From AE to CEO: Entrepreneurial Life Lessons with Asad Zaman

Talent acquisition - Asad Zaman - Sales Hacker Podcast Image

In the 200th episode of the Sales Hacker Podcast, we have Asad Zaman, CEO of Sales Talent Agency (STA), where he rose through the ranks from AE to CEO, earning recognition as Toronto’s Young Professional of the Year (2019). Join us for an entrepreneurial conversation about how to modernize your talent acquisition approach for both high growth and long-term growth.

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If you missed episode #199, check it out here: Closing the RevOps Skills Gap with Jen Igartua

What You’ll Learn

  • There are over 40K more sales jobs openings than salespeople
  • How COVID has affected sales salaries
  • The importance of listening to the market instead of pursuing growth
  • 4 ways to modernize talent acquisition

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. About Asad Zaman & STA [3:15]
  2. Asad’s tale of entrepreneurialism [7:21]
  3. Addressing chronic underemployment and high demand [13:35]
  4. 4 ways to modernize talent acquisition [22:26]
  5. Lessons learned from high growth companies [27:31]
  6. Paying it forward [29:29]
  7. Sam’s Corner [32:26]

About Asad Zaman & STA [3:15]

Sam Jacobs: Welcome to the Sales Hacker podcast, it’s our 200th episode, and this is our 200th guest.

Asad Zaman is the CEO of Sales Talent Agency, a wonderful, thoughtful, hardworking person that’s made his own way in the world. He started as an account executive, he’s now the CEO.

We’ve got three sponsors for episode 200:

The first is Pavilion, the key to getting more out of your career. Our private membership connects you with resources, classes, and training through Pavilion University. Sales development school, marketing school, and more for your entire team. Learn more at joinpavilion.com.

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Asad Zaman is the CEO of STA, they’ve helped over 1,500 companies hire CROs, BDRs, and everything in between, and facilitated over $550 million in salaries.

Asad joined in 2014 as an account executive. In 2016, he founded their executive search division. He launched a division specializing in technical sales and sales engineering. He’s worked closely with C-level executives to refine their GTM hiring practices. In 2020, he was appointed CEO.

Asad, welcome. Give us more about STA.

Asad Zaman: We specialize in helping companies build their go-to-market teams. We’ve evolved in a few different ways. We went from sales to the entire go-to-market org, practices, technical sales, and executive search. Product marketing, customer success, etc.

We expanded into different markets, we entered the US, now a significant part of our business, about 40% of our revenue. We established operations in Europe and Asia, building those markets out.

We’re sector agnostic, philosophically speaking, but with the way the economy is going now, most of our work is with software companies.

We’re between 10 to 15 million in revenue. About 50-ish people, and we thoroughly enjoy the work we do. It’s a small category, but it’s a fun one.

Asad’s tale of entrepreneurialism [7:21]

Sam Jacobs: How did you get your start in sales?

Asad Zaman: I came to Canada in 2007 as an international student, to go into law. Quickly realized I wasn’t going to be a good lawyer and had to course correct. I was doing different jobs, that quintessential “new to a country and doing any job to make money” type of story.

I stumbled onto a sales role, commission only, door to door. On the second day, I made more money than I would in three weeks. It was hard work, fulfilling, lucrative, exciting. Everything I’ve done since has been sales.

A bunch of guys on campus created a startup, but they didn’t have any GTM expertise.

That started my entrepreneurial path. We were the most uninvestable crew you could find, a bunch of international students who were just figuring everything out. Eventually, we got to a point where we needed to grow and find jobs.

I found Sales Talent Agency, knocked on their doors, and was lucky because the founder agreed to hire me. I’ve been hanging out here ever since.

I was born in Pakistan, I grew up over there. I came to university a bit older than most people because we do A levels in Pakistan which require an extra year of schooling, and then I had to wait for a year for my visa.

Sam Jacobs: You joined STA as an account executive and you got promoted to CEO. How’d you do that?

Asad Zaman: There’s an element of hard work, resiliency, and doing things that unlock opportunities, but there’s also a shit-ton of luck.

If you do something professionally and you’re patient, you’ll develop expertise. In the business of solving problems, that expertise is crucial. What made the biggest difference in my career was that I enjoyed what I was doing. I was patient, developed expertise, and started thinking differently. We also had Kristin Condon, a partner, and our chief customer officer. She had the skills and the capabilities to plug my gaps, and we’ve been having a jolly good time.

Addressing chronic underemployment and high demand [13:35]

Asad Zaman: In terms of what’s going on in the world, look at it from a macro perspective to understand, and start with the pandemic. The pandemic taught companies a core lesson, that we need to invest in technologies to remain relevant, efficient, and effective in this new dynamic.

