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Michael : Good morning Martin, firstly can I really thank you for taking part in this podcast, and can I ask you to kick it off by saying a little bit about yourself, who you are, and what you’ve done.
Martin : I’m delighted to speak with you once again. I’m Martin Woodcock, vice president in South East Europe for Oracle, so I manage a collection of around thirteen countries – the smallest being countries like Malta, Montenegro, Bosnia and so on, and larger ones being Greece and Romania. so I’m in charge of licence sales for Oracle across those countries.
I shall be with Oracle for another couple of months and then I’m starting my own venture from Australia, so just coming to the end of my thirteen years in Oracle.
Thirteen years in Oracle, about twenty eight years in IT in total.
Michael : To some extent you’ve already answered the next question, but you may want to add to it. What experience do you have that really gives you that credibility in international sales and business development?
Martin : First of all, I started off in Marketing, when I left University I had a marketing role in pharmaceuticals where I learned various business development techniques. I learned about the act of direct sales and the impact of tele-marketing. And the blending of various channels, through marketing, through telemarketing, through tele-sales, onto field sales – and how you have to use all of those channels to develop your business.
In terms of my specialist areas, selling business intelligence systems – in order to sell these business intelligence systems you have to understand how the people that run companies think and make decisions, and their need to have information flowing through to them to make those decisions.
Michael : taking what you’ve said, taking your experience, what do you think are some of the greatest challenges today, in international sales?
Martin : Obviously what I’m talking about is from my Eastern European experiences, from an Eastern European perspective, working for a global corporation with a global HQ that’s based in California. And Oracle is a very well-structured organisation, with clear business processes that are global business processes and, so as a line manager, one of the things that you have to be very good at is blending these global business processes and local cultures.
So first of all as a corporate manager you have to adopt the corporate line, and follow the processes. Then you have to understand the variations that you are able to make. I think one of the other areas that you have to blend in is your style of selling. So if you take a continuum of California, through American, Europe and Asia and if you look at the balance between selling products and developing relationships as a method of selling – you’d start off in California where product selling is absolutely key, and as you move eastwards, the degree of relationship selling increases, so by the time you get to Asia, it’s a thoroughly relation-based process. And they’ll take what products you have based on relationship.
So in the middle, Western Europe is more product-selling, and Eastern Europe is more relationship based selling, and the dividing line is around about Vienna.
What this means, in terms of some of the challenges, is how you recruit and train the sales force. Once again, one of the challenges here, one of the things that you have to do is to be local to your local customers even though you’re a global organisation, and this comes through both from the product side but also from your marketing side as well. If you’re writing to a CEO of a company in Slovakia you have to have the accents on his name, otherwise you just don’t get through to him. So you have to be as local as you need to be to be professional in front of those people.
The other thing is, my countries are high-growth countries so year-on-year we are significantly growing revenues, increasing staffing and so on. The key challenges there are keeping staff motivated to really support this growth rate. The second one is recruiting competent staff, and then when you have that body of people how do you develop those people, how do you give them motivation, and set them on the path to develop the organisation when they’re coming from very small countries – where their education is different, their grasp of English and other languages is different and their grasp of Western culture is different as well.
Michael : What I’ll now do is take some of the headings that you’ve mentioned and if you can give just one or two ideas about how you yourself have approached these challenges. So the first one is about adopting enforced processes in the countries that you’re operating. What was your approach to that?
Martin : I think the first thing is that you have to believe in the processes yourself. At corporate management level, it’s your responsibility to manage your operation in the way that your corporation wants you to. And you have to understand your scope of deviation from those processes – the correct amount of leaway, but consistently, enforce those processes.
Michael : Also the one you mentioned about the move between relationships and product selling, I can see could actually be quite a challenge for some people, because it is a different mindset – so how did you become to be good at this?
Martin : The first thing is, you have to look at how the customer wants to be sold to, and so you can’t do things dramatically different from how a customer wants to be sold to. So if a customer only deals with people that they know and trust, you can’t just pick a phone up and expect to sell product.
So you have to get this blend between product selling and relationship selling. I think the important thing there is the way that you select, train and really direct your sales force. You accept that they have to develop a relationship. They also have to be known to be able to sell.
