EPISODE 637: Sales Career Growth Strategies from Account Executive Extraordinaire JC Pollard

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Today’s show featured an interview with Account Executive extraordinaire JC Pollard. The interview took place when he worked at Gong.io.

Find JC on LinkedIn.

JC’S ADVICE:  “Dress for the job you want. Don’t prepare or practice for the job you have now, practice for the job you want. For example, right now I’m in mid-market, I’m already listening to enterprise sales calls. I’m always thinking, “What’s the next thing I want to do? How can I already start preparing for that?” I think that just accentuates and speeds up your progression and allows you for when it is time to take that next step, you’ve already been prepared for it for a long time.”


Fred Diamond: We got JC Pollard today, and he’s with Gong. You’ve gone from SDR to AE, you’re one of the highest performing sales professionals at Gong, which has got to be a challenge to do, but you reached out to me. As I tell people, I get 40 inquiries per week from people who want to be on the Sales Game Changers Podcast. I mentioned that YesWare mentioned that we were the top sales podcast. We’ve had over two million interactions with the show, constantly getting inquiries, and I’m very, very discerning on who we bring to the show, but you reached out a couple of times. Then you also told me some of the things that you did. I’m interested in your story. You’re also, from what I could tell, a very thoughtful young man. I’m interested in some of your insights on how you got promoted from SDR to AE. First of all, it’s great to see you, JC. Where are you based, by the way?

JC Pollard: I’m calling in from Austin, Texas.

Fred Diamond: Is that where you grew up, that part of town?

JC Pollard: No, actually born and raised in Park City, Utah, and then went to school in Oregon. Lived in San Francisco, and then the second we went remote and I had the option I moved to Austin and haven’t really looked back since. I love it here.

Fred Diamond: Austin’s a great town. I spent a lot of time when I worked for Apple and Compaq back in the day. The town has definitely really grown. Tell us a little bit about Gong and tell us what you do for Gong, and then I have some really specific questions I want to run by you.

JC Pollard: First of all, thanks for having me on. In my note to you, I said, “Long time listener, fist time hopefully guest.” I’m pretty thrilled to be here. I truly feel so fortunate to have started my sales career at Gong, a place where we’re taught pretty top-notch stuff in sales. Obviously what we sell lends to having a pretty good sales enablement program and ongoing coaching and development. I’ve been here for a little over two and a half years now. I started as an SDR and did that for 11 months, got promoted to AE and I’ve been doing that for about a year and a half now. I feel like it’s the best place I could have launched my career into sales and have learned so much. It’s a pretty good place to start.

Fred Diamond: Obviously it’s definitely a sales mentality company for what you all do. For our listening audience that may not know the difference between what an SDR does and what an AE, account executive, does, give us a little bit of an insight into the things that you did as an SDR and now the things that you’re doing as an account executive.

JC Pollard: SDR is a sales development representative. Essentially your job is to break through the door and get a meeting on the book for an account executive to work. As an SDR, pretty much all day is spent prospecting, emailing, cold calling, just doing whatever you can to get some traction with an account to hand it over to an account executive. The account executive’s role is then to work the rest of the cycle and close it. But what’s unique about my segment that I’m in at Gong is that essentially I’m doing both now. It’s a full cycle account executive where I’m still banging on the door trying to get in and then working the rest of the funnel from there, which is uniquely challenging and it’s a lot of work, but at the same time, I think it’s a little bit extra rewarding when you close a deal and you’re like, “Wow, I was responsible for literally every single part of the funnel from start to finish.” Still doing a lot of the same things I was as an SDR, but adding the rest of the sales cycle to that component.

Fred Diamond: About the sales process, obviously as an SDR, you’re reaching out to a whole bunch of people. Now, Gong gets a lot of leads, I presume, but at the same time, you still have to do a lot of outbound cold calling. Might seem like a warm lead, but in a lot of cases it’s not.

JC Pollard: It’s not.

Fred Diamond: It’s just someone downloads the white paper, whatever it might be, or an e-book. Tell us a little bit about the interactions that you have as an SDR where people probably aren’t that interested in talking to you, versus as you deal with them as an account where obviously they’re much warmer, they probably want to make an acquisition of the technology. Tell us what the interactions are like and how do you mentally gear yourself for both parts of the process.

JC Pollard: Last year, 85% of the revenue I closed was self-sourced outbound, meaning not people raising their hands saying, “I want to buy Gong,” but literally people who were either unaware of Gong or didn’t think they wanted it, and you had to get them from that point to the point where they’re ready to sign the contract. The majority of the interactions I have early in the funnel are trying to overcome a myriad of objections about why Gong’s not the right fit for them, or why they’re not making any tech stack purchases, et cetera. Just getting them from that point to the point of at least being interested in what we do. I think it’s a pretty cool thing where you can cold call somebody and interrupt their day, and go from the point where they don’t want to talk to you to the point where they’re signing up for 45 minutes more of your time. Pretty challenging to overcome, but also very rewarding. Then after that, once you have that initial discovery call and you start to build some rapport with these people, the rest of the funnel becomes a lot more fun because you’ve got an ongoing relationship and you start to understand what’s in it for them, what’s in it for you, and you are selling on the same side of the table always.

