immixGroup, a company that helps technology enterprises do business with the federal government, will have three of its leadership team members be awarded the Institute for Sales Excellence (IES) sixth Annual Lifetime Achievement Award. The award will be presented to immixGroup co-founders Steve Charles and Jeff Copeland and former president and CEO Art Richer on June 3 in Falls Church, Virginia. Past award winners have included leaders at Oracle, Cisco, IBM, and NetApp.
How would you describe your individual leadership styles and how do they impact how you interact with your sales team?
AR: I don’t believe in a single management style. Every business situation may call for a different approach. In general, I see myself as authoritative in my style as I think it is important to provide clear direction to your team. That said, it is also important to solicit input, reinforce the direction with consistency (over, and over, and over again), and then measure and reward results.
SC: I like this question because it implies the need for multiple styles—something many don’t recognise. My mental framework for this is a three-layer model, best visualised as three concentric circles.
At the core, refining a leadership style to lead a particular sales team starts by recognising the personalities of the individuals and the combined personality of the team. Over time, leadership will mature a more cohesive team personality and culture, but initially it has to start with what exists. Tools like Myers-Briggs and the communications-style tool, DISC, we adopted at immixGroup can help a leader work with they’ve got to start a process of constant improvement in any group.
The next layer surrounding the core factors is specifics about what the team is selling.For example, in our world at immixGroup, a team selling enterprise-class perpetual software licenses is very different from a team selling usage-based software-as-a-service.The sales motions, activity metrics and compensation models are completely different, requiring a markedly different leadership style.I’m sure everyone can agree that the leadership style for a team of big-game hunters is going to be different than that for a team of farmers.
The outer layer represents the target markets: segments of prospects and customers.Most everyone recognises differences between B2C, B2B and B2G.But within each of those categories, there are also market segment differences.So defining the characteristics of each team’s audience during the sales cycle helps inform what salespeople need to know in order to add value to those conversations, how they need to conduct themselves, and also informs your leadership style. Remember, what you emphasise as a leader, the questions you ask, what you measure and what you reward at every step of the sales process all rolls up to define your leadership style for that team.
In our case at immixGroup, teams cross company boundaries, including the OEM team upstream and partner teams downstream.All are different, which is why we need a conceptual framework upon which each team can organise their individual needs and tactics.
How is the changing technology landscape impacting immixGroup’s sales strategy?
AR: Technology spending trends continue to shift away from traditional infrastructure-based solutions to cybersecurity, big data, and mobility; combine that with evolving delivery models like XaaS, cloud, and utility computing, and our company evolved our value proposition to support technology companies with these trends. We have embraced change by developing technology category focus areas aligned with those high growth products to help technology suppliers and partners identify funded programs, generate leads, and drive new opportunity.
SC: The big change is the marked difference between selling IT as products vs. selling IT as a service. Accommodating and leveraging both is the big change that is adding a new dimension to all of our activities including:
- Market Intelligence
- Marketing, both channel marketing and marketing to end customers
- Lead Generation
- Channel architectures and programs
- Business System Infrastructure - to support all of that in both models title-taking and as-a-service.
What are the unique challenges and opportunities of public sector sales?
AR: Anybody who has spent time selling into the public sector market recognises that it has unique attributes that can be challenging like language, culture, compliance rules, and sales motion. We often liken it to doing business in a foreign country – you must localise your product, messaging, and presence to be effective. While it is challenging, the opportunities are vast as we are selling into one of the largest IT markets in the world.
SC: Public sector sales results in government spending of taxpayer dollars. To prevent waste and corruption, there are a myriad checks and balances on the buy-side that we on the sell-side must learn to understand and appreciate in order to build trust and confidence with our government customers and their prime contractors. It’s like any other market: know your customer.
In light of this, some of the specific challenges include:
- Identifying needs within the context of each agency’s mission
- Identifying 'likely fits' for what you sell in light of what that agency already owns
- Matching those likely fits with budget lines that could be spent for what you sell
- Working with the right people up and down the chain of command during the acquisition planning and processes. You must recognise that no one person controls all the processes.
- Having your items on a government-wide contract so prospects know you’re serious enough for them to take a meeting with you and that if they like your stuff, they will be able to buy it easily rather than having to build a contract from scratch.
What are your greatest accomplishments at immixGroup?
AR: Our greatest accomplishment has been our ability to continuously evolve our business model and attract the most talented, committed, and driven people in the industry. The acquisition by Arrow Electronics continues that evolution by bringing the combined resources necessary to grow in this ever-changing market.
SC: We set out to professionalise the market, which had been dominated by mom-and-pops. Many of these mom-and-pops were former government employees and didn’t really understand enterprise sales and how such companies operate. We set out to provide the mix of services necessary for a technology company to compete and grow its public sector market share beginning with federal.
We knew we were on the right side of history with this overarching concept because shortly before we started in the mid-90’s Congress had passed legislation requiring agencies to look for commercial solutions first before building a government-unique solution. Having worked for commercial enterprise software companies in the past, we knew as a team what government needed and what we needed to do to serve them. We couldn’t build it all overnight so we started with the last step in the process, contract vehicles and then added services to support sales teams earlier and earlier in the sales process.
The accomplishment is that we fulfilled the vision and a global leader in IT distribution, Arrow Electronics, saw fit to buy us and reverse-integrate their public sector Enterprise Computer Solutions business under the immixGroup brand.
How has sales changed over the course of your careers?
AR: The biggest change has been the 'informed buyer' – the advent of the Internet has made finding information on products and services abundantly available. Our customers are much more educated and often have done the research among competing products prior to the first call. That is why we embraced content-based marketing to inform our customers and partners and to be known as a trusted advisor rather than just a buying source.
SC: In the enterprise software space, business was primarily generated and closed by a direct sales force. It makes sense because enterprises want to talk directly with someone from the company that owns the intellectual property when making a bet-your-business decision. Plus, it’s really hard to educate channel partners to push a particular product.
But in federal, channel issues come up early, because of the government’s inclination to buy through intermediaries, e.g., government system integrators and resellers who already hold government contracts. This, combined with government’s socio-economic policies of supporting small and small disadvantaged businesses whenever possible, means that any company selling to the government at whatever stage needs to think about how to create a productive channel based on channel economics that will work for each product or service.
Over time, we began to see how good channel practices in federal could inform such practices in other markets. We wanted to help those companies scale more quickly with channel architectures that reward demand creators, which mitigate against the ills of turning a product into a commodity before it is really a commodity.
Thus we’re proud to be part of helping define and implement increasingly sophisticated sales and channel models to address the needs created by dramatically shortened product life cycles.Now, more than ever, OEM’s and CSP’s need to accelerate their go-to-market velocity. Competitors are forcing it and investors are demanding it.With Arrow, we are in a better position to deliver.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a sales professional early in their managing career?
AR: I am passionate about sales as a career. All too often sales people are characterised as 'pushy, manipulative, or dishonest.' Good sales people are leaders who listen to their customers’ problems, help them create solutions, and then guide them to success – that will serve you not only in your current sales job but also throughout your career.
SC: Focus on an area that interests you. Sales is about a whole lot more than mastering selling techniques. The latest research, i.e., Challenger, shows that buyers are more likely to buy from salespeople who challenge them to do better, adding value during the sales cycle, even while they can now research everything you say in real time while you are speaking with them!
To compete in this ever accelerating environment, sellers will want to stay curious and operate in a mode of constant learning. This means learning about the markets you serve and the markets your customers serve. It means staying on top of the developments in your industry so you can be relevant to your prospects today, while building confidence that your company will be relevant to them in the future. In a nutshell? Learn to love to learn while applying it to your prospects’ businesses.
Learn more about the Institute of Sales Excellence Life Time Achievement Award or register to attend the event.