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This is an excerpt from our “Legends” series, where we profile the top sales and marketing leaders around the world, digging deep into their formative experiences and lived lessons.John McMahon has a term for software salespeople who land a C-suite pitch meeting but then blow it by droning on about technical features and functions, rather than emphasizing the tangible business value. “I call it showing up and throwing up,” says McMahon.That kind of raw assessment and blunt talk have earned McMahon a loyal following among a generation of sales leaders and CROs whose careers he personally shaped and launched.During the past 30 years or so, McMahon has created some of the most successful sales teams at five public software companies, including BladeLogic, BMC, Ariba, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), and GeoTel. As chief operating officer and head of worldwide sales at BladeLogic, he helped transform it from a startup to its $872 million acquisition by BMC. At GeoTel, he grew sales to $52 million prior to a $2 billion acquisition by Cisco. And at PTC, where McMahon first made his mark, sales grew from $1 million to $1.1 billion in nine years.Today, McMahon sits on the boards of several companies, including the data cloud platform Snowflake and the cloud database platform MongoDB. To stay centered amid the hard work, he devotes a lot of time to yoga, weight lifting, and cycling; he does 25-mile morning rides around his Boston home, once biked across America and South Africa, and raced competitively.McMahon’s approach to sales is similar to his approach to sports. He often refers to the playbooks of his beloved Boston Bruins or Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots to make a strategic point. “My motto in business is to always be a student of the game,” says McMahon. “Even when I’m called in as an advisor, I still learn from people around the table. That’s the mindset of being a student of the game.”
Too many companies think culture is ping-pong, foosball, and beer taps. Helping people win is a culture. Teaching them how to win on their own is a culture. If people aren’t learning, earning, growing, and being promoted, they’re not staying around for the pool table.”
Here are a few moments that have defined McMahon’s career and character. Here are some of his keys to success: