EPISODE 313: Ingram Micro Public Sector Leader Tony Celeste Gives Fresh Ideas How to Stop 2021 Distractions from Slowing Down Your Sales Efforts

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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 and hosted by Fred Diamond on January 13, 2021. It featured Ingram Micro Public Sector Sales Leader Tony Celeste.]

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EPISODE 313: Ingram Micro Public Sector Leader Tony Celeste Gives Fresh Ideas How to Stop 2021 Distractions from Slowing Down Your Sales Efforts

TONY’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Continue to have a growth mindset. It’s not what we know but what we don’t that’s most important. Go learn something new that’s going to help you help others, whether that’s a cross-functional peer, a peer in your organization or your customer. Go learn something that’s going to help someone else and seek out mentors who can help you do those two things.”

Fred Diamond: We’re talking to Tony Celeste, he runs Public Sector for Ingram Micro. Tony, it’s great to see you, we’ve known each other for a while. It’s always great to bring someone like you who’s had a nice successful long career in sales onto the show to talk about what you’re doing with your customers and how you’re directing your team to be successful. It’s quite interesting today, Tony, again it’s January 13th, we’ve got a raging pandemic, ladies and gentlemen, we just had an election and today the congress is voting on impeaching our president. The first question for you: how do you keep your sales team focused? Customers are distracted, salespeople are distracted, how do you keep them focused? First of all, it’s great to see you, thanks again for being on the show.

Tony Celeste: Fred, thanks for this opportunity. As you mentioned, we’ve known each other a while. I’ve been in the business a long time, don’t necessarily like to advertise that that much [laughs] but I have been and I’ve spent that entire time focused on the public sector market in the federal, state and local government and education marketplace and now I’m at Ingram Micro running their public sector business. I’m very excited to be here. To your question, how are we dealing with the many distractions in the marketplace and keeping the sales team focused? First and foremost, it’s acknowledgement that there is a distraction out there and it’s a topic that, candidly, everybody wants to talk about but knows they can’t or shouldn’t talk about it because it just opens up a can of worms that none of us really want to get into or experience.

What we do is we stay focused on the mission of government, we’re keeping ourselves focused on how we enable that digital transformation that is so badly needed so we keep emphasizing that. How can we focus more on the end users, their requirements, how can we provide our partners and our vendors more market intelligence that’s meaningful to their business keeping in mind that there are these many distractions that are out there? We’re not ignoring them, we’re acknowledging them but we’re moving right past that. Given that everybody’s experiencing this, how can we help and how do we keep it different? Keeping it really upbeat, very positive has been really critical to keeping the team focused.

Fred Diamond: What are your priorities right now? Again, it’s the new year, I’m not sure how your fiscal year goes but it’s January, a lot of companies are doing sales kick-offs, they’re reevaluating compensation plans. I know a lot of the members of the IES are focused on getting things more succinct based on the start of the new year. What are some of your priorities that you’re focused on and that you’re having your leadership team focus on?

Tony Celeste: It’s interesting, I’m going to back up just a bit because things have been going really well for us in 2020 but 2020 has been an unprecedented year. Like most people, I think we were interested in putting it behind us and we’re surprised we just kicked off 2021 this month and we’re going into more of the same. Probably the biggest challenge I think for most salespeople, we all have these type A personalities, we like to control things. I think that’s important to set the stage because it really began with recognition and adapting to that there are a set of things that are outside your control and we had to get that built into the mix, that we just have to acknowledge we can’t control everything, let’s focus on the things that we can control.

What are the things that we are focused on? We built a long-term vision and a strategic plan, we revisit that at the beginning of the year, we look at what’s working, what isn’t working, we’re fortunate to say it worked really great for us at Ingram Micro. Our public sector business grew over 30% year over year, our average order size grew almost 50% so we did extremely well. We’re carrying that momentum forward into 2021 with the organization. Specifically the things that we focused on in that plan is creating more value. How do you create value in this space? It begins with end user insights and market intelligence. Then we’re focused on partner enablement and making sure our partners are more successful, solution expansion and tailoring those solutions for the market and then every one of our sellers is really supporting our go to market strategies as we’ve laid them out in the plans. Those are the priorities for us into 2021.

