Thomas Ricks, CRO of PortPro joins Tracy to discuss his leadership philosophy, why he prides himself on predictable and repeatable results and the lessons he’s learned from parents and mentors along the way.
Tracy Young: Hello and welcome to Path to Growth, conversations with leaders on go to market. I’m your host, Tracy Young, co founder and CEO of TigerEye. Today’s guest on the podcast is Thomas Ricks, CRO of PortPro Technology. Thomas, thanks so much for joining us.
Thomas Ricks: Thank you so much, Tracy. Always good to talk with you.
Tracy Young: Yeah, we’ve obviously worked together in the past for many years and now you are leading revenue over at Port Pro. Let’s go back some time here because actually I’ve never asked you this question. Tell me about mom and dad. Tell me about the foundation of how you were raised.
Thomas Ricks: I grew up in Eastern North Carolina, rural Eastern North Carolina, where my family has been for probably 300 years.
I always told people that when I was growing up, the only degreed professionals that I knew where my pediatrician and my teachers, everybody else that I knew was either a farmer or a blue collar worker. So I was first in my family to go to college. My dad was a plumber and also a Baptist pastor.
So when he was sometimes full time with the church and other times when he was serving a small church, he would work as a plumber to supplement his income. And my mother, for most of my upbringing, was a stay at home mom and home full time homemaker. And she eventually did a few other things, but very much a rural and blue collar background.
Tracy Young: What did you learn from mom and dad?
Thomas Ricks: Ah, well, from the time that I could sit up straight, they were preaching education to me, especially my dad. They had a vision. I’m not even sure where it came from, but they definitely had a vision for my life including opportunities that they never had. And so constant encouragement to do well in school, to set my sights high, et cetera.
And so obviously my, my life today is, is quite different than than theirs was. And my children’s upbringing is, is in many ways quite different from my upbringing. I definitely learned devotion to duty and to family from my parents. Hopefully, I won’t choke up telling you this story. One of my very earliest memories I should say that I have something called reactive airway disease, which as an adult has not affected my health at all, I’m healthy as a horse.
Most of the time it means nothing, but what it can mean… Is that with certain triggers, sometimes viral, sometimes environmental you can have an episode that’s like an intense asthmatic attack. It’s just like asthma and you end up having, I had a lot of bronchitis and a lot of pneumonia as a kid, 10 different hospitalizations.
And one of the things that helps if you have one of these attacks is cool night air. And so one of my earliest memories is looking down at the ground because I’m up on my dad’s shoulder and he’s out two or three o’clock in the morning walking, walking circles in the backyard to get air into my lungs to get me to breathe.
And then, you know, after doing that at night, he would go off to his job at seven o’clock in the morning or whatever, work hard all day.
Tracy Young: Oh, my God. You’re going to make me cry. That’s so sweet.
Thomas Ricks: It’s very hard for you to talk about things like that without tearing up myself a little bit.
Tracy Young: You’re lucky you have the best dad. And I’m sure that’s inspired you to be the best dad, too.
Thomas Ricks: They were also very strict. You know, I grew up in a very strict household. In many ways. And so I think I emulate that in my parenting style and probably just in my leadership style in general, you know, holding people accountable, having very high standards at the same time, lots of affection and care and mutual respect.
So. Both of those aspects together, I think, add up to really good leadership in the family, in the community, in business, anywhere.
Tracy Young: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I didn’t know, after like the hundreds of hours we’ve had conversations, I’m glad I got to ask.
Thomas Ricks: We’re always focused on serving customers and selling software. There’s lots of things we haven’t talked about.
Tracy Young: Always talking about sales and customers, it’s true. So, in your current role, what do you spend time on? What would you like to spend more time on?
Thomas Ricks: In the current role, which I’ve only been in for a short time, I was called upon to really we’re true startup mode.
I was called upon to build out a team and really build out all the sales processes. So I was not a replacement for a prior sales leader, CRO, anything like that, I was coming in to be the company’s first CRO, professionalize sales operations. So a lot of what I’ve done so far is put tools and resources in place to get sales methodologies in place to hire a team and really get them going in their territories and with the product and so forth.
So that’s been the emphasis so far. I will tell you one thing that I love to spend time on that I’ve really enjoyed spending time on in past roles and I think I’ve been able to contribute a lot is customer facing situations. As you move along in your sales career, I always tell people in a sales career, the most fun you’re going to have is as a sales rep.
