Why Jill Konrath advices sales people to act like project managers?

Jill Konrath is a bestselling sales author & speaker with fresh sales strategies. Jill Konrath’s career is defined by her relentless search for fresh sales strategies that actually work in today’s business environment.

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This is Samir Penkar from the Future of Project Management. Welcome today. Today, we are going to talk to Jill Konrath. She’s a best-selling author and sales speaker with Fresh Sales Strategies. If you are wondering why we have Jill on the call today on this webinar, it is because there is a large amount of project managers, and program managers like us that can learn from sales.

 So, I invited Jill to talk to us a little bit about how these two domains interface and what you can learn from each other. So, it’s going to be an interesting talk. Thank you, Jill, for making it.

 I’m glad to be here.

 Jill, this is sort of unusual, but for someone like a sales person to be on our project management blog, but you want to start off by, probably telling our audience what you do and giving them a reference, basically, of the kind of things that you do?

 What I’m doing, primarily, today is working with business to business sales organizations, the ones that sell to the corporate world as opposed to consumers. I’m helping their sales people understand what it takes to deal with today’s crazy busy prospects and customers because it’s a real challenge that’s impacting all their work. It makes it hard for them to set up meetings with these people. It makes it harder for people to change from the status quo because change just takes more work and they’re already so overwhelmed. It makes it harder for them to differentiate themselves from competitors because busy people prefer to just look at costs as opposed to what’s different, if at all possible.

 So, what I’m working on right now is waking people up to what does it take to deal effectively with crazy busy people.

 And, you know, we as project managers, in fact, we are crazy busy most of the time, getting our projects done and working with the teams and following up and these kind of things. Well, the crazy busy part is common.

 So, you understand crazy busy from your perspective, but you also have to deal with crazy busy people as well, and you have to get your work done through those people, right?

 I mean, you need to get their approvals, you need to get them in meetings, you need to get their attention sometimes, and you need to get them to do what you want them to do as opposed to everything else that’s on their plate, too. It’s always a real challenge when you are dealing with somebody who’s got way too much work to do and not enough time to get it done.

 Yes. And I understand you have written a number of books?

 Yes, I have written several books. The two that I’m most well-known for in the sales field, one is called “Selling to Big Companies” and it’s about helping sales people, even set up meetings with these busy decision makers. Then, the second one is called “Snap Selling” and it’s how to deal with the frazzled customer. So, those are the two.

 And “Snap” is my most recent one, which is why I’m focusing so much on the crazy busy right now. It’s all about dealing with the short attention spans and the heavy work loads.

 Great. You know a project manager, and I’m a project manager, we have to sell, too, if you think about what we do, we have to sell to our teams. We have sell things like risk management is better to do, it’s good for the project, and you need to do it. You need to accurately report your time, your task. These kinds of things. Do you see any similarities between sales and project managers?

 I see a whole lot of similarities, probably, more than you do.

 First of all, I want to address one dissimilarity or one misconception before we go further. Usually, when I talk to people who are in service positions, internal service positions within organizations, like a project manager where you have to manage and run people or get things done on time. You look at a person who is a sales person, and I got to tell that most people that I talk to their stomach just goes into a queasy feeling and they go, I hate sales people. They call on me; they just pitch. I hate them and I’m never ever going to be like one of those people. So, don’t tell me I have to sell anything.

 What I want to say anybody who has that feeling and hates selling, that’s good because you hate bad selling and that’s the absolute worst of my profession. When you are working with a seasoned professional, somebody who has done well for a period of years, it feels like you are in the hands of an expert who is simply there to take care of you and help you achieve your objectives. I think anybody who’s listening would agree that that’s kind of what they do. That they are seasoned professionals who take good care of projects and help things get done on time so companies can achieve their goals. That’s exactly what a sales person does, a good sales person. It’s not somebody who is pushy; it’s somebody who is entirely focused on helping their client achieve their goals.

 That’s what I would say as I need to tell people right up front what you are doing if you are working with your client to achieve their goals is you are, if you are doing your job well, you are  selling and you are engaging them in the process. You are getting them involved; you’re asking good questions to understand the impact of it. You are working with people to help them understand how they will benefit from doing some of the things that you think need to get done and getting them enrolled in doing what you want to do. Enrollment is about engaging people in moving toward a common goal, which is what sales is.

 And we as project managers at times have to interface with vendors or other consultants, and sometimes we see them in that sort of, as you said the selling mode. And at times there are few who make us feel like you said, we don’t want to deal with them, and my God, he’s going to call me again tomorrow to see where the proposal is.

 Right. Right. And there are some that are into harassment, and you need to remember those are the ones who are doing it wrong.

