Watch the webinar here.
Subscribe to the Podcast now on Apple Podcasts!
Become a member of the elite Institute for Excellence in Sales.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers Panel Webinar hosted by Fred Diamond, Host of the Sales Game Changers Podcast, on May 6, 2020. It featured sales leaders Patrick Devlin (Meridian) and Jennifer Fisher (WorldStrides).]
EPISODE 232: Sales Transformation and Success Webcast as the World Re-Opens featuring Jennifer Fisher and Patrick Devlin
PATRICK’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Somebody said we’re all on the same boat with this thing but I’m a sailor and I’ll say that we’re not in the same boat, we’re in the same storm. The situation on anybody else’s boat might be very different than yours so try to really tune into that. You have some customers that are flourishing and you have some that you think might be but they’re not. The economic impact is not equal and you really do need to understand that.”
Fred Diamond: Patrick Devlin, it’s great to have you on today’s webcast. Why don’t you introduce yourself, Patrick and tell us what your top priorities are right now?
Patrick Devlin: Thank you. I think if you had given people an option of ‘all of the above’, it probably would have been the #1 choice [laughs]. My name is Patrick Devlin, I’m the Chief Business Development Officer at Meridian Knowledge Solutions in Reston, Virginia. In terms of what my top priorities are right now, I think like most, it’s our existing clients and the existing opportunities in the pipeline and making sure that you’re spending as much time as possible with those and maximizing the opportunities there.
When I talk about our existing clients, one of the things that we’re seeing as a learning platform is an explosion in utilization. We are seeing in some cases on a same store sales approach from year over year, we’re seeing individuals that are just seeing explosive growth, 3, 4, 500% type of growth. Across the board we’re seeing more like 250, 300% growth across the board with utilization, I think a lot of people are being told, “You’re at home, this is a great time for you to be catching up on your certification training, on your compliance training, that new professional development. You’re here and you’ve always wanted to get here, this is a great time to do it.”
We’re definitely seeing that so making sure that we have the infrastructure in place to make our clients look like superstars as these volumes go through the roof. The other thing that we’ve done is we have waved any licensing restrictions for this period of time so if clients want to bring on new learning communities, the sky is the limit. That’s meant a lot of good background work that we have to do to make sure that the infrastructure is in place to support it.
Fred Diamond: I remember, Patrick, when we interviewed you for the Sales Game Changers podcast, a lot of the people who commented when we posted the show said that you’re The Metaphor King. I’m not sure if you have one or two but I’ll give you a few moments to think about something as well.
Jennifer Fisher, you’re in Charlottesville, Virginia, the company is called WorldStrides. Tell us what your priorities are. You’re obviously servicing a customer that’s going through a lot of challenges right now as we all, but yours particularly so what are your priorities right now?
Jennifer Fisher: We do study abroad at colleges and universities – so yes, it’s a very tough time. However, with that being said, we have exceeded our targets in March and we’ve exceeded our targets in April so right now my top priority is to exceed our targets for May. I feel very confident that our team is going to be able to accomplish this.
Fred Diamond: Jennifer, what’s been the biggest surprise? Again, the biggest positive surprise that has happened for you coming out of this situation? I know you just said you had a great March and great April and hoping for a great May but you’ve also had to furlough some people, I guess. But from a positive perspective, again, one thing we’re trying to be here on the weekly webcast is aspirational, we’re also going to talk about some of the challenges that everyone’s dealing with, of course but give us a positive surprise that’s come out of this for you.
Jennifer Fisher: I think that one of the good things that I was very excited about is even when COVID was happening throughout China and Asia, I was keeping a very close eye on that because that does affect our business going through Europe and of course anything that comes into America, so I’m definitely keeping a close eye on it and even by the end of January going into February I was able to put together what I called my COVID Strategy, just thinking ahead, “If this happens, here’s how we’re going to react to it.” We wrote all this up hoping we don’t have to, but we obviously have, but having that all in place when things started to shift we were right on it.
We got the team going, they were motivated, they were behind it, they were excited and we were able to shift, work from home and do this or that and we had the plan, we had the road map in front of us and off we went. Because of that planning ahead of time and the strategic plans in place, that’s how we were able to establish our best March, best April and going into our best May.
Fred Diamond: Patrick, how about you? Again, you’re a pretty aspirational leader, I remember both of you actually when I did the Sales Game Changers podcast, you’re both very high-energy conversations, a lot of optimism. Patrick, for you, tell us about a positive surprise coming out of the situation or perhaps something you’re most proud of.
Patrick Devlin: I think the conversations that we’re having with our clients has probably been the most positive surprise of this whole situation because a lot of times they can be the hardest people to get in touch with, you have these built up agendas over a period of time where you want to get to this, you want to get to that and you want to do more of this and a little less of that, but then the current situation overwhelms you and you never get to these things, they always seem to be just on the back burner.
We’ve had some fantastic dialogue, our clients are so much more accessible than they’ve been in the past because they’re not getting hit from a lot of other angles so plans that we’ve had on the table for a while are now finally starting to move forward. I would say the trust that is evident in these conversations has been really positive and it’s reciprocal, and we’ve seen a lot of evidence that they appreciate the candor, the trust and the empathy that we’re showing for their situations as well. That sort of thing has been fantastic.
Fred Diamond: As a sales leader, I’m curious, for the first time in everybody’s history we know where everybody is. We know where all of our prospects are, they’re most likely at home unless they’re essential and they’re probably going to be in their office, they’re not traveling to a trade show so we know where everybody is. How are you encouraging your people to reach out to people right now knowing that? I guess you still need to be respectful, but Patrick, let’s start with you. A number of people who are listening on today’s webcast and are watching our show today have asked, “Is it okay just to call somebody because we know that they’re at home?” What are some of your thoughts on that?
Patrick Devlin: I think it’s absolutely okay to call people and the interesting thing that I’ve seen is that the ones that seem that might want the call the least, ones that are home schooling three kids or have this issue going on and all these other things, they just seem to be dying to have a conversation with an adult. I just find that you have a much longer lead in before you need to get to the business side and the conversations are longer, deeper, broader and it’s been a great relationship building exercise. I would tell people not to hesitate at all. People have caller ID, if they don’t want to talk to you they won’t pick up the phone but so far that has not been an issue for us at all.
Fred Diamond: Jennifer, along those lines, how have you changed as a sales leader? Two months ago when we started doing this webcast of interviewing sales leaders it was not uncommon to hear people say, “I’ve been through 9/11” and, “I was through the recessions of 2007-2008, so this is just another one.” This is not just another one for anyone on the planet but how have you changed as a sales leader?
Jennifer Fisher: What’s interesting, besides the obvious of working from home that everyone in the world is doing right now, in some aspects we really haven’t changed. The basics of selling hasn’t changed, the medium may have changed like we’re not sitting doing this the way we did but the basics are right there. We’re here to support our prospects, we’re here to work with our customers, share resources and again, just like Patrick was saying, we’re that trusted adviser. Again, the basics haven’t changed, we’re just doing it a little differently.
Fred Diamond: How about you, Patrick? You’ve been a sales leader for a long time, what’s changed for you? Has anything changed or do you agree with Jennifer that it’s a continuation as it were besides circumstance?
Patrick Devlin: I do agree that sales is sales and the mediums change, the situations are always different but the basics stay the same. I do think that from a leadership perspective I’m not only a sales leader but one of the corporate leaders of the organization as well. While I’ve always tried to implicitly be there for people – call it the open door policy, everybody can come in and feel comfortable talking to me about anything – I think I can say for myself and the other executive leaders of the company, we’re trying to be more explicit about that right now.
We’re reaching out to people and encouraging the conversations, we’re asking them how they’re doing. Are they having any difficulties at home? Is there anything that we can be helping with? And ensuring especially people that are not used to working at home. The sales reps, that’s not a big issue. Most of them even if they’re not today, they’ve had that experience but it’s the other support people in the organization and the marketing team and the like that aren’t used to this sort of environment, so freeing them up to know that, “If you are home schooling right now or you have a special needs child, you don’t have to be available from 9 to 5.
You need to get your work done but you can be more flexible and you can come to us with stuff.” The reaction has been terrific, the things that we’re learning, the needs that people have and the accommodations that we’ve put in place to try to make them comfortable are building long-term much more loyalty and an understanding that we care more about them than just what they’re doing at work. That’s been great.
