Sales training for an engineer - lessons from a master

Posted by Arjun Moorthy

Sep 1, 2012 12:44:00 PM

A few weeks ago I decided to get formal sales training as my role in Business Development calls on sales skills as often as it does marketing and product skills.  My coach, Rick Roberge, is prolific in the sales training arena and has trained several people I respect – Pete Caputa, Jeetu Mahtani and, at least implicitly, HubSpot’s own Sales SVP and Rick's son, Mark Roberge.

An initial questionnaire, developed by Objective Management Group, identified several poor sales behaviours in me so I met Rick at HubSpot’s Inbound Conference for some live teaching.  And boy did I get schooled. 

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As we were at a conference, Rick started with improving my networking skills.  Well, “improving” is a bit of a misnomer since I had no networking skills so there was nothing to improve upon.  I am an introvert and shy away from any large gathering (by large I mean greater than two people) so the idea of networking at a conference for me ranks just below getting fourteen shots for rabies.  But Rick was able to change my outlook and success with a few simple suggestions:

  1. Rick’s “3 foot rule”: if someone comes within 3 feet of me I am obligated to say hello.  This sounds ridiculously simple but it removed my anxiety of “does that look like someone I should talk to”, “how should I break the ice” etc.  Plus at a conference most are open to chatting so the engagement rate was very high and I soon found myself in dozens of interesting discussions.
      • Rick’s other trick was to involve several people in a discussion (keeping the 3ft rule even whilst talking with someone) so that he could leave a conversation if he wanted to move on without disrupting its flow.  I asked if this made his interactions fleeting to which he said “not if the group has a good discussion going.” Rick keeps a goal of collecting 10 business cards an hour which might sound like he must have several inconsequential interactions but with his above approach he has few group discussions yet makes the most of each. (See this great blog post for a play-by-play on how Rick networks)
      • I asked Rick if he gets distracted during such “random” discussion as I often find myself (and I embarrassingly admitted often when a good looking girl walks by).  Rick laughed and said “of course” and then said he often points out that same person to the group he’s talking to.  Beyond adding  levity to a conversation it can also help him reset the direction of the conversation if it’s not going where he wants it to.  Clever!
  2. I had a negative view of networking, thinking it to be exploitative and unlikely to yield anything useful.  But Rick’s approach is to expect that the discussion will NOT yield any benefit for him directly but may benefit someone else he knows.  With this mindset Rick was able to chat with anyone without looking to “get something from them” and it made the conversation easier and more authentic.  And if Rick was indeed able to help a prior acquaintance then that person would now be thankful to Rick and become a closer friend.  Thus one reason to network was to build stronger relationships with those Rick already knew - very insightful!


As I got better at networking, I asked Rick how much of sales coaching was relevant to business development where the goals and metrics are not as clear-cut as sales.  E.g. I don’t always have a relevant quota and it’s hard to gauge if a strategic relationship is going to yield any results.  Rick’s response was to offer both tactical and strategic advice:

  1. Bus. Dev. is like enterprise sales in that it revolves around building strong and broad relationships, hence his coaching would be relevant.  His repeated emphasis on depth and breadth of relationships helped me think of a simple metric to measure progress:
      • The number of “trusted” connections I have in an organization divided by the number of connections I have there.  (by connections I’m going to use first-degree LinkedIn connections where I have had at least one interaction with that person and by “trusted” connections I’m going with either a Champion or a Coach... still figuring out the definition here).  The ratio itself is less important than the two numbers individually but it’s a way to gauge micro-level progress on a large account. 
  2. Rick had other tips on how to maintain control of relationships even as I recruit others in my company to help with building relationships with the target company.  The key advice was how to get others to do what I wanted without being prescriptive (“you should email x with this info this week”) but rather in a suggestive manner (“how do you think we can grow this relationship?  How about x?”).  I haven’t started using this advice yet but I suspect this will be crucial in the future. 

Sales Motivation

Perhaps the most useful thing Rick helped me do was force me to identify a long-term personal goal and assign an explicit dollar value to it.  As readers of my blog may have guessed, I’m not terribly money-minded; unfortunately, this is a serious impediment in sales. Even so, I eschewed the money requirement as I did not want to change my values just to be better at sales.  What I realized was that even having an altruistic long term goal often means taking care of finances along the way.  So, with my long term goal in place and a required dollar value behind it I feel comfortable chasing a wealth target for the first time. 

Next class

Rick had several other pieces of advice, often related through memorable stories; I’ll save those for later posts.  But there are several other things I need to work on, as identified in my evaluation:

    • develop closing urgency
    • learn to ask better questions and control conversations
    • learn to not get emotionally involved
    • lower my need for approval

I’m looking forward to addressing these issues in the coming months with Rick and will update all of you with my learnings.

Topics: training, feedback

Career Advice I Wish I Knew Earlier 

Hello.  I started this blog to distribute some of the best career advice I have been given over the many jobs I've had.  I've been fortunate to work for and with some great bosses like Brian Halligan, Francis DeSouzaNancy Kamei, and Rick Roberge, and some unique companies, like The Boston Consulting Group, that invest heavily in making each employee a success even after leaving the firm.

The advice and training I received here stands in contrast to my experiences with some not-so-great bosses and companies I've also worked for.  I'm continualy amazed at how valuable good advice has been in my career so I hope to pass on the good advice, and insights from mistakes I've made, via this blog. 

Thanks in advance for your comments, particularly when you can improve upon the ideas posted.

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