EPISODE 543: Leadership Growth Strategies for Women in Sales with Thilaga Kumar

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast, sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales featured an interview with Thilaga Kumar, author of Cumulative Selling,.]

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THILAGA’s TIP FOR WOMEN IN SALES: Listen to more podcasts related to women in sales. There are a lot of women in sales forum available, including Sales Game Changers from the Institute for Excellence in Sales (this one), and Girls Who Sell, and my podcast, Sell Like Her. There are a lot of women in sales podcast. Lori Richardson’s, I have to mention, Conversations with Women in Sales. If you listen all this, you start getting the confidence by listening other women stories who have been succeeded in sales. That gives you confidence and courage. Also with this kind of podcast, you get a lot of knowledge related to sales skills as well. I think that’s something, if you immediately implement, that give you a boost to enter or grow in sales.


Gina Stracuzzi: Thilaga is the first author in South India and the second woman author in India to write a book on sales. She has the first and second slot as a woman author in India writing books on sales. The first one will be published in two months. Thilaga, tell us about that. That is so exciting.

Thilaga Kumar: First of all, thank you, Gina and Fred, for giving me this opportunity to share my experience. About the about book, it is called Cumulative Selling. What I want to convey through this book is what I believe in. The success in sales is not just if you are having a core technical knowledge. It also includes the mindset, the integrity, the daily discipline, and the hard work, the sales skills, like negotiation, closing, objection handling. All put together is what success means. That is why I call my book as Cumulative Selling, cumulative of all these skills and qualities will give you a sustained success in sales.

Gina Stracuzzi: Besides being an author, you’re also the founder of Sell Like Her movement, and a keynote speaker, and a podcast host of Sell Like Her, and a high ticket closer. Tell us about all these, you’re a clubhouse host, and global collaborator, and host of Global Sales Talk Show on YouTube. Do you ever sleep?

Thilaga Kumar: Basically, my passion is to empower one million women to enter and to grow in sales career, because I see a lot of gender gap and a lot of barriers women not able to get into sales. Whatever the way I could able to empower women, I wanted to do. That’s why I host a talk show in YouTube, and recently I’ve started my podcast as well. It’s Sell Like Her. If you search in Apple, Google, Sell Like Her, you’ll find the podcast. Basically, I want to bring more and more women sales leaders. Even Gina was one of my guests, and honor to have her as well. We need to bring more and more women sales leaders, CEOs who talk about their challenges, how they get into sales, how they overcome the challenges in sales being a woman, so that the other women get the confidence, courage to get into sales. That’s the idea of doing the podcast, talk shows.

Also, I go to colleges to give speech to women students why sales is important, what is the benefit they’re going to get? I want women to see 360 degrees. It’s just not sales means it’s a lot of traveling, a lot of pressure, not just that. Sales is like you’re going to travel all over the places, you’ll be getting to know a lot of people around. There are a lot of benefits, incentives, schemes, basically gives you self-respect and self-identity. You can grow faster in sales. I want every woman to see sales as a 360 degree angle, what benefits they get apart from the challenges.

Gina Stracuzzi: I can imagine the level of financial freedom that it does give women is very remarkable in your country.

Thilaga Kumar: Yes.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk about the challenges that you faced when you first got into sales and how you overcame them.

Thilaga Kumar: When I got into sales, actually I started my career as a sales support backend. Then one point of time I felt being a customer support, there is no growth. You really can’t grow to the career. That’s why I want to move into front sales, but it was not easy because in my office, we were about 15 salesmen. I was the only saleswoman and to prove myself, it took longer time for me to prove that even I could do sales. Initially I was kept in the end, even when we do a lot of presentation sales, auto booking sales, everything, but now I’m one of the key person in the company. That gives me proud feeling that what I realized is there will be challenges because even for the organization, you’ll be the new person compared to other gender. You really have to prove yourself so that they get confidence on you, one day start giving you a lot of opportunities. If you want to get the table in the forum, you have to prove first.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, let’s talk a little bit about the benefits that you’ve gotten over your sales career.

