Selling to the C-Suite: A Conversation with Tammy McCarty; President of Strategic HR Services at Cox Consulting Network

Rana Salman, Ph.D.

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As we continue our blog series today, we're talking to Tammy McCarty, President of Strategic HR Services at Cox Consulting Network (CCN). Tammy has more than 24 years of experience in executive roles, ranging from leading HR organizations to various sales and marketing executive positions.

Thank you, Tammy, for taking time off your busy schedule to share with us your advice and recommendations on how sales reps can engage with executives effectively and add value throughout the sales process. I appreciated your insights and authenticity throughout our discussion.

1. Tell me about your background.


Spent 24+ years in leadership roles in HR, sales, and marketing. “My degree is in communications and organizational design. During college, I was focused on HR and completed an HR internship before graduation. I’ve been very blessed to have a fantastic career, spending 24+ years in leadership roles spanning multiple industries. Early in my career, I've stepped into large roles overseeing HR for companies with thousands of employees distributed worldwide. In addition to HR leadership roles, I also led sales and marketing teams for numerous organizations.”

"Throughout this journey, I learned that for me to be highly effective, I need to 1) understand the industry that I’m in, 2) the business that I'm part of, and 3) what drives revenue. So, I approach every leadership role with this mentality.”


2. Tell us about your typical day as an executive.


Includes internal and external focus. “My typical day as an executive is interesting because I'm running a business. I'm managing consultants assigned to projects, and I'm also managing clients by partnering with my client’s C-suite.”

Internal day-to-day-activities“A typical day for me can be anywhere from being on calls with consultants, recruiting consultants, managing the business and the projects, and making sure things are going as planned. As part of the executive team, I participate in strategic meetings to determine, 'What is our messaging? What's our brand? And how are we positioned for future growth?’ ”

External day-to-day-activities. “Another part of my day also includes being in strategic calls as the HR executive for my clients and discussing strategic planning with their executive team members.”


3. Why do you typically get involved in deals?


Identify needs and gaps; ensure sales rep is a good fit. “I usually get involved in deals to 1) identify our needs and gaps, and 2) ensure that the sales rep, their solution, and their organization are a good fit for us. You can have everything that I need, but if there's no confidence and trust in the particular salesperson, I'm probably going to go with a different option. The old adage that anybody can sell anything is not true. I think that relationships are still critical in sales.”

Ensure organizational fit. “Also, the organizational fit is vital! When I purchase from someone, I’m partnering with them to achieve some goal, and I need to make sure that not only is the sales rep competent, but that I understand what their leadership team looks like; what their track record of success is; and how innovative are they?”


4. When do you typically get involved in the sales process?


Early phase; defining needs and requirements. “I’m involved in the early stages of defining our needs and the key requirements to move forward.”

Regular check-in with my team and in the final stages. “After that, I typically hand it over to my team so that they can identify some potential solutions or providers. I have regular check-ins with them to ensure we are in alignment. And then obviously in the final stages, I’m involved because I’m one of the final decision-makers.”


5. What are some preparation tips you have for a sales rep before meeting with an executive like yourself?


Research the organization and the people that are attending the meeting. “You need to research the organization. You need to know what we do, identify our strengths, and understand who the key players are. If you have a meeting with me, I expect, at minimum, that you've looked at my bio on the company site, which will lead you to my Linkedin.”

Use your network to learn about your buyers. “I would also expect that you looked to see if we have common connections and reached out to some of them to learn more about me. By doing your research, you will be able to position your offering in a way that matters to me.”


6. What do you expect from a salesperson meeting with you?


Don’t want to be sold anything! “I already mentioned the importance of doing your homework. I also expect not to be sold to by anyone. I recently sat in a meeting with a sales rep, and they were hard selling. They weren't listening; they didn’t ask questions; they came in selling and talking about how great their solution is.”

