EPISODE 238: Fresh Ideas for Leading Sales Teams and Customers Forward from Oracle’s Tamara Greenspan and ACS Group’s Tim Atkinson

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers Panel Webinar hosted by Fred Diamond, Host of the Sales Game Changers Podcast, on May 27, 2020. It featured sales leaders Tamara Greenspan (Oracle) and Tim Atkinson (ACS Group).]

EPISODE 238: Fresh Ideas for Leading Sales Teams and Customers Forward from Oracle’s Tamara Greenspan and ACS Group’s Tim Atkinson

Listen to Tamara Greenspan’s Podcast. Listen to Tim Atkinson’s Podcast .

TIM’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “From Mahatma Gandhi. ‘Keep your thoughts positive because thoughts become words. Keep your words positive because words become behavior. Keep your behavior positive because behavior becomes habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits define your destiny.’ I’m an attitude guy, I talk about it all the time, I believe in it all the time, I try to live it all the time in terms of positivism with my team and clients. Words, habits, behaviors become destiny. That’s what it’s about.”

Tamara Greenspan: Thank you, Fred, thank you for having me. Again, my name is Tamara Greenspan, I’m the GVP for Oracle public sector specifically focusing on the applications business for the federal government and for Canadian public sector. I’ve been with Oracle a little over 30 years and it’s been quite an exciting journey. Speaking of exciting journeys, I think we’re in one now. It’s been interesting and challenging to get adjusted and to focus on what we need to focus on to get the job done. I’m VP in Sales so focused on business and big customer focus and understand the results that it is hard to get in front of the customers. Just like we all are an industry, the customers have been adjusting and figuring out what their new norm is.

For me and my team and at Oracle it’s the end of our fiscal year so our fiscal year ends May 31st, so this whole adventure has been in our Q4. We’re focused on staying connected with our customers, working with them to close out the business we have and basically stay laser focused on that. That’s really what our concern is, we have been working with them figuring out the new norm and how we work with them because they had to adjust to deal with their contract, their legal and to move transactions through the system.

Fred Diamond: First off, thank you for taking an hour of your time here at the end of your fiscal year. I also want to acknowledge that every year the Institute for Excellence in Sales, the host of today’s webcast, issues an award for a woman and sales leader and you were the recipient of the 2020 Institute for Excellence in Sales Women in Sales Executive Directors Award. The award event was intended to be on June 12th, we’ve pushed that award event back to October 16th and we’re hoping that people are going to be able to start going to things again by then so that we can give you the recognition. Once again, thanks for being here. We’ll get back to you in a second. Tim Atkinson, I want to thank you for being on today’s webcast as well. What are some of your thoughts on the result of that initial poll? Tell us a little bit about what you have going on right now.

Tim Atkinson: Thanks again, Fred, for having me on the event here. We live in interesting times so the last 90 days has been challenging on a personal front, challenging on a professional front. I think exactly what Tamara was emphasizing, staying laser focused is absolutely important. Regarding the results of the poll, I think the biggest distraction at least I personally confront and I think maybe some of it has to do with being so proximate to Washington D.C. is the noise. Political noise, obviously all the health concerns and so forth that are emanating out of the messaging with the C.D.C. and all the medical leaders. The politicizing of this issue and this circumstance that we’re confronted with is just distracting to the point where I turn off the news and pay attention to something else.

As far as I’m concerned and at least what I try to reinforce with my team is stay focused on yourself and your families but also – we’ve heard this in other events that you’ve had over the past few weeks – stay focused on where your clients are, too because they’re dealing with similar circumstances. You don’t know what they could be dealing with in terms of parents, children or friends so being as empathetic in every one of your communications whether it’s to your neighbor or to a long-standing client is absolutely important. Not only for the moment but for what lays ahead of us as well because I don’t think anybody quite knows what the next normal is going to be. I’d say it again, we live in interesting times, that’s the story.

Fred Diamond: Tamara, again you’ve been in the public sector most of your career. You’re in Oracle’s applications, you’re the GM of Sales and sales leader for that business. When everything started your customer had to move everybody home which they weren’t really ready for, it’s a customer that usually goes to offices, government buildings and there was a lot of work in the first couple of weeks about getting them set up with systems and things like that. How have you been able to respond to that, and is that such a big priority right now or is everybody set? Are they all ready from working from home? We don’t know when people are going back to offices, there’s beginning to be some reopening in the D.C. area, D.C. opened that it’s going to start phase one next week. How has that gone and how does that look for the foreseeable future?