There are reasons to move into management and there are things you enjoy about being in management. If you love coaching people, if you love developing people’s careers, it’s great, you know, to move up in the leadership positions. But the fun stuff is working with customers to solve business problems, right?
To present things that really change people’s work lives. So it’s easy to get too far away from that as a sales leader. You know, right now I’m managing sales reps directly again. I’ve been in that situation. I’ve been in the situation of having one layer of management between me and the bag carrying reps.
I’ve also been in a situation of having two layers of management between me and the bag carrying reps. And depending on the structure, it gets harder and harder to spend time with customers, understanding their problems, understanding their needs, but the more you can do of that, the more effective coaching and guidance you provide to your team.
So I’m very fortunate in the situation that I’m in now. I’m spending most of my time exactly how I feel that I should. But that’s something that I always You know, try to keep an eye on, regardless of what company I’m with, am I really deep with the customers, deep with the business situation so that we can help improve?
Tracy Young: Yeah. And that’s what I really appreciated about you when we worked together in the past you were hired as a leader, but you went in as a frontline person because you said, I’ve never sold to this industry before, so I’m going to go in and learn. And like meet these customers, learn what, what they care about and learn how to sell to them.
And then I can write documentations and coach the reps coming in on how to sell to this industry and these customers. I’m assuming a lot of that right now as the team grows, because you talked about, you know, being like first tier, then second tier, and then three degrees away from the frontline reps.
When do you go in and help out a rep in front of their customers? Because you can’t deal with all the deals. So how do you think about prioritizing your time in that way?
Thomas Ricks: That’s right. I think the first step is to engender a lot of confidence in the sales reps that they have, what they need, both in their head and in terms of external resources to work deals successfully on their own so that they, they then start to develop a little bit more pickiness about what they’re pulling you into. Because they feel less dependent. They feel very empowered. So I think that’s the first step. The second step is really defining the profile of the type of deal that you want to be involved in. And that can be different things for different products and industries.
Obviously one thing that’s common probably across products and industries is the largest deals. They’re going to be extremely impactful revenue wise. Not only because they’re going to make such a difference financially to the company, but because those are of course, usually multi pronged complicated deals that require connecting with multiple executives at the customer in different ways and on different levels.
So those obviously regardless of what kind of organization you’re running are, CRO or sales leader has to be engaged in. There are other ones though, things like you know, this is a deal that Is a new type of engagement, either a new industry or just something about it is novel for our company, but we see that in the future, this is going to be more and more important in that, then it’s very important for the sales leader to say, I want to really kind of co sell this deal because this type of engagement is going to be so important in the future that I need to learn a lot about it.
So you’re helping the rep with the deal, but you’re also very much in learning mode. In school, as I call it, learning because that’s going to affect the future of your business. Another one is, you know, sometimes the, the nature of the particular customer that you’re selling to is going to be really critical.
Maybe they’re going to be, an important referral partner, or they’re even going to be an integrations partner and a customer simultaneously, something like that. So you can see their strategic value as such that you need to build relationships in that customer organization. So those are all categories that I think it warrants the sales leader getting personally involved.
Tracy Young: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Earlier, I’m still thinking about your mom and dad story earlier. You talked about how. Like duty and responsibility is deeply ingrained in you from your parents. And I’m wondering just what, what do you think is your biggest duty and responsibility to your sales team as their leader?
Thomas Ricks: I think, and this isn’t meant to infantilize sales reps at all, but I think a lot because I have a large family and I’ve been running teams a long time. I think about the things that apply in both settings, family life and business life. And so I always think good sales management is a little bit like parenting in that you’re always working toward your own obsolescence.
The more I can empower Somebody else, engender confidence in them, give them the tools and resources to be less dependent on me, then I’m moving them in the right direction. And like I said, that works in a wide variety of settings, including business. So that is, I guess, a long way of saying development of the reps, professionalism, their skill set, their range of capabilities is job number one for me.
And if I’m doing that, everything else kind of comes naturally from that.
Tracy Young: What are the, like, the top three things you coach on? I mean, you’ve seen so many reps come and go over the years, and many of them stuck with you for, like, a long, long time. What are usually the first three things you have to coach?
