EPISODE 618: Sales Leadership Winning Ways with Joan Fletcher

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Joan Fletcher is a leadership coach. Learn more about her company Winning Ways here. This interview was conducted by the IES Women in Sales program director Gina Stracuzzi.

Find Joan on LinkedIn.

JOAN’S TIP: “Figure out why. Figure out your why, like Simon Sinek’s book, but know why you’re doing what you’re doing every day. It better not be just a job. Make it more than that. Figure that out and then make sure you’re focused on that in your sales, and you’ll be much happier and you’ll have much more success.”


Gina Stracuzzi: Welcome, Joan Fletcher.

Joan Fletcher: Thank you very much, Gina. I’m happy to be here.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, thank you for coming on. Joan is a nationally-recognized executive leadership coach, primarily coaching sales leaders. This will be a great conversation. I know we’re going to have a lot to talk about. Joan, before we get into the conversation, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into sales and executive coaching? And we’ll take the conversation from there.

Joan Fletcher: I’ll try to summarize this journey quickly, but I started my business more than 35 years ago, and I was doing coaching before it was called coaching. I was working with various organizations, and I just couldn’t seem to get momentum. I wasn’t making much money at all. I got to a place in my life where I had to make a decision. I either had to make this really work or I needed to go out and get what some people call a real job. I didn’t want to do that. One of my colleagues, just a great friend and colleague, said, “Joan, until you become the head of sales in your company, you are not going to get to do your dream.” I said, “Well, I don’t envision myself as a salesperson. I’m the president of the company.” He said, “That’s why you are not growing.” He said, “You need to hire a sales coach and get serious.”

I really trusted this individual. I hired a sales coach. I worked with that coach for six months, and he turned almost everything I believed on its head. I was so thrilled with it that I started closing sales for myself. It was unbelievable. Even in a two-month period, before him coaching me, I was selling these contracts, and then before you know it, I worked mostly with the business owners and they were saying, “Hey, would you work with one of my salespeople? I just loved how you and I connected during our sales meeting.” I started doing sales training instead of leadership work.

Then 9/11 happened, and leadership work was definitely a luxury service. I thought, “Well, now that I know how to sell, maybe I’ll teach other people how to sell.” I started a 12-week sales program, and I still have people reach out to me. Just amazing things happened. Businesses doubled and tripled by working with just the owner in the business. Then the owners wanted me to start working with some of their salespeople, so I started doing that. I got myself deeply entrenched in sharing the gold that I had been handed and it was quite fun. I then eventually, after a decade, started expanding my leadership work, and because of my sales experience, my leadership practice has just grown and grown and continues to grow.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love that story of how the coach turned everything around. Coaching comes up quite a bit in the forum, and really now the consensus seems to be that if you are in leadership, you need to have a coach, because in order to really continue to grow and think about all the people you have under you, and their needs, and the company needs, all of that, you really need someone to bounce all this off of who’s not involved with the company. I’m sure your services are in great demand at this point.

Joan Fletcher: Gina, one of the things that I was thinking of as you were talking about that, that was so true for me in sales. I think it really applies the same to salespeople, that they should have a sales coach. I don’t think that is viewed by companies as important as it is a leadership coach, and I think it should be. I don’t do much sales coaching, but I have one client where I’m coaching their inside sales team. I started in January. We just do a 30-minute coaching session individually each month, and then I run the sales meeting. It’s been remarkable what these inside sales people are doing. I believe in it so much, for salespeople to have a coach.

Gina Stracuzzi: That might be part of the reason for the popularity of the forum, is that we bring in coaches and trainers, but also it’s on a very personal level of why is this important to you? What do you want to do? How are you going to get there? You can only be so good for your company if you know what it is you want and how you’re going to get there. Then you can be truly effective.

Joan Fletcher: It reminds me of a story that I shared in my sales training all the time. A CEO reached out to me asking if I would come and work with their top salesperson. I drove out to this company and I met with the top salesperson and it was maybe a middle-aged woman. He had told me ahead of time that he set a goal for her and she said it was too high, and she said she couldn’t hit it. He said she really needs to hit because we need to grow. I sat down and I talked with her for a while, and I wanted to learn about her, and she ended up telling me about the three kids she had and that her husband had a job that was good, but she was the main breadwinner.

