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EPISODE 149: MetTel Federal Partner Chief Wray Varley Said this Helped Him Transition from Sales Ops to Sales Leadership
WRAY’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Be sure to smell the roses along the way. Sales positions can provide a lot of really great experiences for folks, such as travel, sometimes it’s other things, it’s meeting new folks. Be sure you take time to enjoy that. Don’t be so driven to the sale that you miss some of those things.”
Wray Varley is the VP of Systems Integrators & Federal Partners with MetTel.
He also held sales leadership positions at CentryLink, Infinera and Qwest Government Services.
Find Wray on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about what you sell today and give us a little bit of an insight into what excites you about that.
Wray Varley: This could take a while because there are a lot of things that excite me about this position at MetTel. First and foremost, it’s everything that MetTel brings to the market. As a small business, as a competitive local exchange carrier and as a mobile virtual network operator, MetTel just has some incredible flexibility in how we bring IT solutions to our customers. In my case I’m working with obviously the Federal System Integrators and our partners to find those areas where MetTel products and services can provide greater value to their customers while at the same time bringing their capabilities to bear for the solutions that we take back to our customers.
Fred Diamond: We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe. Tell us, if you don’t mind, what is the role of the Federal Systems Integrator? What do they do? Again, we have people listening all over the place and may not understand that specific role.
Wray Varley: It’s somewhat as the name implies from an integration perspective. Federal integrators are really those companies that do very large complex programs for the government and in some cases industry as well. There’s somebody that takes a solution that requires a number of different solutions, be it network, IT, cloud, bodies, you name it and they’re the ones that have the capability to bring all that together and “integrate” them into a single solution for their customers.
Fred Diamond: Tell us how you first got into sales as a career.
Wray Varley: I spent most of my career in the IT telecom space, actually started in operations at Bell Atlantic and then moved into a staff position where my job was to act as an intermediary between sales and operations, and it was there that I really got to see how sales operated and was a bit fascinated by it. I got to experience what it was to work with customers to create a solution, to meet a need, not just install something and then move onto the next job. I had several of the salespeople I worked with urge me to move into sales, and based on all that I took advantage of a program that allowed operations employees to try their hand at becoming sales professionals. I got through that process and been in sales ever since.
Fred Diamond: Was that a big transition for you? Tell us about that transition.
Wray Varley: It was. Having been operations all of my career prior to that, it was a big transition but it went surprisingly smoothly because I’d gotten into some roles that were quasi-sales-like. As I said, I’d been in this staff position where I was working closely with the sales folk so it wasn’t a cold-turkey, it was a really nice segue into the sales environment.
Fred Diamond: What were some of the lessons that you learned when you made that shift?
Wray Varley: I think one of the first things I learned moving from operations to sales way back when was that it does take patience. There’s a process and it can take time, certainly working with the federal government or working with any really large enterprise sale, those things don’t happen quickly, it’s not transactional. You do have to have patience unlike being out in the field where you do a job and you move onto the next job and you move onto the next job. There is a true process that you have to work through and the key is to just keep that process moving forward throughout the whole time.
Fred Diamond: Have you primarily been in the federal sales space most of your career?
Wray Varley: Pretty much. When I first started in sales coming out of that program, I was on the commercial side for approximately two years and then I was recruited over to the Bell Atlantic federal side to help with a really large program that they had that they had an opening come up for an account manager over there.
Fred Diamond: Let me ask you this question. Again, we have people listening to the podcast all around the globe. Since the Sales Game Changers podcast is based out of Washington DC, a lot of people who we talk to on the podcast are familiar with the federal marketplace but for the people listening in Australia who don’t understand the federal government marketplace, why is it such an attractive marketplace? Again, you’ve devoted seemingly the good part of your career to serving the federal space. Why is that? What is it about that market?
Wray Varley: I think there’s a few things that first attract and then keep people in the federal market. One is as I mentioned, the deals tend to be complex. They can take a while certainly, and that can be sometimes frustrating to the companies who first jump into the federal market and are used to working on the commercial side where things happen more quickly. I think for me personally, part of it has always been the mission that we’re helping serve and I think that runs true to a lot of people that are in the federal space.
It depends on what agencies you work with, I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of agencies where having never, for example, served in the military myself I know some of the things I’ve worked on in the past have truly helped enable saving lives and keeping soldiers safe and things like that. That’s rewarding to me and gives you a lot of pride in what you do when you work in the federal space.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about you, what are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Wray Varley: Brilliance and expert? I don’t know that I would necessarily consider myself either, but there are some things that I believe I do pretty well that have certainly helped get me to where I am over these many years. The main thing is I think I’ve always had an ability to build strong relationships with customers and I think this goes back to not really being a salesperson. When I first got into sales coming out of operations I actually would mention that and use that, it gave me a level of credibility sometimes with customers because I wasn’t a “sales” guy – for people on the podcast, I’m using air quotes around sales, there.
