EPISODE 126: Jennifer Fisher of Charlottesville-Based WorldStrides Tells How Selling Life-Changing Experiences for College Students Impacts Her and Her Sales Team in this Way
JENNIFER’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “I think it’s important to always understand how you’re helping people. Always think about how you are helping that other person and by doing that, you’re going to fall in love with what you do. That is the most important thing because if you don’t like what you do, if you don’t love what you do, go find something else. Life is too short. You have to love what you do and find a way to keep growing in that, never be stagnant, never be stale, keep growing and keep learning.”
Today we’re in Charlottesville, Virginia, and we’re talking to Jennifer Fisher, the VP of Sales for WorldStrides Higher Education Division.
Prior to coming to WorldStrides, she was a sales leader at The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Find Jennifer on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you sell today. Tell us about WorldStrides, tell us what excites you about that.
Jennifer Fisher: I think the biggest thing for me is we actually sell global experiences. We are working in an area that we are actually changing lives and it’s such an impactful difference that it excites and puts energy in everybody. Basically, we work with colleges and universities and their study abroad offices, helping to send students abroad to really get that global experience. What’s wonderful and so impactful is that there are students who have never left their own state before, let alone the country. They are now going to China or Vietnam or South Africa and they’re coming back different people. Being in an environment that we are actually changing lives is amazing.
Fred Diamond: Is it study abroad or is it something different?
Jennifer Fisher: It is study abroad and mainly what we do are two week programs, give or take, so they’re short-term programs. It’s usually tied to a curriculum at a university so they might go to China for two weeks to study supply chain management or marketing and really have company visits to learn how the Chinese government works or the government and their businesses over how they work and do business. It’s fabulous.
Fred Diamond: The student affairs department, you said, is your main customer?
Jennifer Fisher: Usually the study abroad office. It’s really impactful and it’s amazing the number of students that we impact on a yearly basis after all of WorldStrides.
Fred Diamond: The world’s obviously becoming smaller, is this something that is growing? Is it a hugely growing marketplace? Help our listeners understand how big of a market there is for this particular type of product.
Jennifer Fisher: It is huge and it is definitely growing. We’re seeing an increase in about 10% to 12% every year in short-term programs. It’s definitely getting bigger, we do have long-term semester programs. Lots of times, what we’re seeing is law students who can’t afford the longer programs or can’t afford to be away from school or their home or their responsibilities, so they are doing the short-term programs and that’s where we’re seeing the rise every year. Huge opportunity to really impact lives.
Fred Diamond: Very good, that obviously excites you.
Jennifer Fisher: [Laughs] I love it.
Fred Diamond: Our listeners around the globe, I think, can understand that. Let’s go back to the beginning of your career, tell us about how you first got into sales as a career.
Jennifer Fisher: The funny story is I got into it by accident. I got into a job, I was working in doing some advertising and it was more on the production and operation side but I love dealing with people and talking to them on the phone. Lots of times, I was the one who was calling up the customer and making recommendations or offering them other ideas for their advertising. “Have you thought about this?” or, “What can we do about this?” and what ended up happening was I was helping to solve their problems and I enjoyed it.
I never thought of it until sales, until somebody actually said, “You’re doing a good job in sales.” I thought, “I’m not in sales, what are you talking about?” Looking at it in a way that you really are there to help people and help solve their problems, that’s what’s important and that’s really what this is all about.
Fred Diamond: I have a quick question, you mentioned in the beginning part of the interview that at the age of 40, I believe you said you went back for your master’s in business. For the Sales Game Changers who are also sales leaders, give us a little bit of insight into what prompted you to make that career decision to go back and get an MBA in that stage of your career.
Jennifer Fisher: As I said before, I was almost 40 and it was one of those things that I was always the kind of person that wanted to continue learning and do better in my field. I thought one way to do this was we were at the time, at my previous company we were getting ready to do a very global marketing strategy. It was called Go Global and we were trying to do some things and I thought, “I don’t really have a lot of experience in a global market.” On my own, that’s when I decided to go back, get my MBA and my focus on MBA was in global strategies and marketing management. That was just something that I wanted to do so I could come back and add value to my company, and help out.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously for your customers of WorldStrides, are they just in the US or is it Canada as well, or is it worldwide?
