Pretty Big Deal: Chris Hays isn’t the stereotypical salesperson

Chris Hays is the COO and president at ZoomInfo, but because he isn’t the stereotypical salesperson, it took him a while to hit his stride. As an introvert, he struggled with the expectation that salespeople are outgoing and gregarious. But as the sales process became more of a science, he was able find a groove. In this week’s episode, Chris talks about how sales has changed over time, and a deal that got way more personal than he thought it would.

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Stephanie Tonneson: Chris Hays is the COO and President at ZoomInfo, but because he isn’t the stereotypical salesperson, it took him a while to hit a stride.

Chris Hays: Like it took sales, moving to a more science operational piece for me to be able to find a groove in sales that allowed me to get to where I am.

Stephanie Tonneson: On this week’s episode, Chris talks about how sales has changed over time.

Chris Hays: So I think we gained velocity and speed, but we lost some of that intimacy of being in the same room.

Stephanie Tonneson: A deal that got way more personal than he thought it would.

Chris Hays: There was a lot at stake there.

Stephanie Tonneson: And the patience that helped him win it.

Chris Hays: I showed up and treated it like it was a$600,000 deal.

Stephanie Tonneson: That, and more on this week’s episode of Pretty Big Deal. So yeah, that’s pretty much it. So, if you want to start me off with how you first got into sales.

Chris Hays: When I graduated from college, I graduated out of SUNY, Albany. And at the time, it was a pretty bad recession. So coming out of college, there wasn’t a lot of opportunities out there. So I worked construction through college and I worked a year after and I got an opportunity to get my first sales job. It was actually selling termite inspections for Terminix. I did that for about a year. And then from there, I was able to move over to selling pagers, which most people don’t even remember what pagers are. And then from that gig, I ended up getting a job with AT& T. And it was before AT&T, the landline and the equipment company divested. And that was a pivotal moment. That was a big job for me, a big step forward. I went from making pretty small money to making a decent living and an opportunity to… I was with AT& T up until I left and started a business with my brother in Buffalo, New York. It was a pretty successful career and a pretty successful outcome.

Stephanie Tonneson: Okay. So is that where you were, when the deal you’re going to talk about took place?

Chris Hays: Yep. Actually, I was working in Syracuse, New York. I was selling at the time PBXs and key systems, which were phone systems for businesses. And a lot of that at the time, that was a field sales job. You were physically going on site, you were meeting with people. It was very old school.

Stephanie Tonneson: Quite different than what you do today.

Chris Hays: Yeah. It’s funny. And one of the things that you don’t have, or you don’t experience anymore as a seller is the physical act of sliding a contract across the table and actually having somebody commit and sign the deal right there in front of you. Now, it’s just send a DocuSign. It’s a pretty steely moment when you slide the agreement across and the person’s got a pen and they’ve got to sign it. Sales has lost that, but I mean, it’s gained a lot more than it’s lost.

Stephanie Tonneson: Like what?

Chris Hays: I mean, we’ve got velocity now. So like all the old analog things, me traveling an hour and a half to get to one appointment, now, I can sit in an office, a living room, a hotel room and cover way more ground and move things along a lot quicker. So I think we gained velocity and speed, but we lost some of that intimacy of being in the same room. And like whoever speaks first loses that type of old school stuff. That is a little bit lost in the digital world.

Stephanie Tonneson: A little bit of like the human aspect of sales.

Chris Hays: Yeah. Yeah. And I think sales is better for it. I mean, I think like for me, the way that I operate and the way the person that I am, I’m not the outgoing, gregarious salesperson. I’m pretty low key. I’m what I would consider to be an operator. And 15 years ago, that’s not what sales was. Sales was the gregarious, the person who would go and play golf and that kind of things that’s stereotypical stuff. And while I was a successful salesperson in an environment like that, I don’t I would’ve been a successful of a sales leader. Like it took sales, moving to a more science operational piece for me to be able to find a groove in sales that allowed me to get to where I am.

Stephanie Tonneson: Would you consider yourself an introvert?

Chris Hays: Yeah. I’m definitely not a outgoing person.

Stephanie Tonneson: How do you use that to your advantage?

Chris Hays: That’s a great question. I don’t know that if I actually use it to my advantage. I think it allows me to listen better to be present in the moment. I guess that’s probably the way that I would think about that it works to my advantage.

Stephanie Tonneson: I would say that’s a huge advantage in sales. Isn’t sales mostly about listening?

Chris Hays: Yeah. Sales is mostly about listening, understanding. Yeah, for sure.

Stephanie Tonneson: How long had you been in sales when this deal took place?

Chris Hays: It was about five years, I mean, five years at the Lucent- AT& T gig. And before that, three more years in sales. So, a total of eight years.

Stephanie Tonneson: Okay. So tell me what happened.