I think it’s real key in what I’ve been able to do is just be down to earth and create those strong bonds. I’ve got customers who I worked with 20 years ago or more who may be retired, or they’ve moved on to different industries that I don’t necessarily address anymore but we still stay in touch. I think it’s that level of relationship that you build that makes a big difference, there’s an old saying that you buy from people that you like, I tend to think that’s true. While certainly you need to be able to bring the right solution at a competitive price, I think when there’s a pre-established relationship there where somebody knows they can trust you and you’re not going to steer them the wrong way, that can be a great tie-breaker when it all comes down to deciding on a deal.
Fred Diamond: A lot of people we’ve interviewed on the Sales Game Changers podcast, especially who’ve had a nice, long journey in sales, a lot of success, there’s been some mentors along the way. There’s been some people that have really provided critical guidance. Why don’t you tell us a story about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Wray Varley: I’ve been very lucky, I’ve worked with a number of managers who have been great mentors. Some of my mentors are people who actually grew up within the business, there’s folks like Dave Peed at Equinix Federal, Ken Folderauer at Comcast Federal, Rob DiRocco at Asurion and actually I know Rob did one of your podcasts. We grew up together at times, we were peers together at various times, I’ve worked for any one of those three gentlemen and it’s great to have that network as we’ve grown in the industry to share ideas and challenges with.
That’s a base, but I’d say the one person who’s certainly had the most impact on my career is Diana Gowen. Diana is currently the GM and SVP of MetTel Federal which actually was one of the other reasons why it was so exciting for me to go to MetTel. Diana is somewhat of an icon in the federal telecom space based on all she’s accomplished over her career. I first met and started working for Diana when she took over as the head, the GM and SVP of Qwest Government Services in I guess about 2005. Under Diana’s leadership and coaching I progressed from being a sales manager to a sales director to an AVP and when I left Century Link and went to Infinera to start a government group there, Diana was one of the first people I asked to be on my advisory board there based on all she could do.
I think the reason she’s been so valuable to me is she always pushes and challenges people to do their best which is not unique, a lot of good leaders do that but Diana is certainly one who would never ask anybody to do anything that she probably hasn’t already done herself a few times or wouldn’t be willing to do if that’s what it took. She’s always there to help if needed and she’s just a walking reference library when it comes to things in the federal IT space. You always have to be prepared, I learned early on to do a lot of homework because you’re going to think you’re going to answer every question she has and she’ll still come at it with something you hadn’t thought of. In that regard, she’s been a tremendous mentor for me.
Fred Diamond: Wray, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Wray Varley: I think the easy answer is finding the right people. As I said, I’ve listened to a number of podcasts and that comes up but it’s a competitive market and I think that’s actually a ubiquitous problem. It’s not really a sales leader problem, it’s an everybody problem so if I’m thinking more from a sales leader challenge. To me one of the challenges that I believe has become more prevalent today and has become more prevalent over the last maybe decade or so is trying to balance this near term quota pressure that you have with having some long-term planning capabilities.
So many sales companies and their sales channels today have so much pressure to sell today, and that can tend to limit sales professionals from having the ability to focus on building those long-term funnels. Sooner or later that catches up to you, if everything is 30 or 60 day you can’t succeed long-term because somebody else is going to be taking the time to plan and frame and position things down the road. I think as sales leaders, what we need to do is be able to provide some level of air cover for your team’s requirements to do both. Certainly you need to close the near term things to keep the lights on and the bills paid, but if you’re really looking long-term you need to have an element of that long-term planning.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career you’re most proud of?
Wray Varley: When you’ve hit this point it’s hard to necessarily remember all of them or even rank them. I’d say one of the most common things, quite honestly, about that question is I don’t think there’s any single sales person who’s responsible for a sale to large extent. One of the things I really believe in is the most common aspect of any sale is you have a lot of people pulling in the same direction to make it happen.
There’s probably two that come to mind and interestingly enough, the first sale is one that occurred before I was even in sales. When I was an insulation supervisor back at Bell Atlantic many moons ago, my manager and I had an idea to try and convince the Bethesda Naval Hospital to allow my team to do all of the new wiring that was going to be required during a big renovation they were going to undertake and this was right after divestiture. All that work at that time simply defaulted to AT&T after divestiture.
