EPISODE 331: Flexera Public Sector Leader Tristen Yancey Details Why It’s a Powerful Market to Serve

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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 February 24, 2021. It featured Flexera Public Sector Sales Leader Tristan Yancey.]

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TRISTEN’S TIP ABOUT WHY TO CHOOSE SALES INTO THE PUBLIC SECTOR MARKETS: “There are two reasons why I enjoy selling into the Public Sector market. The mission is attractive to me and I find it favorable, whether you’re selling into federal civilian where their outreach is the citizenry or the Defense Department where it’s protecting the homeland. Second, it’s the people. The great thing about federal employees is they are in the federal marketplace for a long tenure and you can establish those relationships over time, and they actually do become friends and not just prospects or customers.”

Fred Diamond: Tristen, you run public sector, you also run Canada as well, correct?

Tristen Yancey: I do, that is correct. It’s a diverse region for myself but it’s been a fascinating one at the same time.

Fred Diamond: First of all, tell us how things are going. Here we are, we’re doing today’s show in February, it’s 2021 – or as some people call it, 2020 extended – and we’re both in our home offices. We talked a little bit before the show that neither of us have any plans to go back to an office in the near future. Tell us a little bit about how things are going for you.

Tristen Yancey: Things have definitely started picking up, I’m glad the holidays are over, people’s minds are back into the game so the conversations are picking up, things are going really well. It’s interesting, from the perspective of our federal conversations here we are almost halfway through the federal fiscal year, we’re almost towards the end of the state fiscal year. If you’re not having those end-game conversations you’ve missed the boat so that’s what we’re in the process of doing.

Fred Diamond: Quick question for you, I just got off the phone with a member of the IES who’s looking to expand his sales team and we were talking about the huge battle for talent. I understand you’re also looking to fill some things, tell us why Flexera would be a great place for sales professionals to work.

Tristen Yancey: The company has really invested in the public sector market, they realize that it’s a vertical that has a lot of depth and a lot of possibility moving forward. When I started back in management here at Flexera back in 2018 we had a team of four, now we have a team of 9 so they’re definitely making the people investment. They’re also making the investment in FedRAMP so we’ve partnered with our 3PAO, we’re in the process of kicking that off and going through our FedRAMP certification with the hopes and goal of being FedRAMP in process by the end of the calendar year. That’s a $2 million investment right there so between people in technology, they really do see this as a growth market for the company. We have head count openings in federal civilian, DOD and state and local so we’d love to welcome you to our team.

Fred Diamond: One of the great things about a market like public sector or federal, for that matter, is that there’s a lot of programs, a lot of acronyms, a lot of terms that people may not know. We have a quick question here that came in from Josie, “What is FedRAMP?”  Would you mind giving us a quick definition of FedRAMP before we move on?

Tristen Yancey: That’s the security process certification in order to run in the cloud due to federal government security control. You have low, moderate and high and you have to meet several security controls in order to gain your certification and have your products run in the government cloud.

Fred Diamond: To follow up on Josie’s question, again you’re running public sector, you’ve been in that market place for a good portion of your career. Why would somebody want to focus their sales career in the public sector market, specifically in this case, federal? I’m not asking you as a hard question, just explain why because we’ve had so many great sales leaders on the Sales Game Changers podcast who devoted their career to public sector, specifically federal. Why is it a good market to sell into?

Tristen Yancey: There are two reasons that come top of mind for me, one is the mission to the federal government so whether you’re selling into federal civilian where their outreach is the US citizenry or the Defense Department where it’s defense of the homeland, it’s really the mission that attracts me and I really find favorable. The second thing are the people, the great thing about federal employees is they are in the federal marketplace for a long tenure and you can really establish those relationships over time, and they actually do become friends and not just prospects or customers. That’s the part that I really enjoy is the relationship part of my career.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that for a second. You’re absolutely right, one thing we learned over the last 10 months and those of us who focus on the marketplace specifically understand what the federal customer does and how committed they typically are to the mission. You mentioned you’ve developed relationships and friendships, talk about some of the conversations you’re having or your team is having with federal customers right now and talk about it in context of do you just get right down to business or are you engaging with a little more personal empathy? I’m just curious what those conversations look like and how the customer is engaging with you, and how you proactively ensure the best conversations.

