EPISODE 113: The Fearless Leader Author and Former Verizon Executive Chris Baron Offers Sensible Guidance for Your Sales Leadership Growth and Impact
CHRIS’ FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “What I would leave you with is just remember all you all have to offer. We’ve all got so much to offer in the world and when you find your passion, you stay true to who you are and you continue down your journey. Remember, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks about your journey because it’s your journey. Stay super passionate, stay true, stay authentic, stay real and keep going..”
Chris Baron is the author of the Amazon best-seller The Fearless Leader: A Sensible Guide to Practicing Authentic Leadership.
She’s a retired Verizon Executive with over 25 years’ experience.
If you listen to Sales Game Changers Podcast Episode Number 100 with Verizon Exec Mike Maiorana, you might have heard that Mike mentioned Chris as his mentor.
Find Chris on LinkedIn!
Chris Baron: Fred, thanks so much for having me on the show this morning. I’m very happy to be here and honored to be asked to join you. You just talked about the 25 years’ experience with Verizon, it’s been a really good, long, rich history with the company. I started as an entry level sales rep in 1993 and worked my way up to the executive roles that I carried throughout the organization. I had a really rich career with Verizon, it was awesome and I retired just about a year ago – actually, a year ago this month and decided to go out on my own and focused on some of the things that I was super passionate about, specifically leadership, writing my first book so that I could share my leadership lessons with the world as well as start my health and wellness company.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that? Of course, you’re the author of The Fearless Leader, so we’d love to know more about that and what prompted you to write that.
Chris Baron: The Fearless Leader: A Sensible Guide to Practicing Authentic Leadership is all around practicing authentic leadership, being true to yourself, being true to your style and being true to your people. That’s a real passion of mine, it’s always been a passion of mine. Leadership and developing others in their sales and operation roles and helping them grow throughout the organization has been a very big passion of mine.
Very early in my retirement, literally the first 30 days in retirement I decided to put a pen to paper and take the lessons that I’ve learned along my journey, put them into the book and try to get that out as quickly as possible while it was still fresh because I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the 25 year experience and hopefully I’ve got some good lessons for the world here. That coupled with my leadership coaching which is the Achieve Institute methodology and technology – or techniques, I should say – gives me the opportunity to stay present in the leadership space and gives me the opportunity to continue to coach and develop people along their journey.
Fred Diamond: We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe to the podcast. You mentioned the word authentic. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what that means and how that can apply to the sales profession?
Chris Baron: What authentic means to me is continuing to stay true to who you are. Take sales call, for example. Your prospective customers, your employees, your existing clients will smoke out if you’re not authentic and what I mean by that specifically is be real, be super passionate about what you do, be super passionate about learning your products and services in their entirety so that you’re prepared to answer all the questions properly. You want to make sure that you do this in your style and not in somebody else’s.
Fred Diamond: Interesting. Tell us about the beginning of your sales career, how did you first get into sales as a career?
Chris Baron: That’s a really interesting question. I opened the book answering this question and I didn’t realize it until I started to write the book that my sales journey really started when I was a kid. It started in the summers and in the winters. I should back up by saying I was raised by a single mom who taught us to work super hard, she worked three jobs to raise us. What I learned from her work ethic was there’s always a way, you’ve just got to figure out your path. I started my sales journey selling lemonade when I was probably around 10 years old, but you can’t sell lemonade in the winter so I shoveled sidewalks in the winter.
You might think, “How could this skinny 11 year old kid shovel sidewalks?” And you’d go back to there’s a way. I got my shovel and I went out and I started ringing doorbells and I started to get customers. What I learned quickly was the person out when the snow first stopped was the one to get the jobs, so I would literally sit on the front porch and wait for the snow to stop, I’d grab my snow shovel, I’d start to ring doorbells and I would get clients.
Then I realized there was a productivity element to this, so I started to book my clients. I would ring the doorbells and I would tell them what time I would think I would get back to their house. This is an 11 year old kid trying to figure out who needed to get out when so that I could schedule that accordingly. After probably my first or second snowfall I realized that that wasn’t going to last very long. I needed to get their home phone numbers so I could call them up the night before so that I didn’t have to sit on my front porch and book my appointments by walking door to door, I could call them up on the phone and tell them, “This is Chris Baron, I shoveled your snow last time. You’re happy with my services, I assume. I’d love to come back and help you out again after this storm ends.” I would literally start to book my appointments on the phone.