Fred Diamond: Again, one out of five people who were polled said they’re having difficulty connecting with customers. We know what’s going on with our companies, we don’t necessarily know everything that’s going on with our customer because they’re dealing with challenges with their customer, we’re dealing with challenges with their customer. Tell us a little more about what you mentioned, the conversations that you’re having, tell us a little more about what you’re directing your people to engage, how are you telling them to have conversations and what are they hearing from their customers? Give us a little bit of a perspective – without getting into obviously intimate type things – what are your customers telling you right now? Are they as stressed as 26% of the people who took our poll? Jennifer, why don’t you go first?
Jennifer Fisher: Yes, I think they are very much stressed out, too. I will say that the biggest shift that we’re seeing and that I’ve been given a directive in working with our team on is the shift to virtual. We’re not even making phone calls, everything is through virtual. We’re doing Zoom calls with everybody, our prospecting calls are Zoom prospecting calls, we’re sending some resource emails out asking someone, “Do you want to chat, have a virtual coffee meeting? We want to see how you’re doing, what’s happening.”
Same things we’re putting with our employees, we’re working with our customers that way, too. I’ll tell you, the response has been phenomenal. Everybody loves it because I think we’re all at home, we’re balancing all sorts of things and they’re like, “I’d love to have a video conference, I’d love to chat with you over a virtual coffee” and they get a kick out of that. Then when we’re working with them over video it’s so deep, we are really building very strong relationships by that. They’re going to see us, they’re seeing our home office or our cat running by and it’s been incredible, there’s been incredible response, the team loves it, our clients love it so it’s been really good.
Fred Diamond: I want to remind people, if you have a question for Jennifer Fisher or for Patrick Devlin just submit it via the question panel, we’ll get to all your questions today. Patrick, how about you? What are you hearing from customers that they’re telling your salespeople and what’s going on with your customer base?
Patrick Devlin: You hit on it, everybody’s dealing with a different situation so if you have clients, for example, that are highly dependent upon, you have to think about their clients, their markets. If they’re highly dependent upon, for example, we have a clients whose clients are exclusively high end radiology and medical solutions, and that industry is really impacted by all this. You need to be sensitive about that and have those conversations and be proactive about it, don’t wait for them to come to you when they really have a problem and need a solution. You can predict these things and I’m learning a lot. I’ll throw out a metaphor, somebody likes to say we’re all on the same boat with this thing but I heard I’m a sailor and I heard somebody else say that we’re not in the same boat, we’re in the same storm.
The situation on anybody else’s boat might be very different than yours so we’re trying to really tune into that and I’m learning how uneven the economic impact is of what’s going on in the economy right now. You have some that are flourishing and you have some that you think might be but they’re not. The economic impact is not equal and you really do need to get to understand that. I’m being very specific right now about customers versus prospects, I said before, customers I have found to be so much easier to get in touch with right now. It’s not the same if you’re making that initial prospecting call, that initial introduction call, that has been more difficult and we’re having to get creative about that but those customer conversations have just been… I’m very curious and I look for intellectual curiosity and people who are genuinely interested in what’s going on with our clients and it’s just been fascinating for me. It’s been like having an MBA program where you’re talking to all these people in different industries and learning so much about how the broader economic drivers impact their individual businesses.
Fred Diamond: Jennifer, Patrick just eluded to people are getting almost an MBA. I remember when we interviewed you for the Sales Game Changers podcast, you got your MBA at the age of 40. We talked about –
Jennifer Fisher: [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: You said it, it’s on the transcript right here [Laughs]
Patrick Devlin: Congratulations, you just got it [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: It was last year, she just finished. I want to ask you a question about that right now. This is a unique time, everyone is at home, everyone has these opportunities, Patrick, you mentioned how people are using the opportunity to get certifications or they should be. Jennifer, again, I have an MBA as well, it’s hard work to get an MBA. What would you recommend to your sales professionals right now to get them to take their careers to the next level from a professional development perspective?
