EPISODE 147: Dollywood’s Cordelia Marzak Said This Lesson from Dolly Parton Helped Her Become a Powerful Sales Leader

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EPISODE 147: Dollywood’s Cordelia Marzak Said This Lesson from Dolly Parton Helped Her Become a Powerful Sales Leader

CORDELIA’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Be authentic. Even Dolly herself would say, “I have the wig and I have the makeup and the hair” but at the end of the day she is authentic. You may be selling widgets, but as long as it’s the best widget and you love it, be authentic and follow that passion there.”

Cordelia Marzak is the Director of Sales for the Dollywood Company.

We conducted the interview at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Prior to taking over the sales leadership role at Dollywood, Cordelia held sales leadership positions at the JHM Hotel in Orlando and has worked in the hospitality space for Marriott and Hilton properties.

Find Cordelia on LinkedIn!

Cordelia Marzak: I work for the Dollywood company which is an award-winning theme park, water park and lodging destinations with the Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort that opened up about 3 years ago. I am originally from East Tennessee and I grew up coming to Dollywood. Now it’s such a pleasure to watch my children on the same rides and roller coasters that I grew up watching and enjoying. I spent quite a long time in Orlando in the hospitality and hotel sector there, and then I had the opportunity to come back home to open the resort.

Fred Diamond: If you’re a kid, having a mom who’s a Director of Sales at an amusement park has got to be a blast.

Cordelia Marzak: Absolutely. My daughter thinks she was almost Olivia in the Plaza Palace when we opened the resort. She knew all the codes to the doors and would run around, she was definitely very excited about the new hotel.

Fred Diamond: We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, again we’re interviewing here today at Dollywood. Of course, that’s Dolly Parton’s namesake if you will, Dolly Parton a huge star of stage and screen and music, I’m sure she’s known around the world. We have one quick question before we begin, everybody wants to know: does she make you work 9 to 5?

Cordelia Marzak: [Laughs] we are in sales so we do not. We never work just 9 to 5 but we do pump the song through the sales office 24 hours a day.

Fred Diamond: Tell us specifically what you sell today and tell us what really excites you about that.

Cordelia Marzak: For me specifically, I oversee the group sales segment for the Dollywood Company for all of the theme parks and the resort in addition to our consignment ticketing product. For us, it is various segments of company outings or corporate events, larger special events where a gymnastics team can come in, smaller church organizations or family reunions, fraternal opportunities as well as a lot of ticketing partners that we have in the market that sell our tickets.

We have wonderful relationships with a lot of the area hotels as well, too. What’s exciting about that is the easy part, any time you can jump on a roller coaster before you come into work or eat cinnamon bread for your afternoon snack, but I think at the end of the day truly it’s the experience that we want everyone that comes here to have. An amazing experience with us in the mountains and spend time with family.

Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about your career. We mentioned you’ve worked in some Marriott and some Hilton properties but how did you first get into sales as a career?

Cordelia Marzak: My first foray into sales was in the retail sector with cosmetics. I was that mall girl spraying the perfume and trying to sit you down in a chair, but that’s where I’ve got the bug for it, just being able to listen to people and get to know people and understand the sales process.

Fred Diamond: Listening, that comes up not infrequently in the Sales Game Changers podcast. What are some skills that you have, some things you developed over the years to become a better listener and how do you translate that to your team?

Cordelia Marzak: I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of sales training whether it be in the cosmetics around Marriott and Hilton. I even worked for R.J. Reynolds, a tobacco company, first out of college and the key component through all of them is training. I think part of the core of the training would be listening and understanding that you have to understand the customer and what they need before you walk in and really present your features and benefits and what you are, because it will fall on the fears if they know that you have not done your research and that you understand that customer before you even try to make a sale.

Fred Diamond: What are some of the things your customers are looking for? You talked about they want to know you understand them, we hear about that and we interview tons of people in the technology space where you just can’t show up and throw up. There’s this tendency, especially when you’re in early part of your sales career, you want to make sure you get every feature and benefit in. Is that similar here where sometimes when you’re relatively new you want to get all these great features in and then all these aspects of the park? “We have this new concession…” How do you take a step back and how do you get more in tune with what the customer needs to know?

Cordelia Marzak: I think it happens to everyone and again it’s practice – practicing the training that you’ve learned. I think from a listening approach, Marriott does amazing sales training and they have a very simple tool called a QIC, it’s a Qualifying Information Checklist. As elementary as that sounds, it will help you walk through that practice of asking the questions first. Who are you dealing with, are you dealing with the decision maker or just the person who’s gathering the information? Is that customer the person you’re speaking with, is that going to be the end user?

There’s a lot of information that you need to know and understand. Who is your competitor in the market, who have they used before? All very simple questions to just break through the surface, but understanding that will help you better position yourself when you go in for the close or when you actually are presenting your own product.

Fred Diamond: We’ve interviewed a number of Sales Game Changers in the hospitality space, we have Sales Game Changers around the world listening to the podcast. What are some of the critical personality characteristics for someone who would be successful working in this type of an environment?

Cordelia Marzak: I think the core of a salesperson – unfortunately, we use the word passion. I think everyone uses the word passion, but I think it truly defines who a salesperson is. If you do not have the passion for what you’re doing, you’ll lose that motivation and I think the motivation is the key for salespeople as a whole. I think just understanding your “why” at the end of the day, why you’re there, and how are you trying to enrich your customer’s lives? There has to be something about the product or the services that you’re selling that at the end of the day makes someone’s life or business better.

Fred Diamond: I have a question. You’re the Director of Sales for the Dollywood Company, we mentioned in the beginning that Dolly Parton of course has had a tremendous career, she’s a world-known celebrity. What is it about her, how does her branding play into how you sell? What are some of the things about the Dolly Parton brand that your sales professionals, your team wants to communicate with customers?

Cordelia Marzak: Of course it’s amazing having a living legend as a boss. She is everything that you think she is, she is everything that you want her to be. She is humble and kind and authentic, a tenacious business person. I think when you think about her brand and specifically how it relates to the Dollywood Company, she truly wanted everyone to be able to experience the Great Smoky Mountains, experience her home and have that enjoyable moment. I think for us using that brand in addition to the theme park, it’s the authentic part of what we do. We are deeply rooted in our culture here and the theme park, if you have the moment to experience it, you’ll see that it’s a very thematic overlay of the Great Smoky Mountains and what it means to be in the south.

At the same time, she definitely doesn’t want it to be, “Come see Dolly Parton’s place.” It is just a piece of her, I think it helps people have an awareness of what we are but a true comprehension sometimes is where we have to come in from the sales approach and let people know that we’re not just a couple of roller coasters, a couple of shows but we’re this amazing regional theme park with an even more amazing resort.

Fred Diamond: I’m going to ask you a question before we ask you about your area of brilliance and what you’re an expert in. You mentioned the word “why” and that comes up not infrequently. Of course, a lot of the Sales Game Changers listeners are probably Ted fans and they’re probably familiar with Simon Sinek, his classic Ted Talk on “why”. What might be the “why” you need to have to be successful in selling for a company like Dollywood and the products that you sell?

Cordelia Marzak: Dollywood as a company is deeply rooted in a servant leadership mentality and a lead with love view on how we are to treat ourselves. We actually call our employees host because we are inviting you to our home and we are hosting you here. It’s not just from a customer facing standpoint, it’s also from down even to a line level host that we all are important here. For us knowing our “why” comes from those culture aspects as well and understanding that the team is just as important as the guest. We all support each other, if it’s a busy day on park you will find some of us serving turkey legs or helping out there too and that’s what we love to do because it’s helping one another.

I think knowing our “why” is part of our mission and vision, creating memories worth repeating and bringing families here. Even though we may sell to a corporate customer, the end user for them is the family members and they are either rewarding them by bringing them to the park, showing their appreciation and we’re just honored that they choose us to demonstrate that kind of kindness to their employees. Understanding our “why” is driven from the culture servant leadership and at the end of the day how do we make a family just spend more time together and enjoy that.

Fred Diamond: Tell us what you’re an expert in, tell us about your specific area of brilliance.

Cordelia Marzak: I think it’s cultivating the team, we do have quite a few different segments of business from call center to inside sales, outside sales, hotels consignment program, a lot of different touch points there. I truly feel that I am only as successful as the team I have, I have a powerhouse team, I hope they’re all listening right now.

Fred Diamond: And sharing (the podcast)!.

Cordelia Marzak: And sharing [laughs] and understand that their impact, each one of the sales members and managers and leads that I have come to work every single day with a passion and a drive. I think when you’re building those kind of teams, if they did not understand the culture that they were coming into, into Dollywood, it just wouldn’t work. When we do have to go help our fellow host on park or we’re coming over to the resort to do something to help there as well, that’s embedded in us and we support each other. Outside of just being able to make your numbers and have that tenacious sales acumen there, you have to understand what we do at the end of the day and why we’re bringing people here.

Fred Diamond: Again, you’ve had a great career in sales, you’ve worked for some great brands Marriott brand, Hilton brand too and most recently the JHM Hotel in Orlando Florida. Now you’re working again with one of the largest brands in the history of entertainment, so you must have had some great mentors along the way, people who’ve helped you get to this particular role. Why don’t you mention or tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?

Cordelia Marzak: I have truly been fortunate to work with amazing sales leaders and I will say even more specifically, amazing women in those roles as well. When you ask that question in my mind three or four pop in automatically, one in particular, her name is Marie. She was one of my first bosses in Orlando and she truly brought those around her up to a different level. She was tough, she made no excuses but at the end of the day we all knew that it came from a place of love and appreciation. When she’s checking your grammar on an email or even when you entered a trace into sales force and she was commenting on your lack of punctuation, it just understands how you present yourself even in small areas can relate to the customer as well.

I always enjoyed working for people who brought me up to another level and then most recently working here even though I don’t get to work with her on a daily basis, hearing business stories of Dolly Parton I think is truly amazing. Most people see her from the entertainment, the kind, the sweet, the witty, blonde hair, but she is a fierce business women. One of the most recent stories that I heard was Elvis Presley came to her and asked to buy the rights to I Will Always Love You, and at that moment in time she said no. She was fearful that that could have been the end of her career but she knew in her heart that it was not the time to do that, that song belonged to her for a little bit longer and what it actually meant to her.

As most people know, years later Whitney Houston sang the song and gave a new breath of life to it, really re-energized a different point in Dolly’s career there. I think the point of her story was just understanding trust in what you feel, your gut feeling, trust that as well. I think a lot of times as new sales leaders you don’t always know the value and your worth when you’re at the table, so don’t take that for granted. You’re there for a reason, trust that.

Fred Diamond: That’s an amazing story and that’s a great little bit of trivia, not many people know that she wrote the song I Will Always Love You, which became I think the biggest selling single of all time from The Bodyguard, Whitney Houston. That was an interesting thing that Elvis offered to buy it from her and she understood that it was more valuable than that. Her story is such an amazing story, she grew up around here and she’s told her story many times, it’s been documented a hundred times. I remember one when she was starting out, she used to take ketchup and mix it with hot water and that was her meal, drinking ketchup soup. You mentioned women in sales, we’ve interviewed some great women in sales over the course of the Sales Game Changers podcast. If you don’t mind my asking, what might be some of your advice to the young ladies listening to today’s podcast that they should be thinking about to help them get successful in their career?

Cordelia Marzak: I think it’s sales advice in general, but sometimes being a younger female leader walking in, sales actually is a great venue for women. There’s a lot of women in sales, we really thrive there but don’t forget like I said, you’re at the table for a reason. Trust in your gut instincts, there’s so many times I was sitting and we were having brainstorming ideas and I had something on my brain that I did not mention at that time and I was like, “Everyone here is so smart, somebody would have thought about that already surely” so I didn’t say it.

Two minutes later, someone else at the table would have mentioned that exact same thing and they were praised for that idea, and it happened to me a couple of times. There is a risk factor there, there are going to be times that you say something that maybe not be the most articulate in that conversation or the best idea but don’t hold back and trust that you are there for a reason, give value to what you have to offer to your team.

Fred Diamond: If you think about the Wayne Gretzky analogy, great hockey player, “You don’t score any of the shots you don’t take.” I just go to ask you one more Dolly Parton question since you’ve brought her up and obviously she’s such a big star. Again, we’re doing today’s podcast interview at the Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, it’s right next to the Dollywood Resort and it’s a beautiful facility. Just tell us one thing from Dolly Parton, you’ve mentioned a couple examples there and the great story about Elvis. Tell us one thing that you’ve learned over the last couple years working here that you’ve taken away from her specifically to make you a better sales professional.

Cordelia Marzak: Maybe not in a sales realm exactly, but one of my first experiences with her was when we were opening the resort. We had closed down all the hallways to let her and her entourage get from point A to point B and do interviews and there were two of our room attendants that had gotten caught in the chaos and were standing there, and they had a terrified look on their face like, “Uh-oh, we’re not supposed to be here, we may be in the way.” With all these people around and TV cameras and personalities, she makes a B line for these two room attendants and she takes a moment and she thanks them.