Thomas Ricks: There’s no greater compliment than when you change companies and somebody who’s worked out for you before calls you up and says, Hey, I’m really interested in what you’re doing, right? Because, you know, you’ve helped that person along or else they wouldn’t make that call. So there are a few different things over the years that I’ve learned that a lot of people never work with on their sales team and that if you can work on these things, they really move the needle, so to speak.
One is, the ability to say no and the ability to do what I call firing prospects. I don’t mean in any kind of rude or disrespectful way, but if you see there’s not a good fit or you see that this is not a good use of your time as a sales rep, or you see that for one reason or another, this company is not going to make a good customer.
So many sales reps have been trained that every deal must be won. You must desperately try to win every deal. that training reps to think differently about that and realize, no, you, you have to be really, really choosy in the deals that you win. You should pick and choose your leads and your prospects.
That can really change a sales reps mindset. I’ll never forget years ago having a rep who called me up and he, he described a deal to me. He was seeking my guidance. And I said, I think you should fire them. And it was a long pause at the other end of the phone. And he said, what do you mean? And I said, I think you should fire this prospect.
I don’t think this is a winnable deal and you should, should probably get out of it. Another long pause at the other end of the phone. And then he said, we’re allowed to do that here. And I tell that story because if it had been a very junior person, maybe in their first external sales role or something like that, it wouldn’t have been surprising.
But what was interesting about this, and it’s always stuck in my head as a result. This was a mid career guy who we were probably the fourth company or something that he’d worked for. And so he’s worked for multiple other sales leaders. He’s had a certain degree of success and nobody had ever given him permission to get out of a deal that was a waste of his time.
And I think that’s just a travesty. So that’s one. Another really important one is specificity of where you are in the deal cycle and what needs to happen next. Another way I’ll say this is avoiding passivity. I’m always, frankly, shocked and horrified at how many sales reps. Completely seed control over what happens next in the dialogue to their prospect or customer and leave things completely up in the air.
And so you’ll, you’ll check in with a sales rep about something that’s in their pipeline and ask what the next step is and they say, Oh yeah, I’m supposed to follow up with them next week. Okay. You’re supposed to follow up with them. Is there an agenda? Do you know what their mindset is? Do you know what they still need from you?
Do you know what their intentions are? Do you know competitively where we are in the deal? Sometimes you get to the point where it, the deal basically is, the cycle is over and the rep says, yeah, I’m supposed to follow up within a few days. And I go, About what? You’re finished. It’s decision time, right? And it was probably decision time.
The last conversation you had with them and you just let things hang out there. So I call it assigning homework at the end of every call. And I try to teach my reps at the end of every conversation with a customer that you’re trying to expand the relationship or with a new prospect, there should be a homework assignment.
Here’s what I owe you. Here’s what you owe me. Here’s when each of us is going to deliver that. And here’s what we’re going to do next. And absent that specificity. And really taking control of your fate deals can just linger out there and stretch on forever. So empowering them to to get out of situations they shouldn’t be in.
Teaching them to be very, very specific and detailed in where they are in the sales cycle, I think are probably the two things that I, I spend the most time and effort inculcating in people.
Tracy Young: And it was powerful because year over year, out of all of the teams that were at our last company, you had the most consistent, like your best performing rep and your lowest performing rep who were basically doing the same thing that we re working.
Thomas Ricks: I was always very proud of that. I’m glad you know that. I’m glad to hear you call that out because you know, I would sometimes compare myself to other sales leaders and go, okay. He or she had a lot more people go to club this year, but he or she also like fired a quarter of their team at the end of the year.
And here I am with this very tight shot group, if you will, around a hundred percent, a few that exceeded a few that didn’t quite make it, but it’s a, it’s a tight band. Right around that number. And that consistency is something that I value a lot.
Tracy Young: Yeah, because so much of what we do as leaders of the company is try to make our business repeatable and predictable. So that we can invest wisely and and just invest responsibly.
Thomas Ricks: Yes, it’s funny you say that. The repeatability and predictability is such an important touchstone for me. Years ago. Before you and I worked together, I was in a management training course that had been specially designed for the company I was with at the time.
And they were putting all managers and all functional groups through this training and mixed cohorts. So I wasn’t there just with other sales folks, folks from all over the company. And we did one of those psychological profiles. And at the end of it they talked about the different profiles for different professions.
