When we think of sales, it’s easy to think in stereotypes: pitching new customers, focusing on closing business in order to hit aggressive targets, and a somewhat adversarial relationship with marketing departments. Joel Petersen, Vector Solutions’ VP of Sales in Education, sees sales differently – and leads a dynamic, successful team as a result. We interviewed Joel to learn more about his perspective on sales, the power of collaboration and how people always come first.
With 35 years in sales, and 25 of those in education technology sales, Joel is an industry-veteran, but his experience at Vector has led him to strategize differently in his role leading and managing his team. “At Vector, more than any other company I’ve worked with, I believe the product we are selling makes a difference and impacts lives.”
For Joel, the drive to further Vector’s mission of supporting the everyday heroes in our communities has fundamentally changed the way he views sales.
The examples of companies who prioritize the new customer at the expense of their loyal customer base are too many to count. In his career, Joel has seen firsthand that nurturing your existing customers, and being collaborative and creative to provide exceptional service and support to them, is invaluable to the success of the sales team and the organization as a whole.
“Your relationships with your customers are critically important and, when you truly express care towards their mission and needs, you can make a real difference in their success,” says Joel. He gives the example of a former client, who had retired but referred Joel to a colleague later for an urgent need that became one of the biggest deals of the quarter, and one based on a trusting professional partnership that had been developed and nurtured over many years.
The pandemic has taught us nothing if it has not taught us the importance of adaptability and collaboration. Without the usual tradeshows and a limit to the ability to travel to meet potential new buyers, as well as a largely remote working environment, the landscape of sales has looked very different this year.
“We knew we needed to work together, across Marketing, Account Management, Partners, and Client Success, and that we’d have to think differently. We reached out to the people who knew the most: our customers,” Joel says. Together with other leaders, Joel reached out to clients on Vector Solutions’ advisory team to understand how their business was impacted by the pandemic and how they could help.
“This outreach showed the need for the COVID-19 Student Courses, which empowered us to embrace an opportunity amidst the challenges of COVID-19, but also address our customers’ pain.” This initiative allowed Joel’s team to collaborate with other teams at Vector to provide creative and innovative training and solutions as well as optimize the product offering for their clients in an aggressive timeframe.
“We’re all in this together. Account Management has provided quarterly reviews that give us enormous insight into our clients’ needs and challenges, and Partners and Client Success have in turn provided joint webinars for our clients, building product awareness and sharing best practices to help optimize their experience. These are powerful ways of supporting our clients and to our efforts on the sales team.”
For Joel, it’s all about supporting and championing his team and working together towards success.
“One of the biggest mistakes companies can make when it comes to sales is not authentically investing in their sales team as human beings. Employees are people! It’s important to not just motivate, support and train them in the office, but to recognize that they have lives outside of the office – and to support those too.”
“It’s also critical to nurture and model the culture you want on your team.” For Joel, this means nurturing a culture that breeds gratitude and collaboration – not finger pointing and adversarial dynamics with marketing teams, which can be common in the industry.
This culture of gratitude and collaboration should not be contained in just one part of an organization – like Sales – but throughout an entire company by letting other departments know how much their contributions are appreciated.
“The drive of an individual comes from within, and people will run through fire when they are provided with the appropriate balance between accountability and appreciation. I sincerely care about my team as people, about their families and about their personal lives. I also have high expectations for them, and nurture those expectations they have for themselves. We all want to feel that we are part of the solution and will respond with dedication and commitment when we’re treated with respect, honesty and empathy.”
Despite the challenge of the pandemic, Joel and his team work hard to develop a close-knit, collaborative culture on their team and a relentless drive towards success. Some of the tactics they have adopted:
Through a genuine dedication to customer relationships and internal collaboration, Joel’s team takes a radically different approach to sales from the traditional ways organizations drive business growth. “Never underestimate the power of your customer base and the value of the relationships you’ve developed. Every day, I learn from my team and my clients. Internally, we are driven to celebrate each other’s successes and innovate solutions; for our clients, we take pride in the fact that we are making a difference by helping them keep our schools, universities and communities safer and more inclusive.”
Joel Petersen is an experienced education sales executive who has helped companies consistently exceed revenue goals through direct-to-district selling and strategic distribution partnerships with Apple, Dell, Scantron, BrainPop, and many others. His philosophy of putting the customer first has helped him establish key relationships with district and state level administrators and key consortia, always delivering solutions that meet their unique needs, with renewal rates of over 95%.