IBM Alumni: Jerry Holl Shares Lessons Learned from 3,634 Mile Bike Journey

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Jerry Holl, IBM Alum and adventure seeker

IBM Alum: Jerry Holl

IBM Tenure: 12 years

Jerry Holl is a sales professional with over 30 years of experience in business, including sales & sales management positions for IBM, Moore Corporation and Piper Jaffray, Inc. From his extensive cross-industry experience, he’s gained a wealth of information on businesses, business models and best practices. Jerry has a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering and an MBA – both from the University of Minnesota.

Jerry recently completed a 3,634 mile solo bicycle journey from Alaska to Mexico. Details of the journey and access to his daily blog written during the journey, a raw unedited stream of consciousness often written laying in a tent at night after a 100 mile day.

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When did you join IBM; how long were you an IBMer?

I joined IBM right out of graduate school and was with the business for just under 12 years. I had studied geological engineering in undergrad and then got my MBA. I did some work as an economic analyst for a large oil company, but quickly knew it wasn’t for me.

I wanted a career that would let me engage with people and the greater world.  I just knew a sales role best matched my personal characteristics.  So, I approached and was hired by IBM as they are the prominent ‘Harvard’ of sales organizations.  They also embody the values and practices that are important to me.  IBM products and services made a huge impact for the customers in the mid-size businesses where I sold, and were transformative to those businesses.  I liked the big ticket (for those customers) big impact aspect of selling into those businesses.

What were some of your roles and duties with the company and what did you find most satisfying?

I worked in field sales and marketing, first as as salesperson, then a marketing manager, and finally as a branch marketing executive serving as an IBM branch leader.  IBM was a great match for me. I was there during a high period of growth for mid-range systems …so I was able to deal with all aspects of customers’ business problems and opportunities across all industries. Due to the cross-industry selling, I was able learn about their business models in a high level and fundamental way. It was tremendously educational.

Every day in sales felt like a field-trip.  I needed to really understand their business and problems to find solutions that would work.  And I got to work very closely and collaboratively with customers to come to the right solutions. This took a certain kind of attitude and curiosity.  Customers can tell when you truly have their interests in mind. They will open up and want to do business with you when you are more concerned with solving their problems and capturing their opportunities as opposed to just making a sale.

I was successful in my roles and I attribute that to a combination of putting client first and holding high professionalism standards — doing things on the up and up.  It’s essential to follow through and do what you say you will do.  I also had a real personal hunger to succeed and a love of the job.

I credit IBM with providing my best foundational business experience.  In regards to my career, it was a time of my highest learning and highest growth.  Ultimately, I left IBM because I grew as much as I could in the local branch and was committed to staying in Minnesota.

Did you have any mentors? Are you still connected with your former IBM colleagues? 

IBM attracted very high quality individualsMany of them remain great friends today.  You couldn’t help but grow and develop strong business practices just being around those individuals.  As a sales manager, I was constantly mentoring my team.  My style was very hands-on: teaching, developing, getting in the trenches and getting involved in their deals where necessary.  Part of mentoring and training is to show people how to advance the ball, not just tell them.

I gained many insights specifically from a couple Branch Managers. When you have a great leader you learn through osmosis as you see how they professionally handle situations.  And, I also learned what not to do from less effective managers.

Being so large, IBM had a lot of important structure to maintain standards and control to make things work. But sometimes those structures were too cumbersome and weren’t right for certain customers.  That’s when you need to take some risks and push for change.  With so much structure, you have to be adaptable and break structure where appropriate to put the client first.

Conversely, in my roles outside of IBM, I experienced what it was like without structure.  It was often chaos. I took what I learned from IBM to create the mechanisms and practices that help improve productivity and quality, building structure for a bunch of cowboys.

You want “wild ducks,” but not adverse wild ducks; you want those who use strong judgement to bridge the gap between customer and your own business interests, creating a win-win for all parties.  There is never a need or reason to leave a wake of problems in any of your dealings.

What did you want to do after your IBM career? What are you doing today?

I continued to work in sales and sales leadership, then in financial services sales.  But after I paid off my house, my kids’ education, and all my major commitments. I needed new ‘explosive’ growth.