And they put up this big slide with what the profiles look like. And of course I immediately found the sales manager and what. Wow. Mine looks very different from that. And so I started looking for what mine actually looked like. Cause here I’m a successful sales manager, presumably, you know, I’ve represented somewhere on this slide and it was an operations leader.
And I thought, well, that’s very interesting. And as I thought about that, I realized, yeah, that exactly matches the way that I think about sales leadership. I essentially run an assembly line, but it’s an assembly line of revenue rather than assembly line of widgets. Because I’m always trying to put tools and processes and systems in place that I can bring somebody to the organization, train them, and say, we know if you do these things, that this is the result.
And we’re just building an assembly line of revenue.
Tracy Young: Yeah. And a lot of teams and companies build an entire, like, different department and sales enablement trying to make this happen, right? Where day in day out, this team, okay, of course, there’s like new products to train the team on, but really what they’re trying to do is make bottom and middle of the pack, do what top of the pack does, whatever those behaviors are.
And then having a training team within sales to do that, which I think it’s much more powerful when your frontline manager, your leader is telling you these are the right behaviors versus like a training group that’s telling you.
Thomas Ricks: Yeah. That’s certainly true. And I’m a great believer in sales enablement, but, you know, there’s an interesting debate going on right now in the profession and the literature and so forth about whether you should put a lot of time into your lower cohort of reps, or if you should spend all your time with the top cohort or exactly how all of that works.
And there’s kind of this evolving debate on that topic. I think part of the, the truth about it is As a sales manager, you do a lot of your contribution to the health of your organization in the way that you recruit and hire. And I think a lot of sales managers Miss the boat in that regard because they are trying to hire for traits that ultimately you could teach anybody.
In other words, they’re looking for, Oh, this, does this sales rep have experience in our industry? Do they know similar products? Are they coming from my competitor or whatever? And I always said, you know, I’ve been fortunate and this may sound a little cocky, but if I go out and hire my, my competitor sales rep.
I’m usually just hiring somebody that I’ve been beating regularly. And why do I want that person on my team? I think what we should do is hire for intangibles that I can’t teach. And I’ll talk about three big things. The three things that I can’t teach or train or give somebody that they have to bring with them are curiosity, work ethic, and coachability, because if you bring those things, if you’re a genuinely curious person.
You love learning about other people’s businesses, the problems they’re trying to solve and so forth. You have a work ethic that just won’t stop. You’re not going to fail to hit your number if it’s humanly possible to hit it. And you’re coachable, you’re open and humble and willing to take advice. If you’ve got those three things, I can teach you everything else.
So I think a lot of this whole debate is because people hire badly. And the reason they hire badly is they’re asking the wrong questions during the recruitment process.
Tracy Young: It’s so true, those things are not coachable. You either have it or you don’t. I feel like a positivity in life is also one of those traits where you just have it.
Where you’re just, you know, a more positive leaning person or you’re just a more negative leaning person. And it’s really nice to work with a bunch of positive leaning people.
Thomas Ricks: Yeah, I do think I agree with you to some degree. There is definitely a natural tendency one way or the other. I do think a tendency to be negative can be overcome with intentionality, though.
I’m pretty sanguine about the ability of negative people, if they choose, and if they’re willing to think about it and be very intentional and rational. They can become a lot more positive.
Tracy Young: That’s true. There’s something that they see that’s bothering them and perhaps maybe great communication is the antidote to this, right?
It’s like, alright, let’s talk about it. You’re seeing something that is messed up, which is making you frustrated. Can you talk about it proactively and like, can the company make changes? Because, you know, you’re seeing, you’re a smart person, you’re seeing something that everyone else might not be seeing.
Thomas Ricks: That’s right. That’s right.
Tracy Young: Let’s switch gears. Let’s talk about culture. You came into your new role, you’re obviously taking all your lessons learned, you’re putting process in place, you’re putting probably technology in place. I’m sure culture is top of mind for you too. So how do you build culture coming in as like the new leader?
Thomas Ricks: I always say that sales team in most organizations is a euphemism because the sales team is just a collection of individuals. There’s no team. And I mentioned that here because one of the most important things for me about sales culture is collaboration and mutual support. And so what I try to do is sort of build that into the everyday work from the beginning, whether it’s, you know, informal or even set up formal buddy system mentorship really encourage people to work on deals together, create models and methods where they can, can work together and emulate one another.
