How I Built my sales career working through 3 acquisitions in 4 years

Tom Spalding, sharing his sales journey

 

Tom Spalding’s first job is working for a television production company working on shows such as “The X Factor” & “Holland’s Got Talent”. After 18 months with the company Tom applied to attend Keele University in Staffordshire, UK and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree with Dual Honors in Psychology, and Media, Communications & Culture. Tom then went on to work in London in Cloud Technology Business Development and quickly made a name for himself in the industry. After 3 successful years with the Cloud Company’s European team in London, he was transferred to the Headquarters in New York.

Thinking about what to write in this article has given me a chance to reflect on the time since I left University, something I haven’t done in a while, and I’m surprised to look back and see how far I’ve come, not only in my career or professionally but personally and geographically as well!

I graduated with a 2:1 BSc with dual honors in Psychology and Communications from Keele University in 2014. I loved my time at university, looking back now, I don’t remember specific lectures or tutorials, I remember the day trips, the nights out, the hangovers and the general shenanigans of having a lot of spare time on my hands. Could I have done better in my final exams or final submissions? Honestly, properly yes. Would I change anything or give up the experiences I had in return for a 1st class degree? Absolutely not.

University taught me a lot: academically it gave me the tools to succeed, the discipline to execute on requirements and an environment that stimulated my natural curiosity whilst simultaneously putting guardrails around how to properly research a subject and the best methods to learn and retain what I wanted/needed. Socially, it taught me a lot about how to interact with society, where the boundaries were, the multitude of personalities that can collaborate or come into conflict with one another and how I can succeed by navigating these idiosyncrasies with confidence.

Upon graduating, I wasted no time exploiting my new found freedom from all responsibility by travelling around the country, visiting friends and strange places, sleeping in late, staying out later and every now and then firing off my CV to a potential employer that posted a job online. I am very fortunate, I recognize this and appreciate it more than I can express, because I had this freedom thanks to my parents, who, even after I’d finished my commitments to university and was now eligible to work full-time, continued to bank-roll my care-free lifestyle in return for my assurances that I was “absolutely trying my best to find a job – I just want to make sure it’s the right one”.

This continued for about a month from the date of my last exam in May. I was due to attend my graduation ceremony around the middle of July and so at the end of June I was back at my parents place, having just returned from another couple of days socializing with friends somewhere in the UK, when my parents posed the question one more time “So, are you actually going to get a job…?”, I answered with the same “of course, of course, I’m trying my best”, the difference in this exchange though was they had a rebuttal they hadn’t previously brought to bear “oh, well in that case we’ll stop transferring you money to give you that little extra motivation”.

I was cut off. No more bank-roll.

It was the nicest and best thing my parents could have done for me. If ever in life I needed a kick back into the real world it was at that point in time 4 years ago. I was resting on my laurels, I’d just completed University, I had achieved something great and I was proud of myself, but the world doesn’t stop and applaud and wait for you to stop basking in your own ego, it keeps on turning. Stopping to appreciate an achievement is important and helps keep us all sane, but it’s also not something that can be indulged for too long, at some point you have to move forwards and onto the next goal that needs achieving.

I now had no source of income, maybe a couple hundred pounds to my name, and needed to find a job, even if it was only a temporary one whilst I looked to start my career. It was at this point where I was gifted with two strokes of luck: 1. A cold call out of the blue and 2. A manager that put my career development as a top priority. I’m thankful that both of these events occurred.

The next day, I was just getting off a train heading towards London to begin really putting myself out there and looking for gainful employment when I had a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I answered it and a recruiter by the name of Sophie introduced herself, her company and point blank asked me “Are you looking for a job?”. I was indeed looking for a job! I told her this and she asked if I’d be willing to attend an assessment day to gauge my skills and experience and I happily agreed. I had no idea how she got my mobile number, or what prompted her to call on that day, at that time, but suddenly my job hunt had taken a large step forwards. The company Sophie worked for specialized in placing graduates in high growth technology companies to start a career in sales. I had never considered sales as a career, as far as I was concerned sales still had awful connotations, images of car salesman and door-to-door sales people came to mind. I had no idea that professional sales was even considered a career, let alone that I would be any good at it and eventually realize I had a true passion for it.

