This is required listening with JR’s team for a good reason. This episode enhances the community & group of clients alike. Athletes in sports are just like sales in business. Is this right for your company? Maybe not… BUT maybe yes?
Shift-work fills the need in the characteristics, diversity, ability to know the career, and de-stigmatizing sales when coaching your team. Build your team! Learn their tricks.
Don’t miss this sales training half-hour that covers years of experience from JR. Shift-work leads to sales-led-growth.
This coach approach helps prove:
Athletes becoming a tool for you!
There is zero doubt you will walk away from this episode having a new perspective within your current strategy.
Leave a rating if you enjoy this episode and tell a friend to listen!
David Dulany: Hello, hello, hello everybody. Welcome to another edition of The Sales Development Podcast. I am honored and blessed to get the next guest on the show, someone I’ve been following for a while and I’ve got a lot of questions for you, man. So JR Butler, thanks for joining us on the show.
JR Butler: Thank you for having me, David. Super excited to be here. Just so you know, your podcast is required listening for all Shift Group candidates.
David Dulany: Oh, man. OK. So they’re going to get a double dose of you this week.
JR Butler: Yeah, they get a little extra JR in their life. That’s OK though I think.
David Dulany: That’s awesome man and what you’re doing for our community and how you’ve stepped up and started the group and working with the clients has been amazing. So let’s take a step back. How did you get into this and what are you guys doing over at Shift?
JR Butler: Yeah. I mean I always tell people I started the company for two versions of myself. One, me coming out of athletics. I played hockey at a high level and I don’t know if you know. Anyone who knows hockey players knows that we all think we’re going to play in the NHL someday.
So my whole life, my whole identity was I was a hockey player and I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house with a father as a hockey coach, two little brothers that also played division one and professional hockey. One who actually played in the NHL and represented the US in the Olympics and when I retired from hockey, I was like a lost puppy. I had no idea what I wanted to do and I found technology sales by accident.
So the first reason I started the company was to make sure that other guys and girls like me don’t find it by accident. They can get some good education on it. They can really understand what it’s all about, what the career path is, et cetera, and then the other version of myself that I started the company for was me as a sales leader.
I’ve been building and leading teams in software sales for the last decade and a half and hiring entry level salespeople is really, really hard. It’s a huge gamble. Big attrition rates, right? And we always looked for kids that had certain intangible characteristics like resiliency, competitiveness, coachability, work ethic and a growth mindset and being an athlete, the reasons I’ve been successful in sales is because of those things, because I worked on those muscles for 25 years before I ever sold anything.
So I wish I could say it was rocket science. But if it was, I wouldn’t have thought of it. It’s pretty simple. We help companies de-risk those key characteristics because every single person we work with already has them, guaranteed, and we add a little bit of training in there and next thing you know, you got yourself a great salesperson.
So again, helping athletes find this career, destigmatizing sales in general and then helping sales leaders find great, great entry level sales talent is the whole mission of the company.
David Dulany: Oh, it’s a win across the board and I’ve got two little boys. So I can’t imagine like three guys with hockey sticks. Like just the competitive nature of that household, man.
JR Butler: My mother, she gets mad because I don’t talk about her enough on podcast. But she is an angel, right? Like, you know, three boys, we all were three sport athletes too. So …
David Dulany: Oh my god.
JR Butler: You know, to say she put on a lot of miles on the station wagon would be the understatement of the year. She is an absolute angel.
David Dulany: Was she just driving constantly? I mean you guys have a couple of hundred thousand miles on that thing.
JR Butler: Oh, yeah. All over New England, all over the northeast and she was a real estate – is a real estate agent. So she got a lot of cell phone time in. I remember being angry about it when I was little and now as a – once I became a salesperson, I was like, “I’m sorry I was mad at you while being on the phone, mom. I get it.”
David Dulany: Now it all makes sense. It all makes sense.
JR Butler: Exactly.
David Dulany: So how does Shift Group works? So you were running sales teams and you saw this need in the marketplace. There were three that you mentioned. It was the characteristics. It was the ability to know the career, destigmatizing sales. I mean there were so many needs that kind of all swirl in together there. So how does it work? How does it work for working with your team basically?
JR Butler: Yeah. And I would actually add probably a third piece to it, which is diversity, right? There’s a lot of people in technology sales that look like you and I, right? And I think that’s another – yeah. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but I think like, you know, that’s another big piece of what we’re doing. But …
David Dulany: Yeah.
