In this episode: John Housholder, Strategic Partner Account Manager at WP Engine joins us to share how you can make the transition from school teacher to a sales rep! How did he make the leap from education to sales? How do you get ahead when starting a new role? And, what’s it like trying to sell to people who are just like yourself? All that up next!
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In this episode: John Housholder, Strategic Partner Account Manager at WP Engine share how you can make the transition from a school teacher to a sales rep and more!
Joseph Fung: Today, we’ll be speaking with John Housholder. He’s been a high school teacher. He’s been an entrepreneur, and he’s transitioned from an outside industry into sales, not once but twice. And you are gonna love this interview. Stay tuned, just coming up next!
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, John. How are you doing?
John Housholder: Man, I’m doing great. How about you?
Joseph Fung: Doing really well. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. You have an exceptional role. I’m super pumped today.
John Housholder: I’m excited to tell it.
Joseph Fung: So, let’s get this! You are a Strategic Partner Account Manager, and you’re at WP Engine, were a customer, a happy customer as well, and…
John Housholder: Oh, Awesome!
Joseph Fung: Yeah, I love how you characterize it the world’s largest WordPress digital experience platform. That’s a mouthful. What’s the elevator pitch? You know, what’s the value prop of the company?
John Housholder: You know, a lot of people kind of consider it maybe as a hosting company or maybe a software company. We’re kind of both of those, right. We’re a platform, you know, and it’s a platform that provides you know brands, agencies, solutions that they need to create remarkable sites and Apps, WordPress that drive their business forward, faster.
Joseph Fung: Fantastic! And you know you even better now that we’ve got you on the record about that depending on how the conversation goes, I can always bring it back up with our Account Manager. So this is awesome. I’m looking forward to it.
John Housholder: Well, let’s do it! I mean, one thing I love about this is you know we’re an open-source and/or month-to-month company. So, we have to you know we have to prove our value every day. So, I’ll hold us to that.
Joseph Fung: I love it, love it. So, we’ve had a chance to chat before, but maybe you can help our audience. But, whereabouts are you right now? Where are you calling in from?
John Housholder: I’m calling in from Music City, USA, Nashville, Tennessee.
Joseph Fung: Love it. And where’d you grow up? Where’d you go to school?
John Housholder: I grew up in West Tennessee in the city called Memphis, home of the blues. Right. Went to went down south to Mississippi State for college and got an undergrad degree in education. And then went to grad school at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. And then transitioned into the classroom and taught high school for a year in the States and then four years in Vienna, Austria. So, not moved back to move to Nashville and got into sales so.
Joseph Fung: It’s just, I kind of got a double-click on that a little bit.
John Housholder: Sure!
Joseph Fung: At the beginning of that story sounds you know, like you follow a game plan, you went to school, you did the Masters, you started teaching high school. And like all high school teachers, you go to Vienna. Kind of stuff, what was the reason there? How did that come to be? That’s awesome.
John Housholder: Sure! So I remember I was in grad school. You know I was getting ready to graduate, and I was kinda like, you know what’s next. Do I want to stay in Knoxville? A lot of my friends were married, and I didn’t really think that was the best place for me. And it was one day that, I think, I was like sick or something, I was at home, and I was looking on the internet, trying to figure out where I could teach. I was like, maybe I’ll just teach overseas and I saw a picture of Vienna and had like the Alps in the background and so I, you know, made a couple of phone calls…
Joseph Fung: Wow!
John Housholder: And kind of thought I was gonna go ski in every weekend, and you know hiking every weekend in the summer, you know. Once I got there, I realized that Vienna has not any Alps.
Joseph Fung: They’re a great lesson there about trusting the website.
John Housholder: Yeah, you know, I mean, I guess I hope people build websites now marketing besides. Now, they had a really good marketing team, right. I guess I should have like looked it up on Google Maps or something so.
Joseph Fung: So, I loved that, the idea where can I teach you to find this great opportunity. But you left teaching and got into tech sales with Dell. I mean the great company, but that’s a left turn. What came you know what happened there? How did you get into tech sales? What was that journey?
