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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 August 18, 2020. It featured corporate culture expert Shelley Smith.]
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EPISODE 285: Women in Sales: Corporate Culture Expert Shelley Smith Gives Sales Managers Sound Tips for Holding Team Members Accountable for Their Own Success
SHELLEY’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “To get ahead, go to your direct manager and ask them what does success look like at the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the quarter so that you know what’s expected? When there’s clarity around expectations, it’s easier to be accountable. When I really know what’s expected of me, it’s easy for you to come back and hold me accountable when you and I both articulated what the outcome is supposed to be.”
Gina Stracuzzi: Welcome, Shelley.
Shelley Smith: Thank you so much, I so appreciate being here both to you, Gina, and to Fred. Love the connection and the interaction that you guys have on your platform, LinkedIn and other messaging. Super excited to be here today to talk about all things workplace culture and what in the world does it have to do with sales? It has everything to do with sales. I’ve been doing this gig all my life and didn’t know I was doing this all my life until about 12 years ago through a series of events. Everything about myself started at the ripe age of 11 working in an entrepreneurial home way before that word was even common talk out there. Then I went to the world of Marriott and got incredible structure, and then went into the franchise world of the hotel business and 12 years ago I started my business today which is everything workplace culture related. Anything more you want to know you can ask, but that’s the low-down skinny.
Gina Stracuzzi: Shelley, why don’t you get us started? So much of what Fred and I have been hearing on these webcasts is how this particular moment in time has given leaders the opportunity to really get to know other people in the company and their staff a lot better. This has been the great equalizer, there aren’t corner offices anymore or the big C-suite things, we’re all just in our living rooms making this happen. The culture has changed so I would think that you have a lot to offer us on where you think things are going as we move into a bit of a hybrid world.
Shelley Smith: I call it the new “new normal”. I started to say to folks, “If you’re looking for somebody to come and save you and that you’re going to go back in time, it’s just not happening [laughs] so just put on your comfortable jeans and move forward because it literally is what it is. Culture has always been important and of course I’ve been preaching it for all my life. However, I believe that if you are sitting on the sidelines and didn’t really understand the impact, you’re absolutely seeing the impact now regardless of what level of the organization that you’re in and you’re right, the corner offices are gone. Everything that we do whether we call it selling or not, my dad told me this growing up, he said, “Every single walk of life that you’re going to have has an element in sales.”
Absolutely true, everything we say and do is about influencing people in some way, shape or form and if you don’t embrace that, you’re never going to get ahead, so to speak. Our ability to connect on video now, I love that your guest next week is going to talk about that, so much has changed and the workplace environment has a whole lot to do with that. We’re leaning into conversations with our teammates in a very different way, a far more empathetic way, we’re learning things about one another that we had no clue about before and it’s helping us really unpack some different perceptions. It also gives you ability to restate and put the guardrails up in a workplace culture in a different way. For those of you who are in sales and embracing it, you’re probably finding it is really helping you define it, build it and market it from a product and a service in a different way. Does that help start the conversation, Gina?
Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. I’ve noticed on some of your materials and your website you talk about bringing forward and leaving behind. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Shelley Smith: There are so many opportunities that happen when we’re faced with adversity and it’s whether we choose to look at the new way of doing things or if we live in the past. As I opened up, if you think that we’re going to go back in time and it’s going to go back to that old normal, it’s just not going to happen. You can bring me back on to say, “Shelley, you were wrong” but it’s something that’s going to happen. I would bet the house and the farm on it, so we’ve got to take the opportunity to go back in time and go, “What were we doing to our conversation from a selling perspective that always helped us and what does the new normal look like?” We have to do a look in the past in order to morph and innovate on the pivot in order to move forward. If we don’t do that, we’re absolutely going to be left behind and we may already feel like we’re being left behind especially from a sales and growth perspective. Brainstorm on what was working, get rid of what wasn’t working and then work with your colleagues and your different teammates to talk about what are some of the other ways that we can do things?
We’re all hard-wired in different ways, those four primary pieces are the innovating group, the results and discipline group, the process-driven group and the experiential group and we all have different places in the race of product and services. We need to understand where we are to be able to go backwards in order to move forward. Does that help begin to unpack what I mean?
Gina Stracuzzi: Definitely. Something you said there makes me want to ask the next question and this is something that we have heard a fair amount in the Women in Sales leadership forum. Women especially don’t always feel like their voices are heard, it has improved a little bit with this virtual environment, it’s a little easier to get a point across but there are still some people that aren’t being heard. What can any individual do to shift their mindset and come up with a positive solution to that?
