Nichole Porter is a Sales Lead for retail at Shopify and she was the winner of ringDNA’s Top Sales Coach Competition. If you didn’t hear about that, sales managers and coaches from around the world submitted videos of themselves coaching a few rep calls that we had recorded. The public voted on the top coaches and narrowed down the entries to our semi finalists. Then our panel of esteemed judges chose the winner: Nichole Porter. In this episode we talk about Nichole’s rapid career progression at Shopify and we dig into how Nichole coaches her own team members.
Andy Paul: Nicole. Welcome to the show.
Nichole Porter: Thanks for having me, Andy.
Andy Paul: It’s such a pleasure to have you here. As I announced in the introduction, Nicole was the big winner of ring denies, top sales coach competition, and the grand prize. The prize that really mattered was a guest appearance on the show. So here you are.
Nichole Porter: Here I am. Honestly completely honored. Was a little bit of a shock to me because, just from the other caliber of folks who also applied, yeah, I’m really just honored.
Andy Paul: No, you did a fabulous job. Fabulous job. Yeah, I think that, my takeaway was the first time I watched your entry was like, Oh, yeah, this person’s really good. I was just like, yeah. If you were a young rep being coached and mentored by you, it’s yeah, you’d feel comfortable. You’d feel welcomed. You’d feel you’re in the right environment. So congratulations. And we’ll talk about that a little bit. So tell us a little bit about your journey in sales. So how did how’d you get into sales in the first place?
Nichole Porter: Yeah, that’s a good question. So I guess I’ll kick it a little back. When I started out in university, really. Went into university, not really knowing exactly what I wanted to do. Like most-
Andy Paul: Like most of us.
Nichole Porter: Yeah. Like most going into university, I came into it going, taking a general approach. I knew I liked the arts and I knew I, I wanted to dabble in business from taking various courses in high school. So I ended up taking a triple major.
Andy Paul: wow.
Nichole Porter: Yeah, it was a long program. So doubled in business, speech communication and legal studies. Cause essentially my parents were like, Hey, if you’re not going to be in STEM and you’re not going to be a doctor, they were, they essentially were like, you can go into business or you can be a lawyer. So I decided to diversify in the courses I took.
Andy Paul: So basically anything but the arts, this is what they were telling you.
Nichole Porter: Exactly. Yeah. So immigrant parents might, my dad was a refugee. So really they wanted me to take a safe approach cause they were like, we took, we made some sacrifices coming into Canada. I’m a first-generation Canadian and they just wanted me to have a safe, successful career.
So one and two, one to university, not really knowing what to expect. luckily I went to university of Waterloo, which has an excellent co-op program. So what that means is I was, I took my courses and then every four months I’ve, I’d be working, at, in a corporate job at a company.
Andy Paul: My daughter went to Northeastern university United States, which is also very well known for having a co-op program. And yeah. And I’ve interviewed people from Northeastern, who had done co-ops and it’s yeah, it gives you a big leg up in terms of sort of, beginning to understand what the real world is like and what you want to do.
Nichole Porter: Exactly. So exactly did just that. I had, my first internship was a legal assistant at bank of America. I quickly learned after that internship that I did not want to be a lawyer, just because it just wasn’t for me. And then worked at various tech companies, worked at Blackberry for a few years. Worked at another SaaS technology platform, doing various marketing and communications type roles. And ultimately once I got out of university, I knew a couple of things. I knew I liked working with people. I liked, the communication side of things. but really what I knew, I guess like all sales professionals, not everyone inherently is I want to be in sales, but I did know I liked being in front of customers. and as a part of my internships, I had customer facing type roles. And I think after university, I essentially, I just wanted to move out of Kitchener-Waterloo, and wanted to land a job in the big city.
Andy Paul: So how far is Kitchener-Waterloo from Toronto?
Nichole Porter: It’s about, just under two hours. So I knew that I knew what my general broad skillset was. I had various communication and marketing type jobs on my resume coming out of university, which was great. And I ended up landing in, my first out of university job, which was, a recruitment consultancy.
but what was unique about this role was it was a three 60 sales type. Role. So in this job, you essentially doing the recruitment aspect of the role, but you’re also sourcing your own jobs that you were hiring for.
Andy Paul: So full cycle. Yeah.
Nichole Porter: exactly full cycle. So I loved it. I did re I excelled really well at it.
after a year of doing it and to be honest, it was a boiler room type, traditional type sales environment.
Andy Paul: have to start and that type of thing. So what were you recruiting for? What type of positions?