We just started talking about her hopes and her dreams and she said, “My goal is to pay for all three of my kids to go through college and to pay off my mortgage.” I said, “Well, what order are you thinking of doing that?” She said, “Well, if I could pay off my mortgage before my kids go to college, then it wouldn’t even be a hardship for me to pay for their college.” I said, “Well, what would you have to do to pay off your mortgage?” She said, “Before they go to college?” I said, “Well, that’s what you just said.” She said, “I don’t know, just a minute.” She pulled out a tablet and wrote down all these numbers and she said, “Well, I would have to pay this much a month.” I said, “Well, what’s your commission?” She said, “I’m way ahead of you.” She said, “Look at this. I already figured out what my commission would have to be.” I said, “Well, is it possible?” She said, “It is possible. I think I can do this.”

Well, the number that she set for herself through that simple… All I did was sit with her for 45 minutes, I never went back out, she hit that number and she paid off her mortgage before her oldest went to college. Because it’s just what you said so well. It is all about each one of us figuring out what it is we want to do. When you touch on that thing that you want to do so badly, that’s why I hired the sales coach. I didn’t want to go and get in a different job. I wanted to own my own company. I wanted to work with leaders and help create a ripple effect where all the people within their company would benefit from a psychologically safe environment to do what they love to do. I know it’s kind of Pollyanna, but it is what I feel I’m called to do. That story is true. By the way, the number that she set after our meeting was way over the number the CEO had asked her to set.

Gina Stracuzzi: But now she had real personal skin in the game.

Joan Fletcher: Right. We have to set our own goals. We can’t have someone else set them for us. We lose the rocket fuel to achieve them.

Gina Stracuzzi: Without the emotional meaning behind it, the personal level, “I want to send my kids to college,” as you say, it’s the rocket fuel, and it makes all the difference in the world. I can see we’re on the same wavelength in many things here, Joan. Let’s talk a little bit about how you work with people and how people can identify things that can help them become really successful in sales. I think we just hit on one thing, like set your own goals. You don’t necessarily need to have a coach to do that. A coach can keep that piece of paper right in front of you and make sure you’re working toward it.

Joan Fletcher: Yes, I think the knowing what it is you want. I hear people say at a young age, “I want to be the CEO and everything.” Okay, that is phenomenal. But what do you want this year? What is your focus for this year? What is it that you need to do this year so that you know you’re on track for what you want even beyond this year? For me, still in my business, I know exactly what I have to sell every month to be on track to hit the number I’ve set for the year, to hit the number for what I want it to be set for the next years before I retire and hopefully sell my practice. Yes, there’s these big goals. Yeah, I’d love to sell my practice, but I can’t just focus on that. I have to focus on what I’m doing today. Really just breaking it down as small chunks as you can.

The sales coach I worked with, he said, “Think of all the things that you’re selling as white boxes, and get an average price for that white box.” If I do a six-month coaching engagement, what is the average value of that? That’s considered a white box. He said, “Then what you’ve got to visualize is how many white boxes you need to sell. Not just every month, not just for the year, but what you have to sell every week and every day.” He said, “You need to know when you sign off for work that day that you were on point. If you have to sell two white boxes every week, then you better have at least one sold by Wednesday.” He created in me this momentum of, “Wow, I have to make sure that what I’m doing right at this moment is really advancing myself towards my goals.”

In fact, he’s the one who started talking to me about the idea, and I had it on my computer monitor for years and years. I don’t have it anymore because it’s so ingrained in my head. But he said, “Any moment of the workday, you need to make sure that what you’re doing is benefiting you and your family.” I had the question on my monitor, is what you’re doing at this moment benefiting you and your family? Boy, there would be times I would be at a networking event that was the wrong place for me to be. Or I would be having a coffee chat with someone, it was the wrong place for me to be. It was not advancing what was best for me and my family. It helped me really see the gray moments so I could stay really black and white and clear-focused.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love the visual of the white boxes. While you were talking, I was thinking about the different services and products that Fred and I offer through IES and the Women in Sales. We have the partnerships, and we have the forum, and we have this. I was mentally like, “Okay, how many boxes?”

Joan Fletcher: Exactly. That’s where then I got my bigger, like a leadership engagement, a yearlong engagement, was one white box and it had a certain value, and a one-on-one coaching had a value, and a one-day workshop had a value. I still do this, I’m very detailed into how many workshops I want to sell a month, how many coaching engagements I want to sell a month, and how many leadership programs I want to sell a month. It’s very easy, when I think of that, I do think of this white box, and I know how many I have to do each month or I’m behind, or I’m ahead, because if I get behind, have a month where I’m a couple down, will those get added to the next month’s total? Because I have to stay on top of it, or I’ll get to the end of the year and I won’t have accomplished what I needed to do for what’s best for me and my family.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk a little bit about what you would like to share with others about sales success, and let’s talk a little bit about what sales success can look like, even if you are not hitting your numbers right in that moment. Because I think salespeople tend to fall into two groups. One that’ll just keep pushing forward. Even if they’re not hitting the mark, I will get it tomorrow. They never stop. Then there’s the other ones that just want to curl up in a ball and say, “Never going to happen.” We can be both those people at some weeks. What advice would you give to people about what success should look like or feel like?