Shelley Smith: It definitely takes tuning up our listening ears and asking better questions. I’m a firm believer – although it admittedly drives my husband nuts – asking questions. The more questions we ask and see clarity, the better off we are to have a voice at the table because when we want to bring up an idea or a different way of doing something, that starts with asking a question of why and poking the holes in it. From there, it stimulates and it opens up everybody to the table especially when you’re on this virtual environment, whether it is just the phone call or definitely the video piece for that. Ask better questions, listen, reverberate what you heard, ask more questions and then bring some ideas and some thoughts and perspectives with confidence. Don’t hum-haw around with what your ideas and your thoughts are, be very specific about it, be very specific with the outcome. “I heard we have an opportunity here, have we thought about doing this, this and this? If we do that, we might get a result of this, this and this.” Come to the table ready to serve up what the new recipe could be and how that flavor might come out in a different way that might serve up the clients from a product or a service that you’re trying to attract from a sales perspective.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great advice, to ask questions because people will respond if you ask a question whereas if you just start with an idea, it might get lost in the conversation. Getting attention by asking a question and gaining clarity, that is really great advice. Another question that I was wondering about is as sales members, how can we use our mission, our vision, our values to aid us in the selling process?
Shelley Smith: That’s a great question. When you’re trying to sell whether it’s a product or a service, you do have to go back to the mission, vision values of the company and the shared purpose in order to bring that forward in the selling conversation and to building up rapport while you’re uncovering those needs for your prospect. I talk about being able to define what right looks like in your company, so if you’re selling something and your prospect is talking on their mission, vision values about collaboration, about innovation, about design-thinking, about respect, finding something that you can pull from who you’re selling to and trying to influence and align it to what it is you know to be true about your company, about yourself and giving specific examples of how you do it.
You’re starting to build trust and rapport at the very foundational level that you’re giving them an authentic and intentional, “I get you, I’ve been there, this is how we do it” and you’re delivering it from an experience versus an idea, thought or opinion. You can talk about how your company overcame X, Y, Z and how your product or service will help them overcome X, Y, Z. Doing an apple to apple comparison. If you don’t talk about and you’re not able to build and market the core of the company, the messaging completely gets lost, the authenticity completely gets lost and often times the sale goes stale. I made a rhyme [laughs].
Gina Stracuzzi: [Laughs] The culture of a company gets translated, as you’ve implied, into the selling manifesto and I think it’s something that is so often overlooked because it isn’t a tangible hold-in-your-hand thing. These are really good points that you’re bringing up about how being authentic and being intentional can really impact the sale.
Shelley Smith: One example going back to the collaboration, in the selling process it also builds confidence in your influence ability. When you’re talking about your approach with your team that your team has collaborated and you’re giving examples to your prospect, “Once we execute the agreement, my team, Mary, Jim, Joe, what they’re going to do next is…” the more it trippingly rolls off of your tongue, the more believable it is because you’ve experienced it. When we tell a story that is real, it rolls trippingly off of the tongue so the more you’re connected to your work environment, the more you’re connected to your team. How your team is going to be the next baton that you pass it to once the agreement is executed, again, you’re building that client trust, respect and that build of what’s next through the values of the company because you live those.
Now you’re expressing that to your prospect. That’s a very specific example of being able to use your culture, your values in order to bring it forward in the selling process and to your client. Then you’re checking in with your client to make sure that what you said and what you promised, once you passed the baton over, “You’re going to talk to Gina next and I’ll circle back with you in three weeks to make sure that you and Gina connected”, I’m showing up very deliberate to what I said I was going to do. That’s what makes the difference today from a customer service and a service oriented criteria that makes us different from our competitors, and it’s critical inside of the sale cycle.
Gina Stracuzzi: We have a question from Sandra. She said, “I’m not in control of the workplace culture so why is this topic relevant to me?”
Shelley Smith: I get that question a lot. Every single team member is in control of the workplace culture, every single team member should know what right looks like, they should be able to have the ability to have ways to stand up even if it’s a point of clarity of what it does or doesn’t look like. Again, it definitely starts from the leadership piece, from the ownership piece, from the division, the affiliate, from the board of directors but then it goes down to every single team member. If you want to have a voice then you have to actually articulate your voice so you can make an impact. I always challenge that and when I work with individuals around this who don’t feel like they have a voice, we talk about the things that are happening in their day to day, now we talk about, “How often do you talk to the rest of your team?
