EPISODE 578: Smarter Ways for Women in Sales to Build Customer Connections with Google’s Lilah Jones

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with Lilah Jones Head of ISV’s & Marketplace Sales – Northam at Google. It was hosted by Gina Stracuzzi.]

Find Lilah on LinkedIn.

LILAH’S TIP: “Say “I will act now. I will act now. I will act now.” Do something, do anything, but act now. Make the decision to change something. Make the decision to do one thing this week that makes you uncomfortable. It might be taking a different path to work. It could be making your eggplant parmesan that you usually make with a different recipe. Or it might be making the decision to go to a store and ask for a discount and test out your ability to negotiate. Whatever it is, just do one thing this week that makes you uncomfortable.”


Gina Stracuzzi: I’m super excited about my guest today, Lilah Jones, who is the head of ISVs and Marketplace Sales for Google, who was also on the top 100 list of most powerful women in sales. Lilah, welcome. Don’t you feel powerful just being on that list?

Lilah Jones: You know what? I was so thrilled to be considered and included, and it’s always so much fun to be connected with peers and to be recognized for your work in the industry. Yes, I am jazzed about being included.

Gina Stracuzzi: I have to say, you get a lot of those things, you could be one of the top 50 something for $2,500. Sometimes they come in and I just ignore them because I think it’s just a pay-for-play thing. But then when I found out what this list was, and it’s just such an honor, especially to be included with so many fabulous women who are really changing the face of women in sales.

Lilah Jones: I couldn’t agree more.

Gina Stracuzzi: I want you to tell us about your background. I can read your bio, but that’s not nearly as much fun. When you do tell us about yourself, I want you to talk about your last big challenge you just took, because I am super jealous. Please introduce yourself, Lilah Jones.

Lilah Jones: I can’t believe it, but I’ve actually been in the Chicagoland area for 20 years now. Moved here after college and pretty much stayed and bet my career on some of the largest technology companies. I had an opportunity to cut my teeth at Microsoft, spent some time at Oracle, EMC and Dell, and now at Google. But that’s just what my LinkedIn resume says. If you peel away the layers and peel the onion, I am just a small town girl from Milwaukee, had my very first job in a body shop. I was that girl who could tell you anything about cars. I’ve just always been known to be super ambitious about growing my skillsets, growing my network, and growing my impact in the community. That’s who I am. I haven’t changed that. I feel thrilled that I get a chance to represent a company like Google. I spend a lot of my time working with women and girls and helping them find their voice.

But my last challenge, Gina, you asked about, which I’m assuming you’re talking about Kilimanjaro, that was fantastic. I highly recommend it. I highly recommend anybody who’s relatively fit can do it. But yes, I decided that I was going to climb Kilimanjaro after I finished my MBA. I went back to school because I wanted to really challenge myself to do something different after having already been successful in my career. I said, “Hey, when I graduate from getting my MBA,” not an executive MBA, I went the full three years, part-time MBA, I said I was going to climb Kilimanjaro. I graduated from grad school in July of 2018 and summited Kilimanjaro in August of 2018. That was an amazing experience, largely because I did that at the time with my boyfriend, who once we got down, I proposed and became my fiancé. It was an awesome challenge. I figured, “Hey, if he can hike Kilimanjaro with me, and live in a tent with no bathroom for seven days, he’s the one.”

Gina Stracuzzi: I love everything about that story, Lilah. I particularly like your energy and your just absolute confidence in yourself. Even knowing that you, like pretty much every human on the planet, have moments of self-doubt, it sounds like you don’t let them stop you, which I really applaud.

Lilah Jones: Well, thank you. Yes, it is not ever perfect. We all go through our ups and downs, but I do try to challenge myself, and I always shoot for being bold. I believe that boldness has magic and power in it. It’s always worked for me.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes, myself included. Maybe it’s because I was raised with five brothers and a sister that you’re either bold or you’re left behind.

Lilah Jones: I couldn’t agree more. You know what, Gina? That’s something we have in common. The other thing I didn’t mention is I’m the last of 11 children, eight of which are boys. You have to learn how to be scrappy. If anybody’s got a big family, you know that when you’ve got a big family, if you get to the table late, good luck. My mom would not enforce like, “Hey, let me save and make sure your chicken is there.” It was like, “Hey, good luck. Get here earlier next time.” I grew up in a really fun, competitive family where I will tell you, survival of the fittest.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk a little bit about your career. I always like to know how people got into sales and what attracted them to that, and why they think they were successful. Then let’s talk about sometime when maybe things didn’t go exactly the way you thought and what you learned from that.