Jennifer Fisher: It is worldwide. We work with people in Canada, we work with colleges and universities in the UK, Switzerland, China, Australia, so we are worldwide.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the lessons you learned when you made that shift, when you realized that you were in sales?
Jennifer Fisher: I think the biggest thing for me is that you have to be intentional with your sales plan. This isn’t something that on a whim you go in and you make a phone call and do good, that doesn’t happen. You have to be very intentional and you have to do your homework. Sales is hard, you have to have a lot of grit and determination, and I think the biggest thing that young people need to have is a growth mindset. There’s always ways that you can do something better, there’s always a new way of doing something and you have to have a positive mindset. Be positive about it, be optimistic, but really be intentional. Put your plan together and work your plan.
Fred Diamond: Let’s go back to you again. What are you an expert in? Tell us a little bit more about your specific area of brilliance.
Jennifer Fisher: I would say probably for me my biggest thing is relating with clients and being empathetic. In that relationship with the client is the empathy of helping my client solve their problems. I’m really in it, I’m not there to sell something. I really want to listen and learn what your problems are and how I can help do it. The full belief in what I’m selling and how that’s going to help you. I look at it as, “Why wouldn’t you talk to me? Why wouldn’t you want to have me help you with your problems?” I fully believe that, and then in building that relationship with my customer I’m able to help them.
Fred Diamond: I’m just curious, you mentioned you’re a problem solver, you just brought it up a couple times in that last question. What are some of the problems that you’re helping the study abroad department solve?
Jennifer Fisher: Lots of times there are definitely a lot of challenges in studying abroad right now, especially with risk management, especially with some academics going on. Lots of times, especially at universities they have some budget issues and you have a small study abroad office and they want to give the students the best opportunity that they can because these are opportunities for students to come back to put on their resume, to get the better job, to do things that they would not be able to do in the past.
This is something that I can help them with, we craft and program development a program that’s going to meet their academic goals and it’s going to give them the risk management and the safety that maybe they can’t do on their own. All these things in order to help give that student the most wonderful experience possible.
Fred Diamond: We mentioned that you were at The Chronicle of Higher Education for the vast part of your career before coming over to WorldStrides. Tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career.
Jennifer Fisher: I would say my impactful sales mentor is Laura McFarland, she is now one of my good friends but she came to The Chronicle almost 20 years ago. I did not work for her, but we worked side by side as colleagues in different areas and she was somebody who fully believed in me probably when no one else did, when they looked at someone who was just doing operations or production. She was the one who says, “You have a knack for this, you’re picking up the phone and offering another solution to the client than what they said they wanted to do or buy and you’re saying, no, don’t do that, here’s what I think is going to help you.” She was the one who saw that in me and she helped craft me and believe in me and really mentored me into the person I am today.
Fred Diamond: We’ve actually done some work with Laura as well, we’d love to get her on the Sales Game Changers podcast at some point.
Jennifer Fisher: Love it, absolutely. She’s fabulous.
Fred Diamond: You manage a lot of people right now, what are the two biggest challenges that you face as a sales leader?
Jennifer Fisher: I would probably say my #1 challenge right now is recruitment, finding the right people who are willing to work hard and to learn the business. Lots of times you see people come in and, one, two phone calls and they want to have it all. That’s just not the way this works. I also look at it on two areas, you want to find the right people who are going to fit in with the culture because that’s what’s very important, and at the end of the day you want somebody who is able not only to learn the craft of sales, but I want them to learn our business, the global experience’s business.
It’s important to continue learning about what we do, what we offer and why that is so important. I would say that’s probably my #1 challenge is the recruitment, and then on the same sphere I’d probably say the second biggest challenge is the retention. When you do identify those great team players, how can we motivate them? How can we get them to stay and do the craft here and do what they do really well here?
Fred Diamond: That’s the #1 thing that we hear on the Sales Game Changers Podcast. As a matter of fact, the Institute for Excellence in Sales actually modified our mission based on all the interviews that we’ve done to help sales leaders acquire, retain, motivate and elevate top tier sales talent. Just curiously – those are your two big challenges, recruitment and culture to ensure that you retain – how have you solved that problem? What are some things you’re trying to do to solve it?
