EPISODE 668: What Women in Sales Icon Jill Konrath is Doing to Make the World a Better Place

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Today’s show featured an interview with Women in Sales legend Jill Konrath. She’s the founder of What’s Really Possible. She’s the author of 4 influential sales books including “Selling to Big Companies.”

Find Jill on LinkedIn.

JILL’S ADVICE:  “What do you care about? What matters? There are people whose passion is with the environment. There are other people whose passion is with health-related issues or fitness or whatever. To me, it doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that we throw ourselves into something and contribute to society and to our world to make it a better place. To stand back and go, “There’s nothing I can do.” Well, that’s not true. Getting involved is something.”


Fred Diamond: I’m talking to Jill Konrath, the author of so many books and posts. Selling to Big Companies should be on everybody’s bookshelf. We brought you to speak at the Institute for Excellence in Sales when Agile Selling had just come out. So many people have asked me, “What’s up with Jill Konrath? Are you ever going to bring her on the show?” I’m excited to have you here today. I know a lot of people are going to be listening. Jill, why don’t you give us an update on what you’ve been up to the past few years?

Jill Konrath: The past few years has been a real transition time for me. In 2016 and ‘17, ‘18, I lost my husband and both my parents and my final book came out. But what happened through all that family stuff and going through that is I actually lost my passion for sales, which had been something I lived for for decades. I loved sales, and suddenly it was gone. You say what’s happened in the last few years, I’ve had to rethink who I am and how I want to go forward into the world, and this is my third act, what do I want in my third act? What difference can I make in the world? What appeals to me right now? That’s what’s been going through my mind as I’ve changed my address. I moved from a suburban home to a downtown home. I’ve remarried, I’ve got grandkids. All that is in the last few years.

Fred Diamond: It’s incredible what we’re going to be talking about. You started sending out some emails and creating some work around the concept of possibility. Possibility is a word that we talk about a lot on the Sales Game Changers Podcast. We’re talking about it a lot at the Institute for Excellence in Sales. I don’t really want to talk too much today about the sales process. I really want to talk about the concept of possibility.

For people who are listening, I hired a business coach. It’s about 2016, 2017. We had done a lot of work to figure out some ways we could grow the presence of the Institute for Excellence in Sales. She said she wanted me to think of five words that meant how she saw me. One was generous, the other was innovative, the other was a connector to empower possibility, GICEP. Then when I started seeing you begin to publish things about possibility, I said, “I just want to talk to Jill about that.”

I don’t really want to talk to you about sales. You’ve published a ton. I’ve read your books. We’ve heard you speak. You’ve done such an amazing job helping people understand what was possible for them in sales. Why are you focusing now on helping people see possibility? First off, describe what that means. What does possibility mean? Then why are you now focusing on helping people see the possibility?

Jill Konrath: Well, I think that’s interesting that you say, why am I doing that now? Because I think it’s something that I’ve been doing all my life. If I look back at my favorite song growing up, it was The Impossible Dream, to dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go. I love that song. Still, today, it’s my favorite song. I may have it played at my funeral because that’s the life I’ve chosen to live. But alongside of that, I have a favorite poem from my childhood. If I can quickly read it to you, I think it’s all about possibility, and it’s about doing things and taking action on what’s possible. It’s called It Couldn’t Be Done by Edgar Guest.

“Somebody said that it couldn’t be done, but he with a chuckle replied that maybe it couldn’t, but he’d be one who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried. So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin on his face. If he worried, he hid it. He started to sing as he tackled the thing that couldn’t be done, and he did it.”

“Somebody scoffed, “Oh, you’ll never do that. At least no one has ever done it.” But he took off his coat and he took off his hat, and the first thing we knew, he’d begun it. With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin, without any doubting or quiddit, he started to sing as he tackled that thing that couldn’t be done, and he did it.”

“There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done, there are thousands to prophesy failure. There are thousands to point out to you one by one all the dangers that wait to assail you. But just buckle in with a bit of a grin, just take off your coat and go to it. Just start to sing as you tackle the thing that cannot be done, and you’ll do it.”