Lilah Jones: I landed in sales on accident, which I think a lot of people do. I had some mentors through school who were like, “Hey, Lilah, you know what? You’re really, really good at working with people. You should consider doing something in marketing or sales.” I was like, “I don’t really know. We’ll see.” I just kept going with that, and I noticed that I was getting that feedback from people pretty consistently. But the thing that really pushed me over the edge of saying, “Hey, I really want to try this,” was I met some folks who were super successful. When I say successful, at that time, it was all about like, “Hey, how can I make money? How can I start my life? How can I have an impact?”

It was interesting that I met some folks, one guy, he’s like, “I sell boxes.” I was like, “How is it that you sell boxes and you have this amazing lifestyle, that seems like a lifestyle I may want to have?” He was like, “Because I get paid based on my performance. I don’t get paid based on just my education or just my experience. I get a chance to really control my own destiny.” I thought, “Boy, that seems scary though, because what if you don’t perform?” He goes, “Well, then I don’t get paid.” I’m like, “How can you manage that?” He said, “Well, I just make sure that I perform.”

That really got my attention and I was like, “How do I get the confidence to try something like that? How do I get the confidence to put myself out there and really see, like, do I have what it takes to cut it on pay for performance?” Because that’s always the thing people say, “I would go into sales, but I can never do that.” There’s all this fear around it. One of my mentors helped me to appreciate the fact that, “Hey, Lilah, we’re all in sales. Either you’re buying what somebody else is selling, or you’re selling your story, but we’re all buying and selling all the time. If you just have a little bit of confidence around that, you’ll do fine.”

I took that mentorship and those points of view, and the very first thing I started to work on was my interaction with people. I tried to start sharpening my sword around how I interface with people. Specifically, I was reading books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I was reading books like Positive Mindset, and all these things that were very intrinsic for me developing some of the skills that allows me to connect with people. I followed that and I learned how to, I’m not going to say manipulate or interface with people in a way that’s not genuine, but just to really find my authentic voice and understand how people worked. I love that. I still do, I’m still super curious about it.

That really led me to being able to have the confidence to raise my hand for a sales career. Now, what a challenge that was. I’ll never forget, I was just starting off at Microsoft. I didn’t have a huge tech background. It wasn’t like I was a computer engineer or I was a software engineer or anything like that. Let me tell you, the bar was high, and I had nothing to compare it to. I had never worked in an organization that large or that complex. I really struggled my first year, I really, really struggled. I didn’t think it was going to work. One of the things that was really my saving grace was, again, saying, “I understand that this is probably a little bit of a stretch for me,” but being able to ask for feedback, being able to accept hard feedback, and then being able to action that to find a way to be successful was one of the things that worked really, really well for me.

The last thing I’ll share as far as challenge is concerned, I mentioned earlier that I went back to school to get my MBA after already being successful in my role. That was super tough. I was a single mom, I was working all day and going to school all night. I will tell you, the rails almost came off during that time period. But what I learned from that, Gina, is that guess what? You don’t have to have A level work in every area all the time. Sometimes a C is just fine. I learned how to prioritize and say, “This actually is okay to get a C in, and the other things I’ll prioritize.” It really helped me to set up my point of view around leadership.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is great advice, because I think that quite often, and this might be an infliction that hits women more than men, but this need for perfectionism, which is just limiting and really isolating and soul-killing if you’re not careful. I applaud you for figuring out, based on priorities, where do I need to excel and where can I just be average? Sometimes we like to do some fun facts. What is the one thing about you that can’t be Googled?

Lilah Jones: [Laughs] There’s so many things about me probably that can be Googled, so that’s actually a very, very difficult question to answer, but I was prepared for it. I absolutely love salsa dancing, and I’m pretty sure that’s nowhere on any profile of mine. I love salsa dancing. At any given time, you will hear Marc Anthony and Maluma and all of these wonderful artists on my playlist, because the music just makes me so happy. It’s something I can enjoy with my new husband. We got married just this past year on the 31st, December 31st. It’s something that really enables me to just forget about everything else that’s going on and really be in the moment. I absolutely love salsa dancing. That’s one thing. I’ll give you another thing.

The other thing you can’t Google about me is I’m a huge fan of stoicism. If you look anywhere on my Audible playlist, you will see a lot of things by Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way, and lots of things about the different philosophers from ancient Rome that talked about how do you manage the ups and downs and go for things like virtue. That’s my jam. Those are the two things I might share.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, it’s nice to know that we can still have little pockets of our lives that are not, and no offense to your employer, on Google just waiting to be discovered. Of course, you now know that as soon as you put that out there, somebody’s going to go to your Wikipedia page or your LinkedIn page and leave a comment, and it’s over now.

Lilah Jones: I know. Cat’s out the bag.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s go back to the workplace a little bit, and let’s talk about working in what is still a profession heavily dominated by men. Let’s talk about the kinds of decisions you make versus your counterparts and where you feel gender comes into that and what you’ve learned from those experiences.

Lilah Jones: I think this is really important for women in sales. Just let me preface my comment with that. As a woman, we are all trying to show that, “I can do anything better than you.” Of course, we’ve got a seat at the table in some cases. But in some cases, you are the only one. When you’re trying to fit in, this has happened to me many times, you try to mirror who you’re around. You’re really trying to say, “Okay, how do I fit in?” and so you try to mirror who you’re around.

Well, who you’re around might be people who enjoy things that you don’t. Maybe everybody is into a certain sport, or maybe everybody’s into certain music, or maybe everybody’s into certain foods or certain pass times that you don’t share. Then how do you start to influence those groups when you aren’t with them on Saturday morning doing different activities, or you’re not with them after work hanging out? I always struggled with that.

One of the things I always encourage people to think about is the fact that just because people are doing things a certain way, it doesn’t mean that you have to do that. I’ll give you a specific example. A lot of times people think, “I want to network, I want to be known, I want to be visible.” Of course, the pandemic changed some of that. But in general, let’s go with how it’s been broadly over many years, “I need to go out and have a drink with my colleagues,” and, “We’re going to a sales conference, the sales kickoff, and it’s going to be in Vegas, and there’s going to be drinking, and going out, and all this stuff.” A lot of times, even though we don’t feel comfortable doing it, we do it. We do it because we want to be a part of the group. We do it because we want to be included. We do it because of all these different reasons. In most cases, it’s fine, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes people go a little bit too far. Sometimes women get into situations that they don’t predict or they don’t see it coming, and you get caught by surprise.

Specifically, I will say, lots of times in sales, going out, entertaining clients, food, drink, entertainment, it’s all a part of it. As a woman, it may not make sense for you to go out at 9:00 drinking with the team or with the customer. Why? Because people drink too much and they make bad decisions. As a woman, you might decide, “That’s not where I want to be.” Your male counterparts may not see it that way. They may not have the same experience as you, especially in male dominated environments. That’s something that I always encourage people to think about, and to have a plan around that so that you can be successful and avoid a lot of challenging situations.

Now, the world is changing and people are much more enlightened, but for those who aren’t enlightened yet, this is something that might be helpful. For me, even now, even though I haven’t had any challenges lately around that, but certainly in my career I have, whenever I’m going out to entertain a client, I will almost never, ever go past the dinner. I always, always give people roles and say, “Okay. If the client wants to go out to dinner after this or go out for drinks, I’m going to assign that to someone.” Typically, it’s a male. I’m going to say, “Hey, listen, you’re the late evening person. I’m the early evening person.” I’m serious. I almost never go to restaurants that I don’t pick. I always pick them. I always like to be in control of that because I want to control the flow of the evening for lots of different reasons.

For women, as we’re thinking about, how do we entertain and build connections with people in a way where we don’t have to get caught in that situation where you’re like, “Uh-oh, this person just crossed the line,” and that will happen. It will happen. Just as sure as I’m saying it right now, in sales, it’s going to happen. You know when it’s coming because a guy will say, “My wife just doesn’t understand me.” That is code for, “Girl, get your hat, get your coat. It’s time to go.” Or when they say anything like, “You know what? You really get me.” Yeah. Get the hat, get the coat, it’s time to go.

There’s little things like that where you can avoid that completely and still be able to build connections and being the change maker that says, “Instead of going out to the bars,” which is what everybody does, because I guess everybody’s been doing it forever, and I think it’s easy, even though it’s not, “Let’s get together for a bike ride in the morning.” That’s what I would do with my clients. “I’m not going to take you out and be out all night with you, but I will meet you early at your club and we can go for a run.” Or, “I will meet you out early at the lakefront and we can go for a walk and grab a coffee after,” or something like that. Have the confidence to change how you connect and try to connect with people in a way that’s more authentic to you versus just what the group is doing. Your customer will appreciate it too, because they don’t actually want to be out doing that either. It’s just that we fall into it because it’s easy. That’s something I might recommend that’s different for women, based on our gender, that men may not even think about.

Gina Stracuzzi: As you were talking, I was thinking, if they’re really dead set on going out, you can say, “You know what? You’re probably going to need a nice cup of coffee in the morning. Let’s meet here and talk then.” Yes, because it rarely goes well. That’s great advice. I’d like to ask you too on women who are considering sales as a profession. There’s a lot of women that companies are after that are not in sales right now, and they’re more somewhere to mid-career, and they’re considering going into sales. What advice would you have for them?

Lilah Jones: I’ve always found that for anybody, it doesn’t matter what their skillset is, or where they are, or what they say their primary profession is, if you believe in something, you can talk about it. If a company is coming to you saying, “Hey, we think that you might be great for this role,” or, “Hey, would you consider taking this sales role?” If you believe in what they’re doing, you shouldn’t have a hard time talking about it. Think about any kind of a product that you’ve used, that you’ve loved. Is it easy to leave a good review? Yeah, because you’re just speaking from your heart. I say think about it in the same vein, never mind the whole, “This is sales.” More or less, think about it from a point of view of, “I am sharing and telling everybody about something I strongly believe in.”

I’ll give you an example. I strongly believe in Google’s mission to take the world’s information and make it universally accessible and searchable. I believe in that. Nobody has to put me in handcuffs to talk about that. I can talk about it all day because it aligns with my belief system and my values. I would encourage women that if they are considering something or somebody just brings an opportunity to them, if you believe in what the company is doing, then that’s a really good litmus test for this might be a good move for you. If you’re like, “I really don’t, and I have no passion around it whatsoever,” it’s probably a good litmus test for, “Hey, this is not probably the area you want to start off in.”

But I will tell you, if women will just give themselves a chance, give yourself a chance, we can do hard things. You can make an affirmation card that says, “I can do hard things.” If you can just get over that barrier, sales gives you the opportunity to, A, control your own destiny. Some of the highest paid people in the world are salespeople. It allows you to set your own schedule in a lot of cases. I’m a mom, I have two kids, I’ve got all this stuff going on. I also have my 92-year-old mother who lives with us, which is another area to manage. It gives you the opportunity to be able to say, “Hey, listen, this is how I’m going to work so that I can manage all those other different areas.” It gives you the opportunity to always, always learn and grow, because in sales, you’ve got to be able to take feedback, manage through that, and you’ve always got to stay on top of what’s changing and what’s new.

These are all really strong components of living a good life. A, you can finance it. B, you’re always growing. C, you can work the way you want. If we’ll just have the confidence to get over that little barrier of, “I’m not sure. I don’t think I can do this,” and stop associating sales with some of the industries that are less scrupulous. I’m not even going to call them out, but you all know what they are, stop associating sales with negative sales industries, because that’s an old paradigm. Things have shifted. Give yourself a chance and an opportunity to create a great, amazing, wonderful life that you control. That’s what I would say.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s been shown time and time again that women select companies based on their values, that if they feel like they’re seeing their values match theirs. It’s one of the reasons we started the PWISE designation, so that it’s easier for women coming into sales, or already in sales and considering new employers, that they can easily recognize an employer that supports them, gives them flexibility, as you mentioned, being a mother of two and caring for your mother. All of those things make it really important to have a flexible schedule and an employer that gives you the freedom to do what you need to do to be successful in your career too. I love everything you said there.

As we like to do at the end of our podcast, we like to ask our guests for one piece of final advice that our listeners could put into place, to action today, to take their careers to the next level. What would you have for us?

Lilah Jones: Well, I think that taking your career to the next level, or doing anything that is going to push you outside of your comfort zone requires that you do something that a good old sales leader, or a good old sales book by Og Mandino, The Greatest Salesman That Ever Lived. In that book, he says, “I will act now. I will act now. I will act now.” Do something, do anything, but act now. Make the decision to change something. Make the decision to do one thing this week that makes you uncomfortable. It might be taking a different path to work. It could be making your eggplant parmesan that you usually make with a different recipe. Or it might be making the decision to go to a store and ask for a discount and test out your ability to negotiate. Whatever it is, just do one thing this week that makes you uncomfortable. That’s what I might advise.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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