Thilaga Kumar: There are a lot of benefits. Even the people look at me now, even my neighbors, my relatives, my family members, including my parents, now they’re all proud of me because I’ve got my house, car. Even though for a few, it is very small achievements, but for us, because I come in the background where we are not financially well. Even for my father, getting us education itself is a big task. We used to keep our goals and other steps for loan to get our education. There are a lot of struggles we had. For us in our family, I was the first person to get the house, get the car, and travel all over the world. This kind of feeling gives the proud feeling for my parents, my family members, who used to always say, “Don’t go to sales. Sales is not for women. A lot of confusion, not go alone. You cannot manage your family, children,” all this they used to say, but I never listened because I believe in myself and I know that one day, they’re also proud of whatever I am doing. That’s what’s happening today. That’s why I want to tell all the women, initially there will be a lot of struggles in the surroundings. You should not bother, just believe in yourself, have confidence, move forward, everyone will start believing in you.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, let’s examine that a little bit. You were the only saleswoman in your company. I am sure you came up against cultural norms where people were maybe not so thrilled to work with a woman salesperson, in particular clients or customers. Talk to us a little bit about that, what roadblocks you hit in that respect, and what advice you would have for women who are going into sales that might come up against potential customers that don’t respect the woman in front of them, or don’t want to deal with them.

Thilaga Kumar: See, there are a mix of customers. A few customers, they really respecti it because first time they’re seeing a woman. They used to welcome well and they used to respect me, but few men, they’re not even ready to shake the hand with me because I’m a woman. They were a little shy and also some men don’t want to see my eyes, eye-to-eye contact, because I’m a woman. Those kind of challenges were there. But I think it’s all building relationships step by step, then things will fall in place. Now I have no problem because I created a good rapport with most of my customers, even new customers. Initially I do a phone call, I make a little relationship. Now for me, there is no issue. For the women out there, what I want to say, everything in the starting, it’ll be tough. Nothing will come as it is. Even if you want to be expert in swimming, you have to practice well. Same way in sales. You have to practice how to handshake with customer, how to have eye-to-eye contact, how to build a rapport, then things fall in place. No need to worry, just practice, practice, practice.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, you make a good point, and maybe on your YouTube channel, you could do some of those. You could walk through some exercises in handshakes and eye contact for women who are not accustomed to it. Because even here in the United States, quite often, women will just hand their fingers to someone to shake, rather than her whole hand. My father taught me early on, you shake a hand. Don’t let anyone make you feel less. But it’s something that’s socialized into women, even here. That could be very beneficial, doing some exercises on your YouTube channel for women who are getting started. I’m sure it’s daunting in the beginning.

Thilaga Kumar: Yeah, I can do that. I just remembered one incident. When I started my customer support, and I just started my career as a sales support, one of the country head, he had come from Japan. He about to give a handshake with me, but I just said Namaste in Indian way of saying hi, like just folding your hand, both the fingers, just say, “Welcome.” I was so unconfident in giving a handshake with him. Later, step by step, I did practice. For a woman in India, they’re mostly the conservative background. They were unwilling to give the handshake to other men. But foreigners is not the case. As you said, maybe some of the women still feels that. Even I was like that before. I was not confident in giving handshake, but step by step, I know this is the way you can also give confidence in your career to move forward. Handshake is also one of the important thing where you can socialize.

I’m one among all the women where I faced a lot of challenges. I was not in good communication. Instead of he, I used to say she, like that. So many issues I had initially, because I studied in government school and college. I didn’t have any good communication skills. Even I didn’t know how to do the presentation. In front of a mirror, I used to do a presentation, moving my hands to build my body language before I give any presentation. I think we should not stop taking actions. If we just sit back and keep worrying, “I’m not good at this, I’m not good at that,” we will never grow. Whether we make mistakes or not, it is okay. Just getting to action, start learning from your mistakes, then you can grow in your life.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is really great advice. Let’s talk a little bit about how you manage your home life and your work life. I know you have a toddler. I think she just turned two, maybe?

Thilaga Kumar: You’re right.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yeah, I think I saw that on LinkedIn. It’s a little girl, right?

Thilaga Kumar: Yeah.

Gina Stracuzzi: How does she inspire you and how does that tie to your passion for empowering women in sales?

Thilaga Kumar: How I manage my work life, I just prioritize my work, my purpose, my passion. For me, my family and my 9:00 to 5:00 job, I work in a French-based company where I manage aerospace and defense products. That is one task. Fairly I’m doing good performance as well. In the evening, late evening times, I do all this fashion related work to empower women in sales and LinkedIn, social media, YouTube, all this. Around three hours I spend with my daughter and fully focus on her. When I’m with her, I give my 100% and I cancel all my positive energy. I think that’s what I feel it motivates her. It inspires her. Whenever she sees me in my YouTube, on the book backside, my photos, she always say, “Mom. Mom.” That gives me goosebumps to do more. I’m 100% sure I’m transforming my positive energy because that’s so important for a baby to grow. It’s not important how many hours you spend with your baby, but how much quality hours you spend with your baby, how much positive energy you transform to her. That’s so important.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great advice because careers can take a lot, and a lot of women struggle to try to find that balance. Maybe they have support at home, maybe they don’t, but they clock off at 5:00 and they spend from 5:00 to 8:00 with their children, put them to bed, and then go back to work. Hats off to you that you’re so empowered and so driven to empower other women. I just love that. Let’s talk a little bit about your 9:00 to 5:00 job and that selling that you do.

