I get asked this question a lot, so I made this video about it. It's a true story and a question I get a lot, but it takes about 13 mins to answer so here's the whole thing:
I just had coffee with someone who suggested I needed to give my new online business more credibility. I told him, ‘Oh, I put in my bio that I built a $40Million sales team, you don’t think that’s enough?” And he goes, “yea, I saw that. I didn’t believe it, though. I mean, at your age”
Didn’t believe it? My mind starts going. What is this guy, sexist? He doesn’t think a woman my age is capable of building a business?
Then I asked him… “Why don’t you think someone my age could build a $40M business?” and he said, “oh, it’s not that I don’t think you could, I just don’t know how you could.”
Then it was clear. It’s not that he didn’t believe I could, but he didn’t know how because he’d never seen it done before, therefore assumed it was a fabrication. “Do you want to know how?” I said. “Sure, he said,” This is what I said to him:
First, it all started because I hate sales. I hated everything about it, but I needed a job and my dad was a sales trainer. He convinced me to work with him for a healthcare startup in New York. He wrote a book called The Spirituality of Success: Getting Rich with Integrity
But still, I doubted everything he taught me. “That doesn't’ feel right. Aren’t you really just lying? That’s manipulation, Dad” That came in handy because I would attract the same kind of idealistic salespeople on my future team.
I started selling anyway. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I followed the formula every time.
By my second year in sales, I was generating over $1m in personal sales and six-figure commissions. Break that down the average sale was around $450 per month or $5400 per year, and I was making around 4-5 sales per week. To make 4-5 sales I had to have 7-8 appointments. To get 7-8 appointments I had to make at least 200 calls. 80% of those would be voicemails, but I could book appts with about half of the ones I spoke with. I knew my numbers. My close ratios were high. I had a strict schedule. Mondays and Fridays I worked from the office setting appointments. I was in the field Tuesday through Thursday, one weeknight and never on weekends. I was taught the best way to get a sale is to develop a relationship and the best way to develop a relationship is face to face. Every time I cut that corner I regretted it.
From my very first week, though, I was the top salesperson in the company. I wasn’t really sure why at the time because most of the others had years of sales experience behind them and thought I must have been getting some kind of special treatment. But they never considered I was investing more. I made more phone calls than anyone else. I sent more emails. I went to more networking events. I networked online. Got speaking engagements. Advertised. Cold called. Went door to door. Did blog posts. Got PR. Even got a client to feature me on her public access tv show in Staten Island. I followed the “rules.” Read every sales book and invested in every seminar. I had to alter a lot of it to avoid the persona of an icky, sleazy, annoying salesperson without denying that sales is a system and a formula. I knew my product and my competitors products inside and out. I really cared about my clients. I was passionate about what I was selling. We were up against some big giants in the industry and i really wanted us to win. I learned how to take the ego out of selling and deal with rejection.
I learned that sales is an art and a science and a craft that must be mastered. It’s not just about giving information or wanting to help people. It’s about influencing because people inherently don’t want to change. It’s a law of nature. It’s also about doing the right thing for the customer every time, even if it means losing the sale.
Then I was promoted to a sales trainer. I had to learn how to train others. This is now a totally different skill set. Duplicating yourself in others means you have to know exactly what you’re doing to get success. I documented my entire process. I tried to put into words what I experienced in the field. How to handle all different scenarios and different types of people. My Emotional Quotient was high because I had studied Acting in college, but how do you teach that to someone else? This was the biggest challenge in sales training.
As a trainer, I would earn override commissions on their sales. So if I could train 10 people to do half of what I was doing, it was like having three of me in the field. And I did. And our sales when up to $4M year.
After another year I move up to sales management as Regional Vice President of Sales. Now I would have to train other trainers, recruit new agents onto the team and open up channel partners through business development efforts. I read all the sales management and leadership books because, again, this was a totally new skill set. I had to be a leader more than a producer. I had to show people a vision and convince them to come to a commission only sales position because the long-term payout would be worth it, and I had to be proof of that. I was faced with the new challenge of being perceived as just another icky, sleazy, annoying, independent sales opportunity. I had to pay for an office for my team in the Financial District, provide phones and computers, and take out the garbage.
I transferred my sales skills to recruiting skills. Recruiting is a sale in itself. I was interviewing 20-50 salespeople a week. I learned how to predict sales performance based on this interview process. I later put that into an algorithm so I didn’t always have to be the one conducting the interviews. Once I learned that I had more predictable hires and invested in people who were most likely to perform. This had NOTHING to do with their past sales experience. I saw others make the mistake of hiring people based on experience alone and it rarely worked out. It had everything to do with me and my trainer’s ability to train them and my ability to lead them.
I hired all kinds of people. All kinds. There are all kind of prospects out there after all. It makes me queasy to see how homogenous some sales teams are. Our team wasn’t going to be like that. I invested in sales recruiting fairs and online services. We interviewed thousands and trained hundreds. I gave everyone who wanted one a chance.
