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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the WOMEN IN SALES Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Gina Stracuzzi on January 19, 2021. It featured WorldStrides sales leader Jennifer Fisher.]
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JENNIFER’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Focus on what you can control, what’s right here, right in front of you. Whatever business you’re in, every interaction is about adding value to your partner, adding value to your client or prospect. How are you going to do that? Clear out the minutiae around you and focus on what you can control. When you do that, you’re not letting it happen to you, you’re making things happen. That’s very positive and that’s exciting.”
Fred Diamond: Thanks for being with us today, it’s the Women in Sales webinar, I’m very excited. It’s my great pleasure as it is every Tuesday to introduce you to the Program Director for the IES Women in Sales Leadership Forum and the IES Women in Sales program, it’s your host, Gina Stracuzzi.
Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you, Fred. Welcome, everyone, happy Tuesday. I’m very excited about our guest today, she’s real high energy, real positive and she’s going to help us talk about a difficult service industry in the middle of this pandemic and how her company, WorldStrides, is thriving in the midst of things. Without any further ado, I would like to welcome my guest, Jennifer Fisher. Hi, Jennifer.
Gina Stracuzzi: Why don’t we start with you telling us a little bit about yourself, Jennifer and what you do at WorldStrides and how you got to where you are?
Jennifer Fisher: My name is Jennifer Fisher and I am the Vice President of Sales for WorldStrides Higher Education, I’ve been in sales and sales leadership for almost 30 years now and working in WorldStrides Higher Ed is just amazing. It’s very exciting, very life-changing and basically what this means is what I do is work with study abroad at colleges and universities. Working with our ed abroad offices and faculty to send students abroad and really see their lives change, learn about different cultures and really become global citizens. It’s definitely an amazing job, I’ve been there for almost 7 years now.
Gina Stracuzzi: You just recently got a promotion, is that right?
Jennifer Fisher: Actually, just today [laughs] thank you.
Gina Stracuzzi: Congratulations!
Jennifer Fisher: Just today so big day, very exciting and I believe it’s Senior Vice President of Sales for the whole higher education team. I’m very excited to continue moving us into 2021 and hopefully seeing some good things happen.
Gina Stracuzzi: This must be a tough industry right now, though.
Jennifer Fisher: It is [laughs]. It’s definitely been very challenging since last March. Obviously, as you can imagine, working with study abroad at colleges and universities which was such a thriving marketplace and the students were so engaged, it’s been phenomenal. The travel part actually came to a halt with COVID ending everything where it was so we’re in the midst of actually going into our biggest year ever last year and seeing it all come apart. Definitely very challenging, it was very hard and definitely took a lot to continue to persevere throughout 2020 as well.
Gina Stracuzzi: How are you starting the year off knowing that the challenge isn’t going away anytime soon? Hopefully, fingers crossed, by the end of the year. It’s extraordinary, the idea of going all the way to the end of the year before we see any revert back to what seemed like a normal life. What are your plans for staying positive?
Jennifer Fisher: What’s been interesting is throughout last year when COVID hit, like everyone, no one really expected this kind of impact when it first happened so at the very beginning it was business as usual and going through. But then as March-April came through, we started really understanding the writing on the wall and seeing what’s going to happen. One of the things that I was able to do at the very start of COVID is I had a couple different strategic plans in place. “If this was going to happen, here’s how we’re going to turn and here’s how we’re going to pivot” and then we had to implement that the following week.
However, weeks later we had to pivot again and we did probably about 3 different pivots last spring. Fortunately, I already had some strategies already lined up. Again, these were worst-case scenarios and they were happening every two weeks so we continued to pivot. Fortunately, that pivot ended up keeping us getting our highest numbers ever for March, April, May and even into June so it was amazing and a lot of credit goes to the team for sticking with me and making those pivots.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s amazing, congratulations on that too.
Jennifer Fisher: Thank you.
Gina Stracuzzi: Take us through some of what you’ve got on the slide here about how you’re going to climb in 2021.
Jennifer Fisher: One of the things that we learned going through the spring last year in our industry, in our field was that stopping wasn’t an option although it felt like it should be because we’re thinking, “Colleges are closed, there’s no travel, what are we going to do?” Realizing that you can’t just stop, “We have to find a way to continue on.” What that means for me and my team is that we have to be able to focus on what we can control and at the time, we clearly weren’t sending students abroad but we were trying to reach out to colleges and universities. These are our partners, we’re very close to our partners, we have very close relationships with them. Colleges were shut down so it was a matter of trying to reach out to them just to let them know, “What can we do to help you?” Everyone talked last year about being empathetic and clearly everyone was empathetic because we were all in the same boat but really understanding what we can do to help out our university partners and focusing on what I like to call resource selling. We put together various resources every week and some of the resources were very pertinent to education abroad whether they were state department warnings, whether they were some of what we called our COVID country profiles, very much a state of the education abroad.
Resources for them to help our university partners but also resources that just let them know that we’re thinking of them, we would send them a video on just taking a yoga break. “I thought you might need this because you have your kids running around and trying to figure out how to work.” “There’s an article from the Washington Post about how to work from home.” Little things like that to get a laugh, talk about some things and really continue to engage our university partners to say, “We’re here, what do you need?” As they were gasping with all the things that were happening in their world, we were a source of constant for them and we were there to support them and our resources helped us become that trusted adviser as well. That really helped sustain us throughout the rest of 2020 and put us in a position right now that we’re still the trusted adviser helping our university partners with some of the decisions they have to make, even now in the spring.
Gina Stracuzzi: To be at a place where you are considered a trusted adviser is really important and so valuable and it sounds like you built on that relationship tremendously over this period which is a really good lesson for all of us. IES itself, we are the trusted adviser for so many companies when it comes to sales content and ideas, how we might approach something from a different point of view. Knowing that you have elevated WorldStrides to that position with your partners is really a wonderful feather in your hat. I love your focus on what you can control which is really the mantra by which we should all live, in my very humble opinion. What else can you do, really? We focus on all the negative stuff like, “We’re never going to make our numbers” or, “How are we going to sell when no one’s buying?”
Jennifer Fisher: It’s so true and it’s so easy to get caught up in that. When you’re sitting there and colleges are shut down, no one’s studying abroad, you’re watching the national news every night, you’re feeling so overwhelmed and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Then you have to take a deep breath, not keep looking in the rearview mirror at all these horrible things that are happening but let’s look forward on the road ahead and say, “Okay, what can I do?” Because if I don’t have something to focus and control what I can control, I will get freaked out myself and be like, “What’s happening?” No reason to get upset right now, let’s calm down, let’s sit down, let’s focus on what we can control. What we can control is working with our partners and helping them in their roles, in their jobs because they’re feeling the same way we are. “What can we do to help them?” Once we change that mindset and just focus on what you can control, the rest falls in place. By no means am I saying it’s easy but it doesn’t become a path that you want to use, the roadmap, so to speak.
One of my good friends and colleagues used to always say this, “Always be ready so you don’t have to take time to get ready.” That was so important throughout the spring because we had our plans in place, we just kept thinking our plans were really worst-case scenario and we kept executing on the plans every couple weeks, but we had the plan in place. Once you do that, focus on what you can control, you have the plan and now it’s just time to go and execute on that plan.
Gina Stracuzzi: Words to live by. We have definitely hit worst case scenario three or four times and just about every time you think it can’t get any worse, it does. Having those plans in place, certainly I think more companies will, moving forward, be ready for something like this. It’s really good advice, keep thinking about that and keep adding to your plans and making sure that they are always in a state of ready so you don’t have to then spend time getting ready, I like that. Talk to us about the importance of being up for a challenge and then recognizing when that can come into play. This might be a great way to segue into this.
Jennifer Fisher: At the time, no one expected what we’re going through. There were going to be some bumps in the road last March or April but you weren’t expecting this. Knowing that I have plans in place I’ve communicated in full transparency with our teams, we work together. The minute Friday, March 13th when we were getting the notice that we were going to be working from home, quickly assembled a team brainstorm session. I laid out my plan and, “What else can we do? Here’s the plan” and we got feedback from everybody. I remember telling my boss, “I got this, I’m not worried, we have a plan in place.” That’s the mental shift that you have to have when you’re up for that challenge. “I’m made for challenges and we’re going to overcome this.” I just didn’t realize it was going to be for a full year plus but at the time we are going to overcome this. That was the main thing, that plan and I think we had to skip plan A and B and go right to plan C at the time but really rowing into that trusted adviser.
We all need somebody Yoda in our life, that’s the epitome of the trusted adviser so by doing that, going back to what I said earlier about communicating with our university partners and being there for them. “Here are some resources that we saw other universities say they really enjoy, I definitely want to share this with you, I hope this can be of help to you” and really start being that trusted adviser. The icon on the left with integrity, sincerity, trust, reliability, commitment, consistency, confidence, those are all the virtues of that trusted adviser, that’s what you go to Yoda for. “Yoda, what’s going on?” Because Yoda has all of those characteristics. We’ve had that with our partners but we’ve been able to have a higher impact as a trusted adviser throughout this past year and hopefully we’re being seen as Yoda [laughs].
Gina Stracuzzi: How are you going to build on what you’ve accomplished? You’ve weathered the worst of the storm and there’s got to be a light at the end of the tunnel so even if you just stay the course, what is your next big move to make sure that you thrive in 2021?
Jennifer Fisher: One of the things that we’re really focused on now is fortunately in my business we work about a full year ahead of time. We’re actually working with our university partners on study abroad programs for 2022 right now, that’s where our mindset is and we are working with them even just getting some thoughts from them. “Do you want to see some itineraries? What are some ideas that you have or curriculum that you want to put in place for your students and really get us all focused on something positive?” In one way, even though borders are still closed, there is a light far away at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines, but let’s get focusing on something that we’re all going to get excited about. It’s all about the students so let’s put some programs together, get the curriculum in there and let’s really focus on getting these students to become global citizens. In 2022, we’ll be able to get a head start and get the students ready to go. By doing that and working with our partners, they’re also getting excited too.
There’s such a pent up demand for the students who have not been able to travel for so long so we’re working with them on plans to say, “Okay, how can we help all these students who have a pent up demand who really want to get out there?” And again, as that trusted adviser, our recommendations, we have an amazing health and safety team so we’re definitely looking at state departments and COVID country profiles and this is really important data right now that we’re able to share with our partners so they can help determine the best destination to go to for the students, the curriculum that’s going to be part of this destination. This is the planning phase that we’re in right now for 2022 travel.
Gina Stracuzzi: I think there’s so much pressure on young people to still get to school and do well. My daughter is case in point, she didn’t have anything of a senior year and now she’s starting college in this weird environment where there’s hardly anybody on campus and there’s none of the activities. It’s supposed to be a really exciting time and it’s just the stress of it, plus the worry and the anxiety, there’s COVID scares and it’s just constant. Giving the students, their parents and the faculty something to look forward to, some positive planning I think is a great thing. I think they all need it and when you speak of pent up demand I’m just envisioning these hordes of college kids running for the gates trying to get out, it’s going to be difficult. The demand is probably going to far exceed the possibilities at least initially because of that pent up demand, so that’ll be an interesting hurdle for you as well.
