Leadership Q&A – David Christiansen

David is the Director of Sales & Marketing at ACP Solutions and has 20+ years in B2C and B2B sales.

David has led high-performing sales teams across 8 locations around the globe most notably spending 10 years at DHL. He is also an accredited trainer in Sales Storytelling, a Keynote speaker at industry conferences in Australia and NZ. David has over 20 years in financial management, having managed budgets up to $600k OPEX and $2.5M CAPEX. David has over 10 years’ experience as part of the Executive Leadership Team including Dun and Bradstreet, Iron Mountain, and CCH.
  1. What was your first sales role and in which industry?

I was a Sales Cadet for a fine Paper Merchant Tomasetti Paper and sold paper to printers and designers. I spent time working in the warehouse, accounts, customs and buying until I eventually progressed to internal sales and then external field sales. I loved it and stayed 5 years.

2. What was the first lesson you learnt on the job?

Know your subject. I spent time talking with printers who knew far more than me about paper so the more I was prepared and knowledgeable the more credibility I carried.

3. How or why did you become a sales professional?

I was an aspiring VFL footballer for Richmond and was travelling back to home in Glen Waverley after training one afternoon at Punt Road. I had also deferred from studying PE at Rusden College so needed a job too. On the way home I called into an employment agency and was told there was a sales job at a paper company, and they wanted to see me immediately. I quickly put on a suit over my mud and rode my bike to Notting Hill where I as interviewed and got the job. My Dad was in the rag trade at Pierre Cardin, so I guess sales was in my blood.

4. How would you describe your approach to sales and what are the values that you live by?

My approach has evolved over time as the buyers have also evolved over time. In the beginning I was an order taker as the product almost sold itself. In those days I focussed on making the process easy for my client. At DHL, where I spent 10 years in sales, my approach was to do the hard things and get in front of my clients as often as I could as there was always business on the table as long as you went and got after it. It earned respect too from a tough audience. Today it’s very different as access to information is everywhere. Now we must address value, risk and fit more than ever before. In terms of values, I have been taught by many excellent mentors. My father’s values ring loudest in my ears to be yourself and be honest. Pretty simple right?

5. In your view, what are the three most important factors that determine sales success?

When I have recruited salespeople, I have always looked for humility, learning agility and the ability to be coached. Humility because you don’t know everything. Learning agility to apply what you have learned and the ability to be coached by not only your company leadership but also by your clients.

6.What did/do you love about sales?

The deal. I love the machinations of the deal and getting it done. I always have.  I am super proud to be a sales guy as you must have the ability and the resilience to know a little bit about a lot of things. Reading the room, asking for the business and every day is a school day. It’s the best job in the world.

7.What did/do you dislike about sales?

Poor leadership. That’s all.

8.Tell us about your most memorable sale and why.

My most memorable sale was in the last 5 years where I had a consulting business and sold my Business Storytelling to a NZ based freight company sales team. Imagine standing up in front 30 salespeople as your first consulting gig and delivering a full day training course on how to tell a story!! It turns out they loved it and it made my feel so fantastic with their feedback.  Of course, the fee was terrific too but better than that was the feeling it gave me and the impact it had on this company.

9.What is the best piece of advice a sales manager passed on to you when you were in sales?

I’ve had plenty of great sales leaders over the journey. One of the best was when I was in Sydney working or DHL. It was not so much advice more my observations of him. Garry would come to my office eating his jar of yoghurt and ask me questions and almost always give me things to do and think about it. He would often say its not good you being busy and your reps not being busy. You need thinking time to do your job properly and they need to be busy. Make sure that your team are busy, and you save time to think as a leader as your sales team need that from you. Of course, that didn’t mean I remove myself from the day to day though.

10.What do you wish you had known when you first started out in sales that you know now?

How important technology was to become and how to marry it with the soft sales skills to become the most valuable salesperson I can be. Just think about how effective and valuable a pre-sales software person is today. Clients love them justifiably.

11.What traits do you believe are critical for success in sales management and sales leadership?

A Sales Manager does, and a Sales Leader is. I love that delineation. Critical is the love of sales and the ability to manage people below, across and up. Traits for the Manager is the ability to get stuff done and a Leader to inspire people to do and achieve.

12.What is the secret for sales leaders to get the best out of their teams?

Hire the best people, have them apply the best process and then manage their performance. People, process and performance in that order.

13.How has your industry evolved in the last 10 years or so and what changes do you see coming in the next 10 years?

Clearly technology and access to information is the biggest change in the last 10 years. A child of 8 has access to more information than their grandparents have had in their lifetime! The challenge now will be to evolve with the robots, the AI and the insatiable appetite for doing more with less. The next 10 years will see our profession particularly in B2B sales being so adaptable and open to managing a new age of people who are technologically brilliant. Soft skills be programmed into a robot and we all will be surplus if we don’t evolve.

14.What are some of the biggest challenges in moving from management into executive leadership?

Back in 2007 I was a GM for an international firm based in Auckland, New Zealand. My biggest lesson going into a Director role after than in Australia, was understanding the impact of my leadership style on my business. It was a revelation when I understood that. Moving to a thinking bias from a doing bias and applying a longer lens is still a big challenge for aspiring leaders.

15.How do you balance life and work?

Great question as the line between week and weekend has shifted as we have access to our business anytime anywhere. Fortunately, I have a passion which takes my mind away from work easily. Being a lifelong Tigers AFL supporter is a great distraction for me. I give as much as I have during my time at work and when that day is done, I make sure I am exercising at the gym or walking the Tan. Experience has taught me to be present at work and present outside of work. You can’t half do either.

16.What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

David Christiansen Surfing

I love to surf when I can and keep fit by going to the gym. My surfing is not great, but I am very happy at a place called Wye River on the Great Ocean road. The enjoyment is not only in the water but also the journey to get there. I love to socialise and equally I also love to be outside enjoying what a fabulous country we have. Having lived and worked in 6 countries there is nothing like Australia. Nothing better than being at MCG with 90,000 Tiger fans raising the roof after another Richmond win. Yellow and Black!

About ACP Solutions:

ACP Solutions are a Melbourne based professional software and services consultancy servicing the legal, accounting and financial services sector. Offering world class document management including iManage software, ACP Solutions have qualified professional engineers who bring experience with business analysis, process management, Microsoft Office automation and a range of productivity and software tools.  Established in 2003, ACP Solutions are a growing organisation that count many of Australia’s most successful law firms as clients.

For more information visit www.acpsolutions.com.au.