That has rambled through my mind my whole life, is to tackle a thing that cannot be done. Just because it’s not being done right now, or just because you’re running into trouble with what you’re doing doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It just means you haven’t figured out how yet. I know in terms of possibility, when I first started in sales, I was terrified of failing, terrified. I think many people are, if it’s not something they aspired to their entire life. But I remember having to have a talk with myself after fainting in somebody’s office because I did something really stupid and got yelled at. It was a real failure on my part, and they told me to get out and never come back again, which I did after I pulled myself up off the floor and got out.

But I literally had to have a talk with myself and say, “Jill, you’re not a failure. You just haven’t figured it out yet. You haven’t figured it out yet.” To me, changing failure and stuff like that into possibility, there is a chance to do it differently. You just haven’t figured it out. That opens the possibility to, “How am I going to figure it out? Who might know more than I know? Where can I do research? How can I take these stupid mistakes that I’ve made in the course of my career and learn from them and grow from them, and expand on them to help other people?” That’s, to me, what it’s all about, possibility. It’s always about possibility. It’s not failure. You just haven’t figured it out.

Fred Diamond: A couple years ago, I eliminated the word failure from my lexicon because it’s just something that I didn’t want to be stopped by. I always believed, like you said too, everything’s a lesson. Now, you get to a certain point where it’s like, “Okay, I’ve had enough lessons.” We’ve possibly all seen that bumper sticker.

I want to go back to that moment that you talked about. Because a lot of people who are listening who may not necessarily know your story, but tell us a little more about that moment when you said to yourself, because a lot of people could have quit when they had the moment where you were, they could have said, “You know what? This ain’t for me. Sales is too hard.” We hear that all the time.

I once did a session in front of 25 new college grads, and I said to them, how many of you are going to be in sales a year from now? Five hands went up and 20 of the people said, “This is too hard. I thought I’d be able to make a hundred thousand bucks just by showing up.” To be successful in sales, you really got to put the work in, the energy. You got to work for the right company. You got to service the right customer. You got to have the skills, you got to have the mindset, et cetera.

Take us back to that moment, if you don’t mind, when you made that decision. Was it an epiphany? What happened at that moment when you could have gone the other way and said, “You know what? I’m happy just working at a flower shop,” or whatever it might be.

Jill Konrath: My backup plan was always waitressing in case I failed, not a flower shop. But what happened? Let me tell you the story. I had been learning sales, and over the weekend before I had read a book about if you’re talking to the secretary, you’re talking to the wrong person. The following Monday, after reading that book, I called the office, and I spoke to the president of the company. It was a smaller company. I said, “I understand you’re making the decision on copiers and I’d like to come and talk with you.” I went out to meet with him on Wednesday or Thursday of that week, and the person who came to meet me in the lobby was the lady who I had been talking to the week before.

She said, “Jill, what are you doing here?”

I said, “I’m here to meet with Mr. Big.”

She said, “Why?”

I said, “Because he makes the copier decisions.”

She laid into me and just pointed her finger two inches from my nose and was yelling at me and said, “I told you I was making that decision. You get out of this office and you don’t ever come back.”

At that point, I fainted dead away on the floor. I’d never had anybody do that to me in a professional setting. It was disaster. There were people helping me because there were other people in the lobby, and she said, “Are you okay?”

I said, “Yeah, I am.”

She said, “Well, then get out and don’t ever come back.”

In my mind, I crawled out of there and got to the car, and I did have to say, “It’s not failure, you just haven’t figured it out yet.” Then I had to stop and say, “What did I do wrong? Where did I make my mistake?” Because clearly, I did something unintentionally that led to that result. I talked to some other people and I learned that you don’t go around somebody else to see their boss. You go through them and with them to meet with the boss. I could understand why she felt mad at me. I got it. But it took me to calm down, “You’re not a failure. You just haven’t figured it out.” By learning that I opened the possibility for future success.

