EPISODE 573: Bringing Operatic and Sales Processing Skills together with Abby Manzanilla

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast, sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales featured an interview with Abby Manzanilla of Positrace. She was named one of the 100 most powerful women in sales by Feedspot.]

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ABBY’S TIP: “When you understand your pitch and your strengths and your areas of opportunity, you use those in your advantage and you’re able to appear more assertive, more cohesive, and create then harmonious connections with your prospects. It all comes down to human emotion and working on learning how to impact that on the people you’re working with.”


Abby Manzanilla: Thank you, Gina. I’m so happy to be here. Really excited to be talking to you all and specifically in this great month, we’re celebrating the Women in Sales month, October. Definitely it’s an exciting opportunity to be speaking to young women who are joining a sales career or people in general who want to learn a little bit more.

I’m saying hi to everyone from Cancun, beautiful Cancun, Mexico. I’ve been here, born and raised and I’ve been in sales for the last 10 years, managing remote SDR teams and sales teams for the last four years. Definitely, it’s been a blast. As you were mentioning, we do come from a variety of diverse backgrounds. I have a career in engineering and did a little bit of that in the past, little bit of marketing, design, and then I came back to sales, which is my true passion. I’m really excited to talk to you a little bit more about this topic that definitely I’m passionate about which is, using your voice as a sales tool. I think it’s an interesting concept and happy to talk about it today. Thank you.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great. I absolutely love that topic, Abby, because often women are socialized to be a little more quiet than let’s say our male counterparts and we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t use our voice. We’re not helping anyone, especially ourselves. You, given your background, which I’m going to ask you to share now, besides being in other fields besides sales, you have something that you’re specifically known for. Why don’t you talk to us about that a little bit?

Abby Manzanilla: When I was younger, I was studying music, a technical career and was able to sing and learn a little bit of that technique. This is exactly where this thinking comes from. Gaining that control and technique on the voice or the music and the delivery and applying it to what we can do on our sales calls or our negotiations. At the end of the day, looking at a sales call, our negotiation, we SDR salespeople are performing on every cold call. We’re definitely having to put a little bit of tuning in our feelings and emotion in the things that we want to deliver so that these come across with more passion, with more intention so that we can influence that outcome that we want to have.

I did a little bit of singing back in the day. I love music. It’s one of the things I enjoy the most. In my free time I definitely go back to singing especially on Sundays when I’m bored or I don’t have much to do. It’s my singing day, I would definitely put the karaoke or grab a guitar and start. It’s an outlet for me for sure.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great. But you were an opera singer, is that right?

Abby Manzanilla: Yeah. I did some opera while I was having my studies in the technical career in music. That was one of the majors. I did opera and choir singing.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is awesome. I love that. If somebody’s not moving along the way you want to, do you just belt out a note to get their attention?

Abby Manzanilla: [Laughs] I bet you could do that, yeah.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think I’d be tempted. Tell us about where you’re at right now in your career and what company you’re with and then we can slide into how you build teams and what advice you have for new people in sales and that kind of stuff.

Abby Manzanilla: Currently, I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to manage three teams. I’m managing the SDR teams for two markets and the sales team for one market in specific. I’ve been with this organization for almost a year now and it’s been a blast. We have definitely an interesting product and I love what we’re doing. Currently, I am a manager but I consider myself also a leader, which is mainly what I focus on. It’s coaching, leading my team to be able to gain that sense of belonging to the share objective so that this is a great motivation for them to perform and get to the targets and their goals. That’s a little bit on what I do now.

Gina Stracuzzi: Okay, great. For a moment, tell us what is PosiTrace? That is your company, right?

Abby Manzanilla: Yes. We are a Canadian-based GPS and telematics company. We basically sell products in the fleet management space. We’re looking for companies who want to ramp up their strategy with their vehicle and how they manage it. We have a great product and a system, a web-based platform, where we can help these organizations and managers get to their goals with their companies and their results. That’s a little bit of that. We have a variety of products specific to each use case. Definitely, really, we’re ramping up to penetrate more markets and serve more people and help them with their goals.