JR Butler: The way I think about it, I actually just commercialized what I was doing for free anyway. So because of my network in hockey, I get calls every off-season for the last 15 years from people that know me, my brothers and my dad. Basically like, “JR, you’re not that smart. You’ve made a bunch of money. You seem to love what you do. Help me get into your industry.”
I always did. I would help them on the weekends, make connections to my network and essentially what I did was the next time that happened, it was last summer. I had a lot of guys and girls that I was working with because of COVID and I tried with a company that I helped hire a bunch of BDRs and I said, “Hey, if I do this as an agency, would you guys pay me for these introductions?” and they were like, “Yeah, 100 percent.”
So the actual model is we’re a contingent recruiting agency with a unique spin that we only work with athletes and we spent a month with them before we put them in front of our hiring partners.
So I’ve always said I don’t want to charge athletes. I don’t want to make them sign anything. I want to give them this access for free. If we can connect them with a company, amazing. Then that’s how we make money, a percentage of their first year base salary. We have a lot of athletes that use our training and take roles out of our network.
The funny thing about that is it usually leads to more business. We always get introduced to their teammates and friends and they always do so well in the companies they go work for and I think 30 percent of our customers have come from companies that hired people from our training program, not through us. So it’s really a simple model, David.
David Dulany: That’s amazing and it’s a two-sided market because the more reputation that you build up with the employers, then that gets back and you get better candidates and it just continues to grow.
JR Butler: Yeah.
David Dulany: It’s amazing, OK. So what – like OK. So it’s a big transition to go from an athlete into the tech world. I mean how do you start when you’re working with them to kind of ease them in? Because I can imagine if you just went in cold, it would be really rough.
JR Butler: Yeah. The first course they take in our training is why athletes love and succeed in sales and we break it down. We break down the fact that they’re – you’re back on a team. You’re back competing with your peers but also helping them achieve their goals. You’re back growing and like having to come into a situation where you’ve got to be OK with turning your weaknesses into strengths, right?
We harp on the fact that like guess what, you just spent the last 25 years with a scoreboard. You’re going to spend the next 25 years with a scoreboard and that’s a good thing and here are all the reasons why, right?
So we spend a lot of time initially right upfront explaining all the parallels between sports and sales because we think we don’t want them – the reason we call it shift and not transition is like we don’t want them to leave their athletic identity. We actually want them to take it with them because we think if they take it with them and they just refocus and shift their focus to this new thing with the same exact mindset they just had, that’s what’s going to make them successful.
Listen, we have attrition out of that first course. Like we tell them like you’re going to be resilient because you’re going to make 100 calls and 99 people are going to pick up. One is going to pick up and he’s going to hang up on your face and you’re going to come back the next day with the same bigger conviction you had the day before and not let it affect you. Some people hear that and they’re like, “I’m out,” and it’s like good, that’s OK, right?
So I think getting them to really understand why there are so many parallels, how there are so many parallels and why they’re going to actually be successful if they keep them in the same mindset. That’s the first foundational thing that we do with every athlete we work with.
David Dulany: Yeah, and I mean just as a side note, being an athlete, you’re out moving every day. You’re moving your body. You’re competing physically and then to transition to hey, you’re going to have to sit down for a large part of the day. Unless you have standup desk, right? There’s those. But do they ever come back and be like, “Dude, I cannot sit here this long”?
JR Butler: Oh, we definitely – like I mean I think everybody is feeling this right now but we have a lot of folks that like are really remote opportunities and flexible opportunities are more important to them than really – like that’s like one of their number one requirements because of that, right? They want the opportunity to still kind of get up, move around during the day and I always tell them. Like listen, like that – it’s about building your operating cadence, right?
If that’s important to you, you make it part of your operating cadence and you will get it done, right? So it’s definitely a conversation we find ourselves having a lot without a doubt.
David Dulany: Yeah. It’s amazing the parallels though between sales and athleticism and then also just business in general. I mean there are just so many parallels there that you guys have picked up on.
Then with the remote thing, what has been cool is that you can kind of organize your day. There’s not like a boss breathing down your neck all the time. So if you make 100 cold calls and then you want to get up and like go run five miles and come back and do it again, you can now, which is amazing.
JR Butler: Oh, absolutely. I think even in the companies that are working in the office, like they’re being more flexible about it too, right? Like they have no choice at this point. So I think it’s a much better ecosystem than when I started. It was like, you know, if you walked in at 7:15, it was like hey, you’re here for lunch. That’s nice.
David Dulany: Totally. I mean I came up with – even the world of you’re here at 7:15. You’re fired.
JR Butler: Yeah.
David Dulany: I mean it was like – thank god. So yeah, it has changed. Oh my god. It has changed so much but for the better and sometimes the remote thing is it’s tough for people if you’re a very social salesperson. Like I – you know, I love that we can do this right now but at the same time, I would rather just be having coffee with you right now, you know.
JR Butler: A hundred percent, yeah. It is hard especially for guys like us that grew up like that. Like it is – you know, I’m a big believer that like in the office, there’s a lot of positives to that too. You know what I mean?
David Dulany: Yeah, 100 percent. So what are the employers that you work with? What’s their mindset? I mean obviously there’s momentum. They’re liking the people that are coming in and it’s – you know, there’s never a perfect match. But how do the employers feel about this?
JR Butler: Well, I think like one thing that we cover right off the bat is like the attrition piece. Like these kids, they don’t quit, right? Like we’ve only had I think one candidate out of hundreds that has left within the first six months of getting their role, right?
We’re still young. It’s still early but those things are really good and I think for us, our whole goal is to like really optimize that employer experience. So we’re constantly getting feedback from them. Like hey, great interview. Super energetic. A lot of passion. Could use a little rounding of the edges, JR, on some of these key skills, right?
So we’re constantly adding to our training based off of feedback from our clients and software is a service now. There are software for almost everything and every kind of vertical. So I think one thing that we have to get better at is like verticalizing our training, like having some very specific cybersecurity, some very specific like marketing tech, fin tech.
You know, like those are the things that we’re hearing from our clients is like we would like them to have a little bit more specific industry knowledge, not just how to make a cold call.
So that’s definitely – I think we have a lot of raw talent. We’re trying to constantly do a better job of making that better than raw talent, if that makes sense.
David Dulany: Yeah, yeah. And do they ever say, well, this person has never been in sales before or hasn’t done a sales job? How do we know that we should take a chance here?
JR Butler: Totally, 100 percent, and we encourage all our customers to add a couple of role play scenarios, case study scenarios. Like see – let the kid prove that he’s going to do – he or she is going to do the work to do the actual job and honestly like we – typically we run into that objection earlier on and we’re very honest. Like we’re not the type of – we’re not the organization that if you want to just go higher a bunch of like seasoned BDRs, that’s not us. Like that’s not – if that’s important to your organization, we will straight up tell you that’s not us.
This is what we bring multiple talent. That’s never going to quit and going to run through a wall for you. It’s on you a little bit to make sure that they understand your solution set specifically. But we’re going to give them a great foundation.
David Dulany: Yeah. Do you find that – it used to be, not so much anymore. But they would throw a bunch of BDRs at the wall and see what sticks and like half of them would be fired or let go within the first year or something like that. Is that still happening out there or is it much more we’re going to train them, we’re going to try to help them and stuff like that?
JR Butler: I think there’s a lot more or like there’s a lot more commitment to the success of new hires. I’m laughing because I was at a very fast growth company for seven years and we famously had 60 percent attrition in our BDR organization the entire time I was there and it was always like – it was like an assumed risk that we were taking. Like we know that six out of these ten people are going to fail and we’re OK with that.
I don’t see a lot of businesses doing that anymore and I think that’s a good change, without a doubt.
David Dulany: Yeah, and it seems like that has got to be so expensive. A lot of these companies, the economics are messed up because they get so much investment. They’re just like, “You know what? Sixty percent, we can live with that.” You know, as long as we get the meetings, right?
But I also remember for a very brief time period, I was selling mortgage refis. This was like 20 years ago and literally I only worked there for like a week. But I walk in like the second day and half of the floor is different. They’re all different guys and I go, “Whoa, that is some crazy attrition.” But – and hopefully we’ve leveled up from there.
JR Butler: Yeah.
David Dulany: For sure and – OK. So the other thing I wanted to ask you is have they started to see some progress in their career? Have you got some success stories where some of the folks that you’ve worked with are starting to kind of work their way into the company a little bit?
JR Butler: Yeah, we have like probably like a 25 percent now of our total candidates placed that have already been promoted into AE role. That’s a high number obviously. But what’s unique about our offering is we’re not – it’s not just the fresh student athlete. We’ve helped a ton of professional and Olympic athletes too. So you’ve got mature human beings who like understand what it takes to be a professional and they’re applying that and they’re rising up the ranks faster.
I think when companies hire those folks from us, the more kind of we call them experienced, right? And there are certain companies that say, “Hey, we just want the young kids,” and that’s fine. But when you get the more experienced kid that has done it before at the professional level, even though it was in sport, we are seeing some really cool success stories about faster promotion rates than I’ve ever seen in my career.