Tamara Greenspan: That’s a great question. At first it was obviously the unknown, we do have a lot of customers who are essential and they’re in the office but just because they’re working in the office it’s still not normal, their staff were not in the office. We had to figure out where everyone was and how they were going to work because again, the #1 thing to remember is everyone needed to get settled with their family, settled with their home offices, settled with their technology and that includes customers and Oracle people, figuring all that. Once they settled in and you actually figured out where people were working, they have the technology, we went through a lot of technology platform trials, we have multiple virtual platforms we’re using, we’ve decided that everyone has to use whatever the customer has and we figured out how to get the means to do that.

Then we just figured out the best way to proceed. Every customer operates differently so it’s really just working with each of them to see how they want to operate, obviously office calls are not productive because people are stepping on each other when you talk. Have Zoom, WebEx or any of those products but then you can have a combination of people who are on visual and on telecom that work better and we’re finding that, we’re doing trial and error. I think we’re all settled in now, it’s been a couple months but we are just trying to move forward in whatever we have to do. The only other thing is everyone is pretty much at home so we haven’t had a lot of people leaving and going on vacation so scheduling meetings has been a little easier but again, we have to worry about people getting fatigued when you go from meeting to meeting.

You have to let people think about the meeting they’re going to, think about what could happen in that meeting they just attended and give people time to process that before they jump into something else. That is something we really need to focus on for our own employees and our customers or we’re not going to be productive with what we’re doing, it’s overload.

Fred Diamond: Tim, you’re mostly on the commercial side while Tamara has been mostly on the public sector side. How are your customers right now from a transitioning from being in offices historically to the new way of working at least for the foreseeable future? Were you very much involved with getting them home as well?

Tim Atkinson: From a company standpoint we have about 17,000 people spread around the globe, well over 50% of them work in development centers either here in the States or around the globe and all of those development centers needed to go remote. Moving 10,000+ people somewhat overnight remote was a huge challenge but I would say that we were very fortunate, our IT group handled it extremely well. From a client service standpoint, at least within my purview of it, we didn’t feel any major disruptions to our client service. I would almost think surprisingly, I guess I shouldn’t because I should have the confidence that our IT guys got their act together but ultimately within days we were back up and running and enabled, as I said, probably 10,000 people to move from in-office desktops to remote laptops with connectivity, security and all of those features and requirements of our development environments in place. It was truly fantastic.
From a client’s side, again to what Tamara was saying, we are finding it easier to schedule meetings with folks that are remote or reach people that are remote. When you’re in the office the observation I would have is that when they’re in the office they’re just more difficult to reach. They’re away from their desk, they’re in conference room meetings and you can’t find them. We know where they are now, they’re at home so getting on somebody’s calendar has been at least a little bit easier. Meeting fatigue, you’re spot-on, Tamara. I wake up in the morning with a calendar that is just chocked-full of half hour, one our bites of time. As you were talking I was thinking we should always stop meetings at five minutes before the hour or five minutes before the half hour so that everybody has a chance for a bio-break or whatever they need to reset for the next meeting. Now that I’m thinking about that, I’m going to try to incorporate it into my planning. It’s a different world but I am pretty amazed at how both clients as well as our team have adapted.

Fred Diamond: Tamara, again you made the point and Tim did as well that we know where everybody is so we know that people are for the most part home although you said some of your customers are essential workers. We know where everybody is but again, some of the people that you deal with are government officials with very serious jobs doing a lot of work. Are you telling your people, “We know where they are, call them at home”? We know where they are, we know that they’re home, are you telling people to call after hours? How has that changed even though we know people, for the most part, where they are? They’re not traveling somewhere, they’re not at a conference, it’s easy to get to because the gatekeeper is less as important at least for the time being. I’m just curious, what is some of your guidance for the sales professionals watching about reaching out to people now, brand new prospects?

