EPISODE 613: Succeeding as an African American Woman in Sales Leader with AT&T’s Jaron Felder

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Jaron Felder is an Assistant Vice President- Fiber Sales at AT&T.

Find Jaron on LinkedIn.

JARON’S TIP: “The power of one more. Make one more call. Do one more door knock. Do one more follow up, but just one more. You’ll be surprised what that one more will yield for you from a revenue perspective. Activity yields results, so do the power of one more.”


Fred Diamond: I’m excited to talk to Jaron Felder today for a whole bunch of different reasons. Anthony Tuggle suggested that we have you on the show. He was a great episode in the early days of 2020. We’ve maintained our LinkedIn friendship. I asked him, I said, “Give me some of your friends, some people that you’ve worked with that I need to get on the Sales Game Changers Podcast that can be aspirational for our listeners, that can talk about what they’re doing, and really get deep into the sales process.” You were one of the handful of names that he suggested. Introduce us to yourself. Again, you’re the assistant VP of Business Fiber Solutions for the Mid-Markets of AT&T. You cover Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. But tell us a little more about your background. You’ve worked at a lot of different places within AT&T and I’m curious to know.

Jaron Felder: Thanks so much for having me, Fred. I’m really excited to be a part of this podcast and shout out to Anthony for the recommendation. I’ve been with AT&T, I’ll celebrate my 16th year in August, so in just a few months. Hard to believe time’s flown that quickly, but I’ve had 10 different assignments, five different relocations within the company, and it’s really provided me with a depth and breadth of experiences across the organization. I started as a seller in a store, AT&T retail store in South Carolina where I’m originally from. Spent some time in consumer and then went over to business and spent some time doing business. Then AT&T had the privilege to earn the contract in order to build out our public safety network for first responders called FirstNet. Had an opportunity to go over and spend some time in the FirstNet organization working with our firefighters, police officers, et cetera, a really rewarding part of my career. From there I had an opportunity to go back to consumer. I also spent some time in sales operations and marketing. Now I’m currently back in business serving our small and medium sized businesses across the Southeast states.

Fred Diamond: First of all, what was your college degree? What did you major in?

Jaron Felder: Sociology and a minor in criminal justice. Once upon a time I was going to be an attorney. Now I just play one on TV or at work sometimes, but yeah, so sociology. I know a lot of people don’t use their degrees in their role. I would like to think that the science of people is implied in my role of sales.

Fred Diamond: One thing that we like to ask the women in sales that we bring on the Sales Game Changers Podcast is when you were a kid, when you were growing up, as a teenager, you just mentioned you wanted to be an attorney, but did you ever foresee yourself having a sales career?

Jaron Felder: No. I knew nothing about sales, had no idea what I was getting myself into. But it’s super rewarding. I think that what really made me navigate towards sales was talking to people. I love engaging with teams, I love having conversations with customers, and that’s been really rewarding in the sales aspect.

Fred Diamond: You have a lot of things going on here that are a little bit different than what we’ve had on the podcast, which is why I was so excited. Not only are you a woman in sales, but you’re an African American woman as well. You’re also the breadwinner of your family. You have four kids. You’re a VP of sales, so you’re in a challenging career. Talk about how you view your own set of unique challenges and how have you viewed that as you have climbed the corporate ladder?

Jaron Felder: That’s a great question. My husband is retired military, so he stays at home with the kids nowadays. I would say that that’s been his job, it’s much harder than mine, if I had to quantify it. But it was a decision that we made early on in my career, once I determined that AT&T is a company that I see myself retiring from. It has provided me with so much to give to my family as well as personal growth and development. We decided to ride the train and we had to make some tough decisions. One of those things were we do want a family, we have four children, and we wanted to make sure that they had the support that they needed, but also mommy has to work. We made the decision that he would stay at home as the primary caretaker and that we would relocate or do whatever we needed to do to make sure that our family was successful. That’s a unique dynamic when I compare myself to some peers of mine, but it’s worked out for us, and it’s been a great balance.

