EPISODE 369: Cox Business Sales Leader Tiffany Markus Shares How Putting Yourself Out There is the First Step to Success

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales LIVE Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on June 1, 2021. It featured the Cox Business Sales Leader Tiffany Markus.]

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TIFFANY’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Have the confidence to put yourself out there. If you aren’t in the game, you can’t get selected. You can’t sit on the sidelines, and this is not just for women in sales. These are things I tell my closest friends or people that come to me for advice. Remember, you have all of your successes backing you up. You wouldn’t have come this far if you weren’t that person. Put yourself out there for opportunities. Even if you’re not selected, you’re going to learn a lot. You’re going to get the feedback and the next time around, you’re going to be better positioned. It all starts with you putting yourself out there.”


Gina Stracuzzi: I am ready to introduce my guest, Tiffany Markus, who is Director of Mid-Market Sales for Cox Business. I’ve really been looking forward to having her on the show. I am really excited to welcome my guest, Tiffany. Tiffany, nice to see you.

Tiffany Markus: Nice to see you too, Gina. Thanks for having me today.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, thank you. I know it’s pretty early on the West Coast after a long weekend. As I was pulling myself out of bed this morning, I was thinking, “It’s going to be so early for her.” I appreciate you being up and ready to go.

Tiffany Markus: That’s right.

Gina Stracuzzi: Before we get into our conversation about your sales strategy for success and selling, and different ways women in sales can help themselves, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are today?

Tiffany Markus: I did not have a sales background coming into my first role. I’d recently graduated from college in Ohio. It’s a funny story, if you don’t mind, I’ll share.

Gina Stracuzzi: Please.

Tiffany Markus: I was living with my mom at the time, and this was back when we found jobs in newspapers, if everyone still remembers what those are.

Gina Stracuzzi: I do.

Tiffany Markus: Okay. My mom found a job and she said, “Go interview.” It was right down the street, and it was Time Warner Cable Business Class. I go in and I’m ready. I have my resume and my little leather folio that someone gifted me for graduation. I’m looking around and it’s all of these, I’ll be honest, mostly men, who I assumed had resumes that were much more detailed and robust than mine.

I immediately started to doubt myself. I was just about to get back on that elevator and leave, and I remember the HR representative coming out and saying, “Tiffany, you’re next.” There was no turning back. It was great because it was my first experience with really having to put myself out there and just be yourself, show them what you can do.

I didn’t know what DSL was, let alone broadband at the time. I talked a lot about the things that I did in college, and how those things translated. Long story short, I ended up getting the job and it ended up starting my seven-year career with Time Warner.

Led me to then Comcast Business in Chicago, which is where I entered into leadership. Then ultimately, being recruited to join Cox Business in San Diego. It was all just thanks to mom and the newspaper.

Gina Stracuzzi: You got to listen to moms. As I tell my daughter all the time, who’s in college.

Tiffany Markus: That’s right. Mother knows best, I’ve learned that.

Gina Stracuzzi: Tell me, what did you study in school? Did you think you would end up in sales?

Tiffany Markus: I was a communication major. I started in education, I should say that I always wanted to be a teacher, because I love children. I volunteered at the local daycare, and I was so stressed out after going to school all day that I learned very quickly if I wanted to have a family of my own, I really couldn’t be around kids all day and then have to take that home.

I remember talking to my aunt about what should I do, and changing my major. We landed on communications. When you’re a comm major, there are several avenues. You can take PR, you can go marketing. I at the time wanted to be an event planner, that was my next dream.

I worked in the restaurant industry, which looking back, it was sales. I say I didn’t have the traditional sales experience, but I worked at a higher end establishment in the Cincinnati area. I learned a lot about food and wine and beer, and all of that good stuff. I had to sell those products to my customers and upsell their checks.

Ultimately, that was the avenue I was pursuing. Then I remember my aunt saying something to me about, “Hey, do you want to be planning the parties, or do you want to be attending them?” Both are great, it just depends on where you fit. I thought, “Well, I want to be attending the parties.”

I’d much rather be attending as a guest than planning. That’s where I decided, okay, let’s look a different direction. The sales thing honestly terrified me a little bit, because everybody thinks of sales almost in a negative where you’re immediately going to cold calling and facing rejection. It’s all these really ugly things we don’t want to feel.

What I ultimately learned is that there’s a whole other end of that, which is being able to help people, make their businesses more successful, or their personal lives more successful. When you focus on that, I think ultimately you start to turn that negative perception into a positive. It’s interesting, the journey getting here, but when I think back it all makes sense considering what I selected.

Gina Stracuzzi: I ask pretty much everyone that same question about how did you get into sales, because almost without fail, it’s this crazy route. Then they get there and it’s like, yes, this all makes sense, as you say. Almost always too, it’s the same.

They have this trepidation over sales for whatever reason, either bad connotation or they fear rejection, or whatever the case is. But as you say, it’s the service and the value that you bring to it that makes you successful, and is so rewarding. Let’s capitalize on that topic a little bit, and let’s talk about what your three main sales strategies are, and how they help you with being successful.

Tiffany Markus: All right. When I hear that question, Gina, I immediately go to the fundamentals of sales, because it doesn’t matter where you are in your sales career. I’ve managed an enterprise sales team. I now work in the mid-market space, so we’re hiring a lot of individuals that this may be their first opportunity in sales.

They’re trying this out for the first time, so we do a lot of focus around development and what can help you build a successful career. I would say first and foremost when you think about the sales fundamentals, running an effective first appointment is the first thing that jumps out. That first time you’re meeting with a client, capitalizing on hey, this really isn’t your show.

You’re there to listen. You’re there to ask intelligent questions. You’re there to probe, to not only learn more about their business, but challenges that they’re having. We’ve created a roadmap that our sellers use to make sure that they’re hitting on all those key components, so that they can fully understand an opportunity.

Number two, and this is something that I would say it’s rubber stamped on everybody’s forehead is get the next step. Anytime you’re interviewing, I’m sure you hear it a lot. You’re meeting with a client, never, ever leave that meeting without a next action step. I’m big in doing analogies with my team, and the one that I use a lot for this is a relay race.

If you don’t have somebody to pass the baton to in the race, what happens? It falls apart. The race ends. When you think about moving a deal forward or an opportunity forward, if there’s not that next action step continuing the momentum, guess what? You lose the deal. Sometimes you just lose the status quo, but things tend to slow down.

Then number three, I would say don’t underestimate your instincts. I think it’s one of those things that happens a lot where people think, okay, so we talk about fundamentals and we talk about the textbook stuff. They feel like instincts and personality and all of that, push that to the side. That’s a big part of why people buy.

Just instincts for connection. I tell my team all the time, all things being equal, we compete against our indirect channel a lot, essentially selling the same solutions. However, the differentiator in that is yourself. Remember, make that connection with your buyer, trust your instincts.

If something feels like hey, this person needs a little more of this, then I’d say go for it. Those would be my three. The fundamentals of a first appointment, next steps, and then trust your instincts and be yourself.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love all three of those. We don’t hear necessarily a great deal about making sure that you get that second appointment or second action step. It’s all about making sure the call went well, and you got this. But if you don’t do that last piece, and I’m guilty of this myself.

Sometimes I’ll have this great conversation with somebody around the forum or whatever we’re talking about. They’re going to present it to somebody, and I’m just so hyped up that I go, “Okay, great.” Then I hang up and go, “Right. I should have said, what are we talking next?” Or whatever the next step is. So I really applaud that.

The trust your intuition piece is so critical. It’s something that we teach in the forum, we have a whole session around it. Learning to trust your intuition, especially for women because I think we’re dialed into it a lot more. Yet, the little voice in our head that says we don’t necessarily want to put that out there. My intuition is telling me, or my gut is telling me, so we sit on it.

That’s a nice transition into what I’d like to talk to you about next, which is within your teams, what do you see some of the biggest challenges are that women are facing? Either just cultural-wise, or sales culture-wise, or their own reluctance or whatever the case is. What do you see that might be holding women back?