Chris Hays: Yeah. It’s an interesting story because of the outcome here. Elite came in for a company in Syracuse, New York called Syracuse Supply. And I got the opportunity to go in and talk to the CIO there, Pat Franz and talked to her about what she was trying to do. And at the time, I think I had about 15 branches. So being able to connect all of those locations and allow them to have a better communication vehicle, both more efficient and more cost effective was ultimately her vision. I was fortunate enough to be technical enough to hold up and have that conversation with her. There was a new technology, it was called Frame Relay at the time. It’s actually come and gone, but then it was pretty cutting edge. Part of getting people comfortable with this with a new technology is understanding the benefits, explaining it. Like I had to meet with their executive team and talk about Frame Relay in a way that made it from complicated and technical to a way that they could understand it and understand the value in their business. So being in front of them and presenting to her CFO, Mark at the time about why this wasn’t going to be risky and why this technology was actually going to be able to deliver on this was kind of a turning point. To get him comfortable, that we knew what we were doing, that the technology while new was tested and it could deliver the outcome, that was a turning point in the transaction.

Stephanie Tonneson: Were you nervous?

Chris Hays: I’m always nervous.

Stephanie Tonneson: Really?

Chris Hays: Yeah. Always. You’re not always nervous?

Stephanie Tonneson: Still today?

Chris Hays: Every day.

Stephanie Tonneson: No, I am always nervous. But it’s funny, because I feel like I ask salespeople that question a lot and a lot of people are like,” No.” And I’m like,” How can you not?” You think they’re lying?

Chris Hays: I mean, when you’re going in and you’re negotiating and you’re sharing with people, I mean, you get nervous. You’re nervous that maybe you’re not saying the right thing. Maybe you’re not hearing it. I guess, I just worry about everything. It keeps an edge on for me.

Stephanie Tonneson: Yeah, me too. I do feel like I perform better. I do better when I have that nerve.

Chris Hays: Yeah. When I’m playing from behind, I feel like I’m playing the best.

Stephanie Tonneson: So you present to the CIO and the CFO. They are both on board at this point. And then what happens next?

Chris Hays: So at this point in time, the deal’s more or less done. Now we’ve got to go and show how we’re going to roll these things out and how we’re going to make these connections happen. That opportunity over the course of seven months, grew from$ 10,000 to a little bit over$ 800,000 transaction, which for me was a really sizable transaction.

Stephanie Tonneson: So was that the biggest deal you’d signed at that point?

Chris Hays: Biggest deal I signed. Yeah. That was the biggest one.

Stephanie Tonneson: Yeah, big win.

Chris Hays: It was a big win. Yeah. It was a big win.

Stephanie Tonneson: So what was the outcome of the story?

Chris Hays: Well, so this is an interesting one. This is maybe going to make people think I’m not as good of a salesperson, which is fine. So the thing about this story is Pat Franz is now Patty Hays. So as we were transacting this deal, we started to get to know each other a little bit better. And then we ended up doing… They had a charity event that they were sponsoring for the Boy Scouts of America. And I bought tickets to that to go. I think it was at the Carrier Dome for Syracuse University. So we bought a table there and it was like this kind of transition from we’re very professional, we’d always been very professional to now, we’re like in our first real social situation. That opened up a door for us to actually start dating. We’ve been married now for 20 years.

Stephanie Tonneson: Wow.

Chris Hays: I got a lot of shit for that after the fact like,” Hays will do anything for a sale. Look at this, what Hays did.” It was a joke for about a year at Lucent at the time. So really good outcome.

Stephanie Tonneson: That’s amazing.

Chris Hays: Yeah.

Stephanie Tonneson: That’s amazing. But nobody can think that you’re not as good of a salesperson for it because that can only happen once.

Chris Hays: Yeah. You only got that bullet to fire one time. That’s true.

Stephanie Tonneson: So what is it about you as a salesperson that you think led to this outcome?

Chris Hays: I think the main thing was just taking every opportunity seriously and showing up as best as you can for every opportunity. Like I said, this started off with just a tiny little phone system in some podunk county. And I showed up and treated it like it was a$ 600,000 deal. And I think that made all the difference. If I had showed up and just given her a quote for like, here’s your phone system, I probably would’ve got a$ 10,000 transaction out of it. I probably still would’ve won it, but I would’ve obviously lost a lot. I would’ve lost that transaction and I might have lost my wife. So there was a lot at stake there.

Stephanie Tonneson: This episode of Pretty Big Deal: Stories From the Sales Floor featured Chris Hays from ZoomInfo and was produced by me, Stephanie Tonneson. If you have a pretty big deal you want to tell us about, let us know by writing in to prettybigdeal @ zoominfo. com. Otherwise, we’ll see you in the next episode.