Jennifer Fisher: A couple things. One of my teammates actually did just get accepted to an MBA program and she’ll be starting at the end of August so I’m super excited for her. She took that upon herself and said, “This is the direction I want to head.” I am a big sales junkie, if you will, so I love getting my hands on any books, any webinars and I encourage that in my team. I try to lead by example so very much I’m having the team come to me with some of the things that they’ve found and let them present that to our team as a whole. Whether it’s a different strategy or, “We thought about doing this”, these are the times that we can tweak some things a little bit and try something different.
Encouraging them to look for those little nuggets, I just saw one of my other teammates just finish a course on Coursera, she finished her course on there and is super excited. I’m thrilled hearing what the team is doing, a lot of them are taking it upon themselves to use this time to better them, then come back and help us in the business and are coming back with their ideas and saying, “I learned this, can we try this? Can we do this?” Now is the time to be innovative so I’m super excited for the team.
Fred Diamond: Patrick, how about you? You’re also a big professional development guy so specifically, what would you tell some of the people listening to today’s webcast? We have people on today’s show from around the globe, sales professionals, sales leaders. What might be a specific thing or two that you would urge them to do today, May 6th, 2020 to take their careers or lives to the next level?
Patrick Devlin: In that respect, it’s not different than I ever have been with the advice that I give to my people. I often use the example, you find a lot of people in sales that might be into various competitive sports, maybe running, biking, swimming or all three or whatever hobbies, they get pretty intense about it. I ask them to think about the amount of time and effort that they put into that and just ask them to put an equal amount of time into developing what they do for a living.
Think about what magazines do you subscribe to? Do you subscribe to outdoor life and do you do this and do you do that? You need to balance that and be sure that you’re always spending just as much time outside of work with developing your skill set that you use for a profession. I think that’s a reasonable ask and that never changes for me.
Fred Diamond: A question comes in here, again, we have a lot of people here who are in the early stage of their sales career. “I’m dealing with a lot of anxiety right now and stress. What do you suggest I do as a sales professional to balance this?” Patrick, let’s start with you there. Most of the people who answered our poll in the beginning said they have concern about their job and the future of their company and then Jennifer, I’ll ask you as a follow up, what should they be doing to alleviate the stress that they’re going through?
\Again, you mentioned before they may have kids at home, there may be other things, they may have a parent that they’re concerned about. What are some of your advice for people watching today’s webcast to focus on alleviating on some of the stress they’re dealing with?
Patrick Devlin: I’ve had these conversations and part of it is just letting people know it’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to be unsure. You can’t be perfect, you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to do things and to not feel like you have to be some Rocket Gibraltar all the time, it’s okay. Then the normal stuff, quit focusing on things you can’t change. If you don’t have any control over it, then just try to put it aside and focus on the things that you can control.
Fred Diamond: Jennifer, how about you? How are you helping your team deal with the stress or anxiety that they might be going through right now?
Jennifer Fisher: Very similar with Patrick, for me personally the easiest way for focus is to focus on what I can control. Let’s not focus on, “Is college going to be back in session in the fall? When will they start study abroad programs? How is this going to impact?” That stresses me out right now thinking about that, but what I can do today right now are some basic day to day things. I want to lead by example and again, letting the team know, “Hey, we don’t have any control over what’s going to happen on the college campuses. I hope things get better soon, but we don’t have control over that.” What we do have control over right now is that we’re killing it out there with our prospects and with our clients, let’s focus one day at a time, focus on what we can control and let’s just do that one day at a time.
Fred Diamond: One thing that’s come up on the webcast is the fact that I remember the very first show that we did, one of our guests said we all have new jobs and a lot of our customers are changing how they go about their business. Jennifer, a question came in for you. “How do you see your organization, your company pivoting given the possible impacts to post-secondary institutions that may come this fall?” Again, that’s out of your control but what pivots might you see coming? Again, the markets that you serve, every day they see something new. What do you see on that sense?
Jennifer Fisher: Again, I really come back to what it is that we do on the day to day basis but with our business, the study abroad and working with college and universities, we work really far in advance so we’re actually working on programs that are traveling next spring. There’s a lot of concerns like, “Are these programs going to be able to travel in the spring?” I don’t know, we don’t know but we’re still going to work with our colleagues and we’re still going to work on these programs because there’s also a chance that they will travel. Even if they’re not back on campus in the fall which – I have a college age son, he’s home right now so I get that [Laughs] – but again, we have to come back, I’m excited because we also learned this whole virtual thing which is going really well and we’re building those connections. We have a very big industry conference coming up at the end of May so it’ll be good to see people virtually. It’s not the same but again, just focus on that day to day and there are going to be shifts, we know that, that’s part of being flexible, adaptable and being able to persevere through this.
