A couple of weeks ago Bulls Eye Recruiting highlighted 3 traits that all successful sales people have in common. I discussed that I would be highlighting sales superstars and what differentiates them from the pack. I had the honor and privilege to meet and speak with Bill Gostkowski and wanted to share his background and his story. I will be running a two part series this week. This post will let you get to know him a little and the next will really dive into how worked closely with company leadership to bring a company from non-profitability to profitability. Hope you enjoy!
Will– Tell me briefly about your career and how you got to be where you are today?
Bill: My current career path began at Schlumberger as a technical support team manager some years ago. Before that I was in the military and had taken several technical positions with companies such as GE Aerospace after I came off of active duty. Over the 17 year period I was with what is now Gemalto, I held positions in technical support, project/program management followed by field marketing, sales management and eventually business development. While at Gemalto, I was recruited by On Track Innovations and currently hold the position of Vice President Business Development OTI America.
Will: I believe that successfully people learn from their failures. Tell me about a failure and what you learned from it.
Bill: Absolutely. I agree with you. I was assigned a very large account with the objective of selling a specific top silicon manufacturer a security software solution to allow 3rd party applications enterprise access on corporate computers. This project required months of integration and resources and each time my team would incorporate a feature set that was supposed to be the last hurdle, the requirements would change. The size of this opportunity was tremendous and so I pushed through each refusal to commit in writing by the customer. I remember thinking that this company was investing resources as well with regular and positive technical meetings and verbal promises on the business development side. When I heard that my division head was flying in from overseas and was going to be in San Jose, I took the opportunity to put him in front of the customer for a high level meeting expecting to close business and this is when my counterpart that I had been working with in good faith for months chose to inform me, in front of my managers boss and a corporate Technical Fellow that they had decided to go “a different way” and they were shutting our project down. I was completely embarrassed and utterly furious. Struggling to maintain my composure and not to ask why she chose this meeting to give me the bad news, I instead asked how this could be after all of the effort, good will and planning. The answer was unsatisfying simple; “we never committed to [my companies] solution.” That was a lie. They had committed both verbally and with their actions, but as I learned the hard way, if it’s not written down it doesn’t count. Back in the office, I proposed litigation and the idea was summarily dismissed. This was my fault and even after a highly successful career with many big wins, I would be lucky to keep my job.
On the surface, it may seem obvious that I should have put more formal agreements in place, but what if I had? This company was a behemoth compared to mine and we had many other projects with them. I think the bigger issue was not properly assessing and communicating the risk. Now, when developing a partnership, I look for partnership of equals and when chasing business that requires investment, I put formal agreements in place and communicate the risk both to my management and in my forecast. The biggest lesson learned, and I’ve found it to ring true most of the time, is that if a solution has real value, people will pay for it.
Will: Enough about failures, what was one of your biggest successes and why?
Bill: One of my favorite success stories was born of a failed project. It began with my division being spun off in an IPO and my activities moving overseas forcing me to either reassign or lay off my entire team. I was then assigned to Washington DC to support a government RFP for an ID program for all US citizens. What at first seemed like a straight forward RFP turned into a multi-year battle including several lawsuits by my competitors and a supplier jumping the supply chain and bidding direct.
The customer was running the RFP in three stages, eliminating successive offerings at each stage with the end result being that two suppliers would walk away with all of the business, which amounted to approximately $100 million in yearly revenue split between the last two remaining companies.
There were little to no detailed specifications and after the first round there were only 8 companies standing including mine. The lack of detailed specs gave the government tremendous flexibility to change the rules at will and it was clear early on in the second phase that we were not doing well and were going to be eliminated in the next round. My product line was located in Europe and they were adamant that our product was within spec but I knew from my close relationship with the decision makers for this project in DC that we were lacking. After receiving an official letter that we were to be eliminated from the running, my manager was removed and left the company leaving me as the Program Manager and SPOC. I had to find a way to convince my product managers in Europe to change directions in every aspect of our offering as we weren’t listening to our customer.
