Friday, February 11, 2011

Conversations with Kevin McLaughlin, inside sales leader, and business technology advocate

As an Inside Sales Manager at NetApp, technology advocate, and sports enthusiast, Kevin is responsible for building and leading high performing sales teams. In this conversation, we discuss how Kevin enables and drives results in the B2B sales world through technology, motivation and social media.

This interview with Kevin is the tenth in our series about learning, games, social media, crowd sourcing, and work performance.

MS> Hi Kevin. My first question for you is, are you a gamer?

KM> Not at all. I’m probably going to be very much in the minority here - but board games, video games - I have very little interest in either. I’m always doing something else.

MS> Okay, tell me a little bit about this “something else”?

KM> Right now it’s my kids’ sports.

MS> Nice. What sports do they play?

KM> Basketball mainly with my youngest, who plays on his high school team. Volleyball and skiing from a recreational perspective, we participate together.

MS> Sounds like you enjoy games, just not video games.

KM> Yes, I like to play them live. I also enjoy traveling, working out, and business and sports motivation.

MS> Tell me a little about how you learn. What’s your learning style?

KM> That’s an interesting question. To me, the best way to learn is through a combination of audio and video. Just reading out of a book, is more of a struggle. I think that today’s way of learning is much better for me.

MS> What’s interesting to me is that younger generations, elementary through college aged, primarily learn through technology and a combination of media. It’s the only way of learning that they know. Other generations that didn’t grow up with as much technology, I don’t want to say that there is a resistance, but they don’t always adapt as easily to this way of learning.

KM> Understood, but if you are around them enough you can adopt that way and it’s a lot of fun.

MS> Tell me a little bit about how NetApp uses social media to sell and manage the customer experience?

KM> Our marketing team is very much on this path as it relates to using social media outlets like LinkedIn and Facebook. Like many technology companies, we’re using those mediums to personalize the experience. We’re also using these outlets to help increase our brand awareness. Not everyone knows about NetApp, although we feel like we have the best value prop in the industry, as it relates to data storage and data management. I think we're still in the earlier stages as far as cracking in to social media and other ways of branding and getting the word out.

MS> Do you see social media as the future of how your company is going to expand brand awareness for NetApp?

KM> Yes, along with our alliances with companies like Cisco and VMware. That’s a big part of the coaching that I do with my team, I teach them to leverage the credibility and collaboration with these great companies. There’s a reason why Cisco and VMware chose NetApp for data storage/management in the Data Center of the Future. They, from a technology standpoint, know what our capabilities are. So, I think that it’s not just the social media aspect but also the key alliances that you have with strategic partners.

MS> I agree. Clearly you have partnerships with some very credible companies and that does say a lot about your company.

KM> Exactly.

MS> Does your sales team use social media in the pre-sales process? Do they use social media in prospecting before they pick up the phone?

KM> The answer is yes. We’re doing more and more of this. I am teaching my team to do as much pre-call planning as possible. Most sales people simply “Google a company” for information, but that can be multiple steps. We utilize tools like Jigsaw, Harte-Hanks, LinkedIn and others and embed them in our CRM tool, which helps us in our pre-call planning. We are working more closely with marketing than ever before to have them do some of this “information gathering” for us – bundle it, couple it, put a little mini-campaign around it – including scripting and talking points. I would say that my team is thoroughly immersed in that.

MS> Do you see a resistance to using social media, the Internet, and newer tools in your industry? Is there a feeling of new school versus old school, or do you see the industry as a whole moving in this direction?

KM> My sense is that some of this may be generational. Some of the younger users, who maybe tweeting, blogging and on Facebook certainly invite it. For others email is the preferred way. Very few people take direct phone calls, so using technology and social media to connect with prospects and customers is key. We are learning that the best way to reach someone is to have a very well thought out email or e-marketing strategy in advance of the actual call…something that differentiates us from the competition and those calling them on a daily basis. That dramatically increases our connect rate.

MS> That goes to one of the other points that I wanted to raise. How are today’s sales associates trained and coached differently to meet the needs of the busy, tech savvy buyers?

KM> Today’s buyers can hide behind their phones. They screen their voicemails as they do email, but they are open to those who have a compelling reason for them to listen! So I train my team to “connect” with the prospect as quickly as possible and get them talking about their role and IT environment and making it about them. We have an excellent training curriculum at NetApp that teaches the technology and perhaps more importantly, the business drivers behind the technology.

MS> Social media aside, how do you think technology can help enable sales in an environment like yours?

KM> I think that my team is very willing and open to using all forms of technology. A lot of it is, quite frankly, that they’re young. They’re recent college graduates – they expect to use technology and products like PAKRA. We’re building the team to be aggressive “hunters” that use technology like PAKRA and others to their advantage, to reach as many prospects and customers as possible with the NetApp story. I also think that they expect that our Marketing team uses technology to find us new lists, contacts and creative ways of connecting with prospects!

MS> Do you see a heavy overlap between where marketing ends and sales begins?

KM> Absolutely, there is a heavy overlap. It’s hand in glove. To make a war analogy, marketing and Inside Sales is air cover and field sales are the ground troops. I want marketing to soften up the base, get their Inside Sales team in early and then rely on the field/ISR/Channel to close it.

MS> That makes sense. Marketing is often brand awareness and lead generation, with the end goal being sales enablement.

KM> That’s the way that it’s supposed to be in my mind. Marketing needs to open up the door to sales.

MS> What factors do you think drive the adoption of new technology at a company like yours? For example, you rolled out the PAKRA products within the Inside Sales area of NetApp and user reception was so positive and adoption was incredibly high. What were the drivers behind that?

KM> One thing is that I have a boss who is incredibly open to new technology, he’s very innovative. He’s constantly searching for ways to not only improve productivity but also improve effectiveness. It’s one thing to be productive, but it’s an other thing to actually deliver. The other aspect to this is that the technology needs to be fun. I think that it’s a blend of these things, and PAKRA delivers both.

MS> You mentioned that you have a workforce that is right out of college and I do think that technology plays to how they learn. It’s an expectation to this generation. That fun factor and immediacy factor is important.

KM> I agree.

MS> We’ve covered a lot of ground today! Thanks for your time, Kevin. It’s always great talking to you.

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