Episode 1: The Excuse Department is Closed | John Kaplan

“Nobody cares, Work Harder!”


How It Started

John heads to Boise State with a history of athletic success built on size and pure strength. It’s the first day of D1 football practice and on the first play of the first drill he finds himself—for the first time ever—flat on his back, driven to the turf. Not the memorable firsts you tend to think of when you think of success stories. At that moment, John learned two things:

  1. Size and strength alone aren’t enough.

  2. Pro football was out—time to hit the books.

How It’s Going

After successful stints at Xerox and PTC, John is the President and Managing Partner of Force Management, an organization he co-founded to help companies build elite sales teams through custom programs based on goals, customers, products, and people. Force Management also has an online platform, Ascender, that motivates, empowers, and inspires users through a unique combination of content, curriculum, and community.

How He Got Here

Listen to the episode to get a 360° sense of John—dynamic, engaging, enthusiastic, funny, driven, and humble. John shares stories and insights on why athletes are suited to and successful in sales careers. He also cautions that being a good athlete doesn’t mean you’ll be a good salesperson—it takes hard work.

When John talks about his college football days (at Boise State then at Bowling Green), he doesn’t talk about achievements or accolades. He talks about his teammates. And when he tells you proudly that he’s a better teammate today than he was then, you get a sense of just how important personal growth and relationships are to John. He talks about the role that friends, faith, and family play in his life—you can feel how they are fundamental to his success.

On that first day of practice, John learned that size and strength were nothing without the underlying fundamentals to optimize them. And on that same day, he started thinking about what he wanted to do for a living. Since then, John tuned in to the success of others, giving him a taste of what he wanted for himself.

On Why Athletes Should Consider Selling

It’s a smooth transition, given the role that effort plays in sports and sales.

  • Work harder, and get more opportunities—you may not win but you will get more opportunities.

  • Follow a playbook and a system—the map shows you the collaboration and teamwork needed to achieve outcomes.

  • It’s a meritocracy—you’re rewarded for performance.

  • Coaching counts—but whether you have a good one or a bad one, you’ll still need to perform.

The closest professional environment you can get to sports is sales. If you love the planning, prep, hard work, adrenaline rush, and exhilaration that comes from playing sports, a job in sales may be for you.

On the Importance of Fundamentals

There is a joy to be found in the process of learning the fundamentals and how they help. Here are John’s four pillars of strength when it comes to sales success.

  1. Discovery is an art; ask great questions and make it all about the customer.

  2. Identify and attach yourself to the biggest business issue, then talk about what customers are talking about.

  3. Influence decision-making by highlighting the differentiators of the solution you’re selling.

  4. Qualify voraciously; learn qualification skills and criteria and practice regularly.

On What Candidates Should Look For in an Employer

There are some key questions you should ask prospective employers.

  • Do they have a culture of coaching? You need coaching (trust me), so don’t underplay it in the interview. John offers some great specifics in the pod.

  • What is the total addressable market for the product you’ll be selling? How much opportunity really is there?

  • Does the buyer understand what they’re buying? In other words, does the buyer understand what problem your product helps them solve?

  • Does the company have a mission? Does everyone understand it? Will everyone stand behind it when times get tough?

On Being Uncommon

From the lessons learned from the view flat on his back on the field until today, John’s commitment to being uncommon has been consistent over time—this authenticity helps drive his success.

  1. Be a student of the game.

  2. Learn the fundamentals.

  3. Commit to excellence.

  4. Do things the common person chooses not to do.

Tune into the podcast for all the tips John has to help you be uncommon.

Bonus: Book recommendation from John. The Qualified Sales Leader by John McMahon.

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