In this episode: Scott Sambucci – Founder, CEO, and Sales Coach at SalesQualia, joins us to share his journey through sales and product management. How has he succeeded consistently for over 25 years? What surprised him the most about switching from publisher sales to tech? What makes a career in sales (and other customer-facing roles) different? Hear Scott answer these questions and more!
Connect With Scott:
- Sales Qualia Website
- BOOK: Stop Hustling, Star Scaling
- BOOK: Startup Selling: How to sell if you really, really have to and don’t know how
- BOOK: 52 Sales Questions Answered: A Q&A Guide to Sales & Customer Development
- (Get a FREE PDF copy of the book) “Stop Hustling, Star Scaling”
In this episode: Scott Sambucci – Founder, CEO, and Sales Coach at SalesQualia, share his journey through sales and product management. How has he succeeded and more!
Joseph Fung: In today’s episode, I’m speaking with Scott Sambucci, a CEO at SalesQualia. He’s a Sales Coach, Author, Speaker, Ultra Marathoner, and he’s the Host of the “Startup Selling” Podcast. And we’ll be learning more about his journey into sales, looking forward to sharing his story with you.
Welcome to the seller’s journey, the podcast where we speak to great sales reps and leaders and share their real stories from start to sales success.
Joseph Fung: Hi everyone, I’m Joseph Fung, and today we are speaking with the great Scott Sambucci. Scott, how are you doing?
Scott Sambucci: Dude, I love that you called me The Great Scott Sambucci. You can hang out with me anytime.
Joseph Fung: Oh, it’s your podcast, your experience, it’s necessary, and I only wish we had better intro music for you, something a little bit more epic.
Scott Sambucci: Dude, I loved it. I was standing while you were doing it.
Joseph Fung: Nice, thanks again for joining us. I appreciate the time.
Scott Sambucci: Glad to be here!
Joseph Fung: Oh! So some of our audience members may not know you, so why don’t we help them out? Let’s start at the beginning. Where’d you go to school? Where’d you go to college? Where’d you grew up?
Scott Sambucci: I grew up in New Jersey, was able to get out of New Jersey, fortunately when I was 14. My parents, we had a really bad snowstorm one year, and my parents were like, that’s it, we’re moving to Florida. We moved to Florida. From there, I ended up at Winthrop University down in South Carolina. Most people have probably not heard of it, just a small state school in South Carolina. I went there because I had an academic scholarship, and so I was paying for college myself, and thought-free was a pretty good price. And you know, I spent four years there, graduated in a college when I was just before I turned 22. And from there ended up doing sales.
Joseph Fung: So, what’s so great about your journey? I mean you’ve accomplished so much. You work with great companies. The part that jumps out to me, you know, that’s really unique. I think about your story was that you started in sales, left sales, and came back. So why don’t we start with that first step? That first chapter. How did you get it to your first sales role?
Scott Sambucci: Yeah, great question. So I think it really started out off when I needed to pay rent. I was graduating from college. I was a history major, which means you either teach, work at a museum, or sell, and a good friend of mine who is a couple of years older than me had also just recently graduated, and he got into sales. He wanted to be in sales, he got into it, he’s doing pretty well, and he said, look, man, you should get in the sales; you’d be good at sales. I’d always waited for tables. I’d worked in restaurants; I’d always been kind of a good social kind of extroverted person and good with people. So it seemed like a pretty good fit, and so that’s really what led me into sales in the first place, and my first job, my first real job out of college, was selling cabinet doors. I don’t even have my LinkedIn profile, yeah so I found a job working for a cabinet door manufacturer in North Carolina, and I got paid my base salaries twenty-two thousand dollars a year, and they gave me a Ford Ranger, full of cabinet doors and the job was to drive around to cabinet makers in Western North Carolina and explain to them why they should let us do the doors, and they just focus on the rest of the cabinets.
Joseph Fung: Wait, you were doing door-to-door sales?
Scott Sambucci: Basically, I was doing outdoor sales. Yeah, I was driving around the hills of northern Western North Carolina talking to you know a lot of these are like one one-man shop, small cabinet makers that would make either custom projects for homes that were getting build and some larger, you know larger companies that would might you know partner with home developers and those kinds of things. But basically, that was my first job, and I did that for about two months and didn’t sell a single door.
Joseph Fung: What incredibly successful sales career started! Yeah!
Scott Sambucci: Well, I think a lot of it was like I just didn’t love the industry, it was a job, I was like, oh yeah a 22k I mean, I was just back in 1996 wasn’t a great salary back then, but it released it was a salary and then getting a Ford Ranger, I’m like, okay not enough to pay for a car. So that adds to it, and you know the company was okay, I mean the manager is okay, and I was like you know I’ll just kind of get something going and figure it out from there, and I just realized this is not what I wanted to do I was found myself just not really liking the calls, I didn’t like going and talking to cabinet makers, it just wasn’t my thing, so I dove back into the classified ads which is, what you did in 1996. So, I looked for a job, and I found a position with Prentice-Hall, higher education. Which is what they called publishing your app, it’s really just a salesperson, where you’re walking around universities, and again it’s basically door-to-door sales, but you’re selling to professor’s and helping them to choose the textbooks that they’re gonna use for the different classes they teach. And that really got me into what I would say like I have a more successful sales career.
Joseph Fung: It’s kind of individual on the door to door, but definitely much closer to a business sale there. I mean, yeah, something’s got to be a little different.
Scott Sambucci: Yea, totally. It was like, you know, equivalent of an enterprise sale. I mean, some of these sales that we were doing, if you’re selling like I remember one we call them adoptions they call them adoptions in higher education is really just sales. If you’re selling to say a general chemistry class at a state school there’s you know, eight hundred students in that class every year, so you’re selling a book that’s seventy dollars retail or seventy dollars net, and again this is you knew twenty-five years ago, so I’m kind of textbook prices to have gone up a bit, but you know that one sale would be like fifty thousand dollars or more. So some of these were actually pretty big enterprise sales, lots of committees you would have you know five six seven professors in the chemistry department that would be deciding on the book, they would take months to go through review books, review supplements, how do they cover this material, is this the right fit for us and so you’re just walking people through that enterprise sale. Bring in account managers and specialists and people from the whole office to help you close those deals. And I did that for my very first year is really where I realize like sales is something that I’m good at. I spent a lot of time just understanding the craft. I read a book every single week on sales or personal improvement self-improvement. I did everything that my manager told me to do, and the very first year my working year at Pearson Education, it’s now Pearson. It used to be Prentice Hall. I was the number five salesperson, out of over three hundred reps across the country, and so at the salesman of the year and about to number five!
Joseph Fung: You were number one, you’re about to number two, right?
Scott Sambucci: Number one in my market, number five in a whole company, yeah. And yeah, so the end of the year we’re at the sales meeting, and I’m up on stage getting this top performer award, and I basically look like you know kids still a lot of colleges, I was 23 at the time. I like you know the collar doesn’t fit and let the tie is droopy, and all that stuff and people are like, what’s the intern doing up on stage and but that was me because I was a top performer. I just weren’t I figured out like sales is just a process, and I just followed this process every day, every week, every month, and end of the year. I was at the top of the leaderboard.
Joseph Fung: Okay, so you go from selling mill doors to selling all the textbooks…
Scott Sambucci: Licensing exports, either way, I’m killing trees.
Joseph Fung: So we’ve got the start of a theme there, let’s see if it continues. But, this is where things get really interesting to me because you decided to leave sales and get into product management. Hey there, just, what were you thinking there? What were you going through? Why make that choice?
Scott Sambucci: Yeah, so the thinking it like it’s really kind of the career path that you have when you’re in publishing. So you’re in the publishing world, there’s kind of you almost everybody starts as a sales rep. And you start out the field and you kind of cut your teeth, learning the industry in the field and then if you’re promoted you can either stay in the sales track and become a District Manager and eventually a Regional Manager or you can move into the Home Office and take marketing or a product development position and those I always felt like sales was just like a necessary evil like okay I’ll do the sales thing so I can go get a real career. It wasn’t. I didn’t go into sales, either selling cabinet doors or textbooks, thinking like this is my career choice. It was just like, this is the job I can get. Kind of this, it’s gonna help me pay the bills, and so I was thinking about it. I was an editor. That’s what they call Product Managers in higher education, as editors. And for three and a half years, I did product management. You know it’s actually producing the textbooks, working with the authors, figuring out that what the new editions are gonna look like, signing new authors building a new product, working on the technology side back then, in 1998, we were building websites that were companions to the textbooks, and that was bigger, considered big innovation back then, like oh you have a website he goes in the textbook. So I did that for about three and a half years and really enjoyed the work. I mean, I liked doing product management. It just felt like okay, this is more of a career track than if, in fact, I’d applied for a director-level position at Pearson before I ended up leaving Pearson and heading out to Silicon Valley.