I wanted to do something off the wall, something completely different, something where I couldn’t help but grow.  As one friend called it to be big, hairy and audacious.  And I wanted it to be constructive, healthy, and to test the limits of my capabilities. I wanted it to be remote, solo, physically grueling, and drop-dead gorgeous scenery.  So, I decided to take a solo bike journey from Alaska to Mexico.

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Jerry in Oregon on his biking adventure.

I conceived of the trip and left in about a 3 week period.  Why wait; why over-plan?  I hadn’t specifically trained for this journey.  I didn’t even think that much about it.  I was just confident I could do it. And, if I wasn’t in biking shape, I’d have plenty of time to ride myself into shape!  My experience at IBM had given me confidence in my ability to deal with situations that came my way.  I used the same ability in this circumstance.

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Biking trip pit stop at Big Sur.

There was  risk, but it is what I wanted.  And, it would require me to persevere even when I might not want to.  I encountered challenging terrain, 20 bears, other wild animals, traffic, brutal headwinds and changing weather.  I also re-discovered that people are really-really good!  Everybody along the way who saw my exposure and effort went out of their way to try to help in some little way, whether it was giving a candy bar, filling a water bottle, or providing information and directions.

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Jerry on the San Fransisco Bridge on his bike adventure.

Prior to this journey, I had never ridden my bike for more than 25 miles.  And, had never ridden a loaded bike with all my gear.  I just had to dig in …and it was very rewarding.  Sometimes I ran short on resources, simple things like like food or water, but I always found a way; discomfort is not danger.

When I left on the trip, I was ‘mechanically disadvantaged.” I never took the time to learn the basic mechanics of my bike.  Embarrassingly, I didn’t even remember (from childhood) how to change a tire, patch a tube, and had no idea how to fix a broken chain.  I broke my bike chain in the middle of nowhere in Alaska and just by blind luck, a female biker rode up who had a manual.  She was a godsend as we both figured out how to reconnect my chain with a spare link and repair my bike.  I dislike mechanical repairs and figured that during the trip I would just have to figure out the ‘mechanical’ problems as they occurred.

To me, the mechanical issues were discrete problems with known ‘how-tos.’  Although I didn’t (and still don’t) have the mechanical skills that was not a reason to not go.  More interesting to me were the mental situations and decision points without discrete how-tos, such as how to read my mental condition, physical condition, strange encounters, road and traffic hazards, frontier bandits, and wild animals, which required constant situational decision-making.  In a funny way, all of my IBM experiences contributed greatly to dealing with these mental situations.  I couldn’t realistically prepare for most of them. I  just had to make judgements as I encountered them, but, I just felt confident and capable of figuring them out as I went.

I kept a daily blog about the trip, and have subsequently written a manuscript which I intend to eventually publish as a book.  Basically, I want to encourage people to not let their life just happen to them, but to take control and actively build your own path and future.  Although there was occasional real danger, mostly it was exhilarating joy with occasional blissful hardship and discomfort (which is not danger – know the difference).  Don’t be afraid and frozen with the prospect of failure, rather, turn it on its ear and look at the tremendous reward if/when you’re successful.  It’s intoxicating.

Most people have more skill than they think they do.  So, in addition to writing about my adventure, I’ve also written a sales training program. It’s a practical and pragmatic step by step approach on how to conduct complicated large ticket, long sell cycle sales based upon all the lessons I’ve learned in my professional career.  My unique training describes  the steps of the sales process and the ‘art’ of what the salesperson needs to perform in each step.   It organizes the methods for a salesperson to take their intrinsic baseline skills and trains them how to effectively advance the ball and make the sale.  All with the customer’s interests at heart.

The bottom line:  Don’t fear the unknown. Take your skills and run with them.  Don’t over-think and over-plan. Get in the game and adjust.  You’re better and more capable than you think you are and, if you never get on your bicycle you will never know if you can do it.

Do you have key advice for those still advancing their careers?

  1.  Find where your heart is.  There is money in every profession if you are the best …but you won’t be the best if you don’t love it.  Be honest with yourself.   Ask yourself if you can get excited about this?
  2. Get in the game. Go.  Don’t over think, over-plan, or worry about others being better. You will always need to get better …and you will.
  3. Don’t think about specific jobs. Think about what skill-sets you’re developing in your role and how they apply to your passions and future – both personally and professionally.

I’m really passionate about sharing what I’ve learned with others. In addition to sharing my insights via the bog and my sales training, I’ve also started a business to help people who are looking to change careers.

I can help advise anyone who is contemplating or making a career change.  I have an advisory service to help individuals shine and differentiate themselves in an interview. I am also available to speak to groups about leadership lessons learned on my solo bicycle journey from Alaska to Mexico.

Finally, I have developed and delivered a very practical and pragmatic sales training program focusing on the interpersonal aspect of persuasion and influence in the sales process …in my view this is the toughest and most rewarding part of the sales process.

You can contact me if you have interest in any of my stories or work via LinkedIn.

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Related:

- By Jessica Benjamin, IBM Brand System and Workforce Enablement, CHQ

IBM Alumni Kathleen Butler: A #WomenInTech Leader Who Continues to Giveback

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Kathleen Butler, IBM Alum, currently serving on Board of Directors for Alzheimer’s Association and the Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation

Alum: Kathleen Butler
IBM Tenure: 35.5 Years 

At IBM, Kathleen was a member of the Integration and Value Team. Her last job was Vice President and Enterprise Process Owner for Global Sales and Distribution (S&D). She and her team focused on simplifying and integrating customer, business partner and tele-web facing processes to make it easier to do business with IBM and support revenue and profit initiatives. She held various executive positions throughout her career including sales, technical sales, marketing, process improvements and information technology systems.

Kathleen currently serves on the Connecticut Boards of Directors for the Alzheimer’s Association and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. In addition to giving back, Kathy enjoys spending time with her family and friends, particularly her nieces and nephews. For recreation she likes to water and snow ski, and play golf. She is finally learning to cook.

                                                                                                                                              

Q&A WITH KATHLEEN BUTLER

How did you become an IBMer:
I always liked math and computers so it was always my goal to work for the IBM. IBM was “it.”

I joined a local branch team in Long Island in 1974 after graduating from The College of Mount Saint Vincent – before there was even such a thing as a computer science degree. I was part of an incoming group of five new employees; four of us were women. We were the first big influx of women at the time. I worked in technical sales – being interested in the technology part of business.

Having been part of an early influx of women at IBM, how did you feel when they announced Ginni Rometty as CEO?
I worked for Ginni for a short time. She was great to work with and I respect her a lot. I was  thrilled when she was named CEO. I look forward to seeing where she takes the business.

What were some of the most influential roles you held at IBM and what did you take from them?
I enjoyed working in technical sales, helping find solutions for a wide range of “intermediate” system clients, managing 10-15 accounts at a time. It takes a great deal of problem solving and I had the opportunity to really understand IBM systems, software and networking. It was extremely valuable to all my future roles at IBM.

A role that I really enjoyed was when I became a Systems Engineer Manager.  It was my first time managing other people and it was fun to interact and learn from them. Many of those I managed were men who were older than me. I had to work hard to gain their respect. I found that putting people first was the best way to do that – paying attention to them, helping them grow, and finding ways for them to advance. It was important to not see things hierarchically and thought of myself as part of the team. It also helped that I had the experience, technically, to hold my ground. I knew what I was doing.

As a leader, I learned a lot from my experience as an Administrative Assistant (now known as an Executive Assistant). I worked very closely with executives to learn from their different leadership styles. I got a view of what they worked on and how they handled many different kinds of issues. Specifically, as an assistant to the General Manager of the General Manager, United States, I learned how you needed to adapt your style to various situations and that you needed to embrace change and take risks. This particular leader was the type who addressed issues head on and focused on taking away barriers. He wasn’t intimidating or loud. He made people feel comfortable so that they could more freely share their ideas.  He helped his team find the solution themselves, trusting their perspective and opinions. I knew this was the kind of leader I wanted to be.

Did you have a mentor and have you mentored others?
One of the greatest things about IBM is the opportunities you have to grow and progress your career.  I had some great mentors myself.  I’m grateful for the path I was able to take and mentored 15-20 IBMers at a time to help them advance their own careers. It is a very important role that I still hold for some women in China and Singapore, who I continue to work with to help show them all the opportunities they have open to them.

