Julio Hernandez was the first CEO I interviewed in the series, and a great person to be a first CEO interview. His conviction in the benefit his company brings is exemplarity, and his belief in the power of sales is compelling.
Julio also recommended me on to several other top interviewees too, which shows the power of his network. I owe Julio bigtime, and am pleased to bring you his interview here.
You can read Julio’s full biography here
Jamie: Great. Julio, in terms of the CEO role of EnLight, how much of your current role involves selling?
Julio: Most of my job is selling people on something. I sell our team on our vision and the importance for the communities we serve, on the value of everyone’s role and the synergy that can help them reach their personal goals. I sell in the form of negotiating with our vendors, partners, and manufacturers. I help sell to our end customers by truly listening to both our team and our end customers so that we ensure that our solutions are really making an impact and fulfilling the needs we set out to address.
Jamie: What advantages do you have as a CEO does coming from a sales background?
Julio: I think when you’ve been in enough sales situations, you learn from those encounters and get better at reading people. You get better at listening and at adjusting your communication accordingly. You learn the importance of servant selling. You learn to put your ego aside and look for real answers instead of biased self-confirmation. Those skills are useful in sales and in any type of leadership role, especially when you’re leading a company.
Jamie: Do you believe that the best CEOs come from a sales background?
Julio: Not necessarily. If you don’t, however, it’s important to have somebody in your team leadership that does help take care of that side of the business.
Jamie: You think that might vary with company size, whether or not having a salesperson at the head of the company matters the most?
I think early on if somebody is getting a business off the ground, in its purest form, a business is literally a sale. Everything else needs to be built around it to support that particular unit of work or that particular transaction; that’s how you set up.
As I said earlier, if the founder is not literally selling and learning from engaging in that process, then he needs to have a leader as part of the team that will execute that function.
With a bigger company, the challenges evolve, and possibly the head of the company could better use their time in other functions, as long as they keep the main thing the main thing, which is using his or her actions to enable more sales. Maybe not by going out and executing a sale directly anymore, but perhaps by helping to create instruments, processes, building teams, and improving products. All actions are tied to growing sales profitably for everyone involved.
Jamie: What have you found most fulfilling about your career thus far?
Julio: I’m very lucky. I work in an industry where we get to do something profitable, while literally bringing value to every person or organization we interact with along the way. We create financial and career development opportunities for people who are a part of our team. We help home and business owners save money by lowering their electric bills. We are intentional about making a positive impact in the communities that we serve. We have a net positive impact on the environment. It’s cool to be able to do something where you make money and help everybody who is touched by it.
Personally, I am very fulfilled by helping people reach their goals. We’ve been able to design a team that allows me to do that day in and day out.
Jamie: What is the best thing about being in sales?
Julio: I think with sales, you get to help people solve problems. In today’s age, a lot of people claim to want to help the environment. It’s common to see a well-meaning man or woman put a post on social media saying that people should go green, but it’s another thing to have the guts and gumption to go out in the arena – have daily direct conversations with people, facing rejection and push back.
It takes courage. It takes your ability to look someone in the eye and have enough conviction, enough knowledge, and enough patience to really help them come to a conclusion that leads to different behaviour. I think sales is a very tangible way of making a real impact.
Jamie: In your industry, and generally, how do you think salespeople are treated, recognized, and compensated when compared to their peers who aren’t in sales?
Julio: In general, our industry highly values a good salesperson. They’re really well compensated. They’re treated with respect. Our salespeople have to master enough technical knowledge to be able to speak intelligently about the details behind our solutions, yet they also need to have the soft skills necessary to connect emotionally with their prospects. That’s very valuable. I certainly know the value of that type of person, so we try to treat and compensate them accordingly. Industry-wise, there is a lot of competition for salespeople in renewable energy. I think in general, the sales profession and the business development profession is very valued, I’m sure there are companies out there where a sales team member is perceived as just a cog in the wheel. Those companies are missing the boat.
Jamie: If you are a salesperson looking at various companies and you wanted to discover one that had a strong sales culture like yours, who would you look for?
Julio: For starters, you have to believe in what the company is doing and how they do it. Do you believe in what the company stands for? Keep that in mind. In every company out there, you’re going to have to make sacrifices but are those sacrifices the ones that are in line with your beliefs and vision and are they appropriate for your current season?
I think one thing that is maybe not as popular to explore but has proven to be crucially important is timing. The level of sacrifice for an organization in the first 6 months of operation is going to be different than a 3- or 5-year old business, and also different than a 20- or 50-year-old company. Typically, the younger the company, the higher the possible reward, the higher the risk, and lower the certainty. Sometimes, if this is misaligned, you find that a person who would normally perform well in a different organization tends to underperform when their needs and season are not a good match for the current stage of the company.