Actively listen to my needs. “I expect you to come in that first meeting knowing something about my business, as well as using that time to listen and learn about my needs, and then come back and share how your solution can help meet some of my needs. I want you to listen to me, and if you identify some needs as we're talking, that's great. But coming at me with solutions without understanding my needs and my problems, that's a hard sell.”


7. What questions do you usually ask sales reps during the sales process?


Rep’s tenure and their success in company & organizational structure, especially around post-sale. “I want to know their tenure and the type of success they've had in their role. I want to understand more about the organizational structure, especially around post-sale. I want to know, ‘Are you going to walk in and walk away as soon as the contract is signed and hand us over to someone else. ’ I want someone to be accountable if things don't go as planned; hence I don't particularly like the business model that says, ‘Hi, I'm Joe. I just sold you. You won't ever see me again, and I'm handing you off to someone.’ ”

Specific questions on how they address problems. “I also want to be able to ask the rep specifically, ‘How are you going to address X, Y, and Z?’ I want them to think on their feet when I have very pointed questions related to what my needs are.”

Examples of similar clients. “I also usually ask about other clients. If it's a system, I'm going to ask about their implementation process. I'm going to get specific. Based on my own research of their offerings, I'm also going to ask them questions to make sure that what I'm seeing is real and allow them to close any gaps.”


8. What have differentiated sales reps that have won your business versus those that lost?


Smart, know their product, transparent. “Assuming that the products are comparable, the sales reps that have won my business are smart, know their products inside and out, and own any limitations and bring them to the table so that I'm aware of it. Transparency is critical to me. A salesperson should not want to win every single deal. They should be as selective as a client is because not every customer is a good customer.”

Responsive and follow through with promises. “Another attribute of reps that won my business are those that are responsive and follow through with their promises; they're organized and on point, and they know my business and understand it.”

Accountable and cultural fit. “As I mentioned earlier, sales reps that won my business are those that stay on the account and hold themselves accountable to the outcomes. Another differentiator is culture fit. Just like there's a culture fit for organizations when they’re hiring employees, there's also a culture fit when you're buying. I need that rep to be a fit with my organization and my team. Culture is critical.”

Regular follow-ups. “Follow-up is also an important differentiator. Reps that have won my business conducted regular follow-ups using different channels (e.g., phone, email, etc.). They're the ones that check-in regularly and stay on top of their game, adding value to every interaction. My advice to reps is that you need to be relevant to your customers. If you're not, you're going to lose a deal.”

Good manners. "Finally, manners matter to me! How you treat people matters to me! It's important to me that I work with people that treat others with respect and empathy, and that applies to vendors I work with."


9. What would put a deal at risk?


Hard selling, not responsive, inaccurate information, sloppiness. “There are several things that sales reps can do to put their deals at risk. I've already mentioned a few, including hard selling and being unresponsive. Another thing that can put a deal at risk is when reps provide me inaccurate information. Sloppiness in anything they send me on the front end is going to cost them the deal.”

Pushy and doesn’t respect internal processes. “Also, reps that are pushy and don’t respect our internal processes can put their deals at risk. For example, when I give directions to a sales rep on our selection process and explain the steps we'll go through, I expect that rep to follow them. If they start copying other people in the organization, go around my team, or ignore the process I've outlined, they will lose the deal. That behavior is not a sign of a good partnership! It demonstrates to me that the rep is not invested in building a high trust relationship. All they want to do is sell that deal!”

Sales pressure tactics. “Another absolute that can place deals at risk is when reps put me on their timeline and their company goals instead of my timeline, and they use pressure tactics, such as: ‘Hey, we got to have this done by this date, or we're not going to hold this pricing.’ These types of behaviors backfire on the reps.”

Thank you, Tammy, for your time and for sharing your perspective and expertise. 

Rana Salman runs Salman Consulting, LLC., focusing on partnering with sales and sales enablement leaders to achieve outcomes through people, process, and sales training. You can reach her at [email protected] . Follow her on LinkedIn & Twitter