I knew the numbers of the business inside and out but the people were not a numbers game to me. People were putting their trust in me to feed their families and their dreams. My office had a couch in it. People would rest in there and share their struggles. Way beyond works struggles. I didn’t have the answers, I wasn’t even 30 at the time, but I could listen and I could empathize. It proved to me more and more we really are all the same inside. We just have different stories.
I had to fire a lot of people over the years. I learned the art of letting people go graciously. I knew there was something better for them, and they knew it, too. I never had anyone leave my office angry because they knew what we had invested in them. Everyone earned their way every day.
I invested my commission back in the team. I paid for leads from a third party for the first three months of each new agent business while they learned to generate their own leads and build a word of mouth business. I only accepted full-time agents because I knew that was the commitment level necessary to achieve success. I took their spouses and partners out to dinner on day one because I know how important their support is at home. I took them on rewards trips, dinners, I loved putting together contests. If they won, I would win. It was such an easy formula. But others weren’t willing to do it. I praised them publicly and criticized them privately. I challenged them to dream bigger.
I invested in my team and I invested back into my community. The universe pays you back. Money should not be hoarded. This was one of the many spiritual laws of the universe I Learned in sales and sales management.
People look at sales as competitive, winning, me vs.my prospect. Hunter mentality. Kill kill kill. Me vs. my sales agents. The way some sales managers talk about their salespeople it’s no wonder they don’t want to perform. No wonder they are not loyal. I never had anyone leave to sell for another company. Never. They left for other reasons, but not for that.
Managing commission only salespeople has the added challenge of convincing them every day to show up because they are not getting paid a salary. It has the added challenge of not being able to enlist quotas but convince people to set high expectations of themselves because most people assume they are capable of very little. That is the very essence of management versus leadership.
I opened up partners channels. I landed one of the largest partners in the industry. People ask how. I say, I called them. And I kept calling them until someone called me back. And they said no, but I kept calling anyway to “Check-In,’ you know? Finally one day they said, “We’re ready.” There is only so much you can control about a sale, but when things are aligned, you need to be there. They need to find you. They need to have your number handy and you need to answer the call. They need to remember your name. They wanted to meet over the phone. I insisted on flying across the country to meet them. Again, many others would not have invested their own money in a “maybe.” But I know sales is about relationships. I had to convince them to do business with us and I had to convince the company to do business with them! There was a risk on both sides. But we won the business and their friendship. I’m still friends people I met on that very trip!
Still, it took a year to bring in their first piece of business. It didn’t matter because we were producing directly anyway. You can never depend on one person, channel, or market to bring in all your business. I couldn't even depend on myself! I was in an out of the hospital with Crohn’s disease at the time. I learned that working from a hospital bed is not something I should be proud of. I learned how to make a team run itself. Instead of a sales manager, I had to be a business owner. I had to master systems, nothing could be solely dependent on me. I created a sales manual or sales playbook that standardize our success formula so all the trainers were teaching the same thing and it would always be comprehensive. We would run weekly boot camps for new salespeople. We had to get them producing quickly so they could earn commissions. We didn’t have the luxury of a ramp-up period.
There were new challenges every week. I wanted to quit. My husband had to convince me every Sunday night not to.
I learned not to do anything you can pay someone else to do. I worked three days a week. I had two assistants. One to run the office, one to handle this special channel partner. Once they started producing, the floodgates opened. I was still there. I didn’t quit. Even still they only represented about 30% of my book of business.
Customers renewed. We took care of them. We stayed in touch. We sent birthday cards and holiday wishes.
How did I learn all this? I studied successful people. As they say, “Success leaves clues.” It’s really not that difficult. You just have to act “as if” and copy what successful people do. What do successful people do in your industry? Copy it. If they’re truly successful, they love giving back and they will agree to mentor you if you truly want to do the work.
I invested back into the company during a private offering. I was the only woman at the stockholders meeting. I was the only woman at the management meeting. I was often the only woman in sales presentations. I got used to being the only woman in the room. And also the youngest in the room. If people had preconceived notions about me, I used it to my advantage instead of getting insulted. I loved surprising people. It is also one of the beauties of being an independent salesperson. You are not subject to the same corporate politics as other companies. Your performance speaks for itself.
Look, I know how I come across. I’ve studied how people respond to me. I am very aware of human behavior and quickly catalog reactions and behaviors. It’s all on purpose. The way I look, what I say, how I communicate new ideas, it’s all on purpose so I can fulfill a higher purpose.
After three years as a sales manager, we had built up 5 trainers, 30 full time producing reps, and multiple channel partners. Commissions and renewals stacked upon each other and we grew to over $40 million in annual recurring revenue which equated to around 7,500 renewing customers before the company was finally purchased.
So that’s how I did it, I told him.
“Impressive,” he says.