INTERVIEW

Brad Revell, Senior Director Digital Strategy, Infor

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Brad was referred as a guru of sales process and learning, which he certainly is. I was especially curious about the role of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in sales, which Brad is an expert in, and the role technology will play going forward in sales processes

We went into lots of detail about what you should learn and learning itself in this thoughtful interview, with loads of practical examples of why and how tech will influence the future of sales.

You can read Brad’s full biography here

Jamie: Brad, first of all, what have you found most fulfilling about your career thus far?

Brad: Aligning to my values around learning and development, and travel, amongst a few others. I think the panacea for anyone is to learn things when you’re younger. It’s something I’ve learned into my late 30s, early 40s- to listen and to align what you do with your values. That, to me, has been the best part of my job – continuing to learn, and continuing to travel around the world.

I started off in Australia, did a lot of work in Asia-Pacific, and I lived in the US. Then I moved to the UK, went back to the US, and now I’m back in the UK. I’ve kind of hit off on a couple of my values – travel, learning, and development.

Relationships are also a big one. I know your discussion is around sales, and what makes sales successful. You’re one person, and the relationships become really key because, the old saying was, “it’s not what you know it’s who you know,” but I think it’s what you learn, you know. These are the three key facets that I think have been really beneficial to me, in my career so far. 

Jamie: Do you think that transferability of sales skills, crossing borders, is that somewhat unique as an industry to sales?

Brad: Yes, I think so. I mean, there’s a really fascinating book by a lady called Erin Meyer. She’s a professor at INSEAD, and it’s called The Culture Map. The premise of the book is the concept of cultural relativity. I’ll come back to your question specifically in a second, but cultural relativity, that several different facets that she touches on, so leadership feedback; several different other facets on where people sit in this cultural relativity.

A specific example might be a French manager who is successful in France because he or she can give feedback really well. But in France, feedback is very negatively driven. When they move to somewhere like America, where it’s all about positive reinforcement, they don’t necessarily succeed. I think my ability to be able to travel internationally has given me a flavour of dealing with different personalities, different cultures, and it’s what made it interesting. I looked at the US like I said a couple of times, and I’ve come out of living there twice now – it’s not necessarily a challenge in certain ways, and I always feel when I work in Asia-Pacific, or when I work in Europe, it’s another echelon of challenge that makes me have to push myself a little bit.

Jamie: But the core fundamentals of the sales skills that you’ve learned, you found transferable across geographies?

Brad: Yes, absolutely. I mean, at the end of the day, I work in technology sales, and that’s where I spent most of my time. I started more in consulting, and now I work in an area where I work with account managers, and I’m really going to market to sell solutions to customers in various different industries and skillsets, and align them. At the end of the day, what are you trying to do? You’re trying to solve a problem for your customer, and they buy for various reasons. There are professional reasons and political reasons; really understanding first of all, what is it that the person is looking to get out of the sale? Because we all have our own drivers and values. There are reasons why we do certain things. It might be for your own prestige, or might be for your company’s prestige. That’s the first concept to understanding who your buyer is, and the list of stakeholders in the sales process – who are the decision-makers?

Then what is the value that you’re going to provide as that solution, whether it’s a product or a service? We were in a very interesting time where the lines were blurring between sales and service in software. Before it was, everybody will say something like “good luck” once it’s implemented and “We’ll be around for the renewals.” But now, because software as a service has become very prevalent, you’ve got to be more of a service person knowing that the relationship really starts when you put a signature on the contract, and we’ve got to continue to make sure the customer is happy and provide that continued value.

It’s an alignment. The people who you’re dealing with, what they’re looking to get out of the relationship, and specifically from the transaction – then making sure that you’re continuing to provide value. A ton of people – Seth Godin is a great one – talk about that service is not really sales and is not really marketing; it’s how can you provide the value of that relationship. Those are the key areas that I think are transferable across in any sort of sales environment, which could be technology but could also be a simple product, it could be selling shampoo.

Jamie: So you believe that the role of a salesperson, certainly in the technology industry and potentially elsewhere, has become more service-minded out of necessity?

Brad: Yes, absolutely in software. I still think there is a little bit of transition to go, it’s becoming much more service-based, so account managers become more of a necessity. From my perspective, now we are used to having an account management team, and you have specific people who would manage your relationship post-sales for support.

But now, it’s the entire lifecycle. You look at the whole CRM model of that infinite loop, where the customer is continually evolving around from looking at software, doing the analysis, doing discovery all the way through the purchase, and then support and fixes and teachers upgrades and continuing to grow in that loop. It’s an infinite loop. If you do it well, you continue to retain that customer for a long time.

The revenue is limited to a side note and what they would call annual contract value, which is the annual contract value for purchase, and it’s more about total contract value. If you sign a three-year relationship, or a five-year relationship, even up to a 10-year relationship, it’s the long period, and that’s the total contract value. It’s a lot of money, and then if you continue to renew, that’s a nice stream of revenue that you can forecast for many years, and if you do it right, you know it’s going to be great for the business.

Jamie: What do you think is your biggest strength as a salesperson?

Brad: My biggest strength – two things, I guess it’s hard to narrow down to one. You’ll probably laugh when I say this initially, but I feel like I’m a good read of people, I can get to know people and develop quite a quick level of trust, and I do that in several ways. I think one of the reasons is because I wouldn’t call myself a salesperson. When I engage, I come in as more of a specialist working very closely with an account manager. In my team, I am part of the sales team, but I’m not the guy who’s going to be, “Here, sign here, and this is the price I’m going to give you.” I try and keep myself a little bit independent.

But I also come with an approach of trying to understand, and you mentioned about NLP. In the NLP world, it’s about developing rapport, right? Calibrating who the person is – why are they buying? Why are they interested? What do they want to get out of it again? Are their reasons, personal or professional, or political? Understanding the person, what do they want to get out of it; what are the concerns? Then building that rapport in the sales world, we call that being a trusted advisor. I find that to me, it’s been my biggest success and my biggest contribution to a team. I’ve got a strong taste and flavour for making sure I keep up to date with technologies. I read a ton, and having that knowledge is also helpful.

If you know the person, you know what they want, and you can give them what they want, that’s a great solution to solve that problem. Those are the two areas for me that I’m pretty focused on, and I continue to be focused on, I think there are plenty of things I need to learn. I’m not there yet.

Jamie: I would like to dive in a little bit more on NLP. I’ve understood it as understanding people through body language. It sounds like it’s actually much more of a holistic understanding of the other person?

Brad: Absolutely. That’s the funny thing about NLP, it can mean many things. It is a pseudoscience, and that’s why it’s around since the 80s when it really became prevalent as a lot of people are pushed against it. Because it’s not really science and you can pack it into psychology, or you can pack it into several different facets of science or even aspect of psychology – like Tony Robbins, for example, equals it Neuro-Linguistic Conditioning, and he learned NLP at a very young age. He worked with John Grinder, who was one of the original NLP founders. He’s got his own flavour. He talks a little bit about what he means by it, by kind of getting to know people better and making change.  

That’s a big thing, but yes, I think it’s very relevant and, in the sales world,, it is really about understanding who your customers are. I mean it is linguistic, and proteomics and your standpoint is understanding what people are doing, how they’re behaving, what do they really mean? They may be saying one thing but meaning another thing, both consciously and subconsciously.

Then linguistically, a really simple example is that if someone says to you, that if you know, they’re more of a feeling person rather than a thinking person – more feeling, more gut, that’s how they go about it. Would I get back to and say, “I think you should go do this.” I wouldn’t do that. I would say, “How do you feel about this? How would you feel if I went down that path?” It may sound really simple, but sometimes using those words have a subconscious impact that is far greater than you can possibly imagine. 

Again, so another example I was watching Elon Musk. He did the autonomy presentation over India’s overview of autonomous vehicles. It’s really telling when they are asking difficult questions, and you watch his eyes when he’s thinking rapidly. You see people’s eyes and how their eyes are reacting and say, “Okay, well, they are really good at thinking and do not necessarily know the answer to it, or they are going to decline to come up with a straight answer.” Depending on how their eyes are working, you can get intelligence from that, and that intelligence helps to calibrate and build rapport. These kinds of skills, I think are really important in the sales world, especially because you’re dealing with people. 