Jennifer Fisher: Very much like you, I was in the same boat. My son is a junior in college and this past fall semester he was supposed to study abroad for the whole fall semester. That fell apart and my son, as he finishes his junior year now and then next fall will be a senior, it’s unfortunate because there’s a group of students in that category that really missed out on that experience right now because most of them aren’t able to travel for a semester in their senior year because now they’re getting ready for their careers. There is a sadness a little bit from my son, he’s been on a few different programs which is great, I’m glad he’s able to have the international experience but this was going to be a full semester. Again, it is what it is but he hasn’t gone back to school, we have kept him home and they have online teaching, it’s crazy. The faculty, they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re not used to the online teaching and anything that we can do to help, anything that we’re there to say, “We want to help you, we’re here for you, here’s what we can do.” We are planning for good times, I’m dreaming of a trip to Hawaii sometime after all this, I can’t wait and those are the things that get us excited and keep us moving forward.
Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. We have a question from Rachel in our audience, thank you, Rachel. She wants to know, “How did the pandemic alter your approach to contract negotiations with your partners and vendors?”
Jennifer Fisher: That’s a very good question. We used to obviously be very much on the phone, we’d pick up the phones and call them but they’re not on campus anymore so we started doing an email because as our universities were getting accustomed to being at home like everybody else was, we started doing some emails. Then that quickly pivoted into videos and we started doing video meetings that I always call our virtual coffee meetings. It was just phenomenal because again, they’re sitting at home, kids running around and they’re trying to figure out what to do and we’re like, “Do you want to have a virtual coffee and review some of this stuff?” and they’re like, “Yes, we’d love it.” By having a virtual coffee, getting on video, that was a game changer and that is one of the things I think is very positive coming out of this. I’ve already told my team, “We’re not going back.” The videos is just a phenomenal way when you’re seeing somebody, that’s a great way to make a connection and that was probably something positive that has come out of this. That was our main pivot in reaching out with our university partners and continuing down those lines, through video chats.
Gina Stracuzzi: She also asks, “How long do you anticipate it will take for you to see normal levels of participants and dollars collected?”
Jennifer Fisher: It’s probably going to take a little while. We are optimistic, in fact, we’re going to start seeing something this summer, maybe a little bit in May but we are optimistic by June, July that we should be able to start seeing some travel and start to have some normalcy going into it and then heading into the fall. That’s our light at the end of the tunnel, we’ll start moving in that direction.
Gina Stracuzzi: Lauren wants to know, “How did you scale the trusted adviser content across your wider sales team so that everyone had the expertise to give valuable guidance?”
Jennifer Fisher: That’s a really good question as well. What we did is part of our team session, we pulled the whole team together and we put together huge documents, everyone contributed I believe 5 or 6 different resources and this was at the beginning. We all talked as a team and we had this list of resource, we reviewed the list every week because we wanted to make sure the content was relevant and timely. We would review those things and then if there were certain articles or fun things, we would have standard ways of saying, “Reaching out to your clients, send this out, get on a virtual coffee and chat a little bit.” Other things that were maybe a little bit more data-driven, we have our COVID country profiles, our health and safety team.
We would have our health and safety experts come and talk to the team and answer questions and show them how to share this information and how to discuss this with your partners. That way we all could be that trusted adviser in sending that information out and then part of our approach is very much a team approach. If at any point we’d be having a virtual coffee, if we would find emails that would have many more questions we would pull in a teammate from the health and safety team to say, “Why don’t you join us on this call?” Because that team-based approach only helps build our credibility as the experts in that trusted adviser. Fortunately, WorldStrides is an amazing place with great teammates so we just relied on everybody and helped each other out and helped support everybody.
Gina Stracuzzi: By bringing in various aspects of the team it really shows that you thought it through, it’s not just about making money. You are concerned about the health and welfare of the students, that is only going to cement that trusted adviser sentiment. It dawns on me that maybe for history teachers and world culture teachers and all those, you could share some of your travel videos as an option for them to have something different to talk about in those classes.
Jennifer Fisher: I love the way you’re thinking, Gina.
Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you for your questions, Rachel and Lauren, I would like to say that those are both graduates of the Women in Sales Leadership Forum, always improving, always asking questions.
Let’s talk about what you would advise for other women in leadership positions when it comes to motivating their teams. Especially in a service industry where it’s very easy for clients to say, “Let’s talk when this is all over.”