Joan Fletcher: I think this for leadership too, but if you’re in sales, you’ve got to find a way to hang out with really positive people. You need to constantly be aware. I always like people to list the 10, plus or minus two, the 10 people that they spend the most time with each week. If you call your mom every night and she lives in Alaska, your mom is on that list of the 10 people you connect with most during the week. Then, I know this is politically incorrect, but then you need to put a plus or a minus or a zero next to each of those people’s name. A plus meaning that any moment you spend with them, you feel better about yourself. A minus meaning you feel worse about yourself. A zero meaning it’s neutral, doesn’t really go any way. Sometimes when I do this in my head now, I’m very aware when I’m with someone that is really wearing me down. It doesn’t mean I have to remove them from my life, but what it means is I’ve got to make sure there’s fewer of those people around me than the people that are plus signs. I think we all have to be more conscious of that.

When you’re in sales, you’re going to be beaten down. Well, I believe you’re going to have more nos than yeses. I believe it’s a bit of a numbers game. I used to also tell myself that I needed, in the beginning I’d say, “I need 10 nos. I have to get 10 nos today because then I know I’m going to get a yes.” I would focus on the nos and not see it as negative. But it’s so hard if someone hangs up the call on you, or treats you bad at a meeting because they think you’re selling something. It’s just keep yourself positive in all ways you can and hang out with the right people, which is like with your organization. Connect with sales organizations so you can start to meet other sales leaders that have found ways to keep themselves positive. Those are the people you really want to form relationships with.

Gina Stracuzzi: It was interesting because this conversation came up a couple of weeks ago in a forum session and we got talking about the importance of friends at work. Part of the discussion is what is lost in this semi-hybrid world we still live in. Some of us are clinging to it for convenience. When asked, they don’t even really know why. Now, collectively we’ve gotten lazy. It’s just easy to come downstairs, pour yourself a coffee, and walk into the dining room or whatever. But the conversation went into close friendships at work, and we talked about the value of those. One of the things that we then discussed is how easy it is, and this is very true with sales, to then just start focusing on the negative. Then every time you talk to that person, both of you are focusing on the negative and bolstering each other’s excuses for why things aren’t working out. That can be so detrimental.

Joan Fletcher: Deadly. If I’m a person that is a negative, a minus, you’ve got to be aware. Because there’s some people that really just want to tell you, “Woe is me.” You’ve got to be very aware of when you’re hanging out with that type of a person. My sales coach, he told me so many golden nuggets, but one thing he taught me to do was be aware of the people that might say no. Be aware of the people that you’re not sure you can close. Be aware of the situations like that, but have them front and center, because he said, “When you close something, or when you’re on a high from something, call them.” Because so much just comes through in our voice, in our emails when we just nailed something. We just did something amazing. I still do that today. If it’s a huge day, then the last thing I do that day is send the email to the CEO that has been unable to meet with me. I often get a very positive response to that voicemail or that email. Just once again, there’s so much to say about being upbeat and positive and believing in yourself. It’s what it comes down to.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s human nature I think when we’re feeling a bit wounded to say, “This is horrible.” All we want is for someone to say, “Yes, it is.” But that can be, as we just talked about, it’s this downward cycle, and then next thing you know, you’re living that mindset. It’s good advice to surround yourself with positive people. If you have a friend who’s a Debbie Downer or a Donald Downer, don’t call that person if you’re having a bad day.

Joan Fletcher: Limit. Also, I know some companies really encourage their salespeople, as soon as you get a no, as soon as you’re beaten, just still get through your calls that day, or still get through your visits. I believe, don’t. On that day where you are beaten down, maybe that’s a good day to play hookey. Go out, ride your bike harder than you normally do. Take a walk, notice nature. Do something that makes you feel good about yourself, and then the next day, go back in and set a goal for how many nos you want to get. Because I just believe that really then sets the path for you to end that day on a high note.