Thilaga Kumar: I’m in the present company last 15 years. As I said, I started my career as a customer support, then a sales engineer, senior sales engineer, then manager. It was a great journey because initially it was tough proving myself that I could do sales, and it was not easy for me to learn the sales skills, how to approach customer, how to identify a prospect. There are a lot of challenges initially to learn the sales skills, to create the new leads, but now I know where to task, where to spend time, where we should not spend time, which customer will give the order, which not. It’s all in the mindset, the conviction and the relationship and what timely support you give to your customer. That’s what making me to close more deals, I believe. Being honest, being ethical, and being with the customer to solve their problem.

Aerospace and defense is what we sell. It’s mainly the cockpit control, what we sell to aircraft and helicopters. That’s about the company. I’m lucky to have my managers who can support, guide. Even during my maternity leave, I take this opportunity to thank my manager as well because I didn’t have any break when I had the maternity leave because I had the mindset I can balance both. I don’t want to give a gap that creates a gap to my relationship with customer, having to track on what is happening around the market, the projects. Initially my boss not believed whether without maternity leave, how you can manage your baby, but I was at home, but I able to manage work, life, both, because see, baby will not going to awake 24/7. Initially baby sleeps most of the time. That time you can really manage your work as well.

I got a good support. That is why other than the labor time, I didn’t have any gap to my career. That has actually helped me to do better performance in the coming years. If I would’ve taken a break, I don’t know the next year would’ve not been great. That was a good decision I still feel I’ve taken. Overall, the journey is good. There were ups and downs always in achieving sales quarter, but you should keep continuing putting your effort to identifying your customers, always filling up your funnel, that keeps giving you the result.

Gina Stracuzzi: It is a difficult situation, maternity leave. Most women here, they do take leave, and it can be tricky coming back, because sometimes companies will guarantee you a similar position quite often. A lot of women have gotten stuck in their careers with those similar positions that didn’t have the same trajectory as the career path they were on initially. Companies are getting better about that and they’re giving more family leave. Fathers are taking time off as well. That makes it feel a little less threatening when the man is putting his career on the line too. But you made it work. It sounds like you had a great baby, too. Some babies can be very fussy and not sleep as much. It sounds like yours did.

Thilaga Kumar: You know what, Gina? It’s your mindset, your intention. If you are good, if your intention is good and you have confidence that everything will be okay, you can manage, then your surroundings also will fall in place. That’s what I believe in.

Gina Stracuzzi: I do too. Even on those days when I lose sight of that, then eventually I say, “Everything’s going to be fine.” Every once in a while I got a fall out of that, but no, you have an amazing mindset and such passion for helping other women. I am sure you’re going to lift millions of women. You’re going to touch them and help their careers through your passion. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for that.

Thilaga Kumar: Thank you.

Gina Stracuzzi: As we end our conversation, we like to leave our audience with a final tip from our guest, something that they can put into place today to start thinking about improving their career or escalating it. What piece of advice do you have for women that are listening?

Thilaga Kumar: Immediately, something they have to start is start listening to podcasts related to women in sales. There are a lot of women in sales forum available, including Institute for Excellence in Sales, and Girls Who Sell, and my podcast, Sell Like Her. There are a lot of women in sales podcast. Lori’s I have to mention, Conversations with Women in Sales. If you listen all this, you start getting the confidence by listening other women stories who have been succeeded in sales. That gives you confidence and courage. Also with this kind of podcast, you get a lot of knowledge related to sales skills as well. I think that’s something, if you immediately implement, that give you a boost to enter or grow in sales.

Gina Stracuzzi: Wonderful. That is great advice. We appreciate the shout out and I’m sure Lori does too. We will make sure that people have a link to Sell Like Her in the show notes. I can’t thank you enough for coming on. This has been a wonderful conversation and highly motivating. For any women that are listening in India, reach out and make sure you know Thilaga and get to know her programs and what she’s doing and let her help you build your career. Thank you very much for coming on the show and please stay in touch with us.

Thilaga Kumar: Thank you, Gina, for this opportunity. I’m honored. Thank you.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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