Gina Stracuzzi: Wonderful. Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about how you help your new sales reps as you’re bringing them on, especially women.

Abby Manzanilla: I think this is a key piece and as we were opening the conversation, when you think about women, the quiet ones, the sweet voices on the phone. I remember when I started with my sales calls when someone called me sweetie, “Hey sweetie, I’m not interested.” I was frustrated because I didn’t want to be sounding not capable of explaining a great product. That was one of my main concerns.

Also when I look at the great advice from, for example, my previous boss, Aaron Ross or Chris Voss on his book, Never Split the Difference. This is where I first was introduced to this concept of talking about using your voice and the late FM DJ voice and the inflections. This great advice is amazing, but it was so hard for me to relate because these were specific type of people. A male or someone I couldn’t relate to.

When I started, I was just very concerned about for example my accent or that I had a pitchy voice because when I used to jump on my calls my voice, I don’t know why, became higher, maybe because I was nervous. I was like, “Hey, this is Abby.” It was so funny. I wanted to gain control on that. I wanted to gain control on my emotions and this is when I tried to start thinking about this, tried to pull that great advice but use it in my own advantage.

Here’s the key thing that I always strive to make my people focus on is understanding that everybody is going to be unique and that uniqueness is going to imprint a special shade of color on everything you do. Once you gain that awareness, you’re able to trigger that uniqueness in your advantage.

For an opera singer, that awareness is called control, others call it technique. What I usually do and what I did back then to work my way through this path is identifying my strengths, but also my areas of opportunities. I knew I had an accent, my voice was pitchy or sweet at times and my vocabulary at times also was very limited because I was learning confidence in a second language as well. I had to improve and use my colors in my advantage and not against me.

I learned that I could tell a story and if the type of story was well aligned with my delivery, I could spark more interest in my prospects. I think everybody can learn how to transmit strong emotions in every conversation in order to influence and change the outcome. That’s one of the key things. Self-awareness, being mindful of these, identifying these key areas and knowing how to use them.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is great advice, Abby. I was with you, well, I can’t remember when I first got started in sales. It was like, thinking to myself, “Why am I talking like this?” My voice would go up a couple of octaves and it’s like you could hear it in your head, and it probably sounds worse in your head than it did on the phone but there is that being aware and regaining control of it is such great advice.

I really love what you had to say about you can find a way to connect with whomever you’re speaking with on an emotional level and that’s really where the connections are built. That is great advice. It’s listening too for cues that they’re giving you and then you can align your background or your story to theirs. What about cold calls? I mean, when you have new team members and you’re training them, cold calling is the worst when you’re first getting started. It’s just terrifying. But how do you coach them through that?

Abby Manzanilla: This is one of the key things that you’re saying. Actually, there’s something called call reluctance. This is the main reason why 80% of new people who are joining sales career fail the first year. Because you start associating negative emotions to the cold calling even before it happens. You’re like, “Oh, shoot, nobody’s going to answer. They’re not going to be interested, they’re going to be hanging up on me. I’m doing a terrible job.”

I think that’s one of the key things to identify as well and basically disconnect these emotions from your cold calls. I think being prepared and ready is super important. My number one advice is going to be practice. Practice with yourself, practice in the mirror, with your phone voice notes. I have recordings of myself from 2016 practicing my pitch.

I remember also when I was with my partner, I would tell him, “Hey, you’re going to be this buyer persona and I’m going to be pitching you these, please help me.” It was so funny. Even when we went in the morning for a walk, we would be practicing. I think this is key piece to this.

One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, prove this theory on his book Outliers, where he talks about these types of persons that we call geniuses. We assume that they were gifted or they were born this way, but in reality he makes an analysis on the 10,000 hours of how much time these people spend on these areas to become geniuses. I think these same topics can be applied for everything. Practice everything to become better, to gain that control in their own awareness and to be able to have a better delivery.