If you do those types of things and, and actually there’s another really important element too, that I think some sales leaders miss out on. And that is. An environment of trust is the absolute sine qua non of building an atmosphere of collaboration. You’re not going to have collaboration if people don’t trust one another.
And so this, this brings out things like enforcing rules of engagement. You know, if there’s, if there’s unclear rules of engagement and it’s sort of every sales rep for himself or herself and people are Sharking deals from one another and doing underhanded things. Then what do people do? Well, they start watching over their back.
They get a very defensive posture. You’re not going to get collaboration and information sharing when everybody’s in a defensive posture, right? It’s just, it’s inimical to doing so. And so what you have to do is if, if everybody knows, Hey, the company is really looking out for us going to do the right thing where we hire for trustworthy people.
Who want to be part of a team, and then we encourage that we enforce our rules of engagement so that people don’t have to worry about other people stealing opportunities from them or whatever. You create that environment of trust. Everybody opens up. Becomes really interested in sharing information, coaching one another.
And my attitude about this is, you know, if you look at a team of sales reps, everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. If I can get the very best of each, the best traits, the best habits, the best skills out of each head on the team and spread it over the whole team. Then we’re going to get that kind of consistent performance that you were alluding to earlier.
So one of my favorite things is I call it, you know, shining the light of glory on people. If somebody discovers, you know, a particular effective messaging, a way to demo that’s a little different than women doing anything, they start getting good results. I make them a presenter on our next team meeting and say, you know, not only do I want everybody else doing this.
But I want them to all know that you get the credit for this. And so that starts to turn everybody on the team into a sales leader because they’re all sharing and they’re all emulating one another.
Tracy Young: Oh, I love that. You talked earlier about how you, you are, you fathered many children and I’ve met so many of them and they all speak so highly of you as a father.
You talked about, I think, bringing lessons learned from being a parent and being in your family into the professional world. Do you have other examples of that?
Thomas Ricks: It’s funny that you ask because I’ve been thinking a lot of recently about how you rather than just kind of coming down on people, you know, how you inspire people to their own greatness, you know, sort of find way.
Tracy Young: My three year old is then like, he’s so naughty and negative reinforcement doesn’t work on him. I tell him no, and it’s like, he immediately does. He’s like, Oh, you mean this thing you don’t want me to do? I’m just going to do it right in front of your face. Yeah. And so how do you motivate someone like that, right?
How do you inspire them to do, to figure out what the right thing is and go do it?
Thomas Ricks: Yeah. Well, there is, let me be clear about this. In both parenting and in business life, there is a place for negative consequences. And I think it’s important that those be very objective, predefined, and there’s not a lot of negotiation about them.
We communicate in advance. If you do X, Y is going to happen. It’s not me choosing to impose Y. I already told you if you do X, Y is going to happen, you know, and it works with toddlers and with teenagers
and with grownups and and whomever because then you don’t have that push pull of who’s going to be more strong willed than the other.
It’s like, Hey, Sorry that you did that. I told you if you did that, this was going to happen. And now this happens, you know.
Tracy Young: That’s key, setting the expectations. Like, here is the box. It’s a big box. You can run around in here. All you want, but once you pass these lines, there’s consequences.
Thomas Ricks: That’s right. That’s exactly right. And, you know, that has a million different applications in the business world as well, you know, and just having very objective standards. Clearly communicating them, setting expectations, and then there’s no, there’s no emotional element to it, right? There’s no lack of expectation.
Like this is all agreed upon in advance. And so I think that applies, but getting back to the, the first thing that we were talking about as far as, you know, helping people, you know, achieve based on their own inner motivations, a lot of it is just casting a vision. And really, really believing in what people can do.
So for example, like I hire very carefully with a lot of help and a lot of consultation with colleagues. And once we’ve hired somebody, I place a lot of trust and confidence in that person. You know, we have this whole debate right now about the whole work from home thing, and I’ve been working from home for 20 years and I’ve led remote teams for much of that time.
And I’ve always said, you know what, if I can’t trust somebody. To do the right thing and run their portion of the business correctly. A thousand miles away. I don’t want, I’m sitting in the desk next to me either, because the issue isn’t that they’re a thousand miles away. The issue is who they are in their heart and in their mind, you know?
And so a lot of it is trusting people, really casting a vision for what people can achieve in their own careers. If you don’t mind me mentioning my name, the company that we had a fantastic run at together, but when we were at plan grid together. One of my favorite stories about kind of getting people in this mindset was I wanted the sales reps on the team.
And he told me a story once he had been out of the job trailer because you know, we were so gonzo going out to all the construction sites and just walking into him and talking to people about what we had to offer. And he had built all these relationships in his territory and people didn’t even really think of him as a sales guy.
They thought, you know, they weren’t sure what he was. They just knew he was really empowering them to achieve things. And one day somebody turned to him and said, what exactly is your job at plan grid? And he smiled and said, You can think of me as the CEO of plan grid for North Florida, which is this territory.
And it’s that kind of, you know, belief in people’s ability to really penetrate their territory. Establish fantastic relationships such that people don’t even think of them as salespeople. They just think of them as almost as, you know, consultants and, and really make a difference in the work lives of people in their territory.
It’s casting that vision and really genuinely believing that the right people when brought on board the team can achieve that. It just makes a tremendous difference in the entire atmosphere of the sales team. I think.
Tracy Young: Isn’t that amazing that this person just felt empowered to be like not only the voice and the face of the company, but also all these like bug reports are coming in, you know, every, every customer wants the product to do more and they’re just taking all that owning up to it. And I guess filtering it back into headquarters and just doing all the work there. That’s amazing.
Thomas Ricks: But I think that’s the key, that mindset that this is, this is my business. This is my sector. Yeah. I’ve got a lot of supporting roles and I got, you know, people building product and I’ve got the leadership team, but this is my business in this piece of geography or with this list of accounts or however you’ve organized your sales team.
It’s, it’s my business to run, I think, is dramatically empower sales reps to, to achieve things that didn’t know that they could achieve.
Tracy Young: Okay. We talked a lot about sales rep, manager, sales leader relationships. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about your relationship with your founder and CEO and then the other executives.
Thomas Ricks: It’s, it’s such a crucial relationship. You know, I’ve seen companies, I think we’ve all seen companies whose outcomes and whose success was either made or broken by the quality of the, the leadership, the leadership teams relationships with one another. And so I think an atmosphere of genuine respect and trust and mutual loyalty Is really important.
I think building real friendship, it may not exist, you know, outside the workplace, you may always be having business conversations, but genuine atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship in that business context is, is absolutely key. And for me, I think we do have a little bit of a cultural problem happening in the business world in general.
I’m fortunate that I don’t have it in my current organization, but one thing I’ve observed about a number of companies. And as I have conversations with folks and other companies, there’s this sense of if we’re going to be a leadership team and really run the company together and lead the company together.
then every functional area is equally everyone’s business and responsibility. And I think that’s nuts. I think that’s crazy. It’s crazy. So you know my CMO or my head of finance or whatever it may be. I may consult them. I may ask for their advice about things. Hopefully they take my opinions into account, but ultimately I am trusting them to run their functional area correctly and it’s.
At the end of the day, none of my business, unless they ask. Now, if we have a real problem, something’s not working properly, then, you know, we may need to discuss that as a leadership team and decide on the way forward. But ultimately, you know, I always tell people we, we spent the last, you know. 12, 1500 years developing all our economic systems around the concept of speciality of role.
And so if we’re going to throw that out the window and make everything in the company equally everybody’s business, we better have a really good reason for doing so because we’ve spent centuries and centuries building on this foundation of specialization of role. And so I just think that piece is critically important that we come together.
On the things that we need to discuss, but that I have trust and confidence that you’re going to run your functional team in the right way. And I’m going to stay out of your lane.
Tracy Young: Because decisions have to be made every single day. Can you imagine? We both work for public companies where you couldn’t sneeze without checking in with five people first, right? You just ended up being slower at everything. So I totally hear you.
Thomas Ricks: And there are large companies, many of them publicly traded where, because there’s a foundation of residual business, the company is well known. You can move fairly slowly and still be relatively successful.
But I’ve spent most of my career in startups and early stage companies, and you gotta move fast. If you’re going to succeed as a startup, you can’t be excessively deliberative or excessively bureaucratic and succeed as a startup. It simply can’t be done for the reason that you just stated. There’s so many things that have to be attended to and so many decisions that have to be made on a daily basis.
