October 12, 2023

Breaking sales stereotypes: the power of unconventional backgrounds

20 min read

In sales, unconventional backgrounds are often overlooked, with traditional routes typically taking the spotlight. However, in a recent episode of The Sales Syndicate Podcast, featuring Jamie Pagan, Marketing Director at Selligence, and Mike Wander, Account Executive at Lavender, we challenged the status quo by delving into Mike’s story, a journey into sales that defies the norm.

Mike's unconventional path from a military targeting chief to a successful sales professional highlights the power of resilience, adaptability, and seizing unexpected opportunities. Join us as we explore the "Mike Wander Methodology," the value of embracing diversity in the workplace, and the ripple effect of small habits on personal growth and success.

In this article:
  1. Unconventional backgrounds in sales: breaking stereotypes
  2. The "Mike Wander Methodology": dedication and determination
  3. Nurturing creativity and innovation at Lavender
  4. Discussing the challenges and benefits of hiring people with unconventional backgrounds
  5. Prioritising people over titles and resumes
  6. Fostering diversity and culture
  7. Embracing change: the resilience of unconventional SaaS professionals
  8. The ripple effect: small habits, big changes
  9. Navigating the transition from unconventional to conventional roles
  10. Embracing the unconventional in hiring

Unconventional backgrounds in sales: Breaking stereotypes

The conventional route into sales often involves a degree in business, formal training, and a well-polished resume filled with sales experience. But what about those who take a different path, those with unconventional backgrounds?

Unconventional backgrounds, in the context of a career, refer to those pathways that are far from the traditional route. Mike is a prime example of someone who not only carved out their own unique career trajectory but thrived in it. He faced the common challenge that individuals with unconventional backgrounds often encounter: a lack of direct experience. However, Mike's story demonstrates that an unconventional background doesn't define your worth or capabilities. It's often the perception of employers trying to connect the dots.

Before venturing into sales, Mike had a career in the military. He served as a targeting chief, a role that involved hunting and finding high-value targets. In this role, Mike became adept at ingesting vast amounts of data and piecing together the bigger picture, a skill that would prove invaluable in his future sales career.

Mike's military journey spanned five and a half years, including time in the Marine Corps and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). While this background might seem worlds apart from the world of sales, Mike attributes his success at SaaStr to the focused mindset he developed during his military service.

What's particularly remarkable about Mike's journey is that he had no formal sales training or methodology when he started. He learned the ropes on the job, relying on his intuition, adaptability, and the determination to succeed. This shows that sometimes, real-world experience can be the best teacher.

Mike Wander's journey from a military targeting chief to a successful sales professional is a testament to the power of resilience, adaptability, and the willingness to seize unexpected opportunities. His story challenges the notion that traditional paths are the only routes to success in sales and reminds us that unconventional backgrounds can bring unique perspectives and skills to the table, making the sales world a more diverse and dynamic place.

The "Mike Wander Methodology": Dedication and determination

Central to Mike's approach is an emphasis on authenticity. He firmly believes that in the world of sales, being oneself is of paramount importance. In a landscape often dominated by scripted pitches and rehearsed sales tactics, Mike's commitment to genuine connections and authentic relationships has set him apart.

Mike's success isn't merely a stroke of luck; it's the result of sheer hard work and an unwavering commitment to learning and improvement. He has developed what he calls the "Mike Wander Methodology," a dedication to his craft and a determination to excel that propels him to continually seek ways to better himself.

Early in his career, Mike took a proactive approach to learning the art of sales. He didn't limit himself to training manuals or generic seminars. Instead, he closely observed the actions of his successful colleagues, dissecting their strategies and studying what worked. He meticulously analysed their emails, paying attention to the nuances that made their communication effective.

One of his pivotal moments came when he adopted a non-conventional email style. His messages featured pattern interrupts, elements designed to catch the recipient's attention and pique their curiosity. This innovative approach proved to be a game-changer, resulting in high-level meetings and opening doors to significant opportunities.

The numbers speak volumes about Mike's early success. Within his first 90 days, he closed deals exceeding $1.2 million, a testament to his dedication and the effectiveness of his approach. What's even more impressive is that he managed to double his annual quota within just nine months, a feat that many in the industry can only dream of achieving.

Mike's journey serves as a powerful reminder that success in sales comes down to a willingness to put in the work required. It's about continually pushing the boundaries of what's possible, embracing authenticity, and never settling for mediocrity. Ultimately, Mike Wander's story demonstrates that with determination, dedication, and a commitment to being oneself, early success in sales is well within reach.

Nurturing creativity and innovation at Lavender

In a world where conformity often takes precedence, there are companies like Lavender that stand out for their unapologetic embrace of unconventional methods and their profound belief in the power of individuality. At Lavender, success is not defined by adhering to the norms; it's about breaking free from the constraints of convention and exploring uncharted territories.