Fred Diamond: You bring up #1 is value with your customers and that’s been one of the main themes. Every day at the Institute for Excellence in Sales we’re doing a webinar for sales leaders and for their teams – Tuesday, Women in Sales, Wednesday we’re bringing on people like you and Thursday and Friday we’re talking about sales strategies and techniques. Getting ahead of the curve, going to your customer not, “How can I help you? What are your pains? What are you dealing with?” but going to the customer with value way ahead of the curve. I’m curious, what are some of the things that you’ve discovered that are providing more value for your customers as your team is bringing that to them right now?

Tony Celeste: In some ways, the pandemic accelerated many of the trends that were already out there. It accelerated the need for digital transformation, it accelerated work from home specifically in the public sector space, it changed it for our own businesses so there are lots of dynamics that you had to recognize. But when you look at the sales process itself, you got to go back much more prep, much more homework, much more upfront time now needs to be spent than just walking in with a good call script of, “What questions am I going to ask the customer to qualify? What opportunities or what things might they be thinking about?” Nobody has time for that anymore so you’ve got to do your homework upfront. How are you building your rapport today? You’re going to build it online and if you were following The Challenger sales model, that model was digitally surround your prospect, go in prepared, build that rapport online, create that constructive tension but we can’t create constructive tension right now. What we have to be doing is being empathetic to what they’re doing in the marketplace, what they’re experiencing today yet still solve for the agency’s mission.

Fred Diamond: Tony, you hit on a couple key words that I want to focus on, the first is preparation. Again, we have sales professionals around the globe watching today’s webinar, we have a lot of people who are listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast episode sometime in the future. Let’s talk a little bit about preparation, what does preparation mean? Give us some tips, advice on how sales professionals now need to prepare to really bring value. It’s interesting, one of the themes that we heard many times on our daily webinars from the IES is the fact that we know where our customers are now for the first time in sales history. You’ve worked for some great companies but you’ve had to figure out stuff that wasn’t being told. We know right now that everybody’s dealing with COVID, everyone’s dealing with the economic issues related to COVID, you just mentioned before that your customer, public sector, rapidly dealing with digital transformation. There’s not a whole lot of secrets out there, we pretty much know. Talk a little bit about how you would advise not just young sales professionals but sales professionals in general to truly be prepared, to truly bring that value to their customers.

Tony Celeste: There are components you have to have. There’s the skill set and there’s a host of things we can talk about in skills, there’s the character which are more intrinsic to who we are, that’s our style, understanding our style. Our style is really important in our character because people do buy from people and you have to be able to build trust and to truly be a consultative or empathetic salesperson you have to be able to build that trust. You can’t force a style that isn’t your own, so you’ve got to have skills, you’ve got your characteristics and your style and then you have the things you need to be knowledgeable of. You need to be knowledgeable of their organization, how they make decisions, who their competition is, what’s going on in their organization, the macro, the micro. We’re at a point in the public sector space where there are massive amounts of information that you can educate yourself on so you really got to hone that down. Then you’ve got to do the preparation, you’ve got to think about, “What’s the purpose? What am I trying to get ahead of this? If I can get the meeting, what’s our agenda for it?” Gaining that agreement, following those fundamentals, it’s so critical to have that. Now, it’s got to be all very conversational, it’s got to be natural flowing, you have to adapt but there’s nothing worse than getting on a call and you have multiple people, you can see this person is over here dabbling on the phone, somebody else is typing over here and their eye contacts may be somewhere else in the room than just engaging. All of these things are part of the preparation of what you’re going to prepare to do when you engage with that customer.

