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Q&A with Robert Gray

Six Degrees: Tell us of your home world.

Rob: I married my college girlfriend (university of New Hampshire at Durham) after a 8 year courtship, not sure why she “hung in” there, but I’m glad she did. We have two beautiful kids, Jackson age 13 and Michaela age 10. We do have a family pet, Henry, a lively 6 year old jack Russell terrier. I would highly suggested doing research before buying one, they require a ton of attention, long walks at night and plenty of love…wait, that’s me…Henry is low maintenance, really. He runs the house with an iron paw.

People who want to capitalize on Relationship Capital as a popular measure of networking success are the people I want to connect with. Consequently, web 2.0/networking is a passion. I run my Prep School (Bridgton Academy) Alumni networking group and love social networking for business and new connections. I am very active in my community as a youth sports leader and mentor. My real passion is coaching Life, I mean Football. Well, you get it. It’s one in the same. Having played Division 1 college football and now being able to pass along my “hard earned knowledge” to young men is a self-fulfilling prophecy “you get what you give”. My young players are all going to be great teammates, students, citizens, husbands, fathers and above all leaders. I am honored every single day I get to be around such motivated and inspiring young athletes. Having some part in their personal development makes it all so rewarding.

100 % of the kids we coach will play sports for a living! That’s right, 100%.... can someone challenge me that life, in and of itself is not a sport? That in America we reward the focused, driven and committed individuals. What adult that makes a living in this country, doesn’t have to compete in some way or another for either their livelihood, or to keep their job? What youth football coach in America (that’s worth his salt- thanks Vince), isn’t preparing your young men for their future & building a solid foundation for success in any endeavor that life has to offer. Football is a metaphor for life. Anyone that has played this game to the high school level knows this to be true. The top sales rep at the office, the focused & committed surgeon that operates on you, the person that tunes your car engine up and checks your brakes, the person that builds your home, they are all striving to earn your business. This is America, we welcome competition for EVERYTHING! It’s the fabric of our society. What makes you successful is your desire, commitment and dedication to be the best at what you do. Hmmmm, where have I heard that before? Harvard business school’s first rule of business is: If you don’t have a competitive edge, don’t compete! Maybe that’s just something we should wait to tell our kids when they are in….say…. college. Yeah, sounds about right. They’ll be much more mature at that point and better prepared to handle it. Hello! “Yes, Mrs. Jones, we are running sprints at the end of practice and painful as they might be for you to watch, your son will make it”.

Football more than any other sport relates to how “working hard tends to make good things happen” and how being part of a team leads to a deep sense of pride and self-respect. Football coaches have a responsibility to help create a foundation in their players that teaches: Hard work will be rewarded! Preparation is key to success and Team comes first.....we were taught these things by our coaches at the exact same age as our players are now. We have an obligation to give back what we got. No?

I have no complaints at all, I am coaching my son and his friends and we get so much out of the total experience that I am glowing with pride both as a father and a coach! I am helping in some small way; positively shape the lives of these kids. And, what I get back from this experience makes the 25 plus hours per week I volunteer pale by comparison. My advice to business leaders and former athletes is to “get involved” you can’t put a price on what you get back.

Six Degrees: How many years have you been in the staffing industry?

Rob: 2009 marks my 12th year in the Executive search industry. Hire Image is the third company I have built and branded. My firm has satisfied clients all over the world and has built outstanding best of breed sales forces for some of the best Hi-tech firms in the world.

Six Degrees: How did you get started as a recruiter?

Rob: I spent my first 9 years out of college with E & J Gallo Winery. The best sales training program in the US. Consumer goods is a great place to start your career, box seats to all the games, dinner out three nights a week, but that gets real old at 30. I got out to chase the money in hi-tech, period. Living in Boston in the late 90’s and not being in Hi-tech recruiting was a sin.

Six Degrees: What single event had the most impact on your sourcing/recruiting career?

Great question. I started my Career at a F500 agency, sat next to several million dollar a year billers and was floored by the money they made. I knew I was in the right Industry, same deer different forest thing, just a learning curve to get past.

Do you have a mentor to whom you attribute your overall outlook on recruitment, capabilities, and/or model your career after?

Rob: Absolutely, one of my oldest friends and former business partner mentored me for my first few years in the industry. “Stay on the phone, good things will happen” is what he told me a dozen times a day. Its so true, you want to reward yourself then pick up the phone and make another call. No victory laps here kid.

Six Degrees: Tell us about "Hire Image"

Rob: I have run my own firm since 2000. My world is “kill what you eat” period. I have never not run both sides of a desk. I have a partner in Amsterdam that runs EMEA and I run North America. I can and have managed up to 20 clients at once, but that’s about the maximum. I run a strict recruiting life cycle process and never manage the pipeline, just steer it.

Six Degrees: (A) What other companies' recruiting operations do you admire or have heard are best-practice examples?

Rob: I’ve always admired the retained search groups for the attention to detail and candidate control they have. After the white-hot dot com era, I developed the Hire Image software sales candidate evaluation best practice. Here is the quick version:

Enterprise Sales Ability
Strong Revenue achievement selling Enterprise applications... We look at the last 5 year W-2 history. Acceptable low end average is $200,000, (We prefer to see $250,000 average) with an average quota of ~$2,000,000. We also would like to see that the candidate has closed 6 or more deals over ~$500,000 and 2 or more deal over $1,000,000 in the last 5 years.

If the above criterion is met, then the hard assumptions we must make are:
A) This candidate can get in the door (fortune 500- CXO level) for first meeting and set the tone. Additionally, this candidate is a businessperson that can relate to the needs of CXO’s from a strategic view. They understand the business drivers as well as integration issues.

Measurable components:
W-2 Stream over last 5 years;
Large deal history over last 5 years;
Ability to articulate solutions sales skills;
Demonstrate a consultative sales style; and
Demonstrated stability – has stayed with previous employers long enough to generate customer loyalty

B) This candidate has proven experience selling enterprise applications where they have taken a business solution and built strategic thrust with value. Then, have the ability to navigate the strategic initiative through a complex sales cycle to closure.

Bottom line: This Candidate knows how to explore and develop business issues and objectives, create a mutually shared vision of the solution, match those visions with the capabilities and technology, and keep control of the buy cycle. (Solution Selling 101)

Typical enterprise solution sales cycle includes:
Identify CXO (sales, marketing and CIO) critical business issues (pain) and who in the organization is impacted.
Provide capabilities that map to the CXO resolving these issues.
Document sales process and plan the sales cycle for the CXO to agree upon. This lets us know if the CXO is serious about continuing this business relationship and it identifies the next steps in closing the sale.
Provide a compelling accurate business case (value proposition, cost justification and confirmed agreed return on investment

Vertical Expertise

Measurable components:
Number of deals sold into desired vertical
Previously worked directly in the vertical (hands-on at potential customer target account)

This candidate has sold multiple $500,000+ licensed software deals into Major clients within your targeted verticals. (Major defined as +$3B total revenue) Or, the candidate has worked for 5+ years in a hands-on capacity within the target industry.

If the above criterion is met, then the hard assumptions we must make are:

A) This candidate understands the buying criteria, business drivers, and influencers within this particular Industry. This candidate also comes to the table with a Rolodex of CXO’s that should facilitate first meetings based upon candidate’s business relationships (reputation).
B) This candidate has sat on the other side of the table and understands the business issues that the buyer is facing – can relate to those issues from personal experience.

Domain Expertise

Measurable components:
Experience selling for direct competitor or competitive product
Experience selling complimentary or other desired application/technology
Advanced technical aptitude (previous experience as an S/E or similar experience)

This candidate has sold multiple $500,000+ license software deals in your specific domain.

If the above criterion is met, then the hard assumptions we must make are:
A) This candidate has the ability to sell a business solution (vision). This candidate can quantify a value proposition and translate that into real time return on investment. This candidate has very strong upfront communication of Economic Impact.

Pluses: Start up experience- We like candidates that can “evangelize”, that have “missionary mode experience” and have scaled out net new business with few pre-existing customers.

Six Degrees: How do you get to the C-level and what do you do once you get there?

Rob: Most candidates are good at getting to "ground swell" - functional people. These people will give you the answer to "where is the pain" and plenty of soft assumptions... but they are not the C-level decision makers.

(B) Six Degrees: In what aspects are they superior?

Rob: This best of breed evaluation practice offers all interviewers a guideline to evaluate candidates against. It serves to keep your hiring manages focused on what’s important. Once you can get a client to agree on evaluation criteria, you have a much better shot at getting your candidates through the “gauntlet”

Six Degrees: What recent general news story or industry trend do you feel will have an impact on your work in the future? Why?

Rob: Web 2.0 is has changed the game to a large degree, however our services as executive search recruiters will never be replaced. Sourcing elite candidates and selling them on your client’s value as an employer will always require the skilled hand of a seasoned recruiter. “A players” always have employment choices, selling them on making a move requires a consultative relationship that is built over years. Additionally, I see more RPO (recruiting process outsourcing) firms in the market.

Six Degrees: Tell us about your broader involvement within the staffing industry:

Rob: I am a regular at Mass Hi-tech, ERE and Boston area networking functions. I attend Fordyce annually and participate with LION,,, SourceCon, Cybersleuths, Networked Recruiter and of course the number one recruiting blog “six degree’s from dave”

Six Degrees: Can you detail how the recession has affected your particular industry niche?

Rob: Enterprise software sales recruiting is slow, period. In the late fall 2008, I thought this was another “Top Grading” market. However, the pain runs deeper and longer. The good news is that top candidates are still being placed and recruiters are still being paid. My suggestion is to find your niche and work it. Sales engineers that have strong technical backgrounds are always in demand. Top enterprise sales athletes are still coveted, no one is open for business without an elite sales force. Find those industries that have organic growth. Greentech, Solar (PV), and Carbon emission management systems are right on the horizon. This world still runs on software, that’s not changing, stick to the basics. Software and platform as a service in Healthcare IT is a good place to start.

Six Degrees: Aside from simply the generic term “Networking” what specific efforts have you made on your own behalf, or on behalf of colleagues to broaden your opportunities.

Rob: I currently sit on Advisory boards for some of the fastest growing technology companies in Cambridge/Metro Boston, Ma area. The 128-technology belt is my “backyard” and home to hundreds of Software/Venture Capital firms and Business Incubators. I am truly blessed to be recruiting/living in such a fertile technology rich area. In fact, many of my neighbors are Software executives. My advice is to “get smart” on Healthcare IT, specifically voice recognition software. Target the competitive landscape and subscribe to a sales intelligence service. I use Zoominfo ( HYPERLINK "" I think it’s the best product on the market

Six Degrees: Given your own Trial and Error experiences as a Networker, what advice do you have for your peers on what NOT to do? Be specific

Rob: Networking is a function of making connects, period. The more connects you make on a daily basis the better your OBP (on base percentage). However, don’t be fooled in thinking you don’t need to pick up the phone. Nothing will replace talking to your clients/candidates. Don’t try to be the expert on all verticals and domains. Pick several that you have an affinity for and become a subject matter expert.

Six Degrees: What is your next career goal? What do you need to do to get there?

Rob: My next career goal is to transition my business into a pure retained search model. This is easier said than done, work in progress. Stay tuned world.

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