EPISODE 033: Women on Course’s Tina Fox Shows How Being Authentically Curious About Your Prospect’s Needs Will Increase Your Sales
Tina Fox is an inspirational leader with a 24-year career as an award-winning salesperson and business development executive in both Fortune 100 and successful startup companies in the medical-device industry. Today Tina is the founder of Fox Paradigm Consulting and the co-owner of Cobalt Settlements in Arlington, VA. She has a strong history of identifying opportunities that trigger multimillion-dollar growth. She’s a champion for women in business and mentors women who are aspiring leaders.
In 2015 she founded Women in Business, which connects more than 1,200 businesswomen focusing on networking, business problem solving, and access to local leadership. In 2017 she announced the merger of Women in Business with Women on Course, a nationally recognized women’s group.
Find Tina on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tina, tell us what you sell today and what excites you about that.
Tina Fox: What I sell today is actually very different from a 22-year career in selling products in the medical-device arena. I have the joy of running Cobalt Settlements, and it’s really about the people in this business. I have an opportunity to connect with business partners and talk to them about how our people will help make them look good and get them through the real-estate process. I also lead Women on Course, which supports women in their growth in business.
Fred Diamond: You have 22 years in the medical-device industry. How did you get into sales? What was the first job you had when you got into sales?
Tina Fox: It wasn’t a job, but I first got into sales in elementary school, winning a contest for the child who could sell the most wrapping paper and candles! I asked my mom if I could come and sell in her office building, which was a large building, because I had my eye on the prize. I wanted that giant teddy bear. There was nothing more in the world that I wanted than that giant teddy bear.
And that teddy bear sits in my office today. I had done such a great job in selling to the individuals in my mother’s office,. As a kid coming in wide-eyed and innocent you hear a lot of yes; you don’t get a lot of nos. So my very first experience in sales was nothing but a lot of yeses, so I thought, “Who would not like a career in sales? This is so easy.” I had a lot to learn, but that’s how I officially got into sales.
Fred Diamond: You said you’re selling people and ideas, but you did sell medical devices for 22 years for Fortune 100 companies and also for startup companies. What are some of the lessons you learned from the medical-device sales part of your career that have translated to now, where you’re selling people and ideas?
Tina Fox: I mentioned to you how I got into sales and one of the reasons is because I heard the word “yes” a lot. One of the key lessons I learned in my early days in sales in the medical-device market was that there’s a lot of “no” that you hear. “No, this isn’t a good fit.” “No, this isn’t going to work with our budgets.” Therefore hearing no often was one of the things I had to overcome in order to continue my sales career. Even though yes is my favorite response, I learned very quickly that no could be my second favorite response, and that was primarily because the more nos I heard the faster I was getting to the next yes.
Fred Diamond: You know what they say in sales, “The first thing you want to get is a quick yes, and the second thing you want to get is a quick no.” A lot of the conversations we’ve had have been about how do you get past getting all the nos… Tina Fox, tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Tina Fox: It’s authentic curiosity. When it comes to sales I think that at the core of my success is authentic curiosity. I’m a military brat, so I’m used to being the outsider. I’m used to having to come into different states, different schools, even different countries with different cultures, and assimilate quickly. That was my job. I was the outsider coming in, and authentic curiosity for me was the development over many years of a genuine interest in other people: learning new things about them and, in so doing, expanding my horizons and really figuring out, once I learned about them, how things connected. How people connected, how ideas connected.
That’s been the core of my sales success. It’s through authentic curiosity and developing layers of questioning where we really seek the truth and identifying where we need to head as far as our next steps are concerned.
Fred Diamond: Tell us why you shifted away from selling medical devices for 22 years, how you got to create Women in Business, and how you got to create some of the things that you’re now doing as part of Fox Paradigm Consulting.
Tina Fox: Vision changes over a lifetime. Certainly in my 20s I was conditioned, coming out of college and being an American, that you go and you get a good job, you work really hard, hopefully you get promoted, and you do good things.
My 30s brought about the opportunity for family. I loved my career, but I also loved my family. I was in a national travel job. I was an executive based out of Washington, D.C. but serving Western areas, particularly Silicon Valley. In doing so I was not a present person in my family’s life. So the opportunity came through my son, who is now nine. When he was five, he said one quick statement that made all the difference in my life. He said, “Mommy, you’ve been gone too long.”
And so it dawned on me that as much as I enjoyed my career and having a great time in the medical-device space I needed to reinvent, utilizing my talents and skills in sales and applying them in a different avenue. When I did that, those opportunities came.
I started Fox Paradigm Consulting. I’m now the owner and chief revenue officer for Cobalt Settlements. In that I thought maybe in my exploration of reinventing self, I could support other women in business to identify their authentic self and who they are and support them, whether in sales or in overall professional development. That’s how Women in Business started.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us a little insight into the challenges that women in sales are facing? And maybe some of the ways that they’re solving some of those challenges.
Tina Fox: The biggest challenge I see with women in sales is that there aren’t a lot of them in sales. Medical devices for a long time have been a very primarily male-dominated technical world. I absolutely adored all of my male counterparts, but when I had the ability to hire it was difficult finding women who wanted to identify with that high-end technical space. I tried to encourage women today that they actually would make excellent salespeople. And the reason they’d make excellent salespeople is they have the empathy factor. They have great listening skills, they have the ability to be very thorough, and they also have a genuine sense of curiosity, and I think that makes for great questions that then further the conversation to potentially lead to a great sale.
Fred Diamond: One of the things that we keep talking about is the ability to ask the right questions. I believe that Tony Robbins says that the number-one factor for success is your ability to ask the right questions. So I like that idea of authentic curiosity. You have the domain; I’m curious to see where you go with that.
You’ve had a great career here. You’ve gotten help along the way. You now have an organization that specifically is designed to mentor women who are looking to grow their sales and business careers. Who was an impactful sales career mentor for you, and how did they impact your career?
Tina Fox: A gentleman out of New York named Manny Asser really impacted my career, but this wasn’t until very late in my career. I wish I had met Manny many years earlier. Manny, first of all, was a champion for Women in Business. He took me under his wing and gave me an opportunity to be a global sales trainer. However, one thing that Manny taught me—and it drove me crazy when we were doing it but at the same time it prepared me for a future career in being able to understand the other side—is that regardless of if he and I were on the same page as far as how something was going to be executed or what the response was going to be or how we were going to roll something out, he always wanted me to identify with the 0.1% that could think differently about how something could be done or why it should be done in a different way.
Again, we could have been on the same page, but he made me exercise understanding of the other side. That helped me with objection handling. It also helped me in creating a better debate, but it helped me put myself in the shoes of another person even though they might have been the minority. It really focused me on how we may need to change certain aspects of what we do to be more inclusive of the total.
Fred Diamond: Do you still keep in touch with Manny?
Tina Fox: I do. On occasion we chat now and again. He’s since retired, and he’s doing his passion, which is out there umping for baseball teams, so I’m very proud of Manny. I’ll always hold him near and dear to my heart.
Fred Diamond: One of the best parts of the podcast is hearing some of the stories about the mentors and people who’ve helped people, and that’s a great example: to think about the 0.1% who think differently. As you just said, it helped you understand how to handle objections better and how to provide more value to some of your customers. So what are the two biggest challenges, Tina Fox, that you’ve faced today as a sales leader?
Tina Fox: One I’ve touched on a little bit, and that’s encouraging women to join the ranks, particularly in high-end sales. Quite honestly, because there are so many men who are in the roles of opportunities to hire people into those lanes, [it’s also about] convincing the men that providing an opportunity for women to become salespeople is really going to round out their team and give them, I think, a higher level of sales than if they had an all-male team. I think it should be a great blend. So that’s one of the top things that as a sales leader I struggle with. It’s convincing those who are in positions of power to hire folks who may not look like them, act like them, but it’s also convincing women that they have the abilities in order to get into those sales.