Fred Diamond: I want to talk about that for a second. I had three Zoom calls that I scheduled this morning and in all three of them the other person said, “I’m not camera-ready, do you mind if we just chat via Zoom without the video camera?” And I showed up wearing a sport coat and a shirt and I’m in my first level of my house so I’m not in a beautiful office in Tyson’s Corner or Midtown New York or anything like that. I want to talk to you about professionalism right now, because we’re all working from home we’re talking on Zoom, some people are doing exercise in the middle of the day to stay fresh. I’m just curious on your thoughts, we have a lot of junior sales professionals listening today. What would be some of your advice on being as professional as possible during this time as a true sales professional?

Tony Celeste: You dress for success. As a matter of fact, I think there was a book called that.

Fred Diamond: There was.

Tony Celeste: It’s true, personally – and now I’m dating myself – the hardest part for me has been getting used to not wearing a suit and a tie every day because I knew what to put on. These days can sometimes seem like groundhog days as you do this but one of the things that I’ve personally noticed is as the pandemic raged on, people got more and more comfortable and more and more casual. While you want to be empathetic and you want to build rapport and you want to know people, you want to build that relationship and feel that connectivity, you’re still conducting business. You want to always portray yourself in a professional image in a way that represents you in your organization for what they are and that means you need to dress up. I’m always surprised, there are going to be opportunities. Our focus today is the sales profession and while we have sponsorships and I represent Ingram Micro and their public sector business, there’s opportunity for branding when you’re doing these things.

Maybe you’re wearing a nice button down that has your Ingram Micro or your company’s name reflected on it, that’s fine, that’s more than appropriate. Then there are going to be those fun planned events that might be around a sporting or virtual event or a virtual happy hour where you can do something fun and have some costumes. We did some nice things around Halloween where everybody dressed up because it’s morale and you’re building those relationships and rapport, but people knew upfront that that’s what we were going to do. They came to participate in it and it again furthered that, “We’re doing this for you, we’re dressing up and we’re putting on this for you.” You have to always portray a professional image.

Fred Diamond: Tony, we have a question here from Rick and Rick is from the DC area. Rick says, “Ask Tony what the biggest positive surprise is that has come out of the last 9 months.” We’re doing today’s show in January, pandemic kicked in in March, what is a positive surprise that’s happened that you’ve made an instantiated part of your process? Something that is standard you do every day now.

Tony Celeste: The biggest surprise was probably how quickly the public sector acknowledged that they really needed to digitally transform so I’ll give you that one first. I think that’s worth spending a minute discussing and that is the government’s been on this mode of taking advantage of technological innovations, smaller, faster, less expensive, more reliable, easier to maintain, the next new hot topic, the next new thing and they’re on a standard refresh cycle with continuing to make those improvements. Maybe more efficiency in their IT spend, those types of things but they hadn’t really focused on what technology could do for the mission of government. We’re seeing this shift now to how does the technological innovation digitally transform the mission of government? How do we do things differently? We no longer have to go to the MVA to renew our license, just as an example in the state and local government. We can do more online, interact in a different way and accomplish the mission of government more efficiently and effectively the way people want to do it.

That’s a surprise on the marketplace and it’s a positive one because that’s what we need to change and really take full advantage of what we offer. That gets back to the value, you get out of this situation where it’s lowest price technically acceptable because everything has been normalized and there’s nothing in our space that’s a commodity. We hear that all the time, it’s highly consumed, it’s in high demand, it’s sold in high volumes but we’re all investing billions of dollars to innovate. They’re all differentiated so it really is making the shift there and that’s probably the biggest surprise, how it accelerated all that.

Internally it’s how quickly my organization was able to transition to work from home. I was really surprised how well they did that, how quickly they adopted it, how they really aligned around our vision and our mission statement and how supportive they were of each other in collaborating as a team in what were really changing times. Why was all that important? Because it translated into the customer experience and being able to apply that, to making that shift of being very empathetic to not only the vendors we support, the partners we enable but the end user customers that we have the privilege of interfacing with. It was really bringing all of that together that was probably the most amazing surprise for me.

Fred Diamond: How are you directing your people?