Nichole Porter: Digital marketing space. So yeah, across all worked across all kinds of different types of industries. But really in this role, what I learned was, some hard sales skills, cold calling. Developed a thick skin. And, what I found from this job is that I love sales and what I didn’t like was the recruitment or the people, I guess the HR type component talent portion of the role. But I knew I kept, exactly the people part of it, but I knew I kept wanting to, develop my career in sales and business development. Fast forwarding a little bit, went on to ironically work at a law firm in business development. So going back into my, law roots, but in it.
Andy Paul: Before we got on this call is to record this as I was. Doing another interview with a person who started their career, they had become a lawyer, but you really found that he enjoyed the client acquisition part better than being a lawyer. So I spent a couple of years before getting into a sales role is, yeah doing client acquisition for a law firm.
Nichole Porter: That’s amazing. It’s and it’s funny that you say that because, so I was in the client acquisition side of the business, but what I found, so spent three years here, I excelled pretty quickly. I ended up, managing business development for one of the largest portfolios at an international law firm.
But what I found was I was missing the, the face to face component of the sales, because it was more so business development through events, through content curation, through yeah, so really the folks who got the FaceTime, the most FaceTime with the clients, were the lawyers themselves, So after spending three years here, and actually, because it was more of a nine to five job, simultaneously while during this time I also started my own business. So started a business running pop-ups in Toronto. So essentially pop-up markets where, you know, Retailers or small businesses would sell in person at events. So we try to target to millennials have DJs, have drinks and have essentially throw shopping events in Toronto. So did that as a side
Andy Paul: Not just not around the holidays, like the Christmas and Halloween pop-ups to see all of her butt, but it’d be an event that’s a standalone event.
Nichole Porter: Exactly. And they were hosted around big shopping events. So we would have them in the spring when, folks would be focused on wellness, we’d have them pre-holiday where, of course our biggest events. And then yeah, we would have them all season round, so that. It’s a sidebar of what I was doing on the side, just because, I was hungry just to do more and that’s when I stumbled upon Shopify and really what I was looking for after, during my law firm experience, is I wanted more traditional sales again. But in a space that I was passionate about and because I started the side hustle, working naturally with a lot of merchants and sellers , the stars could just align for me. And so I’ve been at Shopify for almost, or actually three years in February now. And yeah, it’s just been, my journey has lifted off pretty quickly.
Andy Paul: Yeah, you’ve been promoted like three or four times already in that period,
Nichole Porter: Yeah. So started as an account executive and then within the three
Andy Paul: selling trolling to whom.
Nichole Porter: Yes. So backing up a little bit. So selling to brick and mortar retailers. So Shopify, for those who don’t know what Shopify is, where a commerce platform to allow businesses of all sizes sell in person and online. So my team specifically sells to brick and mortar retailers.
Andy Paul: Still the team you manage today, does that?
Nichole Porter: Exactly.
Andy Paul: Okay. In North America, Canada, where what’s the territory?
Nichole Porter: Yeah. So today we are everywhere, that we have shelf payments. So essentially UK, Ireland, us Canada, and we’re starting to dabble into Asia Pacific right now, which is interesting. So my team is just selling everywhere at this point, but the segment that we sell to are, SMB and mid-market, and we’re beginning to go up market.
Andy Paul: So our mom posh retail shops, as well as, yeah. It could be more established. You said it’s sort of mid-market not, you’re not selling to the national consumer brands.
Nichole Porter: Sometimes yes. Our product isn’t quite in the enterprise space as of yet, but I would say, up to a hundred million in GMB.
Andy Paul: Got it. Okay. Cool. So what’s sort of the biggest challenge of selling into that type of environment. That’s when, especially in, let’s say during the last 12 months.
Nichole Porter: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I would say in the last 12 months, inherently retail, services, hospitality, are now the industries that got, have got hit the most. We’re in a lockdown here in Toronto, and we’re going to be all shops are going to have to be forced to close until December. And really this is when retailers are more making usually 50%, sometimes more of their annual sales or revenue. So it’s tough. It’s been a tough year and for industry, for sure, or for the retailers that we sell to. but our team has been really able to pivot. Luckily, Shopify is a commerce platform. So if you physically can’t sell in person, cause your short stores are shut. You’re still able to sell online.
So we, we have just pivoted the products that we’re selling and then, for retailers. You’re, your stores are not your only mode that you can sell. of course you can use your, your stores as a distribution channel to, fulfill your online orders, for example, or you can also offer things like curbside pickup.
Andy Paul: That’s what I said, curbside pickup for people to come by and get it. Yeah, I hadn’t, yeah. Think about it because we’re recording this, two days before our Thanksgiving in the US. So yeah. the big retail season kicks off in three days and yeah. Wow. I hadn’t really thought until you just mentioned that what the shutdown is yeah. It’s one thing to be closed in March and April, but this is the time of year.
Nichole Porter: And it’s a global thing too, in the UK. I think they’ve already been in lockdown. And they will be in lockdown until I think, I believe it’s December 2nd. And the likelihood of that extending is probably is likely probable. So it’s definitely tough for retailers. Who’ve taken a lot of hits this year.
Andy Paul: Yeah. Now, are you finding though, without veering too far off course, but is, are the small retailers able to take advantage of the platform to start doing curbside pickup in e-commerce than when they’ve traditionally been predominantly, walk-in traffic, foot traffic.
Nichole Porter: Yeah, no 100%. And that’s how we’ve tried to pivot as well. Generally, like we’re in the business of actually helping entrepreneurs. the small wins are number one. If you’re a mom and pop shop who’ve never shopped or who’ve never, focused on online sales before, we’re helping them get quick wins and start getting their products online. And then on the flip side, for those who still want to, have stuff in their store, we’re allowing them to immediately offer curbside pickup. And these are quick wins, that they can recuperate cash. And then even from a gift card perspective. I know that’s a big source of revenue. essentially over the holiday season, Shopify allows them to use these retail gift cards online. So it’s a bunch of little strategies to help.
Andy Paul: Yeah, so they can issue gift cards to members. And, that was really interesting. Yeah. Do you help them, create a website for e-commerce website or host that for them or how did cause that’s I think for a lot of small businesses retailers, they don’t really have much online presence.
Nichole Porter: Yeah. So Shopify has tons of resources. That are essentially you watch videos very easy to get up. I’ve been running a strength is for sure, just having resources that are easy to use, whether it be someone that just starting out or whether it be, a big company trying to do a training rollout to their wider team. So lots of resources we have 24/7 support. we have excellent launch teams. So when our sales folks handoff our customers to our launch team, they’re in good hands there as well, who, guide them in the right direction and help them go live.
Andy Paul: Got it. Okay. So you’re, how big a team do you manage now?
Nichole Porter: Yes. So I have a team of eight right now. And so it wasn’t always that big. So I got just going back to my journey at Shopify, started out as a account executive, got promoted to senior account executive, and then I just started managing, or leading a team last November or last October. So it’s just been over a year, started out with a team of four and then, slowly, doubled in size.
Andy Paul: Got it. So maybe a bit of a loaded question, but relevant to this whole idea of our competition that we have is as at Shopify, have you received training on how to coach?
Nichole Porter: That’s a good question, Andy. I would say at Shopify, there is a lot of accessible leadership training and of course there’s foundational sales training, and we have excellent enablement teams that enable us to coach, but from just a general coaching perspective, that’s something I’ve had to learn, from my, my peers around me. I’m very fortunate to have great mentors. but I would probably say I had to invest a lot in myself this year as well.
Andy Paul: Yeah. So tell us about that. So what, because I think that’s huge for anybody that wants to have a successful career in sales is to invest in their own development. So what have you, how have you invested, what have you invested in over this past year?
Nichole Porter: Yeah, for sure. So first of all, took a lot of recommendation going into the role. I’m a very over-prepared person. So pretty much got every book recommendation started listening to tons and tons of podcasts, whether it be general leadership podcast or podcasts like yours, or just general sales podcasts as well. And then, I’ve also taken courses, so I took a sales management course at Queens.
Andy Paul: Now interesting. Who taught that? Was it at a, an adjunct professor or somebody that’s a practitioner, that’s doing it on the side or as part of a formal sales curriculum to have at that university?
Nichole Porter: Yeah. So it’s, it’s a continued ed or sorry, executive education program at Queens and they have, they had various sales executives from pretty large companies. I know someone that was actually on your, on your podcast, David Premier.
Andy Paul: Oh, David yah.
Nichole Porter: Yep. He was a coach, or he was, a proffer at Instructure for that program. So really good set of, leaders who were able to share their experience, provide some framework. that was
Andy Paul: David’s yeah, David’s a smart guy. knows this stuff very well. interesting. So I guess what inspired you to enter the competition that we had The Top Coach competition.
Nichole Porter: To be honest, it was really, Introduced to me by someone else who was on this podcast Daniella Belaire. She’s yeah, she’s my manager and she, one of my mentors as well, and she just really encouraged me to, get my feet wet, after being in a year in sales leadership, I thought, okay probably something I’m not ready to take a leap on, but she was like, Hey, I think you’re great. You should give it a try. So-
Andy Paul: Interesting. Yeah. So Danielle is VP of Retail, right?
Nichole Porter: Yes. So she is, she heads our sales team, for retail. Yeah.
Andy Paul: Yeah. Very interesting. That’s good. hopefully she was proud of the result.
Nichole Porter: Yeah, definitely. She uses okay. Way to rep our team. She’s like way to make me look good.
Andy Paul: Yeah, I was going to say big thing for her. Excellent. Wow. So how would you, how would you rate your strengths as a coach? Given a year of experience, what do you see as like the places where you do a good job and maybe the area where you think okay, as I continue to grow in my career, these are the areas I need to work on.
Nichole Porter: Yeah, for sure. So I would say, just in general, I do, because I was an IC and was pretty deep, I was doing it for a couple years, at Shopify, I would say my relatability to the sales cycle and because I have, a lot of acumen in the product, I’m able to provide some credibility there.
Other strengths are what I focus on as a coach is to help my reps learn and develop new skills. I think I’ve went, I’ve came a long way, from when I started just over a year ago to where I am now, in terms of actually coaching versus just telling reps or giving reps advice, I feel like I’ve definitely made some leaps and bounds there.
But that’s always going to be a thing. I think if for any new leaders out there who’ve ever, read accidental sales manager, they’ll probably be familiar, but it’s funny because the paradox of sales management is when you first get promoted, you essentially get paid to do less of what you were doing when you got promoted. I was at the height of, I was number one rep name on the trophy doing so well, everyone came to me to ask questions for deal advice. And I thought when I first started coaching that this is what I need to do. This is how I’m going to immediately add value is I’m just going to basically create a clone of myself on my team and just instill all the skills I’ve learned and help them just crush as many okay. obviously that is not it at all. so I learned that pretty quickly. So I would say my strengths are, for sure. Just being able to tailor my coaching style to each of my reps. Cause everyone is such so different, and learns differently. And then, yeah, Yeah, I would just say being able to apply what I’ve learned, because I’m so obsessed with learning to help them also, develop those same skills and reinforce those same habits.
Andy Paul: Right. Yeah. If you haven’t done it. And this is actually for people listening as well. Cause, if you haven’t read, both the books by fellow Canadian, Michael Bungay Stanier, first one called The Coaching Habit, which is to my mind, the best book about coaching that you can buy and read and his more recent book, which just came out, earlier in 2020 called The Advice Trap and both talk about some of the things you’re talking about. Both short, very accessible, hugely successful books, encourage you to read those and everybody who’s listening. Who’s interested in becoming a better coach because it’s. Your instincts, she talk or you’re on the right track. And these books will show you that coaching is more about how you help people arrive at.
Solutions themselves, how do you help them develop to the point where they become more self-sufficient in terms of how they conceptualize their problems and what help they need from actually what help they actually need from you? and, the advice trap that great book about, yeah, not running too fast to offer advice I suppose, to coach people.
So I think you’ll enjoy both of those. How often do you coach your team members?
Nichole Porter: Yes. So I coached by every single rep on my team has at least a half an hour to an hour cadence with me every single week. On one coaching. And then as a team, we are practicing as a team and doing role-plays for at least minimum two hours a week. so we have two, one hour sessions and then we also have our daily stand-ups where sometimes we do, either a deal club, or play where we’re also getting in practice.
Andy Paul: how do you make the role-plays as, authentic as possible?
Nichole Porter: That’s a good question. So typically what we like to do for role-plays is we’re getting real life examples. So if someone has an example call that they want to share, and maybe they struggled objection, handling, for example. We’ll take that exact same scenario and we’ll just re-enact so someone, we essentially sign, assign three roles.
One person is playing the sales rep. One person is playing the customer and then one person is assigned as the key observer. And then of course, after the role-play is done, we open it up to the group as well.
Andy Paul: and curious is after you’ve done one round, do you like give feedback and have them do it again?
Nichole Porter: Exactly. So with any coaching that I do, whether it be on a one-on-one setting or a group setting before we give any feedback, whether it be the observer or myself or the rest of the group, we have the person or the sales rep who’s playing the sales rep. Of course. do some self discovery or.
Self-evaluation and they give themselves feedback. So what went well? What would it, what would they have done differently? so we do that and then we open it up for, other constructive feedback and positive feedback, of course, as well.
Andy Paul: one thing is in the, your submission for the competition that I liked, that you talked about in the coaching was the importance of tone of voice and it’s something that doesn’t get spoken enough about in sales and I’ve had reps that I’ve worked with in the past sellers or my career that yeah I recommend they go take Toastmasters. And become a member of Toastmasters just because they have this problem. with the tone of voice, they start started, get bound up a little bit and there’s a lot of sort of credibility and confidence that flows through the tone of voice. I was wondering, how do you coach that?