 Those are the ones who are doing it poorly. The good ones are the ones that you are going to call on the phone and say, “Can you come in, and we’ve got this problem here?” Or the good ones will call you up and say, “I’ve been thinking about the project that you are working on and one of the things we had proposed is this, but the more I thought about it the more I thought this probably is not the best solution and you’d be better be off doing this. It will cost you less money, but it will be faster to implement and we can get you up and running on time.”

 That’s what a good salesman would do.


 They are a problem solver. They are an idea person. They are somebody who’s working toward helping their customers achieve an end goal. That’s all they’re doing.

 And as I think about being project manager, what we do well, we are very alert, we are much disciplined, we have good project plans, we follow our goals, and we are good at tracking things. In fact, now, we are leaders of our team. Those are very good qualities in a person. So, let’s say someone like us, like a project manager or a program manager, wants to turn this into a sales job. So, what advice would you give them, where should we start?

 Let me tell you what advice I’m giving sales people right now, because you will laugh when you hear this.

 Samir:   [laughs]

 The biggest challenge for sales people right now, aside from getting in and setting up a meeting, the biggest challenge is in working with customers who can’t decide if they want to change or not. The good ones don’t want to be pushy. They want to ensure it’s a good fit and makes a good decision. So, the message I am giving them at all times today is don’t think of yourself as a sales person, think of yourself as a project manager.

 Are you?

 I actually tell sales people that and they say project manager, why? I say because if you think of yourself as a project manager, you will already position yourself as working on a project and you won’t be holding things back, you will just be actually starting to work with a customer as if they’d hired you. And you will be bringing them ideas, and you will be showing them the plans, and you will be laying things out step by step, and you’ll be trying to take care of the process.

 Busy people need somebody to guide them through a decision process. They need somebody who is organized and says, “Don’t worry, this is a complex decision, but we’re going to start here and I’ll take care of this and then the next phase we have to do is we have to do this, and we need to bring in these five people and then we need to do this.”

Now, isn’t that what a project manager does?   

 Yes. Yes.

 Well, that’s what a sales person needs to do today. They need to take on that leadership role so that the people they are working with actually feel like they are in the good hands of an expert. Many of the skills that people have right now are identical to what the best sales people have. What the people who are project managers today don’t have is they don’t know how to get into an account.

They’re on the outside going, huh, I’d really love to get into General Mills. They are a big company and they could hire me for a lot of things.

 You don’t know how to do that. The reality of it is you have to actually, again, people put on their sales hat and they think they are going to call up, but they don’t want to be too pushy so they say something like, “Hi, Samir, this is Jill Konrath calling. I’m the sales rep for or their account executive for this company, and we specialize in offering this and this and this, and I’d love to come in and set up a time to talk with you and find out how you are currently doing things.” Now, this is a very gracious nice approach, right?


 How many times have you heard that? When you are on the receiving end, how many sales people say that same thing to you?

 Yeah, a lot of them do that.

 A lot of them do.


 And what do you do when you hear that? Do you delete them quickly?

 Yeah. I kind of tune out, I think. [laughs]

 Yes, exactly. Bingo, exactly. So, that’s what people who are trying to be nice and not be sales-y, they try to do that, “Hi, this is Jill, I’m the account executive with XYZ, we specialize in, I’d love to meet with you to find out how you’re doing and share with you what we can do.” Anybody who’s listening in who’s a project manager says, “I don’t have time to listen to that crap, and their finger is on the delete button, whether it’s through an email or a voicemail, and they get rid of the person as fast as possible.

 The key to being good today in getting into an account and setting up a meeting with somebody is to be very professional, that showcases your expertise. For example, if I was calling your company and I might say something like this. “Samir, this is Jill Konrath calling. I’ve been doing some research on your company. I understand that you have some significant growth plans in the upcoming year. I suspect your sales people are somewhat challenged in how to get their foot in the door. I’ve got a lot of experience that might make a difference. Can we set up a time to talk?”

 It sounds like a peer calling. So, really, it’s about bringing your expertise to a customer as opposed to trying to pitch any products or services.

 Right, yeah. That’s more appealing. That’s dealing with the problem I have today. I’m more likely to give you a call if you tell me something like that.

 Right. Or if I would say,” Samir, I’ve been working with other project managers who are similar to you and one of the things we’ve been able to do is speed up their processes by 26.2%. You’d go whoa, how’d they do that?” All I’m doing is I’m sharing valuable information that makes you on the other end go, whoa, that’s interesting and get curious.

 That’s what people would need to learn is they would need to learn how to use and leverage their expertise to set up meetings. But, otherwise, a project manager has many, many, many, many skills, but are exactly what highly successful sales people do. It is true that I tell people to be a project manager today.

