Rocking Quota with Elevate – How One Sales Executive at NetApp Rebuilt His Business to Drive Customer Wins

By Mike Dilio, FlexPod Marketing Manager, NetApp

Until practicing “Elevate” with his clients, Mark Steele was seen as just another storage vendor. Now the CIO has him on speed dial and Mark is invited to participate in strategic planning across every line of business at this Fortune 500 organization.



A connoisseur of sales training, Mark Steele has tried just about everything to improve his win ratio with clients. But in his own words, each seminar he attended or book he read was always missing something, “I never really found an approach that fit for me.” So when an email crossed his inbox inviting him to “Elevate – led by Pat Bodin”, he figured he would give it a shot. “I had nothing to lose. I still had a big number to retire for quota and already my competitors were winning deals that should have been ours. I was looking for that golden nugget that would give me an edge in the field.”

Elevate - A Common Sense Sales Method

Elevate is about understanding and aligning with the new IT buyer – the business - and then facilitating discussion with other parts of the organization such as traditional IT or finance. But to do this, according to Pat, sales teams really need to understand the customer, how they make money, what they sell, their corporate strategies and business goals, and what keeps the CEO awake at night.

At Pat’s seminar, Mark was immediately intrigued, “Pat’s explanation around why we lose so many deals – especially the ones we never know about – made so much sense. I was hooked and decided to go all-in.”

Aren’t You Just a Storage Vendor?

Mark was determined to give Elevate a fighting chance. “I simply decided to stop every other sales activity and only implement the practices that Pat taught in the workshop.” One of the first orders of business was to initiate a conversation with the customer that had nothing to do with NetApp. “Pat wanted us to understand how our customers were organized and what their business goals were. I was a little embarrassed that even after months and years of working with clients, even after responding to countless RFPs, I really didn’t know the answer to this simple question.” So Mark rolled up his sleeves and went to work. “The reaction I received at some of those first meetings was pretty funny. Almost every client said the same thing – why do you want to know that? Aren’t you our storage vendor?”

Stopping the Leak in Oil, Gas and Exploration

The first client Mark selected to work with was a large oil, gas and exploration company. They were an existing NetApp customer, but Mark had lost two RFP bids to competitors earlier in the year and he hoped that Elevate could help him figure out why. He wanted to gain control back with this important client and stop the competition from gaining any more ground.

“We learned exactly how the company was organized, what their goals were for the year, what technologies they were using and how and, most importantly, what was stopping them from reaching their objectives.” As Mark and his team began to gather information, he realized that he needed a software program that would help him make sense of it all and identify where they should focus. “There is a tendency to run after deals that we are comfortable with because we understand them – but what Elevate does is uncover new opportunities that are often much higher value to the organization.”

Uncovering Value with MindJet

Because traditional opportunity management tools are not designed for an Elevate approach, Mark purchased MindJet to help. “I personally invested in a software program – MindJet – it helped us organize the information we were learning and built out a visual diagram to understand what we needed to go after and why.”

One of those RFP deals Mark lost to the competition had been about solving a line of business goal. “Even though we answered the RFP perfectly, because we didn’t understand the reason behind it, we weren’t able to win. We had been responding to a technical document, not a business need.”

We Kept Asking Questions Until We Fully Understood the Complexity

As Mark and his team delved further into the client’s objectives, he learned that the RFP had originally been issued to try and solve the problem of delivering real-time seismic information in video across disparate groups of knowledge workers. It was a big problem for them and one that nobody on the client side believed could be solved by any vendor. “The client was discouraged at this point. We simply kept asking questions until we were sure we understood exactly what they needed to do.”

The NetApp team agreed with the client. This was a challenging problem that couldn’t be solved by any single vendor. “The great thing about NetApp is that we have amazing partners and integrated technologies. We assembled a team that included engineers from Cisco, Citrix and as well as our own “A” team and started to brainstorm on a whiteboard.” The problem was highly complex but something that engineers do really well is figure out how to solve problems. This was not going to map to an existing validated architecture but required a custom approach. Once the team figured out just how the combined technologies could work to deliver a solution, they went back to the business with a proposition.

“This is Impressive, I Didn’t Know It Could Be Done”, CIO, Large Oil, Gas & Exploration Company

The team built out the solution in a lab, tested it and then presented a working model back to the business. At this point, even the CIO was involved in the conversation. “The CIO was really impressed by our efforts – he told us that other vendors were bringing technology but that we were bringing solutions aligned to their corporate strategies around business innovation. He estimated that we were solving a $100 million dollar problem for him. The business immediately stepped forward with money for a PoC.”

As a result, Mark said the client has cracked wide open. “We are now meeting with other lines of business who are eager to learn how we can help them and the CIO takes my call at any time. Before this started he didn’t even really know who I was.”

Mark finished by saying that the Elevate approach is the only one he will follow going forward, “I have been meeting with my NetApp counterparts who are working with equally large oil, gas and exploration companies. They believe that once we implement here they will be able to replicate the solution across a wide range of customers.”

A Funnel of Million Dollar Deals

Mark finished the conversation with a look back at his MindJet visual. “See all the projects we’ve uncovered?” he shared excitedly, “I didn’t know about any of these before we began the Elevate approach and in fact, probably would have spent all my time on this one (he pointed out a migration project) which is probably worth about $80,000 in revenues for us. Now I’m working with the customer at the “C” level on deals worth millions of dollars, while building out solutions that have the potential of creating new industry standards. It doesn’t get much better than that.”