Tamara Greenspan: That’s a great question. In the government there’s protocol and you just don’t go past the gatekeeper no matter so I would never encourage any of my employees or anyone to go past the gatekeeper. You can reach them, however they are very busy so they prioritize their day. It’s best to follow government protocol, go through the normal scheduling to get on the calendars but don’t be frustrated when you’re pushed out of it because people are on a lot more meetings. The government has a lot of meetings when they’re in their building so they’re going to continue. You’re going to be able to reach them, the only thing I do agree is that it’s frustrating if you don’t have a relationship with an existing customer. If you don’t have a relationship, they’re so busy, they don’t really have time right now to start creating new relationships. They’re basically working with people they know, they’re working on existing initiatives and they’re doing their best to try to reach out to support the community.
I know Fred knows this but I’m also president of AFCEA NOVA which supports the exchange of information from the government and industry and we have moved our monthly lunches to virtual platforms. Those industry events virtually are a great way because one of the questions we’ve always asked the government officials is, “How should people engage with you?” And their answers are all different. Some say send me a LinkedIn. Some people say, “Call my front office.” They all want to be contacted the way that they want to be contacted so don’t just do what you think is okay, don’t blast people at night at home, it’s still the protocol.

Fred Diamond: Tim, I’m going to ask you a question in a second about some of the positive things that have come out of the last two months but Tamara, I have a quick follow up for you. I remember when I interviewed you for the Sales Game Changers podcast – we see some questions coming in so we’ll get to them in a second – you’ve been selling to the same customer for over 30 years and I remember when we first interviewed you it was approaching 30 years but now it’s been after 30 years. Have you had personal conversations the last two months about the situation in the world or even still because you mentioned protocol, have your conversations still gone right to business? Or have you had more personal conversations with these customers? I remember one thing that was striking when we interviewed you is a lot of people who work for organizations like the government, it’s a career. They’re in the same organization and keep progressing so you’ve grown with people at your customer base. I’m just curious how those relationships have been on a personal level, some of them over the last two, three months.

Tamara Greenspan: You’re basically right, I’ve grown up with some of these executives in the government because they do stay within the same organization and we do talk about our families because we’ve all grown up together in the business and we all have had kids or family situations. I always start by asking them how they are, a lot of people are celebrating kid’s birthdays, I have a senior in high school who had a crappy graduation because they really don’t have one and they missed everything. A lot of people have college graduations, weddings being postponed, parents that are ill or that are on the more critical list where they can’t be exposed so definitely talk about that just to check in.

I definitely try to check in with all my customers to see how everyone is and how they’re doing because again, not everyone has time to do everything they might want to do, they could have a different responsibility one week if they have to take care of somebody or if their child is going through a virtual graduation or some type of family event. That’s a great point but definitely, people want to work with people and they definitely want the personal touch because we all care and I think that’s really what you see in this from our companies to our partners in the industry to our customers. We’re all people and everyone is dealing with the same thing so everyone cares about each other.

Fred Diamond: Tamara, what was the organization you mentioned you’re the president of? We’ve got a couple requests for that.

Tamara Greenspan: AFCEA NOVA. AFCEA is across the world and AFCEA NOVA is AFCEA Northern Virginia, we mostly support the Department of Defense in the D.C. area.

Fred Diamond: Tim, you have a comment that you wanted to make.

Tim Atkinson: I think this is also a fairly unique time to deepen relationships with people as opposed to just trying to do business with them. That’s not to say that I’m not sales driven and motivated by the next win, but meeting people where they are and deepening a relationship, we’re in this for the long term. 30 years Tamara, I’ve been in the business a few years myself so it’s not all about the transaction today. In fact, if you focus on the transaction today you’re not going to get it.

Fred Diamond: What’s a positive surprise, Tim, for you that has come out of the situation we’ve been in, in the last two to three months?

Tim Atkinson: We do quite a bit of work in the healthcare space and with a number of companies and individuals that have been more or less on the front line or supporting the front line if nothing else. We have a couple instances where we have worked with clients in building and enhancing tele-health applications and the adoption of tele-health in the marketplace I believe is going to change the medical field. It is already doing it, let me say the adoption of tele-health technology prior to 90 days ago to what the adoption rate and the acceptance rate both on the medical practitioner side of the equation as well as the patient side of the equation has gone through the roof. Not only for emergency circumstances and maybe even circumstances related to the virus but also non-emergency type of visits. Just the adoption of the tele-health platforms in the marketplace and what I believe that bodes in terms of the future of healthcare has, in my mind, been an incredibly positive development out of this event.