As far as some of the challenges and things that I’ve faced, as you mentioned, I am a double minority. I’m a black woman in corporate America, and there are often times or there have been times where I’m the only person in the room that looks like me. For a while I suffered from imposter syndrome. Like, “Do I belong here? Am I worthy? Why am I the one that they selected to be in a specific role?” As I’ve matriculated through my career, I’m matured, I’ve realized that, in the words of someone that I admire, Carla Harris, if you have a seat at the table, you have a responsibility to speak. I didn’t earn the seat at the table if I’m not using my voice on a consistent basis. I think that I bring a diverse perspective, and I think that my perspective contributes and allows the business to accelerate at a faster rate. I’m proud to be a diverse voice and face at the table. I also think it’s important to open doors for people that look like me to come in after me.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that for a second. Do you see many women who are African American who want to get into sales at AT&T? We hear this all the time from the women in sales we’ve interviewed at the Sales Game Changers Podcast, or through the IES through our Premier Women in Sales Employer Program, where a lot of times they’re the only one. Now, there’s a lot more younger women who’ve gotten into sales, but do you see more and more women of color moving into sales?

Jaron Felder: No. An unfortunate reality is that my personal experience has not shown me a lot of women of color that want to navigate in a sales field. I think that we have to be really intentional when we are recruiting diverse people to make sure that they understand the role. Typically, when you hear sales, you think typical pushy car salesman, or you also as a woman have to worry about safety. Are you asking me to go out and talk to customers in person, door knock? Those types of things. I think that as a leader within a sales organization, it’s incumbent upon us to articulate to other women during the recruitment process. We have to be super intentional and say, “Hey, let me myth bust. Let me share what a day in the life truly looks like and why you would be an asset.”

Then we have to be strategic in our placement of women of color in sales as well. There are lots of communities that are heavily populated with black businesses or minority owned businesses, where a woman in color would actually make a huge impact because they would be purchasing services that they need from someone that looks and mirrors their community. To answer your question, no, unfortunately, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to more women of color in sales. But I think that if our HR recruitment staff and our sales leaders can get more intentional, we can definitely crack the code on that.

Fred Diamond: I’m going to give you an opportunity here to give an elevator pitch for AT&T. Obviously everybody’s heard of AT&T, and the company’s been around for, I don’t know, 150 years, whatever it might be. Is it a sexy place to work? If I were in a group of 20 people who have decided to move into sales, doesn’t matter if I’m white or black or male or female, give me the 30-second pitch on why I should consider coming to work at AT&T as compared to another startup or whatever it might be.

Jaron Felder: That’s funny. I’ve never used AT&T and sexy in the same sentence, so I will do it right now. It is definitely a fantastic place to work. Listen, we are the third largest telecommunications company in the country. We are a global provider. We are at the cutting edge of technology. You can have a multitude of careers under one umbrella. There is no better company that you could ask for. We are always in the top for our diversity and recruitment efforts as it pertains to making sure that people feel welcome of all backgrounds. This company has been life-changing for me. If someone’s considering a place to work, I would absolutely advocate for AT&T. Again, multiple different parts of the business where you can grow your career. In my particular part of the business, selfishly, I’ll give a plug there, we are steadfast on serving our small and medium sized business customers and making sure that we provide them a total and complete business solution to accelerate their company’s efforts. We are welcoming folks to join us in that effort.

Fred Diamond: During the prep for today’s podcast, you put out the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and you said that that’s a principle that you’ve always lived by. What does that mean? You said you’ve lived by this quote, how have you lived by this expression?

Jaron Felder: It’s one of my favorite things to just keep top of mind. A lot of the times, you compare yourself to others’ career journeys and their past and how they’ve accelerated and how they’ve gotten to the top. Sometimes you’re so focused on getting to the destination that you forget about the journey. I truly believe the journey is where the magic happens. Whether it’s good, bad, challenges, et cetera. I just try to remind myself to not compare myself to others. My path is my own, and what’s meant for me will be, and with hard work I can help to pivot that. But I think as a woman specifically, a lot of the times we do tend to compare, whether that’s, someone got married sooner than me, someone has children before I do, someone’s more further along in their career than I am.

