By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
Late in 2015 we started producing a bi-weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio, which runs live every other Thursday at 1:00 p.m. Pacific, moving soon to 11:30 a.m. Pacific. It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.
We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests into 2016. Our very first guest was Funnelholic author and Topo co-founder Craig Rosenberg. Next we had Mike Weinberg, incredible writer, speaker, author, followed by Conrad Bayer, CEO & Founder of Tellwise. Recent Guests: Jim Keenan; Joanne Black; Aaron Ross; Josiane Feigon, Meagen Eisenberg, and Trish Bertuzzi.
We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes. You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.
- Where to start if you want to take your sales career to the next level
- Four traits or skills needed to make it in sales management.
- How to position yourself for the next opportunity to advance your sales career.
If you don’t know Maureen yet, here’s a bit about her: Maureen is an entrepreneurial senior sales management and operations leader with a record of achievement and demonstrated success driving customer acquisition and multi-million-dollar sales growth in an inside sales and call center.
Listen in or read below for pointers on how to take your sales career to the next level.
Matt Heinz: Thanks for joining us on Sales Pipeline Radio, we are here live every 11, every Thursday at 11:30 pacific, 2:30 eastern. You can also find us on the podcast on Google Play and the iTunes Store, you can find us there and also salespipelineradio.com all of our past episodes. We regularly are featuring some of the best and brightest minds in B to B sales pipeline sales and marketing.
Today is not different, I’m super excited to have with us Maureen Ezekwugo. Maureen and I go way back, we both worked at a startup together doing a lot of work. She started her career in sales just carrying a bag and she has moved her way up from sales management, sales leadership and now into broader company leadership. We’re going to talk today about what it takes to grow your career in sales and what it take to sort of continue to grow outside of sales. Maureen, thanks so much for joining us today.
Maureen Ezekwugo: Thank you for having me!
Matt Heinz: So, give people a quick overview of sort of your career because you’ve done a lot of really interesting things for some really interesting companies. Where did you get started in sales, and how did that get you where you are today?
Maureen Ezekwugo: Interesting things for interesting companies is a great way to put it. I started in sales a long time ago, more years than a care to remember during summer jobs selling Kirby Vacuums if you can believe that. That was sort of a boot camp for sales training and I did that for a little while and it was really great because I got to learn a lot of the fundamentals about how sales is not just about skills and what you’re saying, but it’s also has to do a lot with the commitment and the attitude that you approach it with.
From there, fast-forward through ten years, I worked with my husband helping him run his business. Worked as a General Manager and at some point we decided the business wasn’t working out, we shut it down and literally had to start our careers over. I started with a start up called House Values, that’s where Matt and I first met and I found myself in an individual sales contributor role. I did pretty good at it and within a year, I was handpicked out of the blue by the founder of the company to lead and manage the sales team. For a long time, I kind of wondered, I wonder why they picked me to do that. It’s very rare to have somebody come to you and say hey we’ve been watching and we see you and we want you to lead this team. It really was based on the leadership that I was showing not just to the managers, but to the rest of the group as an individual contributor.
Over the years I worked with them and moved into a director role, helped that team to grow to hundreds of people. The company went public and it was a really cool experience to be a part of and from there I was able to develop my career into an executive role that I’m at now VP of Sales with RealSelf. I oversee that team to help drive the revenue through the business and really nurture and scale how that team grows. It’s been really gratifying not just to be a part of another growing business but to actually see how my career path has played out.
Matt Heinz: It’s very impressive. I love that story- Anytime I hear a story from someone that didn’t necessarily follow the path they thought they were going to follow but feel fortunate where they are. I think that resonates with a lot of people. I have a journalism degree, I was a reporter for a Seattle newspaper when I started, certainly did not think I would be running my own marketing consulting business so you never know where that path is going to lead you. You’ve been at RealSelf for about seven years and I know you’re still responsible for sales output and the team. You’ve been managing more than just sales. Talk a little bit about what that path looked like, in the last couple jobs you’ve run sales and operations. Was that an intentional path, was that something that you were asked to take on? What did that look like?
