Honest Conversations and Empathy with Eric Brooker (1/2)

Welcome to episode 139 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 1 of our interview with Eric Brooker, covering topics such as getting into sales, accepting others’ no, and progression into sales leadership.

Original Recording Date: 7-20-2021

Topics – Getting into Sales, When No Means No, Performance Issues and Doing the Right Things, Sales as an Element of Many Areas, Individual Contributor to Leader, Interaction up the Leadership Chain

2:02 – Meet Eric Brooker

  • Eric and his wife have 7 children and live near St. Paul Minnesota. Eric has been in tech sales / tech sales leadership for about 21 years and currently works for Bigleaf Networks.
    • Eric says he currently works with some of the best people he’s ever worked with in all his years.

3:25 – Getting into Sales

  • Eric has interviewed a number of people going into the sales profession.
  • If you can get past the 4 letter word that is sales and be comfortable in your own skin, there is a lot of upside.
  • When Eric was 20 and his wife was pregnant with their first child, it was all about the money and a chance to make a financial advancement in his career.
  • Eric had not finished college, and it was time to "grow up." He had a plan for his wife to stay at home, and in order to do that, there were sacrifices needed.
    • Stepping into sales was kind of in his blood with his parents both owning their own business.
    • He found himself successful with the support of a number of great sales leaders who told him what to do and how to do it. Eric learned if he would do what they told him to do, he was going to be successful.
    • Eric eventually grew into a sales leader himself, wanting to give back see others succeed as he did.
  • For Eric, the idea of sitting back at a retail facility and waiting for someone to come to him was not what he wanted. He wanted to go out and get the business.
    • Very early in his career, this meant door-to-door sales. In order to build trust with businesses, you have to do it.
    • One Monday he would have conversations and collect business cards followed by making calls on Tuesday, trying to earn that next customer.
    • This was not easy because Eric was young. So many of his friends were out partying.
    • Eric stayed motivated by that vision of his wife staying at home with the kids, which she has been able to do for his entire career in sales.
  • Sales is not for the week at heart.
    • Month after month there are sales goals and objectives. You can knock it out of the park in June, and then July 1st hits, forcing you to do it all over again.
    • It’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot of fun when it’s rewarding.
    • Eric has seen many people succeed over the years, which brings him joy just the same.
  • Are there certain personality types better suited for sales?
    • Some of this is a learned behavior. No one really likes rejection.
    • Eric has the ability to just "move on" after getting a no despite wanting a yes. He has rarely if ever taken it personally.
    • No one has ever not done business with Eric Brooker because they didn’t like him as a person. It was that they did not need his product or service or were unable to make a change at the time.
    • You’re going to get no’s as a salesperson.
    • The extrovert may find success a little easier.
    • When people ask Eric how he does what he does, Eric says he feels he is not doing anything different than just being himself.
    • An introvert can be as successful as an extrovert and must be able to handle rejection.
    • It’s possible the introvert who is more detail oriented may be better suited for the complex sale.
    • Eric has found a niche that works well for him from a sales and sales leadership perspective.
    • Eric feels like anyone can to anything they want if they truly set their mind to it.
    • For Eric, growing professionally has been about reading a lot of books.
      • If you’re not a salesperson by nature, go pick up some books, and give it a whirl.
      • As of this recording, we are living through the great resignation. Many are working from home and realizing they no longer like what they do and are looking to get into something different.
      • Try something new. Now is the time. Everyone out there is looking to do something different.
      • Nick and Eric talk about loving Audible. Nick cannot listen on faster than 1.0. Eric says he’s usually at 1.6 or 1.7, stopping to take notes here and there.
      • One of the best sales books Eric has read is Proactive Selling by Skip Miller.
        • It covers a lot of the basics like how to leave a voicemail, how to get someone to help you, how to get someone to return your call / e-mail.
        • Eric was forced to read it in 2012 and eventually met Skip Miller in 2013.
        • Another good one by Skip is Selling above and below the Line.