And then the other thing, this is something that it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, is really convincing people that sales is not a dirty word. That sales actually is honorable and one of the most valuable careers anybody could ever have and that it can be done in an elegant manner. I don’t think anybody relates elegance with sales, but you know those people in your life who you didn’t want to be sold by but somehow you bought from them because you trusted them? That person is an elegant salesperson. They identified the need, and they did it in a way that didn’t make you feel like you needed to purchase, but you purchased anyway because it was the right thing for you at the time.
Fred Diamond: There’s a speaker we’ve brought to speak at the Institute for Excellence in Sales before. Her name is Lisa Earle McLeod, and she wrote a book called Selling with Noble Purpose. She then followed it up with a book called Leadership As a Noble Profession. She talks about that, she talks about the value of selling, especially what you were talking before about high-end sales and things like that.
I want to ask you one other quick question based on your answer a second ago. If you were to engage in a conversation with a gentleman who was leading a world-wide sales organization, and you had the opportunity to speak to him about growing the ranks of women in sales leadership, what are some of the things you would say that he may not know?
Tina Fox: Most large organizations—because I was also part of those—have some sort of a women’s program to them. I challenge the male leaders of the company to not have the program for the company but to join the program and to sit and listen to what it is that the women discuss in these programs. It’s one thing to host a day or to say that you have a program; it’s another thing to be engaged. I think the more that you’re engaged with the women who are in your organization, the better off you’re going to be in understanding how they may be able to commit even more to your organization or possibly be brought over into sales if that isn’t the career path that they started in your organization.
Fred Diamond: What is the number-one specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of?
Tina Fox: Everybody remembers their first President’s Club win. I certainly remember mine. It wasn’t so much being onstage, getting the ring, going on the trip, getting the money. More importantly, it was about getting there and what that meant. When I was interviewed for the territory I remember the manager had said to me, “You have a choice; there are actually two territories open in the D.C. metropolitan area. There’s D.C. proper, and then there’s northern Virginia. D.C. proper is number 6 out of 96 in the country; northern Virginia is number 96 out of 96 in the country. Which one would you like to have?”
And quickly I said, “I’ll take 96.” And he looked at me dumbfounded and said, “Why in the world would you take 96? I just said it’s the dead last.” I said, “I have an opportunity to make more of an impact on something that is dead last than take something that is already doing well.” I said, “Hire somebody to continue to farm that. I need to hunt at 96.”
And so within two years I made good on my promise: 96 became the new number 6 in the United States, and I was able to say to my manager, “Thank you for believing in me, trusting me, and giving me an opportunity from the very bottom to make it to the top.”
Fred Diamond: I like that you chose number 96. You should have the number 96 on your wall somewhere the same way you have, was it a teddy bear that you won?
Tina Fox: A teddy bear. The teddy bear is there, but I need to get it a shirt with number 96 on it.
Fred Diamond: Tina, you’ve had a great career in sales. You’ve told us some of your successes. Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s not for me.”
Tina Fox: I’ve had many moments. I’ve had moments every decade, I think, and I shared some of those moments in a Facebook post recently. I was encouraged by women in business whom I support to join the #MeToo movement because they knew of my stories. In my 20s I had a customer who wouldn’t sign a nearly $1 million deal unless I would go out with him. My boss, upon hearing we weren’t getting the deal, was disappointed that I didn’t salvage the conversation so that he could put a man on the job instead of me.
That was the first time I wondered if I should stay in sales. I actually left the job shortly thereafter, made three times more money, and then proceeded to show the other gentlemen in the office that they could do the same. Many of them are my good friends to this day. And I did that because I knew my worth.
In my 30s I had another opportunity to unfortunately go into the #MeToo story: a customer who thought was okay to show up in a robe and ascot. I let him know that that wasn’t appropriate. After doing so he never disrespected me again, and it’s because I know that I provide value and I’m a respected businessperson.