Do you talk to your manager, your direct reports?” in order to craft how you have the voice and how you call out the workplace culture. From how do we communicate, you have a voice in how you communicate, to how do we collaborate, you have a voice in how you decide to collaborate, how you innovate. It’s a point of looking at your job description and if it says, “Initiate… Participate in… Drive… Develop…” Whatever those key action words are, those are your workplace culture. You have to make a choice on how you’re going to show up to align to what you’ve been expected to do. I challenge you to show up and see how you can make an impact.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great advice and it certainly goes to what we were talking about earlier of getting your voice heard and you can lead by example even if you’re not leaders in your title. That is probably one of the biggest hurdles that people have to overcome is imagining that they are powerless in a situation. Everyone can lead by example as we were just talking about, and eventually people will notice. You don’t have to, at the very least, disregard your own standards just because you’re in a culture that doesn’t necessarily adhere to the same standards you have. Your clients will appreciate it.
Shelley Smith: It goes back to ask questions. If you don’t know how to have a voice, if you don’t feel like you have control, ask a question. “How can I be a better collaborator? What does that mean to further engage the sales team or my teammates inside of our day to day interactions? What can we do differently when we go to talk to the client?” Those are ways to establish what I call, “What right looks like” and it helps you create and define those guardrails around your workplace culture, those culture playbook pages. Then you use it to sell, the best thing in the world is to have a very clearly defined job expectation, team expectation to build it and go to market with it. It makes your job as a salesperson so much easier whether you’re an individual contributor or you’re part of a team.
Gina Stracuzzi: What do you find in most places that you go into to work with teams, what are some of the biggest challenges that you find when people bring you in?
Shelley Smith: Two things. Communication is generally at the root of all evil and clarity around expectation. I continue to be stunned, I don’t know why I am, that leaders don’t do a great job of saying what right looks like, of being outcome-oriented, to be clear on their philosophies of what their people-centric, service-centric, whatever their centric is, they’re not clear. It’s a two-way street, though. As the employee, you’ve got to go to your direct manager and ask them what does success look like at the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the quarter. How do I know I’m there? Then manager, you’ve got to be clear to your employee with what success looks like, and that’s when I find the impressions are off. Communication as the whole piece, that’s a really big bucket but clarity around expectations because then it’s easier to delegate and hold others accountable. When I really know what’s expected of me, it’s easy for you to come back and hold me accountable when you and I both articulated what the outcome is supposed to be. Those are the two common things.
Gina Stracuzzi: Do you find that there are companies with absolute blinders on in terms of corporate culture biases that they’re just completely blinded to rather than understanding that those things are present and being ready to address them?
Shelley Smith: Yes, I see that all the time and we all see it in the news, the blinders that are on. Look what’s happening inside of the Ellen DeGeneres Show, looks what’s happened on NBC, look what’s happened in CVS, in Starbucks and the list goes on and on of the giants. Often times there are so many layers you get so disconnected as a leader, as an executive that you don’t see what’s happening right in front of you because you let go too much, you’ve lost that connectivity to your team, you’re not having intentional conversations. There’s a lot of marketing gurus that are out there that talk about your most important job is to stay connected to your team and your people. If you don’t do that, you’ve lost to the masses, everyone will run amuck in their own direction and then all of a sudden you’re going to find this horrifying leak. You find out in the press and then you’ve got to react to it or you see it on Glass Door or you see a Facebook post. It does happen, shockingly, but it happens to those who have really lost the connectivity with their team, plain and simple. You’re not asking, therefore you’re not hearing what’s truly going on.
Gina Stracuzzi: Do you have any advice for people who are in really toxic cultures and the C-suite is either completely tone deaf to it or just doesn’t care?
Shelley Smith: You’ve got a couple of choices. One is if you’ve tried and tried and you’ve gone through the chain of commands, unfortunately you may find that your values and your alignment and that shared purpose no longer exists and you have to move on. Plain and simple, you have to move on and I’m seeing a lot of that now with individuals through the crisis, through the multiple pandemics that we’re going through. They’re finding they’re not aligned because of the messaging that is or isn’t coming out of their company, their C-suite and they’re opting to move on. That’s one thing but first, I absolutely always encourage you to go through the chain of command that’s been established, hopefully you have rapport with your immediate supervisor that you can have dialogue or if there’s an HR team or if there is a private way that you can bubble up your concerns. That’s the first thing, you’ve got to try first. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no and if you don’t ask then we start to assume, so let’s not assume and let’s at least try to ask. Then if that doesn’t work and you’re not aligned, there’s a lot of people who are actually hiring right now and looking for more aligned individuals. It’s a two-way street now so don’t feel like you’re trapped. I know that’s easier said than done but don’t feel like you’re trapped. There’s no reason why in today’s world you should not be able to find a job that’s aligned to who you are and allows you to get up jazzed and passionate every single day.