She said, “Thank you so much for cleaning these rooms and making my hotel so beautiful for my guests.” It was just such an authentic moment of gratitude that I’m sure these room attendants will remember forever and it just caught me that no matter how big you get, where you go in life, don’t forget that gratitude can speak volumes. I’m sure that she’s built lifelong friendships like that but you still have to understand that it’s the gratitude and being kind and appreciative of the people who work around you.

Take a moment, write that thank you card, it takes five minutes and when you do give that praise and the gratitude, make sure it’s specific. Don’t just do the pat on the back, “Hey, that was great.” It is, “Thank you very much for making yourselves appointments this week and achieving X” and then sometimes go even to the personal side as well.

Fred Diamond: What are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?

Cordelia Marzak: I think the staffing and the recruiting is common and even on some of your other podcasts, not even just in sales. It’s always a recruiting and a staffing piece, I’ve been very fortunate to have a solid team for a couple of years but when I first came in here we had quite a bit of a turnover, it was just that season to a point. I’m always an advocate of the bench strength making sure that if you’ve got certain people in place but who’s going to come up behind them in those ranks, how is this team going to change in a year or two and how are you going to be prepared for that.

Our company currently is growing very rapidly with additional lodging, we are opening a new land for the theme park in May, so even more groups need to come which means an even bigger sales team eventually. What does that look like for us here? Always trying to be able to see out the vision of your bench strength and how you’re building that.

Fred Diamond: Curiously, you mentioned regional a couple of times. Dollywood is starkly a regional facility. What would the region be and are you trying to expand outside of the region nationwide?

Cordelia Marzak: Yes, we specifically talk about our core market and our aspirational markets. Specifically you’re looking at more tours in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Chicago, and when we pull out of our demographics, “Look, we’re all the way over here in California” but yes, absolutely. We’ve reached out quite a bit further within the last few years, additionally with the resort and being able to accommodate that as well.

Fred Diamond: Again, you’ve had a great career, you’ve worked with some great brands, now you’re working for a beautiful park and beautiful facility. Why don’t you tell us about the #1 specific sale success or win from your career you’re most proud of?

Cordelia Marzak: There’s quite a few, and they all come back to the relationship that I was able to build with someone. This may not be exactly just one example but when you work in a hotel in Orlando they’re everywhere, especially when you have a brand, a property or select service as well. They are relatively the same, you go anywhere and a Hampton should be a Hampton as a Hampton. I think that’s really where it taught me that relationship sale, that do they trust me and ensure me with their business more so than the person coming behind me that’s on the exact same product? When I started to see those successes and those partnerships and those relationship built, that’s when I really learned what I had to offer as a salesperson. I truly was concerned that I was meeting a need that they had and I did it well for them. I think that was for me the overall win, the moment I learned where I was good in sales.

Fred Diamond: Did you ever question being in sales? Did you ever say to yourself, “It’s really just too hard, it’s really just not for me”?

Cordelia Marzak: Absolutely, and It necessarily wasn’t the “It’s just too hard” moment. I feel into an industry early on straight out of college, I worked for a large tobacco company and I was great at selling. Obviously, there’s a little lack of passion when you’re selling cigarettes [laughs] and really what you feel at the end of the day that you’re contributing back. When I lost that passion, I had a passion for what I did in sales and I think because it was so early on I was numbers-driven and I was making my numbers and I had great success but there was still an emptiness there that I didn’t feel like I was fulfilling something for the greater good. That’s when I lost the passion for it. I have to have a passion for what the end product is, that it’s going to do something good and it’s going to be something positive.

Fred Diamond: Cordelia, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening around the globe to help them take their sales career to the next level?

Cordelia Marzak: For the purpose of this question I’m going to assume that you have already built out a marketing plan, business plan, sales plan, I think a lot of podcasts and trainings, that has to be your first step. I’m not going to go there, I’m going to assume that you have done that step. After you have all these pieces in place, what are the tactical components that you use on a daily basis to get to your end results? I’m going to say practice. The core of the trainings that I have been through in any of the industries was the training and the role play and videotaping yourself. I will say video more than audio because you can watch your inflections and your body language when you’re being presented with objections, how you look when you’re presenting the facts and listening.

Do you lean in with your body language and let your customer know that you’re listening to them? I would definitely start out, videotape yourself first. There are a slew of books and resources that you can use to articulate what sales process works best for you, but you need to lay that out. What do you need to accomplish from a cold caller, maybe like a warm call more so? What needs to happen in the next step of the actual appointment? What information or transaction needs to happen when you go in to close the business? Really understanding what the sales process looks like and asking the right questions at the right time so you are the one who is in control of the conversation. If you don’t gather the information that you need from the beginning, you’re going to walk in to close the sale and you’re not prepared to handle the objections. They’re going to come up with things that you never discovered and that can stop your process again.

Go back, articulate the actual process, videotape yourself, have a peer, someone else you work with walk through the roles with you, walk through objections. One of the companies I worked for knew we had objections so many times we actually had a little field guide and we would flip through them all the time and just practice on what they may anticipate saying. Then we had our piece too, that would go with that. You know your product and you know the customer that you’re going after. Practice, practice, practice.

Fred Diamond: As you’re talking about this, that comes up frequently: the need to prepare. Again, we’re talking here a number of times about Dolly Parton and prior to her going on the stage she just didn’t say, “I’m just going to go on the stage without ever having practiced the song” with her band. When you watch her on video, she’s become such an unbelievably, worldwide, global star because every millisecond, I’m sure, is thought out and every camera angle. Everything about what she does has been prepared and practiced, thousands if not tens of thousands of hours. Salespeople on the Sales Game Changers podcast listening today, take that to heart. This is your profession, you’re in the big leagues if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re devoting time and energy to your career, make sure you practice the right way. Cordelia, tell us some of the sales habits you’ve deployed to continue your success.

Cordelia Marzak: I think those evolve as you grow in your career. As of early on, again, the articulating your plan. I’m a big advocate of having a written plan or a draft on your phone, however you need to carry that piece of information with you. Then making sure that you can sit down every single week and understand what you’re going to get accomplished. Also as you’re growing to your next steps is understanding the vision.

When I first went into a certain role I went from one industry to the next and I didn’t truly at that time feel I understood that industry as well as I needed to. I was seeking out other mentors and people to talk to and one of the common things that ran through was, “You know the vision. I may not understand the product, but you have a team underneath you. Rely on them, you maintain the vision until you get there with your product.” You have to know that and you have to know your competitors, but in the beginning don’t become overwhelmed that you have to know the ins and outs of every single piece because you’ll get lost in that. Understand that you were brought in for a reason, there’s a goal and there’s an end result. Keep your eye on that vision and don’t get sidetracked from that.

Fred Diamond: Tell us about a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success.

Cordelia Marzak: Again, my notes, I’m looking down and it says “vision” right beside that piece. As I mentioned before, Dollywood as a company is growing. We will continue to grow very rapidly and understanding that sometimes the vision that you have and you’re working towards that, you may have to deviate. Things change, projects aren’t approved and things have to move in a different direction, you have to be able to accommodate that quickly. If you look on my desk, I have a rock and I have Gumby [laughs] it’s flexibility and strength, you have to understand and know when to bend and when to stay strong. I think part of that vision is it’s not just one linear approach, be able to say, “This is the path I’m going, this may have to happen” and don’t get derailed when it didn’t happen exactly in the order you thought it might.

Fred Diamond: Cordelia, sales is hard. We’ve talked about some of the challenges, again you’re in a competitive space, there’s plenty of options for companies to choose and for individuals where they could go, where they’re going to spend their limited vacation dollars. People don’t return your phone calls or your emails, especially on your corporate side. You’ve given us a lot of a great understanding about your “why” and we could definitely get your passion about the product that you’re bringing and the team and how motivated they are, but why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?

Cordelia Marzak: For me it’s twofold. In the beginning it was the relationships with the customer, it was getting to know them and helping them be successful in what they were trying to accomplish at the end of the day. It was where that initial passion came on and then as it has evolved I loved to see my team be successful. I love when they get that commission check or a bonus or they’ve landed that big account and we sit down and we take a moment, I just let them pour into me all of their successes. Not always successes and maybe sometimes it’s the challenges and then we can work through them, but to see the team elevate, work together and be successful knowing that they can come to work and pass on our “why” is definitely fulfilling for me.

Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire them today?

Cordelia Marzak: We can maybe boil it down to a few words. I think authentic, even Dolly herself would be like, “I have the wig and I have the makeup and the hair” but at the end of the day she is authentic, that is her, that is who she is and she’s being true to herself. I think we have to be true to ourselves too in the product and what you’re trying to do. You may be selling widgets, but as long as it’s the best widget and you love it, follow that passion there. Then again is the practice, I can’t say that enough that it’s the role playing, videotape yourself, watch yourself and watch yourself grow. I think you’ll really surprise yourself.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo
Produced by Rosario Suarez

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