John Sterling, Founder & CEO of NOOB School, is a Shaping Tomorrow’s Most Successful Sales Teams
This blog post is part of our “Shop Talk” founder series, which celebrates Word of Web clients as we dive into what drives them and how they embrace the entrepreneurial spirit.
We got to sit down with the local Greenville legend and early techpreneur to learn how his passion for people and technology is making a positive impact on thousands.
Tell us about your path to becoming an entrepreneur.
I was always drawn to entrepreneurial stories as a kid. I’m an Upstate native and ended up going to the Citadel, where they had produced a lot of business leaders over the years. So, when I got out of school in the 80s, believe it or not — computers were new and they were coming on like a freight train.
I had a Liberal Arts degree, so at the time, Sales was all I was qualified for. I decided to go to Silicon Valley and landed my first job selling software on the phone. I learned that if you just show up in the hot area, your chances go up from there.
After Silicon Valley, I came back to Greenville looking for software opportunities. I met Larry Blackwell, the CEO of a tech company called Datastream — and eventually became part owner and VP of Sales there. It started as a 5-person team, but over 20 years, we grew to over one thousand people — and became the biggest tech company in South Carolina. We sold to Infor in 2006 after 20 years of hard work by a great team, many of which are running Sales teams and software companies around Greenville today.
I have invested and helped operate a few small companies since selling Datastream including Foxfire, a popular WMS (warehouse management software), and have been an angel investor as well, but found that nothing makes me happier than getting someone off to a good start in sales. So, I wrote a book and have been spending more time lately on promoting the book and the correlating services through our site, noobschool.org.
Tell us about NOOB School. What’s your elevator pitch?
I have a passion for helping people just get started in their careers. At one point, I was getting calls from parents asking for help with their kids about what the next step in their path would be. I got to know students — what they liked, what their interests and hobbies were, and helped steer them to an area they’d enjoy as a career. I thought to myself, why don’t I put this into a book and help a lot more people?
So, when the pandemic hit, I locked down and worked with a coach to write the book in 10 months. When it came out, I started getting calls from people who needed help building and coaching sales teams, so I created NOOB School as a service that lets me work more regularly with people all along the Sales journey from beginning to VP of Sales.
We’ve got an exciting program that’s in beta testing now, which is our Presidents Club subscription service that allows people to figure out their perfect job. It’s an opportunity to ask questions, get ideas, and learn from guest speakers. There are really two sides to it - one for students, and one for business owners. I’m really excited about it and passing on this thing that I somehow got good at, which is helping people to get started in Sales.
When were you founded?
My book Sales for Noobs: Everything Sales Rookies Need to Know to Crush Quota, Get Promoted, and Kick A$$ came out last year, and I started consulting this year.
How have you gotten your message out to the world?
A couple of ways — when my book was coming out, we did a local press tour. I got some great press and articles in local magazines. I’m also working with a local company to manage social and video content for NOOB School — and we have a website and podcast out as well.
Where would you like to see your company in 5 years?
I learn a tremendous amount when I’m working with a growing business or training young people. I’d love to create hundreds of short micro-training seminars on how to find your first job, Sales 101, Sales 201, etc. Beyond that, sharing more content and creating updated training material every year.
How do you stay motivated?
First, I don’t call things work — I call them projects. Some projects make me money, some cost me money, but they’re all projects I want to do. If you’re doing things you want to do, your day will be full. It’s almost like a rewards system because I do things that I enjoy. I also realized that I need to stay busy — 3 months after we sold Datastream, I felt like I was turning to mush! I have to stay busy, so that’s how I stay motivated.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting your company?
It’s probably the same lesson that college students need to think about when they’re looking for their first job. Listening more to how people are responding to me — and to what we’re doing on noobschool.org. For example, we’ve filmed lots and lots of videos, but one was a standout with 33K views. It taught me that people want to solve a specific problem — they aren’t watching because they’re my friend or they just want a laugh. It taught me that I should listen to what they really need and do more of that.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs just starting out?
Over the years, entrepreneurship has been really romanticized and glamorized. There’s this notion that you get an idea and then just risk it all! But, you have to have a game plan. The smarter entrepreneurs I know are prepared — they know what they’re doing, have proven themselves competent, they have the right partners in place, so when they start, it’s not a huge risk.
The first chapter of my book touches on this — the very first thing you need even before the idea of your product is you must have your personal act together. Solve your problems first, then start your business.
What about your company are you most proud of?
Probably helping strangers. Strangers have told me that I have helped them because they’ve read my book. It feels really good to have a book out after years of procrastinating!
Is there anything else you might want people to know about you or your company?
I would just love for people to share noobschool.org and my book with recent grads that want to go into Sales or small business owners looking for Sales improvement.
I’m also a local musician — I play the saxophone in downtown Greenville at Falls Park.
You can check out John’s skills on his YouTube channel The Jazz Hole.
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