 Great. That’s very encouraging to hear. A lot of projects today, the majority of projects today are also getting done by consultants or freelancers. These are not folks who are employees of the company. They come in, they execute the projects and they’re out. And one thing that I see that is common between sales and project managers is this need to build credibility and the need to build that credibility fast.

 So, do you have any specific tactics or strategies or what we can share for project managers who want to build this credibility and build it quickly, especially in these kind of situations?

 Yes, I do. What I would suggest is a couple things, that you think about how to describe some of the problems that you have solved through your customers and you create what I call a tell-me-more story. Where you explain briefly, we were working with another business who was dealing with a similar situation. Here are the problems that they were facing and they wanted to… And as a result of working with them, we put this in place and very little detail about the work you did.

 And by the way, that’s the biggest downfall that people who are project managers want to do is because they are detail oriented. They want to tell every fricking thing they ever did on the project. And all you need to, basically, do is say we worked with them, we did a project with them and as a result of the project, they were able to accomplish this, this and this. That’s what people want to hear and that’s what establishes credibility. Nothing about your degrees or your certifications or all the companies that you’ve worked for, or anything.

 What they want to know is that you have worked with other people who are similar to them on similar type projects and the more you can align with that, the better. The more you can showcase in your explanation of your story… and your story shouldn’t be longer than a couple minutes, but it should showcase that you understand the problem, what your customer wanted to achieve, they were struggling with and as a result here’s what the outcomes were.

 That kind of thing builds exceptional credibility quickly. It’s not bragging, its results oriented and it’s focused on what’s true. The key thing is practicing the story ahead of time so that you can leave out all the excruciating details and only hone in on what somebody who you are trying to impress might be really interested in. The details, they can get those later if they want.

 Secondarily, I’d say the other way that is probably most important in the long run to develop credibility is the ability to ask good questions and insightful questions. It’s not about talking, it’s about coming to the people that you are talking with and using questions that actually build your expertise in.

 For example, I might say to one of my clients,” In working with other VPs of sales, they’re typically tracking these seven things, which of these… are you tracking all of them and which are the most important in your business? “But it would be something to show that I know something.

 So, the question is kind of wrapped, has your knowledge wrapped into it. Or I might say in working with other companies on product launches, I typically see that there’s a real gap between the marketing and sales organization which results in the company not achieving the time to revenue that was initially projected. How big a gap is that in what you’re doing?

 So, it actually pulls people in at a higher level and it just shows that I know my stuff, but, again, the key to this is that you have to think of these questions ahead of time because under pressure they don’t come out naturally.

 The brain is only able to think or talk, listen or talk. It’s only able to do one thing at a time.  So, if you’re listening to somebody else, your brain is not able to think of a good question.

 Because you just can’t. So, then you ask a stupid question. The reality is I always suggest to people that they go into any meetings with their questions written down ahead of time, and then even pull them out if they’re having a conversation and saying, literally saying, “In preparation for today’s meeting, I put together some thoughts and I’ve got some questions.” That kind of thing is huge for credibility. It’s the best thing for credibility that you could do is asking smart questions.

 You know, I like this because you are giving specific examples of the things that you are talking about. And as project managers, project managers are very detail oriented, as you said, and this will connect very well with them, and I’m sure it connects very well with everyone else, too, but especially with project managers. I would say this is great that you are giving specific examples of what you are telling us.

 The one thing because of project managers’ detail orientation, it is their strength, but in a situation where you are working with people to help get buy-in for projects or to move them or to sell a concept or an idea that you have that you need to get funded, the reality is too much detail can be overwhelming, too.

 Like I said at the beginning, I said you can tell the story, but if you get bogged down in everything, the story loses its oomph. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t help you.

 The same thing, if you sat down and you were talking with somebody about I have an idea about how we could do this and you lay out a detailed process map with every possible option on it. What happens is that the person on the other end goes, that looks complicated, that looks overwhelming and now you scare them.

 Yeah, and it happens on projects, especially large projects when we build project plans. It’s the thousand lane project plan, and you show the team, and they are like, oh, my God, where do we start”

 Oh my God, where do we start? Right?

 The reality is, again, and this is what sales is about, project management, start moving people along slowly, step by step by step, because people can’t handle all that. That’s the complexity that overwhelms them.

 So, saying, here’s the five steps we have to go through, but let me just expand. Our next step that we have to go do is step number two, and here are the detailed specs on number two. We will get into the details of three, four and five as we get there.

 So, it’s again keeping it simpler. Or even if you are on phase two, what are the next three things that have to get done and just spelling those out in detail. Overwhelm drives projects to a halt. Overwhelm drives sales to a halt. Overwhelm is bad for everything.