Gina Stracuzzi: Catherine says, “What if your immediate supervisor is one that you can’t deal with but going around her is not acceptable?”
Shelley Smith: That’s a tough one but the reality is you may have to draw your line in the sand that you have to go. If your option is that your supervisor is what’s causing the toxicity and you’re not able to go to the two level-up supervisor or you’re not able to go sideways into human resources, you might have to decide to opt out. I would encourage you to start putting your fishing line out sooner rather than later. However, most of the time there is an option that literally if every door is getting shut and you’re trying to have a voice, that in itself is a problem and is a tell-tale sign that maybe it’s not the right fit for you. Usually there is a door open, I absolutely have seen and heard where the multiple doors are closed and those are the ones that end up on again, Glass Door reviews, those are the companies that you always see job posting open all the time. Field closed, open, field closed, open, that’s a signal something’s amuck inside of the workplace culture. You always have two options, one is try to find the open door, give that your valiant best and then #2 is you may have to go elsewhere, that’s the reality of it.
Gina Stracuzzi: You see most companies too where they have like 7 or 8 open positions all at once, either you just got the biggest contract in the world and you need to fill it or there’s something going on there.
Shelley Smith: Absolutely.
Gina Stracuzzi: We’ve all had one or two positions in our careers at companies that just were abysmal and you go back, you connect with somebody a couple years later and there’s either been a complete shake-up and they got their act together or it’s still going on and you just thank your lucky stars that you got out before it got too bad for yourself. You have to know what your values are and you have to decide, “Can I live with this or is it time for me to move on?” And you’re right, there are a lot of opportunities now as we all – the word of the century – pivot and change things up, we are finding new ways of doing things. Some people are really excelling at this virtual hybrid environment and others probably won’t, maybe that’s their opening to do something else. But there are a lot of opportunities, you’re right.
Shelley Smith: I was a very engaged COO with one of the franchise companies I was with for 8 years, we went from 8 hotels when I started and I took them in 8 years to 32 hotels and I left because I went from being incredibly engaged to highly disengaged. I talk about all these things from an experience standpoint and it was a great job, I loved the people that I worked with but it was a dual owned franchise that I became very disenfranchised with and ultimately had to leave. It was hard to leave everybody behind, it was hard to leave the job and the company that I felt like I had built as a COO but ultimately we were no longer aligned and something had to change and I opted out. You absolutely can do it.
Gina Stracuzzi: Martha, it looks like she’s in Nashville which is good, I love that we’re getting people outside of the DC metro area. Originally IES was an in-person membership base thing and now we’re sending the membership throughout the country since we’re all virtual so it’s a perfect example of how we’re trying to make lemonade out of lemons. She wants to know, “What if it’s you that’s the problem?” I think this could be also transferred to what if you have somebody that’s at your level that you like but you also know that maybe they’re the negative Nelly. We’ve all worked with people like that, they can only see what’s wrong with something so maybe it’s you or maybe it’s your suite mate or something, how would you respond to that?
Shelley Smith: That’s a good one, that’s why I have so many executive coaching gigs is because of people like that [laughs]. First of all, if it’s you and you realize that it’s you, get some help. You can get some help often inside of your own organization or a mentor if you’ve got a mentor program inside of your company. Align yourself with somebody who’s outside of your immediate group so you have that unbiased, fresh perspective in order to bring those questions to you and to help you unpack what’s going on in a different way. Or, you can go outside of the company for memberships such as your platform and different avenues to get some other perspectives or to talk to people who are maybe in some of the same self-awareness mode who realizes that they need to do some pivots. Understanding your emotional intelligence is usually a huge key piece inside of that if you’ve never taken a behavioral assessment.
I always encourage you to do a stop self-reflective and then, I’m a huge proponent of journaling and envisioning what right looks like in a given day. Defining who I’m talking to, how am I talking to them, what are those interactions, what am I talking about, who am I collaborating with? It helps you get off of the ‘what I can’t do’ and all the things that went wrong in the past, but how can I reimagine, reinvent, redesign that in an affirmative way? Who am I working with and envisioning that in an affirmative way? First it’s self-reflection, what’s working, what’s not working and what does right look like when it starts to work? How can I stop myself from talking about the past of what it didn’t and talk about, “This didn’t, let’s own it but let’s talk about if we could do it all over again, now what does it look like?” Focus on the can versus the can’t, what we did right to build momentum and let go of what we did wrong and use it as a lesson. That would be my advice.
