First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Julie Thomas: As a sales executive who traveled frequently, adjusting to the COVID-19 lockdown was a shock to the system. It was also personally nerve-racking for my family as my daughter was away for a semester at sea. Thankfully, she arrived home healthy and safe.
More recently, my son contracted COVID-19. He had a very mild case and quickly recovered.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded ValueSelling.
Julie Thomas: My first job out of school was in accounting, and I hated it. I was bored out of my mind.
Shortly after that, I landed a job at market research firm Gartner Inc. as an accountant for its sales operation group, and I realized a career in sales would be an ideal fit. It took months of convincing my boss that I could do the salesperson job before he gave me a shot and promoted me into inside sales. From then on, my career has been in sales and sales management.
In 1999, I became Vice President of Gartner’s Sales Training for the Americas and successfully managed the training of new hires using the ValueSelling Framework. I went from being a customer to acquiring ValueSelling Associates™ in 2003. That’s how much I believed in ValueSelling. Since then, I’ve led the company to become an industry leader in competency- and process-based training for escalating sales performance in business to business (B2B) sales organizations around the world.
I continue to work directly with clients and sales organizations in a wide variety of industries. I’m responsible for the global expansion of ValueSelling Associates and its leadership position in on-demand, instructor-led, virtual instructor-led, and hybrid (blended) learning solutions delivered throughout the world in over 17 languages.
I’ve written a book titled “ValueSelling: Driving Sales Up One Conversation at a Time,” and I’m currently writing a second book. I’m also a contributor to Forbes.com, the Forbes Business Council, and the LinkedIn Sales Blog.
In addition, I’m on the advisory board of the Women Network Foundation Advisory Council and involved heavily in local charities in the San Diego region.
How does ValueSelling innovate?
Julie Thomas: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, my team and I realized that business travel and corporate gatherings would be severely limited or cut altogether. I knew a pivot was necessary for the business’s survival and the safe delivery of sales training and coaching to clients who needed it now more than ever. In these uncertain times, sales quotas have not been reduced, and business transactions have not stopped. In fact, it’s even more important that sales organizations are efficient and effective in engaging, qualifying, advancing, and closing opportunities.
ValueSelling Associates delivers custom sales training and coaching to B2B sales reps and leaders. The proven ValueSelling methodology is typically delivered in-person, on-site by Associates worldwide.
At the start of March 2020, I knew that a successful transition to a virtual sales training method was crucial. We had to be fast, and we had to do it right. We re-engineered the company’s offerings from the ground up. We created a new virtual instructor-led sales training offering that keeps learners engaged in a collaborative, interactive virtual learning environment.
ValueSelling optimizes behavioral change through a number of innovations that support our core offering. We continue to integrate the latest in neuroscience and how humans learn into our sales training solutions. This is the reason why we invested in the Mastering Virtual Communication microapp, refined our online courses to be more experiential, and transformed our asynchronous reinforcement from videos to micro-learning modules. Our Learning Management System, which is tailored to the client environment, is highly interactive, mobile-first, and facilitates just-in-time coaching. If technology alone were going to solve the sales productivity problem, it would have done so a thousand times over by now.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Julie Thomas: By the first week in March, ValueSelling’s entire calendar of scheduled in-person training sessions had been either cancelled or postponed indefinitely. My team and I immediately re-evaluated the company’s training delivery. We enabled a new virtual instructor-led sales training offering to support B2B sales teams who had pivoted to selling 100% online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
ValueSelling Associates won a Stevie Award for Most Valuable COVID-19 Corporate Response in recognition of our virtual B2B sales training.
I tell clients, “No matter what’s happening in the world, your revenue and growth goals haven’t changed. No one is going to reduce your quota because you couldn’t travel to a meeting. I believe it is better to move the business forward than to procrastinate and plan to reschedule ‘when this is all over.'”
Given the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, ValueSelling Associates helps clients around the world to onboard, upskill, and engage sellers safely and successfully with its new Virtual Instructor-Led Training.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Julie Thomas: COVID-19 forced us to transition to a virtual sales training method.
One of our fundamental core values is a growth mindset. To me, that means we continually learn, invest in our people, and evolve. Because of this core value, we’ve been able to weather this storm pretty well. It enabled us to pivot, be agile, learn, grow, listen, and develop our people to adapt to a virtual business structure.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and ValueSelling in the future?
Julie Thomas: Typically, I like to pamper myself, especially after a big win, but I need to wait for the pandemic to end before I can do that again. I love to go on walks to exercise and clear my mind, spend time with my family, and I’m a winey and foodie. I turn off the news and focus on the positive.
One thing that hasn’t changed in the wake of COVID-19 is the necessity of sales professionals to respond effectively to buyers. I’ve surrounded myself with a team of proven sales professionals around the world that are passionate, customer-focused, and dedicated to client success. With our Virtual Instructor-Led Training, we are poised for success.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Julie Thomas: ValueSelling Associates competes with global sales methodology firms such as Richardson Sales Performance and Miller Heiman Group (now part of Korn Ferry).
As 2020 unfolds as a very unpredictable year for sales professionals, we’re encouraged to be recognized once again as a leader in the sales training industry. ValueSelling Associates has been recognized by Selling Power as one of the Top 20 Sales Training Companies for the eighth consecutive year and by Trainingindustry.com as a leader in the sales training industry for the eleventh consecutive year.
Sales training is more important than ever as salespeople adjust to selling during the COVID-19 pandemic and during tough economic times. At ValueSelling, we’re helping our clients drive results with Virtual Instructor-Led Training options to maximize their success.
Your final thoughts?
Julie Thomas: For our team to stay motivated in this challenging time, I have found that it’s important to celebrate wins, the little ones, and the big ones. We use Slack, and we have a Slack channel called “Ring the Bell” where people can post their wins, and our team members can celebrate with them. We’re all remote right now and not connected in the way we might normally be. When someone posts a win, it’s a great celebration.
In addition, having empathy and adding value to every client interaction is critical in uncertain times.