Education Not Required

August 25, 2020

The educational road map to sales success doesn’t exist.

If you fit into one of the categories below, don’t skip out on reading this:

  • You are in / finishing high school and debating on whether to  attend college, take a gap year [FU COVID19] or enter the workforce.
  • You are in college or have recently graduated and are applying for sales roles with the intent of being a high performer and/or one day growing into a leadership position.
  • You are in a leadership position and are tasked with hiring and coaching a high performance sales team.

We’ve all heard the stories about mega successful folks, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who never finished college, but made billions. Let’s bring this down to earth and talk about sales roles specifically.

There are several traits that LIFE can teach you whether you attend college or not that are absolutely crucial to sales success. While the following list is by no means exhaustive, I want to demonstrate that just having a 4 year degree and being able to recite some answers to a few situational questions does NOT mean you will succeed in sales.

  • Passion – “ I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein
    • Do you have a genuine interest in the field you are aiming to work in? If the answer is “I don’t know”  or “no”, move on. Seriously. If you do not have a burning desire to learn more and be better, you will never be able to adapt as quickly as necessary to succeed.
    • If interviewing, does the candidate follow up the discussion with relevant questions? Ask them for an example of a time when they made a mistake, personally. Did they learn and grow from it?
  • Integrity – “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” -Warren Buffett
    • Do you do what is right no matter the cost? How would you define integrity in your own words? If you can’t do this, I highly recommend you take some time and think about what you stand for and decide in what areas you are not willing to compromise
    • If interviewing, despite what most may tell you, integrity should be quite simple to gauge. Assuming you’re knowledgeable about the role you’re hiring for, ask the candidate to dive deeper into a few things on their resume (Sidenote: This requires you as the interviewer to actually spend some time showing you give a damn and research their resume).
  • Drive – “Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph; a beginning, a struggle and a victory.” – Gandhi
    • What do you do when you hit an obstacle? Do you sit in the corner and curl up into the fetal position until someone comes along to help you? Or, do you strategize and develop a workaround to continue executing a plan?
    • If interviewing, ask the candidate to tell you about your company and the role. If they have any drive, they will have spent the time to do a good amount of research to understand the company, industry, and role they are applying for.
    • Another one of my favorite questions is to ask them about their hobbies outside of work. Look for answers other than Netflix and hanging out with friends.
    • One more favorite of mine is to ask about something new they are learning, when they started it, and how far along they are on it (Do not let your unconscious bias penalize them for doing things you personally do not enjoy. We’ll have to talk about that in another blog).

Some of my best hires have been folks who had no degree and were never in sales, but exhibited these skills. A great friend of mine just recently hired an ex-auto mechanic for a SaaS sales role, who is absolutely crushing the rest of the team.

You do not have to be an outspoken athlete with a degree, who is ready to “kill the competition” to do well in sales. A four year degree your parents paid for won’t help and neither will a pushy and ego driven attitude.

I’ll close with a quote from our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Never underestimate the power of effort and determination.

Follow me on LinkedIn and checkout my post last week on the educational roadmap to success. I think you’ll find some valuable insight from others on their personal experiences and how they have been successful in sales despite some extremely diverse backgrounds.

Leave a reply

Characteristics Create Revenue

August 18, 2020

Assessing Sales Reps Means More Than Quota

The leaderboard tells part of the story, not the entire story.

We constantly hear sales are all about numbers and quota. Walk onto the sales floor [now known as Zoom] and ask who the top rep is. The answer is the same old “look at the leaderboard”.

It’s outdated. It’s narrow minded. It’s overly simplistic.

Money will always come first but there are so many other pivotal ways to assess sales reps.

Characteristics turn into revenue

Curiosity, creativity, coach-ability, positivity, and the list goes on and on. These are the same characteristics we all want salespeople to possess. These terms make you feel like you are reading a job description on Indeed or LinkedIn.

The repetitive answers prove their importance; I have to admit I yawn when I hear generic responses. I’ve seen countless bottom performers overcome their bleak attainment when they exhibit the right characteristics. I’ve also seen top performers suddenly fall off a cliff when they exhibit the wrong characteristics.

A lot of highly successful sales leaders I’ve met say their stories started with failure. Drake knows what I’m talking about – started from the bottom, now we’re here. If their respective companies overvalued quota, these sales leaders wouldn’t have had an opportunity to prove themselves. There are businesses who regularly make this mistake and pay a huge price, seeing their previous employee flourish elsewhere after firing them prematurely.

According to Salesforce, most reps will only spend 14 months in their roles. When that happens, the smart recruiters spend most of their time qualifying candidates on characteristics, not quota attainment. When I was the SVP of Sales at Qualia, I loved asking candidates: “What’s one thing you believe in that most of your colleagues disagree with and why?” Behavioral and situational based questions, questions beyond the surface level. That’s how you get to see what someone is really made of.

Quota attainment only lasts 1-month, maybe quarterly or annually for mid-market/enterprise account executives. Come the end of the month, quarter or year, we go back to zero and start all over again. Characteristics travel with you from job to job. They’re an integral part of your identity. No matter the industry, type of product, average contract value, the best performers find ways to win because those characteristics are ingrained in their DNA.

The “It” Factor

Turn on an NFL game and the announcers say the “It” Factor to describe quarterbacks. It’s the same principle for sales reps. “It” Factor reps bring more to the table than last year’s president’s club photo album.

Defining the “It” Factor is extremely tough because it means something different to each individual. The commonality traces back to characteristic based answers. Bill Barnwell of Grantland said: What does “It Factor” mean? “It Factor” can mean just about anything you want it to mean, truthfully. The word is often synonymous with “intangibles”, which itself has been twisted to mean something like “things that can’t be measured that we will try to measure anyway.” Toughness, leadership, and bravery are familiar qualities we associate with intangibles, and likewise, they come up very frequently in articles about the It Factor.

The NFL’s characteristics and sales characteristics are different, although the pain of a bad month and the pain of being hit by linebackers have some crossover. The underlying theme is identical. Within sales, it’s hard to quantify curiosity, creativity, coach-ability, it’s doable though.

Curiosity can be quantified with the type of questions someone asks. Do they ask clarity and follow-up questions, or do they bounce around to a million different topics? Clarity and follow-up questions are a result of curiosity and active listening. A million topics will come off as interrogative and robotic. Prospects have to be understood to solve their needs.

Creativity can be quantified with specific examples. What has the rep done to differentiate their messaging? I receive countless cold pitches and I only respond to the most creative messages. I’ve seen people leveraging video more than ever, enabling their outreach to feel authentic and funny. Quickly study up on how to do video before diving in. I recommend following Morgan Ingram on LinkedIn to learn how to turn videos into a strong pipeline. Morgan talked about the subject in depth via Hippo Video. Gong routinely sends their prospects Cameo’s from famous celebrities. That’s the next level of creativity.

Coach-ability can be quantified with sales role plays. Sure, role plays are awkward and hard. I don’t ask for role plays and expect good responses; I use them as a test to see how they apply feedback. If they make a clear attempt to apply my feedback, they pass the role play with flying colors. You can also ask: What was the last piece of sales feedback you applied and why were you open to doing so?

Helping Others

The other aspect I value deeply is when reps help each other and are genuinely invested in seeing each other succeed. If the entire team is rowing the boat in the same direction, the team’s quota will become a matter of when, not if. Teams with great chemistry are overwhelmingly obvious and those same teams avoid tribal knowledge.

Once I learn something that works, I immediately share it with the entire team. I was eager to see my coworkers’ results skyrocket with this advice. Whether it’s talk tracks, objection handling, email templates, the challenges and tasks at hand are the same. It’s way easier if we’re working on this together.

Sales organizations usually have a high performer who frequently gets asked to coffee by peers. Sure, they are probably hitting their number but the origin of the ask goes way deeper. The coffee type of reps are clearly nice and selfless, getting great enjoyment out of helping others. To this day, I meet with reps and give them guidance to avoid making the same mistakes I did.

There are many top performers who don’t get asked to coffee because they sit in the corner with their head down. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this type of attitude. We hire sales reps to hit their number, not to tutor their neighbor. From the broader perspective, there’s a lot wrong with this attitude. One great sales rep barely moves the needle, so it’s imperative to have his or her knowledge become commonplace.

Collaboration and alignment are must haves. I will sacrifice a bit of one person’s number for more collaboration and synergy. Macro perspective over Micro perspective.

Example to tie this all together

Let’s quickly break down two scenarios to make this tangible and actionable.

  • (Option A/Rep A): Sales rep averages 80-90% to quota and epitomizes the characteristics we’ve discussed.
  • (Option B/Rep B): Sales rep averages 110% to quota yet lacks energy, complains regularly and isn’t open to new ideas.

Give me rep A all day. Easy call. Ideally, we get both, but we don’t live in a fairy tale world. I have also let go of plenty of the Option B type reps and their attitude can bring down the whole org. In doing so, many Option A type reps rise to the top and become stars.

The amount of revenue between Option A and B might mean little to a company in the grand scheme of things. Developing the entire sales team dramatically improves the bottom line. Rep A will turn our vision of more Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) into reality. Rep B surprisingly and ironically puts us further away from the end goal. Even though Rep B individually brings in more revenue today, Rep A actually has the ability to contribute more revenue overall in the end.

Mind trip and a jigsaw puzzle, I know.

The Point Being

The next time you assess one of your reps, keep this post and example in mind. Take a step back, think big picture and analyze what will drive the most impact to your business.

It’s about creating the right behaviors. The right habits. The right processes. Top-notch characteristics produce sustained, scalable and predictable success.

Leave a reply


August 11, 2020

Have you ever been through a crisis?

I’m talking about something that happens to you that changes your life for an extended period of time. What comes to mind is an illness, or the loss of a loved one, or losing everything financially you have worked for. Something that challenges your ethics, your character and the way you see yourself and the world.

If you haven’t, I hope you never do.

If you have, I hope you made it through and you’re better for it.

The thing about undergoing a crisis is that it peels back the layers and exposes what a person is really made of. Your fear, anxiety, blame, resentfulness, grit, perseverance, hunger, resiliency… the list goes on. There is ample opportunity during a crisis that will expose who is in your life as a true advocate of you as a person. It exposes your community while giving you a chance to create a whole new one.

There are a lot of people out of work right now. Many of them through no fault of their own. If you are one of those people, you are not defeated. Wake up and treat finding a job as if it is your job. Prospect new jobs that align with what you want, contact members of the company and showcase yourself, and sell yourself everyday. Build a massive network via micro-communities [and macro] and help others along the way, creating a strong “rule of reciprocity” that will make its way back around to you.

If you are fortunate enough to still have a job, don’t kid yourself thinking that this could not happen to you. I have watched multiple long term thriving companies collapse over the past few months. Each one of them had top performers, just like you. I’ve talked to many of them and done my best to help, but now I am calling on you.

We are building a community and to make that community strong, we need to support one another. I can tell you from personal experience that helping other people is a selfless act that pays for itself. So here are a couple small things you can do that will go a long way:

  • Leave a thoughtful reference on someone’s Linkedin profile.
  • Introduce them to someone in your network who can help them find their next role and advocate for them.
  • Tag people in job postings to get them exposure.
  • Invite them to micro communities you are a part of.
  • Listen to them. Get to know them.
  • I’m not saying you should do this for everyone, but we all know someone who we could make an impact on… or two… or ten. Thirty minutes out of your day that could literally change someone’s life.

Make an impact. We’re all in this together. Actions > Words.

P.S. If someone made an impact in your life, I want to hear about it. I want to know them.

Examples of Sales Communities I am active in and recommend:
Surf and Sales, Patreon, Thursday Night Sales, RevGenius

Evan McElwain from Bowery Capital and I sat down awhile back for a chat. “Iteration in Early-Stage Selling” is FULL of great nuggets for early-stage founders and rev leaders who are trying to improve their early GTM motion. Give it a listen!

Leave a reply

Do you multi-task?

August 04, 2020

One of my favorite interview questions used to be: “Tell me something you believe to be true that most people believe to be false.” I love it because it tests the willpower, debate skills and creative thinking of candidates. I have a few things I believe that most people don’t, and I’m gonna dive into one with you right now.

“You cannot multitask and you’re lazy if you try.” I disagree, but I’d like to explain the difference between multitasking (low focus) and context switching (high focus). And I’m sure you will disagree with much of what I say.

Humans are quite skilled at multitasking. If you’ve been working from home during the pandemic, you’ve probably mastered keeping your children alive while working longer hours than ever before. Multitasking is something we all do to manage our day-to-day tasks that require little focus or mental stimulation.

Enter context switching. Elon Musk calls it batching. Jeff Bezos calls it serial multitasking.

Call it what you want, but it is as simple as intense focus on the task at hand with the learned ability to quickly switch to the next task without a distracting “break” in between.

You may argue this is just a more advanced form of multitasking and cannot be done. Elon Musk runs Tesla, SpaceX, and Neurolink (and in his free time a few others). Jack Dorsey runs Twitter and Square. Jeff Bezon runs Amazon. They all agree and have spoken about the impact of this practice. It appears they are proving it can in fact be done.

Here is the most basic description and the origin of the terminology: “A context switch is the procedure that a computer’s CPU follows to change from one task to another while ensuring that the two tasks do not conflict.”

Did you know that unless you have multiple computers linked together, a computer is not capable of true multitasking? If your computer has 4 tasks to complete, it sets up a queue. It then works on the first task, saves the task progress, and then pushes it to the end of the queue until all tasks are completed.

You’ve probably had this happen before. You’re on your computer with several applications open and one of them is not working. What happens? The computer does not keep going while just pushing aside the one failed application! The whole thing stops and you’re forced to restart entirely.

Neuroscience tells us something similar about the human brain. When we try to do multiple things at once, our brain is actually just switching between activities very quickly and placing them in the queue.

Here is why I underlined and bolded “without” in my definition of context switching. When we are focused and switching between tasks, we can stop for an innocent notification, phone call, coffee break etc… our whole system stops and we are forced to restart.

This is what Jeff Bezos is referring to when he mentions serial multitasking. These small, seemingly innocent breaks are what derail us. You start thinking about what you forgot to do yesterday, so you start on that and you never finish the initial tasks you had started on.

Effective context switching is a major competitive advantage when we practice and are present for the task at hand. Gary Keller, the founder of Keller Williams, says it best, “You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once”.

The root trait we must learn is being fully present with each task and be able to move quickly from one to another.

Try these 3 things as you practice context switching:

  • Eliminate distractions, big and small (Read about why billionaire Mark Zuckerberg wears the same clothes every day and drives a basic reliable Acura).
  • Practice Mindfulness. Check out the newsletter from last week, where we talk a bit about how to bring your mind back to the present when it is wandering.
  • Make time for things that are important to you. If all you’re trying to do is knock out 50 tasks a day that you don’t care about, you’re never going to improve and be effective at context switching.

Follow me on Linkedin, and check out my post on context switching.

I joined James Carbary on his B2B Growth show last week. Take a listen.

Leave a reply