I was sitting in TAP class at Ft. Irwin kinda miserable. There was no wifi and it was 90 degrees already. But I was determined. After countless phone calls to friends and colleagues I made my first career decision! I decided I wanted to go into sales.
I loved the idea of helping people work through their toughest problems and providing the best solution.
So I learned everything I could about sales. I read Predictable Revenue and The Challenger Sale, watched Zig Ziglar YouTube videos, listened to every single episode of The Advanced Selling Podcast, talked to people AE roles, etc. I learned the lingo and was feeling good.
With a little pep in my step, I hopped on a call with my mentor.
“Ian, you are saying the right things but salespeople aren’t just experts in sales. You need to be an expert in the specific needs of the customers you are helping. Go learn that.”
Shifting into… tech?
Shifting into ‘tech’ has always been a little weird for me. I grew up in the Bay Area around technology but was never especially talented in programming or computers. After spending four years at West Point and five years in the Army, you could say that whatever tech brainpower I might have learned through osmosis growing up near Silicon Valley was long gone. The death knell was that my Soldiers had vastly surpassed my ability to do Pivot Tables.
I got out of the Army and I went into a sales role at Victory Media, helping amazing tech companies like Apple, Tesla and SolarCity (among others). I had phenomenal training on all things advertising, marketing and sales which allowed me to truly understand the needs of our customers.
And the things we learned! Conversion rates, A/B testing, optimization funnels, etc. Words I had to Google, bookmark the pages and stay up late and night understanding.
They sounded so… science-y? There was a formula to everything. A method to the madness. Create a hypothesis, test multiple ideas and rapidly iterate.
I had to be an expert at what my customer wanted, and my customer wanted… tech stuff.
I didn’t need to code or make Pivot Tables, I had to understand how we could apply tech stuff to solve the problems that my customer had. That was the fun part. And the straw that stirs the drink is a fickle friend called ROI.
“Study smart, not hard” -Senora Rodriguez, 9th grade Spanish teacher
I would say that I learned through the school of hard knocks, trial and error, but it was never especially hard. Not like the Army. The trick was learning the correct, timely information as fast as possible and test in real time.
Speed to market! The faster you can learn this stuff the better.
Learning on the fly makes you accelerate your military transition in the best way possible. And you are perfectly suited for entrepreneurial selling or growth marketing.
A Few Ways the Military Grows Sales and Marketing Professionals (and 2 ways it doesn’t)
Believe it or not, the military is the perfect breeding ground for market developers (i.e. smart people who have the skills to get products into the hands of customers and help them make a difficult decision).
Problem Solving Skills
Dust-off our old friend the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) for a refresher course on how we learned to solve problems through planning, execution and refinement. We will use an abbreviated version for, well, brevity.
The MDMP is a tool that assists the commander and staff in developing estimates and a plan.
Decision making is both science and art. Many aspects of military operations—movement rates, fuel consumption, weapons effects—are quantifiable and, therefore, part of the science of war. Other aspects—the impact of leadership, complexity of operations, and uncertainty regarding enemy intentions—belong to the art of war. The MDMP is the foundation on which planning in a time-constrained environment is based. The steps are:
- Receive the Mission and Get Commander’s Guidance
- Detailed Mission Analysis
- Situation Analysis and Course of Action Development
- Comparison of each course of action
- Course of Action Approval and Refinement
Hmmm… Quantifiable information? Uncertainty? Detailed analysis? Time constrained environment? Refinement? I think we are getting somewhere. Let’s table this for a second.
People Helping People
Leadership! That pesky thing you spent your whole military career doing. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because (they) want to do it.”
And the first step is discovering what they want and describing how you can help them achieve that.
Remember all those times that you did counseling or ‘professional development’? Discussing promotion boards and building 5 years plans? You had to listen, ask questions and provide transparent, honest feedback. Throw in a dash of empathy and you provided a clear path to achieve those results.
Turns out that is some good market research training. Listening to the needs of your customers, testing assumptions and asking the right questions to help them find what they are looking for. Then clearly articulating a solution and constantly refining based on customer feedback.
Making the complex decision, simple.
So MDMP helps the staff analyze a complex problem and create a number of COAs so the commander can make an informed decision. Let’s translate that into “tech jargon”:
MDMP helps a “sales engineering team” analyze a complex “applied technology” so that the “account executive” can create a number of options for the “decision maker” to make an informed decision on the best “product”.
If the shoe fits, eh?
It turns out that dissecting difficult problems and technologies is not so different, but you need to learn the process and develop experience.
You Need to Learn the Formula: The Military Doesn’t Teach You How to Sell (or Market) stuff.
Correct! As my platoon sergeant once said, the military don’t make stuff – we break stuff.
We might know MDMP but we do not know the specific sales or marketing formulas. Plus Veterans often don’t know the lingo and acronyms of the tech world.
So you gotta learn it. ASAP. From books, blogs, experts and programs. I cannot stress this enough.
If you want to go into marketing and don’t know what CTA means, no bueno.
Luckily, we veterans have a good track record of learning quickly. Consider that it takes 6 weeks of Advanced Individual Training for an Army Fire Support Specialist, who will operate gun, missile and rocket systems.
That is shorter than your average coding boot camp. Thankfully the average coder does not, well, operate gun, missile or rocket systems. Moving on.
You Must Develop Experience: Veterans don’t have any experience selling or marketing.
Correct again! Most veterans don’t have official experience in sales or marketing. But that’s where a little thing called O-J-T comes in.
The best training is through practical application. Pairing your skills with knowledge and real-world experience.
Programs like GrowthX Academy can help you leverage those skills with training and real world experience. They’re running 12-week training courses covering the most sought after skills in tech and it’s not just in the classroom. Throughout their courses, you’ll be working on projects for tech startups across Silicon Valley building skills and a network to land in a job you’ll love where you can make an impact on day one.