Maureen Ezekwugo: A long time ago, I had one of my managers try to put me into operations because I tend to be operationally focused. I said, I’m not operations but come to find out I really am focused on operations a lot so that is one of my strengths that I’ve been leveraging at RealSelf. What I have learned though as I’ve been a part of this company that is growing, is that being in an executive role, moving from director to executive is really a big shift. A much bigger shift than moving from individual contributor to sales manager, that’s a big shift too. Especially because you move from being worried about what’s going on day to day operations to all of a sudden thinking about things like, how can I help connect the dots between what’s happening on my team to the activities and the vision of the entire company. Getting alignment cross functionally tends to be something I’ve had to work on personally with where it’s not just about what’s going on in my team but what’s going on with the company. You spend a lot of time thinking about how do you maintain your network of influencers and not just how do you influence your team.
Matt Heinz: Absolutely, we’re talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Maureen Ezekwugo she’s the EVP of Doctor Community at RealSelf. We started working together, literally 16 years ago that’s a long time. You were at the time when I joined House Values, you were managing a high performance super successful sales team. What’s the difference in the past 16 years at what makes for successful sales rep? Like if someone was staring in their career today and was interested in sort of pursuing their own path to success in sales and management just in business. What are you looking for now in sales rep at the beginning of their career that might have been different 16 years ago?
Maureen Ezekwugo: That’s great question, I think that a lot of people, like my mother included, think of sales as this spoiler room environment where sales has really become a part of how do you facilitate the buying process and how do you challenge your customers to think out of the box so that they can think differently about their business and how does your product fit into that. I have shifted from looking for people who can just be aggressive and hit some close, to people who can change paradigms and who can challenge people to think about their business differently. With that, it’s not just that I look for managers who can train and coach, I look for sales people who can train and coach their customers.
Matt Heinz: Some of those skills aren’t usually exclusive though. I think the ability to sell and close and the ability to sort of ask good questions and take the challenge or approach and even be a little empathetic with prospects through out the process. I occasionally hear people say oh you ought to start selling and start helping, or stop selling and start leading.
Maureen Ezekwugo: Mm-hmm.
Matt Heinz: I feel like you can do both. Is there a time and place for one or the other and what’s the right balance today with those skills?
Maureen Ezekwugo: Yes, I think it depends on the product and the sales cycle that you’re in. I think that the science and the art of sales comes in knowing when you move a relationship from helping to selling.
Matt Heinz: Mm-hmm.
Maureen Ezekwugo: I think that if you are helping your customer and you believe in your product, that your product is helping your customer. Then eventually there’s going to be buying signals that will shift that conversation, let’s take action on the next level. You’re absolutely right, you do need both to be a closer for lack of a better word and you need to be a coach and you need to have the listening skills and the instinct when to flip that switch.
Matt Heinz: Yeah, some of that can be trained, some of that you just sort of get by watching other people that are doing it really well. Other traits and skills you see in people that are successful that you think are management material among the front lines, what are some of those other traits do you look for on your team for people that are promotion material?
Maureen Ezekwugo: I’ve promoted a lot of people as management I really believe in promoting from within because I think that like managers that have been there and done that. With that being said, not all top producers are good management material, so I do look for people who have shown propensity to enjoy training, not just that they can do training but they actually like helping other people learn and they take a thrill of cloning themselves in others. With that, they have to be able to hold people accountable. You tend to see through individual contributors those who care how other people are performing as well and when people come to them for help they’re not just giving them soft advice, but they’re actually holding up the mirror and saying these are the things that will help you. That’s part of it, and then also I look for people who are a little bit geared towards numbers. That’s something I’ve had trouble with some of the people I’ve promoted in the past is that they really like sales but they hate data. You really can’t be a sales manager these days without understanding what a spreadsheet is about. That’s also something that I look at, do they have a little bit of an analytical part to them.
Matt Heinz: So many different skills that you’ve got to have as you move up the food chain, sometimes I feel like we’re looking for unicorns, people that are good with the data, good with the metrics, good with planning but also really good at coaching. Sometimes sales coaching isn’t just the how to close the deal, it’s quantitative and qualitative altogether. When you think about how their managers spend their time, and what was the best use of your time when you were managing, I continue to hear from most managers say they want more time to be able to coach. They want more time to be able to spend with their reps, coaching helping make them better but they find that they spend too much time at meetings, too much time behind that spreadsheet and not enough time with the reps to give them as much time as they need. What’s you take on that balance and if you believe that’s important, how do you give more time and bandwidth to do that coaching?