Fred Diamond: Who are you looking to communicate to now? Of course, you wrote Selling to Big Companies, and that is a classic book in the professional sales industry. Everybody, if they don’t have it on their bookshelf, they probably should. It was a very, very popular book. Very, very successful. Talk about who you were before that and who you were after that. Because again, we created the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and maybe there’s more of a timeline, so to speak, but again, we created the Institute for Excellence in Sales in 2012. One thing we did in the beginning is we invited all the sales authors who’ve written anything in purport to speak on our stage in Northern Virginia. Our very first speaker was the great Neil Rackham, who wrote SPIN Selling. Love him or hate him, but SPIN Selling was one of the classics, if you will. In the early days, Neil actually was on our stage a couple of times. Everybody started saying, “When are you going to get Jill?”

We finally got you, I think it was 2015 or whenever Agile Selling came out. I remember you signing books in the lobby of the Embassy Suites across the street or whatever hotel it was. But talk about before Selling to Big Companies came out. Then once it came out, of course, you now became the most well-known speaker.

Jill Konrath: I became Jill Konrath then.

Fred Diamond: As I said, we talked about this in the prep call, it’s like, who were you before you became Jill Konrath, and then you became Jill Konrath. Because to help people understand that that’s going to happen, the possibility for everybody listening to this call can happen.

Jill Konrath: Well, let me just say, I sold for Xerox for a while, and then I thought technology was where the field was going. I moved into the technology field and started selling computers back in the early ‘80s. By then, I had two kids and I couldn’t figure how to work with two babies. I started my own company, because I had more control over life at that point. Ultimately, I built it up into a one-person consulting firm. I didn’t want to have other people. I tried bringing other people in, but I liked doing the work. I liked interviewing the people. I liked figuring out the problems. I liked creating whatever needed to be created. It was just me and I was really happy doing it.

I had really been in Minneapolis–Saint Paul. We had tons of Fortune 500 companies here. I worked General Mills. I worked with 3M. I worked with other big ones that maybe aren’t quite so big. But I was having a great time. Then in 2000, we had a bit of a financial crisis in the country. I was booked out at that time nine months in advance from my clients. Suddenly, both my two biggest clients at that time, working in multiple divisions of these clients, both of them said, “We’re under pressure from Wall Street. We have to cut back.” If you’re a consultant, you’re gone. Since I’d been working with these companies for years, I had no contracts. We just worked and went on to the next project. Then they asked me to bid it, I’d work it, they paid.

There I was in 2000 and had no work. I started writing for fun at that point. I started writing a fiction book, a Harry Potter book on sales. I never finished it because I finally realized I had to earn money because they weren’t coming back. I started trying to get new clients. Suddenly nobody answered the phone. All calls rolled to voicemail. Nobody responded to my email. It was like, “Oh my God.” I was approaching 50 and I thought, “I am over the hill. Nobody wants to talk with me.” I was depressed. I’d go to these networking meetings and talk to people.

Finally, one day, somebody said to me, “How’s it going?” I said, “I’m really struggling. Nobody’s answering the phone, going through that,” and everybody went, “So am I. I’m having trouble.” It was at that moment that I detached from the problem, and I realized it wasn’t me. It was something had shifted in the marketplace and customers were behaving differently. Everybody was having a problem.

Once I realized that I was able to approach it as a challenge and to try to figure out, now what could I do? How could I experiment with this? What would work? Finally, I was able to get my business back and have some really good clients again, different ones, but I was back in business. Then I thought to myself, “Nobody else knows this. I need to write a book to explain to other people how this works.”

I had already launched a second website to help small businesses at that time called Selling to Big Companies, and I had written up a lot of content, and I realized I needed to write it as a book, and I needed to detach myself from it and make it so it would work for most people. Ultimately, I was ready to write the book. I think the universe was really looking out for me because I had a friend write to me, that was in November 2004, and a friend wrote to me and he had a signature file that said he was author of. I congratulated him. He writes back, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?” I said, “Yeah.” Anyway, we hopped on the phone. We just talked a little bit. By the time I got done with the conversation, he said, my publisher wants to see your proposal.

Literally like that, my life changed. I had a contract within three months. I had three different publishers who were interested in it. I wrote the book in a very short time, because I’d written so much already. But it was interesting because when I did sit down to actually write the book, I had pieces of the book, but I didn’t have it all together. I had just read a book called Your Highest Goal. It said, “Before you do anything major, ask yourself, what is your highest goal in doing whatever you’re doing?” What’s your highest goal? So I did, I thought, because I’m literally taking the time off. I’m starting to write, “You forgot to ask that question. Jill, what’s your highest goal?” I said, “I’m going to teach people how to sell to big companies. That’s a dumb question.”

My brain screamed at me, I don’t hear that happen very often, “No, it’s not.” I just came to a halt, “What do you mean it’s not my highest goal to teach people how to sell the big companies?” I just sat there for a moment, and then an answer came, and it was, “Your job is to make people feel that it’s possible, that it’s possible to sell to big companies.” That changed my writing forever and ever, because in order to make people feel that it’s possible, you have to share how you learned things, and you have to share the mistakes you’ve made.

When I wrote the book, my introduction to the book was about my tough years when I thought I’d lost it and would never have another customer. They told me to hang in there, and I hung in there and nothing happened, and they never came back. I had to figure out what worked again. I just kind of bared my heart and said, “This is the truth.” Anytime I got talking about what worked for me, I had to tell the process I learned to do that. When I was trying to get people to answer my phone calls, I would call myself and listen to my own message. There were many times I would’ve deleted myself. When you realize that your own message is so boring that even you would delete it, and then you say, “Okay, what do I need to do to make it better?” But that’s the process I went through.

Then Selling to Big Companies came out and at that same time, I said, “The world needs a woman sales role model too.” I amped up my stuff on social media because I needed a woman sales role model and there weren’t any out there at that time. I said, “Okay, with resignation, somebody’s got to do it. I guess it will be me.” It wasn’t that I really wanted to be out there, it’s just, it needed to be done. They said it couldn’t be done, but she with a smile replied that maybe it couldn’t, but she’d be the one who wouldn’t say so till she tried. That’s my story.

Fred Diamond: Thanks for sharing that. What’s your highest goal? That’s a remarkable thing to say. I think it’s going to be the title of today’s show. It’s not just what’s possible, but what’s amazingly possible. Everybody listening to today’s Sales Game Changers Podcast can achieve their quota. It might be hard, it might be easy. But also, everybody listening to today’s Sales Game Changers Podcast, Jill, can quadruple their quota and they can do charitable things that are making a difference. They can write a book. They can create a podcast. They can create something for an audience like Women in Sales.

People may or may not know, hopefully they know, but the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we run a global Women in Sales program. My partner, Gina Stracuzzi, has done an amazing job. We’ve met so many amazing women through the speakers organization that you had created years ago, Women Sales Pros, it’s now known as, and we must have had at least, if not a dozen, at least two dozen of the women who have spoken on our stage and been on our podcast. You know what? A lot of them are friends at this point as well. There’s a lot of ties here.

Who are you trying to get your new message out to? You’re talking now about possibility and you’re formulating that and trying to get it out there. Who do you want to get this message?

Jill Konrath: Right now, I’m not focusing on salespeople. I’m focusing on a general population in the United States, because I’m very concerned with what’s happening in our country and the divisions that are pulling us apart, when I don’t think we are that different as human beings. I’ve seen families, including my own, have some real struggles and fights. I’ve lost friendships over the last few years because of things that I’ve said that were quite innocuous, but were interpreted in a whole different way. I see how the media is pulling us apart. I see how the political system is pulling us apart. I don’t think that’s the right way. I want us to come together and take back our country, if I could say it that way.

We are citizens of the United States. We are the people who elect our representatives. They’re not representing us. I don’t mean just one or two. There’s so much big money behind politics that I think that’s where the representation is going. Anyway, what am I trying to do? I’m trying to create a better world for a better future for my family, everybody else around, and I’m just doing my thing. I don’t have any very specific goals. I want to create a better future for people. Right now, I’m starting by writing a newsletter.

