Harsh Sabikhi is the Country Manager for GitHub Canada responsible for growing the Canadian region.
Harsh started off as a software engineer writing applications in C, C++, and Java for Texas Instruments. In 2006, he transitioned into technical sales and eventually into software sales. Harsh is passionate about perpetual learning, change, and lean operations.
Harsh is a native of Toronto and holds an Electrical Engineering degree from McMaster University.
Outside of work Harsh is a new dad and has a 3-month-old boy. He enjoys spending time playing hockey, golf, and baseball.
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN IN THIS EPISODE:
- Inspiration story of Jack Ma (Alibaba Group)
- Storytelling techniques deployed at GitHub by Harsh
- The importance of keeping up the pace of change in the sales world today
- How competition and cooperation will influence the future of sales.
[00:36] Welcome Harsh
[00:49] Type of business stories that inspire Harsh
[00:52] Jack Ma’s story ( Alibaba Group)
[01:06] Being a firm believer in positive thinking
[01:56] The win or learn Strategy
[02:34] Transitioning from Software Engineering to Sales
[05:49] Presenting and gathering feedback
[06:36] Product knowledge
[08:06] Bridging roles (having a cross-functional team)
[08:46] How it felt to be the first Canadian sales rep for his company
[11:25] Isn’t it hard to coach and mentor cross-functional teams?
[12:01] Knowing the profile of your team is a key
[12:37] What kind of stories do you tell to gain customer’s trust?
[14:50] Customer experience and community
[15:25] The future of software development
[16:19] Why do some sales teams fail?
[17:07] The relationship between the pace of change and commoditization
[18:30] Advice for starters and college students
[19:24] Challenges facing business owners
[21:23] The future of businesses
[22:00] The Art of Storytelling
Harsh Sabikhi: 00:00 To me, the art of storytelling is you tie personal experience to the product that you’re selling.
Automated Voice: 00:12 This is the storytelling for sales podcast, a show about leveraging the power of storytelling to ignite your sales performance and grow your business.
Ed Bilat: 00:22 Hi, and welcome back to the storytelling for sales podcast. I’m your host Ed Bilat. Today we have Harsh Sabikhi country manager of GitHub joining us from Toronto, Canada. Harsh Sabikhi, welcome to the show.
Harsh Sabikhi: 00:39 Thank you.
Ed Bilat: 00:41 Great to have you here, so Harsh, we’d love to hear your story. It’s very exciting. But before we jumped in, we’ll ask you one of our traditional questions. What type of business success story inspires you and why?
Harsh Sabikhi: 00:53 Sure. I would have to say Jack Ma, he had failure after failure, but he never gave up. I can’t remember how many times he actually got rejected from jobs and some schools. Personally, I’m a firm believer in positive thinking. Where a positive mindset, leads to great results. However, failure allows us to take a step back and analyze ourselves. The situation and why we failed, this is where combining a positive attitude with learnings from failure comes into play. Jack Ma learned something from each of his failures early on, to now create one of the largest companies in the world.
Ed Bilat: 01:34 That’s a great example. I think he was… I think he applied them for a fast food restaurant like 20 times and he was the only one rejected, I think.
Harsh Sabikhi: 01:47 Exactly but he didn’t let that bother him and that’s the best thing. Because I think it was Muhammad Ali as well, who followed this strategy before Jack Ma who said, I either win or I learn.
Ed Bilat: 02:03 I think you hit the very important point because sometimes we get into this culture of win or lose. Instead of using the word lose, you use the word to learn. This way it’s more positive. A great example. Obviously, in our generation, that’s it… It’s one of the tremendous success stories. Somebody coming out of nowhere and becoming… Building the new brand an exciting brand, which is worldwide accepted. Okay, great. Let’s turn the spotlight back at you if we can so a software engineer who went to sales. Now I have to say this, it almost never happens. Cause I remember running a sales team myself. My guys, my sales guys, we were extremely scared of all the engineers and coders. Whenever we would have to go talk to them it was like… I don’t understand it, what I’m going to say? What we found out then engineers, they want to talk to sales. They were just scared because they thought we were all crazy, obnoxious people who exist to sell the product, which actually should be selling itself. You crossed that bridge. Tell us about this experience. How did you do it? What did you do it? Take us.
