In this episode: Tariq Esmail, Sales Lead at Shopify, joins us to share how he has progressed in sales through a variety of industries. What was it like selling in both start-ups and scale-ups? How to make the best of your ambition? And, how to keep your head based in reality when things are going well? All that up next!
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In this episode: Tariq Esmail, Sales Lead at Shopify, shares his sales progress through a variety of industries, selling in both start-ups and scale-ups, etc.
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’re speaking with Tariq Esmail. He’s a Retail Sales Leader at Shopify. Tariq, thank you so much for your time today.
Tariq Esmail: Thank You, Joseph. Super excited to be speaking with you today.
Joseph Fung: Now, you’ve had a really interesting journey. You’ve been in a number of industries you’re, working at one of the most dynamic companies in the world. And now you’re leading a retail sales team. Can you give me the elevator pitch? You know what does your team offers? Or what a Shopify do? Well, why should we be sending customers your way?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah, absolutely, so, at a very high level, let’s just start with Shopify. The mission statement here is to make commerce better for everyone. So, you know commerce being the transactions, exchange of goods or services, everyone being, the businesses we work with, they are consumers, they are customers, they are suppliers, wholesalers even the shippers and logistics companies. So, that’s Shopify at a very high level. I’m going to focus a little bit on what my team works on. So, I work within the retail team. So, we work specifically with businesses who do have physical locations, brick-and-mortar stores. And we help them implement and adopt the Shopify products and services that are going to be best suited for them.
Joseph Fung: Now, if you’re working with bricks and mortar stores. We’re all you know working from home, shelter in place a lot of retail shut down. How’s the current environment impacting your team?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah! So, I think like for a lot of people it’s been a world of change. Specifically, for us what we’re seeing you know working with businesses who had to actually close their doors, is that we feel, we’ve been kind of pushed for we’re into the future you know we do believe that being able to sell engage with consumers in an omnichannel way. So, that’s in store online on social media and marketplaces.
We do feel that that’s the future and I think for a lot of businesses who’ve been forced to close their doors during the lockdown. They’ve really had to focus on exactly that their omnichannel, their online, their social, their marketplace strategy. Because of course for a lot of businesses who do you know more than 90 percent of their business in store right now that’s no longer an option. So, we’ve been working with those businesses to leverage the other channels to be able to make up for some of the revenue that they’re not getting at the cash register today.
Joseph Fung: This is awesome! So, this is where you’re right now. Let’s rewind, gonna go back and maybe you can help our audience. Where did you go to school? And what puts your first roll out of school?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah! Great question! So, I actually went to school at Western, the University of Western Ontario. And I was a science student doing Biology and Psychology. And at the time you know for me I was a stem student. I had a science background, and I think during my undergraduate.
I found that I wouldn’t be interested in spending too much time in a lab and I felt I was missing some of the more social dimensions that are important to me. So, coming out of school I decided that I would try and find a job that would be more corporate you know less theoretical and sales was a natural place to be able to do that without having any prior corporate or business education or experience. So, getting into sales was a little bit out of circumstance initially. But, you know I fell in love with it. And I’m still in it today eight years later or so.
Joseph Fung: Now, for some of our guests what we find is that the twists and turns and subplots of their story is more about their journey getting into sales whereas, I think for you more of it is during your time in the sale. So, do you mind if we unbox some of the other stuff?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah! Yeah! Absolutely!
Joseph Fung: Okay! So, I know that we spoke and you’ve worked in a couple of industries. You’re your first selling role, the Marcus Evans group. Can you give a quick version? What were you selling into who?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah. So, Marcus Evans would put on conferences, corporate training conferences. For their executives to stay up to date on their industry or the regulations in their industry. So, for example, if you worked in pharma or maybe foodservice and restaurants or even oil and gas, a lot of regulations in these industries. And so, we put on conferences for executives to be able to refresh their knowledge and stay up to date on these changes. And so, Marcus Evans would organize the conference, organize the speakers and the content, and then I was one of the reps responsible for bringing these executives from these industries to actually attend the conference and learn about these new regulations or their changing industry.
Joseph Fung: Nice, so now you’re selling events tickets to professionals. But, then you move into another sales role in the AdTech space. Can you share a bit more about your time at OutRank?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah! So, Rogers OutRank, was you know large sales team. I think we had a hundred and fifty or 200 people there. Very structured, we were selling to small businesses like contractors, lawyers, or dentists to help them get more clients by being found online on Google through SEO and pay-per-click advertising as well.
So, a very large very well-oiled machine is what I would call that that sales team, clear and strict process, monthly quotas, a lot of outbound cold calling and selling. And I think I really learned a lot about some of the fundamentals and also found a lot of my confidence in selling products there. And that’s really where I think I fell in love also with having a quota and a clear goal tour towards. So, I spent about a year there, and I think the first three months, or so I struggled and finally hit my stride. And even to this day, I think a lot of the skills that I apply and then I’m teaching my team a lot of those were learned too at Rogers OutRank.
Joseph Fung: Can you give a couple of examples? You know what sticks with you as a key take away from your experience there?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah! I think for me when I say fundamentals what I’m referring to at Rogers, I learned how to use tone instead of logic when trying to convey a point or being able to use questions to make a point rather than having to just make statements. And also I mentioned confidence, I think having the confidence to you know ask for the business or you know handle an objection properly, and still, persuader encouraged this person to move towards the goal you’re looking for. A lot of those really core things I think I learned at Rogers and laid the foundation for how I approach my job today.
Joseph Fung: Okay! So, far we’ve got, you know a school, first Direct Selling, structured selling, building up the skills. Still not really in a core tech role but then you’ve got the opportunity to go to the Top Hat. And this is an interesting story. How did that come to be?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah, I think it was really like many opportunities. It was just a matter of good fortune good timing. It was my Direct Manager and also director above that who were moving over to Top Hat. and I was still early in my career, I didn’t know too much about you know tech sales, I didn’t even understand and the grand scheme of things where I sat when I was at Rogers and what this whole sales thing could be. But I did know that very exciting tech company, venture back tech companies were growing very quickly.
They had this reputation of having, open environments full of energy yeah disruptive and innovative all the buzzwords, I suppose. And for me at that time you know being young, relatively ignorant, I was looking at Rogers this telecom mega-corporation, and then this young, exciting AdTech startup or I guess it was kind of medium-sized at that point. And the manager and director wanted me to go with them. And so I didn’t know much better. I said I have strong leaders here sounds like an exciting company, I was a having lot of potential, and so I followed them and ended up at Top Hat. And that was my first I think real kind of tech sales role up to that point.
Joseph Fung: So, how when you think about them moving on, it’s an interesting decision as a manager, as a director to say hey I’ve got this team member who I think is good enough that I want to take them with me. What do you think you did to get that invitation?
Tariq Esmail: I you know I think, and it was myself and a few other reps on the team as well, and I think for me what they saw is I was eager, I was ambitious, I worked very very hard. You know in the absence of knowledge experience or talent, I compensated by working as hard as I possibly could. And I think you know sitting where I am today having had some management experience when I come across someone who is eager, who wants to learn and who wants to work hard, those are amongst the most important traits for any person on my team. So, I think that’s likely why they wanted to take me or invited me to go with them and still feel quite lucky that, that was the case.
Joseph Fung: And how did things go at Top Hat. You know you were there for a little over a year and a half or so. You know what were some of the high points?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah! So, yeah a year and a half exactly, I love the environment at Top Hat you know what I expected in terms of young teams, full of energy and very specific that you know I must have been 24. So, not too much time since I had graduated and now working at this company where I was working with universities. It actually felt like quite natural and like a great place to be. And, I think the skills that I learned at Rogers a much more structured environment allowed me to be successful at Top Hat in the early days. And I also struggled with the transition a bit you know working with business owners at Rogers, talking about getting clients and their top and bottom line and then moving to Top Hat rows now engaging with professors. Definitely, a wide range of personalities you’re dealing with.
They have different reasons for wanting to be professors and different goals and outcomes that they expect from their work. So you’re having a lot more different conversations in that environment that I had been at Rogers. But anyways, it was a great experience, I absolutely love the environment. I think towards the end of my time there. While I had done well, I think I kind of lost balance and was in a more difficult place personally and definitely made some mistakes towards the end of my time there. But, overall, it was a great experience. And I think that’s when I decided I wanted to stay with tech companies and specifically with high-growth tech companies.
Joseph Fung: Now! Every journey has ups and downs, and I know we focused a lot on the ups, and you shared earlier that you are willing to speak about some of the down. So, thank you again for that. You had mentioned that you were actually let go from Top Hat. Can you share a little bit about those circumstances?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah! Yeah! Absolutely! I can. I was like go from Top Hat, and you know to that point again you’ve heard me say it a couple of times I think I was young and naïve. But, I’d been doing quite well in my roles to that point, and I think I was a little more confident, I think the word is cocky that I should have been. Still, young making more money than I thought I thought I would be. Not a lot of balance in my life, not a lot of structure and routine and definitely enjoying being you know 24 or 25 years old. As I think some people are likely to do. And I think I lost focus on my work.
I wasn’t passionate about it. I wasn’t approaching it with the same commitment to our eagerness that I had been. I think there were potential distractions in my life, and I took my eye off the prize that I lost focus on my career a little bit. And you know my numbers slipped, I don’t think socially I was the best person to be around and I probably wasn’t being a great teammate either whether that meant working with the BDR supporting me or the onboarding team who was trying to help my deals go live. I don’t think I approached those relationships in the best way possible. A little too self-interested.
Joseph Fung: Yeah! If you were speaking to someone in a similar situation, what are some of the specific behavior changes that you might have suggested to yourself or to someone in a similar boat?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah! So, I think one thing to remember and this is this resonates with me is to stay humble. You will do well, you will have great months, great quarters and you’ll also have miserable ones. But you really just have to kind of stay level. Don’t let your ego get the best of you. Even if you know, you’re setting records, or you’ve had a great month or several in a row. You know it’s that’s not permanent you will have ups and downs. And if you’re not behaving properly during your ups, I found it’ll come back to haunt you during your down. So try and stay level, and don’t get too up, don’t get too down, focus on your process, focus on your skill set, and continuing to do the right things.