Tracy Young: You’ve seen Glenn Gary, Glenn Ross, of course, at some.
Thomas Ricks: I have. And one of the things that I fear most in life is that there’s this whole. It’s a massive population of people out there whose understanding of sales and the sales profession is formed by that movie.
Tracy Young: I think, I think because it was true for so, so long as for specific industries, but okay, let’s talk about this. So what impressions of sales do you think are incorrect?
Thomas Ricks: Yeah, this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve given whole talks on this exact topic. And unfortunately there are people in the sales profession who believe some of these pernicious myths as well. There are these pernicious myths that the idea of, you know, a sales person exists to trick or to cajole or to badger or to otherwise manipulate someone into making a decision that is favorable to the sales rep and I think that’s just crazy.
I mean, not only is it obviously the ethical and moral implications of that are obvious, but I think even the practical implications of that are just nuts. You know, I always say that sales is simply relevant information about a decision that has to be made, effectively communicated. And so that puts sales at the heart of much human activity, right?
Because we all need to make decisions and we need good information to base those decisions on. And it’s much easier to make the decision if the information that we need is effectively communicated. So sales is really just a very fundamental, basic human activity. In which at the end of the day, both people should gain a net positive out of the engagement.
And I just think it’s this idea of, of sales as tricking people, cajoling people, arm twisting, whatever, into making decisions is just absolutely toxic for everybody, for everybody involved.
Tracy Young: All right. Last question on leadership. Tell us about one person who helped you become the leader you are today.
Thomas Ricks: I’m going to revert. There’s a lot of people that I could give credit to, but I’m going to revert back to the beginning of this conversation. And zero in on one particular trait, because I think it’s absolutely crucial not only for leadership, but also for the sales profession. And that is my dad. I’ve had multiple people who knew my dad say to me over the years, almost the exact same thing, which is, you know, only your dad could have a conversation.
With anybody he could sit down with somebody who had a fifth grade education or he could sit down with a college professor Who is a PhD and have an equally rich interesting conversation with both of them and everybody in between Rich people poor people didn’t matter and I had enough people and I observed it myself directly And I also had enough people say that to me over the years that I started to really think about why that was And I ultimately landed on something that I’ve already mentioned in this conversation, which is native curiosity.
He was genuinely interested in what that other person knew that he didn’t. Yeah. And he genuinely believed, no matter who he was talking to, it could be a farmer, it could be a successful business person, whoever he was talking to, he genuinely believed, I think, That that person knew something he didn’t know.
And if you go through life like that, you’re constantly gaining skills and insights that are really, really valuable from a wide variety of people. The other thing is it makes you a great salesperson because if you’re genuinely curious, then you’re going to learn a lot about your customer, their business, and the needs that they have and the problems that you can help them solve.
I’ve always said, you know, we spend so much time trying to teach sales reps to do good discovery. If you take somebody who is natively in curious and you put them through hours and hours and hours of how to do a good discovery. And then you just take somebody who’s naturally curious. This person is always, even with little training, going to do a better job of discovery than this person.
And so as a sales rep, but especially as a leader, I think remaining genuinely curious. is the key to so much growth.
Tracy Young: I also think that you end up working this muscle where you are just connecting with people because you’re now listening to them and you’re caring about whatever they’re interested in and telling you about.
Thomas Ricks: And it goes all the way back to Dale Carnegie’s book in the 1940s, right? If you are genuinely interested in what somebody has to say, they’re probably going to like you and they’re probably going
Tracy Young: to spend time with you. Yeah, because in a world where… Everyone’s competing for our attention. So just have one person looking you in the eyes and genuinely interested in you as an individual is so powerful.
And I think that is, you know, I, I can probably name on my hand, the few people I know that have this trait and Thomas Ricks, you’re definitely one of them.
Thomas Ricks: That’s very kind of you to say. I hope, I hope that I have emulate that, that trait that I admire so much.
Tracy Young: Yeah, yeah. Thank you for joining us today, Thomas.
I think our listeners are going to just learn so much about leadership and sales leadership and coaching their reps. So thank you for joining us again. This is Thomas Ricks with PortPro technologies and I’m Tracy Young with TigerEye. Thanks for listening. We’ll, we’ll come back next time. All right. Thanks.
Thomas Ricks: Thank you. Bye now.