EPISODE 068: Inside Sales Expert Ivan Gomez Says Committing to the Fundamentals Put Him on the Path to Fantastic Career Success
Ivan Gomez is the president and founder of NextStage, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations leverage inside sales as a powerful go to market strategy.
They help with implementation, best practices, marketing integration and many other things.
Ivan has worked at some great companies in inside sales leadership, such as Ellucian, Echo360, Rosetta Stone, QlikTech and Compuware.
Ivan is also the DC area chapter president for the American Association for Inside Sales Professionals.
Ivan Gomez: Excellent. After 20 years of practice in leadership in inside sales, I decided to establish my own practice called NextStage, a consultative company that is focused on leveraging the power, the go to market strategy of inside sales, so best practices for go to market, alignment with marketing, hiring individuals, developing playbooks, sales practices and development pipeline. That’s what we do, helping technology companies, CEO’s and sales leaders implement their inside sales strategy or optimize what they currently have in place.
Fred Diamond: Very good, we’re going to be talking about some of the things that you’re specifically doing. You’ve had a very great career to this point, helping a lot of very successful companies implement some fascinating inside sale strategies. Tell us a little bit about your career. How did you first get in to sales as a career?
Ivan Gomez: I first got in to sales over 20 years ago as managing fleet sales for auto industry. I worked on that for about 5 years or so and after being very successful in that particular role, I learned the fundamentals of sales, leadership, follow up, attention to details, focusing in customer needs and one of my clients, Tim, was actually very impressed.
He was on his second round of renewing his fleet of vehicles. He approached me and said, “Hey, Ivan, what would you like to do next? You’re certainly very successful here.” I said, “Well, I don’t know, I like what I’m doing right now but I’m about to finish my MBA and I want to take my career to the next level.” So he mentioned, “Would you be interested in looking into technology sales?” and this was actually over 20 years ago.
I said, “Well, maybe not technology sales, but I love sales.” so one thing led to another, I submitted my resume, I interviewed with a company that was Compuware, actually it was NuMega. You probably know NuMega.
Fred Diamond: Yeah.
Ivan Gomez: NuMega was a technology company, we were actually selling software technology solutions for application developers. We used to describe our product as the speller check for code, regression testing, low testing, performance testing, anything that has to do with code we were selling to software development shops. That’s how I got into sales, especially technology sales.
Fred Diamond: At NuMega were you in inside sales or did you do any outside sales in your career?
Ivan Gomez: Very interesting journey, I actually spent about 9 years at Compuware, great school. I learned some phenomenal fundamentals there in inside sales. I started as an inside sales rep and as I progressed and moved up the chain. I had finished now my MBA and then I was afforded an opportunity to actually move to the Mid Atlantic – Pennsylvania, and I became one of the regional managers in the field, so I have inside sales experience, I have field experience and then I actually moved up to leadership roles.
Fred Diamond: Go back to some of the first lessons when you were working. You said you were selling fleet services, what are some of the things that you learned from some of your first sales jobs that have stuck with you till today?
Ivan Gomez: Undeviated commitment to customer success. That is one of the pillars that I have, I always cherish, from sales. Being able to commit to the customer and being able to – the product that you sell or the services that you sell have to provide value to your client. That’s first and foremost.
The second thing, it is very important to remember the fundamentals. If I might share a little story with you, Fred, I remember doing fleet sales for quite some time. I really got good at that and then after some time, things and sales started to decline and I did a self-assessment saying, “What is going on? Sales are declining. What’s changed?”
I went back to my manager and mentor, his name’s Steve Menard, and I said, “Steve, what is going on? I’ve been in sales for quite some time, you’ve seen my numbers, you’ve seen the stack rankings, you know everything. Things are starting to decline.” and he basically looked at me, looked in the eye and said, “Ivan, go back to basics.”
What I realize now is that I’ve gotten so good that I’ve become a little cocky, a little arrogant, a little pride and then I started taking some corners. Not qualifying as much as I should, trying to short circuit the sale cycle and in reality that was a little wake up call to say, “I need to go back to basics.” The basics will always prevail, and that lesson has always stuck with me for quite some time to the point where we still teach that as part of my practice with NextStage, is the fundamentals of the game remain in place for success. You might have different trends, different technologies, different methodologies but at the end of the day, one of the most important things is learning the fundamentals.
Fred Diamond: Let’s take a second or two, why don’t you tell us what some of those fundamentals are? Tell us the top 3 fundamentals that you either had to go back to at that time or that you want to think about. It’s truly focusing on that and perfecting those things. Tell us like for inside sales, what are the top two or three fundamentals that the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast really need to keep going back to honing in on.
Ivan Gomez: Get to know your customer. There’s two important dynamics: Know your customer, know what is called the buy persona, the second thing is know their pain points, what are their motivations, their challenges, their goals and how you can help them achieve those goals. The other thing is know the industry and translate that not into features but actually what are the benefits, what are the things that they have, what are the before scenarios or the negative consequences and then the after scenarios, when they buy the product, or positive consequences. Those are some of the fundamentals that we have.