Maureen Ezekwugo: Depends what level of management you’re at. Most people start in some type of selling role or player coach role and that’s usually something that has a title like Team Lead or Team Captain, something to that effect, those people I recommend every time they’re on the phone dealing with a customer that’s a learning opportunity that you can double up and have somebody listen to you and learn at the same time. They’re going to be the best role models hopefully, for their sales process and they should always have somebody who’s listening or leveraging their own experiences as they get results to teach others. As you move up the food chain, it does get more challenging to know how much of your role is done on the management and how keeping and leading versus training, and sometimes you have to delegate that out. I would say it really depends on what your goals are and what you measure on success. I don’t think there’s any one answer for it but I always say align your activities with what you’re being measured on.
Matt Heinz: We’ve got to take a quick break and pay some bills. We’ll be back after the break with more from Maureen Ezekeugo the EVP of Doctor Community for RealSelf. We’re going to talk more about sales coaching, more about how to position yourself as a sales professional for the next opportunity. Thanks for listening to Sales Pipeline Radio.
Paul: Alright, lets pick things back up with Matt and his guest.
Matt Heinz: Thank you very much Paul, thanks again everyone for joining us on Sales Pipeline Radio today, if you like what you’re hearing from Maureen with the sales advice and want to share this with some of your colleagues, some of your peers, some of your friends at other companies you can find us as at salespipelineradio.com every episode past, present and future available there. Coming up in the next few weeks we’ve got lot of more great guests, next week our first episode, our first episode of November, first post Halloween guest is Jeremy Korst, he’s the CMO of Avalara. Avalara sells sales tax software, maybe not the sexiest thing in the world but they’ve been growing like crazy. We’re going to talk about how you market something that may not be the most exciting product in the world and they’ve got some great stories around that. Some other great guests coming up sharing lots more advice on sales and marketing, best practices.
More today with Maureen Ezekeugo she’s the EVP of Doctor Community for RealSelf. Talking about sales management and talking about her career and her path to where she is today. You know curious for people- you know it’s one thing for you as a leader to look for the next Sales Manager and the next candidate for sales manager. It’s another thing for reps who are getting some success and some experience to position themselves for the next opportunity without sort of grandstanding and sort of doing too much self-promotional. What are the best ways for reps to position themselves for the next advancement in their sales career?
Maureen Ezekwugo: I think a lot of people would recommend here to say find a mentor, find someone who’s achieved the level of success you want to receive and then ask them if they can mentor you. I would take that one step further and say that it’s really important that if you do that to own your mentorship relationship. Tell them what your goals are for growth and ask them, how can you leverage your strengths and know where you have opportunities to grow. Because it’s really important that you have an active part in that mentorship and don’t expect that a mentor to just come and tell you here’s how you’re going to be a manager because they have to learn about what you want to know as well.
I also would say it’s important to understand your current managers pains and challenges that they’re having because it’s usually not just about sales numbers or about motivating people to sell, which is what the two things people typically associate with sales management. There’s usually something else that they are also focused on and there might be some opportunities for you to connect with your manager and reveal that you can help them with these in other ways or look for ways to contribute to the overall team moral and goals. So, I would say connect with your manger. I have people on my team who will regularly set up a lunch with me or a meeting or a one on one just to chat about things like that. Where, what are some things that they can do to help move the business along, not just move numbers along.
Matt Heinz: Mm-hmm.
Maureen Ezekwugo: Then I would say lastly, focus on where you are. Some people get really consumed by I need to move to the next level that they forget to do their current roles well. So, really work hard at what you’re doing now and be someone on the team that people can look to. Usually who becoming leaders of the group, were already leaders without the leadership title so I would look for opportunities to do that.
Matt Heinz: Yeah, I wanted to follow up on that. I’m thinking about not only things you can do to prove to your boss that you’re worth promoting but also things you can do to help your peers. Your ability to practice leadership and practice helping other people when that’s not necessarily part of your job description but certainly is for the good of the company as well as good practice for you. What are some ways that reps can do that? Is it something that has to be facilitated by field management and sort of peer training effort? I know you’ve done a lot of this you know at both House Values Market Leader and at RealSelf, especially relayed to onboarding of new reps. What the best way to facilitate that from a manager as well as if you’re a sales rep listening to get more actively involved there?
Maureen Ezekwugo: You can align with your manager, that’s always helpful because if the manager is part of the process then they obviously will see the positive things that are coming from that. Even without a manager’s knowing that you’re doing it, there are opportunities where you can position yourself in a way with your teammates that you are somebody that you can come to, to get help and best practices. Part of one way to do this is when you make a sale, talk about it. Talk about how you knew when it was time to shift that relationship from teaching to selling. Talk about the steps you took and why you took them. The why is super important, because a lot of people who are top performers don’t really, they aren’t really able to explain how did I get here-
Matt Heinz: Mm-hmm.
Maureen Ezekwugo: And how did I make that happen? They’re just like yeah, I’m the best. I did it! You should do it too, but if you can explain why, that’s when people will start coming to you and trying to get more out of you. So, I really say look to the why’s of what you’re doing, share those as best practices and that will surface up to the manager at some point or another. People will be saying, yeah I heard that so and so told me this and it really helped.
Matt Heinz: Such good advice today from our guest Maureen Ezekwugo, we’ve just got a few more minutes with Maureen. Couple other questions I wanted to ask you. One, I know that sometimes people look to their best reps as you know promotion candidates and just because you’re the best rep doesn’t mean that you’re going to be the best manager, but I’m curious about the opposite. You know in baseball sometimes you’ll see great managers that we’re necessarily the best players. Is it possible for someone to not be a proven sales rep at a carry a bag level and actually be a good manager or do those things need to be correlated?
Maureen Ezekwugo: They’re not always correlated, so great sales people are a huge asset to the company and the reason top sales people often out-earn even management. So it’s not about position to be in, and not everybody will be cut out for management because they don’t want to deal with people, they want to make sales. On the flip side there will be people who I would say are mediocre producers who are fantastic managers and again it really comes down to what drives them and gets them up in morning. Are the driven by helping others become better, can they explain why things are done and be able to break down the process of getting a sale? Those are things that sometimes people who are mid-level producers do a really great job and better than top producers.
Matt Heinz: Well, let’s also talk about as you’re a manager not just looking for the right candidates to be future management but also looking for candidates that can be good sales reps. Past sales experience doesn’t necessarily equate to sales success in your company. I’ve seen in many cases, I remember people that we hired back in the old House Values days that didn’t have sales experience but had attributes. They had certain things in their background that led us to believe that they were going to have the characteristics to be good in sales. What are some things you might look for, might recommend managers look for in non-sales candidates to play a sales role in their company?
Maureen Ezekwugo: Managing people, I would say is a huge trait that sometimes you can’t teach people, but you can bring people in who don’t necessarily know the sales but they understand people, and how to motivate people and how to get things done for others. Managing people might be a trait that would transfer over if you didn’t have the sales experience. I also think it depends on what part of sales you want to go into, so we just hired somebody at RealSelf who has never done sales themselves. You don’t necessarily need sales experience to be a great sales manager, but it does depend on what part of sales management you want to be in, so I was talking about a person we just hired at RealSelf, who has no sales experience but he’s in charge of optimizing our operations and our pipeline management. Through his analytical and data driven thinking he’s able to do that job greatly. In most part, managing people is a trait that you’re going to need patience and understanding that sales is a difficult job and how to manage people through that is super important.
Matt Heinz: We always ask of our guests if there was a Mt. Rushmore of sales, if you could put two to four people up on a Mt. Rushmore of sales, those that you’ve learned the most from. These don’t have to be famous sales people, these don’t have to be sales authors, but people that have had the most influence on you as a sales professional, as a sales manager, who would be on that Mt. Rushmore?
Maureen Ezekwugo: Wow, I definitely think the authors of The Challenger Sales should be up there. We use that book as a reference all the time and I think it’s changing the way that we sell, so Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson I would put them up there. Long time sales leaders I would say Dale Carnegie in talking about how to be a more effective communicator would be up there and then just for kicks Ron Popeil the guy who used to do infomercials.
Matt Heinz: I love it!
Maureen Ezekwugo: I learned a lot about sales and some of what not to do from him but he’s probably one of the best sales people that people know.
Matt Heinz: I tell you what, man you can learn a lot about good sales and marketing from late night television. You don’t have to always emulate some of the swarminess but there are some great proven strategies in what you see there. I really want to thank our guest for being so generous with her time, Maureen Ezekwugo the EVP of Doctor Community for RealSelf. Lots of just really great sage advice on managing people, managing people in generally quite honestly not just sales reps. Join us next time on Sales Pipeline Radio we are here every week at 11:30 pacific, 2:30 eastern. If you want to catch us on our podcast, thanks very much for joining us there. Get us on Google Play and the iTunes store, you can get all of our episodes on demand at salespipelineradio.com. We’ll see you here next week with my great producer Paul, this is Matt Heinz thanks for joining us again on Sales Pipeline Radio.