Tristen Yancey: Since we don’t have the ability to meet in person anymore, you miss that interpersonal connection so I do start off the conversation with, “How are you doing? How’s your family doing? Tell me about your kids.” You want to establish that connection and let them know that you’re in it with them and this is not just a sales call. That’s how you further those relationships that are going to stand the test of time so yes, I don’t just jump right into business but we normally start off with some softer topics, personal topics along those lines.

Fred Diamond: Is it easy to do that? One thing about public sector is it’s a highly regulated industry, obviously, and we talk frequently about things like the federal acquisition regulations. There are laws that government customers need to adhere to, to safely sell to the market place. Is it an overly formal marketplace? You talked about relationships, how do they come into play if there are such regulations in the market place?

Tristen Yancey: You absolutely need to follow the rules and the guidelines and not step over those, but that’s in terms of gifting and things of that nature. There are no rules and regulations about relationships and friendships in the government which is fantastic, so you do get to go past just the business side of things. I have one customer who likes to ballroom dance, another one came to my baby shower many years ago so you really do expand on that personal connection with them.

Fred Diamond: I have a follow up to that. You said one of your customers actually came to your baby shower, one of the things that’s interesting about what you do focusing on public sector markets and the government customer, a lot of government customers, the ones who work in the government, that’s their career. They’re going to be in the government working in programs or IT or procurement for their whole career, 10, 20, 30, possibly 40 years. If you’re selling to that market place, you’re going to have some long-term relationships.

Tristen Yancey: Absolutely. What I’m seeing from when I started out 20 years ago, those folks are also retiring at the same time so it’s nice establishing relationships with the up-and-comers too, the rising stars in the government. They’ve got so much energy, so much passion and it’s great to see the next generation coming into the federal government and embracing that mission side of things. It’s very energizing to see the new generation coming up as well as keeping those friendships that I’ve had for decades.

Fred Diamond: I like what you said before, it is a very mission-driven customer base. If you’re working for any of the government agencies, there’s a mission behind it and these people are definitely committed to helping the citizens of the United States and they’re really committed to making the service to the citizens much more effective. Tell us about some of your priorities. Again, you mentioned FedRAMP but tell us about some of the things that you’re working on right now. One of the interesting things about the webinars we’re doing every day is that things change almost on a weekly basis and things evolve. We’ve gotten a little bit plateaued on some level but tell us what some of your priorities right now as a sales leader are.

Tristen Yancey: Just like most sales executives, we’ve just wrapped up kick-off and are planning for the year so now it’s about that implementation. Additionally, we’re going through a paradigm shift within Flexera because we’re moving from an on-prem company to a SaaS company and we’ve just released our new platform called Flexera One. Not only are we learning new technology, espousing the new technology to our customers and our prospects but we’re also doing things from a back office. We’re transitioning from perpetual licensing to subscription licensing and we’re also talking about FedRAMPing, if that’s a verb, the new platform. Also, that mental shift internally with the company. People have been there for quite some time, it’s a 30 year old company so it’s exciting to see that shift within the company and the energy that comes with it.

Fred Diamond: I want to ask you a follow up question to that because this comes up not infrequently on the Sales Game Changers webinars and podcasts. You mentioned the company’s been around for 30 years, a lot of people who listen to the podcast and participate in IES programs have been selling for sometimes 20, 30 years but we also have a lot of people who are relatively new. You mentioned the new customer, if you will. Have you found that sales professionals have been able to make that adjustment from selling what we’re calling on-prem into the cloud? It’s a different compensation model potentially, it’s a different type of way the customer’s buying, I’m just curious on your thoughts on that.

Tristen Yancey: That’s been a shift that’s been going on within the last 3 to 5 years from perpetual to subscription, that’s really being driven by company valuations. We have seen that shift in the software industry for quite some time now, we’re just making that switch ourselves as we transition to a SaaS company but in terms of the government switching to that, it also goes to the CAPEX versus OPEX dollars and it’s a lot easier to get the OPEX dollars. It’s been an easy shift moving from that on-prem perpetual license to cloud subscription type model.