Tiffany Markus: I’ll preface it by saying these are my personal opinions. I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily reflective of our culture at Cox. That’s my disclaimer on the answer.

As far as my views and what I can tell you from my own experience is for some reason, no matter how accomplished, how many years we have in a specific field, there’s this lack of confidence. I think I hit on it in my first answer to you about my background, where I walked into that interview experience. It was like an open recruitment call.

Honestly, I think the fact that my lack of experience wasn’t a hurdle for me, it was when I saw all those men and I thought, that’s who I’m competing against. For some reason, we think we think because we’re female we’re not going to be taken seriously, or we’re not going to have that same credibility.

Candidly, I’ve read articles about this. Men tend to be more confident and boastful about themselves in situations where they’re less qualified. Not every man, but a lot of men don’t seem to have that issue. That’s something that I’ve faced a lot.

My boss teases me that I have a chip on my shoulder, but I do and that’s where my scrappy grit comes from. You can’t help that when you’re in that environment. Especially, maybe some of it is too just being the minority. When you look at most executive panels. I’ve been to various events at companies.

I look up on the stage at the big sales kickoff, and it’s mostly men. You just keep seeing that and so that tends to be like okay, that’s who is deserving of that top position. When you’re conditioned to see that, again, that to me is probably the biggest challenge we face. I think companies are doing a great job of making sure everybody has a seat at the table.

Not only in terms of gender diversity, but also in ethnicities, and LGBTQ and all of that. I think Cox especially really embraces that, but that aside, it doesn’t matter what a company strategy is if you don’t believe it in yourself. That’s where I’ve really focused on trying to do a lot of work personally.

I see it a lot, and some of my best friends have gone through hiring or interviewing during the pandemic because they were furloughed. I would point out job descriptions, and my friend would go, “I’m not qualified.” Then it’s like, “Well, okay, but do you meet the majority of the qualifications?”

Obviously, we don’t want to go in and apply for jobs that are four levels above, and we don’t have experience. I think ultimately women are just like, “Man, if we don’t have every little thing figured out…” Even then when we do, if we know there’s seven men in the running, we’re still going to feel a little bit inferior.

It could just be my age, too. I think one thing that’s refreshing is the younger generation, it gets better and better. They’re raised differently by a different set of parents who had a different mindset. I’m hoping it’s one of those things that we evolve to overcome over the next 20, 30 years.

Gina Stracuzzi: I hope so too. That’s what I keep saying. I’m going to work myself out of a job. At the leadership forum we really hit on all of these things, and my goal is to not be needed anymore. Alice has a question. She would like to know what the transition from sales to sales leadership was like for you.

Tiffany Markus: At the time, some of that had to do with the company. It was uncomfortable. I wouldn’t say that it was all hearts and rainbows. I think what advice I would give is first think about, all right, you’re likely selected because you have pure leadership traits.

If you’re an internal promotion, because mine was internal, then clearly the company saw something in you that separated you from your peers and gave them that trust and confidence in you that you could lead that team. Then secondly, focus on what you can do well, which is close deals. Typically, we’re not promoting average sales players to leaders. We’re promoting top performers.

The one thing that really stands out, I remember my old director told me this at Comcast Business, “You know what success looks like, so your job is to model success for that team.” When you think about that, and I tell my leaders this a lot that work for me. Don’t worry about all the other fancy-schmancy stuff in leadership.

Just focus on going in there, showing them what success looks like, helping them win deals. They’re going to trust you once they see you run through a wall for them. For me, that helped me the most in terms of really gaining confidence in what I was doing. I learned a lot along the way, and then ultimately becoming a director is a whole other level of leadership leading other leaders.

In the beginning, have confidence in yourself and why you’re selected. Just focus on showing the team what success looks like, because you’re going to hit your number. It’s like that book, The Score Takes Care of Itself. Just focus on getting in there, getting the deals done and you’re going to hit the number. Then your team’s going to trust you and over time, you’re going to gain all the other experiences that you need.