Tony Celeste: What I would say is they’ve gotten more conversational, more interactive, that’s when they’re successful. We’re having a conversation right now, we’re back and forth, interactive, sharing thoughts and insights with one another, likely and hopefully learning something and those listening from us too. If they have a growth mindset, they’ll walk away with some takeaways. It’s being able to share that, it is building a rapport, it’s having those conversations. People have had the interruptions in their household, there’s nothing you can do no matter how much you try. The home phone line is plugged in, it’s ringing off in the background or the UPS or the FedEx is at the door knocking, ringing the bell and the dog’s barking and not everybody is in similar situations.

Not everybody has a dedicated space in their home where they could call it an office and if they did, they’re now in a situation where they’re trying to share that space with the rest of their family members. Most working households have two working and then you’ve got the kids home trying to do virtual school, so there’s lots of things that can be shared and discussed along those lines. It’s being careful not to bridge into the politics of it like how the government is handling this or which group is doing what because once you go there, you run the risk of somebody feeling alienated and that’s not a good thing. That’s why it requires a lot more discussion, a lot more preparation, a lot more thought. Even for myself, one of the things that I’ve recognized is there’s no down time because your schedule is available, people are scheduling and they see you’re available and you’re in meeting to meeting back to back and there’s no time to transition from one meeting to the next. Now you have to schedule time to allow for that transition so one of the things we’re coaching people to do, don’t schedule an hour, schedule 45 minutes. Block 15 to allow for the transition to the next and shorter snippets enable people to retain their attention span more, become less distracted with the email coming in, the text messages going off and everything else that’s being thrust at them.

Fred Diamond: Tony, you’ve been a sales leader for a long time, you’ve managed hundreds if not thousands of sales professionals at some of the top technology companies in history, of course right now you’re running public sector for Ingram Micro which is a critical company in the distribution of technology from tech companies from all public sector, federal, state and local and education. I’m just curious, you’ve had a long successful career, how do you think you’ve changed over the last 9 months since we’ve been in this different situation that we’ve been talking about? How do you think you’ve changed and how have you taken advantage of that change?

Tony Celeste: That’s an interesting question, how have I changed? The first thing I will say is I’ve been pretty fortunate, I’ve been blessed in terms of my career and the people I’ve worked with, I’ve had lots of mentors and been very fortunate in that. I’m also very fortunate of the people who not just I’ve worked with in my organization – and I use the word ‘with’ because I work with them whether they report to me or not and vice versa. I believe you have to have that growth mindset that you’re constantly learning, you’re adapting and you’re learning from others. When we came face with this pandemic it just reinvigorated for me that we’re all always learning, even myself and I’ve been very fortunate.

I will say I haven’t managed a lot of people in my career, I’ve had the fortune of leading a lot of people and I think there’s a difference there. I’m a firm believer in we manage things and processes but people we lead and the distinction there is it’s a matter of setting an example, it’s leading from the front, it’s having those conversations, it’s that of influence and being able to do that. Some of the best leaders don’t have a lot of direct reports, they’re just really good at influencing others outside their organization to enable them and do things. The one thing I would say that the pandemic has probably shown all of us is that there’s an opportunity to learn new things and learn lots from others and to continue to enhance our craft of sales.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here from Rich and Rich is in the DC area as well. “What is Tony learning right now?” You mentioned that you’re always learning, continuous learning, that’s one of the reasons why at the Institute for Excellence in Sales we’ve been doing a daily webinar every day since the middle of March. What are you focused on learning right now?

Tony Celeste: Becoming more proficient with the tools that are available to us but the tools can make us more mechanical and you have to be careful in how you make the tools that are available much more personal and leverage them in a connection in a unique way. Learning more developing there, in terms of coaching people, mentoring people it’s an area where I’m constantly trying to hone my craft and look at new and better ways of doing that. One of the ways I like to do it is seek out mentors for myself, I think it’s really important, I’ve been very fortunate from the start of my career with some great mentors, some of those I’m still in contact with today, some have retired and moved on.