Fred Diamond: We’re getting some questions coming in here, Tristen. A question comes in from Neil and Neil is in the DC area. Neil says, “What does it mean to be an elite sales rep right now?” We’ve been asking that question a lot and I’m just curious, some reps have had a real struggle over the last year. A lot of sales professionals have been remote and companies are setting up their people inside, they’ve been for years but the big challenge is we always had somewhere to go. Even if you’re remote, maybe every Friday you come to the office or once a month and you have team building or face-to-face. What are elite reps doing right now to maintain that highest level of performance?

Tristen Yancey: To your point, Fred, we’ve all been remote for the last year so you really do need to set yourself apart. It’s reaching out and doing the background investigation on your prospects, understanding what their needs are, their corporate priorities, taking a look at their 10Ks or their strategic plans and applying your solutions to that. Not just speaking to a specific tool, but really addressing a business issue and how you solve that. Also, reaching out to the folks that you already know. If you have customers in similar industries, asking them for warm introductions to help leverage that and break through that barrier of the cold email and the cold call. Taking a look at LinkedIn in the companies that you’re targeting, those people that are in that company have probably come from another company that you’ve already sold to so help connect the dots. Those are just some of the ways that I’ve seen elite sales reps go to market in this unique and different environment these days.

Fred Diamond: I want to follow up on something you just mentioned. For people who frequently listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast or watch our webinars, there’s a lot of words that continue to come up and probably the most prevalent word of the last 10 months, but even way before that, was value. We’ve had to show even more value to our customers because they have the same challenges that a lot of our companies do which is getting past all the stuff related to COVID and then of course, the financial side of COVID, and we like to say whatever the third thing is. Maybe there’s something in your industry or something with your company. How are you leading your sales team to show that added value right now? What are some of the things that you guys are doing as an organization or as a leadership team to really insist that your reps are bringing more value to the customer than ever before?

Tristen Yancey: To your point, we focus a lot of our enablement and training on value selling, it’s not product selling. That’s what really is the sales mode of today. We look at what we do well and what we do differently than our competition and how that aligns to the customer needs and really focus on that moving forward. It’s setting up those differentiators and the value add that we bring to the table compared to others.

Fred Diamond: We talk about this all the time, since the pandemic has kicked in and the need to show more value to your customers than ever before, have you instantiated some processes? Maybe more teamwork to really think through some of the unique messages? Because you’re absolutely right, if you’re reaching out to your customer right now and saying, “I have a software solution that will help you blah, blah, blah…” the customer doesn’t care because they’re dealing with the challenges that we just talked about before. I’m just curious, as a team maybe bringing in other parts of the organization, what have you done to raise the level of messaging to ensure that you’re specifically targeting to the challenges of your customer to bring them that added value?

Tristen Yancey: Flexera has a group within the company called Business Value Advisors and these folks are consultants to work directly with the customer at no cost. It’s to help the bring stakeholders to the table, identify what’s important within the organization and then taken their experience at other companies and within Flexera, present a pathway to success for them. It doesn’t necessarily involve Flexera, but looking at software license management or IT visibility, IT assess management, security in general, these are the things that we’re providing value with not necessarily a Flexera spin to it. As part of that, we provide return on investment models to help with their business cases as they go to get funding and approval from upper management, these are just some of the things that we’re doing at no cost to the customer to help provide value to them and emphasize the importance of the particular project that they’re trying to get approved.

Fred Diamond: What are sales reps doing wrong right now? What do you see people continuing to do wrong?

Tristen Yancey: Honestly, I think the one thing that I see most frequently happen is being single-fretted within an account relying on the voice of one person to guide you through the particular process in that project or company. You really need to triangulate information because they may not have all of the facts, they may not want to tell you the truth, people generally want to be kind and they don’t want to give you the facts or the hard truth. I think it’s really important to be talking to influencers and catalysts and if you have that catalyst, they should be selling alongside of you internally because it’s for the good of the company and for themselves. It shines a light on the success for the company. Triangulating the information and getting that catalyst within the company to help sell alongside of you.