I attended the assessment day full of skepticism about a so called “Sales Career” but my natural competitive streak (something that has served me well over and over again) flourished on the day as I became determined to be the best potential candidate in the room. I wasn’t. Put simply, there were others in that room that wanted it more, and that became evident over the course of the day, they were driven by a desire to achieve exactly what was being offered, I was driven by a desire to earn just enough money to maintain my lifestyle whilst I looked for a job at a globally recognized brand – I’d applied to the BBC, Twitter, Apple, Aston Martin, anywhere that I thought would be cool to tell people I worked – I thought that’s what I wanted.

I may not have been the best in the room but I still displayed more aptitude than 80% of candidates on the day (a group of 25-30 or so graduates) and therefore Sophie’s company informed me that they would happily put me forward for interviews with their clients looking to hire graduate sales people. I was contented to have moved the job hunt forwards, and I’d done it in such a way that I had a company actively setting up interviews and introductions on my behalf! I was thrilled, I could sit back and then simply turn up at the times and places I was told and be evaluated for a position. Minimum effort, something which at that point in my life, I was a big fan of. Sophie set up a week of interviews for me, with the first one 2 days after the assessment day. My first interview was with Mark, the Vice President of Sales for the European arm of an American business called Datapipe, this was my second stroke of luck.

I spent the day before my interview researching the company and learning about the industry and Mark himself. I had an 8:30am interview at Datapipe’s offices in East London with Mark, I arrived suited and booted at 8am and waited outside Datapipe’s offices, going over the information I’d gathered the day before, rehearsing the tips and tricks Sophie had imparted the day before and just generally getting myself into a frame of mind where I could put my best foot forwards. Mark arrived at 8:20am and invited me in, grabbed a glass of water and sat down 5 minutes early for my interview. I don’t remember the details of my conversation with Mark, I do remember the impression he gave me though. Mark is a charismatic man, he’s loud, lively, quick-witted and friendly with a big personality, I remember leaving with the impression that I would be lucky if my future boss had half the traits that Mark has, he was a man any graduate would be fortunate to work for because he genuinely valued your input in decisions that other managers would exclude you from simply to maintain the higher social status of management, but Mark’s approach helped me learn and for that I will always be grateful. I must’ve left Mark with a good impression as well because although I was the first candidate of 8 that he would interview that day I was offered the job that evening and told that the 7 candidates who followed were compared to my interview and I’d set the bar too high.

I was concerned about taking the first job that was offered to me, especially because it was with a company I’d never heard of and in a career field I’d never considered before. At the end of the day I went for it despite my feelings that “the grass may be greener” if I keep waiting – I have since learned that the grass is never greener, if an opportunity presents itself you have to grab it with both hands because it doesn’t present itself often! Taking the position with Datapipe was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Mark ramped up my work quickly, imparting knowledge and experience, encouraged me to learn about anything and everything that interested me about the business, the technology and sales itself. I was quickly learning the ropes of not just a new industry and skill set but of creating my professional persona. I was sent to New York to meet with the directors of the company and learn more about the company I was working for and knew that one day I would be back to New York to live and work and work my way up into the higher levels of the company.

I was hooked. Every day in sales is different. Unlike a more conventional job which comes with roles and responsibilities and then a to-do list to accomplish, sales was an ‘open invitation’ challenge! You are tasked with generating revenue for your company, how you do that, as long as you behave professionally and ethically, is up to you. Every day you can create a new conversation or partnership or opportunity to help move your company forwards. You’re challenged to think strategically and critically about your behaviors and conversations. You have total insight into the business from a financial, technical and procedural perspective and if you build a strong business case – do your due diligence and research – you can influence the entire direction of the business in a massive way. This kind of autonomy, combined with responsibility, strategic influence, development of business acumen and constantly evolving challenges keeps the day to day work of sales exciting, stimulating and rewarding. There’s also the added adrenaline rush of competing against another company, and therefore another sales person, to win a deal or new client, which lets you give your competitive streak full freedom, not something many jobs offer.

It’s been 4 years now since I started, I’ve worked through 3 acquisitions, 2 made by Datapipe and one made of Datapipe and am now living and working in New York City for Datapipe’s acquirers Rackspace. I’m worked my way up through sales positions, gathering skills, knowledge and experience along the way, and am now tasked with the hardest responsibilities for sales professionals, actively working on acquiring new enterprise grade companies. I’m loving every minute of it.

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