Alcatel Lucent’s James McInroe, 42, spends his time between California and Wellington and is the BDM for switch and router sales in Oceania. McInroe held previous tech sales roles in Australia and New Zealand with Fore Systems, Cabletron and Telecom New Zealand.
What’s your best and worst experience of cold calling?
Thankfully, in my role I don’t have to do many cold calls. Most potential customers know of Alcatel-Lucent before we meet so with the first call there is an understanding of who we are and what we do; let’s call it ‘warm-calling’.
Is money your only motivator for being successful?
My main motivation is doing repeat business; being called in again by a customer to help them grow their business or fix a problem for them is fantastic motivation. To me it means there is a trust in how you sell and the solutions you provide.
What’s the most useful tip you can give to a struggling salesperson?
Be honest and play to your strengths. Don’t fake being an expert in a field that your customer knows well and that you lack expertise in. Call out when you don’t know a particular answer, your customer will appreciate your honesty and once trust is established who knows? The struggles may disappear.
What percentage do you consider your personality contributes to your success compared to the product and the company?
I’m going to say 50/50, I think to be successful you need both equally. Building long and trustworthy relationships is key and having a likeable personally helps with that. But that will only get you in the door, at the end of the day the products or solutions you sell have to be of quality and have to provide value to your customers.
Most sales people have some experience of other jobs, what’s yours?
I’ve been selling data communications and telecommunications solutions for almost 20 years but started out in computer system admin and network operations.
Do you ever consider changing your career?
Absolutely! Every night I dream of how I could have been a golf pro. Then I wake up realising that I’m actually no good at golf so would probably be homeless by now.
Does the pressure to hit your monthly or quarterly targets ever make you stressed?
Yes. At the beginning of the year targets always look ominous, the trick is to break them down into manageable chunks and to set a solid plan to achieve them. There are always ups and downs (downs lead to stress) but if you are prepared and have a realistic plan in place then you should achieve the target that’s been set. The more you know your market (and the market your customers operate in) the more confident you can be of making that target.
How would you sum up the craft of sales in one sentence to an outsider?
Bringing value to the company/person you are selling to and in the process creating a relationship that continues well after the deal is done.
How long does it take you to assess how you should approach your sales pitch?
It depends on the size of the opportunity. You should have a good understanding of your customer’s business and as such should have some foresight on their investment cycles. There are a lot of good sales programs that help you select your approach depending on the strengths and weaknesses of your competition and the formal and informal criteria of your customer. Time spent setting up the approach is time well spent.
Have you ever put your foot in it when talking to a client?
Me? Never... well, yes.The first thing is to realise you have put your foot in it and secondly is to apologise. The best way to de-risk this is to listen more and talk less.
How did you get past the point of struggling to make a sale to where you are today?
There are two main actions, which you never actually finish. The first is to keep learning, through each sale. You learn from your wiser more experienced team members and from the customers you have sold to. Always make sure you debrief on what worked and what didn’t work.
And secondly, make sure you network. When I was starting out I met a savvy IT salesman who was known as ‘the dentist.’ I asked one of my colleagues why he was called the dentist, I was told because he is an expert at extracting information. This particular gent knew everybody, knew their business and used this information to deliver value in his sales engagements.
Do you consider yourself a persuasive person?
Yes, in part because of personality but mostly because I’ve stayed with Alcatel-Lucent for over 10 years. This has allowed me to build both customer and internal product relationships where I have the ability to connect the dots between the two. Let’s say a customer really wants a particular feature in an Alcatel-Lucent router; it helps that the team who builds the router knows me and through me knows the customer, they know the request is real and will go out of their way to bring it in the next available software release.
Has that quality ever reflected on you in a negative way?
I hope not, but I’m sure it has. There is a fine line between being persuasive and being pushy, I try hard to remain on the persuasive side.
What’s the best deal you have ever closed?
All the sales I’ve made over the last five years or so have resulted in repeat business, and for that they are ‘best equal’. It’s a great feeling to know that a customer has purchased off me, implemented the solution and it’s been a success. I don’t rate best by size, some of the smaller more intimate sales where the investment made up a large portion of a smaller companies yearly capex are more rewarding.
Would you encourage your offspring to go into sales?
Already done, I have a seven your old boy who can sell (in the most honest way) to his mother on the need for things; Xbox things, iPad things…you get the drift? He reminds me of me.
What’s the best line of jargon you’ve invented?
I didn’t invent it but….I’ve picked up one in Silicon Valley; its “Auto-Magically” and it means that ‘thing’ in the network just works. I’m bringing this one back to New Zealand so anyone that wants an Auto-Magical network, give me a call.
Has anyone ever made you feel intimidated?
Yes, lots of people, but I generally get over it.