Fred Diamond: We had Spencer Wixom on from the Challenger company, they’re the company that is implementing Challenger sales at customer sites or for sales teams. We talked about the fact that in some accounts there are 6 or 7 customers that you need to be interacting with before a decision is made so I agree with you so much on that. That’s the one thing that I always say when I sit around pipeline meetings when I see a sales professional who says, “This is 50% because Joe in procurement says it’s going to happen” but we haven’t talked to program, we haven’t talked to marketing, we haven’t talked to the end-user customer. We have a bunch of people, Tristen, who are brand new in sales management. As a matter of fact, it’s the beginning of the year, we just saw a whole bunch of people at our member sites getting promotions into sales management and that is one of the big problems I see all the time, it’s their fear in going back to their rep. Give some advice to some of the sales managers on how they can get past that if they see that their sales rep is stuck with focusing on maybe just one part of the equation at the customer site.

Tristen Yancey: To your point, branching out. A lot of times you sell to the group within your organization or the organization you’re selling to that relies directly on your product. For example, at Flexera we do software license management so we go to the ITS at management group within that group or organization. You should be branching out, you should be going to IT operations, security, because they all have a hand in it in some form or fashion. Branching out, getting the names of those folks, meeting with them too because ultimately you’ll need their buy in and you never know who’s going to be the obstacle that stands in your way. Reaching out to those people and being proactive rather than shielding yourself from them not knowing what they may be saying when you’re not in the room.

Fred Diamond: I’m curious, do you have any go-to quotes? This is a question I’ve never asked before but you’re using the word proactive which is such a positive word and we use that a lot. I’m just curious, are there any quotes that you live by as a sales leader? Just say the pledge of Allegiance if I’m putting you on the spot [laughs].

Tristen Yancey: [Laughs]

Fred Diamond: I’m just curious if you have a go-to or something.

Tristen Yancey: In terms of selling a particular product, one of my go-to’s is you can’t protect what you don’t know so you need IT visibility. In terms of sales, always watch out for your blind spots because you never know what’s going to happen if you’re not looking for them. Those are probably the two that I would reference most.

Fred Diamond: Tristen, tell us about a positive surprise. We’ve all gotten hopefully better and continue to realize how much better we need to get at presenting on the small screen which obviously we’re going to continue doing for a long time, at least probably through the end of 2021. What’s been a big positive surprise that’s come out of the last couple of months for you?

Tristen Yancey: Hands-down it’s been my team’s perseverance. Even though it’s a different dynamic these days, the chips may have been down, they have really pulled together through team and they’ve persevered. That’s the one thing that speaks to me the most, the human element of sales and team management. I’m really proud of my team.

Fred Diamond: Along the lines of that, here we are, it’s almost a year into the pandemic and we’re going to be continuing this at some level here but how have you changed over the past year? We like to ask that question and I’m curious from a leadership perspective or maybe from a viewpoint perspective, something that you’ve seen in yourself that has emerged over the last year.

Tristen Yancey: Definitely having to be more patient. We can’t meet with our prospects and customers in person, generating pipeline is taking longer, closing deals is taking longer. Just trying to be patient but at the same time trying to overcome it, so instead of having a typical 3X pipeline you may need to have a 5X pipeline now in order to achieve the same results. I hope my team would agree with me when I say patience, but you would have to ask them.

Fred Diamond: That’s absolutely critical. Have you had any directives as far as, “Everybody must keep their video on all day”? We’ve heard various things from various companies about how they’re directing their people to do that, especially the ones with a lot of junior sales professionals who may be in an apartment by themselves or may be in an apartment with two other people. We heard from a sales rep who’s one of our members now who just came from another company where they were told, “It’s winter time, it’s dark, you’re in your apartment, you might as well be working.” It’s hard to have those expectations, especially when you don’t have a lot of the things that you could rely on to fill out the rest of your life – seeing friends, going to restaurants, going to concerts, going to the health club. I’m curious if you have any thoughts on the direction that way.