Fred Diamond: Tamara, how about you? What’s a positive that you see coming out of this?

Tamara Greenspan: I’m going to take the direction of more personal. I travel constantly, I’ve been traveling constantly for my whole career so it’s actually been nice to being home, to have my family home and again, I know that people are probably like, “I have little kids” and that is a whole different ball game. I have three teenagers so it’s easier, I know it’s very challenging with little kids and I give all of you working parents who have little kids who are learning, it’s very hard but I really have found it… It’s been a great reboot for myself, I feel like I’m getting sleep, I feel like I can be a little more strategic instead of always trying to do things on airplanes or stuck in airports. I can actually pull my management team together to work on things that are more strategic because sometimes it’s hard to get your entire sales management team together because everyone’s on planes all over the place. I do think that having people contained, you can actually step back and take a look at things and actually prepare and be really proactive before we step back to whatever the new norm is going to be.

Fred Diamond: This question comes in via LinkedIn. “How have you changed as a sales leader in the past two months?” Tamara, why don’t you get us started there? Tim, we’ll ask you the same question. You’re both sales leaders, you’ve been in sales for, both of you, over 30 years, very successful great companies, large companies now, you’ve led all different types of projects for different types of customers. Tamara, how have you changed? I know you said that you’ve been home for the last 8 months but from a personal perspective as a leader, have you seen any change in yourself? What do you think is going to last?

Tamara Greenspan: I think that I’m trying to again, focus on the strategic and proactive and trying to get prepared. Our fiscal year, FY21 literally starts on Monday so because we were home, I was able to start the planning process actually right after we got locked in. All of the management on my team, we actually worked on some of the planning for ’21, we put together some sales ideas, we talked about some areas, we want to improve customer satisfaction, we wrote the documents out early so when Monday hits we roll out all the engagements we need to do for training and everything. I feel like we’re ahead of the game so I do think that that’s been beneficial that we can start that earlier and that was only because we were all not running around flying from place to place. I do think that is a positive that we can actually think a little bit more about how we can be better employees, better managers, better leaders and also have a better relationship with our customers because that is the upmost important thing, our customer relationship.

Fred Diamond: We’ll talk about that in a second but Tim, how about you? How have you changed as a sales leader and what are some lasting changes that you think you’re going to deploy?

Tim Atkinson: I wish you could ask my team that question [laughs] they’ll give you a perspective that’s maybe more accurate. I think what it’s brought into focus in particular in the last 90 days is what I’d call emotional intelligence and I say that in relation to client relationships but also in particular team relationships and I say that from a 360 degree standpoint with both my bosses, my counter parts as well as my team. I think I particularly have tried to be much more cognoscente of meeting people where they are and being considerate and compassionate for what may be going on in other people’s lives as opposed to primarily focused on my objective, what am I trying to get out of this reaction or interaction? I’d like to believe that’s a change in my style in the last 90-120 days, again I’m not the person to attest to that so you’ll have to take a poll of any of my team members on the call but nonetheless, that’s something that I think has come out of this at least for me personally.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk a little bit about you as sales leaders for the people that work for you. A question comes in, “What are some of your suggestions for onboarding new sales reps during this time?” This is interesting, let’s say you’re planning on bringing in somebody in February and they were going to start in March and all of a sudden they have to have these skills of working from home and virtual. One of the things that we’ve learned over the last 4 to 8 weeks is that it takes a different skill set to be comfortable looking at the dot, being focused on your customer, not doing multi-tasking and looking at your phone as you’re on Zoom and you’ve got to pay attention to the customer. Give us some of your advice. Tamara, let’s start with you, what would be some of your suggestions for the sales leaders out there and the organizations who are bringing on new salespeople at this time? What should be some of their expectations, how should they be trained? People can’t go to the office for two months of onboarding right now, a lot of companies are saying it’s not going to be till September until they let people back in buildings. What are your thoughts for new salespeople? We’ve heard about furloughs and layoffs which we don’t really need to address today but for new people who are coming onboard, what might be your advice for the sales leaders managing these people?

