EPISODE 419: Gina Stracuzzi Shares the Three Key Mindsets of High-Performing Women in Sales Leaders

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Optimal Sales Mindset virtual lerning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on October 7, 2021. It featured an interview with Gina Stracuzzi, IES Women in Sales Program Director and cofounder of the IES Women in Sales Leadership Forum.]

Register for the October 15, 2021 IES Women in Sales Leadership Forum here.

Find Gina on LinkedIn here.

GINA’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “My tip is an introspective one. I want you to really stop and think about what you do on a daily basis, and how many times you don’t speak up, or you second guess yourself, or you don’t ask for that new challenge. I don’t think it’s always fear. I think it’s sometimes we’re just not convinced that we have the time, or that we’re smart enough, or good enough, or whatever it is we do to ourselves, and we all do it, male and female. Take a few minutes to stop and think about that and then ask yourself, how is that impacting your sales and your career? Or if you’re managing people, the impact that you’re having on them.”


Fred Diamond: Gina Stracuzzi, you are the co-founder, with me, of the Women in Sales Leadership Forum. You have created a program that has impacted the lives of so many women in sales. First off, I just want to acknowledge you. My LinkedIn post today focused on the concept of courage, and we alluded to what you’re doing with the Women in Sales Leadership Forum, and a number of our past participants, and some women from our advisory board, the Women in Sales advisory board, chimed in with how you’re leading the way. Good for you for establishing yourself as someone who is not just leading the way in women in sales, but I know we feel such joy that we’re impacting lives and that we’re helping women sales leaders not just take their lives to the next level, but their careers and also their companies as well. Tell us a little bit about that and then let’s get into, I know you have three, three mindsets that you’re going to be talking about here that you’ve observed, but tell us a little bit about the forum and then let’s get to number one.

Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you for all of that, Fred. The forum was an answer to a need that was obvious through different avenues I’ve been down and conversations I had at networking events and at the IES. I could see how there was a way to help both women and employers, because there’s a little bit of a disconnect going on which can happen, even in the best of situations. The forum addresses that and gives women inspiration and powerful tools and ways to really leverage what’s already innate to them, their core strengths. It’s beyond rewarding, and as you say, it gives me such joy that we’re doing something that really has an impact. Women come back to us time and time again and they’ll tell me personally, and often put it on LinkedIn, how the program has changed their lives and their careers.

It’s far bigger and more rewarding than I ever imagined it was going to be. I knew it was needed, but this is gone to a new level. My goal now is just to get it to anybody who wants it, in that space of moving from management level into sales leadership at the executive level, because women tend to get stuck there. Sometimes it’s because of family issues, sometimes it’s corporate policies, sometimes it’s culture. Sometimes it’s our own lack of belief in what we can offer, or we are of the mindset that keeping our head down and working hard is going to get us where we need to be. That’s one of the things I want to talk about today.

Fred Diamond: One of the most powerful things that I heard from one of our attendees was that in the beginning she thought sales is sales. If you’re a woman, you got to be competing in the man’s world, and you just got to get out there and you just got to sell harder. She came back to me afterwards and said, “I never really appreciated the value of building the support network and of communicating with people in like-minded situations and understanding how they deal.” One of the cool things too is that we’ve had some amazing companies represented. Salesforce was a sponsor, Intel Corporation, Akamai, Cvent Software, 3Pillar Global, Red Hat Software, SAP NS2. This is a blue chip audience.

Gina Stracuzzi: FireEye.

Fred Diamond: Yeah, exactly. There’s been Carahsoft and some of their partners. It’s just been just an amazing opportunity for women who are looking to make an impact at their companies and with their customers, more importantly. We’re thrilled. Kudos for you. Let’s get to the content here. Number one, I know you got three mindsets that you’ve observed, tell us what number one is and let’s get talking about that.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, whether male or female, in order to really grow at work and have your career take off and reach your numbers in sales, you’ve got to have a growth and learning mindset. You have to be open to new ideas and new processes and ways of looking at things. Honestly, this is where women really excel. Women happily take in more information, like, “Tell me, I want to learn, I want to know.” In looking at the difference between male and female, men can sometimes a little bit be of the attitude, like, “I got this. I’m good, I’ve been selling for 50 years or whatever the case is, I know what to do.” But times are always changing, as we’ve learned. If you don’t stay current with your thinking and keep imagining that there is so much more you can know, you’re not going to have the right mindset, because you’re just tuned out to what could be. People will pass you by because they’re paying attention and they’re learning and continually growing.

