Mike’s Story Part 4: The Final Chapter, How WinRate Was Born
As a small to medium business rep I found a lot of success. For two straight years I finished as the number two sales rep out of 150+. I was making six figures. I was being set up to take on a business sales management position. I was fortunate enough to of been able to afford to build a house for my wife and I. I’d say things were going pretty well.
This is where my inner struggles start to take over.
As you may have read in previous blog posts I struggle to find internal happiness, even when things seem to be going so well on the outside. For the better part of my career in corporate America, I would have a position for 18 months and get bored with it, wanting to take on a new challenge. I was in the SMB role for almost two and a half years and my mind and body was telling me it was time for a change. I didn’t know what it was but if I was going to be a SMB sales manager a typical route was through the major accounts manager role. This position helped clients with 500-10,000 employees. It seemed like the logical next step if I wanted to progress my career. I could have sat in that cubical dealing with the same client and same high-pressure sales environment for the rest of my life making a healthy living. Many people I know have done just that, but I knew it was time for a change. When I have my mind and heart set on something there really isn’t another option. I won’t be comfortable until the change was made. It’s kind of like when your hand is on a hot stove and you know the only way to feel better is to move your hand. That is how strongly I act and feel when my mind and heart have made a decision.
Lucky for me
A position on the local Charlotte MAM team was opening and the associate director on that team had been trying to recruit me. I don’t even remember doing a formal interview and the position was mine. Very similar to that store manager role, I bombed. I had made the change I thought I needed and it actually made me feel worse. The worst part was I was doing the same things I was doing as a SMB (Small to Medium Business) rep and nothing was working. What I failed to grasp in the transition was just how different dealing with large, international, business was. I was given a set client list and that was it. As an SMB rep I was able to go hunt for new business. I was a really really good hunter, but a terrible farmer. I didn’t have the mindset or activities or built-in process for it. I had a sales process for identifying, targeting, qualifying, and acquiring clients that just didn’t work in this world. It wasn’t until recently I understood why!
My process has helped me take the fear out of the buying decision process. With the retail world I helped mothers, fathers and grandparents understand new complicated equipment and rate plans. I helped them feel comfortable that they were making the right decision by understanding what was driving their decisions.
I was asking a lot of the right questions to best understand what they wanted and why.
This allowed me to focus on the solutions that best ease their fears in the decision-making process. Things like, is this the right phone? Is this the right plan? I don’t want to overspend on these crazy new smartphones? Why do I need internet and or email on my device? These are features I was required to sell but was very new to the client base which made them scared.
In the B2B world I was dealing with business owners in the construction industry post 2008-2009 world. Everyone was scared of every decision to spend money. I truly came in as a consultant to best understand their issues and problems and present valuable options that solved those problems. One of the biggest deals I ever closed was by a CEO that said he had never had anyone come into his office and really show that they cared about his business the same way that he did. No one could come in an empathize with him as much as I did.
I was different than most of the sales reps coming in to pitch what was important. I would come in with a set bag of goodies but I would take a vested interest in:
- Understanding what was going on in their world
- What was keeping them up at night
- What was driving not just their buying decision but their business decisions
This allowed me to help them walk through their fears before they even saw a sales presentation or proposal. They felt they could trust me and I earned that trust by making it about the clients buying criteria instead of my agenda. I was tasked with selling to the construction industry just after 2010. Most companies were a fraction of what they were before, with less than no dispensable funds, and I was one of the most successful sales reps in the area regardless of target market.
This was where I fell in love with small business and entrepreneurship.
It showed in every new client I acquired to. They knew they could come to me with problems they weren’t even sure I could solve but wanted my input because I showed I cared about their business.
A realization of my past endeavors
This focus on overcoming buying fear as a basis of my sales process was why I failed at being a store manager and a MAM. As a store manager, employees are not scared. They are not driven by fear because it’s so hard to get fired from corporate America and they knew it. In the MAM world in the large corporate companies, there is so much red tape with buying teams that no one has to take responsibility for a decision and not one person ever has to take the blame if it goes wrong. So, no fear.
I came in with a process that focused on something that wasn’t there. In fact, most of the sales that happen in the major account world happen when someone in the IT world is told to buy something. I admit that I was not dealing with many top end decision makers. So here I am. Took a promotion to MAM. Failing and uncomfortable about it. I saw the business sales manager I was being set up to replace as he was getting set to be promoted and realized I didn’t want that job. I realized my body was telling me the change I needed to make was pretty drastic. It was time to get out of corporate America. It was time to make one of the more challenging life-altering decisions of my life.
A big, unexpected change
I was looked at as the guy who had a big future, the guy people went to solve client and internal personal issues, and I was leaving.
To say it didn’t go well when I put my notice in is an understatement. No one was ready for it. No one was happy about it. I was a high producer and no one in a sales leadership position likes losing a top producer, I was being told I was making the biggest mistake of my life. My area president called me directly and told me if I leave I would never be welcome back. Surprisingly, this made it so much easier to leave the only real job or company I had ever worked for.
Where was I headed?
Small Business baby! The world I always wanted to be in and learn. Some would say I was out of my mind. Some still do actually. I left a $70 billion company for one that grossed $200,000 the year before I started I think.
I went from making $100,000+ to $55,000. Almost a 60% pay cut. (Even typing that it seems pretty crazy). But I didn’t have kids yet. My wife and I sat down and said I feel pretty strongly about this decision and we outlined the worst-case scenarios for us as a family. The upside outweighed the downside and I was lucky to have a very supportive wife.
Don’t think this decision came out of nowhere.
The company was a small residential general contractor. It was a really good friend of mine, I talked to over a year ago. He was struggling to get his business off the ground after moving it from DC to Charlotte around the same time I moved to Charlotte. Back then, I thought I could help but he was unsure of the direction he wanted to take the company and I was not about to leave my job for someone that wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to pursue as a business. Over the interim, he had connected with another mutual friend that had helped him create a vision and I liked the things they were doing as a company and I wanted in.
So, in September 2014 I started working for this $200,000 company. Big dreams to help him grow and we would all make a bunch of money and we would one day pass the company on to our kids as we retire into the sunset. As you can imagine this vision did not pan out quite like that. Over the next two years, I helped him grow to more than $1.5 million in revenue in 2016. I took my ability to deal with clients and applied it to this world with some tweaking and had success. A big part of why I was able to sell so many jobs was because of my ability to calm the fear everyone everywhere has with dealing with a general contractor. The horror stories from friends and on tv shows about remodels gone wrong. Everyone loves to see a train wreck until they are the ones trying to accomplish the goal of remodeling their house. I was able to show them through my words AND my actions that I could be trusted and as a company, we backed up the level of service I sold clients on.
What was second-nature to me, was a competitive advantage for the construction industry
In the corporate world answering the phone and returning phone calls and generally being available to your client base was a job requirement. I didn’t know any other way to be. But in this industry, it was a competitive advantage. I can’t tell you how many times people said “Thank god. Thank you so much for answering! You’re the 5th contractor I’ve called!” “Wow I can’t believe you got back to me so quickly, I have been waiting weeks on another quote!” If I just answered the phone and called people back, and showed up when I said I would, and got them proposals when I said I would. If I set realistic expectations I would beat out most of my competition.
One thing led to another and just after the two-year mark with this company the owner decided he didn’t want to grow anymore. He wanted to handle fewer jobs. Some people thought he was crazy but I understood. It is easy to want to be a larger company and make more money until you get there and things that have to change take you away from the things that got you into business for yourself in the first place. The owner had gotten away from the tight-knit relationships he had built with clients when he was handling the entire process. Downsizing was the best decision for him and his family. It was the best decisions for the clients of his company as he could take more time with each now that he had less, and for me, as a business development professional, it was not the right place for me anymore.
The next journey
I now work as vice president for a company that came to me after the general contractor. I had met the owner through interactions over the years. The owners had great work ethic, drive, and vision for his company – which made me want to work there. An added benefit was it gave me experiences that would help me grow and help me reach my vision of starting a sales consulting company. I didn’t think I had enough experience yet to have people pay me for my knowledge. This opportunity would give me a larger scale company experience. He was at $1.5-2 million annual sales at the time. He had a sales staff so I would get outside sale management experience, and the company was in multiple markets so I would get the experience of growing multiple markets. For some reason, I had the age of 35 in my head for when I would start my sales consulting business and this was a great stepping stone to that opportunity. The decision to leave corporate America to work for a small business did not pan out how I envisioned it to but it led to this opportunity which has exceeded any and all expectations I had!
At first, I was hired as a roofing sales guy. Just an individual contributor. I needed to learn this new industry, products, and client base. I needed to take time from the ground up to learn who was the ideal client? How do I find them? How do I get to them? And how do I close them? The plan was to promote me to director of business development around the sixth-month mark. It happened at the four-month mark and I wasn’t sure I was ready but it worked out.
I started in May of last year and we ended the year around $2.4 million and we are on pace to do $5 million this year. I was able to bring 100%+ sales growth to a company without adding headcount.
I was able to determine who were the right type of clients. I was able to find those clients. Help make it easy to do business with us by reducing their fears. And have over $2 million in sales in my first 12 months with the company. I have taken on more responsibilities as my knowledge and comfortability has grown. I was promoted to Vice President before my one-year anniversary with the company. I went from making just over $100,000 to $55,000 to $70,000 to well over $200,000 this year. Some of that was due to short-term sacrifice for long-term vision/gains.
What has made it happen are the consistent processes and sales techniques I have implemented in my daily and weekly routine for the last four+ years since I left corporate America. I literally could not have done it without the system I built. Which is why I was driven to start WinRate now.
I have a proven track record both with building companies I work for and helping others grow businesses through consulting.
Check out the next blog post to see my vision and goals of WinRate – a construction sales and communication consulting company.
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