October 5, 2021

Hiring Well in Government Sales With Oleg Vornik


Partner at Hirewell. #3 Ranked Sarcastic Commenter on LinkedIn.

Episode Highlights

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Having a cool product makes sales a lot easier. How does shooting drones out of the sky with RF signals sound?

That’s exactly what DroneShield does. And their CEO, Oleg Vornik, was gracious enough to come on the Talent Insights podcast to talk about a niche many people aren’t familiar with: government sales. Specifically in the defense sector.

Oleg and James discussed a variety of areas, including:

  • Traits a good salesperson needs in government sales. And how the sales cycles differs from the private sector.
  • The types of “fit” sales leaders should look for (spoiler: not “culture fit”)
  • How to hire for roles you yourself may not have direct experience in.
  • The downsides of employee referrals and what to watch out for.
  • Interview blunders sales job seekers should avoid.
  • How to best pivot into the defense sector when you don’t have experience.

Partner at Hirewell. #3 Ranked Sarcastic Commenter on LinkedIn.

Episode Transcript

Welcome to the talent insights podcast brought to you by Hirewell and Careerwell. Today I’m joined by the CEO of Drone Shield,

the company focused in the government defense sector that shoots down drones- sounds pretty awesome, actually. Everybody please welcome Oleg Vornik. Thanks for having me, James. Aside from shooting down drones, maybe you should give a more proper introduction into what Drone Shield is and about your background there.

As the drone technology faster emerged over the last five or six years and when I say drones, I mean little drones like you by at an electronics shop. With all the positive applications came all the nefarious uses of drones. So terrorists and criminals are quite a creative bunch. So we started seeing organizations like ISIS, striping grenades to $1,000 drones and using them as their informal Airforce

and your ordinary criminals, delivering contraband into prisons using drones, people usually middle-aged white men flying drones around airports and disrupting traffic. Plane watches, that thing how you refer to them usually. So with all of that came the need to detect and defeat size drones by the military, law enforcement, prisons, airports and the like.

So we started the business about six, seven years ago. We still have the original location in Warrenton, Virginia, and we’re headquartered in Sydney in about 120 countries around the world today. So this is even though quite a wide potential era of applications is very much a military space in terms of where majority of our sales come from today.

Okay no, it’s really cool. That’s just one thing I’ve always enjoyed about the recruiting space, you get to learn about totally different things. And this is something I honestly didn’t know existed. I mean, this is not something I really focused on and getting to work with you, it’s been a lot of fun.

I think it would be cool for our listeners and everyone out there is, I like when we talk with leaders like yourself, it’s kind of understanding how you hire, what you find important, as well as maybe more things about your industry people might find in case they’re interested in kind of learning more.

And a lot of the work we’re doing with you is kind of very sales focused and that’s definitely like a hot topic. Sales across the board is just a really hot skill kind of at all levels right now. But what you guys do is a little different. So a lot of our viewers might be more familiar with the SaaS space and stuff like that.

So what can you tell us, just giving people context, you know. Sales is sales but when you’re selling to the government or in the defense sector of X specifically, what’s the sales cycle like? What’s the vibe like? How’s the business ultimately get done? Given this is largely defense and government market or what you’d call B to G, business to government, sales cycles can be reasonably lengthy.

So six to 18 months for the first sale. However, after that you might have very short sales cycle. So anything from a couple of months to maybe right away if you’re lucky. You get placed in some of these larger programs of Redcord that stay in goals, so then sales just keep coming. And what we also find is that defense and government customers tend to be quite sticky.

So once you have them, it’s much more collaborative rather than adversarial kind of “Ah, I want my money back” kind of thing if there’s a feature they don’t like. So they work with you, they continue to advise you on their requirements. And usually what works well for one customer in the space also is desired by customers, other customers in that space.

So you have that relationship that you build on over the years. And I think as a sales business, quite rewarding as well to sort of evolve with the customer and have increasing orders as you go. Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about sales hiring in general. And this is kind of things I would like to dig into.

I see a lot of companies do it well. I see a lot of companies struggle with it. And I’m just kinda curious from you, what do you think is important? What do most companies struggle with or what have you seen people struggle with that they really shouldn’t? So I think people talk a lot about the team culture and fit of the sales hires into the culture.

And I always find it confusing because well, what does it even mean that you fit or not fit into the sales culture? So I think it’s a few things. So firstly, it’s the cadence of the business and by the way, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s just more about the fit. So we, for example, a fairly fast paced company.

Where I scale up, we need to do things quickly. Maybe an extreme example would be cadence of a job of a bankrobber is very different the cadence of a job of bank teller, right? So both are requiring their own skillsets and cadence. So I think the best way to do this is to see, well what is this job feeling like when you talk to the people, when you come into the office, is this a deliberate, slow measured environment, or is it a fast space environment where time is critical?

So cadence is the first point. Product technicalities is the second point. So there are a lot of jobs which are not technical at all when you potentially sell consumer goods or real estate, often comes up as an example. We are fundamentally a technical product business. So when you think about our drone gun to shoot down drones, it’s a radio-frequency with

very particular specs that the customer is looking for. And you need to be able to talk to it. Now you don’t need to be an engineer. And you know what I say, and you know, I do sales as well for drones shows in addition to our sales team is, all you need is to know more than the customer you’re talking to.

You don’t need to know everything, but you need to be able to definitely lead the conversation from technical point of view. And in fact, it’s good if you’re not an engineer because I find engineers tend to bamboozle customers with- too granular. But you need to understand it at a simple level. And in fact, I find better

you understand something, if you truly understand something, you’re able to explain it simply while people often hide behind the technical details. So again, to be able to be technically competent without trying to hide behind technical details is important. The other one is the fit between your personal life or life outside of work, I suppose,

and your work objectives, right? So there’s no right or wrong answer, but there’s a fit with the employer. So there are a lot of people who say, look it’s important in my life to spend a lot of time with my young family, going off particular hobbies and that is perfectly fine. But then

it’s very hard to be in a fast moving startup. I remember I read a quote by somebody that said something like “You take your work, your sleep, your friendships, and you exercise” and then I think there was another, and that it was like, “pick two or three. You can not have all five.” So how does the work pace and the requirements fit against your personal objectives at this point in your life

I think is important. The other thing to keep in mind also, right, is how risk averse are the employers? So usually I say that I’d rather not hire a good person, so somebody who might turn out to be great, then take a risk on the hiring a bad person. So I think it’s also something that the candidates should be aware of- if there is uncertainty, whether they want to jump into the job

or whether they really want to make sure there is a good fit because you don’t want to be jumping around. So that’s important for the sales hiring. Also when you’re an employer and you’re doing sales hiring, I think it’s important to create the right image for the employee to feel that they’re safe in their role, that they can do a lot of things,

try a lot of things, ask questions without being perceived or punished if things go wrong. So that feeling of psychological safety is important. That’s not the same as to say that they can do anything without consequences, but they need to feel safe in that if they’ve genuinely done what they thought was best, but things didn’t work out, well it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be punished.

So I think that’s so important for sales hiring on both ends and setting expectations. Okay. What I really like too, is that you said a lot of things related to fit. Things you didn’t say, you didn’t say someone I want to go get a beer with, you didn’t say someone who works like, or someone who came from the school or was an athlete in college or- and there’s nothing wrong with these things

right. But I think that- I think that a lot of companies or a lot of people fall back to culture fit for them is someone who’s like me as opposed to what I really- because when you were mentioning kind of the conversation we had before this about kind of how you view fit with the team and whatnot, it is stuff that’s more focused on kind of priorities and deliverables and the pace of the work and stuff like that, as opposed to more highly self bias type things, which I think is awesome.

So it’s great to hear you guys kind of have that pespective. Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that they say it’s a sign of getting old when everything reminds you of something else. So I think if you, you don’t necessarily need to be looking for somebody like you, but I think after awhile as an employee, what tends to happen is that when you meet a person, you try to almost put them in a box of,

are they looking like somebody like you used to know before? And you try to kind of make an inference because you only have 30 minute conversations. So whether it’s right or wrong, it doesn’t mean- like you still tend to stereotype and try to put people into how you think they’ll perform based on similar people you met before.

Yeah. Another thing I wanted to bring up too, because this was interesting. So you didn’t start in the defense industry, right? You started in banking, was it? Okay. I was going to say a lot of things are probably new to you. Like at some point in time when you’re doing this and a lot of the hiring, probably the same thing.

So when you’re trying to hire someone, maybe a skill set you haven’t done, which I know you’ve had to do obviously, since this all is new to you. I see this all the time with people hiring. I was talking to a woman today. She’s starting a new company, it’s herfirst time kind of running a startup.

So she’s hiring all kinds of skillsets that aren’t hers. She was asking me for advice on how to go about this stuff. And I’m like, you know what? I wish I would have had this conversation with Oleg beforehand. What advice do you give to people, first time they’re hiring for something they haven’t done themselves?

It’s really hard. And I think a lot of it is simply luck. So I was really lucky that the person who is today, our Chief Technology Officer, we hired could have been a really bad fit with somebody else, but we got lucky with him. People who were the original drone shield hires across leading the sales teams, the technical teams, product marketing, none of them are with us because reality was we’d made poor choices and all the time we corrected.

I think as founders or early stage company managers, you tend to draw on your own background. And if you don’t have, I guess, co-founders or call managers that cover a range of backgrounds. So sales in particular, tech technicality of the product or technology generally in particular, you often just make a guess and hope for the best.

And then all the time as you meet more people you tend to get a sense for what’s acceptable and what’s not and it keeps cascading down. For example, we’re a combination of a hardware and a software business. We started very much as a hardware business and now we’re becoming a lot more balanced. And I remember when we first started branching into being more of a software business, it was incredibly hard because how you find the right software engineers?

How do you motivate them? I can tell you software engineers are an entirely different bunch of hardware engineers, different types, they respond to different things. So unfortunately, a lot of it is luck but you really want to get to the point where you establish the top end of your team.

So your sales team lead, your tech team lead, across different aspects of tech. And then turn would know who they would look for. What I sometimes see in the tech space is entire teams of people move across. So you kind of become embedded within an ecosystem. So when people get higher, they bring whole teams across, and that’s a much less risky proposition but if you don’t have the fortune of having that ecosystem come with you, a lot of it is trial and error and best you can do is just to go as fast as you can

and correct it if things don’t work. Got it. Okay. So last point, correct things if they don’t work out. How do you know when it doesn’t work out? Like, I guess in those first hires, some of the ones you mentioned are no longer with you. What were the first red flags you saw that realized, “Oh, I might’ve made mistake here.” I think it really depends. So with my technical hire, for example, I know this is a sales podcast. What I’ve found though, is people can be great at leading a team of three or four, but then they just completely fall apart when it comes to a team of 20 or 30 people. So what I said with a guy who was originally leading my technical team, I took a special forces guy so to speak and made them a general of the army, entirely different skillset.

So somebody who was really versatile and able to deal with a couple of people could not deal with managing 20 or 30. In the sales space, I have to say I was a bit in amerind by fuss sales talk in the beginning and use of the technical slang and thinking, well, I don’t know anything about making sales to government agencies while this guy sounds like he really does. And he says all these things and at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. And with long lead cycles, the problem I suppose, is well how do you know after nine months is where there’s just a long lead cycle or whether the person is simply not performing and you do a relative comparison.

So as you, I guess, get fortunate enough to grow your team you look at how different salespeople perform and you try to just understand it all the time you go to conferences and you kind of just get a vibe for salespeople in other organizations. And you keep trying lots of things. You try different channels.

So you look at your distributors for example, that’s who you use. But look, so we’ve been existing now for about six or seven years and we have an amazing US sales team of by the way, quickly growing. So we were hiring a number of additional sales team today and the current sales team has been in place for about three years now. But it really took me the first three years and several fails that took me three years to correct because it was very hard to tell the difference between something that’s slow and something that just wasn’t happening

before I took the correction and replaced the team.


So one thing I really liked from our conversation previously is like, you’ve got a different take on employee referrals. So a lot of companies like they really leverage employee referrals, but there are some downsides. They don’t really work out great and I was curious, kind of your take on kind of the upsides and the downsides.

We certainly value employee referral sends. We have an internal employee referral program for people to send me their leads. One thing I had found was that it’s however not a bulletproof system where a lot of the time an employee who might be really good themselves just does not have a good read on the people, especially people who aren’t

team managers themselves. So they would often send you somebody who they’re considered a nice human being and they potentially worked alongside of them and maybe not even working directly with them in the previous role. And the person comes in and they’re clearly wrong for the job and wrong can be they don’t necessarily fit the team in which they’re applying for or the cadence of the role.

So that’s a really unusual thing. I suppose, what I found was internal employee referrals are a great source of inbound leads but they should be treated just like any other lead and needing to qualify them and see whether there is indeed a fit because if somebody says “Oh they’re great” it doesn’t necessarily mean that that would indeed be the case.

I mean, you almost can make an analogy of personal life I suppose. If you happen to be single and somebody is setting you up, you kind of say, well am I doing the favor to you or to the other person? That’s great. Let’s talk about like from the job seeker side, right. If you’re going to give some advice to someone, right? People are going to look to you, you’re CEO, what do people screw up? What have you seen people do that happens repeatedly in interviews, maybe with different candidates that people just need to be aware of not to make these mistakes?

So people tend to impress you through name-dropping. So they say, “Look I’m best buddies with this general or procurement efficient show or this or that.” I find quiet confidence by simply saying, look, I’ve done this sales, this sale, and this sale, as opposed to trying to show off your Rolodex is the best way to go. Unless you’re hiring from a direct competitor to any way, chances are that Rolodex may not be directly relevant.

The other thing is, and this is something that you learn over time and the defense career is defense procurement is complex and compliance is strong. So even though people like doing business with people they enjoy spending time with, that’s not enough, so you can’t just go with your buddy.

at department of defense for a beer, and they’ll give you a perch sorta afterwards. There still needs to be a proper due diligence process. So connections are not sufficient. Although you do want them to start with. Then there is a lot of kind of aggressive sales talks. So the person generally saying, look I’m meeting my sales targets and this and that.

And it’s also a matter of everywhere, they talk like a real estate auctioneer as opposed to being a defense salesperson. I mean, at the end of the day in the defense industry, the customers don’t like being sold to, they don’t like being forced into things. They have real problems, their lives depend on it.

So we find that defense and medical industries tend to be very similar in that those are the two industry and aviation, I suppose, as well. Aviation defense often get grouped together in that customers’ lives usually depend on the performance of your product. So they’re saying, look, we’re putting our lives at risk.

Your solution will help us save our lives. Can your product do the job and you just need to be confident and knowledgeable and understated, but also to your employee in an interview. So when I see, I guess, aggressive talk in an interview I say, I think to myself, well is that person going to be the same

to our customers? So that bit is important. And this applies to every job, your employer research. So understanding what we do, I ask them meaningful questions. So Drone Shield people often ask, often say to me, “we’ll have your drones” and I’m like, no, no, we shoot drones down.

We don’t make drones. And that kind of is usually the giveaways to much, how much research they’ve done. And things like, “Oh, I’ve seen your products at this and this demo or a conference” usually is a good sign because it genuinely means that the person is interested. Okay. I want to talk about getting into the defense industry, if you wanted to. Back to what you were saying before, so you didn’t start in defense. How did you- tell everyone about I guess your background and how you got here. So I was a banker, a very frustrated banker having overstayed my welcome in the banking industry

and I was looking to do something different. A New York based fund took a stake and Drown Shield and was looking for a CFO to run with the IPO of the business in Australia, which was I guess, something that I knew quite a lot about as a banker. So I go to in all the time, given the business. It was quite small.

There was a lot of operational responsibilities as well. So eventually I became the CEO and with it became the need to actually learn about sales. What helped me quite a lot was the industry was really nascent. So for example, if aware at firearm sort of business with well-established channels into the customers, the customers would be clear what they want, how that buy, it’d be much harder for me to

fit into that established network. But given we’re a subset of defense of new emerging technologies, even now and certainly back five or six years ago, there was no one single place in the department of defense who will be buying equipment to set standards. All of that was evolving. So one way to get into defense, if you’re not in defense already, is to look at fast emerging technologies where there is no set way of doing things.

So that you can sort of build yourself in the industry, which is shaping itself. If you are in what you call an adjacent industry, so you’re selling into say law enforcement or first responders that is again, all aviation, potentially. There are a lot of similarities. So you’ll be like- calls or even conferences or

the outlook of your customers, channels to market. So there’s a lot shorter bridge to cross compared to if you are selling toys or children’s books, that’s not to say you can’t get into sales. At the end of the day sale is a sale, but the way you would talk, the way you present yourself will be potentially different.

So what would you do if you were in that situation? At the end of the day a lot of it is people. So if you know somebody who is already in defense, who is prepared to give you a go and take a risk on you, that could be the fastest way to get in. Fostering relationships with recruiters is key.

So I extensively work with recruiters, both when I was a candidate and now that I’m the employer. Recruiters and Hirewell of course, are cool. Thank you. They have a very important role in terms of acting as gatekeepers. So if I would receive an email from you James, saying here’s a candidate who you should consider, I will pay much closer attention to it as I trust your judgment compared to just getting a cold resume.

And I get a lot of those all the time and unless there’s a perfect fit, those usually end up in the trash because I simply can’t read that many emails a day. So fostering relationships with recruiters who would then also help shape your message because recruiters understand how employers want in a particular industry, people to come across and again, be that introduction link.

So that’s pretty critical. So anybody listening to the podcast, reach out to James, reach out to Hirewell and help them, structure your resume to put the message across to us. We’d love to consider you. Trade shows we already talked about. So there are multi-sector trade shows. So for example, there are great drone shows that also have counter drone element to it.

That’s your opportunity to build personal relationships going around the stands and you’d actually be surprised. I get hit on all the time at defense trade shows while exhibiting by job seekers. And a lot of those are genuinely good people and you get an opportunity to get to know somebody in person right away.

So you almost get your first interview just by walking around the trade show. And maybe the last thing, and this gets commonly mentioned, I don’t believe in a scattergun approach of emailing hundreds of people with cold emails. I also don’t believe in, and maybe this is the Australian part in me, which is a little different I think to the US approach,

doing the two year MBA at an Ivy league and spending bazillion dollars and trying to reposition yourself. I think it works with very particular niches. I think with salespeople, it’s actually really funny- when I first started advertising for salespeople, I assumed that a degree was important just because well I have a degree, but even a degree really is not that critical to be a great sales people.

In fact, a lot of really good sales guys not have a degree. So all of that stuff, an MBA, or even an undergrad is not really a requirement. So a lot of it is just understand the industry, connect with employers, go to trade shows and eventually you’ll get there. All right. So as you mentioned before, you’re pretty aggressively hiring right now sales people in the US.

What’s your elevator pitch? Why should someone out there want to join Drone Shield? It’s an exciting time for counter drone industry. It’s an industry that’s really rapidly growing and it’s shaping itself. We are the global leader, the gold standard if you like. One of the original pioneers, and we are really rapidly growing.

And if you want to play with exciting tech, if you want to shoot drones down all day and talk to customers who do, has no other choice. I’d get one of those, that just sounds like it’d be fun. I don’t know, going around my neighborhood if I see a drone, just shoot it down. We’re really close to product placement of drone garden,

the last terminator movie to have a scene with irony, woth drone gun shooting down a drone, and I missed it this close. I was so annoyed at the time. This would’ve been amazing product placement. Well awesome, hey this has been a lot of fun. So I want to thank you again for kind of joining me on this one and it’s also been a pleasure working with you.

So I know our whole team’s had a lot of a good time. So to everyone out there, thanks for tuning into the talent insights podcast. If you want to hear more of what the team and I have to say, you can subscribe to the Hirewell channel on YouTube. We have a playlist of all our episodes, as well as check out our talent insights

media site. So talentinsights.hirewell.com. From there you can subscribe to Apple podcast, Google podcast, Amazon and Spotify. Oleg, thanks again for coming! Everyone out there, we’ll see you soon. Thanks for having me.

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