Why Ex-Athletes and Veterans Make Great Salespeople

5 Takeaways from our sitdown with JR Butler, CEO and & Founder of Shift Group.

JR Butler

Founder & CEO

JR Butler

Founder & CEO
Hiring the right people for your sales team can be impossible. Sometimes, a new hire can seem perfect on paper, only to fall flat when it counts.

This result made JR Butler move away from the traditional approach to hiring for a sales team and look at different attributes instead, with great success.

Read on to discover why JR believes sales teams should compromise on hires with sporting or military backgrounds, along with additional guidance on the recruitment and onboarding process.

Takeaway 1: Downturns often breed excellent companies

Regarding economic downturns, JR sees them more as an opportunity to highlight the quality of his business rather than worrying about the impact it might have.

"Downturns always breed really good companies," he explains. "We saw it in 2008, and I think we will see it shortly."

JR was very particular about ensuring Shift Group was a bootstrapped company rather than one heavily influenced by investment. This is another reason he feels his company will perform well in the downturn.

"I've worked for investors my whole career," he explains. "You don't just get money; you get many opinions. I believe I can build a profitable business without needing someone else's opinion or cash."

Screenshot 2023-09-21 at 16.28.29.png

JR Butler (second person to the left), CEO & Founder of Shift Group, at an event for ex-veterans.

Takeaway 2: Why JR focuses on recruiting former athletes and veterans

One common problem we see with many of the CEOs and Founders we talk to at Upsales is that they struggle to find high-quality salespeople to join their teams.

But JR has a unique way of looking at this problem, instead focusing his efforts on former athletes and veterans.

Why does he opt to go against the grain and focus on these demographics?

"I focus on two key areas," JR states. "The intangibles are easy to talk about. Athletes and veterans have a proven track record of resilience, teamwork, and often a growth mindset."

JR explains that athletes and veterans don't start at the top of their craft; they must work hard to improve their skills, which is an essential trait to becoming a better salesperson.

He also believes that these groups of players have had access to high-quality leadership in their previous careers, which helps them become top-level salespeople.

Takeaway 3: Key learnings from rapidly scaling a business

Daniel and JR also discussed one of his previous businesses, Turbotronic, where JR oversaw employee growth from 52 to more than 600 employees.

But as you can imagine, such rapid growth comes with its issues, one of which was higher than average employee turnover.

However, JR explains why this was the case.

"We had a pretty short leash. If we didn't feel like somebody would be successful, we made that decision pretty early on," he admits. "With that type of culture, hiring can be tough, and sometimes, in the old world where all you have is a resume and three or four interviews, you have to take a bet on people. But for us, it was always about maintaining that culture."

The team even went as far as to compress that mindset into a saying.

No breath is better than bad breath.

JR Butler, "The intangibles are easy to talk about. Athletes and veterans have a proven track record of resilience, teamwork, and often a growth mindset."

Takeaway 4: When interviewing, it doesn't matter what they know

So, how does JR attempt to weed out potential failures before they join the business? Well, rather than focusing on the answers they provide, JR focuses more on their curiosity.

"I think the biggest indicator of the salesperson being successful is their level of curiosity," he admits. "That's really hard to interview and test for, but I think it comes down to how people come into the interview process, especially for early career people. It doesn't matter if they don't understand; they must show a desire to understand."

Takeaway 5: The most common mistakes JR has encountered when coaching salespeople

In an ideal world, JR wants his sales coaches to be highly proficient both tactically and technically. He also refers to the similarities between high-quality salespeople and important military people.

"The people who get leadership roles in special operations, such as Navy Seals, Green Berets, Army Rangers, have great leadership qualities, but they are also extremely proficient and tactical at the actual job they're leading people for," JR explains.

JR believes it's crucial to strike a balance when selecting your leaders, such as their desire to lead others, the personality traits to be a good leader, and the first-hand ability to explain to someone how to do something related to their job.

You can learn more about Shift Group and a little bit more about the man behind the brand by tuning in to the full episode.


Latest articles