Fred Diamond: I have a senior who’s preparing for the fall as well. Patrick, again, we’ve had to implement a lot of new sales strategies, obviously. Zoom, video, those types of technologies, everybody’s home, etcetera. With this situation we’ve been going through, how do you see that changing the way you sell moving forward? Do you see this being the standard for the next couple years? I know you don’t have a crystal ball, per se but what are some of the techniques that we’ve had to deploy over the last 6-7 weeks and how do you see that changing the way we sell moving forward?
Patrick Devlin: I heard somebody say one time, “I’m terrible at making predictions, especially on things that are going to happen in the future.” The answer is I don’t have any idea what will be permanent and how this will change. The only thing I can reflect back on is what happened after 9/11 and how much more acceptable what we’re doing right now became. It used to be that the virtual meeting were more the exception and it was viewed as somehow that you as a vendor weren’t even committed enough to the process, perhaps, because you didn’t want to come on site or something.
That’s certainly changed but at the end of the day there’s probably still not one of us here that would raise a hand and say they would value an online meeting higher than they would a face-to-face encounter. The answer is I don’t know. I do think that if anybody has ever traveled to different parts of the world that have already adapted to some of these things, I think we’ll see some of that. We all travel for a living, I think we’ll see people wearing masks a lot more often, I think we’ll see people less inclined to go to work sick, I think we’ll see more people sitting down in their plane seat and wiping everything off and just being more conscious about things of that nature, but I don’t know, really. Whenever this is really over, how much of that sticks and how much of it is just in the rear-view mirror, I don’t have any idea.
Fred Diamond: Jennifer, how about you? What are some of the things that are happening today that you think are going to stick around?
Jennifer Fisher: I spoke a little bit earlier about the basics of selling. It still comes down to me about the medium, these virtual coffees that we’re having. Many of my team members are like, “Can we continue doing this when things are back to normal?” If this is the way it works and our prospects and clients love meeting us this way, absolutely. What I also know is in general when anybody and any team goes through very tough situations like this and very tough challenges, it makes you stronger when you come out of it.
Something like this is going to make me a stronger sales leader and is going to make the sales team a much stronger sales team because we’ve learned about perseverance, flexibility and adapting. Every week we have to pivot a little bit, even on some of the strategies I’ve put in, I wasn’t expecting to go onto week 8 doing this so it’s still flowing. But again, that ability to just persevere and learn, we’re going to come out better and stronger.
Fred Diamond: What are your expectations right now, Jennifer, for your sales teams? What kind of conversations are you having with them today?
Jennifer Fisher: Probably with me and with our sales teams right now, again, it’s a tough field that we’re in right now but I lead with compassion. Compassion, open communication and dialogue, I’m thrilled we had our best March ever, our best April ever, my expectation is to have the best May ever but not at the expense of the team. It’s important that they are feeling good about what we’re doing, everyone’s going through something, they have family members who’ve been laid off or furloughed and kids working at home and home schooling, we’ve got to have that compassion. They know “my door is open”, we do teams, we have videos and if they’re struggling, they come talk to me. We’re going to work through this whether it’s personal or whether it is professional and we’re going to come up with some innovative ways to work through it. That’s the good part about it, we can be flexible, we can be innovative with our teams and I think that’s what’s so important.
Fred Diamond: Patrick, how about you? What are you talking to your team about on a daily basis? What kind of conversations are you having?
Patrick Devlin: I can tell you this, I’m having a lot more conversations. I think we talked about this earlier this week where I said the things that we were doing on a quarterly basis we’re doing on a monthly basis, the team meetings that we were doing on a monthly basis we’re doing weekly, the weeklies are now daily so all of that means that we’re creating more opportunities for collaboration and communication than we’ve ever done before. Whereas it’s more organic maybe in the past, we’re much more structured about creating those opportunities now. I think in general salespeople are resourceful, optimistic people. I expect them to stay that way and you mentioned lead with compassion, I always believe that you have to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and I think you have to be a good listener. I think perhaps now people are buying into that a little more so maybe people that were afraid to put themselves out there like that, people are finding it almost like the expectation now and maybe they’ll be more comfortable doing it in the future.