Harsh Sabikhi: 03:25 Sure. I did everything you just mentioned and that is spot on, I would say was spot on a long time ago, 1520 years ago, and that’s when I was a developer. I would say… I think the personality and because of social media, because of our interactions online, the developers over time have changed as well. The developers are now a lot more what I call business friendly or customer friendly if you will but let’s talk about my transition. I have an electrical engineering background. I went to Mac Master and I did an internship with Texas Instruments, in 2001 and then that’s when I got into actually writing software for a large organization. I also developed software for that. But so in the early two thousand when I was a software developer up until 2006, I knew I had a passion for building things.
Harsh Sabikhi: 04:24 I enjoyed writing software. The joy I took was seeing how my software was being used. It wasn’t until when… I say being used, meaning being used by the end customers. It wasn’t until my mentors within the engineering organization, the product marketing, the product management organization brought me along on their sales calls or conferences and I actually got feedback firsthand from the customers using the software. That’s when I realized there’s a bridge right there, that the problem development has had for a very long time is it’s been a siloed organization. It still it is.
Ed Bilat: 05:09 Yes, you work alone.
Harsh Sabikhi: 05:10 It still is in a lot of organizations today, where the developers are completely disconnected from the end stakeholders. They typically have internal stakeholders and those internal stakeholders work with the external stakeholders. It wasn’t until I got to leave my desk to meet the clients and customers, and realized, wait a minute.
Harsh Sabikhi: 05:30 That’s actually pretty, it’s fun because you’re listening to your customer, you see what they want, and then you turn that into a feature request or an enhancement request or a bug fix on your backlog, and then you go from there. It was at that point where I realize, I’m going to swiftly …slowly start to transition into more of a product management project manager role to do that. Then from there then I said, okay, well that’s great. I realize I love presenting in front of customers. I am not scared of doing that and I love gathering feedback. That’s when I realized, what other customer-facing roles can I do? The logical choice was sales. I had the luxury of working for a fortune 80 company in Texas Instruments and I had to start from scratch and I’m not going to lie to you, it was a bit of a step back, if you will, from a career perspective where, being a developer right now, literally you start from the bottom and be a technical sales associate at Texas Instruments.
Harsh Sabikhi: 06:32 Then I became a technical sales rep and then go on from there, but it was a jump that I really enjoyed doing because I knew if I didn’t do this now, it would be much more difficult later on.
Ed Bilat: 06:45 Did the product knowledge and understanding your own code, give you the confidence of talking to clients?
Harsh Sabikhi: 06:54 Absolutely, that’s exactly right. Because I used to write software, it was called code composers studio was the software that we built. I wrote an application that allowed embedded developers to view what’s going on into their associate, the system on a chip. Then later, when I moved into hardware sales at Texas Instruments, I was selling those chips. I knew the software that was going to help them make use of those chips.
Ed Bilat: 07:24 Interesting, so it actually helps you, of course, you had to learn new sales techniques and approaches influencing, presenting, closing. This is a new world. However, you already had the background of actually understanding the product. Cause, I don’t know how many times I can tell that we’d been sitting in the board room. Right. So on the first day, it’s just a sales team presenting, presenting, and then VP of engineering work, same. Then he says, okay, like sales stock is over, let’s just talk about the actual product. Then my entire team would go silent because nobody could say anything. We don’t understand it and we looked at our technical director and says,” Could you please take us in the next two days?” We’ll be just sitting there smiling, pretending we understand what they’re talking about.
Harsh Sabikhi: 08:16 No, and I think that’s where… I think where I see that the tide shifting as well, where I think the future is going to be people that can straddle both lines. Of course, we’re still going to have roles as a solutions engineer, sales engineer, if you will, a sales rep and then also the engineering team. Those roles don’t go away. I think crossing the line and having a knowledge of what everyone does, I think having cross-functional teams is where this whole agile principal also came from. We’re understanding what other people are doing in the organization only helps you do your job better.
Ed Bilat: 08:54 Interesting. Well, I’ve noticed that both software and the Github, you were the very first Canadian sales rep and actually a Canadian employee and now you run the entire country. How did it feel to be the very first and what kind of challenges you’ve had to go through?
Harsh Sabikhi: 09:15 It’s definitely a lot of risks taking. They know it’s… you start when you built from the ground up and Canada’s always an afterthought for American startups. They have to build up the business at home first in America, and then, having an international expansion strategy. I’ll talk about Robbi. I took over, I was the first person there just a major accounts. I was there for over three years, almost three and a half years. Then from there, going from one person, we grew the team to six people, including me. At Robbi, it was all about, I mentioned agile before having a cross-functional team where we had… I was considered the quarterback and then I had a territory account manager. I had a customer solutions manager.
Ed Bilat: 10:09 You had the team right away, right?
Harsh Sabikhi: 10:12 Well, not right away. No, Robbi hadn’t been built to that, because you got to, you have to build enough business to justify…
Ed Bilat: 10:18 Because you build it like eight times within three years, right?
Harsh Sabikhi: 10:22 Yes, exactly. We grew the revenue, 8X, and to do that, you need a cross-functional team. It was scary in the beginning because you’re essentially starting a greenfield region. You don’t… Canadian customers don’t really know much about the product. You’re not just doing sales, you’re doing business development, you’re doing a little bit of marketing and it’s a fun challenge, but I really enjoyed it because I learned a lot. I learned a lot from Robbi and that’s what helped me get to where I’m at Github. Now, with Github I want to be clarified, I’m the country manager known from a sales perspective. I don’t obviously have engineering working for me, but from a sales perspective, the same story where it started off. I was the first a sales rep in Canada and now we’ve expanded to take over the entire country from a sales perspective. It’s a very similar challenge and we’re doing the same thing. We did a Robbi but get up as much bigger than Robbi. Now we recently got acquired by Microsoft. The level of responsibility if you will, has been magnified just because of the scale.
Ed Bilat: 11:36 Now you coach and mentor other people on your team, right? Isn’t like a really hard to coach and mentor cross-functional teams with people of different backgrounds?
Harsh Sabikhi: 11:49 It is. That’s why I have a clear coach world, where I still manage some of our biggest customers only. Then all the other ones, I’ll join the calls, I’ll work with my team on helping them understand, here are the people we should be prospecting, here’s the messaging that might resonate, breaking those messages up into verticals and then also joining the calls when they need me to. The key that I find is understanding, what is the person’s background on your team? Are they a self-starter? Do they… Are they more of a task runner based? Meaning you have to give them a laundry list of things to do and they’ll go ahead and do it. Or are they more creative thinkers where they come up with customized campaigns to generate new business or come up with creative ways to further expand into accounts. I think getting an understanding of the profile of your team makes the job a little bit easier.
Ed Bilat: 12:55 I think you brought an excellent point. In this podcast, we talk about the storytelling, and specific stories we tell to our customers in order to influence, to get the trust to work for them and actually building a relationship and depending on your team, depending on their background, they’re going to tell different stories. What type of stories do people tell you and there is the difference between different personalities. What do you see in the field?
Harsh Sabikhi: 13:29 Absolutely. Right. So what about depending on the client? I’ll share the experience that I use. I can talk a little bit more about what other people do, but I’m a huge fan of from a storytelling perspective. I took Dekker training about four years ago, I think four or five years ago, and it was one of the best training. I highly recommend that for everyone listening. Dekker is all about, presentation styles and skills and they do talk about storytelling in there as well. To me, storytelling is a way to really connect with your audience and customers at a deeper level, you get to take a step back and not even talk about the product you are positioning that’s going to help their business needs. But you’re taking a step back and really tying what you are going to be talking about.
Harsh Sabikhi: 14:22 To emotions and empathy and really get into the human emotions into the sale, so at tying your personal stories to the actual sales itself. A few examples, Github, our platform, we’re an online service we’re the home of open source software, that’s where people go to the open source software. But then we have also the largest organizations in the world that use our service and we are the core, we’re the hub of software development.
Ed Bilat: 14:52 24 million people using this, right?
Harsh Sabikhi: 14:55 We just passed 30 million. We’ve been going through exponential growth, we just passed 30 million users and with Github, the storytelling we use, I use and a few of my teammates uses customer experience and community. You’re not beat up buying Github or you’re not signing on to be part of our service just so you can work in a siloed approach. It’s about joining the community. It’s about the benefits you will get, in getting access to the community, uh, software that’s already there. And then getting the benefit of understanding, okay, your customers are utilizing this service to build X, Y, and Z. If you join that community, then you start thinking about adjacent customer experiences. The future of software development is going to be about not just what your product does, but first of all, how is your product (a) different than your competition? (b) How does it fit into what the new narrative of customer experiences?
Ed Bilat: 16:03 Their own stories, right?
Harsh Sabikhi: 16:06 That’s right and also add from a UX perspective and an experience perspective. I hate to say this, but it’s a reality. Our lives are pretty much controlled by Facebook, Netflix, Amazons Googles of the world, and they have provided interfaces and services for us to interact with. That’s sort of the narrative, if you will, of customer experience, so when we talk about how you can build that by joining and getting the community benefits to build similar customer experiences for your end customers. That’s one way we do storytelling.
Ed Bilat: 16:43 Interesting. I love that. Why do some of the sales team fail in this space? Where is the disconnect?
Harsh Sabikhi: 16:52 Honestly, I really think it’s the pace of change and keeping up with the disruptions. Yeah. Because you have a sales strategy, you have a product, it works in sales today and you’re crushing your revenue goals.
Harsh Sabikhi: 17:10 In a year, that’s not going to be the case in a lot of cases. In the past you sold something and you are good for three to five years minimum but now every year you have to constantly earn the trust of your customers. You have to constantly innovate and you have to constantly change and keep up with the disruptions that are coming left, right and center. That’s because the pace of change is directly equivalent to the rate of commoditization. The software’s becoming a commodity now. People can spin up a new server overnight and start-up business, with pretty much no capital expenditure, very little capital expenditure. I think that’s really why [inaudible] because if you don’t, not constantly learning and changing and keeping up with that pace of change, you will be left behind.
Ed Bilat: 18:03 I love it. I think it’s connected exactly where the storytelling experience we just talked before. You need to tell new stories all the time. It cannot be the same story for the next 10 years, because the change is just too fast. Who would think, you know, like Uber is the largest taxi company in the world and they own no cars? Airbnb is in the largest accommodation provider and they own no hotels. Ten years ago, that would be unthinkable even to think that something like that. Facebook, this is the largest media company in the world and they don’t write their content. You don’t adapt to that. What kind of story you can tell how relevant, you going to be in that space. For the new folks or people who just entering a workplace, college students are there any particular advice you could tell them before they go to the real world?
Harsh Sabikhi: 19:11 Always stay up to date and never think that after you leave college or university learning is done. I think constant learning is key and the beauty is with Udemy and Coursera, we’re so lucky and fortunate to be living in this world where we’re living in because information and learning and education is at our fingertips. There’s no reason why you should not be constantly learning and evolving and retooling and retraining yourself for the future.
Ed Bilat: 19:46 Perfect. I love that. Let’s go to our couple of more questions before we wrap up. It has been great. In terms of challenges ahead of us, we talked about the pace of change anything other you see facing today’s business owners, sales leaders, business leaders, what are the challenges ahead of us?
Harsh Sabikhi: 20:08 I would say the biggest challenge is because I talked about the customer experience. I talked about how because of growth within your own vertical, you might be hitting a plateau or you might be hitting a point of saturation. You now will have in the future, I think you’re going to start to see nontraditional competitors. What I mean by that is… If you have… You’re in the banking space and you’ve got your laundry list of banks, you’re competing with…
Ed Bilat: 20:38 Traditionally?
Harsh Sabikhi: 20:38 In the future. That’s right. The traditional banks in the future, traditional banks won’t be your disruptor. Not even be the fintech companies. It could be the technology companies or other companies, retail companies that offered their own credit card or other financial products. I think the challenge that we face in the future is companies need to grow and they need to shoot, keep shareholders happy and increase shareholder value, what’s going to happen in the future is I truly believe companies are going to start to venture off into areas and businesses that are not, that they weren’t necessarily thought of that they would be entering 5 to 10 years ago.
Ed Bilat: 21:26 Something like completely different from what they’re doing today?
Harsh Sabikhi: 21:32 Yeah. Like I mean… Amazon Bank. There’s a reason why Amazon can be a bank.
Ed Bilat: 21:38 That’s an interesting example. Okay. So just to be open-minded about the pace and at the same time, be aware of it, how the nontraditional businesses could become your competitor or your partner for that sake.
Harsh Sabikhi: 21:56 Exactly. I think also the future is also cooperation we have to stop looking at somebody who is a competitor today as a true competitor rather. They’ve got a customer base, customers like their products. We have a customer base, customers like our products. How can we potentially work together to keep both of our customers happy and not necessarily worry about, you know, eating into each other’s lunch? We eating their lunch.
Ed Bilat: 22:27 Wonderful. I love that. Let’s finish with the art of storytelling, what, what does it mean to you?
Harsh Sabikhi: 22:36 To me, the art storytelling is you tie personal experience to the product that you’re selling. If you’re talking about building the community. How you build a community on Github or how you build a business on Github? Well, then you can relate that to, well, how did you potentially build something? It could be not related at all to Github. In fact, it probably is not related to Github, but it’s more about, you talk about the benefits of a collaboration effort, right? At the end of the day, Github is a collaboration platform. Storytelling should be, you lead with what does collaboration mean to you? How have you used collaboration before? Give an example of that and then you get into collaboration at Github and then you… Like a hamburger, right? And then you end off again and how you tie that back into your initial opening of that story that you tell.
Ed Bilat: 23:33 Excellent point so it’s not the what and how it’s more like why? Why are you doing this? What is your story? What’s your personal value and going on the platform?
Harsh Sabikhi: 23:46 Exactly, because people talk about business to business or business to consumer or customer. That’s B to B, B to C. At the end of the day we’re all humans and the underlying common denominator if you will, it’s a human to human sale or interaction every day.
Ed Bilat: 24:05 It’s not B to B or B to C, it’s H to H.
Harsh Sabikhi: 24:13 We can put call it that.
Ed Bilat: 24:14 Perfect. Love that answer, so thank you so much. You guys have any upcoming events or what would be a good way to contact you?
Harsh Sabikhi: 24:21 We do. In October, October 16th and 17th, is our Github do universe in San Francisco, registration’s open and we highly recommend people coming up to that. We can assure you it won’t be like any other conference you’ve been to, we’ll get up dust things very differently. It’s in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts and registration’s open.
Ed Bilat: 24:48 Great. How could our listeners contact you?
Harsh Sabikhi: 24:52 On LinkedIn, it’s probably the best way.
Ed Bilat: 24:55 Okay, perfect. We’ll be happy to include that link. Again such a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you for joining us today, I believe we were able to connect really some good takeaways.
Harsh Sabikhi: 25:06 Great.
Ed Bilat: 25:06 Thanks again for coming to the show.
Harsh Sabikhi: 25:08 Thank you so much.
Automated Voice: 25:08 That does it for this episode of storytelling for sales, you’ll find show notes and links and our webpage; storytellingsales.com. You can subscribe to the podcast on Itunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening.