Accounting seemed like the obvious choice for Payton Guthrie, who attended Texas A&M which, according to him, is “the best school on Earth.”
“Accounting offered pretty solid job security,” he explains. “And as a freshman in college, it made sense to have a good paycheck and a job right off the bat.”
But soon after starting, he realized he wasn’t passionate about crunching numbers.
“Two months into one of those weed-out accounting classes,” he recalls, “I sat down for the first exam, and I started flipping through the pages. I thought: not only do I not know any of this, but I have zero passion for numbers. So, five minutes into the exam, I got up, took my test, handed it to the proctor, and said, ‘I'm changing majors, this isn't for me’.”
So how did this Austin-based, father-of-three move from dropping out of an Accounting program to becoming a successful Director of Strategic Sales for PagerDuty?
We sat down with Payton who shared his near decade of experience in breaking into and making it in tech sales.
From Numbers to Storytelling to Sales
The engaging way Payton tells the “accounting story,” among many others, demonstrates his knack for storytelling, which is what ultimately motivated him to pivot to Marketing.
“What I really prefer is storytelling,” he explains. “I like creativity. I like being able to interact with people on a daily basis whether that's in a leadership capacity or just in a conversational sales capacity. And that's what really drew me to Marketing.”
After graduation, Payton started a marketing agency where he single-handedly ran advertising and social media for several companies. However, when he and his wife decided to start a family, he knew he would need a better income.
He worked for a few years in pharmaceutical sales until a childhood friend and soon-to-be-mentor introduced him to the idea of tech sales.
“A guy named Ty Flippin walked me through the idea. And it was completely different than what I was doing before,” he recounts. “Ty took me under his wing and it ended up working out. Sales is more of a natural fit.”
A Mentorship to Success
Thanks to the guidance of Payton’s friend and mentor, he realized that tech sales was the ideal place for him. But, he would have to put in the hours if he wanted to make the transition successful.
First, he would have to study. Ty gave him a list of books on topics like the sales process and selling software.
“These books opened up my mind to the idea that I'm not just walking in the door and talking to a doctor about a medication,” he explains. “I'm not just going to sit there and transact the sale. It is a whole different sale where you’ve got to manage hundreds of relationships within an account in order to transact and actually close a deal on paper.”
Then, as Payton puts it, “You've got to be kind of scrappy to get into it and demonstrate that you've got what it takes because tech is not an easy thing to just pick up. It takes some time. I probably worked harder studying to get into tech than I did selling pharmaceuticals.”
By ‘getting scrappy,’ Payton refers to finding and learning from reliable online sources as well as studying the customer in order to understand the technology and industry.
Finally, Payton attributes his success in tech sales to the network of people he has built around him.
“It’s important to have a network of people that are willing and able to invest in your career,” he shares. “People who have an understanding that everybody's got to start somewhere. I was definitely blessed and fortunate enough to have that support group behind me.”
Growing with PagerDuty
Once Payton started working in Tech, he began noticing the influential companies within the industry and PagerDuty caught his attention.
PagerDuty started as automating on-call rotations and has evolved into a multi-product platform that helps companies manage their digital operations so their teams can spend less time reacting to incidents.
“Most of my customers had had some involvement with PagerDuty. It's been a de facto in the industry for a number of years, but seeing what they started doing in the market was what really excited me. PagerDuty really pushed the bounds on what was possible, and for me, it was the ability to sell monster solutions to monster customers.”
Payton has a growth mindset and is motivated not only by PagerDuty’s bold mission, but the idea of keeping up with and growing with new technology.
“PagerDuty is giving customers the ability to democratize automation and put automation in the hands of the people to solve problems and get things done faster. The answer to working in tech sales is to make sure you're working in an area that you're excited about because it's just going to be more satisfying and you're also going to experience more growth.”
Since working at PagerDuty, Payton is happy to say that he’s grown a lot. Growth that he attributes to both sales experience and his mentor at the company.
“I’ve grown immensely in my ability as a salesperson in my 2 years at PagerDuty, by being able to think more holistically and more strategically with bigger customers. And, I definitely owe that to my mentors who really coached me through.”
4 Tips for Breaking into Tech Sales
With nearly a decade of sales experience in both the pharmaceutical and tech industries, Payton has learned a lot from his various jobs and mentors. He shares these four pieces of advice for those wanting to break into and be successful in tech sales.
- Know your why. Defining his professional and personal ‘why’ for being in tech sales has been the key for Payton. “Being in this industry for 10 years, you've got to understand your ‘why’ - it’s what keeps you going through difficult times.”
- Be willing to work hard. “Tech is not one of those jobs where you get your diploma and find a job in tech sales,” Payton admits. “There’s a grind aspect to it. You need to be trained to take valuable solutions to your customers.”
- Be excited about the product you’re selling. “If you're not excited about the product, You're not going to put in the hours that it's going to take to penetrate new customer accounts.”
- Build a strong network. "I'm very relational, but I think particularly in the tech industry, you've got to have a network of people that you can rely on who will support you, who will help you in your career,” Payton advises. “And the best way to do that is by networking and meeting people. You can do that on LinkedIn or in meetups.”