Jennifer Fisher: It’s ongoing. It’s one of those that especially when you find good people, lots of times they associate with people that are the same good culture fit that we have. Lots of times we reach out to them, “Do you have anyone who’d be interested?” In a lot of cases, we do reach out. We are in Charlottesville, so we’re in a college town, it’s definitely working with universities here or around here that we try to get if there are students right out of school that we can then help train them. If they have the grit and determination and be able to roll up their sleeves and work hard, there’s a way that we can help train them, too. Not just in a sales environment, but in a growth mindset and learning and moving forward. A couple things that we’re doing, I’m sure there’s other areas that we continue to work on, but those are some things that we’re trying to do.
Fred Diamond: Obviously it comes down to the individual, but you mention you bring in a lot of people from colleges. What are some of the degrees that you have found work well for this type of a solution?
Jennifer Fisher: Interestingly enough, I would say a business degree has been very helpful but lots of times it is the students who have traveled internationally, the students who have studied abroad because they come back with that same energy and that same passion so they are great ambassadors and they really learn how to recommend solutions to other study abroad offices. What worked for them, what could be done differently or changed. That’s usually a big indicator, too.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you take us back to the #1 success or win from your career that you’re most proud of?
Jennifer Fisher: There’s probably a few here and there over my career, but I would probably say one of the biggest ones – it was probably a little recently, too. What excites me and what is a big win for all of us is when we all come together to work as a team. That’s huge and I’ll tell you what, the energy in the room when something like that happens, recently we had a situation with one of our top university partners. We were working really hard, we were trying to get the right air fare, we were trying to get the right ground, we were working all sorts of things and every little piece of things started falling apart at the last minute. We had to pull everyone together and I got in touch with our air team, with our ground team and I ranked everybody together and, “This is what we have to do. We’ve got to move forward with this.”
Over the weekend, on a Sunday, in the evenings and by Monday morning it was perfect and we had it all set. It was one of the things we came in on Monday morning and we’re high-fiving each other and we’re patting each other on the back and that’s exciting. That is a team environment that’s working hard for the same mission, you don’t find that in a lot of places.
Fred Diamond: For the Sales Game Changers listening to the podcast around the globe, as someone who’s been able to instill that, what are some of your secrets, so to speak, on building teams?
Jennifer Fisher: I think trust is the biggest component, and I also think as an individual, being vulnerable. You need to be able to trust somebody, be vulnerable, asking for their feedback and sometimes I think at the end of the day what a lot of people forget about is just being kind. We’re all in this, we all have the same goal, we’re all in this to help the client out, we’re all trying to do the right thing. Let’s work together and be the tie that lifts everybody up.
Fred Diamond: Did you ever question being in sales? Do you every say to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s really not for me”?
Jennifer Fisher: [Laughs] you know what’s funny? I actually have never questioned myself. I love it, I absolutely love what I do. It is hard, and there are days that it gets you down and I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh” and you just have to go home and lick your wounds a little bit, but at the end of the day you learn from it. You come back and say, “What could I have done differently? What could I have done better?” and you go out and do it again. At the end of the day, I focus on the good things and I focus on our wins and all the things that are happening right. I will tell you, that is an adrenaline rush. When good things do happen, that adrenaline rush will carry you through any bad moments that you have.
Fred Diamond: One thing I’ve learned, again we’ve done 150 Sales Game Changers podcast episodes and when the Sales Game Changer who we interview thinks of themselves as a problem solver, I begin to notice that there’s more passion because they’ve shifted from the “we, me, my team” to the customer. If you continually solve customer’s problems, that’s a great way to ensure you’re going to continue to grow your business. Jennifer, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them take their career to the next level?
Jennifer Fisher: I have a few things, and I think the first one is always believe in what you are selling. Always have the mindset that you are really helping to solve their problems. You’re working hard and I think as you mentioned before, we’re not trying to sell something, we’re trying to help solve a problem and offer solution for them. There are times where it may not be the right fit, but we’re always there finding a solution.
I think #2, you’ve got to do what you love. That’s where you’re going to find your passion and your energy will shine through and everyone can see that when it’s authentic and it’s real because you just love what you do. I think the last thing is you’ve got to be a team player. Yes, sometimes you’re the only one on the phone with the client but at the end of the day it’s the team, it’s your operations team, it’s your pricing team. Sometimes it’s your manager who’s helping you, too. It’s a team effort so it’s important to always be gracious, be kind and be thankful for all the support that you have.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you do on a continual basis to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Jennifer Fisher: I will say I always listen to podcasts and this is a great podcast to listen to, but I definitely listen to many podcasts. Sales podcasts, leadership podcasts, I always have a nose in a book. I’m always recommending books to my sales team, we have a little book club and we recommend books to each other and we read and we’ll talk about them during our sales meetings.
