Taking Calculated Risks, Hiring The Right People, And Creating A High-Performance Sales Team With Bob Sivik

If you want to build a high-performance sales team, then you need to start with the right people and then double down on professional growth. This week’s episode features Bob Sivik, the VP of Sales for the Health Academy. Lance and Bob cover a lot of ground, exploring how to engage people just starting their careers, taking the calculated risk, and his architecture for creating a high-performance sales team. But the core of Bob’s story is people – if you hire the right people, treat them right, and give them an environment where they can thrive, they will perform exceptionally. Check out the full episode here.

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Against the Sales Odds Looks at Taking Calculated Risks and Hiring The Right People With Bob Sivik

I am probably as excited about this episode of the show as I have ever been because this is one of my longest relationships in business. I’ve known this person for years. My first memory of this person is my wife and I were walking through a mall up in Mentor, Ohio and this young guy came up to us. He was like, “Lance, how the heck are you? It’s nice to meet you. This is my wife, Lisa.” This guy walked away and my wife was like, “Who was that?” I go, “It’s some guy having sales training at the Cavs.” I do remember him and I’m horrible with names. From that day on, I never forgot this person’s name. I have Bob Sivik on. He is the Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service for the Haslam Sports Group.

Bob, it’s great you’re filing on. Talk to us, Bob, about your role at Haslam Sports Group and what feeds into Haslam Sports Group?

First off, thanks for having me. I know I’ve been eagerly anticipating being on the show but I do appreciate the invitation. My role within Haslam Sports Group, it encompasses the Cleveland Browns and Columbus Crew. My role is Vice President Ticket Sales and Service, overseeing both properties and even interchange between the two. Now because of the new stadium project in Columbus, I’m spending a majority of my time, if not all of my time, on that project, getting that stood up and rolling.

I drove by and it is fantastic. It’s right downtown Columbus. It’s world-class. My one son came back from college and he goes, “Look at this. It landed right in the middle. All of a sudden, it’s this beautiful stadium downtown in that arena district.”

We’re doing it right. It looks nice.

I can’t wait to get there with everything opening up. Bob, we’ve talked about so many times when it gets to sales, how do you get to a major sports group? Where did you come from? Where did you start in sales?

Originally sales, if you don’t call it the little league candy sales that I tried to win growing up, I started off in inside sales in 2002 for the Cleveland Cavaliers. I learned the hard way for the group to know that was pre-LeBron. It was very difficult. We were selling the Cleveland Cavs and the Rockets.

Blue seats.

A lot of empty seats. It was a struggle but we had a good group. We had a lot of challenges and stepped up to that challenge even in that first year.

What was it called then?

The Gund Arena.

We’re only good as our weakest link.

FYI, why Bob and I are saying blue seats, if you watch the team with the uniform colors they were wearing and the blue seats, you knew what was empty in that arena at that point. That’s why it was blue seats.

It was easy to tell if there was a lightly attended crowd.

You’re an Ohio guy. You grew up born and bred Mentor, Ohio. You had a stint with Tressler at Youngstown State National Championships here. You had a couple of national championships. Was that in between?

1-1, lost one.

Two national championship games. You go from playing sports at an extremely high level, Division 1, to working for the Cavs. If you’re in pro sports and if you’re not, the group of people that Bob started with was like a who’s who in sports. Describe that bullpen there, who was on your team. We’ll go through memory lane. I want to talk to you all about how competitive Bob is. Bob hates to lose more than he likes to win. We’ve talked about this many times. Who is in that bullpen with you? Let’s go down that list.

We had a lot of great guys. It started with the team, Mike Tomlin, Troy Tutt and a few other guys, you got Carl Manto. You had a good group of guys in there that were ultracompetitive. We certainly had our share of fun. We also studied, learned and grew. As a team, we knew that we’re only good as our weakest link and there were a lot of challenges being a newly created inside sales program.

Mike Tomlin runs Legends, you got Troy Tutt, he is the Ticket Manager. He did stints at the Yankees. Carl Manto is at the Blackhawks. You guys had a crew there and your manager at that point is Mike Ondrejko.

When we started, it was Doug Dawson.

He is going to be on my Clubhouse. He has been in this interview. Was Mike Ondrejko your manager?

Not at the time but certainly somebody that we all going to flock to in terms of going out on meetings with and learning the trade.

You guys are sophisticated then too. You got to have all the tech in the world like phone books and index cards.

ASO 42 | High Performance Sales Team
High Performance Sales Team: It’s really hard to start putting pieces together and then growing as a leader.

It was a lot different. I’ve mentioned Carl Manto. We used to stuff flyers between calls and do different things for group sales offers. We would start with the phone book and start with the As or you start with the C’s so we didn’t overlap.

I asked Chad Estis and Al Guido this question. How are you as a salesperson? Chad told me he was a solid 5, 6 and 7 at times. I asked Michael Ondrejko that question. Where are you in that?

It took me about three months or so to crack in and hit my stride and realize, “I’m a salesperson.” Once you hit that and maybe taste the fact that you made a big sale or small sale but you liked that chase and you got it. Competitiveness comes in. I wanted it over and over. I couldn’t stop looking for it. A few other people that I mentioned, all of them, were that first in, last out. You couldn’t do that when you have 4 or 5 other people doing it because then you just sat there all night waiting for somebody to leave and nobody left. We pushed each other.

Coming out of the gate, it took you a little bit to get your sea legs. You’re not number one on the board from what you’re saying. I don’t want to assume anything but you got to get your sea legs a little bit.

We had a split staff. A group of people came in early. I was one of the last people hired. I was looking to catch up the entire time. After a time, when I did and started going down that path, it was all because a few other people helped me out, as always. I asked for probably a lot of help at the same time but then I practiced until I got that pitch-perfect. It got to a certain point where we keep evolving. Things tend to work out.

If you play rewind on your college football career right into your first job in sales, your coaches had to get on you most about what? I don’t want to know what they complimented you most on. What did they have to get on your ass about?

It was being consistent. I’d have my days where I’m good. You have your days where like, “I didn’t earn my paycheck today.” You start realizing, calibrating and understanding, “This is what I have to do to be a professional is bring it every single day.” It wasn’t work ethic. It was understanding how to apply that technique.

I coached to salesperson down in Miami. He called me, wanted to talk, a little upset, they passed over a little bit or somebody didn’t see the value in him he saw on himself. The message was consistency. I said, “Is there any truth to that?” He goes, “Yes.” I go, “It could result sometimes. It’s consistency.” What’s your first promotion out of inside sales or where do you go from there? You’re a very loyal person.

It’s how I was raised. It’s always how I’ve looked at things. My first promotion out of inside sales probably dates me is to more of a sales consultant. However, we were also the service team. We didn’t have both teams split back then. It was more, “Here is your new book of business. It’s three times what you should be potentially closing from a new business but then also you have $3.5 million to renew.” We were thrusted into that dual world, which was a lot of fun and helped me understand that service job later on in life.

How long do you do that piece? Your job at that point was to renew business and get new business. You had a book. I remember you pitched me the first seats that I ever got. I still use this. The close you used on me was the Mercedes-Benz lounge, dating that end of the arena, Quicken Loans. You said, “Do you want your business or personal name on the seat?” I go, “What are you talking about?” You go, “We get little plaques on your seat.” You had me at that. I remember you’re also the first person to coach me when I told you we don’t use the tickets.

You said something like, “Let me guess, a couple of weeks before, you tell people when a game is or like you should, get the schedule out at the beginning of the year and let people pick?” I go, “That’s how it’s done. I get it.” I remember you being that person when I was younger and I had tickets. You have both sides of the business. How long did you do that?

Have fun, but you also have to study, learn, and grow.

I did that for a few years and then got lucky enough to get into the leadership side with inside sales. That’s probably where I hit my stride in terms of recruiting and bringing in great people, making a team, growing that team and producing good results.

What’s one thing that when you got into the first management position that frustrated you about dealing with salespeople and what did you love about?

The biggest thing was that people are not you. They don’t respond like you. They are not motivated like you. They’re not going to do everything like you from a technique standpoint or work ethic. Sometimes you have to realize that’s okay. That’s where good coaches tend to get the most out of their people and recognize where their talents are or aren’t. Either build and strengthen those but position them to be successful regardless.

You started to develop the style. What was your style early? How is it similar to now?

First and foremost, the most important thing is people and managing those people. You got to get the right people on the bus. That’s 51% of the equation. I thoroughly go through and make sure that we get the right people. When you get them, it’s how do you instill the work ethic, positive attitude, openness to learning, passion for your craft, leadership and awareness. All of those things start to couple with, “Is this a fit?” Young people are going to be driven by a couple of different things like growth. Growth is coupled with training. If you’re not training and growing your young people, they’re going to get disenchanted, leave and sick of doing the same thing over and over and that’s it.

They got to see that career path. That’s something you got to keep in front of them. It’s that carrot or at least some vision in front of them that they don’t see a dead-end job. How many years did you do inside sales?

Probably longer than most. I remember it was Ondrejko that told me that, “If you’re good at doing something, keep doing it.” I did inside sales for about five seasons.

When you look at what was ahead of you, they saw that loyalty in you also. You did that for five years and then your next move was what? That organization started to go through some changes when Dan Gilbert bought it and they started to buy some other things like the casino and the Minor League teams.

From there, I went to manage the business development specialist team or account executive team, a few other things in organizational sales and messaging. I even started working on our sustainability program, which was a way to get involved with more parts of the business.

Go back before the sustainability. I remember a role also because they felt so strongly about how you train and develop people that you started to carry that through the organization a little bit like hiring best practices. Almost part of that role was consulting internally.

It was a consulting internally and then we did the Team Behind the Team program. We’re sharing organizational goals and driving through some pretty key metrics for the organization to be successful, how that carried over into the business but also into our expenses and things that we were doing to make sure that we were running and operating a sound business.

ASO 42 | High Performance Sales Team
High Performance Sales Team: You’re not going to come off of those high standards, but things might alter and change that you need to start to maneuver and maybe find some new solutions to continue to get to your goals.

That leadership team you had, Len Komoroski, Chad Estis, Mike Ondrejko then it turned over to Mike Tomlin. The goal of that organization was to develop leadership because the organization was growing and they wanted people who knew the finance side of the business, the operational side like sustainability. I remember the cost savings projects we’re doing, predictable, scalable processes. You were involved in a lot of that. At that point, what did you start to learn about your sales leadership or sales management? Did you come to any conclusions at that point?

From there, you start learning a few things. One, you have to understand how ticketing and particularly what you’re doing from a daily basis, grinding on the phones, running campaigns, all those types of things, fit into the overall big picture of the organization. Until you fully understand that, it’s hard to start putting those pieces together and growing as a leader.

The last piece is the financial portion, which we know numbers, how to sell and do the math on 2, 3 or 4 seats. Understanding the business from a financial standpoint is very important, especially as you start working with your heads of finance and that rolls up into your ownership to make sure that you’re delivering those KPIs.

I was listening to a podcast, Jocko Willink. He was a SEAL team member. He wrote a book called Extreme Ownership. When I think of you, I always think of extreme accountability. Out of the word accountability comes the word count, which means you can count. Out of the word comes in an account, an accounting or representation of something. Accountability or responsibility.

Talk to that and talk about how you have that expectation or frustration with your salespeople. You have an expectation or people being accountable whether to be standards, assist them, a process, the culture, talk to that for a second. When I think of you in a good way, extreme accountability like, “Know your frigging job.”

I could remember some younger reps that probably feared the day if they showed up five minutes late. You got to manage your benefit of the doubt and make sure there is nothing wrong first. From an accountability standpoint, we need to be the best operators of the business. The way we hold and the standards that we hold ourselves to should be the highest in the entire organization. We know sales is going to be difficult.

We’re going to run into some tough patches or something unaccounted for, especially within this 2020. That’s the nature of what we do. We have to be able to be flexible outside of those. That’s probably what I’ve learned, even the last years is how to be a little more flexible knowing that you have these high standards. You’re not going to come off of those high standards but things might alter and change that you need to start to maneuver and maybe find some new solutions to continue to get to your goals.

I think of Nick Frasco and you when you guys had worked together for years with OneTeam Partners. I can remember you both have the Cavs together. You ended up at the Browns together when he would walk in a little later because you worked together for so many years. You may have recruited him. You would look at your clock if he was a few minutes late and shake your head. It may have been the funniest shit I’ve ever seen in my life, the way you guys describe each other. Part of it was a little bit like, “Coming in late. I don’t know if I approve of it.” I love that about you.

You go from the Cavs and get this opportunity at the Columbus Blue Jackets. You get to go South a little bit. You get to stay in Ohio, which is good, your home. As I described the situation, none of these people existed at the Blue Jackets anymore. It’s a great organization run by Cam Scholvin, who I will be interviewing. There are some challenges there with that senior leadership team. It was a much different operation than what you experienced in Cavs. Without naming people, talk about that challenge you ran into because you want it to do some things and you ran into some walls. How did you deal with that?

Not that it was any right or wrong or any individual’s right or wrong in that entire process. There were probably some differences in philosophy. Some of the things that I was trying to build, continuing to drive additional culture, a lot of those things were aligned. How do you get there is probably a couple of different ways. That’s a big part of it. A part of that too is understanding the expectations in that path on how you want to build your team. That’s probably where that was a little bit of points of difference. We had great professionalism. We all understood the common goal. We did put up some pretty good results.

You put up great numbers but I do remember you have had standards of the Cavs that were not here. There was a little bit of collision of the vision for that.

Be professional. Bring it on every single day.

The vision was to get to the metrics and numbers, fill the stands, have great customer service and all those types of things. The path of getting there was a little different.

You had to adjust to that. The NHL times can be a tougher sale. There are all kinds of industries like that. I thought that was an interesting time. What did you learn at that time? The word I use is I tell my leadership team all the time. We might not agree. We may have to come to a consensus but align. When alignment’s out, you can only take it for so long. What did you learn about yourself in those times? You’re there for two years.

I learned that I always have to be myself. Those types of standards I don’t think can be altered. I can certainly learn new things and have to be open to new philosophies and concepts. It was funny even going through that, learning a couple of things here and there, especially on the financial or accounting side of the business. I still took away some great things that I’ve learned over time that I still use.

Would you do anything different or better?

You always looked back and did a lot of things better. For me, down there, we did a good job.

That goes without being said, you did. From a leadership standpoint.

Probably standing up a little bit more for some of my convictions.

I’m glad you said that because that has become so important. Let’s flip over then you get your shot. What’s your dog’s name?

Kozart was my dog.

Not that Bob’s family or Bob is a Browns fan, you can get to go back North. You’re from Ohio. It’s one highway that connects three Cs. He goes lower C, middle C, back up to upper C and back to the Brownies and you get a shot. Now you’re with the Browns. When you first started with the Browns, they were on the field, they struggled a little bit. Usually, they look at the record book so that’s not an easy thing to sell. In 2020, the Browns turned it around. It was very exciting. The first couple of years, it wasn’t the Cavs you left and the Blue Jacket may be a little better at that point.

I learned that early from seeing some of my mentors bounce around and go from team to team. You don’t make a great name for yourself if you’re going to play for the winners. Not to mention hometown and football, which is getting a little bit of my pastime. I’d rarely make decisions on that. I barely knew much about hockey before going to the Blue Jackets. The part of that that was great as it got me back in my hometown. It was the NFL. I liked the organization. I saw and believed in their vision of what they were doing and how they were doing it. That’s where I felt it was the best fit.

ASO 42 | High Performance Sales Team
High Performance Sales Team: You really don’t make a great name for yourself if you’re just going to go play for the winners.

When we talk about working with the Browns, I always say to folks, especially out of the industry, I was like, “You don’t understand during these years, the best in class in terms of talent, process and business side.” I would always say top five. Talk about what you took from a leadership standpoint to get to that point. What did you start then doing with your sales leadership?

You went from the Cavs to an organization where you had to install a lot of the offense. Now you have a chance in a league that you love, your hometown. What did you start to change about your sales leadership or do more of? You talked about maybe standing up for yourself a little bit more like when you came out of the Blue Jackets at that point.

We had a group and we aligned well. The part of it that helped is that everybody was rolling in the right direction. You had tons of support from the organization. Knowing that, “These guys and gals are going to come in and do some good things.” From the start, we had to do first is you look at talent and we looked at the team and we said, “We’ve got some pretty talented people here. Let’s assess and continue to grow them.” Over time, you build some things out, inside sales and similar processes. We had this feeder system that was pumping in until the next year’s class. In about two quick seasons, we had that sales organization humming pretty well. We had some talented people on the staff too that was brought in earlier.

When you got there, it was a skeleton crew at that point.

It was a smaller crew. Probably not a lot of investment at the time in them. As we got our new ownership group coming in, they were ready to make that investment and build that team out. We identify the right people and continue to move them through the organization. A few people that were originally in that group have been on our team throughout.

I’m going to do a wraparound because I think about you from that point to now through the Browns and getting to your role with Haslam Sports Group which owns the Browns and the Crew. I always look at you as the best in class in preparing people. I’ve seen plenty of teams and I see the raw material we get to work with. You can tell who spends a lot of time with recruiting and onboarding. What’s your philosophy on recruiting sales talent? Start there for me because of where you’re at with Haslam.

You have to invest the time. When you start talking to young kids when they’re in freshmen and sophomore years, you help mentor them and you invest time in their school project every single year or twice a year, it’s pretty easy to bring them on board when they have known you for 3 or 4 years. That takes a sacrifice of your time of realizing that eventually, you’re investing in people.

They may not go to your organization but you made a difference. I’ve been helped by a lot of people or strangers that have given the advice. I’m very happy to do that and engage in a lot of young people growing up. After that, it’s finding people. We found a young man at a shoe store in Cleveland that has now become our director of ticket sales with the Browns, Mike Judge.

Philosophy is developing or investing in those people. Training and development, that’s the hiring and recruiting piece. What’s your philosophy on training and development? I’m interested to hear you put that in a nutshell.

It’s got to be all the time. It’s almost like that philosophy coming out of football is you practice 90% of the time to play 10% of the time. You can’t do that in business. However, you got to find some time to practice. If you’re continually trying to retool on the phone, you’re wasting leads and losing business. That was the beauty part of some of our programs. Two and a half years of training and work into that first year of inside sales, you have some very talented young people coming out of that first year.

You can do that with your senior sellers too.

The most important thing in an organization is the people. You need to get the right people on the bus.

You carry that up to your senior people but you got to stay engaged.

Does the training for the member of the team become an expectation for them then?

Yes. It’s a training culture and that training culture fosters the growth culture and that growth culture fosters good results because if you’re not producing good results, you’re not growing.

I’m not a huge Ohio State fan. You know I live in Ohio and I was listening to Urban Meyer talk about whether you love him or hate him, I don’t care. He’s at the Jags. That guy fricking wins. There is one thing that I could hear through his conversation, which reminds me a lot of you. Practice coach, game coach, practice coach. We know what we’re going to practice, system or process. I’m going to watch you and the coach in the game. The next practice becomes what happened in the game.

I see too many sales leaders are worrying about metrics. All they do is go to the game and look at the scoreboard. They have no clue what happened in between. I never felt that that was your way. You weren’t just coaching people on style points. You were coaching them on, “You didn’t open with your agenda here. You held them accountable for that stuff.” Talk about that.

It’s like a game-fill mentality. I was lucky enough to have a call copy system down in Columbus where I could sit there and listen to taped phone calls.

I remember when you invested in that. What was that called?

It was called Cabby. They got bought out by somebody else. You have to position it right. Some of the senior levels of reps came in and they’re like, “This feels like a lot of big brothers are watching us.” By the end of that next month, they were coming in with little post-it notes with time asking me to sit down and listen to that call to get some additional coaching advice. You have to care enough. I know that is sometimes a word that misses the business training. If you care enough with your team to spend extra time and go the extra mile for them, they’re going to go the extra mile for you. You got to invest that.

Philosophy on training and development, it’s not an event. It’s a process is what you’re saying. It’s constant and never-ending. Practice coach, game coach, practice coach. That embodies what I’ve observed about you. Two last questions about the world. What pisses you off about the salesperson? What grinds you? We’ve had this conversation sometimes, you want to define your values as a leader. What do you observe in other people that grind you?

It’s not just salespeople, it’s everybody. It’s somebody that has poor manners and doesn’t know how to say please and thank you, open doors for people too busy to return a call, little things like that, that get me. Probably the other stuff would be disrespect for your teammates and how you treat other people internally.

As long as it’s not illegal, immoral and unethical, everything is on the table but have good citizenship. I hired somebody and I took some people out to lunch, even in this COVID world. It’s relaxed a little bit here in Ohio. One person said, “Lance, thanks for lunch.” I go through the world expecting ingratitude or people not to have a lot of gratitude. When the good matters or good habits are there, you notice when people set them apart, it’s all the little things. In this last question about sales, moving forward, talk about this hybrid sales model. It’s a steady thing or a lot of people are going to be around for a while.

ASO 42 | High Performance Sales Team
High Performance Sales Team: You start realizing and start calibrating and understanding. And it wasn’t work ethic. It was just understanding how to apply that technique.

Down in Columbus, we’re back in the office every day too. That’s nice. Sales have been around for a very long time. People still enjoy a handshake and that one-to-one connectivity. However, people are finding efficiencies using technology these days and not taking a plane trip across the country or starting to weed some things out and have initial meetings. There are ways to use it properly be more efficient. We all know there is going to be some people that come back to home- base and want to go out to that dinner, golf trip and develop those relationships at that deep of a level.

Last couple of questions. Back in your younger years where you could get after it a little bit, go hard, work hard, play hard, now the whole Crew did. If you had to think of your sales song back in the day or even now, if you had to get back into fricking grinding out every day and sell before a big deal or appointment, what’s that song for you?

I’m a little bit of a movie buff. Those that know me know that I speak through some movie quotes from time to time. One song that always used to pump me up when I was growing up was You’re The Best Around. It was the Karate Kid soundtrack. “Nothing’s going to ever keep you down.” As a sales song, that probably to me speaks to the whole don’t get down on yourself. Sales is hard. It’s one of the hardest professions that you can be a part of. You got to figure out a way to get up and have confidence in what you’re doing with yourself.

You have two younger sons. If one of your sons came to you and said, “Dad, what does success mean?” You say what?

To me, success is being happy and being around people that you love and that love you. It’s funny you mentioned that. It triggered something I share with my team a lot is the Albert E.N. Gray, it’s The Common Denominator of Success and maybe how to get there. There it is. Have you formed a habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do? That’s the biggest thing you can take out of that. That stands the test of time. It goes back to maybe reasons why some people are more successful than others these days. They’re willing to sacrifice more. That’s a hard thing to think about as you’re maybe a young person.

Know what to sacrifice for it too. Last question, besides my book, what book do you give the most?

It might be a timing function because a lot of my friends are either having children or have had children over the last few years. A good book that I’ve given is called Raising Men by Eric Davis, Navy SEALs. It’s about raising boys. I was eagerly anticipating finding the ways to discipline my children more from a Navy SEALs but it went a different way. It’s a very good book.

Bob, this has been a great interview. I’m so glad to have you on. Thanks for your time and insights. I appreciate you.

I always appreciate you too. Thank you.

Important Links:

About Bob Sivik

• Driven to help others reach their full potential
• 20+ years of working in leadership, customer service and sales

VALUES: Respect, Love, Honesty, People, Maximizing Potential
EXPERTISE: Leadership, Customer Service, Sales, Training & Development
PASSION: Building best-in-class businesses and growing talent
ROLES: VP of Sales and Service, Leader, Trainer, Business Development, Mentor, Advisor