To keep a long story short, I was able to convince the customer at the hospital to not simply just give that work to AT&T but provide us an ability to bid on it and we actually won it. I don’t really recall the value per se, but it was a pretty significant sale especially because it came out of the operations organization. I think the most significant part of it is I suppose that’s probably the moment that really got me thinking more about, “Sales can be a real cool thing to do.”
Fred Diamond: How big of a deal was that?
Wray Varley: Again, I don’t remember the total value but it was totally rewiring the entire Bethesda Naval Hospital tower which was under renovation, an iconic tower right there on Rockville Pike and Bethesda across from NIH. Another success that’s more recent had to do with when I was at Century Link, I had the ability to restructure my team. I had special programs, law enforcement, NDHS as a vertical and I was able to carve out a team that would focus exclusively on some of the cyber security programs that were being developed with NDHS. To do that, I recruited one of our best sales engineers to come over and be a sales lead because I knew it would require an account manager with a lot of technical acumen. Ultimately, to pull that together, this became one of our fastest growing accounts in CenturyLink company much less Century Link Federal for a couple years.
Again, something like that with a lot of people involved, actually that was something where Diana, speaking of cover, we were essentially creating a product out of some skunk works that had taken place earlier on and Diana helped us with that as far as providing us the ability to do our job within the corporation.
Fred Diamond: You’ve managed teams, now you’re managing the Systems Integrators and the Partner Network for MetTel. Did you ever question being in sales? Did you ever think to yourself, “I should have stayed in operations. It’s a little too hard, I never should have made the move”?
Wray Varley: I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it as being too hard. There’s certainly been some times of frustration due to maybe a sales taking longer than anticipated or possibly not happening at all. I think anyone who’s been in sales for any period of time is probably lying a little bit if they haven’t had some of those moments. Ultimately, it’s such a great profession to be in because there’s always something new happening. I don’t think you can ever get bored as a salesperson, especially if you’re working in a space where it’s large enterprise, federal government.
Quite frankly, at this time in our history almost anywhere because it’s an age where technology is always changing and that technology provides new challenges for customers and at the same time provides new solutions for customers. In that regard, it’s one of the more exciting jobs I think you can have. If you do get a little frustrated, it only takes that next good customer meeting or lead or sale that just sucks you right back into it. It’s rewarding but from a personal perspective when you see something come to fruition in a deal and obviously at times it can be financially rewarding as well.
Fred Diamond: Are you having fun?
Wray Varley: Absolutely. Where I am right now at MetTel, this is some of the most fun I’ve had so far with what we have to offer.
Fred Diamond: Nice career journey, it’s always fun to be at a good place where things are going well. Are you working for Diana right now?
Wray Varley: I am.
Fred Diamond: Wray, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals around the globe who are listening to today’s podcast?
Wray Varley: I’ve alluded to this a couple times already, Fred, is that in my perspective sales is a team sport. The most successful salespeople aren’t lone rangers out there running around just doing their own thing. I think we can acknowledge that there are instances when a big sale may happen because someone essentially ramrodded a deal through a process on the customer’s side or internally, but I think more often than not that only creates problems and ultimately can even create some resentment. You may be able to do that once, but I don’t think it’s a really long-term way to do it.
What I tell people as they start to come through sales is every deal usually includes two sales. You have to sell to the customer and that’s only half the battle, and sometimes that’s the easiest battle. I really encourage people to build the rapport within their organizations, within their support structures because ultimately you’re going to need their help to A) make the sale and more importantly, get whatever it is implemented, installed and make for a sticky and successful customer experience that will then turn into much more of a long-term relationship.
Fred Diamond: How long has MetTel been around?
Wray Varley: MetTel themselves have been around since 1996, they actually came to being with the Telecom Act of ’96 when c-lex really were able to come to bear because it opened up the market to a lot more competition. They’ve done a really cool job as a small company, they’ve actually utilized a lot of automation and virtualization both for our sales and for our customers. That’s one of the exciting things about being there, some of these new virtualized and automated technologies and solutions that we’re bringing to the government.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Wray Varley: I think one of the things that I do and what I encourage people to do is you do need to look for new challenges every so often so that you don’t get too comfortable where you are. For example, the year I left Century Link I was actually the top ranked AVP in the company that year, but I’d been in that role for about 7 years and I had the opportunity to go do something a little bit different – actually, a lot different to a certain extent. I went from a carrier to a manufacturer, still sales but it was to actually create a government sales organization. That provided me with a lot of new challenges and a lot of new opportunities to learn, it was a great growth opportunity moving from one side to the other.