Jennifer Fisher: Some of the things I would recommend is that positive attitude and I want to be careful when I say that because I don’t want it to appear that we’re just wearing rose colored glasses and we’re oblivious to what’s really happening out there in the world. It’s a conscious decision to say, “The glass is half-full, we’re going to focus on what we can control and we’re going to put some plans in place and we’re going to move forward.” Maintaining that positivity and really leading your team through it because there are some tough times, WorldStrides had to make some very tough decisions throughout the past year as well and it’s hard, but you have to be there to help encourage your team. Be there to talk to them and encourage them and keep them in a positive mindset going forward. Again, it’s not just rose colored glasses and we pretend everything’s alright, it really is about, “We don’t have a complete loss of control, here’s what we’re going to do. Yes, the landscape is completely different, we’re not writing business, we’re not bringing in revenue dollars but right now the main point of our business is to be there for our clients and work to become a trusted adviser for each and every university partner.
Here’s what we’re going to do to make that happen.” Taking time to be thankful for our team, be thankful for our university partners and just feel really thankful that we’re still going to make a difference. We’re not changing lives like we were a year ago or two years ago with students but we are changing lives in a simple way of offering help and service where we can. That’s something to be proud of and just always know that you can do something, just what does that look like? Approaching it from a mindset of being positive. Again, no one thought we were going to be doing this for a year but we are, we’re going to continue doing it and it’s been working because we’re building those strong relationships. Some of our university partners have been here to support us as well and that’s when you know you’ve really elevated to the top of that trusted adviser and that’s what you do. Stay the course, you can’t stop, find what you need to do, focus only on what you can control. There are days when you come into work, you’re watching the nightly news, you’re seeing what’s happening out in the world and you’re just throwing your hands up like, “What can I do?” Coming into work which maybe just means down the hall or downstairs now, make a plan, we have a plan in place, we’re going to execute on the plan and we’re going to have a positive and thankful mindset going into it because we are helping somebody. You never know the effect you’re having on somebody but you are, so go into it with that motivation and that positivity and you’ll see some big changes that way.
Gina Stracuzzi: The one thing that we can do is plan, we can plan for a better tomorrow, we can plan for when things are back to normal and yes, it won’t look exactly like it did before but it’s still going to be us moving forward. What is that going to look like? It goes back to your statement earlier of always be ready, set a plan to be ready or whatever that case was.
Jennifer Fisher: Always be ready so you don’t have to take time to get ready.
Gina Stracuzzi: Exactly. When 2022 is rocking and rolling, you will have a plan in place and you being any of us. What are we going to be doing and what steps can we take now so that when we get that opportunity we are ready for it? We don’t have to sit down then and plan.
Jennifer Fisher: You don’t want to be in that position, so you’re absolutely right.
Gina Stracuzzi: Talk to me a little bit about competition. I have no idea how many companies do these things, I will tell you that I was astounded at the gap year programs there are. When my daughter was a senior we went to the gap year fair and it almost made me want to be 18 again [laughs].
Jennifer Fisher: I’m like, “When I was 18 I don’t remember all these options.”
Gina Stracuzzi: No, “Here’s the door, get a job, go to school.”
Jennifer Fisher: Exactly [laughs]. There are a lot of other providers out there that do what we do. One of the things that I truly love about this field that we’re in, the study abroad and education abroad field is that it’s a very tight-knit field and we’re all working together. We’re all in the same boat here and there are probably going to be some smaller companies that may not make it through this but we are trying to support one another, we’re trying to put coalitions together and being cooperative, working together and trying to find solutions on our own and being part of that field. That’s one of the nice things that I truly love not only about education abroad field but the higher education field as well, that we’re all about raising the tides up and what we can do to help support each other. There are a few different networks and affiliations that we’re all part of and we all join, I’ve been seeing a lot of these collaborations come together and it’s nice to see because we’re all in it to try and get the students to travel again and really become global citizens. When you have a united goal like that, it makes it amazing to be in this field and partnering with everybody.
Gina Stracuzzi: It’s nice to hear that because competition is what makes us stronger, not weaker. You or anyone listening can use this opportunity to be a leader in your field as well because if you can keep smaller companies afloat or if they have to go under, maybe you absorb some people or who knows? There are ways to help that make you stronger as a company and as a leader and you can only benefit in the end.
Jennifer Fisher: That’s one of the nice things, it’s a great community, it’s a great field and I’m very honored to be part of it.
Gina Stracuzzi: It’s exciting. I know that as somebody who has done a lot of traveling, it’s an amazing adventure and it really does broaden your horizons and make you consider things a little differently. I think everybody benefits from that, it’s unfortunate your son didn’t get a chance too but hopefully he will do traveling on his own otherwise.
Jennifer Fisher: We were fortunate, he has gone on some faculty-led international programs. I talked about a two-week program, he’s done a few of those which is good but having that full semester immersion he’ll not be able to get part of. At least he was able to do a few things and again, it’s a world of difference. You really are changing lives and it’s what you said too, you see things differently and that’s part of the diversity, you’re more accepting of diversity and understanding of diversity and it’s so crucial.
Gina Stracuzzi: It is. As we get close to the end, I have two questions. One, this is not so much from a sales point of view as a parent point of view for the parents listening. What would you recommend if they want to do something like this for their kids in the future? Would you suggest they start thinking about it now?
Jennifer Fisher: Absolutely. There’s resources on campus, go to a study abroad or education abroad office and there are programs that they have there whether that’s a semester or a summer program or even a full year. There are also a lot of faculty who would do what we call our faculty-led program, they’ll take students abroad for two weeks to a couple different areas, maybe to different cities and do a compare/contrast and learn about the cultural differences and diversity, really learning what that means to be a global citizen. Depending on where the student is, they can do a shorter one or they can even do a little bit longer one but study abroad and ed abroad office, those are the places to go and that’s where you’re going to find the resources and the support there in those offices. I highly recommend it and we will get back to a travel, we’re waiting and hopefully we’ll see some of that this May-June-July, highly recommend. This is what students need to do and there are scholarships out there to help with prices, there’s a lot of good opportunities right now to leverage and go talk to somebody.
Gina Stracuzzi: I couldn’t possibly have you on as a guest and not share that.
Jennifer Fisher: Absolutely, thank you.
Gina Stracuzzi: As we close out, can you share with us one piece of actionable effort the listeners can put forth today, start using today to help them stay positive, move forward with becoming a trusted adviser? One piece of advice that’s immediately doable.
Jennifer Fisher: I would say focus on what you can control, that’s what you’ve got to focus on. What’s right here, right in front of you, what can you do? Whatever business you’re in, every interaction is about adding value to your partner, adding value to your client or prospect. That’s your focus so how are you going to do that? All the minutiae that’s going on around you, clear that out and focus on what you can control. When you do that, you feel better because now you are feeling more positive because you’re in control, you’re not letting it happen to you, you’re making things happen. That’s very positive and that’s exciting.
Gina Stracuzzi: I love that advice. Even having a ‘what can we control’ meeting.
Jennifer Fisher: That’s right. When I first had this brainstorm session I had one of my strategy plans in place and I knew things were changing so much in the market so it wasn’t all perfect but I put it out there in front of them. “I really like A and B, what else should we do?” and everyone’s got all these ideas. Next thing you know we’re incorporating it and now there’s buy-in from the team, they’re excited and we’re all working together to support each other and help support our partners. It’s a win-win and that’s when you take the time to say, “What can I control?” Once you’re doing what you can control, you’re going to be in a much better place as well.
Gina Stracuzzi: It gives people on your team a voice and it’s amazing the innovative thinking that’s out there, but a lot of times it just doesn’t come into play because that isn’t their role or whatever the case is and you don’t have those everything-on-the-table meetings. This is a real opportunity to see some creative thinking.
Jennifer Fisher: It is.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo