Speakers: Mike Balow | SBI

Are you a sales leader worried about keeping your job?


This podcast features Mike Balow, the Executive Vice President of Sales at Cypress Semiconductor.


In a 29-year career, Mike has only had 4 jobs. He has been the head of sales, as he is today, more than once, and each time his average tenure in this role is 5.3 years. The average tenure for the head of sales of a B2B company is 2 years. Mike is outperforming his peers by 166% on this critical metric, which for you is probably the most important metric of all.


During this podcast, Mike reveals:


  • His secret sauce for staying employed.
  • Why he is so much more employable than his peers.
  • His silver bullet for keeping a head of sales position: sales planning.


Mike is qualified to give us advice. Want proof?


  • He is the EVP of WW Sales at a $2 billion company with 5,000 employees.
  • He has 29 years of experience.
  • He has a degree in applied mathematics.
  • He spent his entire career in enterprise-scale B2B companies – Lockheed Martin, Freescale, IDT, and Cypress.


If you are a head of sales worried about keeping your job, and want to stay employed as long as Mike has, do what he does, which is detailed sales planning. Click on this link and hear directly from Mike himself.



Voiceover: Welcome to the SBI Podcast, offering CEOs, sales and marketing leaders ideas to make the number.


Greg Alexander: Good morning, everybody. This is Greg Alexander, co-founder and CEO of SBI. Welcome to SBI’s weekly podcast series. Today I have a real treat for you. We have a special guest. Joining me on the call today is Mike Balow. Mike is the Executive Vice President of Sales at Cypress Semiconductor, who is a global leader in integrated semiconductor solutions. You probably don’t know this, but you use Cypress products every day for they are embedded into popular consumer-electronic devices, such as digital cameras, air conditioning units, microwave ovens, et cetera, et cetera.


Cypress has approximately 5,000 employees and does just over 2 billion in annual sales. Mike became the head of sales in 2015 after Cypress acquired expansion. Prior to that, he had very successful stops at IDT, Freescale, and Lockheed Martin. Mike has 29 years of business experience and holds a Degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin.


Let’s just say, Mike, you got a few IQ points on me. I’m an English major from the University of Massachusetts. Mike, welcome to the show.


Mike Balow: Thank you, Greg. I’m glad to be here.


Greg Alexander: Today’s topic is job security as the head of sales. Everyone is going to be on the edge of their seat here because unfortunately the job of sales leader has a very short lifecycle, but you my friend have blown that apart. We’re going to talk about how you have consistently stayed employed much longer than the typical sales leaders. Hopefully, the people that are on the podcast today can do the same.


Let’s jump into it. Mike, in doing my homework on you and it’s weird. We’ve known each other for a little while and I never really went back and studied your career and here’s what I’ve learned. In 29 years, you’ve only worked for 4 companies.


Mike Balow: That’s correct.


Greg Alexander: The typical B2B executive stays with his company for 3 years over a similar time period. If you were typical, you would have had 9 jobs by now and instead you’ve only had 4. By my calculation now, I have to be careful with my numbers because you have a degree in Applied Mathematics so feel free to disagree with me here, but you’ve outperformed your peers by 225 percent.


Mike Balow: Wow.


Greg Alexander: What’s the secret to your success?


Mike Balow: I think, Greg, throughout my career I’ve always had been fortunate enough to have some good leaders that I’ve learned from and have brought me along. Then I think the other thing that’s key is putting good people around you. Certainly, in any company people are your most important asset and I’ve always looked at that way with the folks that I’ve hired or put around me. When you have good people surrounding you, it works so well to make your career keep blossoming.


Greg Alexander: Your first answer there I want to probe on that a little bit, which is the people that you report to being good people. How do you know? You’re in a job interview. Somebody makes a lot of promises. You accept the position. You only know what you know at that point in time. You obviously you’ve made the right call here and you’ve worked for people with high integrity, sounds like based on your tenure, did what they said they we’re going to do. How do you know in a job interview?


Mike Balow: I think when you approach a job interviewer, you’ve got to go into the interview being interviewed, but you got also in every people and make sure their culture is the right fit. I’ve also always did some homework on whoever I’m going to work for. You got through and ask throughout the industry, look at the reputation. I’ve got some very pointed questions during the interview. I think it’s just as an important when you’re taking a job or looking at a job is not just looking at the position but looking t the culture of the company and looking at who you’re going to be working for.