Gina Stracuzzi: I’m a firm believer too, Joan, go outside, get some air, get some perspective, hug a tree if you have to. Just feel the vibrations of something besides video and telephones, because that has its own pressure on us to keep going in a way that is negative. I applaud you with the idea of no, because if you are that down, you will continue to get nos.

Joan Fletcher: You will.

Gina Stracuzzi: Because they’re going to pick up on it.

Joan Fletcher: I can tell you too many stories about myself where I’m like, “Why did I make that call? They’re never going to hire me.” It’s like, “Why didn’t I pick a different time?” Don’t do it. It doesn’t work.

Gina Stracuzzi: If you had to give us one thing to know about selling successfully that we haven’t already covered, what might that be? Something that people maybe don’t think about too often.

Joan Fletcher: Well, I really think it’s almost like where we started. You’ve got to know what is in it for you. Why are you doing this? If you don’t know, if you really are like, “Well, it’s a job,” then I don’t know how you can be outstanding in a job. You got to figure out what is your rocket fuel. If you’re not sure how to get there, get someone to help you. There are great coaches. There’s probably friends, people that can really help you unearth what it is. Once you have that, then identify, well, how are you going to make that happen? I believe it is about goal setting, but remember, anyone can just set a goal, but you have to have that goal be attached to what you really, really want, whatever it is. It might be money. Maybe you’ve dreamed about this car your whole life and you can’t even come close to affording it. Well maybe that’s not true. Figure out what would you have to accomplish. What would you have to do? It doesn’t matter what the goal is, it has to be something that deeply resonates within you.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, in the few minutes we have left, let’s talk a little bit about leaders. When people get to a certain point in leadership, do you see them forgetting certain key pieces that could help them motivate others? Because maybe they’re just getting so caught up in the paperwork of leadership and the overall picture that they’re forgetting their team.

Joan Fletcher: Well, leaders are humans too. I know we’ve all worked for people that we wonder if they were human, but leaders really are. Oftentimes they’ve been promoted, if not all the time, they’ve been promoted because they did their technical tasks so well. Whatever it was they had learned to do, or gone to school for, that’s what they do so well. Then they’re often promoted without any leadership training, and really all they want to do is keep doing what they do well. But that’s usually not what is the job description. Usually the job description is now you have to help all these people do what you love to do, you have to help them do it well. There’s often just a huge gap for the leader in finding their way, like they’ve lost their focus or their mission because they were promoted.

It’s one reason I’m such a believer in the power of a leader getting coaching, a personal learner, reading books on leadership, learning how to lead so they can start to develop a passion and a skillset for leading. I don’t see if anyone was ever born to be a leader. They might have some skills that are very beneficial to leadership, but I’ve worked with thousands of leaders over the three plus decades, and every leader I work with, they’re not clear on what they want to leave as their leadership legacy. If you’re not clear on that, then you can show up all kinds of ways. Once you get clear on what you really want to have people remember about you and experience in your leadership, boy, it changes everything. That’s the game-changer in leadership, because then you’re able to say, “Wait a minute, I have to respond to this situation in this way because I want people to see me lead like this, whatever this is. Even on my worst days, I need to show up this way because I want people to remember this about my leadership.”

Gina Stracuzzi: It makes me think too, Joan, that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers and leaders.

Joan Fletcher: Always.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think the key message from this conversation is every leader needs a coach, and then bring in sales coaching for your team. We’re not trying to do a 30-second commercial for Joan, but the value is clear. Not just from this conversation, but from conversations I’ve been having with others as I do the forum and we build out other programs, it’s just a game-changer.

Joan Fletcher: It changed my life when the first coach I ever hired was a sales coach. Boy, I’ve hired a lot of coaches for myself since then, because it changed my lens and thankfully it did because I’ve had, I hope it’ll all continue, but I’ve had an incredibly abundant and thriving life due to my business.

Gina Stracuzzi: We are at that point where we ask our guests for one final action item that the listeners can put into place today to take their career to the next level. Do you have one final thought you’d like to leave us with?

Joan Fletcher: Well, I had one, but I’m changing it because of our conversation. I think there’s so many things I could say, but I think the most important thing is figure out why. Figure out your why, like Simon Sinek’s book, but know why you’re doing what you’re doing every day. It better not be just a job. Make it more than that. Figure that out and then make sure you’re focused on that in your sales, and you’ll be much happier and you’ll have much more success.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is awesome advice. All right, everybody, stop what you’re doing, pull over and figure out your why. All right. Well, thank you very much, Joan. I’ve enjoyed this conversation immensely. Thank you everyone for listening, and we’ll hear you next time. Take care.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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