EPISODE 132: Women in Sales Leader Jane Gentry Says You Can’t Wait for Someone Else to Make You Better in Sales So Here are Things She Says You Must Do Now to Improve
JANE’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Don’t wait for somebody else to make you better. You own your success. Find a place like the Institute for Excellence in Sales or spend the money to find a coach to make you better at what you do. You need to be reading, you need to own your path in your career in sales. Don’t sit back and wait for somebody to make you a great salesperson.”
Jane Gentry has had a successful 30-year career in Sales, Sales Management, Consulting, Executive Coaching and Keynoting.
Since forming Jane Gentry and Company in 1999, Jane has partnered with her clients to improve sales/profitability, client retention, employee retention and leadership capabilities.
Some of her clients include Coca Cola, Home Depot and TransAmerica.
She is a member of Lori Richardson’s Women Sales Pros.
Jane Gentry: I’m thrilled to be here, Fred thanks for having me. There are two things I think that people find them interesting, I don’t know that I find them interesting but I will say that they have an impact on who I am today and how I got here. The first thing is I’m a military brat, so until I moved to Atlanta in 1992, I moved every 4 years my entire life. When you’re forced to move like that you have to get to know people, you have to be in uncomfortable situations, you have to know how to start conversation.
The second thing is I am a recovering actor, my first career was as a professional actor. My degrees are in theater and music and people always say to me, “Are you going to go back?” I act every day, I don’t know what you’re talking about, I use that degree every day. I’d say those are the two things.
Fred Diamond: Do you ever do community stock theater or any of those types of things?
Jane Gentry: I don’t. It’s a little snobbish thing I have and I’m embarrassed to say that to you in front of all of your listeners, but no I don’t.
Fred Diamond: No problem. You’ve been working as Jane Gentry, as the sales performance improvement for about since 1999 as we talked about. Tell us specifically what you offer today and tell us what excites you about that. First of all, 18 years in the business, good for you. Actually almost 19 years, now.
Jane Gentry: Almost 20, you know we’re in 2018 and I stink at math, but yes, 20 years next year.
Fred Diamond: It’s actually 2018 and I’m still dating my checks 1986.
Jane Gentry: [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: What do you offer? What are the things you specifically bring to clients?
Jane Gentry: We help customers grow more revenue, we help with almost every part of sales effectiveness. We start with diagnosis, our first goal is to help a leader understand how much more effective they can be with the organization they have today, what’s it going to take to be the most effective that they can be and help them deliver on those things if they need us to.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned that your degrees were in theater and performing arts. How did you make the transition into helping companies solve their sales problems?
Jane Gentry: To be completely frank, I was hungry and I made a phone call to my father who has been in business for many years and I said, “I need to get a job for one year. What do you think I could do?” and he said, “You’d be great at outside sales.” I said, “That’s a great idea, what is that?” I got my first sales job, was going to do that for a period of time and go back to the theater and I started to eat regularly, I started driving a car that ran and I didn’t look back. I finished my corporate career as vice president of sales for an event company and then as you know, started my practice in ’99,
Fred Diamond: What were some of the things you were selling? Did you move into selling event services or exhibitions? What did you do?
Jane Gentry: We did design, I sold air, actually. I sold design, so we would work for companies like Nike, Philips Medical, car manufacturers, these exhibits are bigger than your house and they have to come up and get torn down in a week. It’s even harder than your house, so we would design them, manufacture them and manage them for some very large organizations.
Fred Diamond: You made that shift from wanting to be a performer, an actor if you will, and then you moved into sales. What are some of the key lessons you learned from some of those first few sales jobs?
Jane Gentry: I am much smarter when I speak less. Let me say that a different way, customers think I’m smarter when I speak less, it’s a lesson that salespeople need to learn. We don’t always have to do the talking, in fact, we should not be carrying the conversation the majority of the time and it’s a problem I still see in young salespeople.
Fred Diamond: Just to talk about some of the things that you might advise a client on, what are some things that you do to help them understand that and then help them get better at things like listening and not feeling the urge to – we use the expression “show up and throw up” and those types of things?
Jane Gentry: Our diagnosis starts at a very high level, we’re trying to help customers understand where their processes might be broken, why their pipeline might be off and then we look at people. That includes managers, how are your managers affecting your sales organization, are they hiring well, are they coaching well, are they motivating correctly, are they holding people accountable? What’s their impact on the sales – I hate this word, but I’m going to say it anyway – the sales ecosystem?
Then we look at individual salespeople. We’re able to get more specific, Fred than to say to them, “Your people need consultative selling.” We’re able to say to them, “Look, 80% of your sales organization does not ask enough questions, does not get to the decision maker, needs to be liked too much, it’s causing them to not ask hard questions, not ask enough questions and give away margin.” When we go in to help a client, some of it is structural with the organization around process, segmenting, client engagement and some of it is around solving people problems. Do you have the right role definition? Do you have the right people in the right roles? If you do, how do we make those people better but how do we use a laser focus and not just spray and pray training?