Gina Stracuzzi: Perfect. Louise says, “Love Tiffany sharing that she wants to attend the party, and to help the customer. With that focus, it puts even more power into trusting your intuition and instincts.” Then she said, “Can you tell us about the use of a mentor, male or female?”

Tiffany Markus: Yeah. I would say for me, this is my personal experience. The informal mentors in my life have been far more influential than the structured relationships that I’ve had. That doesn’t mean you don’t seek out those programs when they’re available. It goes back to the instincts.

It’s like friends or other people that we have in our lives, you’re going to be gravitated towards certain people that you really connect with, or you respect their style or how they approach their business. When I think back to that first sales position that I had, I’ll be candid, I wasn’t doing so well. It was thanks to my teammates at the time, there were two gentlemen that I worked with that took me under their wing and let me go on appointments with them and debrief them.

They would support me, and they’d be there and they’d hear my calls. That was just something that came organically. I think back, had I not had that, I don’t know if I would have stayed in sales. I was struggling. My boss was spread thin at the time, because this was the early days of cable B2B, it was a big team was one manager. That was one point.

When I think of changing into leadership, a lot of the folks that have impacted me have just been people that have just come into my orbit organically. I highly recommend it. The other thing, and you probably hear this a lot is think about the differences between mentors and sponsors.

I would say from a formal standpoint, getting a sponsor is where I believe you have to have that conversation, and make sure that that person does vouch for you. That’s not something you want to assume hey, X, Y, Z has a really great opinion of me so that person is going to vouch for me.

It’s okay to reach out and say, “Hey, can I have a one on one with you?” And in the meeting, “These are some goals I have. Would you be willing to advocate for me?” Making sure there’s somebody in the room that’s representing you when you’re not there in a positive way.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s really great advice. Thank you for your questions, Louise and Alice. You’re absolutely right, Tiffany. We speak about this a lot too, I keep going back to the forum. We really have a whole session on that too, because it really is so fundamentally important that you have both, whether they’re formal or informal mentors.

But the sponsors, people who are willing to pull you up and make sure you get that visibility. You really do have to advocate for those people to come in and vouch for you, because as you rightly pointed out, you can’t just assume that they will even if they know how great you are.

Tiffany Markus: I would just add too, one thing I say a lot is no one is going to care more about your career and your success than you. That doesn’t mean your company doesn’t love you, and it won’t invest resources, but you have to be your own advocate. That’s where the confidence thing sometimes hurts us.

Having that conversation, you have to own that. Not just making assumptions with sponsors, but in everything. Get the feedback that you need. Make sure that you’re meeting the expectations. Just something to reinforce there, because I see that a lot where folks are like, “Well, I’m internal, so I don’t need to prep as much for that interview for promotion.”

You’re assuming that that person has worked with you side by side, and sees everything that you’re doing and they might not. So making sure that you’re advocating for yourself all the time.

Gina Stracuzzi: Right. One piece of advice that I really love to give people, especially younger people is although it’s never too late to start this, keep track of your own wins and efforts and initiative that you took. Be able to go into a meeting for a promotion or a raise, or even a meeting with a potential sponsor and say, “These are the things I’ve done.”

Busy managers can barely remember what they did last week, let alone what you did last quarter. You’ve got to be able to document and then advocate for yourself. Yeah, and it goes right to your point, Tiffany, that really you have to be your own biggest advocate. That is really, really great advice.

Let’s talk about when you made the transition, did you ever feel a little less than confident that you were on the right track, and that you were going to be successful? That people, your peers, and maybe people on the lateral side that were in different areas were respecting you enough? How did how did you feel? What did you do to keep yourself feeling strong and confident and moving forward, so that you continue to grow?

Tiffany Markus: I think rather than focusing on all of the things that you need to learn, really put the focus on what you do well in terms of maintaining confidence. Remember, you were selected for a reason, and that’s something that I did a lot. I’m also really inspired by – I read a lot of books. A lot of Brené Brown type stuff about just being brave, and putting yourself out there.

