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EPISODE 066: Syncurity’s Tom Young Says Knowing as Much as Possible about Your Customers Can Lead to Sales Security
Tom Young is the EVP of worldwide sales for the innovative Security Operations platform provider, Syncurity.
He’s been referred to as a sales expert, trusted adviser, and proven Leader with a “Rare Blend of Business & Technical Expertise.”
He’s worked for a company called Platform Logic which was sold to Symantec and has led sales teams at high-flying start-ups and leading chain software development companies.
He started his career at Accenture.
Find Tom on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: Tell us specifically what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Tom Young: I sell today for Syncurity what we call security operations platform. It’s a tool that helps automate and orchestrate the activities that a security operation center usually executes in an effort to try to find risk to the company and quickly either address it or document that it was seen. Not necessarily action needed to be taken.
I think what excites me the most about it is I feel in the security world there’s two buckets: Products that create alert and then products that make sense of them, and unfortunately about 90% of the companies are in the first bucket and if you look at most companies’ budgets and resource allegation it’s probably in the same vein and I think we feel like we’re on a bit of a mission to try to get people to realize that we’re sort of drowning our security teams in a way that doesn’t allow them to truly identify and quickly elevate the risks that cause problems at places like Equifax and others that have become so routine in the news that we’re almost numb.
Fred Diamond: Tell us specifically about what Syncurity does. Tell us a little more about the company, is it a SaaS based platform, subscription service, give us a little more insight.
Tom Young: Great question. It’s almost a throwback. I was having just done a startup in the cloud security space and convinced the world was about to go up into the sky. This is a premised based or private cloud based software platform. We don’t sell it as a SaaS service, primarily because we’re finding most customers, the sensitivity of the data that they’re looking through – particularly if it’s internal investigations, it’s one that they’re not 100% yet convinced that there’s a cloud platform that they can trust. But the premise of the company is to take some activities that are typically done in security quite manually and or ad hoc, right? We find customers that have a Wiki or a spreadsheet or a Microsoft One Note that they use to guide their analysts on.
When you see alerts that you get from your security infrastructure, how do you figure out whether it’s the tip of the spear or something really bad? We try to basically take that process and automate it, document it so that their junior folks can come along and benefit from the experience that their one or two senior people have, and then we connect those analysts to the systems throughout the organization, they need to take quicker action. How do they stop the bleeding, so to speak, when they find out they’re under attack or they’ve got somebody who’s infiltrated the network? How do I quickly shut off the valve, if you will, and stop the leak?
Fred Diamond: Who exactly do you sell to? What type of companies and what type of positions?
Tom Young: For Syncurity as a small and emerging player in the space, our focus is primarily on the commercial enterprise market. We have a particularly strong focus in healthcare and we’re typically selling in a bottom up, top down fashion, really. We engage ourselves through peer networks and industry forums like the NHI sack for example, in healthcare with the CSO’s and the vice presidents of information security. But we also use local, ground, I would call them level communities like B sides and others to connect with the actual analysts that do this job every day.
It’s a really interesting, quirky bunch and you’ll find them walking around conferences with pony tails and shirts with their name known forgotten. It’s just an incredibly technically savvy and very motivated crowd, but one that’s not your typical sales audience. We try to find a way to identify and align with them. We have a tag line for example, “called for analysts by analysts” because our founder who was an analyst at one point and he ran security for Global Manufacturer which is kind of how we stumbled upon this problem.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned you’re the EVP for worldwide sales. Are you going all over the world trying to sell the product?
Tom Young: Today we have beach heads I would call them. We’re primarily selling in North America but we found it and created a relationship in the UK, ironically, even after Brexit to be a launch pad into the continent for MIA. We’re working with a company right now in the Middle East and then we’re just starting our discussions around the Asia Pacific region. Primarily, out of Australia, ironically or not ironically as I’m sure most global do, the English speaking parts of Asia Pacific are probably easier place to start.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Let’s go to the beginning of your career, I know you started as a consultant. Take us back to the very first job in sales. How did you move into sales as a career?
Tom Young: Great question. You mentioned consulting, I started at Accenture as it’s known now. Back then it was just changing its name to Anderson Consulting and you quickly realize that that was a pyramid game and the way you moved up the pyramid was you had more people underneath you and then eventually you had to go sell some projects to put people underneath you. In a sense, the first sales job I had was in trying to convince my clients to spell more consulting services but I quickly realized that the value that I could generate was tied exclusively almost to the number of people that I could engage in a project and I kept coming across software companies in my work, which was primarily the time in supply chain.
I realized that it was actually the application software, infrastructure software that was where the real value was being generated and quite frankly where equity – which became an important part of the success I had in the career – was much more lucrative.
Fred Diamond: How did you formally make the shift from consulting into sales?
Tom Young: I literally took a job as a pre-sales engineer for a company that was selling software in the domain for which I was consulting, so I sort of pivoted from my domain expert selling services in the space to domain expert selling software in the space. I backed like many sales people today into that career from a sales engineering role.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key lessons that you took with you from some of those first few jobs that have stayed with you throughout your career?
Tom Young: I think there’s several, obviously, but the ones that I thought about in preparation for this was: one, time and territory. It sounds cliché and specially in this day of age where everyone’s thinking that the social media’s going to change the world – I’ve literally seen over the years many times where I could almost track the success of a given individual to the time that they had spent in that territory and I felt like a lot of times the effort the teams go through in changing their territories too frequently, to quickly or dividing them into small actually had a detrimental effect on performance. That’s certainly one.
I think the second was that I don’t care what your sales methodology is, just pick one and stick with it. There’s an art to selling but there’s clearly a discipline and you have to be on top of the steps it takes to really determine if your buyer is at the point where they’re ready to execute, not whether you and your steps are ready to forecast. It’s really whether your buyer is ready to buy so I feel like, pick a methodology, I don’t care which one it is but just stick with it and use it.
Fred Diamond: Very cool. We’re doing today’s interview in the Sales Game Changers podcast with Tom Young, we’re actually doing it at a hotel in Bethesda, Maryland. So if you hear some noise in the background, that’s what it is. Tom, you’ve been in security for a while, tell us specifically what you’re an expert in. Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Tom Young: Wow, tough question, clearly hard to always tell anyone you’re an expert in anything but I think for me it’s primarily the connection between cyber security and the risk it poses to the business and the balance sheet and income statement. If you realize, and I think we’ll talk about it a little bit later in this discussion what are some of the suggestions for folks listening.
I think that for me, I’ve been blessed to both have through just experience as well as some mentors in some other firms that I’ll mention I think your listeners should learn about, to understand the science of connecting value drivers and what you do to the financial drivers that the executives making decisions about your products are managing and managed by.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you spend more time with that, the connection between what you’re selling and the value drivers for your customers?
Tom Young: I mentioned earlier that earlier in my career as a consultant, we spend a lot of time obviously working with executives and understanding what was their motivation behind why they were doing what they were doing. Often they were bringing us in from the outside, it was a culture shift, sometimes people on the inside as you can imagine are not always happy to see a bunch of consultants march in.
But I realized it was the agenda the executive had, it was, “I’m looking for a culture change” or “I’m trying to up the skill level or productivity of my team.” There was always a driver that was beyond just what was the project at hand. I think that translated when I came to understand that virtually every technology that you’re selling has an impact on the balance sheet and income statement.
Everybody says, “I have benefits, I do this, I make you do this” or “We can do this faster” but the challenge is, how do you translate those sort of generic statements and where does that financial impact manifest itself? And how does that translate to the objectives or agenda, if you will, the executives are trying to sell to have? What are they measured on? What is their comp package from the audit committee on the board targeting as areas of improvement? Finding that connection between what we all throw around as our great benefit statements and what it really is that’s driving executive decisions. Sometimes personally, but often times professionally in the organizations you’re selling to.
Fred Diamond: Talk about some of the impactful sales career mentors or one that you’ve had and how they impacted your career.
Tom Young: Well, there’s certainly been several but the two that came to mind when I was thinking about this: one was a gentleman I worked with at Symantec who taught me a couple of really important things about deal strategy, keying off the conversation we were just having is whenever you’re negotiating a deal and you have somebody with an agenda, it’s making sure that you really step back and think about, “How do I approach this from the standpoint of what is really going to impact this person’s outcome here and what might I have as leverage that isn’t necessarily my price or my payment terms but some other part of the deal structure that could actually help the person I’m trying to work with?”
So I think deal strategy was great area of mentoring that I received. Another was a gentleman that I mentioned earlier, he actually worked for me as you did, came out of FedEx years ago and he founded a company called Ecosystems based here in the Washington DC area. His whole premise was the science of finding and translating these business drivers associated with technology to their true financial impact and actually creating what I would call really defensible models for not only measuring that but capturing that and then giving you a platform over time if you are successful with a sale to go back to your buyer to say, “See? We did this. We said we were going to drive these benefits, we had a model to measure them and project them, now we’re actually capturing actuals and comparing our results.”
Really powerful past value delivered story, because everybody knows it’s a lot easier to sell to an existing customer than find a new one.
Fred Diamond: That’s very powerful, Tom. The deeper dive to truly understand the real value and the business impact that you’re doing comes up frequently as I’m thinking about a lot of the companies that we work with. It’s a similar type of a thing, it’s how is this making even the slightest degree of improvement which could be justification and continuing to do business.
Tom Young: Yeah, and it’s really difficult. You have to step back and think hard. You can say, “I can do this faster for you” but what does that really mean? Where does that translate and first of all, how would you measure it? And so f you’re going to do technology proof of concept, make sure that you understand how you’re going to measure that, make sure that you’re capturing that data as part of the proof of concept because that way you can justify what your impact is going to be.
I think it’s critical that people step back and think a little more carefully about when they make benefit statement claims or even if they’re in the marketing world and doing positioning, same thing. How are you going to help your sellers actually defend and define that?
Fred Diamond: Tom, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Tom Young: I would say recruiting and recruiting. [Laughs] As you can imagine and particularly in an area like this or any of the IT areas, there’s just tremendous amount of opportunity for quality and successful sellers and there’s so many companies – particularly in our space, in cyber security – that are looking for them, and when you’re in an early stage company like we are, you have the complicating factor that a move to a firm like ours can sometimes count to risk. That’s a family decision as much as it is a career decision, with the individual and their spouse and if they have children and so forth.
So, I think recruiting and recruiting are just the #1 challenges and the ones that I’m hoping through the benefit of this podcast and the Institute for Sales Excellence I can find more opportunities to meet great candidates.
Fred Diamond: You’re doing a great job getting the mission of Syncurity out there. One thing that I definitely know that you are is you’re very thoughtful as we’re talking about some of the business impact of the sale and how it’s truly providing value to the customer. That’s even more significant the higher up in the food chain that you go and the types of companies that you work with. Tom, you’ve had a lot of success. We’ve talked about some of the companies that you’ve worked for that have had successful exits. You also work with some big brands like Symantec. What’s the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? Tom Young, take us back to that moment.
Tom Young: Fred, it’s funny, I’ve thought about this and it’s a deal that we did when I was at Symantec. It wasn’t a large deal, maybe half a million or so but I think what stuck with me about this was it was a gentleman who worked for me, one of my sellers on the team and it was a large enterprise organization that’s part of what sometimes is referred to the defense industrial base or DIB. They’re an organization that does commercial consulting but also consulting to the government. This project was something that we were trying very hard and very important to sell and close by the end of the quarter.
It was important to our numbers, it was especially important to the region that we were in and come Friday towards the end of the quarter, the gentleman who works for me says, “This isn’t going to happen” and I just wouldn’t take no for an answer so I spent the better part of the next 7 hours between about 5 in the evening and midnight Easter Standard Time tracking down a woman at the channel partner through LinkedIn, found out she was involved in a sport, found and tracked the website for that local sporting organization where she was the treasurer, got her cellphone number from their website, called her up and basically spent hours working with her to say, “This is what it’s going to take, how do we work with the customer, they can’t issue a purchase order until Monday? Fine.
How can we get you guys to stick your neck out, basically and bridge the gap for us?” It was a very unorthodox and certainly I wouldn’t name the partner because I’m sure their management would be horrified to hear that they stepped out ahead of a customer in a particular case like this, but it was just one of those situations I think epitomizes my drive and my philosophy is just I never say no, and I never take no for an answer when I’m trying to close something. There’s always obstacles and specially this time of the year, the end of the year people say, “Oh, we’re never going to get anything done, it’s too late in the year” and I say, “Look, there’s 17 working days left in the year. I’ve seen deals many more this size and complexity close in a week.”
Fred Diamond: Tom, I want to follow up on that because a lot of times we’ve heard a couple of our previous podcast, Mike Schmidtmann, actually talked about a deal where one of his sales reps met a customer at Bob Evans at two O’clock in the morning because she knew that that’s when he was working and there’s a whole story behind that, so I encourage you all to go listen back to Mike Schmidtmann’s podcast in the Sales Game Changers podcast. But talk a little bit for a second or two in this particular situation when you approached this particular – it was a woman, correct?
Tom Young: Yes.
Fred Diamond: When you approached this particular person, you went all the way around to find her, you called her on your cellphone, you mentioned. Talk a little bit about her respond. She obviously worked with you, because you said you got the most successful sale of your career. Tell us about what that interaction was like, did she hang up on you? Did you have to keep calling her back? Talk a little bit about her response to you.
Tom Young: I think I ended up leaving her a couple of messages and then she had called me back saying she was at dinner, she would call me after dinner and to her credit, she did. Her initial reaction was, “I just don’t see how we can get this done” and then I proceeded to explain to her what again I thought was driving the customer, why I was convinced the customer was going to honor their commitment. But more importantly, I had dug into the background of what was important to her and the cause that she was involved in this local sporting organization, for example, and challenged her to say, “Look, let me help get involved, let’s get this done and we’ll get a sponsorship for you and we’ll help engage in promoting the cause and the benefits of what’s really important to you personally.”
I wouldn’t say that we bribed her quid pro quo but just having took her off guard to know that we had taken the time – or in my case, I had taken the time – to understand outside of work what made her tick, what was her agenda and find a way to connect to that.
Fred Diamond: That information is out there on the internet.
Tom Young: It’s everywhere.
Fred Diamond: Tom, you’ve had a great career in sales. Did you ever question being in sales? Again, you made a transition from a consultant to a sales engineer to a sales leader. Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Tom Young: I would say usually every end of quarter at about 3 in the morning East Coast Time because when I was at Symantec they were a West Coast based company. I’m just kidding, but no. I think that there are times when you’re in the startup environments where the deal flows just aren’t as significant. It’s a lot more lumpy demand and you get into that situation where one deal can make or break you and I think there are times where you get to yourself to think, “How did I after all that I’ve done in my career get myself to a point where I’m hanging by a thread on this type of a situation?” but regardless, I think it’s really the belief that what you’re doing is changing the world. I think it sounds esoteric, it sounds altruistic but if you don’t have a passion for what you’re doing, it’s not just, “I’m there to make money”, it’s really there to actually have an impact.
I think as long as you’re grounded and you believe that, then you’ll always stay true and enjoy the flexibility, the challenges, the diversity of experience that you get when you have a career in sales.
Fred Diamond: Tom, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to selling professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them improve their career?
Tom Young: Fred, I got to be honest, it sounds oversimplified but it’s: know your customer’s business. It’s often times I would do a business review with the different sellers who work for me or the people who led teams and they worked to doing deal review and I would ask them three simple questions. I would say, “How does this customer make money? How do they plan to make more money?” and that’s usually found on their website and their CEO statements of strategy or so forth.
And then lastly, “How is it what you’re selling helps them do the first two?” Again, oversimplified but I think it’s really important for sellers to know the business. There’s survey after survey that tells that people buy from one of the first sales people comes to them and actually adds value. Usually you do that by knowing the business and finding a way to connect what you’re doing to the improvements promised or desired by that business.
Fred Diamond: You’re a high energy guy, what are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Tom Young: For me, it’s always trying to understand business in itself. I tend not so much to spend time in the industry of software cyber security. I spend a lot of time in Squawk Box, NBC, other business related publications and understanding the trends that are driving executive level decisions and strategies around finance and how they structure their companies. I certainly think that the Institute for Sales Excellence is a great place to sharpen the saw. I always joke with people. Rory McIlroy has a swing coach, right? If you’re in this business and you don’t think you can wake up and get better, then you really should leave. So listening to peers like this podcast gives you the chance to do or mentor’s is a fabulous step to sharpen your saw.
Lastly I mentioned this company Ecosystems founded by a guy who used to work for me, I think they’re a great company to get to know and understand because the work they’ve done in this field of translating technology impact to the real business financial impact is fantastic.
Fred Diamond: Tom, what’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Tom Young: It goes back to what we were talking about earlier about what drives our customers. We’re working on a program at Syncurity to take some of the anonymous data that we capture and generate as a result of people working security incidents and translating that back to them as a source of validation. In other words, if I see these certain indicators of potential risk in my business from an attacker, how often across the customer base of Syncurity has that really translated into an actual incident that the attack was real versus it was just noise?
I think one of the things we’re trying to do is translate customer insights anonymously, of course, back as a value to the customers themselves, really sort of give-get. That’s something we’re really working on and talking about in our selling process as part of why we thing what we’re doing is as a higher order goal than just selling something to make you more secure.
Fred Diamond: Tom, sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your emails. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Tom Young: I think maybe too oversimplify, if you’ve ever seen Defending the Caveman, the comedy show that’s one man and Van’s great, I recommend it. But he describes this mentality of a hunter, it’s genetically programmed into us to some degree and I have to admit that it’s just the absolute thrill of being able to see a problem, solve it and see a customer succeed. I think whether that’s the overall project or the actual deal process itself, I think it’s that thrill of the kill, if you will, that’s exciting.
Ultimately, I go back to what I said earlier which was I really feel like when I join with a company and I understand what their mission is I really try to personalize that and say to myself, “This is something good we’re doing, we’re changing this business” or “We’re changing this industry” and I think in the case of Syncurity, we really feel like we’re opening people’s eyes to that we have a problem, we have a man behind the curtain situation and we need to shift our focus and our resources to better addressing this problem.
Fred Diamond: Give us one final thought. Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast?
Tom Young: Sure, Fred. I think the final thought I’d have is have a goal in mind that you’re passionate about. It’s not about the money, the money is a byproduct of success but it’s really having a goal and a passion. I always joke with people that the minute your CEO stands up and says, “Your big, hairy, audacious goal is to be a five billion dollar company” it’s time to tender your resume and resignation because that’s not a mission, that’s not a passion, to be a five billion dollar company.
To think, look at the successful companies in the world like Disney or McDonalds or whatever and look at their mission statements and understand what they are, what is their raison d’etre and they have a vision, a passion that they’re focused on. I think as long as you have that and you can discover that and connect with that, I think that’s what’s going to help you drive success.