 Some people call it EQ. I think there’s a lot of overlap and intersection between what EQ is, what Jack Ma’s LQ which is Life Questions, relationships, all that stuff, and it’s all the same thing. 

Jamie: How long would you say it has taken you to become highly proficient in NLP, and how long could it take for another person?

Brad: It’s all about practice, is the short answer. But the longer answer is, you have to understand the theory first, and then you got to start practising and then having it at least consistently in your mind. If you use the analogy of driving a car – Stephen Covey would say something like you go from when you first drive a car, you’re unconsciously incompetent.

Then you traverse to consciously competent, but you still don’t know what you’re doing. You’ve got no idea that you don’t know what you’re doing to get into a point where you know that you’re not sure what you’re doing, to the point where you consciously know you’re doing it, but are you really going to think about the clutch? You have to get to a point where you’re driving a car, and you’re changing gears, you’re indicating, you’re looking in your mirrors, you’re doing everything without even thinking about that. That takes a bit of time.

It’s training the subconscious part of your brain to just instantly start to redo things to a point where you’re not even thinking about it. In NLP, your subconscious is far more powerful than the conscious mind.

If you can put some sort of practice into that point, and that’s by continually hitting at it every day for a while, then you get better at it, and it becomes the second nature. I started doing NLP early part of this decade about 2011, 2012, and I’ve done a couple of courses and programs over those years. I have also read a couple of books about it.

I’ve continued to think about it and continue to implement it. I look at stuff online. I’ve volunteered during Tony Robbins’ events, so I hear him talk about it. It’s all these different things that kind of hitting different angles become much more prevalent. It’s become much prevalent in my life, and I’ve learned from it. 

Jamie: If you had a recommendation for someone to go ahead and study it, what would be your recommendation?

Brad: Yes, I mean, the caveats are depending on the person and how they learn. I mean, there’s plenty of ways of doing things these days, whether it’s YouTube, or if you’re a reader – with anything, we are human beings and practice that is the most important thing, and so I’m a big believer of immersing yourself into some sort of course.

There was an offer for an NLP course, and I ended up signing up for it. I did a one-day taster every weekend, and I met the guy who was an NLP Master Trainer. He’s one of the few guys that has worked with John Grinder and Richard Bandler, and the NLP crew back in the days that started at all.

I spent a lot of time on it and then I came back and did another couple of weekends. I did the certificate and what they call it the deployment, and then I did the practitioner. I want to do the master practitioner, which requires about two weeks worth of effort, which is spread over several different weekends and whatnot. So, I’ll come back and do that at some point because it’s good again to just refresh your memory. Also, when you become a practitioner, you can come back and sit in on some of the other courses, reinforcing your experience and learning with the additional refreshing topic information. 

That’s the short answer, but certainly, there are a ton of books on it. Look for Richard Bandler or John Grinder, two gurus, some founders, and there are plenty of courses around, a lot of people do it. It’s getting incorporating the coaching now and lots of other facets, so you can find out what is your preferred learning method and then go for it.

Jamie: Do you find it to be a big competitive advantage in the workplace?

Brad: I do. I think there are a lot of people who are quite intelligent in the workplace, but their ability to communicate and get the message across is not as strong. I think that’s the biggest struggle in the sales world, bringing full circle back to where we started this conversation. It’s difficult to get in and develop a good rapport with someone who you know, a customer or an opportunity that you’re working with. I think it does provide a competitive advantage. Then you called it EQ, I think that’s where it becomes really important.

If you can work with people in a better way, understand what they’re trying to get across with their words and their body language, and many other different indicators. Yes, absolutely, I think you get an advantage, there’s a lot of automation going on now in the world of what do you want to call the industry – 4.0 or whatever –

in the era we’re in, a lot of the mundane tasks are going to be automated. What’s going to be left is the bits where you’re working with people or doing things that can’t really be automated. I believe you’d have a competitive advantage if you know how to deal with people better, understanding their needs and values and aligning yourself and your message to do that. 

Jamie: What would you say to people who may be instinctively thinking that learning EQ is impossible?

Brad: I disagree, only because of what I’ve been exposed to. We’re animals, fundamentally. Brains have been developed based on genetics as well as experiences. People may have had terrible lives, and they may have been brought up badly, and it manifests in their values.

I was having a conversation interestingly enough, with a former colleague earlier today, and he was talking about a gentleman who was running a sales region here in Europe. This guy, excuse my language, was an asshole. You know, all these different models, if you talk about, if you ever heard of DISC or communication model?

He was a very dominant guy. For example, you wouldn’t go up to him and say, “Hey, man, how’s it going on? What’s going on? How’s the wife? How are the kids?” He would be like  “What the hell do you want?” That’s his conversation. So, knowing that and knowing that he’s a dominant guy, you would say, “Hey dude, I need this from you. Can you get it to me by Friday? Or I’ve got this update for you,” blah, blah, blah. You just give it to him, as quickly as he needs because he doesn’t give a damn about you or about your family or his family. He just wants to know the answer.

I think that becomes the applicability, sell to win. So, going back to your question, saying, “Are people cynical?” I can imagine people being cynical. There are a lot of these different models, some of them overlap, and I’m continuing to learn, but we are people, we are animals, and we are emotional.

For example, he’s moved to America now, just to finish off that story. He works under different management that has a totally different style. His way of interacting in an organization has totally changed because of A) who he’s managing, and B) the region that he’s working in. In taking coaching, managing, and all these facets, it is all about emotional intelligence. Reading the room, understanding when to say something, when not to say something. I think it plays a really important part and I think it will play a more and more important part in the future; I truly believe that.

Jamie: Talking about tech, what additional skills do you think that a young aspiring salesperson would need to go into technology sales?

Brad: Some of the key skills today will certainly be around industry knowledge, and depending on where you work and what you’re doing. The programming skills around data, really understanding and being able to deal with data, because in this day and age, it is all about information and how data is driving intelligence. I call it “Artificial Intelligence.” I will use quotes because it can mean many different things.

Today, it’s more about machine learning and deep learning. What results are all these algorithms driving? How do we market to our own consumer? The data is providing an ability to optimize a business.

For example, how can you teach machines to be able to do that in a more of an automated way? Or recommend things, and learn things that you may not be able to do, because you just can’t pass the same amount of data as a human being that a computer can do today, especially with cloud technology. Certainly, a big plus is knowing the industry, knowing to code a little bit, and knowing a little bit about data and obviously, “Artificial Intelligence” – again with a quote – whether it’s machine learning, any of those deep learning, any of those aspects. “Artificial Intelligence” has a long, long runway, and we’ve only just started. There is going to be no jobs left for us. I still think there’s a long, long road to travel before we get there, in my opinion.

Also, I just want a side note. The resources are probably fairly recent because there are another Elon Musk and Jack Ma version of going on an interview. Elon Musk is basically saying computers are going to take over fast and they are far smarter than humanizing. They’re going to really basically eradicate us in terms of doing any work. Jack Ma said, “This is really interesting. I don’t necessarily agree.”

“If you look at some humans, we’ve invented computers, and we’ve fitted all these different things. I’ve never seen computers invent humans.” I really like that little analogy, so there’s still a lot of opportunities there. But I think having a technology background, especially with data, machine learning, coding, and then your relevance in industries is going to be key.

Jamie: A lot of the people I’ve talked to about their sales careers have enjoyed hopping around the different industries, but it seems if you want to be a technology salesperson, you may need to dive pretty deeply into the technology itself?

Brad: Yes, that’s fair. I think there’s overlap in certain areas – like if you’re getting into consumer-focussed top-of-the-machine learning planning optimization. For example, supply chain forecasting – any of those different areas, there is definitely a certain skill set to understand how that works, versus social demand sensing from Twitter. There are many different avenues. I think there are two kinds of flavours, there is one way to get nice and deep into an area, and then there are all the areas where I think the skills are quite transferable. For me, I’ve worked in manufacturing when I started at the financial services, and then I moved into retail, and retail expanded into the supply chain.

I think one of the roles I’m going to start to play within my organization is sitting across several different industries where I can play to my strengths. The role that I couldn’t play is a lot more deep-tech and solution strategizing. The relationship that I have with a customer is much more high-level, versus someone that’s at the other end, that’s getting deep into deploying a solution and really making it happen.

So, you’re absolutely right. I think some roles will definitely need to be deep and that requires a lot of learning practice, experience, exposure, coaching, and mentoring, or all of the above. In some areas, you can be a little more superficial, but I think the simpler a role or a job is, there is a risk of it being automated and not necessarily being around. Again, I don’t mean this in the short term, I think more in the medium to long term. Short term that’s to and I’m not necessarily clairvoyant, but I think what’s going to happen in the short term, I can make a reasonable guesstimation. I think in the long term some jobs will go away, but the deeper, more specialized sectors will be harder to replace.

Jamie: So historically, really good generalist salespeople could be among the best-paid people in an organization, and they are now at most risk?

 Brad: Yes. I mean, I work with sales guys who have sold multi-million dollars’ worth of software and services over the years that I’ve worked with them. I was actually in this interaction. I caught up with an old school friend of mine who lived in the Nordics. When he finished school, he left the Nordics, and he ended up in Russia. Now, he’s working in a sales capacity and working with delegations around energy. You think about the kind of role that he would have to play – dealing with multiple cultures – and he’s in a world that selling millions and billions of dollars worth of product or service. So I think that’s still a role for people and that’s why people skills are being able to do things a lot and still very important, still relevant, and that won’t go away.

 Jamie: If you were job hunting now, what would you be looking for in a product to sell and the culture of the organization?

Brad: Let’s start with the product. I think what I look for in technologies is change and functional integration. Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, all these different organizations have become really very functionally integrated. They’ve got platforms that they plan, and they will start talking to each other. I’m an Apple guy, for example, so iPhone, iPad, and my Mac which I’m on and they’re really great, it’s all good. iCloud, all my files, I can access them anywhere. If I send a message, it’s all integrated.

I’m looking for a company like that, that is very functionally integrated because I think that’s the future having some sort of platform that can do a lot of different things. So, any software organization, the enterprise software company, should have that functionally integrated ecosystem, and then they can pivot on top of that.

The reason why that’s important is that if you’ve got that platform and you’ve got a system that has some sort of data link capability and some sort of integration capability, you can start to automate and add workflows. You can add machine learning into the data link capability to start getting some insight into the business. All of these things and software really build on top and provide it with a lot of value. That’s a big thing for one of these organizations. That’s what the Amazons have done. They’ve leveraged several different platforms.

Apple has done really well for that reason as well, they’ve had the device, but then they’re now focusing on services. Again, that’s to do with a functionally integrated ecosystem. So all these and Facebook is the same thing as well. They’ve got that base level, and they’ve built a foundation around that. All of those different organizations are doing well, and they’re using data to make money – whether that’s internally, or using their external customers as their data and their product, but that’s the first thing.

I think culture, maybe sometimes I feel like I’m a little isolated compared to other people. What I want in an organization culture-wise is to be very much a team player. I want to work for a boss or manager, whoever you want to call him or her, that challenges me on a day to day basis. I was very fortunate with my first job.  

While I was still in university, I applied for a job, and I got a full-time job offer. I went from full time to part-time, but I worked with one of the best managers. He was both a leader and a manager. I’m so grateful that I still catch up with him. In fact, it was his birthday a couple of weeks ago, and he’s been retired for five years. I still reach out to him every year and in between to see how he’s going. We catch up for lunch when I’m back in my hometown.

I’m a big fan of looking more for who will be my next manager versus who is the next organization I work for. That’s how important it is for me to learn from those people, those coaches, and mentors. Obviously, as I get senior in organizations I work for, they’ve set the scene for the company culture.

From a product and culture perspective, those are two things I look for.

Jamie: What advice would you give to aspiring salespeople starting their career in sales?

Brad: Get the fundamentals early. I work with a lot of sales guys on my team today, and some of them are very lazy; they’re not interested in getting the information. They’ll be the ones who were complaining about the CRM systems and, “I don’t have to fill out this form again.”

“I’ve got to do this plan, and I’ve got to do this and that.”