David Dulany: Oh my gosh. That is amazing, man. I did not realize that. I was under the impression it was mainly the student athletes that were new to the profession. But I mean being associated with that caliber of people both for the Shift Group and then also the employers is just a huge win on both sides.
JR Butler: Yeah, it’s amazing. We just announced our partnership with Major League Soccer. So now we’re getting all these MLS Players Association connections where you’ve got guys that have played eight, nine years at the professional level and, you know, you don’t – there are very few athletes that make enough money to not work again. Like very, very few. Like less than one percent.
David Dulany: Yeah.
JR Butler: So I think we underappreciate the opportunity to take advantage of the talent those guys and girls bring to market. So I’m really excited about that part of our business for sure.
David Dulany: Oh my god. OK. So you’re making all these partnerships. What’s next? Where do you see this going as far as more partnerships and more employers? More, more, more, right?
JR Butler: Yeah, yeah. So we’ve – like the thing that has been keeping me up at night for the last six months is how do I offer two things, better training and practice for my candidates and better transparency to what the companies that hire from us are getting.
We’re launch the new piece of our offering in October where instead of just getting their resume, their LinkedIn and a cover letter about the candidate, they’re actually going to get a link to a profile. The profile is going to have videos of the candidate talking about why they want to do tech sales, why they think they’re going to be good at it, what their story is and then we’re going to start recording the tests that every candidate takes with us. We test them on account research, cold emails, cold calls, discovering qualification and 30, 60, 90s and building an operational cadence.
That test is now going to be recorded and we’re going to let our hiring partners watch the test so they know exactly what they’re getting and this is before they ever even interview the candidate and those tests are actually being given by third party account executives that don’t work for Shift Group.
We do this thing called an “Assisting Coaches Program”. We have 150 sales reps sign up for it, average tenure of nine years and they give these candidates a grade, right? And we’re going to have a leaderboard. So what’s cool about the leaderboard is our candidates get to see the leaderboard internally and they get to see like the kid they played against this season has a higher score than they do. And guess what. We’re going to let them take tests as many times as they want to compete.
So I’m really excited about that part of our business where, you know, our hiring partners get the login, see a leaderboard, watch videos of our candidates and more importantly our candidates are going to be incentivized to practice and really execute when they take those tests.
That’s hands down the most exciting thing we’re working on right now.
David Dulany: That’s amazing. So now did you build this program or is this sort of a third party software that you found?
JR Butler: We built it.
David Dulany: That’s amazing. OK. And man, so salespeople are just brutal to each other. I got to say the worst cold call you can make is like a grizzled veteran like VP of sales. They won’t just hang up on you. They will just annihilate you for fun. So how did you get these assistant coaches to want to sign up?
JR Butler: We are – this was a hard one but I think we came up with a good solution at work because we got so many people that signed up for it because I was thinking we will pay them. We will pay them for the hour and then I’m like, “Well, like an enterprise software sales rep makes like $250,000 to $300,000 a year. What’s the number I’m going to pay them?”
So what we’re doing is we’re donating $100 to whatever charity they want to spend an hour with our candidate and we’re giving them flexibility, right? You want to do one hour a quarter, we’re cool with that. Do one hour a quarter.
But it’s a cool way for, you know, like you said, grizzled vets to give back in two ways. One to their favorite charity but two, like my whole big thing is like mentorship is so important, right?
First you learn, then you earn and you should return, right? And returning is what we’re offering these people an opportunity to do is give back to the next generation of sellers. So that was a – it was a nice little solution where we get to give back to charity and they get to really donate their time, which is cool.
David Dulany: That is super cool and to facilitate that. So I wrote that down. Learn, earn and return. I think like people are kind of lost out there. So say you’re a student athlete. I mean dude, I’m preaching to the choir, right? But it’s like you’re a student athlete and you’re like, “I know that there’s a certain shelf life on my career here. Where do I go from here?” and I don’t know. They used to go to the like career center and get some brochures and stuff like that.
There was no mentorship or path, you know. You just kind of stumble around for a while until you find something. So how do we get the word out about this to people? How are you getting the word out to the athletic community that this even exists?
JR Butler: So on the athletes – like you said, it’s a two-sided market. So on the athlete side, I’m an old guy. I never had social media. But the reality is, is that’s where these kids are spending a lot of their time on TikTok and Instagram.
So we’ve taken advantage David of this new offering for NCAA athletes, name, image and likeness. They’re actually allowed to get paid by companies like Shift Group to represent our brand. So we’ve identified dozens of student athletes out there that we consider influencers to go out and talk about our offering on their socials.