Lavender has made it clear from the start that they have no interest in following off-the-shelf methods. In an industry where many companies rely on tried-and-true practices, Lavender dares to be different. They understand that innovation and creativity flourish when you're not bound by convention, and they celebrate this uniqueness in every aspect of their business.

One of the cornerstones of Lavender's success is their unwavering belief in the value of every team member. Engineers, who make up a significant 60% of the company, are not just cogs in the machine: they are the architects of change and progress. Lavender recognises that diverse perspectives and skills are the building blocks of success, and they ensure that every team member's contributions are acknowledged and celebrated.

At Lavender, employees are not confined to a box; they are encouraged to step outside of it and let their creativity soar. The company understands that limiting employees' potential and stifling their creativity can hinder progress. Therefore, they actively encourage their team members to think outside the box and contribute their unique perspectives.

While guidance and direction are essential, Lavender emphasises the importance of giving employees the freedom to explore and create. They believe that talent exists in diverse forms, and there may be individuals in the world who have never had the opportunity to discover and showcase their skills. By removing the restrictions on employees' paths, Lavender ensures that potential is unleashed, and possibilities are limitless.

The challenges and benefits of hiring people with unconventional backgrounds

The pursuit of talent can often feel like a high-stakes gamble. This sentiment is especially true when considering candidates with unconventional backgrounds. While these individuals possess a wealth of unique experiences and skills, they also bring an element of uncertainty to the table.

The preference for candidates with conventional backgrounds is a deeply ingrained bias within many industries. Employers tend to gravitate towards the familiar, viewing conventional candidates as safer bets due to their perceived qualifications and the sense of security they bring. It's a mindset that often takes precedence, creating challenges for those whose paths have been less traditional.

Unconventional candidates may face biases rooted in the difficulty of understanding and valuing their diverse experiences and skills. A resume alone may not do justice to the depth and breadth of what they bring to the table. It's a predicament that can leave these candidates feeling undervalued and overlooked.

The key for unconventional candidates lies in mastering the art of articulation. Being able to clearly convey their experiences and skills is paramount to showcasing the value they can offer. It's not just about listing qualifications; it's about telling a compelling story that illuminates the unique perspective they bring to the organisation.

While the road for unconventional hires may be riddled with challenges, the benefits they can bring are often unparalleled. Their fresh viewpoints, innovative problem-solving abilities, and diverse skill sets can be transformative for a company. In the ever-evolving landscape of the modern workplace, embracing unconventional backgrounds is not just a matter of diversity and inclusion: it's a strategic move towards growth and innovation.

In the end, it's crucial for both employers and unconventional candidates to recognise the potential that lies within these unique backgrounds. By breaking down biases, fostering open-mindedness, and mastering the art of communication, we can create a workplace where unconventional hires are not just accepted but celebrated for the invaluable contributions they make.

Prioritising people over titles and resumes

Hiring the right person isn't just a matter of filling a position; it's a strategic move with far-reaching consequences. In a sector where hitting targets and avoiding risks are of utmost importance, the choice of personnel can make or break an organisation's success. The stakes are undeniably high.

The fear of making a hiring mistake can weigh heavily on hiring managers. The repercussions of not hiring the right person can extend far beyond the immediate task at hand. It can put the hiring manager's own position and reputation at risk. In an industry where accountability is a core principle, the responsibility of making the right decisions weighs heavily.

However, there are substantial benefits for organisations that choose to prioritise people over titles or resumes. Beyond the initial qualifications listed on a CV, there lies a wealth of untapped potential within individuals. The right person, even if their title or resume doesn't align perfectly with the job description, can bring innovation, fresh perspectives, and a dedication that goes beyond the norm.

Organisations that adopt this approach recognise that a candidate's innate qualities, such as adaptability, determination, and a thirst for knowledge, often outweigh a specific job title or a laundry list of past roles. They understand that hiring isn't just about finding the best fit for a role; it's about investing in the growth and future of the organisation.

In a world where the right people can drive innovation, propel organisations to new heights, and ultimately help to outperform competitors, it's evident that the importance of hiring individuals who align with the company's values, culture, and vision cannot be overstated. The willingness to take calculated risks in hiring can be a strategic advantage that sets organisations apart, leading to long-term success and prosperity in the dynamic landscape of sales.

Fostering diversity and culture

First and foremost, diversity and inclusion fuel creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. When individuals from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together, they bring a rich tapestry of ideas to the table. This diversity of thought can spark breakthrough innovations and drive the development of cutting-edge solutions.

Moreover, diversity and inclusion broaden the scope of decision-making. A team with diverse perspectives is better equipped to consider a wider range of possibilities and anticipate potential challenges. This multifaceted approach to decision-making is a powerful asset in today's complex business environment.

But it's not just about what happens behind closed doors. Creating a culture that embraces diversity and inclusion can have a profound impact on talent acquisition, employee engagement, and retention. Talented individuals are drawn to organisations that value their unique contributions and provide an inclusive environment where they can thrive.

The ripple effect of diversity and inclusion extends beyond the workplace. It contributes to a positive company reputation and, in turn, attracts a wider range of customers and clients. A company known for its commitment to diversity not only appeals to a diverse customer base but also aligns with the values of socially conscious consumers.

Looking at real-world examples, companies like Canva and Google have successfully embraced diversity and inclusion. Canva, in particular, is renowned for its diverse and inclusive culture, which has played a pivotal role in its revolutionary approach to the modern workspace.

Canva's commitment to offering a free, diverse, and open-minded work environment empowers its employees to bring forth their best ideas. It serves as a testament to the idea that when diversity and culture are celebrated and nurtured, they become powerful drivers of success, fuelling innovation, and fostering a sense of belonging that permeates every aspect of an organisation.

Embracing change: The resilience of unconventional SaaS professionals

The SaaS industry a world where unconventional backgrounds can shine just as brightly, if not more so, than those traditionally associated with sales. Take teachers, for instance. While they may not have pursued formal sales training or marketing degrees, their innate ability to communicate, empathise, and educate can translate seamlessly into sales success. The skills honed in the classroom, such as patience, active listening, and adaptability, can be invaluable assets when engaging with clients and understanding their needs.

Similarly, athletes bring unique qualities to the SaaS table. Whether it's the discipline instilled through years of training, or the resilience developed by facing adversity on the field, athletes are no strangers to hard work and dedication. These qualities can be harnessed to drive sales, as the same determination that pushes them to victory can be channelled into closing deals.

Regardless of their backgrounds, those who forge unconventional paths to success in SaaS share common traits. They understand the power of micro mental improvements, focusing on the journey rather than solely fixating on the destination. Success in this field often relies on incremental progress, with each step forward building upon the last.

Moreover, individuals from unconventional backgrounds tend to be inherently adaptable and open to change. They recognise that SaaS is a rapidly evolving landscape, and the ability to pivot, learn quickly, and embrace new technologies and strategies is essential. This adaptability can give them a competitive edge in an industry where staying ahead of the curve is a constant pursuit.

In the ever-expanding universe of SaaS, the beauty lies in the diversity of its pioneers.

Unconventional paths to success not only bring fresh perspectives but also serve as a testament to the endless possibilities within the field. Whether you're a teacher, an athlete, a stay-at-home parent, or anyone else with a unique journey, your unconventional background may be the very asset that propels you to greatness in SaaS.

The ripple effect: Small habits, big changes

In the pursuit of personal growth and success, sometimes it's the smallest habits that have the most significant impact over time. Jamie, in his exploration of motivational tactics, points to the book "Atomic Habits" by James Clear as a source of inspiration. Within the pages of this book lies a powerful concept: the idea that small habits, consistently practiced, can lead to transformative changes in one's life.

One such habit that Mike Wander practices daily is what he aptly refers to as the "ripple effect." At the end of each day, he dedicates a mere 15 minutes to reflect on his actions and interactions. It's a simple practice, but its implications are profound. By taking this time for introspection, Mike ensures that he leaves behind positive ripples in his wake.

The beauty of the ripple effect lies in its potential to prevent misunderstandings and resentment. Mike recognises that in the hustle and bustle of life, words can sometimes be misconstrued, or actions misinterpreted. By reaching out to people if he senses that something he said or did might be taken the wrong way, he nips potential conflicts in the bud, fostering understanding and harmony.

What's truly remarkable about the ripple effect is its applicability to various facets of life. Mike extends this concept beyond interpersonal interactions to encompass relationships, work, and personal health. It's a holistic approach that reminds us of the far-reaching consequences of our decisions and actions.

The core message that Mike conveys is the importance of being mindful of the ripples we create. Every choice we make, no matter how seemingly insignificant, has the potential to set off a chain reaction. By considering the positive or negative repercussions of our decisions and actions, we can consciously aim to create a positive ripple effect in all aspects of our lives.

In a world where it's easy to become consumed by the rush of daily life, the ripple effect serves as a poignant reminder that our actions matter. Small habits, practiced consistently, can indeed lead to profound changes. Whether it's in our relationships, our work, or our personal well-being, we have the power to create a ripple effect that leaves a positive mark on the world around us.

Navigating the transition from unconventional to conventional roles

Transitioning from an unconventional background to a conventional role can undoubtedly be a challenging journey fraught with obstacles and adversity. However, it's a path that individuals with unique experiences and skill sets often embark upon, determined to break free from the confines of tradition and carve their own way.

One crucial strategy for a successful transition is to meticulously document everything accomplished in an unconventional background and align it with the objectives of the conventional role you aspire to. While the titles and terminology may differ, there are often underlying skills and experiences that translate seamlessly. It's about demonstrating how your unconventional background uniquely equips you for the demands of the role.

It's also essential to look beyond the job title itself. Instead, focus on the broader direction and what the company is truly seeking. Frequently, job descriptions can be somewhat rigid, but companies are often more interested in the qualities and potential you bring than in a perfect match to a checklist of qualifications. By understanding their underlying needs and aligning your skills with those needs, you can stand out in the application process.

Taking the initiative to reach out directly to the hiring manager or a senior leader within the company can be a game-changer. Rather than merely submitting an application and hoping to be noticed, a well-crafted email expressing your interest and highlighting your unique qualifications can make a lasting impression. It shows proactive engagement and a genuine desire to be part of the team.

Embracing and highlighting your unconventional experiences and skills is key. While they may differ from the norm, they bring a unique value proposition to a conventional company. It's about reframing your background as an asset, not a liability. Showcase how your distinct perspective and innovative problem-solving abilities can contribute to the company's growth and success.

On the flip side, companies looking to evolve and become more unconventional should be open to diversifying their talent pool. Embracing individuals with unconventional backgrounds and perspectives can be a catalyst for innovation and transformation within the organization. It's a two-way street where both parties stand to gain from breaking away from the conventional mould.

Embracing the unconventional in hiring

Fostering a culture of inclusion is not just a buzzword; it's a transformative commitment that can redefine the success of organisations. One powerful way to achieve this is by being willing to accept a degree of risk in the hiring process, by actively seeking out unconventional candidates who may not tick every box on the job description but bring something unique to the table.

Rather than fixating on a perfect match to the job description, consider candidates who are hungry to learn and grow. Their willingness to adapt and evolve can bring a dynamism to the team that transcends mere qualifications. It's about recognising potential and investing in it.

Setting clear goals for diversity is a crucial step. Actively seeking out candidates from unconventional backgrounds is an intentional effort that sends a powerful message about your commitment to inclusivity. It's a proactive approach that can help break down the barriers to entry.

When evaluating unconventional candidates, look beyond specific job-related skills. Focus on transferable skills and cultural fit. A diverse team brings with it diverse viewpoints and experiences, enriching the collective wisdom of the organisation. Cultural fit, in this context, means a shared commitment to the values of the organisation, even if the paths taken to arrive there are different.

Creating a work environment that genuinely values and supports diversity and inclusion is pivotal. It's not just about hiring diverse talent; it's about ensuring that every team member feels heard, respected, and empowered to share their unique perspectives and ideas. It's a culture where diversity is not just tolerated but celebrated.

In this journey towards inclusivity, it's essential to avoid the trap of regurgitating information. Instead, focus on providing unique and valuable insights that reflect the diverse perspectives within the organisation. Be open to wisdom and advice from unlikely sources, and recognise that valuable insights can come from individuals who may not have a well-known name or reputation.

Crucially, don't equate wisdom with time. Valuable insights can come from individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences, regardless of their tenure. It's a recognition that innovation and fresh perspectives are not bound by conventional timelines.

In summary, building a culture of inclusion through unconventional hiring practices is not just a noble pursuit: it's a strategic advantage. It's about embracing risk, recognising potential, and actively seeking diversity. By creating an environment where every voice is valued, organisations can harness the power of diverse perspectives to drive innovation, growth, and lasting success.

Key takeaways

  1. Unconventional backgrounds bring unique value: unconventional career paths can provide fresh perspectives, diverse skills, and innovative problem-solving abilities that conventional candidates may lack. Organisations that embrace unconventional backgrounds can tap into this unique value.
  2. The power of adaptability and resilience: individuals from unconventional backgrounds often possess adaptability, determination, and a willingness to learn. These qualities are essential in rapidly evolving fields like SaaS and can give them a competitive edge.
  3. Small habits lead to big changes: the concept of the ripple effect emphasises the importance of small daily habits in creating positive changes in various aspects of life. Being mindful of the ripples we create can foster better relationships, understanding, and harmony.
  4. Transitioning to conventional roles: transitioning from an unconventional background to a conventional role requires aligning one's skills and experiences with the objectives of the role. It's about demonstrating how unique backgrounds uniquely equip individuals for the demands of the role.
  5. Fostering inclusion through unconventional hiring: embracing diversity and inclusion involves being open to hiring candidates from unconventional backgrounds who bring fresh perspectives and innovative thinking. Setting diversity goals, focusing on cultural fit, and creating an inclusive work environment are key steps in this journey

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