It sounds cheesy, but even just motivational quotes. I’m a big believer in mantras and manifestation. One thing that I’ll just say that I’ve always struggled with is I’m a big personality, and that tends to come through in the workplace. I put the label on it, not emotion, but passion. I’m a very passionate individual.

In knowing that, there’s been some conversations that I’ve had, or times when I’ve been a little bit more passionate than maybe I should have been. I’ve worked with an executive coach, and she gave me the phrase ‘stay in your power.’ Meaning that my power is my ability to still be passionate, but also to rein it in a little bit and remember that it’s not really who gets that last word in all the time. It’s just to say your piece and move on.

It’s inspired me so much. It’s my peloton user name. I keep it in notebooks. It sounds crazy, but thinking back to that time I made the transition all the way through now, when you have something like that, that you can go back to that reminds you of those things, it can come to your mind in that moment that you need it.

Unfortunately, you’re going to have those times. You may make a mistake. I’ve certainly stumbled along the way, but having that is something that brings you back. Then lastly, again, sounds silly. Take great care of yourself. At the end of the day, we work. We put all this into our careers, so that we can enjoy ourselves when we’re not working. Many people forget that.

The other piece of it is you’re not going to be able to show up as your best self if you’re not taking care of yourself. Making sure again, something I do, just making sure you’re eating a balanced diet, drinking lots of water. Not drinking coffee all day long, so that I’m completely wired and fried by two o’clock.

Not necessarily worrying about exercise, but just moving your body. Get up and walk around. Get some vitamin D and some sun. Just those little things too. It’s amazing how those little things that you can do every day are going to affect your ability to show up and be your best self.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. I think, especially for women, this pandemic has been just this avalanche of extra things that take up our time. I have a lot of friends with small children and big careers, and they really were at wit’s end over the last year trying to make it all work with everybody at home.

When we lost that outside piece, there’s a very big social nature to work. I too struggle with the passionate piece, and I have to walk around and talk to myself. If you are somebody that’s really struggled to make everything work over the last year and change, that taking care of yourself piece is so critical.

And women are notoriously bad at that, we always put ourselves last. I don’t know if you’ve started your family yet, but it just happens. That is really good advice, and I hope you’ll continue to take it for yourself as things change.

We’ve got about five minutes left. Let’s talk about what you would like to do next with your career, and how you would like to help elevate more women along the way. Just what you would like to see happen for women in sales, and bringing more women to the leadership table even.

Tiffany Markus: As far as next steps, I’m very happy with what I’m doing today. There’s a couple different options for me. I love working for Cox Business, they don’t pay me to say that part of it. I feel at home here, so my hope is that I can continue to grow and evolve within the Cox organization.

Just a little plug here, the cool thing about Cox is there are so many different entities within the CEI Cox enterprises umbrella. If you get a start maybe in my organization on the B2B side Cox Business, and that is under the communications arm, you may say, “I want to go to media next.” Advertising both on TV and online, or maybe you want to venture over to Cox automotive. Get into software sales, or work for one of the Manheim auction houses.

There are so many different places that you can go to get different experiences. My next step would be market vice president potentially, or a senior director of a sales channel. Hopefully, I can do something like that. I’d love to get back into the enterprise space again, and working with some of our largest accounts.

We have some in the mid-market, but not what I was used to experiencing in my previous role at Comcast. Hopefully that’s something that’s in my future. As far as other women, I will say my goal is always to hire the best person for the role, but keeping in mind that we always have a diverse team. My theory with sales is your customers don’t look alike. Your customers aren’t the same gender, they don’t have the same mindset.

When you have a diverse team, that’s just going to put you in the best position to be successful, because you want to mirror your buying community. It also just, again, diversity of thought. I want to be challenged. I want to look at things differently. I always have my eye out for that, but I do various things that bring women together in a way that doesn’t exclude others.

We stole the name off of a LinkedIn group, selling in heels. We use that locally, and it’s just an opportunity for all the women leaders, sales leaders, sales representatives in the office to come together. We haven’t done as much since we’ve been home, unfortunately, but back in the office we would listen to a webinar like this together, then have lunch and discuss it after.

