Sales Smackdown with Charles Pontrelli, Division Manager at Heartland

west coast careers interviews portlands sales leaders

Charles Pontrelli, Payroll Division Manager at Heartland

Charles Pontrelli, Payroll Division Manager at Heartland

October’s Sales Smackdown brings us Charles Pontrelli, Payroll Division Manager at Heartland. We discuss Nextels, sales philosophy, and delicious meat & potatoes.

Charles, from being a Senior Leader at Enterprise Rent-A-Car to building teams for Heartland, you’ve probably found yourself in a crazy situation or two. Tell me about one of them.

Which ones can I talk about? I haven’t been at Heartland long enough to have a crazy situation, but at Enterprise there were always crazy situations. Finding things in the car you didn’t want to find, for example….

So, what did he find in the car?

That, i’m not going to share! I’m still an Enterprise Rent-A-Car fan. Enterprise is a great company, and disclosing what he found won’t be doing anyone any favors!

Charles, so many of your past colleagues talk about the CWOW files. What are the CWOW files, exactly?

Wow, the CWOW files are notes that Chris McReynolds and Jon Rutten took during our Enterprise Rent-A-Car staff meetings. Or maybe even other things I’ve said that they thought were memorable. There was quite a bit.

Why were some of those memorable?

The best way to find out is to ask those two guys. But really they were just quotes from me that they found valuable or entertaining- really a combination of both.

I’ll give you one that won’t embarrass me. It might be a little dated, though.

“Nextels make people stupid.” Back in the day we had Nextel radios and you could squawk somebody and ask them questions. Managers wanted their people to squawk them every time they had a question, and I felt like that robbed people of the ability to make their own decisions and their ability to experience wins and failures. By giving them an umbilical cord to their manager, I felt it prevented them from learning.

Tell me about a leader in history you admire.

Oh, there are lots of them. Julius Caesar is one. Jesus Christ is another. Both were able to achieve great things against intense adversity, and they changed the way things were done. Our society is what it is partially because of Julius Caesar . Yes, he was a megalomaniac, but truly he was a man of the people. Both Caesar and Jesus were men of the people and didn’t think of themselves first. They were thinking of the greater good. George Washington was also in it for the good of the colonies. He was offered power constantly and rejected it.

You are building an organization at Heartland and have a big job to do. What’s the perfect size team for you?

Oh, I have a big appetite. The perfect size allows me to have an impact on them.

When you have more than 5 direct reports it becomes challenging. When you have more than 10 it’s really challenging. But we have territory managers who can manage others. By the end of the year I want to have 16 good people. I have three today, 4 starting soon, and so I need to hire another 9 or so in 90 days. I’m a glutton for punishment… I’ll take as many as I can get as long as I can help them.

Tell me about your sales culture today.

Well, it’s certainly in its infancy being that I have three employees- soon to be seven. I do have three hallmarks to my culture that I try to advance.

Number 1 is truth. If we all can be honest with each other we’ll create an environment that will be efficient and safe. The truth establishes an even playing field for everyone.

Number 2 is teamwork. If everyone is on the same playing field, we can all spend our time serving our clients and defending ourselves against external threats. I don’t look for the assassin salesperson, I look for people who can work well with others. Teamwork is critical.

Number 3 is excellence. We have a level at Heartland call “All-Star.” If you sell a certain amount you get that title and there are some financial rewards as well. We recently had a conversation in a meeting where we discussed the fact that everyone should be an All-Star all the time. It’s not even a skill thing. It’s a will thing. I want to create an environment where everyone wants to be an All-Star and can be an All-Star.

Tell me more about your sales philosophy.

I’m not a traditional sales guy. The lion’s share of my experience is in operations. I did sales- always- but i’m not the best salesman in the room. My philosophy in sales starts with communications, and that starts with listening. So if you listen to hear what your client wants or needs- listening to hear- you create an environment where you could do something about it. When you can provide solutions based on those things you discovered, it’s no longer sales. It’s a conversation between partners. When I walk out the door do they feel like I took care of them? Did they receive more value than what they paid for? I don’t have any sales tricks or gimmicks. I go find their needs, find solutions, and then charge a fair price. It’s a country boy type of approach, but if I build great relationships with customers I can keep them for life and I’ll never be in a situation where I need to count my money.

What’s your philosophy on leading a sales team?

Well, i’m better able to answer that today than I was before starting at Heartland. They provide an environment for me to execute on my own philosophy. If I help my own people reach their own goals, it would satisfy my goals and the company’s goals. The quota stays the same every single month – and long as you hit your quota we call it a win. Heartland knows how much money they need to make to cover an employee but we don’t create an environment where people are chasing an elusive quota. You have the choice to focus on hitting quota or surpassing it. It’s your choice. It’s way more motivating for the employee because they are running toward a financial goal and they are the one raising the bar on themselves. So i help people build their careers. I don’t know if that’s a good answer… But i do want people to achieve their own goals.

Heartland gave you LinkedIn Recruiter, a budget, and a product to sell. How are you attracting all this talent?

The company values mirror my own values so I can sell it well. When candidates hear my enthusiasm and what we’re doing, they become interested.

We recruited for you when you were at Paychex, and you had it real easy with us in the driver’s seat. How’s your life these days doing all this recruiting on your own?

When I first started, what I was trying to do was send out 50 LinkedIn messages per day to prospects. I maybe had 5 days where I met that number, but I’ve added about 700 connections since I’ve started.  I had to make a quick transformation. I realized my #1 job was about being a recruiter, and so I manage myself to that.

Do you have any new-found respect for your old pals at West Coast Careers?

Oh, hallelujah brother! When I was at Paychex, I had internal recruiters, you guys, job postings, and tons of resources. But now I have a new appreciation for how much work goes into recruiting. It’s tough! It’s just like sales and the rewards are great.

I’ve noticed some patterns in all of these Sales Smackdowns. Leaders tend to want real, authentic, hard workers who don’t let small issues impede their success. You leaders also want people who will allow you to help them overcome hurdles. Am i missing anything?

I don’t know if you’re missing anything. But as a leader, you do want to respect the effort your rep is putting in. A great leader – not a manager- but a great leader gives themselves to their people. They try to be empathetic so they can offer effective guidance. There is a lot of giving. You want to know they are listening and you having an impact. And also you want to know they are worth it. You don’t want someone rejecting your counsel.

I learn from everyone. I learn from my kids, my employees, history, whatever. So when I encounter someone who rejects guidance, if I can’t reach them at some point I lose interest. I’d rather contribute to someone who wants help.

Every employer has a special set of “secret sauce” interview questions. Tell me about some of the unique questions you like to ask when interviewing sales reps.

I don’t have one. In fact I think I reject them. I learned early on that those weird questions don’t do anything. But I did learn back at Enterprise to do a lot of behavioral based questions. I really peel back the onion on people. It’s interviewing 101. I’m not interested in the philosophy people want to tell me. I’m interested in what they’ve done in their life. Past activity is a predictor of future activity, so don’t tell me what you think. Tell me what you’ve done. Meat and potatoes. And pulling back the onion.

You’re making me hungry, Charles.

Tell me about the worst answer you’ve ever heard in an interview.

I had a construction company, and within the first five minutes of the interview, the candidate said “I just want to make sure that if you hire me and let me go that I can collect unemployment.”

What’s your favorite sales movie?

First, I should tell you I’ve never seen Glengarry Glen Ross, Boiler Room, or the Pursuit of Happyness in their entirety. I’ve heard quotes from everyone I know, and the Pursuit of Happyness is the one I would most want to see. Glengarry Glen Ross looks like one of the most depressing movies ever.

I’m really not a fan of sales movies. I guess I’m a communicator, not a typical sales guy. But you know what, anyone with a message to communicate is a salesperson. Doctors, lawyers, kids, owners- all of them.

Tell me about your top 3 favorite leadership books?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders is a really good one. There is of course The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.

But here are a couple of other ones. The Conquest of Gaul. They are messages from Caesar to the Senate of Rome about his military expeditions into Gaul and the Britannia. This is a guy who took a bunch of Roman soldiers a long way from home and inspired them to spread Roman order and come back. And then there is a book called Founding Brothers. It’s a collection of stories about our founding fathers, and what is remarkable is that it really highlights how these guys brought our country together and unified it against a lot of odds. And they disagreed on most things, but they were able to come to accommodations with each other for the greater good of the country.

Tell me a weird Portland story.

Portland is weird. There’s lots. I love Portland and I think it’s an awesome place.

When my wife and I first moved here, we were driving along near the park and it was a Sunday morning. There were a bunch of dudes dressed up in medieval armor. They were larping. They had swords and shields and lances, and they were role-playing it out in the park. And I thought, this is Portland and this is what I came to. It’s quirky stuff that makes me love it. It’s an open and accepting state and city in a lot of ways. I love it.