Joseph Fung: I love how you talked about the products. I remember getting textbooks with a CD-ROM in the sleeve in the back. You know all the innovation.
Scott Sambucci: Those were the main deals.
Joseph Fung: There we go!
Scott Sambucci: Yeah!
Joseph Fung: So, in many regards, it feels like at this pay stage, you’ve made it. I mean, sales is a stepping stone. You stepped in. You get the role where you’re defining and designing the product. Is that how you felt? Is that what you were thinking?
Scott Sambucci: Yeah, for sure, that was okay. This is like, this is a real business in my mind, I’m like, this is what real business people do, or this is what people that have real jobs do. Not that you know I didn’t feel like sales was a real job, it just wasn’t a, there were career sales reps at Prentice-Hall, there were people there, I remember a guy who was in my same region, he covered different accounts than me, and he sort of joked that he was the world’s oldest book rep. This guy was in his 50s early 60s. He’d been doing it for 30 years, and everybody in that area knew him. He is the guy named Dave Morris, and that was his career, and he did great at it, he was a top performer consistently, and that was his job, and he loved it. I just didn’t see that as a career path for me. I thought, well, I want to do something that’s more innovative or development or something that requires you to know more what I considered at the time more intellectual capacity.
Joseph Fung: Okay, so I think this guy is a good idea of your state of mind, is a product manager, and then we talked about leaving sales and getting back in your next rule is getting right back into sales. So…
Scott Sambucci: That’s right!
Joseph Fung: How did that come to be?
Scott Sambucci: Well, I got excited with all the technology that we were building along with the textbooks. I mean, the textbooks were, you know, kind of the core product that’s what author’s role, that’s what we published. But building the websites, doing the CDs, all of the other supplementary material to me on a day to day basis as I was developing those materials, there was the whole innovation of online learning. This is back when distance learning was a new thing. Companies like Blackboard and WebCT, eCollege, this whole concept of online learning was like wow like everything’s going online, this is amazing. And that was way more interesting to me than just continuing to publish textbooks. And I got a call from a recruiter who said, “Hey listen, you know I heard about some of the work you’ve done as a salesperson, and I did track it, so the work you’re doing on the product side, we’ve got this startup out in Silicon Valley that called Aplia, and they’re looking for somebody to help them run Business Development, you know, would you be interested?” and so with my interest in technology, I traveled out to San Francisco a couple of times on work trips. I had some friends out there from college that had moved out there, and every time I went to the west coast, it was like, oh my god, like I gotta figure out a way to get out to Silicon Valley. So I kind of had this little bit of fever to move to Silicon Valley, and so when this opportunity came up that was in the tech world, still, in publishing higher education, the idea of like going back into sales is actually no big deal it was sort of like okay whatever, I just want to get out to Silicon Valley. and so I took that role in and it was positioned as business development not just straight-up sells even though that’s really, what an end up be! I was viewing that position is more like partnerships and channels and that kind of stuff as opposed to like raw selling. But once we got into it and realized what was it gonna take to sell the product or a billing building, it was really just sales and so doing that for a couple of years at Aplia was able to grow from zero revenue the first couple of wherein in revenue, and I realized like hey I’m actually pretty good at this thing. Like I’ve been able to do this twice now in two different companies go from, you know, nothing to selling stuff.
Joseph Fung: Nice, and it sounds like you’ve been kicking around the Bay Area ever since this. is that right?