What have you been up to since you left IBM?
There’s a joke in retirement: “I don’t know how I ever had time to work.” This feels very true for me. I’ve been very active, particularly with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

IBM always instilled a sense of community engagement and giving back. In fact, I helped lead significant year to year increase in the Employee Charitable Contributions Champagne donations for my teams in 2007 and 2008.

After retirement, I joined the Connecticut Alzheimer’s Association Board after working with an IBMer whose husband was diagnosed and passed away from early on-set Alzheimer’s at 58. She faced so many challenges in her personal life but never let it show.. I wanted to help others who faced similar challenges and provide assistance to others like her.

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Kathleen Butler and her sisters at a Christopher and Dana reeve “roll-a-thon.”

I have a very personal connection to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. In 2003, while I was still with IBM, I suffered a spinal cord injury that left me temporarily paralyzed. But I was one of the lucky ones who got most of my function back.. I know that not everyone has that chance and I want to support those who face similar challenges.

I helped start the local Board for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in Connecticut in 2010. We’ve held successful events, such as “roll-a-thons” for able bodied people to experience what it is like in a wheelchair. We’ve raised more than $100,000 this way. I was also able to help a former IBM colleague who had a traumatic injury by connecting her to the Foundation and mentoring her through some recovery. I am still in contact with her today.

IBMers have terrific skills.  If they have not done so already, I would encourage every IBM alum to consider putting their skills to work at a local nonprofit that they are passionate about. Most of the retired IBMers I know are doing that.

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The College of Mount Saint Vincent honored Kathleen Butler, Class of 1974 with the Ad Laudem Dei awards October 24 2013 for her outstanding professional achievements and contributions to the community.

If you could share advice with a new IBMer, what would it be?
My advice would be:

1)  Always put the client first, then IBM, then your Function
2)  You are only as good as your people; so develop your people and help identify and Promote Diverse Executive Leaders
3)  Deliver on your commitments and measure your value to your client, IBM, function

                                                                                                                                                            

Related:

- By Jessica Benjamin, Brand Systems Workforce Enablement

The Top 10 “How to Sell” Books of All Time

Amazon.com today offers 341,472 book titles that include the word “sales”. And 48,427 of its titles include the word “selling.” Because it’s unlikely that you’ll get to read all of those, Inc.com’s Geoffrey James here identifies the top ten that should be found in every business library.

See the Top Ten of All Time

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Greater IBM, what’s missing from this list? Let us know in the Leave a Reply box.

About the author:

Geoffrey James writes the Sales Source column on Inc.com, the world’s most visited sales-oriented blog. His newly published book is Business to Business Selling: Power Words and Strategies From the World’s Top Sales Experts.

Follow him on Twitter: @Sales_Source

 

- Posted by Regan Kelly

 

How the Internet Has Outdated Your BtoB Sales Process

by professional speaker, chief strategist, and best-selling author Mike Moran, in Biznology.com

I’m old. 30 years ago, I learned how IBM qualified leads for sales. At the time, I know now, it was unusual to even have a process for such a thing, but that is how IBM worked (and still does). Most B2B businesses did not have such a process and the ones who did probably did not follow them as religiously as IBM did, but even if you don’t know you have a process, you do. Whatever you do is your process. And unless you have seriously revisited it the last few years, the Internet has broken your B2B sales process.

Les étapes que vous devez définir pour l’enton...

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All this was brought to mind as I prepared for a session I am doing Monday in Copenhagen for the IAA on using social media for sales leads. (Please sign up if you are in town.) As I thought back to the old IBM process, I am not sure any of it works anymore.

IBM had its own names for it, but the process closely resembles one that many B2B marketers use called BANT, which stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline. Basically, what it says is that a well-qualified lead has all of those qualities–the budget to make the purchase, the authority to do so, a proven need for what your product or service does, and a timeline in which to take action.

As someone who still speaks to clients every day about the services they need to succeed in Internet marketing, I wonder how anyone qualifies a lead anymore. First off, I am never talking to the person who has the authority to make the purchase–often it takes three people (including one in purchasing) to sign off, so no one person has the authority. I am not sure if the Internet screwed that up, but it screwed up everything else.

Budget, Need, and Timeline can’t really be looked at as separate items anymore. In the digital age, no one knows in October of 2012 what they will need in November of 2013, but that is when the budget is set for it–if “set” is even the right word. Budgets whipsaw back and forth as results as reported, because everyone knows immediately how they are doing and make rapid course corrections, in part because the Internet has raised stick price speculations to a high art. Everyone is taking corrective action with budgets before anyone even knows there is a problem.

So budgets emerge only after people think there is a need. And, as with budgets, how can you know there is a need when things are changing so fast? You don’t have a need that you spend a year fulfilling–you discover something (from surfing on the Web, or searching, or hearing from a colleague) that would make your business better and then, voila! You get the budget and set the timeline.

Things move too fast for it to be any other way.

So, what is the real way to qualify leads? I am  not sure, but remember that the goal is not to qualify leads–it is to sell stuff. And I think I do know how to sell stuff. You must educate your customer–you must create the need. If you do, the authority, budget, and timeline will fall into place and you will have a sale.

And, although the Internet bollixed up the sales qualification process, it didn’t mess up selling stuff. Use the Internet to create the need with content marketing. Put together the deep, persuasive content that explains the problem and explains the options for solving it, including yours. Then share it everywhere and make it discoverable by searchers and wait for the leads to come in. I bet they will be qualified after they’ve read that much about you.

Then, get your sales teams to focus on social media to engage with potential clients. Use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook–whatever works–to help nudge the clients through the last few stages. It isn’t just phone calls and e-mails anymore.

It might not sound like fancy process, but I bet it will sound good when you ring the cash register.

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About the author:

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Author of Do It Wrong Quickly, on Internet marketing, and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., Mike Moran led many initiatives on IBM’s site for eight years, including IBM’s original search marketing strategy. He holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing, is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and regularly teaches at Rutgers, UC Irvine, and UCLA. In addition to his contributions to Biznology, Mike is a regular columnist for Search Engine Guide. He also frequently keynotes conferences worldwide on digital marketing for marketers, public relations specialists, market researchers, and technologists, and serves as Chief Strategist for Converseon, a leading digital media marketing agency. Prior to joining Converseon, Mike worked for IBM for 30 years, rising to the level of Distinguished Engineer.

Mike can be reached through his Web site (mikemoran.com). Follow him on Twitter at @MikeMoran.

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Posted by Regan Kelly

Cold Calling Fail: 6 Cheesy Phrases to Avoid

Most cold-calling scripts include dated lines that can scare off potential customers. There are better ways to make the same points.

by Jeffrey James, Inc.com

Over the years, I’ve read dozens of cold-calling scripts. Most of them contain old, tired phrases that annoy customers and immediately put them on the defensive.

Here are six of the worst offenders–along with my suggestions for turning the cold call into a real, live conversation.

Man making a phone call1. “How are ya doin’ today?”

You don’t know the customer personally at this point, so the customer realizes that you’re only pretending to care how they are. Furthermore, you’ve only got about 10 or 15 seconds to justify why you’re calling.

Better to get the point quickly: “I’m calling because…”

2. “Free estimate with no obligation”

Anybody with half a brain knows that a “free estimate” means getting set up for a sales pitch.

Rather than using the tired language of the hard sell, talk the way that people talk in the real world of business: “I’d be happy to run some numbers for you.”

3. “Unconditional guarantee”

Most people know that guarantees are meaningless and that warranties, which actually do have legal standing, are always conditional.

Rather than making empty promises, provide specific information about how you make certain your customers are delighted: “Here’s how we support our customers…”

4. “If I could show you a way…”

This line may have seemed like a brilliant sales pitch back in the Mad Men era, but today it sounds cheesy and manipulative.

If you want to find out the conditions under which a customer is going to buy, it’s better just to ask: “What’s most important to you?”

5. “Nobody can sell this cheaper”

Assuming the customer is sitting in front of a computer screen, it will take about 10 seconds to find a lower price somewhere on the Web.

Your real challenge is to establish yourself as a problem solver rather than the lowest-priced source. To do that, try something like: “We make things easy for you by…”

6. “I’ll be honest with you”

This statement flags a piece of information as being important–but it also plants the seed that you’ve been dishonest up until this point.

Instead, make that piece of information seem important by giving it more emotional weight, like: “Here’s what I really think…”

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What are YOUR tricks for getting someone on the phone to listen to you? Got any helpful hints to share?