Tamara Greenspan: We actually have a new person starting on Monday, June 1st on my staff team, he’s part of our DOD team. He will be doing the onboarding process which at Oracle it’s really already mostly virtual and online. Because we are starting our new fiscal year we have our immersion training which is our kick-off training, has been online for years as well. For us, the training part and the onboarding stuff won’t obviously be the challenge but we want to make sure any new employee feels like they’re part of the team. One thing that I used to always to with my team is we’d have a monthly meeting where we would bring everyone together in our offices locally because we have people all over, and that was nice so everyone could get to know each other.
Now we’re actually able to do these monthly meetings virtually and then we can add everyone in including our Canada personnel. Then because we’re on these virtual platforms we can all see each other and you can also get to meet people, you see who you’re talking to. I do think face-to-face even if we’re on a camera is still better. A lot of people, like you said, do not like to be on camera, they don’t like to look at themselves, neither do I, I don’t need to see myself all the time but I try to focus on the two of you and not look at myself and then talk with my hands. I think we’ll do that, we’ve done like other companies, virtual happy hours just to come in at night, at 5:00 o’clock and meet people’s kids and see their pets and have a conversation in the background. All that is to help just to have people know each other better because especially with our company, we’re probably going to have a lot of onboarding starting June because it’s our new fiscal year. That’s what I’m going to focus on.

Fred Diamond: Tim, how about you? For bringing on new sales professionals, what would be some of your advice to get them onboard right now? Again, it’s May 27th, 2020, we’ve got a note here from somebody who said, “I just started with my company on March 2nd and a week later the complete world changed” and he said he’s in the direct marketing space. It’s nice to go to an Oracle that’s been around for 40 somewhat years where there’s history and there’s legacy and there’s processes, technology and reputation but Tim, what are some of your thoughts for sales leaders on bringing on people?

Tim Atkinson: This is going to sound very simplistic, but I think you’ve got to manage the onboarding process a lot like a project with specific objectives in terms of what you want the new person to learn, get exposed to, embrace, internalize, etcetera with very regular status check-ins, very regular Q&A sessions. What did you get out of that conversation with the head of our cloud services? What are the questions that you come away with? How can I help you clarify around those questions? Our onboarding process is really the better part of a 90 day project and there’s some fairly well-defined milestones and objectives that one needs to achieve in terms of moving through the gates.
Done properly, I think a person is fairly well armed. It’s not the only thing they’ll do in 90 days, it’s not a pure heads-down 90 day orientation but I think going through the process with diligence will prepare a person for success selling our business and selling in the industries in which we do business. If there was a single statement there it’d be manage it much like you would manage a project because I think that gives people structure and some ability to internalize goal setting and what I want to get accomplished this week and working your way through it. We’re not an Oracle, we’re not as big and complex as Oracle, possibly but we are a 17,000 person strong company, we’re spread around the world.  There’s a lot to learn and I think the success of a sales career in the consulting space or the IT services space is as much about building a network of resources you can rely on over time from that internal network within the company. The foundation of that is laid in the onboarding process.

Fred Diamond: What are some skills that sales professionals need to have now to be successful and what should they be good at?

Tim Atkinson: I think social selling has become important and I’m not just talking about the ability to manage a Zoom event or Microsoft Teams meeting or whatever. I think presence in the social media, engaging in the social media can be very advantageous for one’s selling career going forward because I think more and more buyers – if I can put them in a single class – are spending a lot more time educating themselves online around what solutions may be available, what solutions may address a particular challenge, problem or opportunity they’re facing. I think a salesperson’s ability to establish themselves as a thought leader, somebody that can be trusted in the social selling setting is absolutely imperative. Establishing one’s brand in the social realm is very important, to give you one key attribute.

Fred Diamond: Tamara, what are your thoughts on what are some skills sales professionals need to have now that they might not have had or that they need to, to grow upon immediately to be successful?