Fred Diamond: Tell us about you specifically. You’ve been doing this since 1999, you were a sales professional prior to that. What is your specific area of brilliance, what are you truly an expert in?
Jane Gentry: Two things, I would say that diagnosis is a very big differentiator for us. We use a third party validated process so you don’t get my opinion because what’s the value of that? Secondly, I think that the thing that has kept us going for 20 years is our ability to build relationships, help people really build enriching client relationships. A lot of times you’ll read today that relationship selling is dead and that may or may not be true but relationships aren’t dead.
You hear a lot of propaganda around AI, “AI is going to replace salespeople”, I say don’t believe the fake news. AI is going to enable salespeople, it’s going to make your salespeople have to be better business people, have to understand the language of business and how business is done, it’s going to force them to be better relationship builders. That’s the thing that’s differentiated us over the years.
Fred Diamond: I’m sure that you’ve worked with some people over the years who’ve helped you move ahead, who helped you understand what your value was. Tell us about an impactful sales career mentor that you might have encountered along the way and how they impacted you.
Jane Gentry: I still have those. If I look back, I’d say a couple of people were unwilling or unknowing mentors to me because they were such horrible bosses, I think you lose as much from a boss as you learn from a great boss. Then I had a boss that was a person who was a great leader, I think he might have not even been a great manager, he had a business partner that was a great manager. He was a great leader, he was great at identifying the skill sets of people, what their purpose is and helping them drive towards that purpose. That’s something I try to do now when I see salespeople. If I see that they are particularly gifted in an area, I try to point that out to them and help them because I think that’s what he did for me.
Fred Diamond: We’ll talk about that in a few seconds, some of the advice you have for the young sales professionals that are listening to the podcast around the globe. You deal with tons of sales managers and sales leaders, what do you think are the two biggest challenges that they’re facing today?
Jane Gentry: From a manager point of view, I would say development. I think front line managers are the most underdeveloped people in an organization. It causes them to focus on the wrong things, among them the wrong KPI’s, they’re measuring the wrong things. Secondly, I would say time. Business moves so fast that if I have my data correct from my research, the average tenure of a sales leader right now is 18 months, maybe less than that in tech. You don’t have a lot of time, companies are not patient, they think quarter by quarter and I think that’s a real problem for sales leaders.
Fred Diamond: Jane, you’ve worked with tons of companies. Before that, you were a very successful sales leader. Take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Jane Gentry: I would say that is the day that a client came into my office and said, “I just got a promotion from what we did together. Bad news is we don’t get to work together anymore, good news is because of how we worked together I got promoted.” That’s a big win for me.
Fred Diamond: What were some of the things that you helped this particular person with to help them take their career to the next level?
Jane Gentry: We helped them increase the revenue in their sales organization and we really helped her to understand how to segment her customers correctly, how to engage them differently, we ramped up some of the skills of her salespeople and it showed exponential growth and looked really good for her. I was thrilled for her.
Fred Diamond: We said in the beginning of your career you went to college, you went to grad school to become an actor or performer. Again, your father suggested that you moved into sales which you did, you sold events services, exhibition services, you did very well before you created Jane Gentry and Company. Did you ever question being in sales after you made that move? Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “Sales is too hard, it’s really just not for me”?
Jane Gentry: Not for one single minute, this is a great career. This is a career where you really can be the captain of your own ship, you can see there’s a very visible line to your contribution to an organization when you’re in sales. You can see it in ways that other people in parts of the organization have a harder time seeing the contribution that they make. I think this is a fantastic career and I promote it to anybody, probably people that shouldn’t be in sales. I just think it’s a great career.
Fred Diamond: Jane, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening to this podcast around the globe to help them take their careers to the next level?
Jane Gentry: I’ll say two things, Fred. One is ignore the noise. I think leaders are readers, I’m a voracious reader, I read a lot about sales, a lot about business and if you do that then there’s a lot of noise out there about “this is going to be passé, outside sales is dead, inside is the new thing, count base selling is the new…” There’s so much noise, ignore the noise and get to the basics.
Sales is still about the basics, it is still about managing the conversation that you have with a potential client. Those blocking and tackling kinds of skills that you and I learned hopefully back in the day when we were carrying a bag, being a great listener, understanding how to ask probing questions, being able to keep your mouth shut long enough to let the customer get through their answer to those questions, nurturing that relationship, being a problem solver, understanding their business challenges. That basic blocking and tackling is still the foundation of great selling.
Fred Diamond: How about someone who’s let’s say, in their late 20’s, they came into a career in sales after college or they did a job in engineering or tech, then they moved into sales and they’ve gone past the first stage. Now they’re into the second stage, we talked about the need to truly bring value to your customer and understand your customer’s business. What might be some suggestions that you would have for them to learn about the customer’s business and to really understand how they can bring value to their specific customers?
Jane Gentry: There’s a book I recently recommended to somebody. I want to tell you it’s called Financial Intelligence. I think the best thing that a salesperson can do for their own business is to understand the language of business. Understand how their customers make money, it’s a big gap that I still see with salespeople in organizations, they don’t know how the customer makes money therefore you don’t know what you do contributes to them making money. I’m ashamed to say that back when I first started carrying a bag, I skated by a lot on charisma. Honestly, I didn’t need to know what my customer’s business was, that is not the case today. You’ve got to know how business is done, you’ve got to understand the financial language of business and you have to know how your customer makes a buck.
Fred Diamond: That is such a great answer. For the Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, your customer is thinking about how can they grow their business, what can they be doing to help their company achieve more, grow more, expand, acquire more customers, whatever it is they might be charged with doing. You have to figure out how can you speak in that language to help them understand, first of all, the value that you’re bringing because they can get the information that they need about your product and your service on the internet or from social media, if you will. That’s such a great answer.
Jane Gentry: I love that you used that word, Fred because value selling is a term that gets bantered about a lot and in the truest sense of the term, in value selling you should be able to show an actual financial ROI for a customer. We’re not good at that right now, most companies struggle to do that or can’t do that but that is where sales is moving and we are getting to a place where we are going to have to be able to show a customer, “Here is the literal financial ROI you’re going to get from our solution.”
Fred Diamond: That’s a great answer. Jane, what are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Jane Gentry: I just said to you, I read everything. I don’t buy into everything, but I read everything. I’m very active following my colleagues on social media, I consider them to be a mastermind group. I’m in a literal mastermind group with some of the top sales leaders in the United States anyway and I think you have to be a continual learner, the world will just pass you by.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Jane Gentry: I don’t know if you’re going to buy this, Fred but I don’t really focus on that. I’m of the belief that if I help other people succeed, I will naturally succeed. That’s not really where I focus, right now I’m super focused on getting more young women in sales. I’m hyper focused on that, I think that we don’t have enough young women in sales, I think we definitely don’t have enough women in sales leadership and that is an initiative that I’m hyper focused on. Let me be clear, I’m a very pragmatic person, I am not doing this because of some diversity play. I think you should have more women in your sales organization because they stay longer, they sell more and a more diverse selling organization is a more profitable sales organization. It’s that simple.
Fred Diamond: That’s great. The Institute for Excellence in Sales, our sponsor of today’s podcast, they have a Women in Sales Leadership Forum which will kick off in March, 2019 and basically it’s to make that challenge happen. Interestingly, I’m thrilled to be interviewing you today. I did a count of the guests that we’ve had on the Sales Game Changers podcasts and we’ve had over 120 guests at this point, and I was very surprised to see that about 15 of them were women. Actually, probably closer to 20 so it was about 17% to 18% and I was upset. I was thinking, “How come I’m not doing a 1 to 1?” Then we did some research and something like 1 out of every 8 sales leader is a woman so we’re actually ahead of the curve.
Jane Gentry: We only have about 39% of women in sales right now in most sales organizations. If the sales leader is a woman, that number gets closer to 50, mostly 39% and I am hearing a lot of sales leaders say, “I want to hire women, I can’t find them.” That’s why I think part of this initiative is promoting sales as a career to young women and getting them excited about this as a career.
Fred Diamond: Along those lines, people think that sales is hard, achieving great things in sales is hard. People return your phone calls less and less or your emails. Why have you continued, Jane? Why have you devoted your career to sales? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Jane Gentry: It’s salespeople that keep me going. At this point, I do sell – I guess I sell, I don’t have a business if I don’t sell but my focus is on making great salespeople. That’s what keeps me going, seeing people get developed, seeing them become more successful. I told you in my video for the talk I’m giving tomorrow, salespeople are my tribe. I get very excited about working with salespeople, especially young sales people.
Fred Diamond: Jane, we have listeners around the globe who are looking to get better at the art and science of selling, take their careers to the next level. Why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire our listeners today?
Jane Gentry: The one piece of advice that I would have for salespeople is don’t wait for somebody else to make you better. The likelihood of your managers spending the time and the money to make you better is slim, your company might try to make you better but you own your success. If you need to find a place like the Sales Institute or if you need to spend the money to find a coach to make you better at what you do, you need to be reading, you need to own your path in your career in sales. Don’t sit back and wait for somebody to make you a great salesperson.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great answer. We tell people all the time who ask us for similar advice, we say you’re the vice president of your career.
Jane Gentry: Company ME, ME and company.