Matt Hall | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Matt Hall


Rosetta Stone sells language learning and literacy programs to consumers, schools and businesses worldwide. It offers learning tools for 30 languages and has millions of users worldwide. 

The Mistake: 

I made a series of similar mistakes that affected the way I conducted myself with some superiors and a lot of peers in other parts of the organization outside of sales. Once I learned that it was not giving me what I wanted [and] causing me to portray myself in a less than optimal light with my colleagues, I was able to fix it—but it was a challenge.  

At my last company, I had been running the North American operation for about six years. It was something I did well, but I really wasn't learning much. ... I decided to leave and do something different. At the time, a new boss had started literally a week before I made that decision.  

One of the things he put in front of me was, "Well, hey, why don't you start our international operations in Asia Pac?" ... and, "You know everything. You've been here awhile. That's something you could take on and you would get a chance to travel the world on the company's dime."  

It was something very different and sounded fun. But as I got into it I was really fighting for resources against my old [department]. 

I think that the way I went about it was just all wrong. Instead of crafting a business case, instead of showing return on investment over time, building another five-year plan and giving them all the ammunition they needed to make a decision whether it was mine or the other, I would kind of just stomp my feet and pound my fists and raise my voice. It didn't do me or them any favors.  

Now that I am in a more senior role, I am in those meetings where we are making those decisions. It is very easy to look back now and say, "Wow. I was so stupid." I had half the story and I was making all these assumptions that this was a personal battle when it was really just the people in charge of the company trying to decide what was the best way to invest their limited product development dollars and the best path forward to get the most revenue and to keep us all in a job.  

You almost always get several noes before you get a yes. 

The Lesson:  

If you are a salesperson, all of your selling happens externally. You are going to a customer and you are trying to get them to buy your product, your service or software. If you are a frontline sales manager, you are still kind of in that same boat. You're managing reps and you are coaching them and selling to customers. But as you start to take that next step and you become a director, a VP or a senior director, much more of your selling has to happen internally.  

Instead of making a bold statement and saying, "Come on. What are we waiting for here?" you need to sell [higher-ups] on why they need to invest into your group. Why is that a better decision? Why is that more long-term value for the customer? Why will the five-year investment will pay off much more? You have to lay out that case.   

If you are a sales person talking to a potential customer and they tell you no, that is just the start of the process. Everyone says that. You almost always get several noes before you get a yes, and you don't get frustrated. You don't react negatively to them. You certainly don't yell at them or behave in that way. You are going to hear a no and when you do it is because your option is not as attractive as another or you are not providing enough facts and figures and reasons for them to say yes to what you're proposing.   

Changing that behavior allows you to build bridges instead of walls and create relationships with other parts of the organization so that they think of you first. "You know what? Matt has some really good points when we were talking about this last. I think we have a little bit of extra money, and in the next [meeting,] we should talk to him about what we can do with his department." That kind of stuff starts happening when you're working with those other departments instead of against them. 

Follow Rosetta Stone on Twitter at @RosettaStoneBiz.

Photo courtesy of Matt Hall