Tamara Greenspan: If this is the new norm and we’re going to be doing – which I think we are – a combination of this type of presentation and also in-person meeting, I think everyone needs to get better about being concise and being able to display your message in a virtual platform. I do think people need to practice the messaging, practice, have clear and concise presentations like slides because we’re going to have limited ability to show, your people aren’t going to go through 30 slides when you have a virtual meeting. You need to be concise because with virtual meetings they’re not these all day meetings anymore.
People are not going to be sitting there, I think we’re trying to focus on maybe 2 hour blocks, even one and a half hour blocks so they had to start to work on concise message, really research. I think now’s the time for everyone to research their customer base and to understand everybody’s objectives and maybe some of their pains so they can actually go and help have these solutions ready when they have the opportunity to show them. It is harder to get an audience, I do think it will open up but I do think you have to be ready with all that because you’re going to have one shot at some of these strategic customers you want to get.

Fred Diamond: We’ve done a number of webcasts over the last two months on LinkedIn, how to optimize LinkedIn and also how to build yourself as a sales brand, as a thought leader. How critical is that for someone who sells at a company such as Oracle? Again, Oracle has been around, it’s one of the top three companies in the history of technology sales and software, how important is personal branding, building yourself up as a thought leader if you’re selling for a company like Oracle that has such a legacy, an amount of in-ground customers, legacy customers? I’m just curious, a couple questions have come in with that. Is it important to build yourself up as a brand? A lot of people know you because you’ve been, like you said, servicing the same customer for 30 years, you’ve gotten active in AFCEA, you have a stellar reputation hence the IES Women in Sales Leadership Award. What are your thoughts as it relates to being your personal brand in sales if you work for a company like an Oracle or some of your big competitors?

Tamara Greenspan: Great question and first of all, it’s an honor to win that award so thank you very much. I talked to Fred about this before, I’m very involved with women and helping women in the workplace. I also am the co-chair of Oracle’s Women’s Leadership Group for the Reston area program and it’s funny you mentioned that personal brand. That’s one of the topics we actually share with the women of Oracle, it is extremely important to create your personal brand. It doesn’t matter if your company is big or small, a startup, an established, it’s about the people so you can work for a company but it’s still about your personal brand and your relationship with the customer. It’s a people business so it’s very important to focus on that to figure out what’s important, what you are really good at, what your focus is going to be and maybe work on things that aren’t as strong.

I think it’s also always good to take these personality tests, we just did that at one of our events and I do it, it’s great to do it every three or four years because you’re always going to learn something. Either you’re changed, you haven’t changed or you’re having a need to change because even in sales you’re still the quarterback of your customer base, you’re still the leader of that, you always need to adjust to different situations and it’s very important that you always hone in on those skills. There’s always a way that all of us can improve so it’s very important, thank you for bringing that up.

Fred Diamond: Tim, give us one final thought for the sales professionals listening today and then Tamara, you’ll close it down for us.

Tim Atkinson: Just a tad of background, I apologize for that but I was on a webcast a week or 10 days ago and it happened that in the background of the presenter there was a wall chart and shame on me for not paying attention to the content of the webcast because I spent the entire time trying to decipher what was on the wall chart and here’s what it was. It said, “Keep your thoughts positive because thoughts become words. Keep your words positive because words become behavior. Keep your behavior positive because behavior becomes habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits define your destiny.” Then in the very smallest print in the bottom of the chart I was able to discover who I needed to attribute that quote to, and I should let you guess but I won’t, Mahatma Gandhi. I’m an attitude guy, I talk about it all the time, I believe in it all the time, I try to live it all the time in terms of positivity with my team, with my clients and so forth and I just thought that series, words, habits, behaviors become destiny, that’s what it’s about.

Fred Diamond: Tamara Greenspan, why don’t you give us one final thought? Thank you both, Tim and Tamara for the great insights. Give us one final thought to inspire everybody today.

Tamara Greenspan: As we’re all adjusting to the new norm of I just encourage everyone to be patient and remember, communication, it’s all about communication. When you’re reaching out to someone new that you don’t know either at LinkedIn or sending an email, especially LinkedIn, write a short message of who you are and why you want to connect and what the value is. Don’t just say, “Add me” because that is not going to do it and do that if you’re also emailing a potential customer or somebody from another company you want to meet, introduce yourself, tell them why you want to meet because don’t just say, “Let’s get together.” I encourage you to just be concise and communicate.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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