As the Chief Implementer of nGame, a human performance consulting company, Gavin Martin is not just encouraged to think differently – he’s required to.
At 12 years old, Gavin sold IT services door-to-door, starting the foundation for what would eventually become Tek Solutions. He gained the attention of a local software company called CPSI, where he worked his way from phone support to Junior Project Manager in less than a year. In 2008, Tek Solutions evolved from a 1-man IT services shop – serving primarily doctor’s offices – to a three person boutique brand management company, called Design by Gavin.
Unsatisfied with the idea of only doing computer-based work for the rest of his life, he shifted gears and earned his Communications and Spanish degrees from Webster University – while venturing into radio with NPR. Gavin was also a logistics manager for a courier company, managed a retail store and salesforce for Sherwin-Williams, and eventually sold Design by Gavin in 2012.
With nGame, Gavin is now helping athletes, start-ups, and mid-market companies achieve their potential by eliminating the obstacles preventing them from getting what they want.
What was your upbringing like, and how did it shape who you are now?
There’s a town west of St. Louis, Missouri called St. Charles — that’s where home was. At that time, St. Charles was an interesting mix of lower-middle class first-time home owners, and a diminishing drug culture. We didn’t have a lot back then, so my friends and I spent our time dreaming about making it big — that is, when we weren’t riding our bikes around causing trouble, and looking for any opportunity to make a few dollars. We were always looking for ways of making money by being a little “smarter” than everyone else. Needless to say, at five years old, we didn’t do so well at the whole being “smarter” thing, but we still went after it. One of my first businesses was doing yard and garden work, which made me between $5 – $15 per yard. I knocked on the doors of retirees and stay-at-home moms during the summer while my dad was at work. During the first week, I brought in close to $60, which ended up being the best week I would have for that summer. Back then, it was a huge disappointment because I thought I could make the same amount or more every single week, but facing that disappointment early on was a good thing because as an entrepreneur, you’ll have entire months like that. Those experiences definitely shaped me.
The role I played in my group of friends was also a big influence. I think any circle of friends has roles. For example, you have the friend who’s the more responsible one, you have a friend who’s the go-getter and often the leader of the group, and there’s the one who goes along with what everyone else is doing, etc. Even today, I’m not sure why it happened this way, but I quickly became the one everyone came to for guidance, and that’s been true ever since.
As far as family goes, we had — and still do have — quite a collection of personalities. My dad has always been a little weird, which is probably where I get it from, and I think the most valuable thing I learned from him was my sense of independence. He’s been in sales for most of his career, and he spent his first 10 years working on 100% commission, and was able to support a four-person household. It takes a boat-load of determination, strength, and responsibility to be able to do that.
What inspires a 12-year-old to become a door-to-door IT salesman, and what sort of responses did you generally get from your customers?
What inspired me back then? Really it was two things: The confidence that I could do it, and the belief that there were problems to be solved.
I was put in front of a computer when I was two, and, not long after, I spent my time taking them apart, fixing them, upgrading hardware, making them run faster – those kinds of things. People want to be good at what they do, and I was known for being able to figure out any piece of tech in under an hour. When I kept hearing people’s frustrations around technology, I sort of felt obligated to help them. It was only after someone handed me $40 – which seemed like all the money in the world at the time – that I realized people were willing to pay. Of course back then, who’s going to say no to a 12-year-old?
How did nGame come about?
The short answer is I found five businesses who needed help with their people, I took them on as “test clients” and told them it would be a learning curve for the both of us, because I wanted to make sure they were okay with that, and the result was their businesses’ growth rate went up an average of 25%. I knew I had something – a methodology, or an approach that was an idea worth spreading, and a company is probably the best way to really share and grow an idea.
The longer answer is after seven years of research, and two years of training 72 hours a week with well-seasoned experts in Performance Management, Leadership, Sales, etc., one of my mentors (he’s now my business partner) said I could take my 1-on-1 work and apply it to helping businesses. I didn’t believe him because my belief was that no one would hire me. The conversation we had in his office went something like this:
Jeff: “Have you thought of working with CEOs?”
Me: “No, because why would they hire me? I’m 24 and I don’t know anything about business.”
Jeff: “Yes, you do. Look at it this way: Businesses are run by people, and you know people. Also, look what you did with your previous businesses and work experience.”
Me: “Yeah, but isn’t my age kind of a deal breaker?”
Jeff: “Look, if someone is going to judge you based on your age, they’re probably not open to doing things differently in the first place. You don’t want to work with those people.”
That conversation went on for awhile, but in the end he taught me that “30 years experience” isn’t a guarantee that someone can solve your problem. Anyone can stay in an industry for 30 years, but what problems did they directly solve? What was the quality of that experience? Were they top-producers for 30 years, or did they do the bare minimum not to get fired? One of my earlier clients – the CEO of a real estate company – paid six-figures to hire someone with an impeccable track-record and 40 years experience in real estate. On paper, this was the guy you wanted to hire, but the problem was he kept trying to apply yesterday’s rules to today’s world, and they lost money that year.
nGame is growing not because we have some new, proprietary secret sauce, nor do we have a one-size-fits-all solution. We don’t believe in “instant pudding.”
