customer, it really doesn’t matter. That’s something that I think I’m able to contribute value for my team.
Fred Diamond: I have a question for you about that. You run Public Sector at Hortonworks, you’re the VP of public sector. You mentioned a few moments ago that you never foresaw servicing that marketplace. Sales Game Changers listening to the podcast from around the world, they don’t really know about selling to the government and if they do they might have a negative bias that you might have had at one time in your career. What is it about the public sector or the federal marketplace that inspires you to have devoted your career in sales to that?
Shaun Bierweiler: It really is a fascinating vertical and the mission is so key and important, my time at Raytheon and being in the field and actually seeing the impact really had me fall in love with it. Not only that, but it’s a fantastic vertical with a huge demand and so once you’re within this community, you really do have quite a bit of career stability and path of progression if you’re able to be successful.
Fred Diamond: I just want to go back to one thing you said. You said, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Tell us a little more about that before we start asking some questions about some of the mentors who helped you along the way. Give us a little more insight into how the people listening to the podcast can apply that to their sales career to be more effective.
Shaun Bierweiler: Absolutely. When you’re setting goals and you’re setting objectives, one of the things a lot of managers say is you can’t expect what you don’t inspect. A lot of the metrics that a sales rep may take for granted or may look at as insignificant and not super important, there’s a reason why we as leaders are trying to coach them and push them down certain paths. Those small details are characteristic of the larger things as well. If you’re going to cut corners on those metrics or the commitments that you make, it’s going to be something that I believe you will see indications of across your career and across your life. I think it’s important to maintain that level of excellence, that level of discipline and if you’re going to make a commitment to do something, to follow through with it.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned you worked at Red Hat and Raytheon. To have gotten to where you are, there must have been some great mentors along the way to give you some guidance and to direct you, especially with your background being in computer engineering. Tell us about some of those impactful sales career mentors and how they impacted your career.
Shaun Bierweiler: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have mentors and friends at every step along my career. When I was an early engineer, I was looking at the sales leaders at Raytheon, the former military, generals that just carried a way about how they led and how they really laid out plans and strategy. That helped me personally to look at things more systematically and strategically.
Making the transition over to the industry sale side, I had a great mentor and friend in Paul Smith and he really helped me understand how to put customers first, to personalize that aspect of it. Today, I consider myself privileged to have my peers as friends that we’re able to constantly consult with and help balance thoughts and ideas off of with every decision that we make.
Fred Diamond: Paul Smith is a wonderful guy. At the Institute for Excellence in Sales, every year we bestow a lifetime achievement award to someone. Paul was the recipient from the Institute for Excellence in Sales in 2017 and real briefly, one thing I’ve learned from Paul was the need to truly understand your customer’s why. We talk about understand your why, but Paul helped me understand if you know your customer’s why, that’ll take you many years ahead of being successful in sales.
Shaun Bierweiler: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: What are the two biggest challenges you face as a sales leader?
Shaun Bierweiler: It’s absolutely hiring and retention. Especially in this space where the community is rather small for a very large city, the fight for key talent is fierce and the individuals and players that have earned that reputation, it’s really hard to keep them. That’s top of mind nearly every day.
Fred Diamond: What are some things you do to retain great talent?
Shaun Bierweiler: I think it’s first of all networking and making sure that you have a deep network so that when positions open up, you’re able to bring them on board and you have that trust and respect. I’m also an avid believer that people go to companies for the people. If it’s a good company, that’s great but it’s got to be the right person and so having those long-lasting relationships and not burning bridges is incredibly important to ensure that when the right opportunity presents itself, you’re able to know exactly who you’re going to try to bring on board.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Take us back to that moment.
Shaun Bierweiler: That’s a tough one. You always remember your first win, I think that was incredibly gratifying just because it showed that you could be successful. Probably from a pure sales perspective it would have to be an account that I supported early in my career and it was a labor of love over two and a half years of just crunching the data and compiling the use case.