Greg Alexander: These pointed questions that you have, are they things that are generic that you can share with the audience? Are they situational than they or specific to the job that you’re interviewing for?


Mike Balow: They’re little bit of both. I think some of the questions you want to understand how they do business, what their trigger points are. Some leaders that I worked for are very metric-driven. Others are a little bit looser or they’re more process-driven. You try to look for a fit that’s more and style fit the way you like to do business I think. Then depending on the job, there’s always some specific questions that you have regarding that position.


Greg Alexander: Interesting. You mentioned the word fit and I think this is an underappreciated concept. Very often when either the employer is looking at a candidate or the candidate is looking at the employer, they think about competencies. This is a job’s back. This is what needs to get done and can I get this done. They don’t oftentimes look at style fit or cultural fit. Into your point, you have a style. You have a way of doing business that needs to be in congruence with whoever the leader is. If it isn’t, then that creates problems that could lead to job turnover.


Now you’re also leader and you have people that work for you and your second part of your answer there was making sure that your team is a great team so they do a good job and there’s some harmony up and down the work chart. When you’re interviewing somebody to put on your team and you know your style, what are you looking for?


Mike Balow: I’m looking for that person that can fit into the organization as well. You want to make sure that again to your point you get the harmony. You don’t want a lot of disruption. You want a good flow throughout the organization. I look for people that are very similar to the way I think but not exactly the way I think. I don’t want another miniature me necessarily because I want to also bring in talent that can bring other processes, other ways of doing business into the organization, because I think it’s important as an organization you got to continue to involve and grow otherwise it gets very stagnant.


Anytime I’ve left the company and came to the company, I’ve always thought I’ve tried to bring the best that what I learned at whether it was Freescale or Lockheed or IDT and to my new company and hopefully you can improve on the things that are better working well or aren’t working well in the new company. I’ve always tried to take the best of what the current company has and then bring in any improvements that I’ve learned in my other organizations.


When I bring people and I want people that I think are similar or good fit to the organization but I don’t want the exact, somebody that’s going to do it exactly the way I tell him, because I want their ideas and thoughts to be part of the organization as well.


Greg Alexander: You’re obviously very comfortable in your own skin. In my practice, I deal with your peers all the time and it ranges from somebody who has a lot of self-awareness like yourself who is actually hiring people and he doesn’t want them to be robots and just execute the playbook. He wants independent thought and I have on the other end of the spectrum somebody that says, “Don’t think. Do as I say or else.” How did you develop this tolerance?


Mike Balow: I think it just starts in my style, but I think early back to my Lockheed days I think that was encouraged. People weren’t put in a box and told to do what their boss told them to do necessarily, at least not in my organization, pre-thinking was encouraged. Again, I’ve always had the belief that you surround yourself with good people and it will help you rise to the top. I’ve always tried to hire people too that someday maybe I’ll work for and try to promote them along. I think if you do that and you’ve got people of career and trust, they’re going to work a lot harder for you and again it’s just going to make your organization shine that much brighter.


Greg Alexander: We’re talking with Mike Balow, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Sales at Cypress Semiconductor. We need to take a quick break right now, but please come back after the break because after the break, we’re going to talk to Mike about the topic of planning. Mike is an exceptional planner and I think his capability specific to sales planning was a contributor to his exceptional tenure in the role of head of sales. We’ll be right back.


Recording: Are you tired of the superficial approach to sales and marketing best practices served up on the internet by self-proclaimed gurus with glib answers to your problems? If so, subscribe to the SBI Magazine. It’s about time that you have a credible publication to turn to that delivers strong compelling stories and insightful analysis. Go to salesbenchmarkindex.com and subscribe to the SBI Magazine.


Greg Alexander: Welcome back, everybody. This is Greg Alexander with SBI and this is SBI’s weekly podcast series. Today I’m joined by Mike Balow, the Executive Vice President of Worldwide Sales at Cypress Semiconductor. Today we’re talking about jobs security and the role of head of sales. Prior to the break, Mike, I was discussing with you your incredible run, only 4 companies in 29 years. When I dove in to your biographical information, I learned a few things. Looks like you spent 13 years in engineering when you were at Lockheed Martin.


Mike Balow: Correct.