The second thing is qualify, qualify, qualify. And as you qualify, qualify, “Do I understand their needs? Do I understand their pain points? Do I have the right person?” There’s many times being in sales leadership that I’ve mentored sales development reps or inside sales reps where you think you have an opportunity and you’re actually stuck with the wrong person. So you’re climbing up the ladder, you get to the top and you realize, “No, I put the ladder on the wrong wall” so you’ve got to come back. That’s one thing and the fundamentals of sales and qualifications are extremely important.
The other final element that going back to basics is if you are really good at prospecting and using the best techniques that you’ve learned, telephone, email, messaging, your persona, leveraging the social media channels, prospecting will make you very wealthy. That’s very important. If it doesn’t make you wealthy, it will actually help you increase your pipeline to help you achieve your goals. Prospecting is a key element, especially when you’re in sales or sales development.
Fred Diamond: Sales Game Changers listening in, as a matter of fact, Ivan and I were speaking before this. A couple books you might want to read: High Profit Prospecting by Mark Hunter, he’s known as the sales hunter. High Profit Prospecting. Jeb Blount came out with a book about two, three years ago called Fanatical Prospecting. I love that quote there, if you want to get very successful and wealthy, keep prospecting. Ivan, what are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Ivan Gomez: Excellent question. One of the things that’ I’m really passionate – you know when there’s a point in your life when you come and say, “OK, what do I want to do when I grow up?” I had that moment several years ago. I made a commitment to the inside sales profession and I made it a quest to really hone in into inside sales. I learned from the best, I have great mentors, I read great books, listened to great podcast, been associated and shaken hands with great individuals so I made it an undeviated or a relentless passion in my life to learn the art and trade of inside sales.
That’s something that I’ve made a commitment a long time ago, and I believe that I’m good at that.
Fred Diamond: Very good. By the way, if you missed the introduction, Ivan has been the president of the Washington DC chapter of the AA-ISP, the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals for what, five years now?
Ivan Gomez: Yeah, a little over five years since I moved to the area and it’s been a fascinating experience to bring a whole community of like-minded people to share and bring best practices and to help them develop their professionalism in inside sales and take their game to the next level.
Fred Diamond: Very good. You mentioned a couple minutes ago about some mentors that you’ve had along the way that helped you fulfill your commitment to the inside sales profession. Tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how did they impact your career.
Ivan Gomez: I’ll mention a couple names and actually one great book that I read some years ago that made a really big impact in me. One of my recent mentors, Wayne Berkowitz. A fantastic individual, he was – I think you’ve met him – a senior vice president of operations, I work under him. He was an individual that really provided great mentorship and empowerment to really see the vision and the capacity of each individual. That was a great mentor.
The other individual that I work under, Paul Cunningham. A great individual, undeviated commitment to sales, to bring amazing success to technology companies.
The last individual was Rosetta Stone, Chuck Friedenberg. He’s now the senior vice president of global sales of a company called Acrolinx. Former alumni of Gartner and really great individual with great lessons that I learned from.
Fred Diamond: As a sales leader, tell us some of the biggest challenges that you face today.
Ivan Gomez: What I’ve seen right now, Fred, is the notion of the shiny object. There is in technology and sales an array of technologies that are coming to really expedite the process of the front end of the sale cycle. Many organizations are rushing to get to that point and these technologies are extremely useful if used properly. As the quote says, “Use only as directed.” Those are some of the challenges I see as an opportunity, but also see as a challenge because at the end of the day, the human element needs to take place.
All these technologies of sales acceleration basically will put a lead in front of a rep, but the rep still needs to actually sell, hold a conversation, qualify the person, prospect, move the sales to the next stage, gain commitments. That’s one of the things. The other aspect that we see is social media. A lot of aspects is social selling, so there’s a lot of social but very little selling. For young reps say, “I connected with somebody on LinkedIn and followed him on Twitter and doing this and that”, well, you’re seeing the mechanics of the social media but not applying the fundamentals of social selling.
Digital selling as some individuals some actually call it could be very useful if applied in an organized way. That would be the second challenge. I’m not saying those are bad things, they’re actually great tools if properly used and leveraged.
Fred Diamond: A lot of social, very little selling. Let’s take a little diversion here, you’re truly an expert on inside sales. Your firm, NextStage Consulting, helps companies implement, build inside sales teams, do all the things necessary to get them as operationally effective as possible. What are people doing wrong? Tell us some things that you see that people are doing wrong today at inside sales that need to be corrected.
Ivan Gomez: One of the things that we do is actually a gap analysis. A lot of individuals that are doing a lot of small things, right things in a lot of little places is linking the whole thing together. I’ll give you an example: One of them is alignment with marketing. If you see the marketing and if marketing is actually doing all the campaigns, all the events, all the trade shows, all the emails and all that but you’re not aligned with your sales department, that’s a challenge. Alignment between marketing and sales is imperative.
The other thing that I’ve seen is that there’s a lot of measurement on a lot of things for inside sales. I just recently wrote a blog on LinkedIn entitled, “Big Data, Small Data and Meaningful Data.” Basically what it is, is being able to focus on very specific things that are relevant to your organization and to your individual, and using the data for process improvement.
For example, one of the things that we advocate at NextStage is when you look at data, use it to mentor, use it for coaching, use it as a way to foster transparency, accountability and improving your bottom line and your sales results. You can have 20 different data points, the most important part is focusing on very specific data points and what is the meaning of that data point for you, and use that for improvement. That’s things that I’ve seen in the market place.
Fred Diamond: Very good. You’ve worked with a lot of great companies, you’re now consulting with NextStage Consulting, you’re the president and founder of that. Ivan, what’s the #1 sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? Take us back to that moment.
Ivan Gomez: There’s several of them, but I like to highlight one of them at QlikTech being able to start the inside sales organization from early beginnings and be able to take that company IPO. That was a very successful 4-year journey.
Fred Diamond: Ivan, you’ve had a great career in sales, a lot of success, you’re very well known in the inside sale space. Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Ivan Gomez: I think every salesperson, every sales leader, if you haven’t questioned that at some point, you’re probably in the wrong business. It’s hard but it’s kind of like the stock market, high risk, high reward and that’s one of the things that I’ve committed myself. But yes, there’s been crossroads where I’ve definitely thought, “Hey, no. This is hard.” But I’ve recommitted myself and I’ve come back to the fundamentals as my mentor mentioned, Steve Menard. I reset, reasoned to myself and keep logging away and success quite often is right around the corner.
Fred Diamond: Ivan, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Ivan Gomez: Alright, I’m going to say one word: commitment. It’s a three step commitment, one of them is commitment to the trade, commitment to your profession, commitment to yourself, to constantly improve, realize that sales can start as a sales development rep and can actually be a launch path to really successful things that will come in the future. I’ve seen many inside sales reps that have actually pivoted to field reps, sales supervisions, marketing and different positions so it’s definitely a great start.
The second commitment is commitment to your clients. You need to be committed to the clients, your customers are expecting you to call because they have problems, they have challenges and guess what? You have the answers.
The third commitment is to your company. So yourself, your client and your company. The company’s counting on you to make your number, to make your calls, to send the emails, to build the pipeline to sell your product and be able to help achieve new revenue targets.
Fred Diamond: Commitment to the trade, yourself as a sales professional, commitment to your client and helping them improve their business and thirdly commitment to your company. What are some of the things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Ivan Gomez: I’m a big believer of habits and daily routines, so as I was preparing to come this morning to this beautiful studio right here, I actually followed a routine. Routines are very important, so exercise, eat well, read something or listen to something that can be useful for you each and every day and take some time for meditation. Read something that is uplifting of some sort.
Fred Diamond: I know you’re also a big listener of podcasts.
Ivan Gomez: I do! I’m a big fan. Podcast is actually a great way to leverage your time, especially if you’re driving from one appointment to another or here in DC, we’re faced with commuting time so this is a great way to stay sharp.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Ivan Gomez: The big initiative right now is continue to launch to success NextStage, that’s first and foremost, first on my mind. NextStage started this year and that’s my main focus right now.
Fred Diamond: Ivan, we’ve kind of touched on this before, but sales is hard, especially on inside sales. You have to work on strategies and techniques to get through to somebody, first of all just getting through, second of all, once you get through what are you going to say. Sales is hard, people don’t return your calls or your emails. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Ivan Gomez: It is rewarding. It’s being able to see your creating, something that you’ve come from a raw figure and be able to come up with something that is nice at the end. You’re turning a prospect into a customer that is able to see benefit from what you’re actually selling. Whatever your solution is, is helping them address some tangible problems, so that’s one of the things that keeps me going. The other part is actually the rewards that come along with that. At the end of the day it’s, “What’s in it for me?” We’re helping the customer but as byproduct we’re helping ourselves and we’re actually making a pretty good living out of that.
Fred Diamond: Can you just add one more time, if you had one bit of advice to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening today, what would be the thing that you would say? Give us one final thought on how you can inspire people listening to today’s podcast.
Ivan Gomez: That would be the ABL – Always Be Learning. Always be curious. There is so much information right now to take any sales professional to the next level. If you’re not taking advantage of books, blogs, podcasts, videos, the information is tremendous. Take advantage of that and make it a quest to continue to learn, to be the best.
Fred Diamond: And have that relentless passion like you talked about before.
Ivan Gomez: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, you mentioned before when I asked you what are you an expert in, you said you made a decision to be committed to the inside sales profession. What is it about inside sales that really excites you?
Ivan Gomez: Inside sales has grown as an institution over the last 20 years. As I talk to private equity investors, as I talk to capital investment companies, as I talk to sales leaders, more and more the go to market strategy is via inside sales. It’s cost effective, you can provide great coaching, you can provide great coverage and penetration in your accounts so it’s a great industry that I’ve made it my quest to master and to pursue and to make the best I can to not only serve myself but also my customers and my family.