Fred Diamond: It’s great. Again, you’re episode #113 of the Sales Game Changers podcast. A lot of the people fell into sales as an accident, maybe they were a consultant or someone in finance and then they realized they had a passion for what they were offering and they were good with people. The other half of the people were selling lemonade at the age of 10 so I’m glad to hear that you started off that, of course which led you onto your great career of Verizon. What are some of the key lessons you learned from those first few sales jobs?
Chris Baron: To be super organized the way I just described about booking the appointments. I think really effective salespeople are organized. They’re organized in their day, they’re organized with their prospects, they’re organized with their existing customers. I’m often heard saying, “If you don’t have a list, you don’t have a business.” Your prospects need to be super organized in some sort of file, whether it’s automated or manual old school, the organizational skills that you develop early should carry with you throughout your career.
Disorganized sales leaders have a very hard time staying productive.
Fred Diamond: “If you don’t have a list, you don’t have a business.” That makes a lot of sense. Of course, you just wrote a book called The Fearless Leader. Tell us what you’re an expert in, tell us about your specific area of brilliance.
Chris Baron: Developing leaders whether they’re sales leaders or operations leaders or individual contributor leaders, I often like to remind people that leadership is not a title – that’s not my saying, I can’t recall who said it – but it’s not a title. It’s really how you show up every day so my strength has always been around bringing the best out of people and getting them to believe in themselves enough so that they can deliver maximum productivity.
I also make sure that I’m very focused on relationships, relationships inside your organization, relationships outside your organization, relationships with your customers, with your prospects, with your peers, with your bosses. These relationships are so important in order to deliver the things that you’re trying to deliver because none of us can get there on our own. We all need support, we all need guidance, we all need customers and this is all in my mind fundamental to the relationship building skills.
Fred Diamond: Chris, we have a lot of Sales Game Changers listening to the podcast around the globe. A lot of them are early in their sales career, they want to become sales leaders. Relationships are something that they know they need to do but it’s a different way, they’re not quite used to making the type of relationships that you say are essential. Can you give a tip or two to the young sales leaders listening about how they should be thinking about building these types of relationships?
Chris Baron: That’ll go back to authenticity, it goes back to being super real and know your own style. Know yourself, I’ve often seen young professionals, young sales leaders try so hard to adopt someone else’s style and it just simply doesn’t work. Get real comfortable with yourself, confidence is super important. Not over confident, there’s a fine line but you certainly need to be confident in your style, in your approach, in your delivery. I think that’s a key element to success.
Fred Diamond: Again, on our episode #100 where we interviewed Mike Maiorana, he’s the VP of federal sales public sector over at Verizon, he mentioned that you were his mentor and this led us to the interview which I’m thrilled about. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Chris Baron: I get this question a lot and I take it in three different steps. The first mentor for me, obviously, is my mother. Hardest working woman I’ve ever met in my life who always maintained a positive, genuine, authentic way about her so that’s really how I started. If I think about mentors and I think about sponsors, there’s an equation that I use often and it’s mentors + results = sponsors. There is a difference in my opinion between a mentor and a sponsor.
A mentor is someone inside your organization or outside your organization that cares about you, that takes a genuine interest in your approach, in your success, in your succession plan and I’ve been so blessed inside my 25 year career with Verizon to have many mentors, probably too many to name. The mentors plus my results got me a sponsor and that’s who I’d like to talk about. I’ve been blessed with a few sponsors, but Lowell McAdam, the outgoing chairman or Verizon was the chief operating officer of Verizon Wireless when I was starting out in my first senior leader role. He was a mentor to me but then he grew into a sponsor.
What I mean by that specifically is he would make sure he wasn’t afraid to have the tough conversations with me. If I needed to grow in a certain area, he wasn’t afraid to pick up the phone and give me the lesson and have the straight talk and give the tough love. Then he’d go back to his very busy day and my mentors would pick it up from there but my sponsor was the one that behind the scenes was bringing up my name when I didn’t know it because I wasn’t in the room.