Greg Alexander: I would imagine … It’s uncommon for me to meet somebody who has had such a successful career in sales who spent longer than a decade in engineering. What was it about that experience in engineering that has helped you be successful as a global sales leader?


Mike Balow: It’s good question, Greg. I think the engineering part it force you to go off and do a lot of planning, a lot of thinking. When you start scoping engineering projects and I did everything from software engineering to engineering management, but when you start scoping the large projects, somebody’s projects can take upwards over a couple of years to 3 years, it required a lot of planning, a lot of preparation, hiring the right people. I think a lot of that has led to how I think in the sales. I think, as a sales leader, you’ve got to go through and you got to create processes and make things happen.


In today’s world, it’s metric driven as it is. It’s not just go out and call on customers anymore. It’s looking at the metrics and doing the planning. If you want to grow the company by 10 percent because you say you want to grow up by 10 percent doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. You’ve got to put a plan in place and a process in place to make sure that you’re looking at it too and you’ve got the right metrics that you know it’s going to have the potential to grow by 10 percent.


Greg Alexander: Let’s dive into the concept of sales planning. We’ve worked together with you on and off for close to 5 years and as a result of these engagements, we’ve had a front-row seat to study how you do what you do.one area I think directly prevented you from getting fired, like so many other sales leaders, is that you are an exceptional planner and I think that has a lot to do with your time in engineering. For the audience, when I say planning, I specifically mean revenue planning, items such as the sales plan that spells out exactly how you’re going to make the number, resource plan which states how you’re going to allocate your people and your money and your time.


Can you take a moment and share with the audience what you have learned about sales planning and how you’ve had the courage to do it in the high-tech industry, which tends to have the attention span of 60 seconds?


Mike Balow: Sure. One of the things that sales leaders don’t always do is plan far enough ahead. When I start a year planning, I’ll start looking in September, October to start looking into the next year and generally we start to look at what the products are that we have and what the potential is and then work with the CEO on the growth plan and then once I get the growth plan what we decide that the plan should be for the year then I start to put the plan in place. Having a good sales operation team is really key to doing that planning.


When you start to look at revenue planning, you’ve got to have a funnel that supports whatever percentage growth that it is that you’re looking to achieve. What I mean by that is you’ve got to look at both your current revenue with fall-off revenue you’re going to have year over year and then create a funnel and then look at the percentage of design in and design win that you typically achieve and then you got to create a funnel that’s going to support whatever growth that is.


Then you’ve got a resource plan accordingly so you’ve got technical resources and you’ve got sales resources and you’ve got to look at those accounts that are going to drive the biggest opportunities in the funnels and make sure that you’re over resourcing your larger accounts.


Greg Alexander: Let’s talk about that a little bit. There’s a couple of things you said there in the beginning of your answer that I want to unpack. You mentioned that in the late summer, early fall, you start planning for the new fiscal year and the first thing that you do is you work with the CEO, do establish your growth plan for the upcoming year. It’s a great opportunity for you that you have a CEO who’s willing to engage with you to come up with that growth plan.


Sometimes you know what rolls downhill. The CEO works with the board and some financial analyst says, “You guys you grow with 30 percent so that gets written in stone,” and then the CEO goes to the CFO and hands him an expense budget then he goes to the sales leader and hands him the revenue budget then says, “Make this happen.” With no bottoms up, reality checked it all.


Put us in the room. You’re in the room with the CEO and you’re having a discussion around the growth expectations for the upcoming year. Is it in negotiation? Is it based on fact? How do you handle that conversation?


Mike Balow: I tend to be very again metric-driven. When we start those planning sessions, I like to be very factual and have all the information I guess at my disposal. When we go through that whole process, it’s got to be one of these things where you’ve got to look in the mirror and say, “Hey, it is what it is,” and you look at what new products that you plan to introduce for the year, wear things that are out in the pipeline and then you have that hard conversation of here’s where I think we can go and then you’ve got a lot of metrics I think to back that up.


Again, if you start to look at the revenue and say, “Hey, if we want to grow by 10 percent, you’ve got to have the product pipeline to go do that,” and then you’ve got to have the resource plan I think to put in place as well. It is a little bit of a negotiation, Greg, but I think a lot of times you can bring in if you’ve got a good sales operations team and you can put the metrics together I think a lot of ties that helps speak for itself.


Greg Alexander: There’s a very subtle thing that you mentioned there that you just do because you’ve been doing it this long this way that our listeners don’t often do and that is consider products in the planning cycle. Many times the sales leader is having a conversation with the CEO and the conversation is, “We need X percent growth,” and the sales leader just cuts to the chase and says, “Great, then I need these many heads to make it happen.” It’s this battle between getting enough heads to make the number and the CEO not wanting to add heads and saying, “Get more productivity at your existing heads.”


You have to pull in the product roadmap in this scenario. If there’s nothing new on the truck to sell and I have to just make the number and the growth number next year on what I already have; there is a product lifecycle, there is a maturation point, there is a demand cycle for certain products, and I find that sales leaders don’t do a great job go and talk to the product team, particularly the CTO or somebody in product management and tie the product roadmap directly to the metrics and the data that the sales leader is piecing together to have this intelligent growth conversation. Tell me a little bit about your partnership with the product team.


Mike Balow: You’ve got to be I think very aligned with the business units. It’s important I think for the sales leader work very closely with the business units, because they’re always wanting more of the salespeople’s time. As a sales leader, you’ve got to make sure that all of your sales reps and technical resources are balancing between the different business units.


We will look at the beginning of the year or Octoberish and then look at the timelines that we’ve got new product introduction slated for and then there’s the ramp-up period , design and create and then the period of revenue. We start to bake that end and generally I’ll sign up for numbers as they’re introducing new products. If it’s a new microcontroller and it’s targeted at such a market like air conditioning, I may sign up for a 25 or 30 million-dollar first year number.


We interact that way very closely and then as they’re starting to get closer to roll out, we’ve got to have a rollout plan for the sales, collateral that kind of things. A lot of interaction with the business unit.


Greg Alexander: We’re going to take a quick break right now and when come back from the break, Mike and I are going to dive into product launch and tying that back to a sales plan, because it’s so critical to making the number and of course today’s topic is job security. If you missed the number, you’re not going to have any. Come back after the break and we’ll dive into that.


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Greg Alexander: Welcome back everybody. Today we’re talking to Mike Balow, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Sales at Cypress Semiconductor. We’re discussing job security and the role of head of sales. Right before the break, Mike, we were diving into the details of your plan and we were discussing your partnership with the business units.


For those that aren’t familiar with the semiconductor industry, business units are teams that own product lines and working with those business units to understand their product roadmap and sign up for reasonable revenue expectations by product line and then thinking through by connecting the dots on what needs to happen in order to bring that revenue to fruition. For example, in Mike’s used case, if a new microcontroller is coming out targeted at the air conditioning market and it’s a new product, there’s a conversation around how much of the market you can capture and in this hypothetical example it was 25 million.


Then, Mike, you started talking about the sales plan to bring that to life which we call this a launch plan. If you can explain to me a little bit about how you launch products, how far and advance you start planning for it? What are the key elements of your launch plans?


Mike Balow: Sure. Generally, as we get First Silicon; we’re close to First Silicon, when the product starts to become more real maybe 6 to 8 months out, I start working directly with the business units and the marketing teams to get the collateral that we’re going to need. What I mean by collateral is it may be presentations, it may be handouts, it may be training collaterals, collateral that value differentiates your product from your competitors.


It’s really important that at least 3 months prior to where we’re going to launch we get the sales force trained or technical resources trained or distributors trained and so when the time comes to launch and we’ve actually got Silicon, we’ve got the right training and the right collateral in the field. Generally, in the semiconductor industry worse following product before we actually have Silicon. We’ll start to presell that and move sample product several months before its final production. The planning process really has to start probably 6 months before we’re ready to launch.


Greg Alexander: What’s interesting to me there is there are a lot of dependencies on your launch plans. For example, you need to get the material of the content and you go to the marketing teams to make that happen versus having to do it on your own. That’s a luxury. I will tell you that me and my clients, the marketing team and the product team aren’t in-synced. The collateral to launch a new product which you need 3 months in advance to train all your distribution partners doesn’t even exist. The product launches and then you have to play catch up. It sounds you have a healthy working relationship with the marketing team and there’s a jointly-owned schedule. Is that true?


Mike Balow: Yes, absolutely. I think semiconductor business is probably a little different to where it takes a long time to get a product to market. You start to work on a design probably a year, a year and a half before it actually gets to market. We’ve actually had a hand in helping define that product, because a lot of the field feedback goes into the next-generation product. We’ve had a good collaboration I think with the business unit providing them feedback from the field what was needed and they’ll travel with the sales reps as well to key accounts to get first-hand feedback.


It’s a pretty good working relationship in that regards to get the product defined and then as we go through the cycle and then into launch, there is a good runway in the semiconductor business so we’ve got a lot of time to start planning for launch and getting that collateral information together. Because the sales is so technical and the space is so crowded I think in semiconductors, you really got to do a good job of creating some differentiating value to make your product successful.


Greg Alexander: Interesting. We got to go to break here. We have one more segment with Mike. When we return, we’re going to wrap all this up and suggest to the audience some specific things they can do immediately after listening to this podcast to implement some of these techniques that Mike has used in the area of sales planning, which has led to his outstanding job security. Please join me after the break.


Recording: You need to make your numbers and you want to hear how others are making theirs. You go online to find out what your peers are doing but can only find sales consultants selling you. Sound familiar? Then the SBI podcast is for you. Each week hear directly from a peer how they are making the numbers. Go to iTunes. Search for Sales Benchmark Index podcast and subscribe today.


Greg Alexander: We’re back with Mike Balow, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Sales at Cypress Semiconductor and we’re talking about jobs security as the head of sales. The reason why we had Mike on the show is his average tenure in sales leadership positions throughout his 29 years of business experience is 5.3 years. If I contrast that with the benchmark as of the end of 2014 of 2 years, Mike is doing an exceptional job. We know that many of our clients who occupy the head of sales roll. They have constantly worried about losing their job so we wanted Mike to share with the audience what he’s doing to stay in these positions for as long as he is and thriving these positions.


The main takeaway is this concept of sales planning and actually having a plan and having that plan be understood by the CEO, the product team, the marketing team, your own team and everybody working off the same sheet of music, if you will. If you are head of sales and you’re worried about keeping your job and want to stay employed, as long as Mike has, do what he does, which is detailed sales planning. Now you might be saying to yourself right now, “No kidding, Greg. How do I do that?” Let me point to you a couple of resources and then I’m going to ask Mike for his practical advice.


The first thing I would point you to is our website, salesbenchmarkindex.com. If you click on the About Us section and then click on Our Services, you’ll see a section there on sales planning. In that section, there’s a tab called Education and in that Education tab is tools and templates and methodologies that you can use that are pretty practical that can help you on this to get started on this journey of sales planning. That would be my contribution and my immediate recommendation.


Mike, if you were somebody listening to this podcast and you wanted to get going on this right away, speak directly to that person. What would you have them do?


Mike Balow: I would certainly have them create a plan, work with your CEO and you decide what that reasonable CEO, CFO, what the reasonable growth is or what they were trying to achieve year-over-year growth and then you start to put a plan together that hopefully can; if you want to grow by 10 percent, you’ve got to put a plan together that grows by 10 percent.


Part of that, again, as we talked about is going to be that new product mix. I think you’ve got to sit down, layer in the new product mix, what revenue falloff you’re going to have, look at your funnel. Decide if your funnel currently is going to support that level of growth so you’ve got to be able to determine what your design in percentages are and design win percentages that you can accurately look at and reflect what the potential revenue I think is going to be. Then you start determining if you got the right level of opportunities in the funnel or you’re going to be short on growth.


From there then you start to just put the plan together and that’s going to be working again directly with the business unit, with your CEO, the rest of the executive team. I think if you come in to the meetings with factual data and you can show if the business unit gets these products out on the state, we’ve got an opportunity to achieve this level of revenue. If we miss that date and it slips a quarter, then it impacts the revenue by X amount.


Having a lot of factual data versus going in and saying, “Hey, this isn’t possible,” it leads to your credibility and I think to a better team effort as well. It holds the business unit accountable. Everybody is bought into that same plan and I would say to get going early on the planning cycle you can’t plan early enough. September, October, get the plan in place because when you get into the holiday season and before you know it, it’s the start of the year and then you’re playing catch up.


Greg Alexander: Great. Mike, we are at our time allotment here. I could talk to you about this forever but on behalf of everybody listening, this was fantastic. This is a big contribution to us, so thanks a bunch for joining the show this week.


Mike Balow: Greg, thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.


Greg Alexander: Take care.


Mike Balow: Thank you.


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