These are all skills that you’ve got to chip away and get good at so that it becomes subconscious and part of your day to day job. If you get right up front, and get on it early, so that it becomes natural and unproblematic because getting to that work ethic later in your life when you become lazy, it’s really hard to change that. That’s certainly the one thing I would do to keep developing.

If you do not develop, you will become redundant. That is for sure. In this world, you’ve got to keep learning, you’ve got to keep growing.

Those are the two things. Then on networks, just ensuring that you continue to get involved with the network, celebrate the successes, help people out, and always be a “yes” person where it makes sense. I’ve been the first, but it hasn’t really helped me in my career so far. If I lose my job tomorrow, there are many people I could reach out to who would help and try and find something. That’s important because, at the end of the day, I’m always going to want to be giving. So, certainly, give to your network and as Stephen Covey says, “Continue making positive emotional deposits into their bank accounts so that when you need to make a withdrawal, there’s plenty in there plus interest.” Definitely keep scaling, work on your discipline and be good at networking. Keep expanding on those three things.

Jamie: If you were starting your sales career again, what’s one of the big things you’d do differently?

Brad: It’s a different world to what it was when I was younger. I think we’ve covered a number of different aspects throughout the conversation. Certainly, it’s getting involved in a number of technologies that are more prevalent today than ever before. I mean, we used to talk about the concept of the data warehouse when I was younger, and that was more like a trimmed-down formatted type of data warehouse, where you could just do queries on an aggregate level. But now, with unstructured data and all these different technologies in that are in cloud computing, it’s a different world. So, definitely scaling up on different areas and knowing enough to be dangerous in the world of data and intelligence.

I try to pick something relevant and going for something that excites me, and that allows me to be creative, allows me to work and also have some fun. That’s also important, enjoying what you do, and have fun with what you do. It’s not always great and happy days. If it was, we would get bored, but there are sometimes bad days and tough times.

You got to know that’s just human nature, you’ve got to get through issues, problems, and deal with the other side. I think it’s also just keeping your finger on the pulse because the world is changing so fast. Not getting necessarily immersed and overtaken by technology because I think that’s a big risk as well. Don’t get too drawn into multitasking and different things. You are a human, you’re not an animal. We’ve evolved in a certain way for hundreds of thousands of years, and going down that traditional path and only using technology where it makes sense.

It’s been a fun ride. I don’t think I’ve changed too much. I’m lucky I got out of university while continuing my degree, while on part-time, and started working early. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have had the opportunity. I worked with a great manager and started my career early, but then made the decision to travel, and it led me to many amazing things. I’m very grateful for that.

Jamie: Do you think that university education is less important than it used to?

Brad: Yes, that’s a good question. I think it’s about how the individual person takes it. I’m actually doing another course. I did my degree, and I completed my MBA about eight years ago. I think it’s great because it gives you fundamentals.

But I think to point to your question, about going to university, is what is it you really want to get out of it? Also, consider the possibility of not having a degree and getting online and searching. You can learn about strategy, you can learn about any possible thing you want to do on the internet.

Do you have the discipline? The right learning of old school and the kind of learning and capabilities you get through university are really important. If you can get that outside of university, go ahead. Absolutely, I’ve done an MBA, I’ve done it with several different things. Another example, I didn’t teach speed reading, and I didn’t do that for university, but I learnt it, I read about it, and I teach it now.

I think with universities and going back to school, I did this for several reasons. I did it for the network; I wanted to meet like-minded people because it would challenge me, and I would grow. I wanted a good name because there is importance in some respects to having an MBA on your resume,. I mean, the Ivy League schools in the US is an example – they take a lot of good graduates into their programs within MIT, or Harvard, or Stanford, or Brown, or any of those universities. I’m not saying that’s a good thing in itself. I’m just saying it plays a role.  

Then the last thing is that I’m using it to plug holes and areas of my career where there are new technologies that I want to learn and adapt into. I think university plays a role – you need to understand what you want to get out of university, and then find the right course or find the right institution to get that value out of it. Otherwise, you can spend a lot of money and not necessarily get enough out of what you really wanted to do, which is a dangerous path.

 

[END]

 

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