Fred Diamond: The conversation has got to be happening. We got to bridge these gaps. You can’t go on social media anymore. We’re doing today’s interview, if you’re listening in the future, in the middle of April of 2024. There’s just such a division, not just one or two divisions, there’s so many divisions. People don’t listen. People believe they know everything that they know when in reality it’s, like you said, people are people. We’ve lost sight of how we need to live on the planet, just to kind of talk in that regards.

Where do you see people struggle? You mentioned even in your own family, you saw some struggles. Where do you see people struggle?

Jill Konrath: I see people really depressed and feeling like they don’t know what they can do, and all this stuff is happening, and why is it all happening? They don’t know how to contribute or whatever. They just think it’s beyond them to do something. People can make a difference. They have to get involved in order to make a difference. You can’t hope that our politicians will save us. You can’t hope that somebody else will do something. We need to get our hands dirty ourselves and reach in there and spend time and energy and money if necessary to do some important things to create the world we want for our children and our children’s children. I’m writing a newsletter about that right now for the upcoming weeks. It’s really fascinating when I’m reading, and I read this four years ago and I’m finally back to it, but you could take a look at the American Indians, and they had a process of looking out seven generations on the decisions that they make.

Right now, we look out at the decisions in terms of the political cycle or in terms of the stock market and how you’re reporting your earnings. If you don’t have good earnings at the fourth quarter or whatever, then we have to change everything. Everything is short term based on this and that. Meanwhile, we’re loading up the planet with things that are going to kill us. Just so many things are happening when we’re so focused on the short term as opposed to the long term.

I was reading about a Japanese professor who was doing some fascinating things, and I’m going, “I need to feature this man because he’s really doing some things,” but he brings people in a city together and they’re looking at the future of the city, and it breaks him into two groups. One group is the citizens of today, and I live in Minneapolis, what would people in Minneapolis need to do? What do we need to do to make things better here in Minneapolis? Then he has another group of people 50 years out, and they are now the citizens of Minneapolis in 2075 or whatever it would be. They would be that far apart.

Their challenge is, what is the kind of world you want to live in and what does Minneapolis have to create and have to do to make this world possible? I look at that and I go, “That is such good thinking.” Where do we want to be? What do we want to create? What’s really possible, is what he is really saying, for the city of Minneapolis, or for anything? Then what do we have to put in place now to get it to happen? It’s funny because the two groups come up with substantially different responses.

I was just writing earlier today about, because it’s almost the date that George Floyd was killed on a few years back. I’m from Minneapolis, and it was really disruptive. We had a huge uproar. We had riots, we had burnings and everything, and the city was in chaos, which has never happened here in Minneapolis before. Suddenly everybody was talking about defunding the police, that that was the answer. But defunding the police led to a whole lot of unintended consequences. Even though it didn’t happen, just the whole concept led to unintended consequences. A whole bunch of police officers retired or took medical leave, and then they couldn’t hire new people, and then crime went up. It’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” You’re trying to fix this. But if you look at it from a different perspective, in terms of what can Minneapolis do to create the world that we would all be happy in, you would get different answers.

Anyway, going back to that scenario I mentioned with the two different groups in Japan, when they brought people together and they talked about what the elder group versus the today group wanted, they found that the citizens of today were willing to make changes in their life that they would’ve said no to before, because it really was impacting the future of their land, of their people, of their neighbors, of their children. People were willing to give up and they felt good to make these concessions. They didn’t have to make that extra bonus at work, or they didn’t have to buy that. They could donate money to do this or whatever. But the change in thinking to me is fascinating, that you have the ability to change how people think, which allows you to create a whole different possible future.

Fred Diamond: One of my favorite quotes is the Henry Ford quote, “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” A couple years ago, that was my big one. That was my LinkedIn quote and all that. I used to think it was very simple. “Okay, can I do this? Well, if I think I can, and if I think I can’t,” and I’ve begun to rethink that particular quote. I think it applies to pretty much everything. Can we have a better world? Yeah. Or if I say we can’t, then we can’t. I’m not going to do anything about it, and I’m just going to be selfish and I’m just going to focus on my needs and I’m not going to care about other people in the community.

I also do a podcast on Lyme disease awareness. I interviewed a woman who created something called the Center for Lyme Action. The basic scenario is that cancer gets $50 billion a year invested in treating cancer and cancer related treatment, diagnostics, care, et cetera. Lyme disease at the time, a couple years ago, was only getting 150 million. The goal was to keep finding ways to get the government to fund research, diagnostics, treatment, et cetera. I remember at the very end of the podcast I was so impressed by what this woman, her name is Bonnie Crater, had done. I said, “You know what? If you’re listening to this, just go do something. Do something. Just go do something.”

How can people listening to today’s podcast, Jill Konrath, how can they get more meaning out of their life? What are some things that they can do to achieve more of what they want to achieve?

Jill Konrath: Let me just say, I think that the answer to that is individual. It’s like, what do we care about? What matters? You’ve spent a lot of time doing Lyme’s disease because you’ve lived with it. There are some people whose passion is with the environment. There are other people whose passion is with health-related issues or fitness or whatever. To me, it doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that we throw ourselves into something and contribute to society and to our world to make it a better place. To stand back and go, “There’s nothing I can do.” Well, that’s not true. Getting involved is something.

Right now, for me, I’ve had to say to myself, I’m writing and I’m doing this, but what am I going to throw myself into besides writing? My goal is to help people feel that more is possible, but I have to have a concrete project. To me, what I believe is that I want people to vote. I want people to vote, and in specific, I want to get young people signed up to vote. I really do. I want to get them involved in the democracy that we have right now, so that they’re thinking about it and talking about it and going to the polls. Many of them right now are so frustrated. They think that the world is going to pot and what’s going to be here, and global warming, and they’re fighting what’s going on, and they’re concerned about their future. To me, getting young people involved is the one thing that I really want to do.

I sent my name in already this morning to the Civic Center, they’re out of California, and they put together programs for teachers to do, or for outsiders, or even high schoolers to do to get seniors in high school to vote. They register them in the high school, and it’s in every state. They tell you what the state laws are, and it’s like, “Well, this is excellent.” I saw a call for people in Minnesota who might be interested in doing that. I’ll do that. I want to get the young ones involved.

Fred Diamond: When people say to me like, “I don’t even know what to do.” I say, “Just get a garbage bag and just go to a local park or a local street. Be safe when you do it, of course, but go pick up trash.” I always keep empty bags of trash. Even minimal, pick up a cup on the ground, is going to make a difference.

We talked today to Jill Konrath, she’s legendary in the sales world. You’ve actually helped so many people achieve greatness in sales and have direction and understand the sales process. I know we talked about that before. I don’t want to spend the whole time genuflecting, but I understand the lessons you’ve shared in your books and your speaking is fabulous. I’m really excited about where you’re going right now, just to help people see the possibility of anything, of something valuable, making people happier, making the world a better place. We’re at this time in our history, it’s amazing that here is where we are in our history, and there’s so many things that need to be fixed all around the globe. I’m sure that people will take some of the lessons from this particular show. I’m glad to hear that you’re doing that.

Jill Konrath, you’ve given us so many great ideas. Give us one final thought or something actionable that people listening to today’s podcast or reading the transcript can do right now to take their life or their sales career to the next level.

Jill Konrath: That’s a tough one. It makes me feel like I should be profound, which is not my typical way of being. You mentioned, can I do it? The question I’ve always asked is, how can I? I often would say, “Oh God, who am I to do anything? But how can I contribute to this? Or how can I make a difference in this area?” Leads me in a whole different direction. It makes me become curious about what are other ways? I open my mind up to looking around and there’s other groups, other information, and then I start seeing where I fit in the ‘how can I’. I would invite people, let’s not say, can I? But how can I?

Fred Diamond: It’s very powerful stuff. Once again, I want to thank Jill Konrath. My name is Fred Diamond, and this is the Sales Game Changers Podcast.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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