Nichole Porter: To be honest, it’s we, the most effective way of coaching to tonality is playing back the call and have the rep listen to it and also have the rep listen to the response of the customer. And we do this in short snippets. And you just, I typically just ask the rep, how do you think tone impacted the way the customer responded here.
Andy Paul: Yeah. And I was going to even go a step deeper though, is in terms of helping them not just- I think of tone as two things. One to sort of the tone in terms of how I receive the message. But I think the other, I was talking about more, just the physical tonality of the voice, as well as, unfortunately worked with people who could have been good in sales, the way they projected their voice and the way they use their voice and this, I think it was a serious topic, just worked against them.
Nichole Porter: Yeah, no, I think tonality is so important for sure. Cause it helps your credibility with the customer. It impacts completely how your messages are received or even the way you ask questions. So I think tonality is very important. So yeah, I think how I’d go deeper here. Number one, first, we need to identify that. The rep actually knows, their tone comes across and I think that’s, playing back how they sound, how the type of response that is elicited by the customers, the first step. And then the second step is, just providing direct feedback and then showing them what good looks like.
So either, in a one-on-one session, you can provide an example or just showing another example of a rep trying to convey the exact same message or the exact same set of questions. And then it’s the follow-up. That’s important after that, it’s just role-playing and a person’s voice is a person’s voice, but once they understand how they sound, once they understand what good looks like, and they received the feedback on how they can deliver, or adjust their tone or pitch, etc.
Then they can just practice. And once you’re able to practice in a one-on-one setting, then you can go and send them off and do homework and they can practice at home in the mirror or record themselves or just listen to more of their calls. But yeah, it’s definitely targete. Practice is important in this case,
Andy Paul: And we have the tools and technology now make it so easy to record yourself and look at yourself back on video or listen yourself on audio that, yeah, you do want to take advantage of that. Especially if someone like yourself is coaching someone and says, Hey, have you heard how you come across when you say this? Or, yeah, I think that’s, it’s underlooked and it’s as glad you brought that up because I think it’s, I said. Overlooked oftentimes. So a question for you is along the same line. So it was, is so if we were to, and this is hopefully a fun question is if we were to survey your team, what’s the piece of sales advice they would tell us their most tired of hearing from you?
Nichole Porter: That’s a good question. It would probably- what I try to nail down every single day is invest in yourself to get at least 1% better every single day. and the good thing is, we’re at Shopify and this is actually one of our core values is, own your own development, but we just, our reps are lucky in a sense that we give them so much. We have, I would say a world-class enablement team. And I’m not going to speak to my own sales coaching skills, our sales coaches are here to reinforce the enablement programs that we ship out. but we also give them so many resources either internally or even just from a monetary perspective to go seek out, read books by the books that you want to buy, take the courses you want to take. So I would say probably the biggest feedback that they’re probably a little bit tired of because we’re beating this drum every single day, is to invest in themselves and just get 1% better every day.
Andy Paul: I love it. That’s my watch word as well. Okay. Last question for you. In your opinion, talking to new sales coaches here is what’s the most important behavior for coaches to develop in themselves?
Nichole Porter: That’s a good question. Developing in themselves. I would probably say this, And I think maybe sales managers at other organizations, this may exist, I could be wrong, but this is just what I’ve experienced a little bit is to focus less, I think as sales managers or sales coaches, from a business perspective, our mandate is to drive business results. But I think we need to focus less on the business results and more on the people. And. How to instill that in themselves is to focus on lead measures versus lag measures. So the things leading up to the results. So leg measures are something that you can’t impact anymore. So if you think of a lag measure of, I want to lose 10 pounds to fit in these new jeans, the lead measures would be the diet and exercise leading up to it. So I would say when you’re focusing on your reps on an individual basis, what identify the things that are the lead measures that lead to the results. Okay.
Andy Paul: Okay. Very good. good. Nicole, this has been fantastic and congratulations again on winning our competition. And so glad you’re able to join us. If people want to connect with you, how should they do that?
Nichole Porter: Thanks so much, Andy. If they want to connect with me, you can search me up on LinkedIn. Nicole Porter. Nicole was an age. yup. But I’m there and ready to just connect.
Andy Paul: Excellent. again, Nicole, thank you so much. And, look forward talking to you again before too long.
Nichole Porter: Yes. Take care, Andy. Thanks for having me.