That’s one of the things that I love when I talk to the women that come into the forum, or I talk to women on the webcast. They have one core caveat or piece of them, and that is about constantly learning. I would say that is the number one thing in terms of mindsets that is absolutely crucial if you’re going to keep growing sales or lead a sales team, because if you stay stagnant in what you know, your sales people are going to be beyond you. Which could be good because they’ll keep selling, but you have to be at least as smart as they are.

Fred Diamond: That is a great one, continuous improvement is something I love. That’s one of the bases of the Institute for Excellence in Sales. One of our missions is to bring sales thought leaders to sales leaders. One thing that we’ve spent over the 10 years that we’ve been around is trying to find the ones who are writing the best things, who are creating new ideas, who are providing it in a way that it’s digestible. Talk a little bit about what that means from an actionable perspective. A lot of times people throw things out, “You need to read books or listen to podcasts.” Well, the same thing. If I want to lose weight, I know I need to stop eating ice cream [laughs]. A lot of times we know what we should do. Talk a little bit about what are some things that you’ve seen some of these women do to actually learn? What are some things that they’re really doing to learn as compared to paying lip service to, “Yeah, you need to read more and you need to listen to more podcasts”?

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, I can really only speak for me and to some degree what I’ve witnessed, but a crucial factor is it has to be of interest to you. If somebody’s writing something and everybody thinks it’s just the best thing since sliced bread, if it doesn’t connect with your way of thinking, and you try it and it really doesn’t stick, then you end up beating yourself up because, “Well, I tried,” or, “Nothing ever works for me.” You have to find material and authors or speakers that resonate with you, because that’s going to build interest. You’ve got to have interest in the material in order to learn it. Well, look, we’re not in college anymore, and it’s not a required thing that you have to get through. If you don’t find the things that really interest you, you’re not going to stick with it.

Fred Diamond: I had a boss once, one of my first bosses in my first jobs, and he said, “I want you to get good at the things that you’re not good at.” Things like even though I have a master’s in business, I wasn’t very good in finance or accounting. He said, “I want you to get really good at that.” What I’ve learned over the years is I probably didn’t need to get good at that. What I needed to know was, who do I reach out to, to answer my questions? Or who the resources are, and the people who are most successful in companies are the ones with resources. Do you agree with that approach, or do you think you should learn about the financial side of accounting to be a better salesperson, if that’s something you don’t like? We like to say a lot in the Sales Game Changers webcast, including the Women in Sales show, your brain can only process three things at one time, if that. What are the three things that you’re going to go after? I’m just curious on your response.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, actually, I do agree with that. When you first started saying that, and you were talking about what your boss said, I thought, “Yeah, what you really need to do is find someone who can do that work for you.” Now, I will say, having a surface level understanding of something can be very helpful because the people in business who had no sense of anything and let everybody do everything for them, have often lost everything because people were walking away with their money and their sales, and they were completely taken advantage of. You can’t be completely dumb to something. You have to know enough about it to know when something looks wrong, but leave that to the experts, so to speak. But understand what they’re telling you when they do their work and come back to you.

Fred Diamond: Some of the best sales professionals that we know, especially in tech and professional services, and a lot of the B2B and complex sales space, where the Institute for Excellence in Sales lives, you got to be bright, man. You got to be well read, you got to be educated, you got to be thoughtful. You may not have to give a two-hour dissertation on your opinion about something, but at least know to be able to have some degree of reference. Number one, continuous learning, and I love that. What’s the number two thing that you’ve observed for the women in sales to grow their optimal sales mindset?

Gina Stracuzzi: They have to welcome challenges. That can be a scary prospect for a lot of people, because taking on new challenges means you’re putting yourself out there and you might fail. But if you go back to idea number one of being open to continuous learning, those new challenges can be a new learning experience. If you’re going to be a good leader and you want to have the right mindset, you have to take on new challenges with a welcoming attitude. One thing that I try to stress in the forum, and I know all the facilitators do too, is if you don’t understand something, ask for help. Say that you don’t understand. That is a really scary thing to do, to say to people in a meeting, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand this.”

But just like teachers, bosses have been reporting through extensive studies that the person that will actually be brave enough to stand up and say, “I would like to do this, but I don’t understand this,” that person is going to go further in that company than someone who’s got that same, “I got this. I’ll figure it out.” Then they go back to their desk and Google it or whatever they’re going to do. It resonates with people that you are strong enough, and vulnerable enough, and involved enough that you want to get it right. That’s the second thing that I really try to stress with the women that come through the program.

Fred Diamond: Gina, we have a question here. Marcy says here, “How can I take on new challenges when I’m already working more than full-time hours and I have a family with young kids?” That’s interesting, and actually, we’ve talked about this many times over the last 18 months. It usually befell on the women to be the homeschooler, and during the summer, the camp counselor when camps were canceled. And they still do a lot of the functions around the house of cooking and cleaning and all those kinds of things. For a woman to be successful in sales leadership, Gina, does she have to be a superwoman? Talk a little bit about that aspect of balance.

Gina Stracuzzi: This comes up again and again, and this is especially important if there’s somewhere you would like to go in the company. It might be laterally, it might be up, but you are going to need on-the-job experience to get there. You’re thinking to yourself, “How do I get there if I’m doing this and I’ve got kids, and aging parents, and pets, and all those things?” It’s, one, extremely important that you let whoever’s in charge, whether it’s of you or the area that you want to go into, let them know of your interest. Ask if you can sit in on meetings. Don’t necessarily take anything on just yet. Then if you find and when you find the opening to do something as a new challenge, let them know, “I would love to be part of this, but my schedule’s already this. Can I pass this to so and so? Or is there a way that we could maybe take this off my plate, or put a different suspense date on it?” Whatever the case is, but you have to ask.

That’s the one thing that I routinely see, and I was guilty of it too when I was in the corporate world. I would want to be involved in something, or I’d want a promotion or a job or something different, but I expected people to read my mind. Where guys will just go, “Hey, I want that job.” Or, “I’d like to be part of that. What do I got to do?”

Fred Diamond: Actually, we told this story many, many times. The genesis of the Institute for Excellence in Sales launching a Women in Sales program years before we even came on board with the Leadership Forum. A business owner who was a friend of the Institute, of a billion-dollar company, he came to me and he said, “Half of my sales team is men. Half of them is women.” He said, “The women perform 6% to 8% better than the men, but the women shut down in meetings.” Or the men will do exactly what you just said, and we hear this time and time again. As a guy, I know this too. If someone asks a question, my hand is up, or I’ll say, “Have we thought about this?” The idea won’t even be remotely half baked in a lot of cases, and the women will be pensive. They’ll be thinking about it before they raise their hand. By then, in a lot of cases, the meeting is over.

Another interesting thing that you just said is when you think about your career ascension, a lot of people are mistaken where they think that they’re going to get promoted based on performance, just pure performance. I’m not going to say it’s a small part, you have to perform, but it’s also, are you seen as a good corporate soldier? Are you seen as someone who is known in other parts of the company? Are you broad? It’s not just about, “Hey, my number was 122%. I should have gotten promoted instead of that guy who was 117%.” There’s so much more to it.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely there is. A good analogy is if you think back to your high school days or your college days, if there was a popular group, or a party you wanted to go to, or whatever it is, the way to get there is to let people know and start talking to people, like, “Hey, I want to go there.” You don’t just sit there in your room and wish it, because wishing is not going to help. Visibility is a huge issue for women in companies, even well-meaning companies. It goes a lot to the idea of second-guessing and waiting and hesitating to speak up. Sometimes you might speak up and you get talked over. That happens. A lot of times the people that are doing it aren’t necessarily bad people, but they just get away with it and it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.

If you are still working up the courage to speak up in meetings, or you are in one of those environments where you don’t have a great reception, then you knock on somebody’s door separate from the meeting, and say, “This is what I heard. This is what I think I can do. This is what I’d like to do.” Find another way to get to them. Don’t just keep it bottled up.

Fred Diamond: If you have these great ideas, figure out a way to get it. We’re talking to Gina Stracuzzi about some of the optimal mindsets of the most successful women in sales. We talked about number one, be a continuous learner. Constantly learn new things so that you can be more valuable as an employee and a leader to your company. Number two, welcome challenges. Identify things that you can participate in to help your company advance, help your group advance, and that’s just a strategy for success. Gina, you said we have three. What’s the third?

Gina Stracuzzi: This is another one that takes some courage, and that is to welcome critical feedback. That can be hard, especially if you have a hypercritical boss, or you work with people that just love to bring everybody down just a notch or two. They love to tell you what you did wrong, but not necessarily what you did right. I think one of the things that I really like to tell people is don’t go to the people that always give others a hard time. Go to somebody that you trust and respect. Even if they give it to you straight, or you watch them say, “Joe, that was great. But here’s all the things that I see are problematic.” The conversation might still be hard, but you’re going to know that it comes from a place of positivity. They absolutely want you to do the right thing.

Fred Diamond: We talk a lot about being bold, and we talk a lot about having courage. As a matter of fact, today’s LinkedIn post that I did, the whole concept was courage. I always say this too. Whenever people say to me, “What’s the number one trait, Fred, that you’ve seen for successful salespeople?” I always say, the courage to make the phone call. The courage to ask for advice, assistance. The courage to ask one more hard question. The courage to challenge. The courage to ask for the deal. Those are some brilliant points.

We have a question here that comes in from Nicole. Nicole says, “Thank you much, Gina. What do you see women in sales doing wrong time and time again?” Interesting question here. We’re talking about things that they’re typically doing right. But maybe you can identify one thing that you’ve seen over the course of the Women in Sales Leadership Forum that maybe just kind of gets under your skin or irks you that you see women in sales doing wrong time and time again.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, wrong is a tough word. I would say the thing that I see that women do, and I’ve been guilty of this myself, that undermines their growth is the second guessing. It really goes to trusting your intuition. Trusting that voice that says, “What this customer needs, what they’re really saying is this. But we’re coming at them with this.” If you see it, if you know it to be true, speak it. Say, “Bob, I see a little hesitation. Are we getting this wrong? Is what you’re really saying this?” Even if you’re wrong, at least he knows, or she knows, that you’re listening, which is a critical skill. But second guessing yourself, opportunities walk out the door and they don’t come back.

That is the one thing that I see women doing repeatedly, and it impacts sales. It impacts your credibility too, because after a while, people can pick up on the fact that you’re standing on your tongue. Why are you standing on your tongue? What’s on your mind? It’s really important. That goes to the courage, which is another thing that I love to draw out of women, is courage comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. It’s little, tiny things that are really courageous, and speaking up is one of them, and taking criticism is another, and we’ve got it. We can do it.

Fred Diamond: Gina Stracuzzi, thank you so much for what you’ve done with the program, what you’ve done for the Institute for Excellence in Sales and what you’ve done for women in sales, their lives and their careers. As we like to do on every Sales Game Changers webcast and podcast, give us a final action step. You’ve given us a lot of great ideas here, but give us something specific that people should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you for all those kind words, Fred. It’s been my honor – and I don’t use that word lightly. I would say that my tip for, especially when it comes to mindset, is an introspective one. I want you to really stop and think about what you do on a daily basis, and how many times you don’t speak up, or you second guess yourself, or you don’t ask for that new challenge. I don’t think it’s always fear. I think it’s sometimes we’re just not convinced that we have the time, or that we’re smart enough, or good enough, or whatever it is we do to ourselves, and we all do it, male and female. Take a few minutes to stop and think about that and then ask yourself, how is that impacting your sales and your career? Or if you’re managing people, the impact that you’re having on them.

Fred Diamond: That is such a great advice. Like we say, just take action. The first step of a thousand-mile journey is the first step. Once again, Gina Stracuzzi, thank you so much. For everybody who watched today’s webcast and for the questions, thank you so much. If you’re listening as a Sales Game Changers Podcast listener, thank you as well.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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