I will tell you like the amount of athletes we get from TikTok and Instagram is wild. So that’s a big piece of what we’re doing. The other cool thing that we do because we were announcing these partnerships with athletic departments and what that means is we get to go on campus and we do a – usually I will bring in some alumni because I have a fairly large network.
I usually can find a couple of sellers that went to a college, played a sport there to come in. We just do a panel, very casual. Why do you love sales? What are the pros? What are the cons? And then what we’ve been doing is a competition. So we do an actual sales competition where every athlete gets up and pitches us on why they should be a Shift Group brand ambassador.
We teach them before like hey, what you should pay attention to for these NIL deals, it’s not about you. It’s about what the customer cares about, right? What’s their demographic? What are their strategic imperatives and how can you help them reach their demo and achieve their goals?
So that’s what we judge the student athletes on and every time we go to a school, we say we’re going to give one prize. We usually give four or five NIL deals coming out of those. So those are the two ways that we’re trying to get in front of student athletes is through these partnerships and just having – growing our brand on Instagram and TikTok.
David Dulany: That’s amazing. OK. And then on the company side, is it mostly word of mouth or how do you get in front of the companies?
JR Butler: It has been extremely organic to date. I’m super fortunate that I was part of a successful multibillion dollar exit and you know what happens when companies do that, right? All of a sudden it’s like the Bill Belichick coaching tree.
All the directors of sales at those companies get VPs of sales jobs. All those VPs get CRO jobs, right? My first 15 customers were all VPs of sales that were once reps for me or directors for me or my peers at that company.
David Dulany: OK.
JR Butler: And then that gets organic too. But we are – we’re investing now in our own BDRs and our own director of sales. So once this leaderboard and profile stuff is live, we’ve got to really bring it to market quickly because we’ve got a small window to get out there and do this entry-level sales hiring thing differently.
So we are going to be doing a little bit more outbound. So for those sales leaders that are listening, I’m sorry for the cold calls you’re about to get.
David Dulany: Hey, they’re ready for you, man. They’re the best training for your team. Trust me.
JR Butler: Exactly, exactly.
David Dulany: And the good news is you get the pick of the recruits to build up Shift Group. I don’t want to give away your secrets but – right? I mean you’re in charge. So …
JR Butler: Literally like the two BDRs I hired, the two candidates that came through our process and they were like, “All right. What company are you going to introduce me to?” and I’m like, “I’m not introducing you to a company. You’re coming to work for me.”
David Dulany: That is the secret. We will edit that out of the podcast so that nobody knows. But you’re actually taking the best of the team and then you guys will be out in Austin on November 4th for the Sales Development Conference, which I’m super excited about.
So that’s one of your marketing techniques. You’re going to be out actually talking to our audience as well.
JR Butler: A hundred percent, yeah, and I’m bringing my team out. We’re going to do a team meeting in Austin because my team is kind of all over the country. We’re going to do a little team meeting the night before and then, you know, I’m thinking on my talk for the conference. I’m going to talk about the parallels between sports and sales and how that should drive your culture, right? Like how you use those parallels to build a team culture that is a winning culture.
David Dulany: Oh, that will be so interesting because it kind of died down a little bit. But in the tech industry out here in the Silicon bubble that we live in, there was like an anti-bro culture and so sometimes it was like a – you know, if you brought up sports analogies and stuff, then, oh, you’re being a bro or there was that weird sort of dichotomy. But for me, it’s like it’s totally different.
A bro is like someone who’s just stupid about how they treat with other people, right? But the sports analogies are so fitting for sales and business.
JR Butler: A hundred percent. Yeah. I mean no jerks, right? Like, you know, any great team that anybody has ever played for, everybody treated each other with respect. So to say that having a winning team would be bro culture shows me that somebody doesn’t really quite understand how winning teams work, right? That is the right culture to build in a sales organization 100 percent of the time.
David Dulany: A hundred percent and they probably – those people were never on a winning team. So they don’t know what to talk about. But I digress. No, it’s all about respect 100 percent and the best teams, the respect permeates through and if you’ve got a negative culture, then the team starts to fall apart pretty darn quick.
JR Butler: Absolutely, absolutely.
David Dulany: So dude, I cannot wait. I’m excited to meet you and the team. Get you out to Austin so you can meet more people. JR, thanks for coming on the show and sharing your wisdom with us.
JR Butler: Thank you David and thank you for building Tenbound into what it is. You guys have an awesome organization. We use your data all the time. Like I can’t speak highly enough about the value you’ve brought as I’m new to this space outside of being a sales leader. So thank you and thank you for having me.
David Dulany: Hey, I appreciate it.
JR Butler: All right.
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