Even some of those that have retired and moved on haven’t gotten rid of me yet, I’m like a bad penny, I show up occasionally still asking them. It is important to connect with people when you’re just trying to connect with them and not just for business. Social Selling, Challenger Sale, incorporating empathy into your sales role, all of these are things that we can all continually do better. It’s not what I know that’s important, it’s what I don’t know. That growth mindset is really critical and if you’re in sales and you think you know it all and you got the deal and everything’s done, then you know you’ve got a problem because there’s always something we don’t know. We should be striving to find it out.

Fred Diamond: Speaking to find what we don’t know, I have a quick question for you, you talked about mentor and it’s interesting, prior to the pandemic that was a question that I always asked when I did the Sales Game Changers podcast. We used to do them in front of VPs of sales at their offices and of course, when the pandemic kicked in we started doing everything virtually. We used to talk a lot about mentors, about the mentor relationship. I’m looking at the attendees here on the webinar and people I know that listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast. What are your recommendations for being a good protégé? For people when you’re seeking a mentor relationship and now’s as good a time as any, like you mentioned, how do you be a great protégé? How do you properly seek advice, how do you properly approach a mentor so that you can get their advice to take your career to the next level?

Tony Celeste: One, you have to be sincere. Two, you have to be prepared and by that, what I mean is there has to be a reason you’re going to that individual and asking them for their advice and their opinion or their feedback. This happens at all levels, I think one of the things that is disturbing is a mentor doesn’t have to be somebody who’s your superior in the organization or at a more senior level. A mentor could actually be somebody who’s a peer or it may be even somebody who works for you who’s actually good in a particular area, leverage that. There’s nothing more important to me than feedback I can get from my team, I learn from them all the time, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the team here at Ingram Micro, the wealth of knowledge and the things that they possess.

I learned very early on in my career and this may have been a gentleman by the name of Les Rosenthal. Les has been in the business a long time and right as I was coming out of college we met and the one tip that he shared with me – I think he got it when he was at IBM. They understood your strengths and put you in a position to exploit your strengths and didn’t so much focus on where you’re weak. All too often people tend to get bogged down on their weaknesses and spend an inordinate amount of time to try to develop something. Where you might be just really better served, be conscious of it, be aware of it, it’s okay to work on it, spend some time there but really focus on your strengths. If you spend the time on your strengths, that’s where you do well.

The most important thing when you seek out a mentor is be open-minded, don’t get bogged down with title, position or grade, look at what people are doing from a skills perspective, how they treat others. There are things you can learn from everybody in this business so be open-minded, be sincere when you go out there, be prepared, be respectful of their time.

Fred Diamond: Tony Celeste, I want to thank you so much for being on today’s Sales Game Changers Live. You’ve brought so many great ideas here, really gave great explanations to some of the key themes we talk about all the time, preparation, we didn’t really talk too much about empathy but we talked around it, about being of value to your customers. I want to thank you again for all the great insights here, I’m getting a lot of notes, “Great job, Tony”, “Lots of insights, thank you so much.”

Before I ask you for your final action step, I want to let you know that you might not know this but you’ve brought so much value to your customers along the way. When we announced that we were having you on today’s show I got a lot of feedback from people who either worked with you or for you who said they were excited to hear what you had to say. Hopefully they’re listening to this as a Sales Game Changers podcast or they’re at least reading the transcript. I want to acknowledge you for the great work that you’ve brought to your team, to your partners, most importantly to the government customer who’s been dependent upon the work and the tools and technologies. I want to thank you for that and I want to ask you, give us an action step, give us something that the sales professionals either watching today’s webinar, reading the transcript or listening to the podcast should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Tony Celeste: I’ve got to go back to some things we already talked on. It’s continue to have a growth mindset, it’s not what we know but what we don’t that’s most important. Go learn something new that’s going to help you help others. Whether that’s cross-functional peer, a peer in your organization or your customer, go learn something that’s going to help someone else and seek out mentors who can help you do those two things.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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