Having a technical and manufacturing background allowed me to literally build hardware prototypes in my garage that were in line with the “advise” of my customer and I traveled to Thailand to form a relationship with an outside company that had a superior manufacturing technique that was in line with the customer’s needs. I was able to convince my management to outsource our final product from our in-house facility to this Taiwanese supplier as well as to change another critical ancillary hardware assembly to one that I knew was supported by the company that would eventually supply my customer. In the end, my company was re-instated and selected to supply half of all of these electronic ID documents to the State Department. As for me, I was relocated to Austin, TX, sent to Harvard Business School for training and promoted to Director of Field Marketing of the North America Banking division.
Will: How do you convince leadership to make changes in an organization when they have been doing something for 10-20 years?
Bill: This question reminds of the old joke “how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but the light bulb has to want to change.” I believe this is true of organizations as well but even after the door to change is open, it is still necessary to bring your influencing tools to the table. There is no room for ego when pushing through the natural resistance to change and the end goal must always be what drives a manager’s actions. In the end, a company is a group of people just trying to get along and so you must know how the teams are motivated and give them what they need. Trust is difficult to build and easily destroyed so it’s important to be honest, open and inclusive when planning.
Will: Tell me about your sales process. How does your day begin and how does it end? What do you feel you do differently than the average sales person?
Bill: When I’m in the office, my day usually starts with a strong cup of coffee and reviewing industry publications for the latest moves and news. After taking notes for follow up I do a quick review of my in box to make sure there are no fires to put out and if there aren’t, I either move to the list of action items created the night before, or take an hour or so to review all of my emails and create a to do list for the day. I like to make lists as sometimes the pace is hectic and important things can get overlooked. The list is fluid and I will add items from the daily customer and internal meetings I attend and my day ends when I’ve done as much as I can or the list is complete (which it almost never is). A big part of what makes me different from other sales people is my background, training and experience. Because I’ve successfully held positions in Manufacturing, Project and Program Management, Marketing, Sales and Business Development, I have an extremely well rounded set of skills including customer and people skills. I can understand a solution from all aspects and it helps me to develop strong value propositions for my customers while managing internal constraints and business management concerns.
Will: How do you generate new business? How do you utilize LinkedIn? How do you utilize the phone? How to you utilize the internet? How do you utilize text and e-mail? What percentage of your day do you spend prospecting?
Bill: Generally speaking, generating new business is a matter of leveraging what your company is good at and bringing that value to the market. The questions I ask myself are:
- What are our core competencies and where can we leverage our IP?
- How can we create partnerships/alliances to climb the value chain and bring new solutions to market?
- What markets exist today, how can we fit into them and how are they serviced?
- What are the new trends to watch for and where are the green fields and blue oceans?
- Are there adjacent or parallel markets that we can enter?
LinkedIn is a great tool to do some high level lead validation (company size, who do they employ) and to start the process of a face to face meeting. In terms of inbound leads, I will use the internet in much the same way as well as setting alerts for my competitors and clients to keep up to date on what’s happening around me. Texting is for either internal or after hours use or on occasion with some very close clients/partners.
Prospecting is a subject by itself. In an ideal scenario I would be able to spend all of my time prospecting, but we all tend to wear multiple hats in very lean environments which makes it difficult and being essentially by myself in my current roll means I have to find additional ways to do it. For example, distribution channels are great for multiplying prospecting as when they sell their services, they are selling yours as well (and vice versa). In the case of one of my distributors, I was able to negotiate a full time sales resource on their payroll as part of an overall business agreement.
Will: What daily routines outside of work do you regularly engage in?
Bill: If I had to define my regiments for physical and mental health in one word, it would be eclectic. I’ve always had a passion for Motorsports and on any Sunday you’re likely to find me with a small group of friends riding my motocross bike in the hill country of central Texas
Running and lifting weights have been part of my routine since I was in the Navy, but I never thought of it as being connected to my career. I was doing CrossFit for a few years before it became so popular but found that once it did, I was more comfortable working out alone, as I prefer to do. I’m also a licensed pilot although it’s hard to find time in my schedule to fly and train regularly so I don’t do it much anymore.
I have an insatiable passion for learning new things and so I’m always reading or researching something whether it’s reading about human interaction or diving into compliance specs. I also enjoy reading fiction novels, which I do entirely for the pleasure of reading, but I also think that almost any type of reading helps to keep me sharp.
So, what did you learn from Bill? Please post your questions below and he will gladly answer. If you think you would like to be featured, please send me a note which you can find under the “FOUNDERS” portion of our blog. Part 2 of this series will be coming this week, so stay tuned!