Growing up, my single mother worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week, as a registered nurse in downtown Los Angeles. As a young boy, I watched how hard she worked day in and day out, and I constantly tried to think of creative ways to help. I can remember her coming home from work one evening exhausted, and I asked her if she could buy me a new pair of sneakers. She replied, “Son, you may not have everything you want, but I assure you that you have everything you need. If you really want those shoes, I’m sure we can figure out a way to buy them.” That one statement launched my sales career. I was 10.
To get those shoes, my early sales career consisted of hand drawing individual Hollywood star maps and selling them to anyone that walked by me who looked like a tourist. I would also run around my neighborhood climbing trees and collecting plums, pomegranates, oranges, and avocados in a laundry basket and selling them door to door. I loved meeting new people and found that having a sense of humor was the main cause of my early sales success. Between that humor and the ability to easily make connections with people, sales became a natural choice for my career. It took me two weeks, but I figured it out and earned enough money to buy those shoes.
Over the years, I worked at several different companies in a variety of direct sales and leadership roles, eventually becoming President of Executive Relations at PGA TOUR Experiences. But I decided to leave it to pursue a new opportunity as a mid-market account executive at Salesforce. I had no software sales experience, and a rapidly growing family. It was a risky move, but one I was willing to take. I knew that at Salesforce, I could find a new path to financial career success, and that’s what I really wanted. Or so I thought.
After I completed my new-hire bootcamp, I was ready to roll. Itching to get on the phone, send emails, and close deals, I met with my new manager and asked for my accounts. “No, you can’t have your accounts,” he told me. I thought to myself, “This is crazy. I need accounts to start making money to support my family.” I asked him, “Well, why not?” He said, “You’re not ready. Why don’t you go home tonight and figure out what’s going to make you happy. Come back tomorrow and we’ll have a discussion about it.”
I went home and couldn’t believe how weird this all was. I started writing things down and finally landed on, “Happiness to me is buying a big house and having my kids get into a good school.” That would definitely make me happy. Done and done. The accounts would be in my hand tomorrow morning for sure.
I met with my RVP the next day and he said, “Nope, that’s not it. That’s not going to make you happy. Look, Mike, this isn’t a job, it’s a career. You really need to find out your sense of purpose before you get started here and figure out what is truly going to make you happy. Take the weekend and write it down. Do a really introspective view of your career here and what you want to get accomplished.”
Great. So I went home again and it consumed me for a full week. I was reading and Googling things like, “What does happiness mean?” I was such a transactional salesperson before I joined Salesforce that I had never really explored this avenue before. Finally I read a paragraph in Shawn Achor’s book named The Happiness Advantage, and something clicked. I wrote this down: “Happiness to me is the joy that I feel in the pursuit of my full potential.” Bam. That was it, and my manager agreed.
I went from a president at PGA TOUR Experiences down to a mid-market account executive at Salesforce because I was confident I was a great salesperson and would do well. But if my manager hadn’t done that exercise with me, I honestly feel my career wouldn’t have accelerated the way it did. My viewpoint completely shifted. When I was selling as an AE, my goal was to get the most potential out of my accounts. Now as a RVP, when I wake up every morning, the first thing I think about is how to connect with my team to get the most potential out of my AEs. I’m still following that mission statement for my own personal happiness.
I now have this conversation with every new AE on my team. Rather than making one-on-ones all about pipeline and hitting their number, I’ve changed my approach. I do a team pipeline call, and my one-on-ones are all about pushing the potential with the individual. Just as I had done seven years ago, new AEs come in hot to get their accounts. And, as my manager did with me, I slow them down to think about what their happiness will be. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, and this whole discussion and journey about potential is always a little awkward at first. I’ll start out and ask, “What do you want to accomplish here at this company? How can I help you accomplish this? What do you feel is your true potential at Salesforce? And how can I help you reach it?”
It takes a little while for the AEs to figure out what will make them happy, but they get there. These conversations happen every week on a recurring basis, and the AEs now know I’m going to ask how they are feeling. Instead of a list of deals, they think, “I better have some actionable discussion points for him so he knows I’m not just here for the short-term.”
It’s different with every AE on my team, but it builds a sense of family. They know I have their back and collectively we share a common goal. They also know going into a one-on-one that I’m concerned about them, not what they are going to give me, but what they need to be happy. That can take a variety of forms. Many have it tied to their family or other goals, such as becoming a VP eventually. When they communicate it to me, I can make sure that I support them 100% in helping to make it happen. The bottom line is this: An individual’s happiness serves as a multiplier to their reaching their potential. And it pays daily dividends to my happiness goals — I’m reaching my full potential by getting them to reach their full potential.
I expect everyone on my team to work as hard as possible, but not at the sacrifice of family or growth opportunities. In fact, one measurement of my own success is the incredible number of promotions out of my team. They are happy and pursuing new goals in their careers; I’m happy to open that new door for them and hug them on their way out.
Having these conversations is an incredible strategy for managers and leaders to use for themselves and their direct reports. It changes everything because happiness and success are directly linked. If you only focus on the success of the pipeline or other metrics, it will show. Be the champion for your AEs and they’ll deliver. They’ll run through walls for you and vice versa. It all starts with a 10-minute conversation, some serious soul-searching, and the commitment to carry it through.
“As a RVP, when I wake up every morning, the first thing I think about is how to connect with my team to get the most potential out of my AEs.”