This is our interview with Adam Johnson, SVP of Sales at ActiveCampaign. You can follow ActiveCampaign at @ActiveCampaign.
Sales Assembly: Give us your quick background in sales.
Adam: My first real sales job was selling advertising for my college newspaper, The Daily Vidette of Illinois State University. Since that time, I've spent almost 15 years in sales or sales leadership across multiple industries. Prior to joining ActiveCampaign in June of 2017, I spent almost seven years at Salesforce and about five years at Motorola before that. The common thread has always been using a solution to help a customer achieve a goal or solve a problem.
Sales Assembly: What's your biggest accomplishment in sales or sales leadership?
Adam: I've been a part of some incredible teams and worked with some amazing customers, but the things I view as big accomplishments are all centered around helping people become rockstar sellers and helping rockstar sellers become great leaders.
Sales Assembly: What's the best piece of sales advice you ever got?
Adam: One of the key concepts from a training session I sat in several years ago was, 'Executives buy software because they believe it will help their business or help them personally.' This helped me understand that relationships might get you into a deal, but they will probably never win you one. At some point, you've got to be able to clearly define the value of what you're asking someone to spend money on and/or invest time in.
Sales Assembly: What's the biggest challenge facing a sales rep today, and how would you recommend they overcome it?
Adam: There are a lot of shortcuts and 'hacks' available to sales people today. So many, in fact, that I worry sales people might be spending too much time looking for a shortcut as opposed to simply doing the work. I'm a believer in technology, don't get me wrong, but there is no shortcut for caring about what you do and taking time to master the fundamentals; the hard way is the easy way.
Sales Assembly: Do you currently have a mentor when it comes to sales, or have you ever? If so, what did they teach you?
Adam: There are so many people that I admire and respect that have helped and guided me along the way, and will hopefully continue to. As opposed to having a single mentor, I think about it as assembling my own personal Board of Directors. There are people I've worked for, worked with, and people who have worked for me that I regularly seek council from.
Sales Assembly: What's the best sales book you've ever read? What are you reading now?
Adam: One that has really stood the test of time is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. If you haven't, pick it up; there is a lot of wisdom in there. Also, I'm almost finished with The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, and I'm loving it.
Sales Assembly: Best sales or business related books, articles, podcasts or newsletters?
Adam: I read a lot of the things that others mentioned: HBR, TED, SaaStr, etc. I try to read a variety of things, you never know where inspiration may come from.
Sales Assembly: What's the best advice you'd give to someone just starting a career in sales?
Adam: Stay level. You have to celebrate success, but don't forget to celebrate the people that helped you succeed, chances are you didn't do it alone. You also need to learn from your losses, but they'll drown you if you let them. There will always be peaks and valleys; if you put in the work, stay humble and stay focused on improving, you'll have a great career.
Sales Assembly: Do you see any interesting future trends as it pertains to sales?
Adam: I think sales, as a profession, is going to get more attention and respect. I was at a session recently and the speaker was talking about the imbalance between the volume of sales roles available and the number of programs at colleges and universities that teach sales. There is high demand for talent in entry level sales roles; there is very little supply of entry level talent with training or education in the discipline. Sales is becoming a real, intentional, career choice with huge growth potential. It has also quickly left the cigar smoking boys club days behind and is welcoming people from all backgrounds who are smart, hungry and dedicated.
Sales Assembly: What characteristics do you value in salespeople?
Adam: Curiosity: A big part of sales is learning about your customer or prospect. People who are naturally curious will have a much easier time asking good questions and listening to really understand what they care about.
Coachability: Like any profession, the job is never done. There is always room for improvement. Sales people who won't take feedback and implement it will inevitably stall out.
Drive: Sales is a great career choice, but it's hard. You've got to be able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off to make a career out of it. The best sales professionals I know attack every day.