13:06 – When No Means No

  • How do you know when no means no and not to press any harder?
    • Eric says peer reviews help. Many of his team members come to the team call or to a 1-1 to share details of a win they are expecting in the near term. Another member of the team will act as a non-biased observer.
      • When you have a good relationship with people, you can ask the questions they are not thinking of to help them find potential issues. "I don’t think you’ll win that deal, and here’s why."
      • Think honest conversations with yourself, your boss, etc.
    • Skip Miller says the yeses are great and the no’s are great. But the maybes will kill you.
      • If someone says maybe, a salesperson is going to keep following up with them.
      • If something is definitively a no, be honest with yourself about it, and just move on. That is better than trying to salvage something you were never going to win.
    • People don’t want to say no.
      • Listen to the story about Eric’s first boss and his take on people saying no.
      • We don’t give customers the opportunity to say no. We make it awkward.
        • Value your time. Give them the opportunity to say yes, and by giving them the opportunity to say yes, you’re affording them the opportunity to say no.
      • People are timid in saying no, and it’s incumbent upon us to meet them where they are. If we know they won’t say no over the phone, send an e-mail. Give them the opportunity to say no.
        • Eric doesn’t like doing business via text, but he will say no via text.
        • If you’re a voice communication person, pick up the phone. If the person prefers face-to-face, try to accommodate that.
      • Listen to Eric’s perspective on people saying no to relationships.
  • John mentions a sales leader who shared it took them too long to lose deals.
    • Eric mentioned this happens because we’re not honest with ourselves. Be honest with yourself and your boss about what is accurate (whether good or bad).

18:10 – Performance Issues and Doing the Right Things

  • How long can producing an accurate picture of business be ok for a sales rep before they get pressured to "step up?"
    • We are in a people business, regardless of your role and industry (engineer, bagger at grocery store, etc.). People are going through life.
    • One of the things Eric has learned to do before telling someone they are bad at their job or having an uncomfortable conversation is be empathetic and care. Know what is going on in people’s lives.
    • Listen to Eric’s story of his boss’s empathy toward him after losing a family member (i.e. caring well for your employees).
    • Sales in large part is an activity game. It’s a matter of doing enough activity to get enough results and figuring out what that activity is each and every month, quarter, year to hit and exceed goals.
    • Eric shares a story from when he thought he was on the brink of being fired, but his boss actually told him he was doing all the right things, knowing that the results would come.
      • Eric mentioned this happened because his boss took the time to get to know him and understood what he was going through.
    • This reminds John of Annie Duke’s book Thinking in Bets.
      • Control the activities within your control (number of calls you make, etc.), and focus on the right activities.
      • There is some chance involved as there are things outside of our control. But by controlling the things you can control the tide will eventually turn in your favor.
  • Maybe we see sales as more outcome / results oriented than other professions because the metrics are easily shown?
    • If you’re a developer, you should have deadlines for others to see whether you are meeting the deadliness.
    • It’s similar in customer service. There are certain metrics involved.
    • Sales is the one that often times generates the bulk of the revenue of the company. When sales are down, everyone notices.
      • Eric thinks everyone’s job needs to be managed in a similar fashion. He’d love to see a customer service scoreboard or a development scoreboard and whether we hit the last metrics.
      • In sales we get a lot of visibility, but in any job, success and failure are 100% measurable.
      • Dollars are extremely measurable, and other metrics may be more difficult to come by / seem more ephemeral.

24:02 – Sales as an Element of Many Areas

  • This reminds John of the movie Boiler Room.
    • Almost every job involves some facet of sales.
    • Customer service has to sell the fact that someone’s problem will be solved by specific expertise / recommended series of actions.
    • If you’re an architect, you are trying to sell someone on your ideas about how a system / solution / building is being architected, convincing them to go in your direction.
    • "Do you want fries with that?" is an upsell. It’s the same at the car wash.
    • Nick reaching out to Eric about being on the podcast was a sales call.
    • When Eric first got into sales he had some shame. He owns it now.
    • Interviewing for a job is one of the best sales jobs of your entire life. You are selling the hiring manager on the fact that you are without question the best candidate. You’re walking in there to have a sales conversation about a non-sales related role.
    • You need to approach your career / yourself as a product you are selling. Don’t you want the deluxe version?
      • John cites talking to your boss about you version 2.0 instead of 1.0 and what that nets the company. It’s also a nice way to ask for a raise.
      • Right now employees have the upper hand in nearly every environment. Qualified, experienced people are hard to come by. There should be no shame in asking for a raise if you are good at what you do and the company values you for it.
      • Read books. Go to seminars and conferences to make yourself better. You are going to stand out from the people at the same company who get in at 8:05 AM and leave at 4:50 PM.

