CenturyLink Career Corner: Vernon Irvin Talks Success

As SVP Small and Midsize Enterprise Sales for CenturyLink, I was asked by the CenturyLink Careers team to discuss what it takes to balance work and personal activities, be a strong leader with a successful track record and maintain motivation. The following are highlights from that discussion:

What are three pieces of advice you’d give to a young person entering the work force for the first time?

For any career, I think success hinges on the pursuit of excellence. You should always ask yourself: 

Does this action or do these words help me be my best self?

Am I helping my customer?

Am I helping my co-workers or team?” 

You see, when you think in terms of joint success, you’re no longer just thinking about yourself or how you can make the next sale. You’ve become a consultant, and you’re now thinking in terms of how you can help another person achieve their goals, which in turn can help you achieve your goals. It’s a positive experience for everyone involved.

Second, know how to use technology to accomplish your goals. At CenturyLink, our goal is to help our customers be successful in the digital world. So, to be successful at CenturyLink, you need to be knowledgeable about digital transformation and how it can benefit a business. Know how to leverage social media, especially LinkedIn, whether you’re networking to find your first job or to locate your next customer. The appropriate use of social media is key to your success.

Lastly, find a mentor. Think about where you want to be in five years and identify someone that embodies your goals right now. Get to know them. Find out how they became successful and learn their secrets for continued excellence. 

What would you tell someone considering a sales role?

Let’s say you accept an entry-level sales position. During the first 12 to 18 months, work hard to meet your goals: your sales numbers, your units. Make a name for yourself and get promoted to your next sales position where you’ll have an opportunity to be more consultative and work on more sophisticated solutions. Continue to meet your goals and accept promotions that require you to have more knowledge and to exercise more responsibility.

Ask any person on my team and they will tell you that sales provides you with an incredible opportunity for advancement. Not only will you gain critical business knowledge, but you’ll be in the position to earn a salary that can not only change your life, but really change your entire family’s life. 

What’s your secret to running a successful sales organization?

The customer is always first. If you focus on “how do I solve this problem for my customer?”, then it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, you’ll be successful. When you’re an advocate for the customer, you’ll not only create a great customer experience for them, but you’ll be a change advocate in your own organization. By putting the customer first, you’ll help to continually improve the business processes that support the customer experience which ultimately will drive great business results for your company. Combine that with the ability to get your strategy right, design your organization to create sales velocity and hire the best people, then you’ll be in a winning position. 

What kind of characteristics do you look for in the people you hire? What makes a great salesperson?

I look for people with a strong drive of persistence. In sales, you’ll hear the word “no” probably twenty times before you hear a “yes.” You need persistence, but you also need passion and commitment. You’ll need the emotional energy to be self motivated. Great sales people understand what motivates them and pull upon their own internal resources to accomplish their objectives. In sales, we encourage dreams. Envision the type of life you want for you and your family and work backwards from there. What do you need to do to accomplish those dreams? If you keep your eye on your five year goal and are diligent about meeting your goals, you’ll be successful. 

You have an interesting and diverse career background. Can you offer some guidance on how someone can transfer existing skills and experiences into a new position?

That is a great question. I started my career as a customer. I was an IT director for a healthcare organization. I have an intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be a customer and to buy solutions from companies like CenturyLink. I’ve experienced business problems firsthand and looked to my business partners to help me use technology to solve these issues. 

While there’s a lot of lip service to putting the customer first from a lot of organizations, I believe that my early career experience helps me uniquely see customers’ issues. I’m always asking myself, “How do I solve this business issue for my customer?”  I want to be a change agent for my customer, to be an advocate of technology that can help them achieve their business objectives. So, how does this translate into transferring skills into a new position? Always rely on your competency, your center of excellence. 

While I lead a large sales organization for CenturyLink, I’ve always retained my core competency, the IT Director. I’ve never forgotten the lessons I learned while an IT Director, and I lean on that knowledge to help our team of sales professionals provide the best technology solutions for our customers. 

What’s your favorite part of your day?

My favorite part of the day is when I get home, open the door and my kids and wife greet me. My family is what gives meaning to my life and they are why I do what I do every day. And maybe I’m tired. I’ve worked all day and then boarded a plane and flown for another four hours. But, none of that matters; it all goes away when I open that front door. The most meaningful part of my life is my family and I appreciate them each and every day.

So many people look up to you. Who’s your hero?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is definitely a hero to me. I spent some of my career in South Africa about the time that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was going through apartheid and the amnesty hearings. I watched firsthand as he helped raise that country above one of the most oppressive regimes of all time. He put God first, relied upon a nonviolent strategy and it worked. 

Are you a hero?

I’m not sure that I’m a hero, but I do want people to be successful. I want them to better their lives and the lives of their family members. If I can help them do that, then I consider my mission accomplished.

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