I did learn a lot there and expanded my personal network. I wouldn’t suggest that everyone go out and change companies all the time, but I do think that you need to look for new opportunities to take on new challenges, even in the same company maybe taking on a new customer base after a few years to keep things fresh. I think if you stay in a role too long and if you start to get successful, you just don’t want to get complacent and sometimes that can happen. Another thing I try to do is attend as many industry conferences as possible. Those are great opportunities to see people outside their office environment, it’s rare that you have any shattering information revealed at them, but the networking opportunities both with your customer base, be they industry or government and your industry peer levels, it’s great for that. Again, to give you an unsolicited plug, I think doing things like listening to podcasts like this is great. As I said, I’ve listened to a number of them and have taken a nugget out of each one.
Fred Diamond: We’ve done 130 so far so you have a little bit to go, but I appreciate you saying that. Wray, why don’t you tell us a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Wray Varley: I’ve only actually been at MetTel since late October, so my major initiative at this point is to really get with as many system integrators and federal OEM service providers as possible. Since MetTel is a relatively new member of the government contracting community, we still need to build our brand recognition certainly being a GSA EIS awardee and also having Diana at the helm, have provided a lot of credibility and recognition for us. More importantly, I always feel like you need to build brand relevance in addition to brand recognition. I don’t want people to just say something like, “MetTel, I’ve heard of them.”
That’s a great start, but what we really need to get to is a point where people say, “MetTel, I’ve heard good things about them, they’re one of the GSA EIS awardees, they have some transformational solutions around SD, WAN, mobility and communications portal.” That actually resonates with them and they know who we are.
Fred Diamond: Again, today’s Sales Game Changers podcast we talked to Wray Varley, VP of Systems Integrators & Federal Partners at MetTel, he’s given us a lot of great insights. I like what you just said a few moments ago about pushing your boundaries, try something new, taking on a new customer, going after a new vertical marketplace as well. It’s interesting also, you’ve had a 7 year run there with Century Link, you said?
Wray Varley: I was actually at Century Link for almost 14 years total, but that last role I was in for about 7 years.
Fred Diamond: You were the top AVP at the time, you left to go on for something new. I applaud you for doing that, but a lot of people who are out there think that sales is really hard. People don’t return your phone calls, they think they don’t need to know anything from the sales professionals anymore because everything’s up on the internet and social media, etcetera but you’ve been in this for a while now. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Wray Varley: I think one aspect which I already mentioned is that it never becomes boring or monotonous. There’s always something new and different to take on either from a customer perspective or technology perspective. You can sometimes even create that if you need to, if you feel like things are going a little bit stale. While I’m actually secretly a bit of an introvert, the thing that I enjoy most is the interaction with customers. I think you’ve heard this probably from numerous other folks on the podcast that as you rise up through the ranks in a sales career, often times your ability to meet with customers goes down in direct correlation to how you go up. I think that’s what most salespeople really enjoy the most, is the interaction with customers. As I said, I’ve got friends that were customers from 20 years ago. That’s what keeps me going, is knowing that there are new customers out there that I can help, new people to meet and again, I’m working for a really exciting company right now that’s the icing on the cake.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the listeners today?
Wray Varley: I will definitely do my best to try and do that. One thing is I want to encourage anybody who’s interested in a sales career or who’s already there. Keep going, follow your dream whatever that is but sales can be such a great career. It can be very fulfilling certainly from a personal growth perspective and from a financial perspective. Understand that there are going to be peaks and valleys, that’s inherent in the job and you really shouldn’t let either of those scenarios have too much of an emotional impact on you. You need to stay somewhat steady and believe in the process, keep moving forward with things.
The other key point that I would ask people to do or suggest that they do is to also just be sure to smell the roses along the way. Sales positions can provide a lot of really great experiences for folks, sometimes it’s travel, sometimes it’s other things, it’s meeting new folks. Be sure you take time to enjoy that, don’t be so driven to the sale that you miss some of those things. I think that’s something that’s come with time for me and probably a number of other folks as you’ve been through the process and you get a little bit older. You reflect, and I think that’s something that we really need to focus on.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us an example of that?
Wray Varley: I’ve had the ability, based on some of the customers I’ve had at some of my different companies, to do some travel. I got to go to Australia, for example, for one company when I was trying to work with the Australian DOD. It was such a cool experience and I was able to take a little bit of an extra day even on my own time to be down there and just experience the culture. It was a place that I always wanted to go, and I think there are certain instances where things like that happen that you really need to do it. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with your family, too. I think that’s a really important thing, to have that balance.