I really want to remind myself to put a stop to that. If I find myself looking at someone else’s journey, I try to remind myself, take a step back and be appreciative of the things that you’ve accomplished, because you’ve done a great job so far, and it’s just getting started. You have so much more ahead of you to accomplish. For me, comparison is one of those things that we should only compare or compete against ourselves. I know it’s easier said than done, but someone else’s journey is not going to be your own. You just need to really concentrate on what are the things that you need to do to accelerate and advance yourself.

Fred Diamond: A lot of times on the Women in Sales episodes of the Sales Game Changers Podcast, we talk about mentorship and we talk about not just mentorship, but sponsoring. I’m curious, women at AT&T, do they approach you to be mentored with the level that you hold? If they do, what do you want them to ask you as a mentor?

Jaron Felder: I probably spend I would say at least three to four hours a week in some form of mentorship. Whether that’s a mentoring circle, whether that’s one-on-ones, whether that’s someone just giving me a call for advice. I’m really passionate about that, Fred, because I’ll tell you that early in my career, I would not be sitting where I am without people that send the elevator back down. I think about people like Marvy Moore, a retired VP from AT&T that was really instrumental in my career. I think about Anthony Tuggle that has always advocated for everyone, but specifically people of color, to advance within a corporate environment. I think about my current leadership team, my current leader, Shelley Goodman and Jennifer Van Buskirk, and how supportive they are, and so many others that I could be here all day naming, but I absolutely try to make sure that I spend time mentoring and giving back.

A, again, there’s not a lot of women of color that are able to be in an executive position and give back to others. I think that that’s a big responsibility. It’s not many of us from a percent perspective, I should say. We really have to make sure that we’re giving back and helping the next generation come behind us. That’s important. Then B, we have to make sure that we’re sharing our gems and our learning lessons along the way. I know early in my career a good mentor and friend of mine, Celeste Boyd-Spear, asked me a question that stood out, and she said to me, “Hey, what white males do you have in your network?” I sat back and I said, “I don’t have any.” I had different multiple nationalities for females, I had black males, I didn’t have any white males. The next question was, “Well, who normally dominates those seats?” It’s a lot of white males.

It was an eye-opener for me to be more intentional about who and how I craft my board of directors of my personal network. I will tell you that that really helped to change the trajectory of my career and helped me to make some relationships of individuals that have been lifelong mentors. It’s those types of nuggets that had I not had mentorship and had I not given mentorship that we probably would not be able to advance further.

Fred Diamond: A lot of our listeners are white males, obviously in corporate sales for the Sales Game Changers Podcast. That was really a great example that you just gave there about some great advice. One of the things we talk a lot about, Jaron, is allyship. One of our most downloaded show that we ever did was with two executives, one from Salesforce and one from a company called Cvent, about how to be an ally to women in sales. I mentioned our Premier Women in Sales Employer designation. One of the questions we asked is, how are women and men working together? What type of environment? It’s an unusual question. I don’t think I’ve ever asked this in the over 650 episodes that we’ve done. What would be your message to senior white males at either AT&T or other places about interfacing and being more effective with not just women in sales, not just women in sales of color, but of the women in sales on their teams?

Jaron Felder: That’s a great question. Here’s what I would say, is just make the time. Those three words, make the time. I know our days get away from us, we have lots of things going on, but it’s so important that if you are a white male, if you’re a male, period, we need men as allies. We cannot be successful as women if we do not have men supporters, and that’s just the facts. In order to do that, we need individuals that are willing to take the time and meet with their women employees, hear some of the challenges, and actually take action. Not a one-time, one-and-done conversation, but really interested to see what are the challenges that you’re experiencing? What are the roadblocks and what can I do to help?

A couple of ideas, maybe start a women mentor circle, where you get a subset of women together and you lead a group and really hear from your women employees doing one-on-ones. When you have events, when you’re on a golf course, when you’re out and about doing your normal daily work, invite a woman to join you so that they can get experience and exposure to you and the way that you think about the business. Those things are really paramount. Then the last piece I would say is if you have a requisition or you’re recruiting talent, be intentional with making sure that women have an equal opportunity for the role. I know a lot of these roles are pre-decided or we have pre-identified candidates, but if you don’t have any women applicants in your rack, or you’re not speaking to women about the role, I would tell you to start over.

Fred Diamond: We didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about the sales profession per se. It’s a challenging time. We’re doing today’s interview in April of 2023, and it’s going to be released sometime in the spring. We just came off of three years obviously of a situation that we were all in. We’re still emerging from that, whatever it means. Customers are still trying to figure out how do they deal in the hybrid space. Sales organizations are still trying to figure that out. With what you do, you’re right smack in the middle with communications. What is some of your advice to your team? Not just as it relates to interpersonal relationships, which are huge of course, but from a sales leader perspective, what are some of the things, Jaron Felder, that you’re coaching your team on, you’re directing them to do from a sales profession perspective right now?

Jaron Felder: We are on the other side of the pandemic, but we’re still in that in-between phase, like you mentioned. I will tell you that from a hybrid perspective, I have really been encouraging my teams, “Get back out in front of the customers.” We got to go back out and start making those interpersonal relationships face-to-face, owning our pain. If I am sitting here in Atlanta, I’m the local Atlanta girl, I need to go and talk to my Atlanta customers. If I’m in South Carolina, I need to go and talk to those customers. That’s the first thing I would say is how do we get back to some of that energy that we had pre-pandemic when we were meeting with customers one-on-one and exploring their full solution set and really making them feel like they have their local account manager there. That’s A.

The second thing I would say is really listening. Listening more. People’s needs have transformed post-pandemic. To your point, people are trying to understand, how do I run my business effectively, not only in person, but hybrid? How do I have remote individuals at home? AT&T has a lot of great solutions to assist with that. I would just say I’m encouraging them to listen more, talk less, so that we can craft a total and complete business solution for the customer. Get out more in front of your customers to meet with them. Most importantly, give grace. With inflation and different things that are happening from an economic standpoint, there are a lot of changes that are needed to be made from business owners. We have to realize that we have to allow them some grace as they figure out and navigate this new world, or this current economy. I think that as salespeople, we’re aggressive and we want to go out and close the deal, but we also have to take in effect how are we serving our customers first? Those will be the three things that I’m really coaching my team to today.

Fred Diamond: I just want to acknowledge you, you’ve achieved so much. There’s a lot of things I didn’t even get to that are a part of your resume. I encourage people to reach out to you via LinkedIn. You’re managing a team that covers four states and very busy markets as well, and a very competitive space. Obviously telecom and communications, it’s ridiculously competitive. To continue to develop and own and win the mind share of your customers obviously is such a challenge. I just want to acknowledge you on how you’ve gone about your career and how you’ve achieved a lot of these things, and for the great ideas that you shared with us on the Sales Game Changers Podcast. Give us one final action step. You’ve given us so many ideas. Give us one thing specific that sales professionals should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Jaron Felder: To take your sales career to the next level I would probably have to say, the power of one more. Make one more call. Do one more door knock. Do one more follow up, but just one more. You’ll be surprised what that one more will yield for you from a revenue perspective. Activity yields results, so do the power of one more.

Fred Diamond: Just curious, what’s one more thing you’re going to do this week to continue your success as leading your team?

Jaron Felder: One more thing I’m going to do, I’m doing it today, and I’m going to do one more tomorrow and one more Friday as we close out April strong, first month of second quarter, we’re blitzing, I’m going to do one more blitz. We’re going to reach out to our customers and make sure that they understand all the great services and products that AT&T has to offer. That’s the one more thing that I’ll do from a sales perspective. The one more thing that I’ll do from a professional development perspective is I’m committed to having one more mentoring conversation, one more person that I can help along to get their journey in the direction that they want it to go into.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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