 It does. It does. You’ve built a great brand for yourself. I’ve been calling you for some time, and I think it was last year there was some sort of online competition that was rewarded for the best sales person or something like that. Out of the three or four that we had, when I looked at your profile, it just resonated so well.

 You want to give us some tips or tactics on how to brand ourselves?

 Well, how can I say it? I think one of the key things that anybody can do is to write or to do something that showcases their expertise. I know you’ve got your blog and you are doing that. I think every professional who really wants to build a portfolio and showcase their expertise over time should really start thinking about different ways that they can do it. Whether they’re working for a company now or for themselves.

 There are so many venues to do that. I started out by writing and I started writing one article a month, and it was a 1500 article because that was about ten years ago when long articles were popular. I’m now writing, probably, four articles a month, and they are about four or 500 words because people are so much busier today and they are signed up for so many different things.

 I think people need to choose the medium that they feel best in to showcase their expertise. I’ve recently started doing videos, really short one minute videos on just subjects that are important. I think people who have not achieved the stature that I am right now can do things like you are doing like interviewing experts which raises your stature, by the way, in the industry, because you are bringing in good information and posting it on your blog.

 The other thing, I’m working on a Slide Share presentation this morning because I want to put something up on Slide Share on a topic that is near and dear to my heart, it’s about value propositions which is really being able to clearly articulate the business value of what you’re doing. So, I’m putting it up on Slide Share, and I’ll also be turning it into a short video on YouTube that just uses the slides as I walk right through it.

 Building a brand shouldn’t be about huge … thinking about becoming like super well-known, it should be about doing little things consistently over time to showcase your expertise, whether it’s Slide Share, audio, a recording, five-minute recording. Everybody’s LinkedIn profile should be … anybody’s who’s got a LinkedIn profile right now should be thinking about different ways that they can use that to showcase their expertise not just from words, but even from putting up short presentations again on Slide Share or doing other things.

 There’s so many ways. Whatever it is, we have to realize that you may be in a company right now and have been employed there for ten years, but you could be laid off tomorrow, and so it really is about keeping yourself up-to-date and a viable candidate and showcasing your expertise consistently over time as opposed to waiting until you need to.

 Who are some of your role models? Or people who you have learned from or aspire to.

 As my own needs have grown. There are not many people in the sales profession that I’m particularly enamored with right now. I’m following Seth Godin in the marketing area. I think he’s doing some really, really neat things and I believe he’s good. I like the people who started LinkedIn and the people who started Kiva, which is a micro entrepreneur. So, I really like those people who are doing neat things and connecting people in different ways. I feel that’s really important.

 I also like Gandhi. I feel like when I teach sales that I’m the Gandhi of sales.

 You like Gandhi?

 I do. I do. If I had to look at one person who … I mean, he just kept relentlessly going after what he was, but he was silent and quiet and just kept moving toward what was important.

 Have you read his book? He wrote a book called “The Story of my Experiments with Truth”?

 No, I haven’t read that one. But I have read some other biographies of his. I just love his passive non-violent way of creating change.

 Wow. Yeah. I like Gandhi, too. That’s a whole different topic to talk about.

 I like people who are pushing the frontiers out there who are leading us. I felt terrible when Steve Jobs died, too.

 Yeah, he did. I almost bought an iPad.

 Almost bought one.

 What are some of your hobbies and interests, apart from the work that you do?

 I am a consummate learner. I’m always interested in new things. So, I’m always out there. I spend a lot of time online just learning because I enjoy learning so much.

 My husband and I go to Utah in the winter, Southern Utah, and we spend a lot of time hiking in Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and other parks out in that area, and going out for all day hikes in the beautiful country. I love that. Love going to Northern Minnesota. Love reading. I’m kind of a boring person.

 No, that’s cool. So, to end it, if there is one thing you want to leave the audience with, one thing that you want them to take away and remember at the end of this, what would that be?

 Well, if I had to take a look at my overall theme in life that I keep trying to repeat and tell people about is that there’s never ever any failure, there’s only valuable learning experiences. So, if something doesn’t work for you, don’t ever consider it a failure. Consider it just additional data on how to help you achieve your goal. Because to me, that’s what’s most important because that allows you to pick yourself up and go forward and keep growing and developing as a human being. Always keep learning and never fail.

 If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way, through your website, is it …

 It’s through my website, www. jillkonrath.com, and that’s Konrath with a “K”.

 Great. All right. It’s been very interesting, Jill, and I appreciate the time so much. Thank you so much for coming on and speaking to us.

 You’re welcome. I’m glad to be able to do it.

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About Samir Penkar

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