I remember when I started wanting to learn the guitar. I went and bought my first guitar and I started practicing the first notes and I learned which string would sound each way. Okay, this was my first milestone. Then I started learning about chords, and I started playing chords, and teaching my fingers and making these brain connections on how these would sound. Then I was able to play some harmony.

Then I said, “Okay, I’m going to learn my first song. I really want to learn this. I’m new to this, I want to learn it.” I started practicing and I learned my first song. Then my ultimate challenge was, okay, I want to sing while I play. Okay, this is going to be the next milestone. Then I was able to do that. I was able to play a melody, I was able to sing and play along. I think, as we look at the journey of learning something, you’re going to be able to things that you thought you weren’t going to be able to. Practice is key to be able to get to the place where you want to be at.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is such fabulous advice, Abby. I love the idea that you’re practicing your sales pitch while you’re taking your walk. It is true that anything we learn when we’re first learning it, it is awkward and uncomfortable and that self-protection of I don’t want to look like a fool, I don’t want to sound like a fool comes in. Call reluctance is a real thing.

We’ve all been there, anybody that got started that way in sales, and most of us did. That is really great advice and I’m sure your staff, your team is really better for it, sharing those analogies with them. You hit a little bit on it, but what are some of the other best practices that you think are relevant to salespeople in general when it comes to selling on the phone?

Abby Manzanilla: Practice is one of the key things. That was my number one advice and I’m passionate about it, that’s why I went long for that one. But I think for sure, prepare in advance. Knowing your markets specifically, who are you targeting, and understanding the verticals, the buyer personas, understanding your product and how your product can help this niche market or these specific group of people.

Then with that preparation, you’re going to be able to formulate better questions, engage more with your audience and be able to have better conversations that are going to be relevant to these people. We usually approach sales calls or SDR cold calls as just a feature dumping call that you’re going to be like, “Hey, X, Y, Z reasons why my solution is the best, do you want to jump on a call?”

But in reality, this probably will not go anywhere if we don’t approach it with relevance, with understanding that prospects are the people you’re talking with, their pain points, what they care about, their goals within their roles, their jobs to be done, and how your solution fits in those key areas. I think that’s one of the other great advices.

Practice in advance. There are different type of exercises that you could do on a piece of paper like a market feed, just understanding these certain key areas so that you can be more prepared. I think that’s one of the key things. Another key thing would be personalizing a little bit more on the specific company that you’re reaching out, understanding where they’re located, what’s relevant to their industry, if there are any white papers or blogs that they post, things that they care about, and then bring it on your call so that you can be even more relevant.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great advice. You work for a Canadian company in Mexico, is that right?

Abby Manzanilla: Yeah.

Gina Stracuzzi: One of the things that I am primarily concerned with is along with so many women who are doing amazing things, trying to bring more women into sales, and then getting them elevated into sales leadership. From your own experience with one foot in one country and one foot in the other, so to speak, are there large numbers of women coming into the salesforce in your company or in Mexico?

Abby Manzanilla: I think there’s more and more now for sure. There are more opportunities given for women. I’m going to talk first specifically to my country. In the past, with this male dominated society specific to Mexico, women were only playing the role of staying at home which is great if you choose that for yourself, that’s great, but not many opportunities were given. Nowadays, I see that change.

Specific to my generation, I remember, we were evened out. They were the same amount of people studying engineering, the same amount of women and male, for example. I think there are more opportunities given, it’s changing, I see that. I think part of us women being in leadership is ensuring that diversity and inclusion of everyone. I think it’s very important.

For example, one of the key things that I’m doing, it’s for this October month at my company that we’re celebrating women in sales, I’m trying to highlight interviewing female candidates and I’m excited to interview everybody. But I’m at least making a change in October so that we can see more of that talent coming from the women community. I think it’s changing for sure. It was different in the past but we’re making the change. I think all of us in leadership now can make those small steps to help that out.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes. In your company overall, is there a good mix?

Abby Manzanilla: Yeah, absolutely. I would say there are even more women in leadership than male, but I think it’s circumstantial also. It’s definitely a good mix. It depends for sure. I’ve been in other Canadian companies and it was still a mix. I would say now the trend within companies in Canada and in the US and in Mexico is definitely being more inclusive.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s awesome. Anytime we talk to someone from overseas, I like to get a handle on what they think is happening in their company, but also in their country in general. We had a guest on not too long ago who’s from India, and she is on a personal mission to bring a million women into sales.

Abby Manzanilla: Wow, that’s amazing.

Gina Stracuzzi: It is. Because financially in that country, women have not had a lot of opportunities, so she feels like this could be a big equalizer, if you will. When you meet with particular candidates as you’re hiring them, do you look for certain traits especially in women that you feel would be really advantageous to a selling career?

Abby Manzanilla: I would say I receive all my candidates with open arms. I don’t really have a prejudice in mind or anything before I meet them. But what I’ve observed and what I see when I’m joining or getting conversations with more females, is that we’re more open to critical thinking. I think that’s one of the key things that is important in every career, not even just sales. When we start thinking outside the box, when we start thinking about problem solving and not just at a specific task, but look outside the box and get this creative thinking, I do observe that a lot in the female candidates. That’s one of the key highlights, I would say, and one of the key things I enjoy when meeting with these candidates.

Gina Stracuzzi: That makes sense. One of the things that companies here are struggling with is they feel like they don’t get enough diverse candidates necessarily applying for sales. I think it goes to a lot of what you talked about earlier in that there’s that idea like, people are going to not want to talk to me or this is going to be really hard. If you don’t see a lot of people who represent you in the field, it makes it harder to imagine yourself there. Do you find that to be true too?

Abby Manzanilla: Well, I did. I did at the beginning. Like I was saying, most of the great advice is given by male leaders and there’s definitely not many thought leaders that are female, that are influencing females. That was one of the key things I struggled with when I started. That reluctance of being called sweetie on the phone and not liking that and being perceived as someone who won’t be prepared because I have a sweeter voice because I’m a female, for example.

I think that’s for sure a challenge that I discovered that it was only in my head, and I could get better and I could prepare. One of the things that I need because I had these more of a sweeter profile on the phone, I prepare myself with more facts and data. I became an expert on a specific industry so that when I started perceiving that they weren’t taking me serious, I could be very serious, I could have all the information available, and I could be a subject matter expert. That’s one of the things I did to compensate and I did feel it at some point.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love that idea of becoming a subject matter expert and viewing yourself in that frame, as opposed to a salesperson. We all know that sales is an amazing career, and it can bring you so much. I think as you bring new people in, that advice of learn the industry and stop thinking about what you do as the same where you’re always going to be on and just now you have knowledge and you have value that you can share with your prospects.

That is great advice, Abby, and I think something that people will take to heart for sure. One of the things that we like to do when we’re at the end of a conversation is ask our guests for a piece of advice that they can leave the listeners with, that they can put into place today to advance their career or perhaps think about moving into sales if they’re not. What would you like to share with us?

Abby Manzanilla: I think at the end of the day, for me, it was important to tune in my feelings to create a strong delivery. Like I was opening my conversation, similar to the opera singer who practices and practices an area, she gains that control to her voice and is able to transmit more to her audience by adding the right accent on every note, going higher or lower to transmit that feeling and passion.

Similar to us in this framework, in this sales work, when you understand your pitch and your strengths and your areas of opportunity, you use those in your advantage and you’re able to appear more assertive, more cohesive, and create then harmonious connections with your prospects.

Remember, at the end of the day, it all comes down to human emotion and working on learning how to impact that on the people you’re working with, it’s going to help you succeed. My advice would be stop seeing that uniqueness as a liability and start empowering yourself with those shades in your range of strengths. I would say that.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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