We spent so much time at home buying TP off of Amazon and developed an appreciation for online experiences. It accelerated the digitization of customer interactions by three years, driving high demand for technologies. It’s why investors look at that sector, get excited, and have capitalized profusely.

Companies that have money and demand have to hire people to capitalize on the opportunity. That drives demand for people of all sorts; engineers, product marketers, and GTM professionals. Supply of talent is one of those things that unfortunately we don’t have a magic wand to increase supply.

You can get people to pick a career path, but that’s a long-term strategy. Supply in the short-term stays flat. Let’s contextualize this supply and demand situation with fresh data. Look at the top tech hubs in North America; if we look at the number of software sales professionals, there are 91,000.

Compare that to the number of open jobs — 137,000 in this market. If every software sales professional took a newly available job immediately, we’d still have 46,000 unfilled. Not to mention the ones that left their job, those seats are empty. That’s an intense type of market dynamic.

When you look at other GTM roles like customer success, you see similar dynamics as well. Compensation is rising, there’s more demand than supply. It’s something companies are struggling with.

We’ve seen a 20 increase in GTM roles in the technology sector. These dynamics continue to play out, and turnover risk increases. All these companies that need to hire, they’re going after people, people are getting interesting opportunities.

We’ve seen the great resignation data: 50% of people are open to new opportunities. Companies are more creative about the ideal candidate, which leads to an increase in investment in enablement and RevOps.

When you hire creatively, you need to invest in onboarding them and ramping them up faster. If you invest in people’s development, it reduces turnover risk. You want to think about getting more out of the people you’ve got.

Candidates have more power than they’ve ever had.

You’ve got companies that raised a lot of capital that need to hit their targets, ensure their investors remain happy, and create an option to raise capital later. They’re going to invest in hiring.

This type of dynamic is going to be the reality.

4 ways to modernize talent acquisition [22:26]

Sam Jacobs: What companies can do to modernize their talent acquisition?

Asad Zaman: Companies are struggling to hire. People are more open to new opportunities than they’ve ever been.

There are a few different areas of opportunity in rethinking how we do talent acquisition.

The job description is a simple place to start. The world’s best companies have horrendous job descriptions. We’ve worked on job descriptions from a language perspective for DEI, but we haven’t looked at it from a marketing lens perspective. An elite professional, when they choose to leave a company, are they just taking a job, or are they thinking about other things?

Do I connect with the purpose of this organization? Will I grow here? That’s what they’re thinking about.

We can do more with awareness marketing. LinkedIn is a great platform to run awareness ads on, run smart ads to the type of people we want to hire, showing them who we are, what we do, and why we’re an interesting place to work so that there’s brand recognition.

Talent acquisition internally is greatly understaffed.

If a talent acquisition professional’s working on 30 different roles at the same time, and you’re confused as to why they’re not headhunting for those roles, you’re asking the wrong question. They do not have the time. We’ve understaffed that division and these poor folks don’t have the bandwidth to do the things they need to do.

Lessons learned from high growth companies [27:31]

Sam Jacobs: What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from working with high-growth companies?

Asad Zaman: Companies that are extremely impressive are not trying to look at these standards in the market and follow them blindly. Some will try to grow before they’re truly ready. They haven’t solved product-market fit, but they raise a shit-ton of money, they say, “let’s go and hire salespeople.”

If you don’t have top-of-the-funnel support, you don’t have what it takes to close the deals. The ones that end up doing well are thoughtful about product-market fit. They raise money when they need to, but they deploy it based on proof. They don’t let the market dictate the moves. They make the moves that their business is telling them they’re ready to make.

Paying it forward [29:29]

Sam Jacobs: Paying it forward: people, ideas, or content that had a big impact on you. A book you’ve read, people or ideas that have had the biggest impact on you, that we should know about?

Asad Zaman: I came across a book called Play Bigger by Christopher Lockhead and his partners. It was a framework that was really useful for me. It’s informed a lot of the decisions about positioning ourselves in the market. If you can articulate the problem better than anyone else, companies will want your point of view on the solution.

Sam Jacobs: If folks want to reach out to you, what’s the best way to get in touch?

Asad Zaman: I’m on LinkedIn a fair bit. Or they can send me an email at asadzaman@salestalentagency.com.

Sam’s Corner [32:26]

Sam Jacobs: Hey, everybody. Sam’s corner, loved that conversation with Asad. He’s a friend, a talented person, with a grasp of data, facts, weaving them into storytelling. It’s inspiring. Comes to Canada in 2007, doing door-to-door sales, enters STA as an account executive, now the CEO.

There are more sales job openings than there are salespeople in the US and Canada, which puts tremendous pressure on companies to develop talent and to make their companies a great place.

COVID accelerated transformation and the digitization of the economy by a significant factor and created a number of major market forces.

Reach out to me at sam@joinpavilion.com, or find me on LinkedIn.

Talk to you next time.

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