All we’ve really done is gathered what we consider the “best-of-the-best” of things like motivation, focus, productivity strategies, efficiency, critical thinking, and communication, and developed an effective, scalable, and relatively easy-to-learn model. Most people are hungry for something that removes guess-work.
What are the most common obstacles a sales team faces in living up to their potential, and how do you go about eliminating them?
In short, sales teams often face low morale, lots of emotional “ups and downs,” they feel frustrations around staying motivated and focused, and they hesitate to pick up the phone, to make those extra calls, and they often aren’t persistent enough when it comes to prospecting and follow-up. To eliminate these things, we’re going to look at their measurements, what they think those measurements mean, how they keep people accountable on the team, the selling system and process they’re using, and we’re going to find the missed opportunities within the organization.
This can get pretty involved, so to keep it concise, let’s look at one of those aspects: Motivation.
Most sales teams think goal setting and the numbers they have to hit are the same thing, when really goals are ideas that represent the desired future you want – they come from the part of us that dreams and imagines. If they do set goals, they set them too low, they don’t review them often enough, they word them in a way that doesn’t inspire action, and they “box in” the goal by putting deadlines and restrictions on them.
If this sounds “fluffy” – it isn’t. We’re talking about the psychology behind when we become intrinsically and absolutely driven to do whatever it takes to accomplish a task or project related to our goals. With that in mind, one of the first things we do is train each sales person to set their goals to be big, we teach them to set them relative to their potential (100%) rather than where they’re currently stuck, we tell them to not put dates or deadlines on those goals, and our recommendation is to write them down twice a day – once when they start their day, and once when they end their day – every single day. We’ve seen “C-Player” sales people turn into “A-Players” in about a month.
Let’s say I’m Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah. I’m a very good NBA player. But I only shoot 72% from the free throw line, and that makes me a bit of a liability at the end of close games. What can you guys do to help me improve?
Free throws are a great example because – from a technique standpoint – the mechanics aren’t terribly complicated. Most players miss these shots because the pressure of the moment gets to them – they’re too inside their own heads. We would help you by teaching you to automatically access that state-of-mind that you have when free-throws feel easy, so whenever you stepped to the line, your head was in the right place. Every person is wired a little differently, but our basic approach would be this:
Has there ever been a time where you were “on your game” and you were making free-throws almost effortlessly?
You don’t have to tell me when that time may have been, but I know you’ve had days where making these shots seemed to happen almost automatically, and you can allow yourself to see what you saw, hear what you heard, and feel what you felt, as you step into that time where you were calm, comfortable, and confidently shooting free-throws and making them.
As you play that movie over and over again, which means you’re making free throws almost effortlessly over and over again, I want you to see what looks like, hearing the sound of the “swoosh” as the ball goes in the basket, and looping that feeling you’re getting because you’re having one of those “on your game” days where you have that sense of total certainty that every shot is going in.
What we’re doing is essentially a mental and emotional version of “catching lightning in a bottle,” meaning we’re isolating the mechanics of the mental state they are in when their game is at it’s best, we’re recreating that state, we’re turning that state into an automatic habit, and we’re making it more effective and stronger by looping – or repeating it over and over again.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working at nGame?
Hands-down, seeing the down-stream results of our work. For example, watching our athletes in competition go from placing 11th or 12th to placing 1st or 2nd, seeing the businesses we’ve helped double in 3-4 months, and watching sales teams close 34% more deals.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
That’s a tough one. In Tokyo, there’s a sushi restaurant on the top-floor of a building that overlooks the city, and their fish comes fresh from the famous Tsukiji fish market. We were presented with what can only be described as a multi-course sushi sampling experience.
As a child, what were the biggest misconceptions you had about adulthood?
It used to seem like adults were totally certain about their life’s purpose. I quickly learned most of us in adulthood have no freaking clue what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives – we’re always making the “best guess” we can at the time.
What do you do better than anyone else?
This is a question that’s almost impossible to answer, because there’s no humble way to say, “I’m the best at this.”
With that said, so far I have a 100% success rate with my 1-on-1 work. Even still, three people come to mind who — when it comes to 1-on-1 work — they’re on another level.
This may not be the right word for it, but I think my greatest strength is innovating, or creating a vision, and developing a plan for bringing it to life. For example, give me all of the available resources, ideas, choices, people, etc., and I can create a strategy — an action plan — and a shared vision that yields a massive result. There are people who are amazing at gathering resources — creating the “here’s what we have.” I’m the “here’s what we do with it, and why.”
What are your short- and long-term goals with nGame?
Our short-term goals and our long-term goals are the same, because – as soon as possible – we want to be the sought-after experts in Human Performance, and we want people to know exactly what that means.