But from the corporations point of view, a sales person has to be able to present the sales benefits, the solution benefits to these customers. So what you’re doing is saying ‘I accept the relationship, but we’re going to sell these products hard’ so you’re in fact, creating that balance there.
In some areas it needs tough decisions. If people have a very good relationship but cannot pick up the required understanding of product selling, then it might be time to change.
Michael: That actually nicely leads to the next question – How do you keep your staff motivated to sustain growth?
Martin : Well I live in the UK, I manage thirteen countries that are two plane trips away. So in the morning, the salesmen don’t have me eye balling them saying ‘What are you going to do today? Have you tried this? Have you tried that? What’s happening here?’
So inevitably, in order to maintain growth, and to keep staff motivated, you have to have strong and competent sales management. These are people that understand the salesmen, the culture of the salesmen, and probably grown up with them as well.
So I spend my time mostly pressurizing, working with, coaching, the sales management in the countries rather than the salesmen.
In motivating staff everyone immediately thinks of salary, bonus, on-target earnings, and the problem with that, is that if you focus on that as your primary mechanism for motivation, all you create is OTE inflation, you have to give the same OTE for smaller targets, you have to give greater accelerators and so on.
And this just becomes a question of which company has the deepest pockets. What we’re finding is that there’s a limit to that. You have to maintain your competitiveness from a cost perspective as well as a revenue perspective in these countries.
So you need to look at a variety of other recognition mechanisms towards excellence. And really these are good because of high visibility and low cost.
So for example we have a lot of cross-country project teams – so people who do the right things get to go on these project teams, work with other smart people around the countries, get to know people, build networks, and get to go to interesting places to have these meetings.
We, for example, have a quarterly customer centricity award, which is about who is the person who has shown the absolutely best attitude towards giving customer satisfaction, and at the end of the day its an email of thanks and a meal for 2.
But it’s an email around to the whole company, so I send these emails out to the winners in my area. And you can see in the way they respond and thank you that this has meant a great deal to them.
Michael: As I’m listening to you, you do genuinely sound like you’re interested in your peoples development.
Martin : First of all I’m interested in the work I’m doing, and in NLP, about helping get the best out of people, helping people really do the right things as well, and because I’m interested in that coaching style I think it comes through in the way I manage as well.
You can manage through authority but I think 70% of what I do is managing people by helping them do their jobs better.
Michael : Can you build on that a little bit? I appreciate that sometimes you do have to manage on authority, but if you are having at least some of your management as a coaching style, what would you see as the difference?
Or if you were going to advise a senior manager how to move to a more coaching style, what would you suggest to them?
Martin : First of all, the starting place, is that there are no born coaches. I think you have to invest some time into learning the basics of coaching, and in particular being much more sensitive to the circumstances of the person that you’re dealing with, what they’re really saying to you, subconsciously as well as consciously, so that you get a thorough understanding of what the problem really is.
So I think without the basic training in coaching this is very difficult for people to naturally do.
The second thing is, that managing in this way is not a quick process. Authority is quick, I send an email, I pick the phone up, I tell somebody to do something and it’s done – and doing it through this coaching method, is time consuming, you have to invest more time, you also have to invest more face-to-face time, which for me means a lot more travelling.
But when you do it that way, it’s a much more persistent result.
Michael : And what do you think are the benefits to the people that you’re coaching?
Martin : Well first of all you’re making a more permanent change for them. Secondly I think it’s a tremendous motivational factor that people in the hierarchy above you are actually interested in helping you do better.
I think it increases loyalty, I think my management team as a whole see themselves as part of a team where I’m acting like a helper in that team rather than just a person who’s dishing out targets and hitting them with a stick.
Michael: Let’s look at how you actually help people develop their career paths – especially if you want them to do a job now and they’re very useful to you – how do you balance that?
Martin : Firstly the attitude I have to that, is that people’s career development is very much their own responsibility, but if there are things that I could do to sort out their way ahead or offer them new opportunities, then I’ll definitely do that, but people have to understand what they want to achieve.
For my countries, one of the key things is this contrast between being very senior in a small country versus, less senior, or in fact, in a professional role, across a larger number of countries.
So the key challenge for me is to convince as many people as possible, that international roles are worthwhile, or are safe roles to take.
Because people view that they go out of the hierarchies of their local organisations into this, perhaps even nebulous, international role – their position is back-filled – what happens if they don’t like this international role?
They’ll have nowhere to go back to – their career path in Oracle will be cut off. What’s concerning about that is that people don’t really understand international roles.
But through the international roles I can get people really interesting jobs that the corporation sees as valuable, the issue that they have, particularly in my countries – the local employers see local success as the main hallmark that they judge people by, rather than being flown around all of these countries and being exposed to the multi-cultural experience.
Michael : Going back to what you said, you said that one of the most important things is recruiting the right people to start with – what are you thoughts – how do you know who is the right person to take on?
Martin : Interesting. I have a view over what made me able to sell well. And my policy, because I’m recruiting in strange circumstances, I’m recruiting in Croatia, in fact I was just in Croatia to take on a guy I was recruiting there.
So there are things that I don’t know about the culture that they’ve grown up in, so I have to rely on my own judgement of what makes a good salesperson.
So for example, my sifting of CVs means that I will rarely interview an IT salesman who doesn’t have a degree. I think when you’re dealing with senior level people, in major businesses in your country, the level of intellect that a degree should normally indicate, is vital for you to have credibility with these senior level people.
So a degree – and attitude to developing business. It’s this willingness to take on knowledge around product, but also the ability to open doors, so it’s an inter-personal skill of being able to open doors, at senior level, being able to talk to the right people in the right way.
So those are the types of things that I would generically look for.
Michael : Can I ask you a question on that, only because it’s so important, being able to open doors at C-level – what do you think are some of the characteristics that make that easy for people, or make that less hard for people?
Martin : Most of it’s cultural. I managed Slovenia for a while and this is a very traditional society, where in some instances there is a view that only the managing director can speak to the managing director of your customer.
Now, some salesmen follow that. My view is that if I’m interviewing people in Slovenia, they have to tell me the experience they’ve had in getting through to C level.
And what comes through, in fact, is a belief that these are people that have a need; I understand how to solve that need; – therefore, I have the confidence to be able to ring up and say ‘there’s something I can do to help you, I’d like ten minutes of you time.’
So this is a personal belief that is brought about by an attitude and by knowledge that really reinforces that situation.
Michael : And what else do you view as important in recruiting a salesperson?
Martin : First of all I like choice. I’ve taken a bit of a risk in this last recruitment because I’ve used an agency, and they’ve sent me seven CV’s, but only one was good enough.
But luckily, the one that was good enough was really good. But I don’t like doing that, so we’d look at LinkedIn. Our internal recruiters are given a budget for Inmails from LinkedIn to be able to go through to people.
And I’ve personally spent a lot of time developing my own LinkedIn network so that I can see the people in the market – in fact my recruiters in my LinkedIn network can see my potential candidates as well.
So LinkedIn is good, but LinkedIn is very impersonal to an extent as well. So you need to have people locally that once you’ve found people on LinkedIn, they can sort out through their network of mouth-to-mouth, whether these people are what they portray in LinkedIn and whether they’re in fact, good.
So you need a blend between a mass networking technique like LinkedIn, but with local flavour in there to really test out what you’re doing.
Michael : Back to the gut feeling – do you think that people that are successful in different countries are more similar to each other, or do you get a feel that you actually do need different characteristics in different countries?
Martin : In any country, you have to understand the rules of the game. But a good salesman, I think, will be good anywhere. Because they know the things that they need to understand and they adapt.
It’s because selling is a range of competencies, but then it’s an attitude to getting the job done and understanding how to get that job done.
Michael : Now I know you’ve got a lot of very good NLP experience yourself. How do you think that helps in sales and coaching?
Martin : I guess there’s two aspects to this – there’s ‘how does NLP help me?’ and ‘How do I use NLP to help the people around me that I work with and coach?’
So I use pretty straight forward aspects of NLP. In particular well formed outcomes, but also all of peoples senses in the outcome that they’re looking into – whether they’re really committed to it.
It’s the commitment that I’m looking for, rather than the logic behind the outcome – and I think that the methodology behind well-formed outcomes is really good.
