From the Sales Trenches: Q&A with Curt Vondrasek
This continues our series of front-line sales interviews, featuring quota-carrying sales reps as well as their managers and leaders (see previous interviews here, here and here). Curt Vondrasek is Vice President of Business Development at HUB International. He is responsible for driving the outbound call strategy, developing lead opportunities for specific target areas with strategically chosen producers, and creating a feeder pool for new producers.
How (and why) did you get into sales?
I had no intention of getting into sales. I graduated from college as a finance major, and wanted to get into the finance side of things. I took a job as a stock broker, and thought, great, I’m going to be selling stocks, bonds & investments. My first day on the job, they said, “here’s your phone and a phonebook, get to work, kid.”
It was a glorified inside sales job, and I was cold-calling business owners and making pitches over the phones. Quite honestly, I loved it. I had no desire to get into sales initially, but a stock broker was a sales position.
I went from there into financial planning, more of a consultative sale dealing with the entire investment portfolio. Still primarily a sales position. I eventually got a sales position with a salary, bonus and company car. The fact that I had made about 50,000 cold calls over the previous two years helped significantly.
I was in the insurance business after that, and have spent the past 15 years in sales management, managing both outside and inside sales teams.
What have you learned about sales that’s still relevant today?
I often quote to my team that I’ve made over 100,000 cold calls in my career, and probably 70,000 of those were in my first 3-4 years. It was a huge confidence boost – so many stories I can think of on why I got business via a cold call.
I’ll never forget one of those calls, when the prospect flatly said to me, “I already have six stock brokers, why should I listen to you?” Half an hour later, he agreed to another conversation and eventually turned into my largest sale. When you can make your largest sale off of a cold call, and deal with the challenges that brings you, it builds your confidence so much. The more confident you get, the more successful you will be in your career later.
With my team, I have a standard line. It doesn’t matter what sales job you go into – unless your mom & dad own the company, you’re not going to get a bunch of golden leads handed to you. You have to prospect – whether that’s cold emailing or cold calling or some version of that, everyone has to build their book of business in that manner.
I tell my team, the skills we’re going to teach you here, you’ll be able to use forever to be successful.
Given all of that, how has sales changed?
Technology has come so far in the last 15 years, and it’s altered our approach for a couple of reasons. One, because of technology today you can take advantage of other ways to get ahold of prospects – email, Twitter, LinkedIn, writing a blog, and so forth.
I also know that prospects are going to investigate you if they’re serious. They will look you up, and you have the ability to control what they find. It’s important to present yourself well.
Prospects also have higher expectations when you contact them. Because there’s information about them and their company on the Web, they expect you to do research before you call. Fifteen years ago, they may have entertained basic questions about them and their company. They’re not as tolerant of that now.
How has sales management changed?
You have to understand your own leadership style. If you can find a candidate profile that fits your own personality style or those you know are easier for you to work with, that should be the first place you look and hire from. It’s easier said than done, but it’s worth working towards and has been a huge key for me.
Fifteen years ago, no news from your manager was good news. If your boss didn’t talk to you, you assumed things were OK. I now spend a lot of time communicating with my team. We have a team sales meeting every morning from 8:30 to 9:00, and it’s a great way for them to know what’s going on. We celebrate successes, and I do a lot of management by walking around. I walk the floor, talk 1:1 to reps, and with the younger generation in particular they want to hear a lot of praise & recognition. Older generations, they want that too, but respect is important to them.