It was a great deal, it was a huge deal but more important to me, it was a partnership and collaboration with the customer and at the end of that we were able to come up with an arrangement that was fantastic both from a company perspective but also for the government. For me, that was very personally rewarding to be able to see that start to finish.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key data points that you like to measure to be effective as a sales leader and to see if your people are being as effective as they could be?
Shaun Bierweiler: The same types of things I look for in the folks that I have or what I look for in recruiting and it’s passion. You can teach a lot of things about the customer and about the technology but you really can’t change the passion for the individual. I think that’s reflected in their intellectual curiosity, their attitude, their aptitude. I really like to ensure that we’re not just content going and chasing the deals and showing the bookings at the end of a quarter but that we’re trying to grow personally because I think that’s a reflection of the company and the culture that we want to have.
Fred Diamond: Are there any data points, any metrics that you look at on a daily basis to help make you or your team more effective?
Shaun Bierweiler: From a sales perspective we obviously look at the basic metrics of activity and we look at the engagements. I’m constantly looking at the macro trends just to get a sense of where our customer’s interests are, where we should be investing. Going back to the “How you do the small stuff”, those data points are all about the discipline of putting it into the CRM and ensuring that it’s accurate. I tend to try to network with the industry and meet with customers to understand where they’re trying to go so that we can be there and support them when they’re ready to get there.
Fred Diamond: Shaun, you made the shift from computer engineering, your first job was with Raytheon, you then moved into sales. Was there ever a moment along the way where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Shaun Bierweiler: No, at least not yet, knock on wood. If you look at my background as an athlete, a strategist, a technologist and someone that really is passionate for the government mission, sales gives you insight into all of that. It really is probably as close to an athletic environment that you can have in the professional space without beating up your body. I really do enjoy it.
Fred Diamond: I didn’t realize you were an athlete. What did you play?
Shaun Bierweiler: I played basketball, played football until I tore my knee. I get my CrossFit competitive juices going 3 to 4 days a week just trying to make sure that we’re staying active.
Fred Diamond: Good. Did you play college ball?
Shaun Bierweiler: I played ball at college, played club ball at Florida.
Fred Diamond: Shaun, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening around the globe to help them improve their career?
Shaun Bierweiler: Going back to one of the things we talked about earlier with Paul and understanding your customer, I think it’s equally important to believe in what it is you’re selling. Another quote that I like to have for the junior reps is if you’re not convinced, you can’t convince. If you really don’t believe in what you’re selling – whether it be a product, a service or a solution – and the value that it can bring to that client, then you’re either in the wrong job, the wrong meeting or both. It’s really important for you to understand why that conversation is being had. It’s a spin on solution selling but it’s all collective and it goes together.
Fred Diamond: Absolutely. What are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Shaun Bierweiler: I think it’s incredibly important to stay current and we talked about intellectual curiosity. I try to read as many books as I can and spending a decent amount of time at the airport, I like to listen to audio books and try to stay on top of news and technology trends. Networking with my peers that are in certain companies or providing technologies that I may not understand to get a better sense of where they are and what they offer.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Shaun Bierweiler: The data space is incredibly exciting and my team is super busy, especially as we go into September here. We are having conversations with customers to help them understand how they can unlock and empower their data, I’m really excited about that.
As we look at this new emergence of potentially more cloud and their environments, that’s another area where Hortonworks is taking a thought leadership and active role in supporting their migration.
Fred Diamond: Again, you made that career shift which we’ve talked to a number of times. What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Shaun Bierweiler: First, it’s that I genuinely believe in the capabilities that we deliver and the value it brings, that couldn’t be more true than it is at Hortonworks.
Second, I hate losing. We talked about some of that athletic and competitive drive, so that keeps me coming back on the bad days and ensuring that we can get that much closer to the next win.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us a final thought? We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe. Give us one final thought to inspire our listeners today.
Shaun Bierweiler: I have a few. The first one is we all have experience being on the customer side of sales, whether it’s buying a car, changing your cellphone plan and we all have bad experiences. Don’t be that customer. Second is find your passion, if you’re passionate about what you’re doing it’s not going to feel like a job and third is to network. Network, mentor, get out there and talk to your peers because you never know when you’re going to be working for them, working with them or they’re going to be working for you.