Gina Stracuzzi: One of the coaches that we have in the Women in Sales leadership forum, he gives some of the best advice to the participants when they talk about situations like this where they don’t want to take a chance on this. Her advice is that it doesn’t matter, you can clean up the mess, just do it, just overcome the fear and just do it.
Shelley Smith: Own it.
Gina Stracuzzi: Exactly, that’s Queirra Fenderson, she’s our intuition coach and she’s just amazing. That’s really great advice because we all get hung up on looking at what might go wrong, especially if we’re in an environment, a culture that isn’t necessarily very accepting of what might go wrong.
Shelley Smith: The fear of getting in trouble.
Gina Stracuzzi: Exactly, then you do become fearful.
Shelley Smith: I want to add to what your coach had said. I talk a lot about when we get anxious and we get fearful, start to ask ourselves not just what’s on the top of the hill but what’s on the other side of that mountain so you can start to game plan intentionally in a different way. You can talk about the detours that you might have to take or the barriers that are going to happen and we do that ahead of time in a proactive instead of getting on the top of the mountain and then all of a sudden we see what’s there and we go, “Oh, no, I didn’t bring my swimming gear, there’s an ocean. I didn’t bring my climbing gear, I need to have a rope to go down.” Often when we get into that fear, beginning to unpack what it looks like on the other side can help you better prepare mentally and to get the courage in order to get there.
Gina Stracuzzi: We have one more question, Mary asked, “I’m not the head of sales but an individual contributor. How can an individual contributor keep making a deeper impact on their culture?”
Shelley Smith: I love that. I don’t want to sound like a repetitive person but I’m going to go back to having a conversation with who you report to directly and talk about how do you add value, what does success look like. You’re doing that and you’re aligning it back to the mission, vision, values, the culture statements, the philosophies around selling. Even though you’re an individual contributor, how do you show up to still be a part of the team? Again, defining that ultimate result-oriented so you have clarity around it and it’s easy for you to draw back to it and hold yourself accountable and then you also know when to ask for help for the rest of the team. Individual contributors should not be siloed, you’re still a part of the bigger picture but you’ve got to understand what the bigger picture is and then ask for check-ins and feedback intentionally.
Gina Stracuzzi: Sybil said, “Thinking about what you’ve been saying, what would be your advice if you want to make a play for a sales leadership position?”
Shelley Smith: What would I do if you wanted to go after that? I would articulate some opportunities that you see, some suggestions around, who’s not going to listen to ways to increase revenue? Don’t just come and say, “I’m interested”, come and say, “I see this opportunity, here are my ideas, thoughts and suggestions, here’s my strategies, here’s my timelines.” Unpack it for the power to be and say, “I would like to have the opportunity to be on a project to show that I can do it, to go and mentor and shadow on the next sales call, to be able to lead one of my ideas, thoughts and perspectives.” It’s not enough to say, “I want it”, show up with actions, ideas and thoughts. That would be my suggestion.
Gina Stracuzzi: We have about five minutes left, is there anything else that you would like to share with our attendees? Here’s a question that’ll put you on the spot a little bit. Is there ever anything that you wish a client would understand and they just don’t get it, and there’s not words that you seem to be able to come up with to make them understand?
Shelley Smith: That’s great and that’s fair. I openly get frustrated when they don’t see that the workplace culture ties to their profit. Every single leak is driven and rooted in the workplace culture, it isn’t an option, it’s a muscle, a leadership, it’s the playbook. I often am known for giving metaphors and analogies, when you go out to play football whether you’re an offense or defense, you have a playbook. I get frustrated when companies don’t see and understand the value of the playbook, the culture playbook helps you define those plays when you need to pivot, when you need to innovate, when you need to increase sales, when you’ve got to change your product and service. It’s your immediate resource of what right looks like inside of your company and your wall, so I get frustrated when they don’t see the ROI and they don’t stop and see all the leaks in either turnover, lack of sales, open positions and realize it’s costing them money, literally. I always say the sucking sound coming out of your checking account. That’s my hot button piece and I always challenge folks that go down that road to put together a business plan and all of those leaks are hidden inside of their P&L statement, and put together an ROI in order to change that outlook in a step at a time.
Gina Stracuzzi: How can people get ahold of you if they would like to know more or perhaps use your services?
Shelley Smith: The easiest thing, I’m all over all the different social platforms, just go to my website. That’s premierrapport.com and then you can find all kinds of even free stuff, downloads, eBooks, white papers, my systems and all that stuff or you can contact me.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo