Are you committed to reaching your goals and succeeding? You cannot do that if you are not putting in effort and hard work. It’s not about being the most remarkable person. It’s about being consistent. Listen to Kevin Rochlitz, Senior Vice President and Chief of Sales Officer at the Baltimore Ravens, on how you can make things happen for you. Lance and Kevin discuss the impact your decisions can have on your career (and why it’s so important to have a mentor), the value of hard work and grit, and the importance of knowing your core values. If you have a sales team full of freshman salespeople, you’ll want them to listen to this episode and get them started on the right track.
Listen to the podcast here:
Against the Sales Odds Highlights Success Through Hard Work And Commitment With Kevin Rochlitz
I’m excited about this episode. I have a friend of mine. We’ve gotten to know each other well. Kevin Rochlitz, who we call Roch. He is with the Baltimore Ravens. Kevin, why don’t you introduce yourself?
Lance, hope all is well. I’m here in Baltimore. I’ve been with the organization for many years. I’ve been promoted four times. I’m now the Chief Sales Officer here. Before that, I was all over. I was in college sports at Fresno State, Utah State and the University of Miami. I then got into Minor League Baseball with some of the guys that you know quite well with Mandalay Sports and put up a team in Dayton, Ohio. I then got pushed down to Frisco, Texas and opened up that one before coming here to Baltimore.
Ironically enough, I had Brent Stehlik, who we were talking about, on the last episode.
Brent, Michael Drake and a lot of those guys are all the former Mandalay guys. We’ve got a good group out there but it was a college sport. I thought that’s where I wanted to be. I slowly transitioned into a couple of other things that were more sales-focused and I ended up in a sales-focused area here in Baltimore.
Your role is Chief Sales Officer. Tell the folks who are reading your responsibilities, what falls under you as Chief Sales Officer?
Responsibilities here are all our suites. We have a little over 130 suites inside M&T Bank Stadium, as well as our radio and television negotiations for preseason and our radio rights. All sponsorship whether it’s digital or signage, promotions, use of marks and all those types of things all the way through. I oversee that whole group. We have a Suite Department but we also have a client services group and then a group of salespeople that have done a great job for us here. We have a group of a little over twenty full-time staff. We’re the little engine. We’re in the smallest market in the National Football League but we work hard. We have what I feel is the best owner in sports in Steve Bisciotti. We have a great organization.
Let’s go back because there’s a tie in there with being the smallest marketing in pro sports. You and I have talked about it a few times, which has its advantages and certainly has its disadvantages. Go back, where did you start in sales? You mentioned some colleges, to begin with. As Roch the sales guy, where did you start at?
I started in sales at Fresno State. I was doing sales for the athletic department there and then transitioned to Utah State. That was when you were selling the posters for the baseball team or the softball team and doing all that stuff.
Trying to get sponsors on the posters?
Yes. It was like going out and asking for a $2,500 donation doing that but you got your teeth kicked in good. People either want to spend money or not. You learn the habits of the road by going to these folks and asking for those dollars early in those days.
The first sponsor you ever got for one of those posters, can you remember or one of the early ones?
A lot of people want to be salespeople, but a lot of people don’t have the tenacity to do it.
It was a sub place in Fresno, California. I got a deal for $2,000. This was when my salary was $19,000 a year and I thought I was the richest guy in the world. I was like, “This is the biggest deal ever.” It was one of those things that you just learn. Sales is an interesting career because a lot of people want to be salespeople but a lot of people don’t have the tenacity to do it. You have to be driven, focused and also have a focus on relationships.
That’s one of the things to get into with your philosophy. I sold radio in college, you had to go knock on doors. You got to show up at that sub shop and get that done.
Absolutely. We didn’t necessarily have the communication devices that we have now and those types of things so you had to work it. If you left the premises, you most likely were pulling off at a gas station and putting in a twenty number to do a calling card number.
That’s when B2B was belly to belly.
I’m telling somebody on my team here. I’ve been here eighteen years but when I first started, we had to dial in modems. I remember going into the airport, holding my laptop and pulling the payphone off and holding it in my ear and dialing the 1-800 number and typing in the calling card number. Hearing it buzz while your email is downloaded to your computer. We’d look like idiots if we did that now. That’s how people just don’t understand. We worked it.
I used to always know where that payphone was so I can pull my car right up to it and you can reach out the window with your AT&T card. How long are you in Fresno before you go to Utah?
I was there for three years. Was Utah a big move up for you? It was an assistant AD job. To be honest with you, I’ve told young folks that have come and asked for advice from me, it’s probably the one chance, one time that I looked at my career path and was like, “I made a critical error.” Sometimes, young people feel like they want to go move up so fast and you make an extra $2,000 a year, it’s just not the best thing.
That was one of the career things that I did that I’m disappointed that I didn’t stay. The gentleman with who I was close at Fresno State became the AD shortly after. I probably would have had a different path. I may have never left college sports. I tell young folks that I meet with is that don’t be in a hurry to move up the ladder. Be thankful for what you have. Focus on the job you have and don’t be in a rush. Sometimes you make a tough decision. These days, if someone said, “Why would you move for $5,000?” In those days, I was like, “I got to. It’s more money.” It was never the right decision. Not that it didn’t end up okay, it’s, “Where could I have been if I would have stayed and stayed focused more?”
How fast did you realize it was a bad decision?
I don’t think I realized it until maybe years after. I started to take a look back at my career and go, “I moved.” Luckily, I was single and didn’t have anybody. To move that quickly and go to Utah State and then go to the University of Miami in Florida as the Associate AD, it was one of those things that were like, “You probably shouldn’t have moved so fast.” Now, I’ve been here eighteen years or so, it’s interesting that you learn those things. You always hear people like, “When you become older, you see through a different lens.” I believe you see through a different lens when you become older and understand things.
Where you title-chasing a little bit?
In those days, yes. Associate AD in the country at 24 at Miami at the Orange Bowl. It was a big thing. It was probably a little bit of that. Money was probably there. Now, I tell people don’t become so concerned about money. If the money is the number one issue, you’re not going to last. I tell that to everybody these days, “Don’t make that a big issue.”
You know what’s going on in pro sports now. I get a lot of calls from younger salespeople. Some teams aren’t paying commissions because they’re seeing what’s going on. They’re holding a little bit. They go, “This doesn’t seem right.” I go, “We’re in unprecedented times. Is it more you living in your means or making a bad career decision? Are you that guy or gal?” It’s tough times but you got to weigh things out. If your career is all about the money, it’s another factor.
If it’s about money, don’t go into sports because that’s not where you want to be. You can focus on other things. I enjoy my job. It’s a passion of mine working with people but if you want to make the big money and be on Wall Street, you probably need to go work for a Fortune 500 or do something like that.
It’s like anything else. The people at the top of their game on Wall Street, the people that I’ve worked with within the financial industry, it’s not about the money for them. It’s about the movement, the strategy. It sounds like this whole trip in pro sports which is about 7 or 8 years.
In the college sports scenario, yes. Between all those, it was 6 or 7 years.
Do you then make the move to Mandalay? Talk about that. The organization is not in existence as it was. It’s been sold off, correct?
The sales executives that still exist in pro sports, you, Brent, Michael and Matt. I have a salesperson who works for me, Gina Beltrama worked there. You guys were trained assassins from what I can understand.
We were and what was good about it is the foundation between Jon Spoelstra and Howie Nuchow. We had such a great group of leaders that were helping us young execs. They helped us out a lot and trained us to not think that we were a Minor League baseball team. For example, when I started in Dayton, we were going down to Cincinnati asking for more money than what the Reds were asking and what the Bengals were asking and we were getting more money. People saw the value of what we were doing in Dayton with Mandalay and the baseball, it was a big deal.
We treated things differently. My boss, at the time, Spoelstra, was pushing me. I found him to be an unbelievable mentor of mine. I latched on and learned as much as I could from him knowing his background and previous history whether the Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets or the Portland Trailblazers and tried to learn as much as I could from him.
It’s the system some people are in. From what I can see with Mandalay, they’re playing a bigger game. One of our customers is Top Golf and I look at what their sponsorship team does and what they charge. They don’t even have the media that a pro team does but it’s their attitude toward things. I always felt Mandalay was the same way.
Don’t forget where you came from.
Ironically enough, if you’re reading this, Roch and I had a couple of laughs. There’s a guy in Columbus who ran a Minor League hockey team. You asked me if I knew Ed Gingher and I said I did. I talked to Ed about it. He runs some hockey stuff here in town at the time. He’s working for a minor league hockey team. Ed goes, “Everything Roch touched turned to gold.” I go, “Yes but Mandalay, they were machines back in the day. They might have been a bigger pro sports team than any of the Cincinnati team.”
We had it going. It was probably the time in my career when I got into sales and I loved it. It was hardcore. I kept pounding the pavement for the team. He then moved me to Frisco, Texas. That was in between where I met my wife on a sales call.
Were you still on tour?
I was trying to pitch her a package at the mall and she didn’t buy it. I ended up going on a date with her and we ended up getting married. Shortly after that, we moved to Frisco, Texas.
You are the sales guy. That’s the best I’ve heard yet.
My claim to fame going will be that I sold 40 ads in my wedding program and made a little over $4,500 from my father-in-law and put together a 60-page wedding program that had a bio on everybody at our wedding party. I got tired of going to weddings and looking up who’s the best man or where did they meet. I made it like a sports thing like, “You want to know who these folks are?” I ended creating this program and my father-in-law’s a federal judge and he just laughed. I said, “I’m giving you the money for the beer.” He goes, “I’m all in.” My best man happened to own a Budweiser distributorship. We had banners hung at the dinner after the toast was presented by Anheuser-Busch.
If anybody’s reading, this I give to you is a person that’s always thinking about sales. It sounds like you made this trajectory coming out of college. You start selling, you’re able to grab a title, you gain some momentum there. You make that leap over to pro sports. A lot of people don’t make that leap into college from pro sports. The only person I know is a guy named Osh, who went from Oakland to Villanova. You just stay in your lane. Your then minor league sports. Two minor league ballparks so you’re probably doing everything. You know every part of the business.
You’re doing at all. You learn all the ops. You learn a little bit of everything, which is good in minor league sports. I tell a lot of young execs that are looking to get in is, “Minor league baseball has the ability to teach you a lot of different things about the industry.” It’s been beneficial for me as I grew my career.
What’s interesting about our relationship, one of my salespeople was calling on you and then you and I connected after that. It wasn’t a referral or anything. It was just my folks trying to do business. I learned a lot about your negotiation. I know you can dig into your donkey and I love it. That’s a huge compliment because I always pride myself on that. You’re particular about your folks and how they do things. You’re like a surgeon. Where did you start to develop your leadership philosophy, your strategy because you’re people first but also your heavy process?
I’d love to say it was probably my early years here in Baltimore, to be honest with you. The foundation that we laid as a company, I learned a lot. I learned about sales and the industry. The one thing that you can’t teach and I go back on in my history. One person told me many, many years ago, “Don’t forget where you came from.” I’m strongly focused on that every day, knowing that I’m this guy from Wyoming. That’s who you’re going to get. I’m not going to sweet talk to you but this is the way it is.
I truly remember my roots of being from a 5,000-person town in Wyoming. Growing up and going to the University of Wyoming. I worked all four years in my undergrad and interned for the athletic director and the promotions director while I was an undergrad at Wyoming. I volunteered the entire time. In fact, some people thought I was a full-time employee in the organization. I was there so much going from class to back to the athletic department but I learned hard work and the grit of being a hard-working person, from my parents but also the people in Wyoming.
Also, understanding that if you want to be who you are, people will see you for who you are. You don’t need to go dress up in some slick suit or whatever. That’s not my style. I’m more of a simple human being. People buy from the person a lot these days. They buy from the people that they trust and respect. That’s a big part of where we’re at. If anything in the situation we’re in, the relationship is probably more important than anything. The dollar used to be the big thing. Now, it’s the relationship.
I can imagine in your business and my business, there are so many tough conversations going on both ways, from the vendor to the provider to the salesperson. It’s one of those things where if it’s not human to human, it isn’t going to work. Even with all the conversation around diversity and inclusion, I’m ready to launch a series on that.
Every person of color that I talked to about their trajectory, what’s elevated them in any tough situation has been some good relationship or what has held back was a bad relationship. That’s an interesting concept. In a nutshell and you got some good mature salespeople in your team, what is one thing that they would say is like, “Kevin is persistent about this. This is his way.” On the flip side, what is one thing they rally around about you?
First of all, they know I have their backs. I support them, I’m there for them. The one thing I want to do and they see that is to grow them in their careers. I truly believe that in every situation, there’s a time when it’s time to pass the baton in the relay race and let someone else take it and go. I want to grow these individuals on the team because there’s going to be a day where I decide it’s time and move on and do something different. By doing that, it’s about helping them grow in their careers. Folks were there for me when I did that and I find that it’s important for me to do that for them.
Who’s helped you most in your career? There’s probably a lot, who’s been that one person?
There’s a lot. If I go back to the career in sports, I would say Jon Spoelstra. Jon taught me the skills of negotiations, working with people and having bigger ideas. I’d say, in life, you can’t teach passion and hard work. That was probably my parents. Knowing that, “You’re not going to get a free ride.” You got to work hard at it and no one’s going to hand you stuff. That’s what I have been focused on. The hard work, to me, outdoes everything. I can teach a salesperson the skills but I can’t teach them the passion.
You either have it or you don’t. Let’s go back to the other question. What is the one standard that you’re hard on and you’re not flexible with? Isn’t the hard work?
It’s hard work. To me, if you put in the hard work, positive things will happen and they will come. Sometimes they will come right away. With the salesperson, our philosophy here is the first year, you lose money. The second year, you have the employee, you break even. In the third year, you probably should be making money.
It sounds like you have the luxury. You talked about senior management ownership, you have the luxury that you’re going to invest in somebody to make sure they’re successful.
We’re going to give them the tools. For example, having you come in and meet with the salespeople, we want to make sure we give them the tools that they need to succeed and make sure that we provide as much as we can in their success and their platform. We want to be known as a great organization that delivers and hears clients. I feel like we’ve done that.
I make sure I say this in every one of these conversations. People make their way up the corporate ladder in two spots, high finance or sales. I find us salespeople are maybe not valedictorians. I read somewhere in the Wall Street Journal, the world’s run by C students. The more I’m on the Earth, the more I believe it.
I’m probably a high C but that’s probably about it. Sometimes I’d say I’m a D or an F.
I would agree with you, I struggle to get into twelfth grade to graduate. I don’t want to go as hard knocks. I had people around me but I struggled in school. I look at you as somebody involved in your deals. You get micro when you need to get micro and you get macro when you need to get macro. If your readers are upcoming leaders or salesperson, if you could give some advice on how people are selling. What advice would you give if you’re in a complex sale, like software, tech manufacturers? They’re all similar to what I do on the sponsorship side or the partnership side.
If you want to be who you are, people will see you for who you are.
Number one, make sure you do your research. Make sure you know the company inside and out and what’s going on because sometimes something comes up before you go into the meeting. You got to ask great probing questions and ask questions during your investigation on what you’re trying to do with the client. I spent a lot of time on research with our team and trying to make sure that we know exactly the marketplace and the landscape of everything going on.
For example, if it’s gambling, we make sure we know everything we can before we start making decisions. When we do make the decisions, we’re going and there’s no going back so let’s go and keep moving. We can stop and touch base as we go along. Understanding the client and then how you treat them, the way you treat folks and treat clients. It’s the old adage, “Make them feel like you’d want to be treated the way they do.” Those are important aspects for us. In Baltimore, clients are first. We try and take care of them. We want to make sure we have the best relationship with our clients that, without question, they trust and they know that we handle everything with great integrity.
A couple of quickfire questions. The biggest thing other than hard work that frustrates you about a salesperson, that gets your eye out and pisses you off.
What are things that somebody would do to show you that they’re lazy?
They go through the action so quickly. They don’t think about it. Maybe they don’t have the passion. We work for an NFL football team. You should come to work every day being fired up. We’re in sports. Jon Spoelstra used to tell me, “We’re not going to a cave in West Virginia and look for oil or anything like that. We’re working on fun sports. This is great. It’s fun.” People lose track of that. It becomes sometimes, “I need time off. I need the money.” No, you don’t need that. You need to focus on how you deliver for your client and how you have fun.
Second thing, I’m going to ask you two separate questions about the same genre. Go back to when you were selling, have a little post-traumatic stress syndrome here, what was your sales song? If there’s a song that you would play that you’d be like, “I’m ready to go. I’m going to go get the Sunshine for $2,000.”
My personal song where I look at it is by OneRepublic, I Lived. To me, you want to do it all and you want to keep going. Life is short and you want to focus and go have fun. You never know what day you’re going to wake up and the one door will bring you a challenge maybe you can’t go through. I want to make sure that I’ve done a lot of different things and I can expose my daughter to different things. I believe in, as many clients as you can meet and work with, you develop those tremendous relationships and you take those with you. To me, that’s important. I don’t want to lose a relationship or client over $10,000. It’ll come in the back end.
You don’t have a scarcity mentality, you have an abundance mentality. It’s not scarcity for you and that affects how you negotiate and how you do business.
If you look at the NFL as a whole, we’re in a tough situation. You leave M&T Bank Stadium and you go twenty miles and you’re in a different county that we don’t have the ability to use our marks and logos. It’s a tough situation. Do we cry about it? No, we just got to deal with it and work on it. Understand that we have a great organization and any great organization starts from the top. We have the best owner in sports. Unequivocally by anybody would want to test it, I would go out and left and right.
Our owner is the best. He believes in his people. We fight like crazy to do what we can. I respect him and trust him. He has been the best for the Baltimore marketplace and for the fans here. I remind my team that we work for the best organization. We do great things. We’re great at civic pride and community activities. When you work for an organization like that, it bleeds into you how passionate you are about what you do.
Would you say that at your wake or your funeral you’d still play the OneRepublic song?
No, maybe Frank Sinatra, I did it my way. Not many people in sports are from Wyoming. It’s a different scenario. They asked if I rode a horse to work and I’m like, “No, we don’t do that there.” It is different. I grew up in the industry a little differently because my dad was a basketball coach. I grew up on the administrative side. I grew up in a little different way. I did it a little different than most others but I’ve had a lot of people along the way that has helped me.
If you continue to learn from people, you learn from everybody you’re associated with. I learned from you. I learned things from Jon Spoelstra. I learned things from many of the bosses that I had whether it was Dennis Mannion or Mark Burnett here at the Ravens. You learn about that and you ingrain that in you to make sure that you can continue to grow in your career. That’s why I try and do that with my team as well. I give them the tools to learn so when they take over, they have a little bit of knowledge. It’s never the same until you get in the seat but they do have the knowledge by then.
When I think about our conversation, I think about New Legacy because you keep talking about succession, you keep talking about the people who prepped you. It’s a legacy thing. I like that. That makes a lot of sense. It’s one of my values. Last question and we’ll wrap this up. What book do you gift the most? If you were to gift a book, what would you gift?
I probably do two. I mentioned to you that I read one, Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger. Here’s a guy at Disney who’s led a company through many different things. I read his book in two days. I loved it. It was phenomenal. That would be one. Ice to the Eskimos by Jon Spoelstra, I spent all that time with him when he was writing that book. His sales tactics, his leadership style and the way he visualizes and looks through things differently. I’ve given it to a couple of employees in our group to look at. Those are the types of things it’s important. I learned a lot from Jon and I’m on my way up in my career.
Roch, it’s been a great conversation. It’s always an easy conversation with you. There are so many great nuggets in here. I appreciate our relationship. Maybe sooner or later, I’ll be out with you. This has been awesome. Thank you so much.