Executive Interview – Cisco – Jim Blum

Jim Blum, VP Sales Enablement, Cisco Systems

Keynote Topic: Discovering Value: Adjusting your Mirrors to Eliminate the Blindspots

Video Transcript:

Gary Tubridy: We are here to take on the topic of discovering value, adjusting your mirrors to find the blind spots. I am here with Jim Blum, Vice President of Sales Enablement at Cisco. Jim, great to have you here.

Jim Blum: Gary, great to be here.

GT: Thank you for joining us. Tell us about those blind spots. What blind spots are we trying to avoid?

JB: It is my metaphor, Gary. I am an avid cyclist. I picked up cycling about four years ago when I lived in the UK. I began to ride with some friends and one of the things I love about cycling is just how dynamic every ride is. Whether you are riding by yourself or whether you are riding with friends, you have to negotiate the path. What is behind you is important, what is right beside you is important and what is in front of you is important.

It is in that sport that I started to realize the blind spots could be really dangerous for me. I started thinking about that in terms of my business. It is absolutely the exact same. What is behind me is important, what is right beside me is important and out front is very important as well.

GT: A mirror is an analogy for a tool. What tools do you use to get the view of the space behind you, beside you and in front?

JB: In cycling you have a rearview mirror typically on your helmet and you are looking behind you to see what is there. Sometimes a car is coming too close and I have to adjust my course. That is key, is to adjust your course. In sales we look at rearview quite a bit. We look at bookings reports, service attach rates, up time, installed base churn. All these are great data points, Gary, but if we spend too much time looking at them and do not take action with what we find there, we are going to crash.

I use the rearview mirror in my sales role to affectively know what has happened so that I can take a new course of action. Customer listening for me is one those things. I listen intently to customers. I see what they feed back and change our course of how we sell or how we support them because of that.

Then you have your side view mirrors. In cycling there are some little wedge mirrors that are right on the handlebars. Often times you are using those to see where your teammates are if you are trying to ride tight in a formation. Or you are seeing where your competitors are. For us it is about—in selling it is about relationships and it is about our competition. It is the exact same thing. It is always right there beside us and we have to contend with it.

In effect the new tools I am using are social media. Social media is becoming a major tool for our sellers in how they know what customers are saying, building deeper relationships with them personally.

On the horizon, the thing I lose sleep over in my role in sales is how much time we are wasting in our sellers lives. The averages will say, a seller will spend between 20 and 30-percent of time with a customer. I want that to be more and so my new passion and new quest is to actually save them time through better sales enablement, training, demonstrations, briefings and such. Those are my mirrors inside of business and how I use them in sales.

GT: I love this concept of the listening posts. It is a term that I think is so unique to Cisco and the idea of listening to the customer is, while it is so obvious, it is also brilliant. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

JB: We, about three years ago now, we took four separate teams. They ranged from being in operations to our quality team to our service team. We merged them into one group, under me, in sales. This listening post is situated in sales, which I think is a competitive advantage. It allows us to take that feedback and really take it and put it back to the sellers to change course.

One of the things we found in listening recently was customers were writing into our survey in the written format, you are hard to do business with Cisco. We started to see that comment more and more. We got more rigorous about it. We put some questions in our surveys, got some trended data. Benchmarked that, found that we were in fact lagging and we hate to lose at Cisco, hate to be number two. That spawned some action and our CEO, John Chambers, actually created a company-wide initiative because of that feedback to improve ease of doing business. VPs were assigned tasks, accountabilities. They were tied and paid to it and we got a major change in that for our customers.

Now, three years later, they actually feed back excellent results on how easy it is to do business with us at Cisco.

GT: You have changed the way you did business as a result of listening through the sales force.

JB: Absolutely. It is just like in my analogy to the ride, if I am on a crisp Saturday morning in Raleigh where I live and I am on a ride and I am looking in the rearview, I may see a car approaching that is a little too close for comfort and it is up to me to change my course. They may be looking at a text. They may be drinking a cup of coffee. Or talking to their child in the backseat. What I have to do is to adjust myself to the side or even off the road so that I do not crash. That is what we have to do in business. If we do not adjust, we will crash.

GT: Comments on tools you might use to look over the horizon, see what is coming up and what you might do to avoid it or what you might do to take advantage of it.

JB: One of the new areas of focus for us has been seller time and we have really talked to around 200 of our sellers and I have spent personal time in interviews and it is incredible what we are putting them through. On the horizon there are so many complexities of customers, verticals, products, solutions, they cannot know it all. What we have tended to do—well intentioned, is to give them a lot of information. They disregard much of it. Our sellers are invited to some 60 to 70 hours of mandatory training a quarter. They will never attend all of that training.

A new passion we have is to bring the experience of enablement to them in a very personal way, by role, who they are a technical seller, account owner, where they sit in the world or in the country. What segment they are serving. Bring information to them when they need it at the time they need it based upon the sales opportunity they have whether it is a training, a demo, a quick pod just before going to see a customer.
Out on the horizon for us is the idea of saving the seller’s time so they can create more deep relationships and value when they sell.

GT: Kind of interesting, you have Cisco, a premier technology company using that technology to make sellers themselves more productive. Pretty neat stuff.

JB: Absolutely. Mobility, I will say it a hundred times if I say it once. Our sellers want to be un-tethered. They want to be free to capture a selling moment, in an elevator or in a lobby where someone has a question; they can quickly get access to these solutions in mobile. Whereas they used to fire up a laptop, get a Wi-Fi connection, sign on, hopefully find what they want. The selling moment is gone. We are really trying to be on the vanguard of this and mobile is the way for us.

GT: Jim Blum, Cisco Systems, thank you very much.

JB: Gary, thank you for having me, really appreciate it.

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