Fred Diamond: We have a question that came in here through the question panel. The question is, “What are you both doing for yourselves right now to stay sane?” You both are pretty sane people as it is but what are you doing as sales leaders? [Laughs] That’s true, there’s definitely a lot of alcohol being consumed in the sales world. Seriously, what are you both doing to keep yourselves sane, to keep yourselves healthy for your people? There’s got to be demands on you from the people who you report to and from your boards, from your C-suite. Patrick, why don’t we start with you? What are some things that you physically are doing on a daily or weekly basis to stay as sane as you can be?
Patrick Devlin: I will say this, you meet people that when they get exhausted can just take a break, I’ve never been that type of person but there’s been moments where I’ve been more fatigued and just exhausted than I’ve ever been in my life. Sometimes I just have to shut everything down and go take a nap, just lay down for a little while and understand that that’s what’s going on right now. I’ve always been very active, I play tennis, do golf, get out, I’m always doing something so I’ve set up a stationary bike and I ride my stationary bike more often, that sort of thing. I’ve actually started playing video games which I’ve never done before. I got a VR headset and I play golf, I do things like that that I’ve never done before. A little bit of everything but just not having unrealistic expectations sometimes.
Fred Diamond: Jennifer, how about you? What are you doing to take care of yourself?
Jennifer Fisher: What’s funny is obviously before all of this, I’d be at the office and I’m a very high-energy person and I absolutely love what I do, so put those together. I’m the kind of person that’s always coming home late for dinner because I’m like, “I love this, let me finish this up” or, “Let me have one more call with our client or helping our teammate”, I absolutely love it. Now that I came home and I’m working from home, I can easily work 24/7 because I love what I do and I’m so excited, I’m always coming up with ideas. I really did have to put some boundaries on my home time because even now, I’m still working hard and bless my husband, he’s like, “I’m still waiting for you to come to the table” but at the end of the day I have to say, “Okay, let’s step away and walk from my little office into the kitchen. Let’s sit down, have a family dinner and watch TV” and I have to force myself to do it mainly because I just love what I do. You have to put some of those boundaries in there.
Patrick Devlin: Fred, if I could, I also had to because I do a lot of working from home even though I’m in the office. I generally do it on the dining room table and I did find that it was really important to go reestablish an office like when I worked from home full time, have an office, that’s where my work computer is, that’s where everything else is and then to turn it off and get out of there. You were saying the same sort of thing, you do have to establish those boundaries.
Jennifer Fisher: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: What are going to be the challenges that sales professionals are going to need to deal with over the course of the next week and how do you suggest that they deal with it?
Jennifer Fisher: Again, it’s focus on the basics, focus on what we do day to day, we do it very well, this is what we need to do. Not only focus but now we actually will be making sure that we execute flawlessly. If we stay focused and execute, we’re going to be phenomenal. We’re going to continue to exceed our targets and just continue to be a very strong team. I couldn’t have asked for anything else.
Fred Diamond: Patrick, how about you?
Patrick Devlin: To take it a little outside the box, I think one of the biggest challenges we’re going to be dealing with over the next week is actually the change in the weather. I think everybody has been so restless and I think they’ve been able to put a cap on it, they’ve been able to monitor their behavior and do all the right things and stay home. I think it’s going to be really difficult for them to keep doing that. So far, fingers crossed, we’ve done very well in terms of everybody staying healthy and safe and that’s a big challenge I think that everybody’s going to be dealing with, not just salespeople but I think people are going to want to get out of the house. Hopefully, I want everybody to do it safely and keep their priorities straight.
Fred Diamond: Once again, Jennifer Fisher and Patrick Devlin, thank you so much for the great ideas, the great insights today. My name is Fred Diamond, thank you so much to all the viewers and listeners on today’s webcast, it’s been great talking to you both. Everybody, stay safe and keep focusing on your sales. Thank you so much.
Jennifer Fisher: Thank you, Fred. Thank you, Patrick. Take care.
Patrick Devlin: Thank you.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo