Ed Calnan: Putting People First


In a far ranging discussion with Ed Calnan, while touching on topics ranging from technology to sales to sports, the conversation often returns to his favorite subject: People. “Great sales pros win,” says the founder and president of Seismic, a leading enterprise-grade sales enablement solution. “Not because they have the best products, but because they know how to find buyers and help them solve their business problem by showing them how it was solved by others.”

According to Ed, Seismic’s sales team grows the company’s customer base while he personally develops and mentors the salespeople. “I’m part of the leadership team working hard to build a world-class SaaS company,” he says. “Six years ago we started with a vision to execute in sales and marketing using technology to work better, faster and smarter.”

When asked about his career highlights, Ed returns to his favorite subject, but this time it’s closer to home: “First and foremost, being a dad is important to me,” says the father of two. “I am lucky enough to mentor them as they grow and coach them in youth sports.” Ed’s belief in continual improvement and development has inspired him to mentor other young people who need help and are thirsty for knowledge. Transcending athletics and business, mentoring is about showing young people how to win, he says, and also “how to lose with grace.”

Growing up, Ed’s family was his biggest influence. “My grandparents were immigrants and had to work hard to put food on the table for my parents,” he says. His parents both worked full time to give Ed and his sister a good life. “They set the example for us that if you want something, you need to go out and earn it. Life isn’t always fair, but it’s not a coincidence that those who work hardest always seem to get the breaks at some point along the way.”

Leveraging resources
Ed likes to think that Seismic can surprise prospects with its knowledge of their unique business problems. “We take full advantage of public sources such as LinkedIn and CrunchBase,” he says. “From these we are able to develop detailed organizational hierarchies of the companies we are selling into, which is extremely valuable for finding the right buyer.” In fact, one client, a major financial services corporation, was amazed by how much Seismic knew about their internal structure. “We were asked multiple times, ‘How do you guys know our teams better than we do?’”

Like a good coach, Ed motivates his team to stay sharp. “That means preparing for every meeting with as much detail as possible,” he says, adding that “in ‘93 when I started selling there was limited access to information, but now there is so much available that if you don’t go into every interaction with customers as prepared as you can be, if you don’t take advantage of every available tool, you will lose more than you will win.”

Asked what advice he’d offer his best friend’s daughter or son who was interested in a sales career, Ed doesn’t miss a beat: “If they’re smart and work hard, I’d hire them.” In fact he’s done that multiple times at Seismic. “We do a lot of friends and family hiring.” Many in the organization are connected by six degrees, he says. “I do have friends and family here, and ex roommates, mentors and mentees.”

Ed learned from some of the best in his industry. “I was lucky to be a part of great sales cultures in technology,” he says. “I started with ADP, which is well known for its boot camp and training program.” Later, at Thomson Reuters, Ed mastered the discipline of rigorous account management, working with some of the firm’s largest customers.

Today, Seismic has a leg up thanks to its consistent, systematic research, says Ed. “I’m proud of my team and our creative approach to selling.” Seismic sells enterprise software to Fortune 500 companies. “These are not quick, transactional sales,” he points out. Ed teaches his team how to build relationships, use customer case studies and tell stories about fixing a business problem that the prospect is living. “In every deal we win we use content and tools to make sure we have an edge.”

Biggest deal ever
While Seismic wins more deals than it loses, it learns from every prospect that gets away. One recent loss that stung Ed was an opportunity where his team just couldn’t connect with the prospect’s decision maker. Even though Ed’s team was better prepared, “the purchasing team kept us out because they thought they were going to get a better product from our competitor,” he says. “We used all the tools, but couldn’t get an audience.” Still, Seismic turned over every rock and stone to analyze the loss and get an understanding of how to improve.

On the flip side, says Ed, “With every loss comes a win if you are working hard.” His team recently closed the biggest deal in Seismic’s history. “One of the biggest tech firms in the world, he says, now uses Seismic to drive their sales and marketing efforts.” When the deal closed, Seismic did a forensic exercise. “We looked at every touch point in the 18-month sales cycle,” he recalls. “We presented a 360-degree view of that sales pursuit. Eight hundred emails exchanged, 250 demos or meetings, 35 people on our side with a touch point with the prospect – ranging from a 22-year-old inside sales rep to the CEO and back down again. It was wonderful to see it all come together.”

For Ed Calnan, the product matters. But the people matter more.

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