In logical levels, I designed and ran a three day training course for our top sales-people, where I used logical levels through a series of key areas like customer management – broadening the product stack that you sell to a particular customer and so on.
And because I used one technique all the way through, very consistently it came up with some good results, and made the training as a whole very consistent, which is good.
Michael : Just for our audiences point of view, what sort of revenue targets would a top sales-person have? I just want to put some context around this.
Martin : I guess in my area the top level is about two and a half million dollars, US dollars – on some of the more difficult products they might be on five or six or seven thousand dollars where they’re having to establish the market in their country, for some of the more niche products that we sell.
The other thing that I use for myself, and help other people use as well, is really trying to create the right state – so for example, when I’m about to give a presentation, you’ve got three or four hundred people in the room – what’s the state that I want to be in to create the correct impact on that audience?
So thinking about states – what do I want to be? I want to be confident, I want to appear knowledgeable, and I want to have this calm approach as well – so thinking back to when I was sitting on the beach in Adelaide being calm, having done presentations before where I was confident – and really bringing all of those things together to helps me get across the right things in exactly the right way.
And when you’re coaching other people into doing this as well – I was working with one of my guys a couple of months ago, going through a difficult patch – and I said ‘you’ve been a successful salesperson in the past, just think back to when you were being successful, how you felt, looking at the things that you were doing and what you weren’t doing. Looking at the facts and feelings around past successes.’ and then pulling them forward and helping him know what he should be doing now.
And that worked very well, I was very pleased with that.
Michael : Anything else to add on that?
Martin : I think the other thing is my countries have squabbled and been to war and they have little difficulties still with people getting on, which is natural in any organisation.
So, one of the things that I need to sort is perceptual positions as well. I help people dissociate with the passion that these countries have and try to help them see the overall situation that they’re in.
I think that also has worked well.
I think the important thing for me is how to use NLP in a business context. And one of the things that I’m investing some time in is, how do you apply influence, or what they call hypnotic influence, to business situations?
So what I’m doing at the moment is investing time into really learning the hypnotic language patterns so that I can see how this can help get the right result.
‘I want you to get 10% more sales’ or ‘I want you to stop arguing with this person’ or whatever.
It’s all around how to get people to – I guess this is sly – but it still sounds ethical to me, because these are open conversations, it’s not going behind peoples backs, it’s just talking to a different part of their mind.
Michael : OK, before I let you give your contact details, is there anything that you feel we’ve left out to do with international sales and development?
Either that you’d like to bring up because we’ve left it out, of something that you’d like to reemphasise because you think it’s that important.
Martin : I guess the one thing for me, with the international sales experience, is that the people that I have seen that have been successful in this area are the people that have acknowledged the differences in culture.
You don’t need to completely accept that you need to go local, but you have to acknowledge the difference in the culture. And then the successful people then blend the global perspective that they have with this local understanding.
And I think this is the key point for me.
Michael: Thank you very much for spending this half an hour talking about your views on sales – before you give us your contact details, would you like to tell us about what you’re going to be doing and some of the services that you’re going to be offering?
Martin : So, as I mentioned earlier on, I’m leaving Oracle after thirteen years, in June. What I’m going to be doing over the next year is progressively emigrating to Australia, where I will be settling in Adelaide. I’m helping IT companies expand.
And this can be helping their existing organisations work better in the way that I’ve discussed in detail over the last half hour – but in particular helping them increase their export sales by establishing sales teams in Europe, whichever country in Europe.
So really helping them focus on the cultural differences between Australia, the UK, and the rest of Europe. Coach them through that and help them where necessary.
So that’s all I’m focusing on really, doing that. It’s a selling role, and it’s a coaching role as well.
Michael : Excellent – and your contact details?
Martin : First of all my company name is Two Hemispheres Limited,
So if anyone wants to look at that they’ll find some of the areas that I’m focusing on in there.
My email address if people want to chat about some other things is firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael: Excellent, thank you very much for your time Martin, and obviously my greatest wishes for your new venture.
Martin : It’s been a pleasure Michael, and thank you very much for the coaching that you’ve given me over the last two / three years.
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