Scott Sambucci: Yeah, kicking around, so to speak. Yeah, I mean I, their goal was to move out to the Bay Area for two years and then move back to New York. And that never happens, so I mean, I’m talking about, moved to Silicon Valley for two years, eighteen years ago, I said Here I am, this is life, this is where I am, so yeah I’ve been kicking around since working with mostly with tech companies and startups since then.
Joseph Fung: Okay, so with all of that, you’ve had the opportunity to succeed at sales. Consider leaving, considering coming back and working with some of the hottest companies. Looking at that, I’d love to hear just what surprised you most, especially in the tech sales area? What surprised you most about that time?
Scott Sambucci: Great question! So on a macro level, the thing that surprised me most is how little there was an appreciation for sales in the tech world. So you saw a lot of this in the first wave of the dot-coms, or it was like, you know, build a website do a Super Bowl commercial, and everybody’s gonna buy your thing. And that whole, you know, the first wave of dot coms just employed it. Then even with the second or third wave of startups, even now we still see it, it’s less so now than even ten years ago, but it was a lot of like well, even though we’re selling and it were built an enterprise solution, enterprise software some kind of hardware product, there still was this perspective from a founder of a company who’s typically an engineer or product person doesn’t come from a sales background, that I’m gonna build this product, and the product is gonna sell itself. And the thing that was most surprising to me was how little at the time, this is again maybe more 15 years ago then now, how little there was his little attention or credibility was given to that and the importance of sales as a successful leverage point in any company’s growth, and that’s why I ended up doing what I’m doing now because about ten years ago, I started doing workshops and I started teaching about sales to these tech companies. I realized that some of them did you sit with and doesn’t even know what sales meant, they just viewed sales are this like a necessary evil, and they viewed it as this black box and like oh I just have to like schmooze people and just like talk to people and send in a proposal and hope they buy from me and my experience starting as a sales rep and then working at Aplia and then of two more startups, I realized like sales is no different than any other process in your company, whether it’s product development, engineering, raising capital, running HR, there’s a process for every part of your business and sales is the same way. And so as I look back over the years and over the different experiences that I’ve had, I realized the reason I’ve been successful in sales is because always is able to find and build a process to it, and that process is something that can be taught to and implement it by anybody out there.
Joseph Fung: So thinking about that, I think with our audience getting into sales, that’s a fantastic respective on tech sales. In the chance that any of your target audience is listening in on to this, you know now that you’re coaching tech startups and working with leaders, you know what’s the value prop? What do you sell to? Who should be listening to this and go, “Hey, I just talked to Scott and go fit with your website”?
Scott Sambucci: Well, most of the people that we work with our early-stage B2B tech startups, early-stage we define that as seed-funded or Series A funded companies and so those are companies that are already and they built a product, they started selling it, they’ve got some revenue in the door, but the challenge that they have is getting past those early customers that maybe have come to them through introductions or through a network or maybe even early adopters that have found that on in valves in them, the innovators and early adopters in any market. And so when they’re trying to get past those first handful of customers, they’re trying to ramp up to the first million in revenue and then getting from a million to ten, you know there’s that’s where you really need to have some repeatability in your process you need to have some systems in place in order to scale, and that’s what we do is we teach those companies what are like how do you build out a repeatable prospecting plan of action, how do you do outbound the right way, how do you do your product demos, it’s not just like clicking 17 buttons and then asking people okay what do you think, there’s a process to how you run a product demo, there’s a process to how you handle proposals, there’s a process to hiring, there’s a process to managing. So we just teach those founders and those early-stage management teams like these are the processes that you have to have to understand and then implement in your company if you want to get repeatability and then scalability.
Joseph Fung: I love it. So I love the clarity of the stage, the entrepreneurs, the founders, and the value prop. If you’re listening, you fit for those profiles, reach out to Scott. His details are going to be in the description, and tune in to his podcast because it’s awesome. Let’s go. I know you said you couldn’t stick around past the bottom of the hour, so I’ve got one more question, and it’s rapid-fire, and I can let you go. Does that work?
Scott Sambucci: Absolutely!
Joseph Fung: Okay, this one is a little bit cut off the maintain that we’ve had, but one of the things that I find so intriguing is the way leaders, particularly people in sales, portray themselves and one of the things you share on Twitter is that you excel at Ms. Pac-Man. I’m super intrigued. Is this a hobby? Is this a profession? Is this your side hustle? What’s the story there?
Scott Sambucci: No, it’s just one of those games like I do this when it comes to like movies or any games that, I play, I just like playing, I don’t really enjoy learning new games as much as I enjoy doing stuff that I’ve already learned. And so even when I go in an Arcade, I used to get an Arcade stuff, and I’d always gravitate towards the Pac-Man machine instead of all the newfangled stuff with the headsets and things like that, I’m just like oh I want to play this, and I could crack seven or six digits pretty easily you know gets to a pretty high level, it’s just something about the game that I like. I haven’t played in a while, but I am pretty good at it. I played it once. My son was watching me, he was amazed, he’s like, “oh my god! How do you do that?”
Joseph Fung: So, there you go, there’s that age got my son, he is eight, I need to get better to these games, to make sure that he’s impressed.
Scott Sambucci: My son is eight as well. There’s a comic book store in our town that has some videogames, and they had a Ms. Pac-Man in there for a short time so, and you could play it, so I played it, he watched me, he was just like his mind is blown.
Joseph Fung: I swear I didn’t expect to be getting really useful parenting tips from our conversation, but I’m gonna take them because this is what I am gonna…
Scott Sambucci: I’ll take it for me because I like I’m struggling like everybody else. One thing I would have mentioned before we go, you know if you’re listening and you know whether you’re in you know product or tech and even if you’re not running a startup yourself but you want to learn what is a core framework that you could be using in sales like how do you think about sales as a process. I have a book that I wrote last year called “Stop Hustling, Start Scaling”, and if you go over to my website at SalesQualia, its sales and then Q U A L I A dot com, there’s a button right there in the home page where you can actually download a full copy of the PDF of version of the book. So that’s one of the places we just tell people to look if you just want to understand when I’m talking about sales as a process sales as a framework if you read that book that will help you I think, break a lot of the perceptions you might have what it means to do sales, especially when you’re talking about B2B enterprise-level selling. I wrote the book for people to understand that there is a framework to this. So if you read that book, I think that will help you quite a ways whether you’re again an individual contributor or you’re a startup CEO that’s looking to build a sales process.
Joseph Fung: Thank you for mentioning it. I’m going to make sure that we have a link to the book on Amazon or somewhere else in the description of the podcast. So if you’re listening in on you know YouTube or on your regular podcasting app, just check the description tubes. There should be a link there.
Scott Sambucci: Yeah, absolutely, and I would just tell people I don’t even care if I sell copies on Amazon because you don’t make money on so on a book. I’d rather get the message out to as many people as possible, which is why we give away the PDF on the website.
Joseph Fung: Nice, I’ll make sure that where we’re pointing people there too. Do you have time for a couple of really fast rapid-fire questions before we wrap up?
Scott Sambucci: I have got three minutes before I get a go to jump on a call.
Joseph Fung: Okay, these will be so fast.
Scott Sambucci: Yeah
Joseph Fung: Okay, what’s your favorite sales tool?
Scott Sambucci: Like technology wise?
Joseph Fung: Technology wise or otherwise. What’s your favorite?
Scott Sambucci: LinkedIn.
Joseph Fung: Nice. Outside of work, movies. What’s your favorite movie?
Scott Sambucci: Elf.
Joseph Fung: Nice! Good choice, and when you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
Scott Sambucci: An Architect.
Joseph Fung: I love it. Scott, this has been such a great conversation. a ton of great takeaway. But, I appreciate you humoring the really fast rapid-fire questions at the end. That’s great!
Scott Sambucci: That’s just like a personality survey or something like, “oh my god! I just learned about myself”.
Joseph Fung: Oh, it’s great! You’re gonna hear in the others. We get all sorts of things like astronaut, healthy, Godfather all of them. This is awesome. I have not heard your answers from anyone yet.
Scott Sambucci: Cool.
Joseph Fung: Nice! This is great. I’m looking forward to our next conversation. But thank you so much for joining us today.
Scott Sambucci: Dude, thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure! Any time!
Joseph Fung: Absolutely! We’ll chat again soon, and looking forward to that conversation.
Scott Sambucci: All right, man! See you!