John Housholder: Sure! You know, I think it’s a classic case of I moved back, how I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, just because I felt like there were a lot more people here than I knew anywhere else in the world. So I moved to Nashville and started looking for teaching jobs and had been living in, you know, Europe. so you know most of my closer European at that time like I showed up and like skinny jeans and a skinny tie and I was a little much for …
Joseph Fung: I love that high schools in Tennessee.
John Housholder: Yes, you know during that time, right? Yes, very, very popular now, but not so much then. So you know, I guess that’s what I blamed on getting a job. I was not offered a job right. Yeah, anywhere, and so you know I was like, what do I do? You know I had made some websites before. Sort of doing a little debt on the side but you know I was looking for something a little more concrete and Dell had a big call center in town and I’d always you know enjoyed computers so you know I went to Dell and actually sold I was in their software and peripherals division which is everything but computers, which is interesting right. So yeah, I think you know one of the great stories from there is you know I worked on the team that sold Dell printers. And another, we kind of talked to the printer…
Joseph Fung: Dell Printer!
John Housholder: Yea, we talked about this before, right, like who’s ever who’s ever bought a dell printer, and that’s the problem we were looking to solve, right?
Joseph Fung: So, how did you do?
John Housholder: I personally did amazing. I was the number one sales rep in the country, and you know all my team…
Joseph Fung: That’s great.
John Housholder: The great thing about it I think our division wasn’t successful because I only sold six printers in a month, so, 140 – 150, you know dollar calls a day calling out on people who had bought a laptop online but had not included a dell printer and offer it for 50% off.
Joseph Fung: Wow!
John Housholder: And so literally you know just over one yes a week and I tried everything like I was like I think only for the next 24 hours, I think for the next 48 hours only until the end of this week like, I tried everything…
Joseph Fung: That’s drooling. Wow!
John Housholder: I had to be very creative, and then after you know quarter, they’re like, well, that we’re done with this, get back to try something out and so.
Joseph Fung: So, hey, I love the way you characterize the story, you come back you know you’re taking swings at but missing, and in interviews, we speak to a lot of people who have similar experiences when they’re trying to figure out you know what’s next then you land that opportunity. And the same thing we hear that. I’d love to hear your perspective on it, though. What surprised you most? You know about that that sales experience. I mean I’m sure you’ve learned a lot since, but as you were sitting in that seat. You’re dialing and trying to sell those printers. What struck with you most?
John Housholder: I mean, I think for me personally like, I love you know a couple things about sales and one of those is just like you know the storytelling aspect and the teaching aspect right. Like you know, having two degrees in education, like, I mean I taught in some schools were you know kids always didn’t want to learn, right. And being able to connect with them and tell them the story about, you know, World War 2 or you know you know what started World War 1 right like just being able to put something in a simple easy to digest you know the format that they could remember hopefully for lesser lives like I think that kind of resonated you know with sales and then unfortunately like selling printers like it is what it is right.
Like, but you know once you get into more like, complicated like you know more solution type selling. I think you know where you need to you know understand your audience. You know, tell a story that it connects to them, right. Because you know that that’s a lot of what tech sales is and in software sales is. You know, connecting those dots and telling that story you know that helps you know a business or a person or a company or whatever you know achieve their goals.
Joseph Fung: I love the way you think about in the way to speak about it, and I really do want to spend more time talking about the printers. But here, you’ve had this unique journey where you’ve done this transition. Again not just once but twice. You’d left Dell, and you lost your own company. Can you tell us a bit about that?
John Housholder: Sure, so you know I was always kind of I kind of looted this. I was building, you know, websites on the side home while I was working at Dell, and I’d started working with a couple people in town. And they were like, “Hey! You gotta meet this guy. He’s coming through town. He’s got he was working with, you know, some political folks in DC. You need to meet with him.” I was like, it was one of another one of those days right like I told about what I’m gonna do at Vienna like for some reason I was off this day. I don’t know why, at Dell, I was off. So, I was like, hey, go grab lunch with the guy and basically, what they were trying to do was to create what you know we now call like a content marketing site, right. Hope to see if there was validity and a woman running on the Republican ticket. And back then, there weren’t a lot of women, you know, running on the Republican ticket.
And so they were gonna have some people write some thought pieces about it, that you know people had heard of and just kind of see like you know Facebook was just kind of coming around like see how many likes and shares and all that kind of stuff they could get. And they said alright, you know I went and I actually learned like WordPress and like a weekend it’s something called a word camp which is like a WordPress conference came home, design, built the thing in like two weeks and then it was ready for launch and you know became pretty popular, and they said, “all right, John. This looks like good, like why don’t you join our team? And you know we’ll pay you, you know, for the next, you know they’re like…
Joseph Fung: Wow!
John Housholder: You know, for the next three months is what they told me, and I was like, well, I really need like a six to a nine-month or twelve-month agreement, right. To leave my job like oh no problem, well.
Joseph Fung: Oh no problem, those, from the three months to two Long ridge, no problem. Okay!
John Housholder: Exactly! So, what do you think happened, well decided, so well the idea got thrown around so much that Sarah Palin.
Joseph Fung: Oh, Wow!
John Housholder: She was gonna be the VP, and so, therefore, they didn’t need the site anymore, and I was back on the job market.
Joseph Fung: Wow, you did so well you kind of worked yourself out of a job their.
John Housholder: Worked myself out of a job, right. So, that bad thought to work. So that’s all I got. you know now it’s my first transition out in sales, and then you just become like you know your own salesperson like running your own company, learning how to sell, right when you’re your livelihood depends on it right and then eventually as you know you grow your company, you know so that you know your employees can be happy and provide for their families that you can provide for yours and so on so…
Joseph Fung: So, that’s a great tip. So, as as an entrepreneur myself, I can empathize with that the joy, the excitement, the tears and fears, and everything in between, you’ve jumped back into sales for a second stint. That’s a tough decision as a founder, as an entrepreneur, to go back to working for someone. You know, what was going on? What was in your mind? What were you considering as you looked at that change?
John Housholder: You know, as a founder of a business owner like you know every year around October, I’d sit down, and I’d have a book. I’m like, you know what have we done well this year? What do we want to do next year? What is the next five years for the company look like? Right? And I had owned the company for ten years, and every year in October, I’d like to write pages and pages and pages. Well, when I went to go do it that last year there’s nothing. Sounds like well. Maybe I’m just tired. Right? Like I just had my first child, you know, maybe I’m just tired. October is blank, November, December, nothing. Right? So, then I was just like, and then I got to the point I just like brought everyone together, and I was like, look, I’m done like, I feel like I’m not leading you well I’m not leading our customers well.
I’m just, I’m burnt out or something right like I’m telling you all this I’m not leaving, you, I’m not leaving you empty-handed, I want you guys to decide if you want to buy this from me or like I’m happy to sell it. I can show you how you know people would price it like we’re not. You know we’re not trying to like take advantage of anyone here. But I’m done. I don’t even have a new job right now. But, I feel like you know it’s someone who’s gonna lead you. Right? That that I need to be upfront and honest with you about where I am. And so you know I mean then I started you know I’d already kind of like started the discussions you know with WP Engine they were. I was at 1,500 customers, there’s one hundred, one hundred and ten thousand now. Right. And so you know, I kind of gone through some back channels and started talking to them a little bit.
You know, and I’d talked to the head of sales, and you know I was going to be the first remote hire for the sales organization. Which now I think it’s like 120 worldwide. And I mean we have you know sales folks and in London and in Brisbane, Australia. But we had never, you know, hired someone like from Nashville or wherever right like. It was going to be on their own. So you know, and I kind of looked at and I was like you go you know they said we need you to sell the people who were just like you like your profile is gonna you know, you’re gonna be able to talk to people who were just like you. Right? And I was like, “hold it! That’s interesting! Right. Something…”
Joseph Fung: Did that work out like that? I mean the idea of stepping in and selling to an ICP that an ideal customer profile that you know and live and breathe. That’s a great opportunity. But is that what you got to experience?
John Housholder: I mean, you know you’re in sales, right? So, things change personally, you know, like we’re a really fast growing company, right? So, things are always evolving and changing. But most of the time, it looked similar took to what I was doing. You know, I think you know in our space, right in the software space, in the agency space, right? You know there are some similarities between people, right? And so, like you can, I can quickly connected folks right in tell stories right. So I mean, I think those things remain insistent, and you know that’s ultimately helped me be successful at the company.
Joseph Fung: So, now that you’re in this new role. You’re selling to, I mean you’re selling a much more sophisticated product. And thinking back to your Dell printers, and arguably a more strategic purchase. What’s been your big takeaway now? You know, what surprised you most about this side of selling?
John Housholder: Sure, I think that you know, especially with what’s with what is going on in the world right now, right. With Covid and just a lot of businesses, you know, moving more online or moving more of their experiences online. It’s really exciting, you know, space to be in just overall. Right. Like I know you you’ve never done Kirk’s on delivery or even thought of selling your products online, or maybe you need to sell them a different way. Like being innovative that way. I think you know also just with WP engine being like a WordPress platform right.
An open-source platform, you know it allows people to build those experiences a lot faster. And for oftentimes a lot lower price point. Then, if they would have, you know, purchase something you know originally, I thought a little bit more upmarket, a lot more expensive, and a lot more time to like get to market right. And which I think is like a great place right like I’m able to help folks do that right and basically, you know for lack of a better term like a kind of save their business right because it doesn’t take a year and a half to implement. This thing right, you can do it on a month.
Joseph Fung: And that’s fantastic and is, I imagine hearing that coming from someone, who is a business owner and an entrepreneur themselves, that must come across really clearly and be a delight to hear in it, you know sales call. So, I can imagine how fun your sales calls are right now! Must be great!
John Housholder: Great there, and I’ve got all the bruises. Right. I’ve done it before.
Joseph Fung: Yeah!
John Housholder: I’ve been successful and not successful, right. So, I can, you know, share those experiences, which is fun and exciting, etc.
Joseph Fung: Well, I gotta say, I mean as a customer, I’m really happy to plan for, and I’m really happy that this is working out better for you than the printers. This is a good thing.
John Housholder: Yeah, I can tell you that I only sold six in a month. I’d probably be looking for another job right now.
Joseph Fung: John, this has been great! Do you mind if we hit some rapid-fire questions before you need to go?
John Housholder: Sure!
Joseph Fung: Awesome! Okay, well, we’ll keep these quick for you. Sales tools. What is your favorite sales tool?
John Housholder: I love Dachshund?
Joseph Fung: Nice! That was, there was confidence there. Do you end up using it a lot?
John Housholder: I love to provoke a better term stalk. Right. When I’ve seen, I’ve talked to you about something for however long. I’ve told my stories, you know I’m gonna see that if you want to learn more. Right. So, like you know, I love seeing like the notification come up that head, that spent, you know, someone spent five minutes. Maybe, great. So, I’m doing my job, right.
Joseph Fung: Okay, so that’s great for that workspace. But outside of work, personally, movies. What’s your favorite movie?
John Housholder: Sure, I think, you know, Braveheart is always been favorite one of mine, right. The classic story of…
Joseph Fung: It is!
John Housholder: Of beating the big guys right. Even though you’re on demand.
Joseph Fung: Nice! Okay, you have been a teacher, you have been an entrepreneur, you in sales and tech. But, when you were a little kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
John Housholder: This is gonna be depressing. I wanted to be a teacher.
Joseph Fung: I don’t know about depressing. You got to do it right away!
John Housholder: You gotta, got to do it right away. But I didn’t end up right there so.
Joseph Fung: Well, you accomplished the dream and didn’t set anyway. Yeah, I will receive that.
John Housholder: Yeah, or it could have been, you know I’m watching all the Michael Jordan documentaries. So, it also could have been Michael Jordan’s.
Joseph Fung: There you go. John, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and taking the time to speak with us.
John Housholder: Thank you so much. I have really enjoyed it.
Joseph Fung: Looking forward to our next conversation. I hope you stay safe, and we’ll chat again soon.
John Housholder: Sounds good!