Or we’d do a development exercise on refining our personal brand. It’s just an opportunity for us to really come together and have these conversations. That’s, I think, a big part of it. If you’re not talking about it, you don’t have that awareness. I just think that those conversations have really helped women figure out what is that next step for them.

Maybe it just empowered them to feel more confident in the roles that they were in. I’d love to continue doing more work around that. Again, I see myself as an advocate for all people, really. I want to bring together all various groups.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, it sounds like you’ve got the right mindset and it sounds like Cox is really a great place to work. That’s the thing. I think if people are genuinely open to diversity and equity, these things will happen. The more conversations that we have that bring in these diverse ideas, people will feel more empowered to speak up and share their ideas and get the visibility they need to rise up in a corporation.

I applaud what you’re doing and what Cox is doing. In our last few minutes, do you have a singular piece of advice that’s actionable immediately that you would suggest to women in sales, who are looking to keep growing the career or get stronger?

Tiffany Markus: We talked about it a couple different times, really having the confidence, putting yourself out there. If you aren’t in the game, you can’t get selected. You can’t sit on the sidelines, and this is not just for women in sales. These are things I tell my closest friends or people that come to me for advice.

Have the confidence. Remember, you have all of your successes backing you up. You wouldn’t have come this far if you weren’t that person. Really believe that and putting yourself out there. You may not win 100% of the time. I shared with Gina last week when we spoke.

I put myself out there for an opportunity recently, and I wasn’t selected. It’s never easy. Nobody enjoys having to not be selected, but I learned so much in the process. I feel so good about how I showed up and I connected with some amazing leaders in our business. Hopefully, the next time an opportunity comes around that I’m interested for, I’m better prepared and I’m seen as somebody that’s been through that experience before.

To me, it’s a no-lose situation. Even if you’re not selected, you’re going to learn a lot. You’re going to get the feedback and the next time around, you’re going to be better positioned. It all starts with you have to put yourself out there.

You don’t wait for somebody to tap you on the shoulder to say, “Hey, we want you to apply for this job.” That rarely happens. I work with our talent acquisition folks on a regular basis, and they’re not always going to be going through those tack ranks of the internal folks picking people. You’ve got to really be putting yourself out there.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. I’m really glad you shared that story, because as you say, you learned a great deal. You now have visibility at a higher level because you’ve been in front of these people. They now know who you are, you’re on their radar. That is a perfect example of how you can learn, even if you didn’t get the situation. We have one last question from Marie. She wants to know if you have a book on leadership or sales that you really like that you can suggest.

Tiffany Markus: Well, one sales book that I really like that I have had my team read is called Fanatical Prospecting. I don’t want to butcher the gentleman’s name, but it’s Jeb Blount. It’s very direct, very to the point whether you’re a professional starting off, or you’re really in need of a refresh.

If you’ve been in the industry for a while, I highly recommend it because he does a lot of really great work. He has a podcast, and he has lots of articles that he puts out. Just a lot of great stats on, again, goes back to those fundamentals that I talk about. Then from a leadership standpoint, Brené Brown is one of my favorite authors. She has one, Rising Strong. What I love, there’s a story in that book where she talks about a marketing company where the team doesn’t win the bid. The leader takes ownership and accountability.

That even gives me chills saying it, because that is how I lead. That’s how I coach my managers to lead is look, if a sales professional on my team makes a mistake, I own that as much as them, the buck stops with me is my mindset. We’re going to be able to build stronger relationships and trust each other more when we all know we all have a stake in this.

I’m not going to sit here and pick you apart because you made the mistake, you’re part of my team. I highly recommend that. She has lots of personal examples as well, but great process for overcoming obstacles, dealing with failure. I highly recommend that.

Gina Stracuzzi: Wonderful. Well, I can’t thank you enough, Tiffany, for gracing us with your time. This has been a fabulous conversation. I hope Cox knows how lucky they are to have you. You’re a great lead, and I hope you’ll come back and visit us sometime and we can continue to grow the relationship. Thank you so much, and thank you everyone for joining us. We’ll see you next week. Take care.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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