Fred Diamond: Not to put you on the spot, but what are some of the great sales books that you recommend?
Jennifer Fisher: I will say right now what we’re doing is reading with Anthony Iannarino, he’s got some great books and his newest one just came out about Eat Their Lunch and working with competition, that is a huge one. Also there are some books on teamwork, looking on The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Ideal Team Player because again, we all have to work as a team in order to be successful. Those are some that I’m actually reading right now.
Fred Diamond: Anthony Iannarino is a good friend of ours.
Jennifer Fisher: Fabulous.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Jennifer Fisher: Probably the biggest initiative is working with my team, coaching and mentoring my team. At the end of the day, I’m not successful, WorldStrides isn’t successful if my team isn’t successful and I want them to grow every day and be more successful and learn the business. Not just the craft of selling but actually learning our business about global enterprises and global experiences.
Fred Diamond: Sales is hard, we talked about working with a lot of young people. Just curiously before I ask you that question, do you have to educate your customer on what you do or are they looking for you? How does that sale usually go about?
Jennifer Fisher: Lots of times they know what we do, or they think they know what we do. What I want to do is sometimes show them that we can do more than what they may think we can do. I want to let them know that we’re there to help them and here are all the different things where we can add value to what you already do. I know in some cases, lots of times they can do a lot of things on their own which is great, so sometimes we’re like, “You continue doing what you want to do and we’ll help you on the areas that you need help with.”
At the end of the day, there’s so much more that we offer them and sometimes they just don’t know that, so I want to help but the first thing you have to do is learn what some of their problems are. You have to listen to them and ask the questions to see what they’re trying to achieve and what their goals are, and then see how we can help them with that.
Fred Diamond: Obviously you have a passion. I have to admit, you’re easily one of the most energized people that we’ve interviewed on the Sales Game Changers podcast. This interview is going to be over in like 15 minutes. [Laughs], no, we’re getting great content here. You’ve mentioned some things, but what is it about the sales career that has kept you going?
Jennifer Fisher: Part of it what I had said before, too. It’s addictive, I absolutely love it. I love working with people and I feel like I meet them one time, I just feel like we’re fast friends and the more that I can help them achieve their goals, the happier we both are. It’s really satisfying and the business that I’m in with these global experiences, I may be working with a study abroad office and helping them but when I’m on campus and I talk to a student who was on one of our programs and they come back, the different view that they have, the confidence that they have, the excitement that they bring is amazing and I sit back and think, “Oh my gosh, we really help change lives.” This is amazing, what we can do and how lucky I am to be able to do it here.
Fred Diamond: I got to imagine if you’re a 20 year old kid and you spend two weeks in China and you’ve never left, let alone the United States, but your home town it’s got to be a remarkable experience and it sounds like the trips that you put together are world-class, first class trips. Is that a big part of making sure that you hit all the right spots and all those types of things?
Jennifer Fisher: Absolutely, and probably the biggest thing – because lots of times we say we’re more than just a travel company – education is #1. Not only can we put all the travel logistics together, it is about the education so if you’re learning marketing or supply chain management, whatever that looks like, we’re putting the educational piece in and of course if you’re in China, you’re going to go see the Great Wall of China.
There are just some things you’re going to do because the culture adds to the experience and once you understand and learn about the culture, you understand why business is done a certain way in that country. Then you can really do what I like to call the “compare, contrast and how does that look now?” Sometimes you look at the “so what? So what happened here?” and if that happens, now what and what are the next steps? Again, looking at the different methodology and really seeing how this is impacting what you’re doing and how you can take it back to your university, your school, your state, you’re going to go look for a job now, how that’s going to be able to help you look for a job, too.
Fred Diamond: Talk about the education component. Is there a classroom time that is included typically with part of your trips?
Jennifer Fisher: Sometimes, sometimes not. There are various times where there will be a little bit of classroom time because maybe the professor wants to teach something. In other cases, the course work is all taught on campus and then maybe during spring break or at the end of the semester they will go abroad and they will then learn and see firsthand what they learned in the text books because now you’re there living it for real and you’re never going to forget it. When you go to Vietnam or you go to Colombia – which I just got back from a group with Colombia – you learn about some of the things that are happening there. Seeing energy and sustainability and how they’re doing some things, this is really incredible.