If the outcome goes your way, that’s amazing. If it doesn’t, that’s okay, don’t let your pride or your ego and step in and take responsibility for all those wins and take control of your life. And I think hand-in-hand with that being humble is to really listen. You will get two points in your career where everything seems great, you will feel invincible, and you will feel like the smartest person in the room. And if you do not step back and stop yourself from feeling that way, you may start to believe it, you’ll stop listening to people, and the reality is there so many people around you who have done things you haven’t done, who have experiences that you don’t have and have learned lessons that if you just listen to them, you will learn them without having to experience them yourself. And in many cases that’s important.
Joseph Fung: Now, you spoke about you know the kind of how you might have changed your behavior, and I think those insights are fantastic. Earlier before a call you characterized it as a painful wake-up call, and I know you took a bit of a gap between your time a Top Hat and your next role, what did you do to kind of get yourself back up in the saddle? If we want to use that metaphor. How did you get yourself over those challenges?
Tariq Esmail: Yeah! So, I was you know when I was like oh this hit me like a punch in the face. I was doing well. I was confident I was cocky like I said. And this was extremely humbling, it knocked me and knocked me down. And I think I you know, I struggled with a little bit of depression, I mean it wasn’t diagnosed, but I was certainly at a low moment in my life, and I don’t mean to use the word lightly, but I really think that’s what it was I faced a bit of a crisis. I didn’t know if I was gonna get back into tech or sales at all. So, a couple of months of just spiraling I would say, and then I think I was lucky I joined my father on a trip to Kenya which is where he’s from Nairobi Kenya originally. And spent about a month there with him.
I’m kind of just disconnected from my previous life and all my existing relationships and obligations or you know perceived obligations. And I think that freed me up to really think. Shift my mentality to be more forward-thinking. Let the situation that had occurred go, accept it as being a part of my past, and really changed from spiraling to Planet. And I think I decided at that point that, I did love sales. I did want to get back into tech and any opportunity that I could line up at that point I would get into it, and I would do it with renewed commitments. I think that’s what I did and I was quite lucky. Actually, it was a director at Clio, who coincidentally had also worked at Rogers so we’d worked a little bit together, not directly, but she wanted to give me a chance at Clio.
And that was a moment in my life where my confidence was like bottom, doubt it was zero, I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to do an interview, and she really gave me a chance. I think she knew that I’d been let go and I’d been in a very weird place mentally and personally. And she gave me a chance at Clio and that kind of put me back on the track that I’m on today but for me coming out of this I was I felt like a more, complete human-like I wanted this, I didn’t get into sales this time out of circumstance. I wasn’t feeling it out, I knew what it was, and you know I wanted it, and I think every day since then, I’ve been more directed and deliberate with my career and my craft.
Joseph Fung: A big thumbs up to her for giving me that opportunity as well. That’s, it’s awesome to reach back out to previous employees and to give those kinds of opportunities. So, it’s a big, two big thumbs up to that manager as well.
Tariq Esmail: I think I think I wouldn’t be doing her justice, if I didn’t name-dropper, if that’s okay, Elana Shulman, thank you. I know you’re out there and I really appreciate you.
Joseph Fung: Elena, thank you so much for giving Tariq that opportunity. Big props to you. Tariq, I’ve kept you longer than I promised I would. I appreciate you opening up so much. Do you have time for a couple of rapid-fire questions before we wrap up?
Tariq Esmail: Definitely!
Joseph Fung: Okay! So, in your journey, you’ve had some ups and downs, you’ve worked at some of the best tech companies in Canada, North America. First on, tools. What’s your favorite sales tool?
Tariq Esmail: I love using Gong. I feel like they give me the eyes to see what my gut is telling me. I love Gong.
Joseph Fung: Nice! What about your favorite movie?
Tariq Esmail: Birdman. I’m into the kind of psychological, meta-type stuff so Birdman. Yeah.
Joseph Fung: Great and then, when you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
Tariq Esmail: I love cars! I’ve really wanted to design cars as a kid. I didn’t know if that was like as an artist or as an artist or an engineer. I just loved cars and used to draw them all the time.
Joseph Fung: That is great! Oh, but I love the specificity of that designing cars. Tariq, thank you so much not just for your time, but for opening up and sharing your journey with everyone. I know those conversations aren’t always easy and I really appreciate you being as candid as you have with us today.
Tariq Esmail: Hey, thank you so much for hearing me out.
Joseph Fung: My pleasure! I’m so looking forward to keeping in touch into our next conversation. Thanks again for joining us and wishing you all the successes, in your role at Shopify and helping all those businesses get online.
Tariq Esmail: Thank you!
Joseph Fung: You take care!
Tariq Esmail: Bye!