Fred Diamond: Again, for people to go from SDR to AE, it’s definitely an achievement. A lot of people get flushed out as SDRs. It’s hard. You have to keep pounding the phones. I remember I did a sales career talk at a company with about 30 SDRs, and this is a number of years ago, and they wanted me to comment and just talk about what it means to be successful in a sales career. I asked the people, I said, “How many of you think you’ll be in sales a year from now?” A lot of hands didn’t go up. I asked one young lady, I said, “How come you didn’t raise your hand?” She said, “It’s really hard to make phone calls.”

Tell us a little bit about your technique. Did Gong tell you, “JC,” and the other, however many SDRs they have, “This is the Gong way. This is when you do it. This is when you make calls”? Did you have your own approach? Again, you reached out to me, I want to applaud you for that. That showed to me that you’re creative, you’re clever, you know how to make things happen, as compared to, “I must follow a script” type of a thing. Is it all you? Is there a Gong way, or somewhere in between?

JC Pollard: Well, to touch on the first thing you said, being an SDR is so hard and it is so much rejection. First, wanted to give a shout out to all the SDRs out there. That is the hardest part of the sales cycle, and keep plugging away because it’s really important what you do. To the second point, I think Gong does a really good job of balancing it from perspective as far as there are pillars that you have to hit. In the cold call, there are specific things that they want us to do in every call because it leads to success. In cold outreach there are certain things we want to incorporate in all of our cold outreach, whether it’s a CTA, et cetera, that lead to success. That being said, aside from those pillars, they give us a ton of creative agency and leeway to make it our own and make sure that it sounds authentic and in our own voice. Were we given the script to start with on cold calls? Absolutely. But over time, I found a way to make it my own and make sure that I was able to incorporate my personality. Marrying the two things as far as the pillars and your own voice is what I think ultimately leads you to be pretty successful in the role.

Fred Diamond: Talk about finding your own leads. Let’s talk a little more in depth about building the pipeline. Again, Gong is the leader in its space. You mentioned 85% of your success came from your pure outreach as compared to following up on inbounds. Talk about your drive, your initiative. What are some of the things that you did to reach out to those 85% that led to positive interactions?

JC Pollard: I’m big on mindset and I think that there are certainly tactical things you can do to become more successful, but none of those will have the same impact that your mindset will. I’m a huge believer in having an abundance mentality. Even in a recession, even in a time where a lot of people aren’t spending money on tech, just having the unwavering belief that there is a lot of business out there to be closed, and you can be the one to close it, that’s step one. What that ultimately leads to is this level of confidence and conviction that no matter how many objections you get or times you’re told no, you just believe if you keep going, if you keep asking, if you keep trying different avenues, you’ll find a way there. That’s step one. If you ask me the one thing that allowed me to be successful last year, I would say mindset’s the first one. I just believe I can find a way to get it done.

Aside from that, I think it’s just persistence and recognizing that a no is a really good answer, because then you can unpack a no and understand how do you turn that into a yes. Just keep trying. Don’t be afraid to hear no. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Just keep plugging away. I think a lot of people give up after a few times getting rejected on an account. You just keep going.

Fred Diamond: There’s some stats that say most success happens on the 12th call, but most people drop out on the third. You’re absolutely right. I’m curious, to have gone from an SDR to account executive, obviously you have the initiative, you’ve thought about it, you’re doing the work. We’re going to talk a little bit about how fitness and balance plays into that. But I’m just curious from a mentor perspective. Gong was invented before you started, so there’s been hundreds if not thousands of people who’ve gone through it. The managers and sales leaders at a place like Gong, like Wendy, who we had mentioned, and others that you probably report to, they just didn’t wake up and say, “Okay, I’m going to be a VP of sales today. I’m done flipping burgers.” They had to have gotten to a place, which I’m going to tell you right now, you’re going to get to in a relatively short amount of time. What advice did you seek from the sales leaders at Gong or other people that you had visioned as a mentor?