28:35 – Individual Contributor to Leader

  • Eric thinks several years ago moving into leadership was about the prestige, about doing something he had not done before, and the extra money.
  • Eric’s boss did not promote him into leadership on the first opportunity to do so, and it was difficult for Eric to accept.
    • Eric was one of the most successful people in the company and had begun mentoring others. His boss told him "you’re not ready yet."
  • Eric’s first management stint was quite difficult. He was everyone’s friend at the office and wanted to continue to be, but that was not his job any longer. It was to do everything in his power to make his employees successful and to support them.
    • He started off thinking that people reported to him and would do what he asked when he asked them to do it, but it was just the opposite.
    • Right now Eric supports a team of 7 and looks at it very differently. He functions to remove any and all obstacles that may get in their way, to run appointments with them when crisis his, and do whatever is needed to support them…which includes coaching them.
  • Out of the gates Eric took the job for the prestige and the money and was not successful but was fortunate to have a second chance at sales leadership (as well as some great mentors along the way).
    • Leadership is not for everyone.
    • We have a tendency in small business to take a person who is successful in their role and seek to promote them into management (without taking time to get to know what that person wants and if it aligns with their career goals).
    • This is often because the person has hit the top of the pay scale and is really good at what they do. Just because you have mastered the role / skillset does not mean you’re the next obvious choice to take on the managerial role.
    • Eric mentions having some great mentors that taught him what it means to be a leader. He did not just happen to fall into it.
    • "Out of the gates I was successful in my role. People didn’t know what to do with me, so they just made me a manager." – Eric Brooker
  • Nick recalls hearing someone say recently they didn’t need to be as good at the job as a fellow individual contributor to be that person’s manager.
    • Eric thinks it starts with empathy. Before striving for the promotion / the money, do a gut check to ask yourself if it’s something you want and if you will be good at it.
      • Can I shift from being someone’s friend to being their boss?
    • As the boss, you get to hire people, and you get to promote people.
      • You also have to have really uncomfortable conversations with people, put them on performance plans, work with HR to help people exit the business.
      • The toughest day of Eric’s professional career is when he’s had to terminate somoene.
      • When you have a tough conversation with someone, you have to document it. Some people just aren’t cut out for it, and that’s ok.
      • As an individual contributor, you don’t have to do any of this.
  • Eric really enjoys helping people and loves watching people succeed.
    • There are times where he looks at people and thinks they are so much better than they are in their current state.
    • Eric has to help people realize they might be better at the role than he ever was (despite the fact that they have not yet identified it).
    • John O’Leary was recently on Eric’s podcast, Counsel Culture (formerly The New Norm). Catch the episode here.
      • John has written some excellent books like In Awe and On Fire, and he speaks to living a life of significance over a life of success.
      • Eric finds significance in helping other people achieve their goals and find the success they’ve always dreamed of but haven’t found just yet.
  • Eric doesn’t get as many opportunities to interact with customers these days, but he does miss it.
    • Eric is afforded opportunities to help his people, but it’s not his job to be the salesperson. He needs to afford them to do their job.
    • Even when Eric does sit on one of the calls with customers he does not fee like he does a whole lot other than help the customer understand the company is bigger than just the one salesperson the customer has interacted with to this point.
    • Eric may be talking to his people about the sales calls, but he is not in the trenches daily like they are.
    • Eric tries to be respectful of the fact that the customer’s relationship is with the salesperson. The worst thing a leader can do is walk in and act like they are different or better than the salesperson.
      • The reason Eric gets to sit in the room is because the salesperson got that meeting, and Eric can later offer some coaching for the salesperson if needed as a result.

37:54 – The Interaction up the Leadership Chain

  • Eric says he doesn’t think it’s a lot different. Instead of talking to his boss about forecasted sales he will close for the month, he is rolling up the forecast for his team.
  • The conversations tend to be more driven by strategy of organization and how they can grow the sales organization (revenue, maybe headcount, etc.).
    • Do we have the right methodology?
    • Do we have the right product?
  • Eric misses being out in the field. There are days on end when he’s having strategy conversations with company founders, but he would rather be out having sales conversations.
    • He recognizes that when done right, he can help move the needle for his entire team through the proper strategy.
    • The day-to-day may look different, but the overall objectives are the same. His objectives are the total team objectives.
    • Going to the founders and sharing that the team didn’t hit the numbers is far more uncomfortable than telling your boss you missed your number as an individual contributor.
  • Eric references Love is Free, Guac is Extra by Monty Moran, former CEO of Chipotle.
    • Catch Eric’s interview with Monty here.
    • Monty asks great questions and is wildly transparent. If you ask him a question you are going to get the answer.
    • Eric likes to give things to people the way they really are (i.e. the team is not in a position to have a good month but will be doing these things to put ourselves in the best possible situation). He has a tendency to have those tough conversations early.
    • Salespeople seem to want to avoid the hard conversations until very late in the game because they didn’t have an honest conversation with themselves. Once we are honest with ourselves, we can have honest conversations with others.

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