In today’s job market, you may feel like opportunities are passing you by. You might see success stories plastered all over your social timelines of people you know landing jobs you may never have. The secret is that many of these people may have connections that boost them to what may seem like an unattainable level.
So how do you step your game up?
It’s easy to start feeling like you may be too old, too poor, too remote, or just not good enough to land a fulfilling and financially rewarding career. People of color even have a harder time breaking into upwardly mobile careers.
But there’s one path that you may not have thoroughly considered: tech sales. Even though you may think that sales is a pushy and purposeless field, it’s actually at the center of one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy.
And because so many tech companies are in need of salespeople to grow, they’re willing to hire anyone who can do the job, no matter who they know or whether they went to college.
Few people know the transformative power of a tech sales career better than Norman Rodriguez, the founder of Elevate. Before we dig into the story of how he started helping others through Elevate, let’s cover the program.
Elevate is a career accelerator for candidates looking to break into tech sales, led by a diverse group of senior sales leaders representing multiple communities.Kickstart your tech sales career with Elevate.
What Is Elevate?
Elevate is a tech sales community that trains its members to enter the field as elite candidates. Though the program has several courses, most members start their careers in the sales development representative (SDR) bootcamp, the first of three summits that guide members through their tech sales journey.
We’ve covered what these summits have to offer in our deep dive on Elevate. To summarize, the courses focus heavily on cutting-edge instruction and learning through practice. For over 10 weeks, students learn foundational skills ranging from finding and directly contacting leads to using important customer relationship technology.
This program opens doors to great careers for everyone. Diversity is a central tenet of Elevate’s mission, not an afterthought. Norman believes that diverse workplaces achieve more than those with a more homogeneous makeup, and the data is on his side.
Several studies show that diverse teams lead to higher profits for companies. The different perspectives each team member brings to each issue allow for more flexibility than homogenous teams with the same experiences. But as we’ll hear from Norman later, Elevate’s strategy goes beyond just producing candidates to tick off a box.
After members graduate from their bootcamps, they give back to the community through Elevate’s alumni success department. Alumni patiently listen to questions from new members and help them with common problems as they start their careers. With this invaluable guidance and a practice-focused curriculum, Elevate works to remove all barriers to success.
It may seem odd to focus on tech sales when bootcamps usually focus on training new developers. But, when you look at the numbers, there are a lot of sales opportunities in the rapidly growing tech industry.
Why Tech Sales?
Tech companies, large or small, rely on their sales teams to help them grow their market cap. Large companies like Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, IBM have substantially increased their value over the past decade. Though many of these companies offer consumer products, they rely on big corporate contracts to keep the money flowing.
Apple outfits developer teams with computers and phones. Amazon provides cloud computing services for many of the biggest companies in the world. Alphabet’s Google Suite helps maintain productivity for companies while also providing cloud storage. These companies also keep expanding their offerings to ensure they always have something to attract new customers.
Sales development representatives play a key role in ensuring each company accomplishes its mission. They find new clients, keep their existing clients happy, and always find ways to build relationships that later become opportunities. Because they offer so much value to employers, SDR roles can be the path to a fair salary and a true career instead of a dead-end job.
As we mentioned above, Elevate’s founder knows firsthand how transformative SDR positions can be. Norman went from working a dead-end job to boosting a small company’s value to a $20 million buyout. He sees people who know they deserve more and are willing to fight for it, and he shows them how to get what they want the best way he knows how.
Meet Elevate’s Founder: Norman Rodriguez’s Story
“I was given a destiny,” Norman said. “I was going to follow in the footsteps of some of my immediate family who were union workers that worked for the MTA in New York City as bus drivers.”
“That idea was never really exciting to me, but I also lived in a small town in Upstate New York, and didn’t really understand what other opportunities there were.”
At the time, he wasn’t connected to other upwardly mobile families, and he didn’t even know about tools like LinkedIn. He was in a pocket of the world where he felt like his life, however undesirable, may have already been laid out for him.
His first step in fighting against this destiny was moving to California for a relationship. But even in a new environment, opportunity eluded him. “I was immediately surrounded by this tech boom with signs for companies like Uber and Airbnb everywhere,” Norman said. “I had no clue what these things were, but I knew I could be a good waiter.”
For about three years, Norman worked as a waiter at a San Francisco restaurant, but he kept pushing himself. Eventually, he got the opportunity to prove he was capable of more.
Stepping into Tech
“One thing led to another, and I ended up interning at city hall,” Norman said. “I got to work in a campaign. And I did really well in the campaign and met some friends that were upwardly mobile. They brought me to a party where, lo and behold, there were some Google employees.”
It was then that he felt encouraged to send his resume. Soon, he was interviewing for a job with one of the biggest tech companies in the world.
“I got into the best suit I could get into, and went through all three intensive interviews with Google,” Norman said. “The suit probably had holes and stains, but they took a chance because they saw that there I had intense potential, deep curiosity, I was willing to be authentic, and I was aggressive.”
That risk paid off for both sides. Google got an amazing SDR, and Norman got the validation he needed to know that he was in the right place.
“I was one of the top three SDRs at Google for their entire western division of the United States,” Norman said. “I also ended up being in the top of all the United States because we competed against the east coast.”
As Norman found his footing in the field, he began to understand why companies passed him over at the start of his career.
The Diversity Gap in Tech
“Before Google gave me a job, every other company said, ‘Yeah, right…You don’t have a degree, we’re looking for more experience,’ et cetera,” Norman said. “So I knew that the majority of our industry overlooked people like me and probably for good reason. These companies are backed by venture capitalists that want to take on as little risk as possible.”
But Norman believes that this cautious approach from big companies leads to a lack of diversity, which could hurt them even more in the future.
“Because they won’t take risks, they’re only hiring from the same pool that exists,” Norman said. “So the diversity of opinion, the diversity of perspective that can ultimately make a sales team more effective is really hard to get because everyone is used to the same playbooks.”
Norman realized that if he could help make his field more diverse, he’d be helping to improve the entire industry. But he wasn’t ready for the leap to instruction just yet.
“I realized the need early on and the opportunity, but I never had a model for it,” Norman said. “Instead, I went from Google to a startup called Pluma Coaching. It was a beautiful opportunity because we only received $50,000 in funding and the rest was all bootstrapped. So we truly had to know what it meant to be lean and to be self-sufficient.”
He was the only salesperson on a five-person team. Before long, that team was going up against bigger fish who had to answer to many more people.
“I was able to just execute, execute, execute, and within a year and a half, we drove $5 million in net new business,” Norman said. “As just a five-people team with enterprise accounts. We took Uber at that time. We took Capital One. We took Ernst and Young, one of the big four.”
The team ended up exiting the startup two years later, with a $20 million buyout from Skillshare. The secret to his sales success was providing the absolute best product, regardless of their company’s size, they could tweak the content to fit their clients’ needs and respond to any issues quickly.
The success at Pluma Coaching showed Norman the model for introducing diversity into the industry: be the best.
“My vision has always been: let’s not just bring diverse candidates into tech sales,” Norman said. “Let’s take diverse candidates, invite them in, and give them such a robust curriculum and training experience that they are undoubtedly the best candidate beyond the fact that they are black, brown, or of diverse nature. They’re just, by output, the best candidate.”
After his time at Pluma, he felt he was finally ready to give back to the profession that had opened so many doors for him. He was going to give people, regardless of the color of their skin, their financial situation, or the place they live, the best instruction and the best jumping-off point to start a new career that he could.
For Elevate, that instruction begins with instructors who are actively leading high-quality sales teams.
“Instead of having low-cost instructors that may be paid hourly or recent graduates from our program teaching our students, let’s lean into the idea of over-investing in the member,” Norman said. “In fact, one of our core values is everything for the members. So let’s over-invest in the member, let’s take a hit on our margins so that we can have bleeding edge sales leaders as instructors.”
These leaders are developing sales teams, seeing industry best practices arise in real time, and learning the best new approaches to every part of the job as they come into being. And the program’s outcomes speak for themselves, with 80 percent of all members earning a job before the 10-week course is complete.
Norman believes his career would’ve gone even better if he’d had a resource like Elevate when he was first starting out, and he’s happy that people have opportunities he didn’t.
“I had one member just this past Monday tell me that they had no idea tech even existed before they met me and Elevate,” Norman said. “They told me that six weeks later, they went from breaking their back as a carpenter making $15 an hour, and then they were all of a sudden making $75,000 OTE [on-target earnings].”
Take Your First Step in Tech Sales Today
Tech sales is a field with room for anyone who may be interested. Elevate isn’t designed to turn you into a pushy used car salesperson either. This program is built to teach people cutting-edge sales techniques, including how to build genuine relationships that can pay off for a lifetime.
Norman knows what it’s like to feel stuck in a job that’s going nowhere, and he has some advice for people that may be afraid to leap into a tech sales career.
“You can do it,” Norman said. “You belong. This is yours. This is a signal that this is your moment and you can take it. And if you take it and you invest and you take it seriously, everything is for the member. We will never stop investing in you to make sure you’re a success.”
If you’d like to learn more, apply to Elevate today.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.