Jamie: Do you have a recommendation on whether a salesperson should want to start with a big company and go smaller, or start with a small company and go bigger?
Julio: That depends on what that person is looking for or what they think they’re looking for.
If the person is an inspiring entrepreneur, sometimes the best thing that a person can do is to go and partner up with a young company. They’re going to be able to tell now if that’s what they really want to do. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes you have people who because of a more conservative outlook, join a big company only to realize that it is not really what they wanted because they’re not going have the flexibility, and freedom, etc. that they envisioned. The higher the level of structure desired, the more it might make sense to go with a bigger company, but there are lots of variables involved – so essentially just get started, get working, and things will become more clear.
Jamie: What skills do you believe someone should exhibit naturally to go into sales?
Julio: The one that I’ve seen that matters most is work ethic. Work ethic, coachability, and the willingness to learn. Additionally, a paramount skill is learning to listen. If somebody develops great listening skills and works hard, that person can become a great salesperson.
Jamie: Is there a personality type that itself fits really well into renewable energy sales?
Julio: Yes, but I don’t really call it personality type as much as a skill-mix that can work really well. I like to label the mix as a personable engineer. Someone who can think logically understands the science, and numbers behind what our competitors and we do, yet can connect intimately and simplify the complex so anyone can understand the matter at hand and see the value.
Jamie: Are there any advantages or biases in terms of age, gender, or physical appearance that you’re aware of in terms of sales success in the energy industry?
Confidence trumps all that. When you look a person in the eye, smile, and connect with them and treat them as a human being, then all of a sudden they will most likely put their biases aside.
Jamie: What skills do you think are most important to develop for your sales career?
Julio: Listening skills. Genuine curiosity. Active learning. Leadership.
Jamie: What are the biggest challenges in your industry for winning business?
Julio: Competition, for sure. Also, I think standing out as a credible entity is paramount. Renewable energy, specifically the solar side of our business, took off really fast in the United States. Due to that growth, growing companies saw themselves hiring without the proper vetting and without investing in training to make sure the knowledge shared was accurate. Unfortunately, this led to a percentage of misinformed people and broken promises; narrow-minded reps selling something that might not be the best fit for that particular person.
It’s also a somewhat volatile industry. There’s a lot of legislation changes from state-to-state, and you have to constantly adjust to the shifting market and political landscape.
Jamie: Just out of curiosity, how big is your average ticket size on a sale?
Julio: We have 2 product lines. On the energy-efficiency side, which is a smaller part of the business, our average ticket size is around $3,190, and on the solar side, the average is $32,400.
Jamie: What sort of additional training do you give for making that more complex larger sale?
Julio: I would not say that we particularly give additional training for more complex sales. At the moment, even out bigger ticket items are sold through relatively simple sales cycles. We reinforce our training through shadowing, online modules, and group meetings.
Jamie: You said you had online training – how is the sales training in your organization and the industry in general?
Julio: The sales training in our organization has lots of room for improvement, but we are constantly looking for ways to improve. Industry-wise, I think the training has drastically improved over the last few years.
Jamie: How do you go about getting your foot in the door in energy sales?
Julio: Go reach out to a bunch of companies.
Google “solar companies” or “energy companies”. You’ll get a list of a ton of companies because there is a lot of opportunities out there. Take action and send them a message or stop in their office, or else email me.
Jamie: What advice would you generally give to aspiring salespeople?
The two big pillars that I would encourage someone to identify are trust and numbers. How many prospects can you get in front of? Then how good are you, or how good is the organization at helping that particular prospect trust you? The person or the organization that gets in front of the most people who trust them wins.
If you keep that in mind, then it helps simplify things. Ask yourself, “Is the implementation of this thing going to help me be able to talk to more prospects?”
Then, “Will the decision or action that I’m going to make help people trust me?” If it does those things, then it’s probably something that you want to engage in, if it’s not doing that, it will probably waste your time as a salesperson.
Jamie: Julio, if you had your sales career again, what would you do differently?
Julio: Good question. I’m not sure there’s anything I would change. I think of some of those tougher moments when looking back, and I see now the bigger picture, and how that led to lessons that I’m thankful for.
I wouldn’t necessarily want to mess with how things played out but maybe at certain points in time, it would have been cool to go back in time and tell myself, “Hey, let go of your pride and go find out what people are doing well,” instead of just running like a hamster on a hamster wheel.
I would find out who had results and what they were doing in a couple of different scenarios. Personally, I feel like it has taken me, at times, a really long time to realize the obvious. Talking to successful people and executing what they were doing faster would have expedited the learning process. I would tell myself, “Hey, you don’t need 4 years to get to that point of frustration that finally leads to a learning moment. How about you make that decision in year 1 and then benefit from that?” But some of us are more stubborn than others.