Tristen Yancey: Our company direction is to have the webcam on most of the time because it helps foster interpersonal interaction, and because we can’t see folks in person it does provide a connection. We are on camera most of the time and we try and encourage our customers and prospects to be on camera as well, I think that gives them a comfort rather than just talking to a faceless person over the phone to actually really see the person they’re talking to because body language says a lot. In terms of that personal connection amongst the team, I did a virtual happy hour at Christmas time and put on a goofy hat that had Christmas tree lights and whatever. Try and do different things in order to spur that sense of community when we can’t be in community in person.

Fred Diamond: How are you coaching your people right now? How are you coaching the senior people and how are you coaching the people that might be a little more junior?

Tristen Yancey: Most of my team are senior sales folks, we’ve got lots of experience amongst all of us, probably no less than 20 years each. It’s really just having them focus and keep their eye on the ball and again, to watch out for those blind spots because we get so accustomed to our daily routine, especially if we’ve been doing it for so long that sometimes we miss the most basic of steps. That can come back to bite you, so it’s just focusing, keeping your eye on the ball, the end game, getting it across the finish line but also making sure that you cover those basics and watch out for those blind spots.

Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final action step, I want to thank you again for giving all this great insight here. What would be your expectations for sales professionals right now? You’re leading an organization, you have international responsibility, public sector is a hard market, it’s a very rewarding market place but it’s a very challenging market place in a lot of ways that we know. You said you have a senior team for the most part, what do you expect? What should a sales leader be expecting of their salespeople right now?

Tristen Yancey: No excuses, it comes down to that. We’re all in the same boat yet people are still making their quota so don’t get bogged down in what you can’t control but really excel at the things that you do. COVID’s not going to last forever so get ahead of your competition, persevere.

Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final thought, again, you’re focusing on public sector, you’ve focused on public sector for a good portion of your career. Are you happy that you made that choice? Was it a good choice to focus on the public sector market place? You mentioned before that you’ve developed these relationships, you also mentioned that you believe in the mission. Every time I ask that question on the senior sales leader who focuses on public sector, mission is the first word out of everybody’s mouth. As a sales professional who’s risen to the level you have, I think you need two things. One is you need to have a great understanding of solutions for customer but you also need a great understanding of the market place, of where they’re going, not just where they are right now. Especially in a market place like yours where in some cases there’s a long lead cycle. You have to be thinking about what the customer is going to be doing 1, 2, 3, 5 years from now. Luckily, you’re in a market place where a lot of those strategic plans are public. At the same time, no one expected a pandemic so we also have to make those shifts. A lot of people who listen to the podcast are thinking about growing their career and one of the advice we always give them is focus on a market, understand the customer so that you can bring value. Was this a good decision for you to focus on public sector? Again putting you on the spot here, I’m just curious what you think.

Tristen Yancey: That’s an easy one to answer, absolutely. Not only is it the knowledge of the market place but it’s also the passion that I’ve got for it. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world, I’ve been exposed to commercial sales as well as public sector sales and I’m really glad that I’m in the sector that I am. There are great people, it’s a great mission and I’ve been very fortunate to be in it.

Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final action item, Tristen, you may not be aware of this but when we announced that you were going to be a guest we got so many great notes over LinkedIn and via email that you’ve affected a lot of sales professionals over your career. You’ve helped so many people achieve what they want to achieve so I want to acknowledge you for the role that you’ve played in helping so many people have successful careers and guided them through. We’re getting some nice comments here, we have a note here from Chris, Chris said, “Thanks, Tristen.” Rico says, “Great information.” Laura says, “Thank you so much, Tristen.” Give us an action item, give us something specific that people need to do right now.

Tristen Yancey: Continue to network. Get your name out there, get your company’s name out there even though we may have to do it virtually. Attend the conferences, sponsor podcasts, attend things such as the IES one that we’re doing today. Continue to market yourself and your company when you’re out there.

Fred Diamond: Tristen, once again, thank you so much for your time, continued success to you. To everybody who’s watching today, thank you so much. If you’re listening to the podcast, thank you as well.

Tristen Yancey: Thank you, Fred.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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