And then lastly, in my 40s, a business acquaintance said his wife had lost her spirit for life. When I asked if she had passed away he said, “No, she just doesn’t have your spirit. I really like your spirit. Perhaps we can just date without anyone needing to know.” I promptly left that meeting. There are those moments where you wonder what it is that you’re really doing, but I know that I’m a leader, and now I can use my voice for positive change.
So yes, there are those moments, I know that that tends to identify more with women, but I want to tell them to hang in there, know your worth, know that you provide value, and become a leader and support others in doing the same.
Fred Diamond: Tina, let’s get some tips for the sales game changers listening to today’s podcast. What’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Tina Fox: You know, there’s a book I read by Harvey Coleman called Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Game Revealed. In that book he talks about a simple premise, the PIE premise: Performance, Image, and Exposure. What I would tell junior representatives is that, especially in sales, you’re focused very much on the performance. It’s all about the number. I hit my number, I exceeded my number, therefore based on that I should be promoted, provided a larger territory, given a junior assistant, whatever the case may be.
And then there’s image. I think as salespeople we all present a pretty decent image. But the third thing is exposure, and for the ladies out there in particular I’m going to talk about exposure because this is something I regretted not doing. Exposure is really identifying with somebody in the organization who is not just a mentor but is going to be a champion and a sponsor,. I think the guys are really good at doing this; they demonstrated that to me. I learned a lot from them, and when I read this book it all kind of came full circle for me that your performance is extraordinarily important, but so is the exposure. If the right people don’t know about it and they don’t know about what else you offer outside of the numbers, then you’re not going to explode in your career the way you possibly should.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What are some of the things you do today to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Tina Fox: Again, I didn’t realize this until about three years ago. Three years ago I decided to start attending networking meetings that were outside of my scope of business. I did this with entrepreneurs, and what I learned in attending those kinds of networking meetings is I got a different way of thinking, because these folks weren’t necessarily in my lane of business. But also they were all fighters, they were all winners, they were all people who were really trying to move themselves up in the world,. So that would be a little bit of advice that I would give to sharpen your saw: to stay fresh by going out there with entrepreneurs but not necessarily ones just in your industry. Explore other industries as well.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Tina Fox: Today I define success a little bit differently than I did in my 20s… I define success as the positive impact that I can make for others. It’s really more about leaving a positive legacy. I created the passion project we spoke about, Women in Business,. It is now moving to Women on Course, and it’s really to inspire women to network, as I mentioned in the last comment: to network outside their lane, to solve ubiquitous business issues, and to grow in their business. So the more I can do that for others, the more I feel fulfilled in what I’m doing in my life.
Fred Diamond: You’ve talked about some of your successes along the way. Some great tips for women and men on how they can be more productive as sales professionals. But sales is hard. We talked in the very beginning about all the nos you started to get once you moved out of selling wrapping paper in elementary school into medical devices. People don’t return your calls or your emails. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Tina Fox: It’s really about the joy of growth. It’s putting yourself in difficult situations and having to figure out a way to move forward. It’s problem solving at its absolute best. Persuasion, communication, authentic curiosity, all of those things bring joy into my space. I also have a board, a personal advisory board. These are people who advise me in finances, spiritually. These are the people who lift me up. They provide me words of affirmation, and quite honestly, they make me feel alive. Having them allows me to realize that I am enough and that the nos are not personal and that they don’t get to me but they do get me to the next yes quicker. The nos actually provide the edges of my sales funnel, and they save me time in finding the space that I need to play in. So I keep on going because of the joy of growth.
Fred Diamond: Joy of growth, authentic curiosity. Give us a final thought to share with the people listening to today’s podcast to inspire them.
Tina Fox: This goes back to authentic curiosity. I’ve learned that no matter who you meet—young, old, whether they’re in business, out of business, male, female, doesn’t matter what their religious affiliation—if you remember that people only want to be heard and they want to know that what they said mattered, then you found the keys to success and authentic curiosity. When you can demonstrate that and they feel it, you have more than a sale; you have a connection.