Gene Villeneuve: Are You Taking Enough Risks?

Are You Taking Enough Risks?

“Youth,” said Irish playwright George Shaw, “is wasted on the young.” He meant that young people don’t appreciate the gifts and opportunities they have, and they squander those opportunities, not realizing they might not have those chances later in life.

But there’s another way to look at it: Young people, perhaps because they have less to lose, tend to take more risks. Some of those risks are–for lack of a better term–stupid, but some, related to career or life choices, can turn out quite well. These are risks that older people might not take, either for fear of failing or from an overabundance of comfort in their current situations.

Gene Villeneuve is no stranger to taking risks.At many points in his career, he made choices that were driven more by his innate curiosity than by a conventional risk-vs.-reward analysis. Gene joined our Sales Lead Dog podcast to discuss the risks he’s taken in his career and how taking those risks drove his success.


Gene’s Career Story

Gene did not start out with the goal of being a sales professional. He started in a pre-sales technical role for software company Cognos in the 1990s, but he found the technical aspects didn’t suit him. He moved into a product management and field support role, helping the sales and product teams bring the right solutions to their customers.

He left Cognos to join a startup, where he wore several different hats, including product management, marketing, customer success, and presales training. When that company was acquired by a French company, he moved to France to take a global product management role.

Gene later returned to Canada and rejoined Cognos, which by that time was part of IBM, leading the product management team for their business intelligence product line. Within a few years, Gene–by this time married with two young children–was offered an opportunity to return to Europe to lead the European BI sales team. He took it without hesitation.

Taking that risk led to an even bigger risk: After an internal reorganization, a position became available to lead a much larger IBM team in Europe. Despite his lack of experience leading a large team, he applied and got the job. In his words, it was “a massive step up, because now it was leading a team of almost 700 people across IBM Europe, and we ended up doing quite well in my two-year gig leading that team.”


What Drove Gene’s Success

Gene attributes his career success to four factors:

  • Natural curiosity
  • Willingness to take risks
  • A supportive family
  • A drive to help others be successful

To Gene, that last factor set him apart from other sales leaders. Where other sales leaders tend to focus on numbers and leads and quotas, Gene was willing to go on customer calls and overcome internal obstacles to get deals done. “I always felt myself as an enabler, and somebody who would surround the team or work with the team and enable the team to be successful.”


Gene’s Thoughts on CRM

Now “semi-retired” and focusing on mentoring and advising, Gene says that CRM is more important than ever, in particular for software companies using the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. Under this model, with more customers on “pay-as-you-go” agreements rather than long-term contracts, it’s easier for customers to leave, and it’s more important than ever for the sales team to keep customers happy. This is almost impossible without a robust CRM tool.

For more on Gene’s insights, listen to his interview on the Sales Lead Dog podcast.