JC Pollard: First, I want to thank my brother who used to be a VP of sales. He’s retired now, but he gave me really, really good advice early on, which is like, make sure you have a personal board of directors. As you go throughout your career, when you identify people where you’re like, “Wow, that’s someone I want to latch onto, or that’s somebody whose brain I want to consistently pick,” he suggests literally formally asking like, “Hey, will you be on my board of directors?” That’s something I tried to do early on. There are a multitude of people at Gong and outside of Gong that are on my board. But I think the high level here is I never want my development and progression to be solely reliant on the resources that are pushed to me by a company. I want to take it upon myself to improve. Whether that means asking somebody who’s in the role ahead of you that’s doing really well, what’s working for them, or asking a leader two levels above your manager, “What could I be working on?” I always want to go a step above and find other resources to improve, like your podcast, literally things outside of the ongoing coaching that you get at your role. You should always be looking for that next level of development.

Fred Diamond: Actually, not everybody understands that. Hopefully a company like Gong, or wherever you might work, is going to provide resources, tools, training, mentorship. But the personal initiative is really what makes the difference. It’s listening to podcasts, reading books. A lot of times people ask me, “How can I get successful?” I said, “First thing is talk to your parent’s friends.” There’s got to be a friend of your dad who is in sales. You know what? Ask them, “Hey, can we meet at Starbucks Saturday morning at 8:00?” They’re going to say yes. I have children who are older than you and some of their friends have reached out who were in sales. I’ll meet them every single time, because not everybody wants to talk about my sales career. But if a child who’s a friend of one of my kids or child of one of my associates wants to talk about their career, I guarantee you I will take that call a hundred percent of the time, as will others as well.

I want to talk a little bit about fitness and balance. Again, I don’t want to minimize this. The success you’ve had earlier in your career is notable and you are the first person your age who’s ever reached out to me to be on my show. It took you a couple of emails for me to reply to you, but then I said, “You know what? This kid’s doing something right. I’m going to bring him on the show.” Talk about other aspects of your life. I know you’re really big into fitness, of course. You’re living in Austin, which is a fun town to live in. It’s a great town to live in. It’s a lot of people walking dogs, a lot of young people, obviously with the university and tech if you will. Talk a little bit about how you’ve balanced your life and how fitness plays into it.

JC Pollard: It’s important to note that this is not a destination that I’ve reached, but it’s an ongoing journey that I’m on. When I first got promoted to account executive, without exaggeration, the first six months I spent with crippling imposter syndrome and stress, and I was waking up cold sweats at night thinking about- It was absurd, just got completely out of hand. I stopped doing all the things that brought me balance and joy. I like working out every day and I stopped doing it because I’m like, “I need to be working.”

I finally reached a point where I’m like, “This is not sustainable,” and I got back to finding time to do the things that I love, so running, lifting weights, golfing. What I saw was like, “Oh my gosh, when I actually incorporate those things and I’m healthier and I’m more relaxed and I’m more balanced, I actually perform better at work. Now I’m going to prioritize those things no matter what’s going on at work.” I know I’ll find time to get the work done, but it’s non-negotiable, I have to do the things that bring me balance. It’s been a game changer for my mental health and just separating myself from work and recognizing that my entire self-worth is not dependent on quota attainment that month. Separating the two and making sure that I’m taking care of myself like a person and then human first, and then an employee and a seller second. I’m not saying I’ve reached the perfect point. It’s an ongoing thing and I’m constantly working on it, but it’s been huge for me. Do you experience something similar?

Fred Diamond: Yeah, absolutely. Life is a journey and things happen, things changed. But I applaud you for acknowledging that you just didn’t step up into the AE role and all of a sudden things clicked.

JC Pollard: It’s so hard.

Fred Diamond: It’s very, very hard, and especially over the last couple of years. Again, you’re really at the very, very early stage of your career, although you’ve had some great success. The last three years that the world has gone through has been very, very challenging in so many different ways. Mental health is definitely one. We talk about mental health now on the Sales Game Changers Podcast, at least every third show, some aspect of it. A lot of it comes back to the balance, putting things in perspective. A lot of people now take off for the weekends. They turn off the phones, they focus on family, those kinds of things. I want to talk about your community. Are most of your friends in sales or are you the sales guy and a bunch of your other friends, whatever they might do? Or do you gravitate towards people who are really motivated to be as successful as you are in the sales profession?

JC Pollard: All of my close friends from college, personal friends, I’m the only one in sales. That being said, I’ve become really good friends with a lot of my coworkers, so I consider them some of my best friends too. But outside of the people I’ve met through work, nobody’s in sales, which is a blessing and a curse because it’s hard to celebrate your wins when nobody understands what you’re talking about. But it’s also nice that my friends aren’t as stressed as me sometimes [laughs], so it works out well.

Fred Diamond: The people we’ve interviewed, over 600 people for the Sales Game Changers Podcast, we’ve interviewed a number of them who have had long careers scanning three, four decades. A couple of things they said, one is the reason they’ve been so successful is because they’re committed to the mission of their customer, which as a variable almost always comes up. But the other is in a lot of sales, when you’re selling into a marketplace or a technology, the people who are successful have been there for 10, 20, 30 years. You might have worked with people at one company 20 years ago, and then you lost touch, but then they came back because now you’re partnered with where they are.

Most of my career has been in marketing, and of course, I run the Institute for Excellence in Sales now. There’s a lot of people that I’m interfacing with now because as the IES grows, people who have been successful in sales have stuck around. Before we were doing today’s show, you mentioned an aha moment. You mentioned something that clicked for you during the transition from SDR to AE. Would you mind sharing that?

JC Pollard: Yeah, it’s a light bulb moment. I read a stat that 99% of top performers don’t really care about being liked, and all I cared about was being liked. Don’t get me wrong, I still want my customers to love me. I want them to have the most amazingly positive experience working with me and working with Gong. But my fear of not being liked prevented me from asking the hard questions that needed to be asked, those de-risking questions. Like, “Hey, what could get in the way of us getting this deal done? Are we a vendor of choice? I’m sensing hesitation, could you explain where that’s coming from?” I would just not ask those questions because I didn’t want to hear the answer. I wanted to close the Zoom, be like, “That’s going great. That deal’s going to come in.”

Finally realized you can ask those questions and actually it’s going to end up saving both of you time, and it’s going to create a more positive experience for both of us. Once I got over that fear and started de-risking deals, it allowed me to do a few things. First of all, the deals that never had a shot, I could sniff out way earlier and make sure that I’m not spinning my wheels or the customer’s wheels on something that just isn’t a fit. Then second, I ended up closing deals a lot faster because I would just make the direct ask. I’m like, “Yeah, we’re ready to go.” Where in the past I would’ve had three or four extra meetings just because I thought that’s how you had to do it. Then the third thing is when they express hesitation and you understand why, then you can alleviate that earlier once you’re on the same page. It was literally just getting over that fear of hearing things I didn’t want to hear.

Fred Diamond: No, that’s a brilliant observation. Are you familiar with The Challenger Sale?

JC Pollard: Absolutely. Yeah.

Fred Diamond: One of the whole premises of The Challenger Sale is that you’re asking those challenging questions. One thing that is so clear in sales is that it’s about the customer. It really is a hundred percent of the time about the customer. It’s not about you. It’s not about what your company offers, it’s not about what you have going on that morning. If you develop a strong relationship, there’s no reason why you can’t be friends with your customers at some point, and they have a different level of interest in you possibly. It’s all about helping the customer solve their problems. Sometimes the customer needs to hear that, “I don’t think you’re going about this the right way,” or, “Have you thought about this?”

The customers who are willing to take that advice from a sales professional are the ones who develop the deeper relationships, will get the right things from the customers. A lot of times people say people only buy from people they like. That really isn’t the case. No, they’re not going to buy from people that they hate. If you’re just an a-hole or something, you will get off the list pretty quickly because they foresee other challenges. But yeah, I agree with you a thousand percent. It’s not just that you want to be liked, you need to show value. You need to show that, “I care about what your challenge is.” How do you do things like that? You do research. You bring some data. You don’t waste their time. You ask the right questions, you let them talk.

Think about this, I learned this a long time ago. I worked for Apple Computer, I worked for Compaq Computer down in Houston. I worked for a large software company. Most purchasers of technology products in the B2B enterprise space, they ain’t talking about their work at home. Maybe they’ll be talking about career ascent or something, but their spouses aren’t that interested in the technology stack that they’re bringing in. Now, they’re of course consumed with it from a job perspective. During that time, if you can provide value to them, that’s a great observation.

Jc, I want to commend you on your career ascent. I wanted to acknowledge you for being one of the youngest people to reach out to me. I get 40 inquiries per week for people who want to be on the show. You wrote a couple of times. A long time when I was in high school, I was a big sports talk caller. I was frequently a first time listener, long time caller type of a thing. It was a little bit of a twist on what you said in your email. I applaud you for your persistence. I urge you to continue being curious, to continue being persistent, and to continue to understand the journey that is a successful career in sales. You’ve given us so many great insights, great ideas for young men. Give us one specific action step that you recommend our listeners do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

JC Pollard: Yeah, I love it. Do you know the old adage like don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want? I like to put a little twist on that and change it to don’t prepare or practice for the job you have now, practice for the job you want. For example, right now I’m in mid-market, I’m already listening to enterprise sales calls. I’m always thinking, “What’s the next thing I want to do? How can I already start preparing for that?” I think that just accentuates and speeds up your progression and allows you for when it is time to take that next step, you’ve already been prepared for it for a long time. That’s something you can do right now.

Fred Diamond: That is great advice. Once again, I want to thank JC Pollard from Gong. My name is Fred Diamond. This is the Sales Game Changers Podcast.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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