From his time spent as a door-to-door salesman, Baba Gana always knew he wanted to be in sales, but just wasn’t sure how to make the leap from business and marketing to tech sales in Silicon Valley. His MIB advisor recommended the free tech sales bootcamp SV Academy and Baba’s career has continued to grow ever since. Undaunted by SV Academy’s 3% admittance rate and intensive 4-week tech sales bootcamp, Baba Gana tells us how SV Academy helped him get two promotions in one year for his first full-time tech sales job!
What did you do before SV Academy?
I did my undergraduate degree at Georgia Southern University in Georgia where I double-majored in marketing and logistics. After that, I decided to move to San Francisco to get my Master's in International Business at Hult International Business School. I enrolled in SV Academy while getting my master’s, and so simultaneously completed my master's degree and graduated from both schools at the same time!
Why did you decide to attend a sales bootcamp?
I did Vector Marketing during my undergraduate degree and was selling cutlery door-to-door. It was a tough experience, but I enjoyed the challenge! It's something that I knew a lot of people wouldn't and can’t do. After going through that, I knew I could do anything. I set my sights on Silicon Valley and selling tech products there. Without Vector Marketing, I'm not sure I would have ever gone into sales.
Did you research other sales bootcamps before choosing SV Academy?
I found out about SV Academy first and I was sold! When I was about to finish my master's, I talked to my advisor about what my next steps should be, what jobs I should be applying for, and what I would be qualified for. My advisor thought I would be a good fit for SV Academy. I did my research and looked through their website. They had a 3% acceptance rate at the time, so I didn't think I would get in but I knew I had to at least try.
What is SV Academy's admissions process like?
It's a long and rigorous admissions process. After you apply, you have a call with an admissions team member. If they like you and feel you're a good fit, they move you to the next round where you take a survey to test your logical reasoning, culture fit, and professional fit. After the survey, you're pushed on to a skills assessment. The survey and assessment are 1-2 hours long. Lastly, you talk to the CEO who tells you if you got accepted. That was one of the toughest interviews I've ever done. It was even tougher than my interview for Instapage, the job I have now!
Is SV Academy really free? What does that mean for students?
The tuition is completely free, which is what makes SV Academy very selective and keeps their admissions rate low. SV Academy gets over 1,000 applicants a week! They want to make sure you'll get a sales job because they only get paid if you get a job after graduating.
What did the SV Academy curriculum cover? How much time were you putting into this program on a weekly basis?
SV Academy is only a month long and it's intense. The course covered sales, personalized emails, how to find and talk to prospects, teamwork, and developing scripts. The program is mostly online, so we use Zoom and Slack to communicate. The curriculum and assignments were all delivered through Canvas. The biggest thing I learned was the growth mindset, and it totally changed the way I worked. SV Academy showed me that if something negative happens, instead of getting down about it, understand why it happened and figure out how to prevent it in the future. They taught me how to persevere and keep going.
When I went through the program, it was 15-weeks part time, and I put about 20 hours per week into SV Academy. I was probably putting in almost 35 hours per week into my master's degree at the time, too. I had no life during this program because I was doing my master's at the same time. Both my master's degree and SV Academy required a lot of teamwork, so I had to vigilantly manage my time and where I needed to be.
What types of sales projects did you build at SV Academy?
We did presentations as if we were working as Sales Development Representatives or Business Development Representatives pitching to a Chief Marketing Officer on why they should buy our product. We'd present it to the class and our teacher. I was nervous about that project but our team did the best!
We also had to customize scripts with a partner. These scripts were essentially what we would say to someone if we were talking to them on the phone. We would roleplay with a partner who would give objections and we would have to handle the objections and turn it around to a purchase.
Now that you’ve been working in the industry, what do you think makes a great tech salesperson?
Perseverance! I cannot stress that enough. There are going to be months when you don’t make quarterly goals, months where no one will reach back out to you. You have to keep pushing. That’s important.
You also need to have a short-term memory in this job. There are people who are going to be rude to you. If someone tells you off or hangs up on you, move on to the next one. It's okay. You can't think of it as bothering someone. What you're really doing is helping them out. You're not reaching out to everyone in the world. You're reaching out to people that you have prospected because you know that this could benefit them and make their lives easier. You could be helping them get a promotion because this platform is improving their work. You have to dig in that way and stay goal-oriented.
Who were your classmates? What was your cohort like?
We were bonded! It was like being in a close family of coworkers. We still have happy hours twice a year with all of the graduates of SV Academy. It’s nice to reminisce with my cohort at those events. Our network is constantly reaching out to each other letting everyone know when their company is hiring or if they're looking for a job.
Also there are people from all over the country in SV Academy. After the program, anyone who wasn't in one of SV Academy’s hubs (New York or San Francisco) would relocate for their job placement. SV Academy has now spread out to Atlanta and Toronto, too.
SV Academy isn't a pass/fail program, but keep in mind that it’s still competitive within your cohort. Each cohort has some star players who clearly perform better than others. Those people will most likely get placed with employers first and get more offers than somebody else.
Tell us about your Mindset Coach and Communications Coach – how do those people support you at SV Academy?
During the program, you have a Mindset Coach and a Communications Coach. The Communications Coach focuses on helping you with emails, writing, speaking, and articulation. We met with the Communications Coach three times during the 15-week program.
The Mindset Coach is basically a Career Coach and met with us every week during the program to help us stay positive and in a growth mindset. If we had anything going on in our lives that was stressing us out, the Mindset Coach would keep us going. The Mindset Coach also helps you during the entire first year of your placement. I could lean on her when there was something I wasn't sure if I should tell my manager. She gave me feedback and tips, and that was extremely beneficial.
Towards the end of the program, we also had an Interview Coach. We met with them about three times, and they gave us tips on how to present ourselves and taught us how to get the best offer possible.
What’s the best advice you got from your Interview Coach?
Because I lived in Georgia before I moved to California, I noticed that the culture is completely different here. I'm used to the suit-and-tie, hair-slicked-back, Southern hospitality-style of interview. I did that at one of my mock interviews here at SV Academy before I started real interviews. I said, "Yes, sir," and my Interview Coach stopped the whole interview and told me not to say that in a real interview here in California. He commended my respect for elders, but pointed out that people here don't register “Sir” as respect.
Tell us about your new job! What does Instapage do?
Instapage Post-Click is the leading digital advertising conversion cloud. I started as a Sales Development Representative (SDR), which is basically entry-level sales. All of the graduates from SV Academy start as SDRs. After five months, I got promoted to Associate Customer Success Manager, which is post-sales. I made sure that the client was getting the best return on investment and using the platform properly. After nine months of that, I got promoted to Customer Success Manager. I talk to clients and go over their goals, conversion rates, how to use the platform, and strategize on how to get a better ROI. My next goal is to get promoted to a Managerial role.
How did you land this job? Did SV Academy set you up with the job at Instapage?
Yes! SV Academy gets you interviews with multiple companies and then you choose from those companies and commit to working at least one year with that company. All of the research that SV Academy does on you during the admissions process as well as the information that the coaches gather during the program helps them get to know you, maybe even better than you know yourself!
The great thing about SV Academy is that they place you with companies where they think you will thrive. If they didn't think I was a good fit, they wouldn't have recommended me. They do this because after you move from SV Academy into your first full-time role, you have to work there for at least a year. They want to make sure that you're adding value to your company. They put you through the program for free and placed you in a job, so they don't want you to leave after two months. That's not fair to the company or the academy.
Is the sales job what you expected?
It is exactly what I expected! SV Academy prepared me well for it. I knew that it was not a job where you can simply show up from 9-5 and leave. You have to come in and put in the effort. People are going to be rude sometimes, and you have to be ready to live in a world of rejection. No one wants to be a Sales Development Representative forever, so when I started at Instapage, I always came in early. I was a sponge, learning from my coworkers. I worked hard to be as successful as possible, do the role as well as possible, and get promoted as quickly as possible.
What does the typical day of an SDR look like?
As an SDR, I came in early, so I was at the office from 8am-5pm. In the morning, I would set up and start hitting the phones. I would try to get as much done as possible before prospects get in the office and get busy. The best time to call is in the morning when people are just getting to work. Then, I would spend an hour sending emails which I had drafted the night before. I draft them the night before because people check their emails first thing in the morning. You want your email to be at the top of a prospect's inbox! That increases the chances of the customer responding to you instead of being buried at the bottom. I would then do more prospecting via the LinkedIn Sales Navigator and Apollo, and after lunch, hop on the phones again. I’d finish up the day sending one more round of emails before people head home. Before leaving for the day, I would draft emails for the next morning.
Every day is different, of course, and this schedule does not include meetings – we have internal and external meetings, manager meetings, VP meetings, department meetings. Everything gets jumbled in and you have to make sure you're as proactive and organized as possible. Coming in early as an SDR will up your game!
Have you continued to learn more about sales on the job? How do you stay sharp?
I’ve started watching Ted talks by CEOs of companies in California to hear how they talk, and learn their mannerisms and hand gestures to get used to the Silicon Valley culture. I also never stop researching how things work, who does what, terminology, abbreviations in order to build that knowledge and have a good understanding of how the business works so that I can work in any department. I read customer success books, too.
Once I was placed in my job, I was assigned a new Mindset Coach from SV Academy. The new Mindset Coach has more career experience and gave me a fresh perspective. This was especially helpful for me during my first year on the job. It was my first full-time job, I was far from home, the San Fran culture was different from Georgia, and the career was somewhat new to me. There was nobody around me here that I could lean on, so having this Mindset Coach helped me immensely.
What was your biggest roadblock on this journey into tech sales?
Doing SV Academy while I was doing my master's at the same time was tough. But that's not a roadblock – it's a challenge. If I can do that, I know anybody can. I saw people do it with a part-time job or with kids. If we can do it, there's no excuse.
Another roadblock was understanding the culture. If you're not from Silicon Valley and you've never been here, I highly recommend visiting to get a sense of the culture. I wish I did that before I came, so that I could have been even more prepared.
Either way, the thing about roadblocks is that you have to turn them into opportunities. Mindset helps a lot.