You all know Jill Konrath. Or at least you should. She has nearly ¼ million LinkedIn followers. Her book Selling To Big Companies was chosen as one of Fortune Magazine’s eight “must read” sales books. She also wrote Agile Selling and SNAP Selling, both of which soared to #1 on Amazon within hours of their release. In 2012, she was inducted into Top Sales World’s Top Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame.
Needless to say, she’s kind of a big deal.
Which makes it a huge deal, at least for me, to have been able to chat with her about being one of the top sales people on the planet.
Q: How many years have you been in sales?
A: My entire career
Q: Can you please describe the “aha” moment when you decided you wanted to be in sales?
A: The only reason I went into sales was because I wanted to launch a company. At the time, I was a teacher, but I’d uncovered a good business concept, roped in a few friends to do it with me, and put together a business plan. Together, we met with a SCORE mentor who was a retired VP of Marketing from General Mills. He loved our idea, then said, “Now which of you three is going to be doing sales?” I was appalled, and said to him, “I thought you liked our idea.” He replied, “I do, but somebody has to sell it.”
Shortly after that, I committed to going into sales—for ONE year—so I could learn the ropes. Yet slowly but surely, sales seduced me. I never thought I’d like it because I’d always assumed that salespeople were pushy, manipulative and disgusting. I was stunned when I discovered it was really about having honest conversations focused on helping customers achieve their goals. I also loved how challenging the job was and how it gave me an opportunity to get paid what I was worth … then I was hooked.
Q: What can you tell us about the single biggest sale you ever closed ($, sales cycle, company/ industry, etc.)
A: For the past 20+ years, my work hasn’t been about closing huge deals in one fell swoop. Instead, I’ve focused on building long-term relationships with companies where they hire me to do a smaller project first. Then, when they’re comfortable that I do a great job, they hire me again and again. Work in one business until expands to others. When people leave, they take me with them. By doing this, I’ve transformed a $10,000 project into $500,000+ in business—more than once, in multiple companies.
Q: Which women in sales do you admire most?
A: I admire the women who came before me … who were told they were taking good jobs away from the men. I admire Diane Gulbrandson, my first sales manager at Xerox, who saw potential in me I didn’t even know I had. I admire all the women in WomenSalesPros.com. People like Trish Bertuzzi, Lori Richardson, Kendra Lee, Colleen Stanley, Joanne Black, and more. They’re so darn smart about sales. And they truly want to provide visible role models to younger women in this field.
Q: If you could go back and give your early career minded self advice about a career in sales, what would that be?
A: During my first five years in sales, making my numbers was all that mattered. My company loved pitting us against each other to get us to strive, strive, strive. They rewarded us handsomely too. But I didn’t like the kind of person it turned me into. I was too focused on me, my achievements, my promotions. In retrospect, I’d tell myself to slow down and focus on people more. That’s what really matters for long-term success and happiness.
Q: What advantages do you think women have in sales over men?
A: We plan more and in greater depth. We invest more time researching our customers, looking for ways to connect to them personally and in business. We grow up learning how to ask good questions. We listen well. We look for mutual benefits. We care.
Q: What advice would you give to men about working with women in sales?
A: First a few data points. I just read a statistic that 70% of women achieve quota versus only 67% of men. And women stay with a sales job a full year longer than men do. So I’d say … INVEST in developing your women. You’ll get one year more of productivity out of them and they’ll outperform your sales guys.
I’d also tell men that women are much more likely to tell you their insecurities. When we’re not sure about something or concerned with our abilities to succeed, we’ll voice those thoughts—UNLIKE men, who hide their fears. Often, when women share these feelings, men lose confidence in them because that’s not how sales guys act. Their female reps feel this, which exacerbates their fears/insecurities and leads to a self-fulfilling downward spiral.
Instead, male sales leaders should focus on building confidence in the women who work for them: “You can do it. That’s why I hired you. You’ll figure it out. You’ll get past it. We just need to make sure you learn from every mistake.” When women hear comments like that, they can work through the challenges and succeed!
For more actionable sales advice from Jill, check out her library of free sales resources.
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Other Women In Sales Interviews:
- Women in Sales with Elli Rigolfi of SocialChorus
- Women in Sales with Gabrielle Smith
- Women in Sales with Kiasa Eriksen of Pushpay
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Follow Jill on Twitter: @jillkonrath
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