Fred Diamond: Chris, what were the two biggest sales challenges you faced as a sales leader?
Chris Baron: I’ll give you the biggest one because it probably leads into the next 20 and that’s getting out of your own head. It’s a mindset issue and I’m often heard saying something like this: be careful of what you’re telling yourself, because you’re listening. Your day will go exactly how you decide it’s going to go, it’s a choice. Sometimes in sales when you get a no, you don’t realize that that no probably just means not now. It probably doesn’t mean no. If you keep the relationship strong and you keep your follow-up skills sharp, those no’s can turn into yes’s if you continue to build on the relationships that you’re starting.
This all comes back to your frame of mind, the way you’re thinking about things and where your mindset sits for the day.
Fred Diamond: Again, you were at Verizon for 25 somewhat years. Why don’t you take us back to the one sale success that you’re most proud of? Take us back to that moment.
Chris Baron: Fred, the success that I’m the most proud of is actually a recent one and it’s the book, it’s The Fearless Leader: A Sensible Guide to Practicing Authentic Leadership. It came out of the gates stronger than I expected, it made the Amazon best-seller list for three months out, the new release best seller list, I should say. What I’m getting in terms of feedback from the book, how it’s impacting people, I’ve had a couple of people say it changed my life in terms of some of the lessons that I’m learning from the guidance that I’m getting in the book. That just warms my heart, it makes me feel really good that I’m able to take the lessons along my journey and pass them onto the next generation, so to speak.
Fred Diamond: We talked about authenticity and being yourself, but why don’t you tell us one or two of the major lessons from the book that you’re trying to get across to the audience out there?
Chris Baron: Some of them I talked about. One of them that I didn’t speak of yet is continue to stay relentlessly curious. I think that curiosity will keep you inspired to stay down the path of greatness. Often we feel like we’ve mastered something and when you take a moment and step back and realize how much more there is to learn and you let your curiosity kick in, you realize that mastery takes time. Stay curious, stay focused, keep working hard. Bigger things are to come.
Fred Diamond: I’ve never asked this question before but since we’re going down this path, I’m going to throw it out there. Do you think leaders are made or born? Can someone become a great leader, you could teach them to become a leader?
Chris Baron: I think you can. I don’t think that I can make you a great leader. I can’t motivate you, I can inspire you. We can teach people different leadership skills, I think training and skill set is critically important but there is an inspiration piece to leadership. I do believe there’s a very big difference between motivation and inspiration. For example, if someone doesn’t wake up motivated in the morning to do what it is that they’re set out to do for that day, I don’t believe I can help motivate them. If they come to me already motivated, I can inspire them to do more. I can inspire them to be greater, I can inspire them to stay focused but motivation, I believe, is self-inflicted.
Fred Diamond: That leads to the last question we’re going to ask before we take a break. Did you ever question being in sales? Speaking about motivation versus inspiration, was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “Chris, it’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Chris Baron: I didn’t, and here’s why – I never think of it as sales. It’s sales, we’re all selling something no matter what you’re in. You’re either selling internally or externally but I never thought about it that way, Fred, because for me it’s all about solutions, it’s all about my passion, it’s all about talking about the things that I fundamentally believe in, that I put my heart and soul in. I look at sales as sharing, as literally just sharing the things that you’re super passionate about, helping people find solutions to problems and helping them grow.
Fred Diamond: Chris, what’s the most important thing you want to get across the junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Chris Baron: I would say patience. We all tend to get super aggressive and super excited about the win, about the close and if you are sharp in your product knowledge, understand your solutions, understand your services that you have to offer, understand the hard work ethic that it takes to be a successful anything, especially sales leader, you’re going to have to display a certain level of patience through the process. Know your sale cycle, understand how long that sale cycle ought to take, exercise patience and finally make sure that you’re listening. We often like to talk a lot when we’re passionate about something, and we can miss a solution that’s really important to that person if our listening skills aren’t laser sharp.
Fred Diamond: I want to ask you about that, that comes up not infrequently, the whole concept from a lot of the sales leaders we interview on the Sales Game Changers podcast about being a better listener. Can you give us one skill for the Sales Game Changers listening, one way that they can improve their ability to listen?
Chris Baron: Pause. Literally force yourself to pause. Ask a question, take a breath, wait for the whole answer, the answer in its entirety. Sometimes I say, “Tell me more.” A prospect, a customer, a friend, a subordinate might start to tell me something and as I’m listening, I feel like I don’t have all of the information so I purposely pause and say, “Tell me more.” As they start to tell me more, I’m going in a different direction that I thought I was going because it’s not what I thought we were going to talk about.
When your listening skills are sharp, you’ll really be able to uncover the true needs of your customers.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. One thing we keep hearing as a trend, obviously, is that it’s about the customer more than ever. You need to be able to listen. Your answer actually couples very nicely with your answer before about being curious, about really wanting to help your customer achieve what their missions are. Chris, what are some things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Chris Baron: Self-development. I work on myself every day. I try to dedicate one hour every morning to either a podcast or an audio or reading a book, something that’s going to continue to keep me inspired, keep me focused, keep me sharp. There are masters out there that have such great content to share with us. I certainly don’t know it all, I’m always a work in progress, I operate from that perspective so continuously learning and continuing to inspire myself.
Fred Diamond: I’m also going to ask you another question, you mentioned also that a big part of your career now is health and wellness. Do you want to talk about that for a second and how that plays into what you’re doing?
Chris Baron: I believe it’s all connected. The most successful people in the world understand that to be your best you have to feel your best. I believe in that with every fiber in my being, so one of the things I do beside my leadership book and my leadership coaching and speaking engagements is around coaching people in a very specific health and wellness program that’s designed to target a certain number of areas. It’s weight loss, better energy, better sleep, healthy aging, etcetera. That coupled with our coaching system through the process is really helping people feel their best.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Obviously you have a lot of things going on now, you’ve been retired from Verizon for about a year, you have the book which has been a huge hit, you’re doing a lot of coaching. We just talked about your health and wellness, but is there another major initiative or anything you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Chris Baron: I’m spending a lot of time now booking speaking engagements. What I’m learning is these fire side chats that I started to do are resonating. We’re making it based on the book, it’s moderated by an executive, typically director level or above. They start the dialogue, they get the conversation going and then we open it up to an ask me anything.
Literally, ask me anything, and we get some very good leadership dialogue going. Remember my definition of leadership, it doesn’t have to be a leader by title. It’s someone in the audience that’s a self-defined leader or the organization believes that based on their individual contributions they’re leading by example. The audience then engages in a meaningful dialogue with me around leadership and around the questions that they still have.
Fred Diamond: Curiously, when you do these fireside chats, what’s the most common question you get? What is the biggest concern from the audiences?
Chris Baron: I actually answered that question, I get a lot around mentors and sponsors. Especially in a corporate structure when I’m talking to entrepreneurs it’s a little bit different but in a corporate structure it’s, “What’s a mentor, what’s a sponsor, what’s the difference and do I need them both?”
Fred Diamond: Things have gotten harder, people don’t return your phone calls, they don’t return your emails. You mentioned, patience, not everybody has a lot of time to turn things into success. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Chris Baron: It’s my passion for the solutions that I provide. Today, it’s my passion around leadership, it’s my passion around engaging audiences around that dialogue, it’s my passion around health and wellness, it’s my passion about it all being connected, it’s my passion about the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Like I said earlier, Fred, it doesn’t feel like sales when you’re passionate. It feels like sharing solutions for others.
Fred Diamond: Today we talked with Chris Baron. Again, we first met Chris via episode #100, our interview with Mike Maiorana, senior VP of sales at Verizon public sector. Chris, this has been a great interview, I thank you so much for all your insights. A lot of them are brand new to the Sales Game Changers podcast. I look forward to reading your book, The Fearless Leader. You said it was one of the best-sellers on Amazon as well?
Chris Baron: New released best-seller, yes. First three months out.
Fred Diamond: Good for you. Why don’t you give us a final thought? Again, we have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe. Why don’t you give us a final thought to inspire them today?
Chris Baron: What I would leave you with is just remember all much you all have to offer. We’ve all got so much to offer in the world and when you find your passion and you stay true to who you are and you continue down your journey. Remember, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks about your journey because it’s your journey. Stay super passionate, stay true, stay authentic, stay real and keep going.