One of the other interesting things, lots of times people go abroad and they do these study abroad programs, and they come back and you think they’re going to talk about how different everything is. “It’s so different in China and they do things so differently.” What I’ve learned in traveling in a lot of these programs is that there’s a lot more that we all have in common than what we have in differences. Everyone, they’re trying to raise their family, they’re trying to make a living, they’re trying to do all these things and it’s amazing. I always like to tell the students and I like to tell my university partners that I work with, we all smile in the same language. There’s a lot more in common than there are differences.
Fred Diamond: If we could bring people together, you know what I’m saying? It sounds like your company is doing that, WorldStrides. Just curiously, how did your company get started?
Jennifer Fisher: This is a wonderful story. One of our past CEO’s, his uncle built the company over 50 years ago and it was based on middle school trips to Washington DC. He was based outside of Chicago and they would run a lot of middle school programs to DC, to see the White House and all the monuments and everything. Then they added in the Williamsburg component and in some of the places where they were driving the students back and forth, they were in Charlottesville and thought, “It’s beautiful here” and the weather was better than being in Chicago. They ended up moving the company here and then it just started growing. They started doing high school programs and then the higher education division and then branching out instead of just doing all domestic. Now they’re doing some international programs, it’s amazing but it all came from the philosophy of educating the students and changing lives.
Fred Diamond: Jennifer, I want to thank you for being on the Sales Game Changers podcast. You’ve given a lot of great insights on how to work with customers, how to have energy, the passion keeps coming through which is great. You need to have that passion to be successful in selling anything, there’s a lot of things you need to do to be successful. You need a great solution, you need a great product, you need a great management, a great competition, the whole thing, if you will. One thing you said which really struck me is if you don’t have passion for the product, it’s almost impossible to sell, or not impossible but very difficult to achieve great lengths and great extremes. Before we break, why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening to the podcast around the globe?
Jennifer Fisher: I think it’s important to always understand how you’re helping people. I don’t care what you’re selling, if you were selling a used car that could be a single mom coming in who has no way to pick her son or daughter up from school and get to a doctor’s appointment. Always think about how you are helping that other person and by doing that, you’re going to fall in love with what you do. That is the most important thing because if you don’t like what you do, if you don’t love what you do, go find something else. Life is too short, you have to love what you do and find a way to keep growing in that, never be stagnant, never be stale, keep growing and keep learning.
Fred Diamond: I just got one last question. Obviously with all this passion that’s come through in the podcast and the concept of team that’s come up, I know I asked you the question before about what are some things you do to build a team and you mentioned trust and be vulnerable, etcetera. You seem to have a great insight into building teams, can you share one or two more things on some of your secrets to your success on how you’ve built a team, how you care about your team? You have a lot of young people, it seems, we met your team before the interview. Give us some insights into your mindset, you mentioned the word mindset a number of times too, of course growth mindset. Give us some of your insights into how you’ve been effective in growing teams like that.
Jennifer Fisher: I think the biggest thing is you have to be very honest. I think being authentic, the team knows that you really care about them. You don’t just say the words, you talk the talk and walk the talk and all that stuff, so they know that. One of the things that I’m always reiterating to the team, especially when we make mistakes, when we do drop the ball, we do fumble the ball and you pull everybody together.
Just this morning something like that happened and I had to pull various people in coming from the sales team as well as a few other divisions or the operations side that we pulled in. I had to say, “No one’s getting in trouble, but let’s understand where we dropped the ball and how we can get better.” I think once the team knows that you really do care and you’re trying to help them, they trust you. It’s not just me trusting them, they trust me that I want what’s best for them. Let’s just talk through everything, I’m not trying to point fingers or anything, we all want to get better. Let’s understand that as a group.
What I’ve seen when you really approach things like that, the team, they each admit. They each are like, “That was my fault. Susie over there, she was great, this was on me.” Susie’s going, “No, it was on me” and that’s building their team, too. That’s bonding together and again, we’re all in this together. We have to get along, we have to trust each other and again, it’s not about pointing fingers and calling out everything we’re doing wrong, it’s calling out what we did right and how we can just keep getting better.