When I reached out to Kristel, as part of my bookselling network, I was pleasantly surprised when she was willing to be interviewed. Kristel’s view is unique as the only high-growth digital marketer I interviewed for this project, and her experience in direct sales with Southwestern Advantage has given her valuable perspective on the intersection between the two functions.
Kristel’s diverse background and the intensity with which she has pursued her ambitions makes for a fascinating interview.
You can read Kristel’s bio in full here
Jamie: First of all, Kristel, in your career in sales and in growth marketing, what have you found most fulfilling so far?
Kristel: The most fulfilling has been being of service to the end customer. My core focus is truly understanding them; how to best connect with and approach them. Discovering the different aspects of human psychology has been so fascinating and fulfilling to me.
Jamie: What has attracted you to the different roles that you have done to this point in your career?
Kristel: When I sold door-to-door with Southwestern Advantage, that really helped me discover my values in life. I love freedom and growth. Door-to-door sales was a 100% commission-based work. I love learning, growing and having the flexibility to create my own path. That is what really drew me into freelance growth marketing. I can work remotely, anywhere in the world. So that is the personal part, but otherwise, it is the optimisation aspect. I am always like “Okay, how can we do better? How can we serve our clients better? How can we connect with them better?” I do a lot of conversion rate optimisation, and I remember doing that, for example, in B2B sales as well; when I was building a tech start-up. I would approach someone or pitch the idea – I would literally record them, then, later on, map out all the objections they had, and all the questions. Then I would reiterate my sales pitch and then approach someone else and see if the same questions came up again, or if I had solved those objections already. I continuously improved and tried different angles, and now I use the same approach in growth marketing. I A/B test a lot. For example, “Okay, what kind of subject lines, email copy, landing pages shall we use? What kind of messaging resonates most?” I think that also has been the common factor around all my different career roles.
Jamie: What advantage have you seen in using A/B testing versus sticking to the same script?
There is so much potential to improve because the world is changing fast. If you do not optimise and test, competitors will take over easily, and people now expect a personalised approach.
If they do not resonate with your company, they will ruthlessly go to someone else. So, you really have to be smarter. There is now amazing technology out there that you can use to create hundred different versions of a landing page, with hundred different messages depending on from what acquisition channel the user lands on your site from, and you can use that same thing in sales; learning where the prospect heard about you. I think you should personalise your sales pitch as well to really connect with the person. That is becoming the norm from a client’s perspective.
Jamie: What have you found the biggest differences between being in direct sales and growth marketing?
Kristel: In sales, it is so much easier to understand the client because you’re actually talking to them. What I see a lot in marketing is that people tend to create something, but without doing proper user research or wondering, “What does the client think?” The communication and collaboration between customer service, sales and marketing should be much stronger. In sales you can always ask different types of questions, and I have literally asked like, “Hey, what do you think of our product? What can we improve?” so it is much easier because you talk to prospects and clients anyway. In marketing, you don’t often have that direct communication, so you have to put effort and focus into, “Okay. Let’s now talk to the customers, or give tasks and questions to salespeople to ask, because we need some information.”
Jamie: Let’s talk about the interaction between sales and marketing. How should organisations optimise their interaction between the two functions?
Kristel: Both functions, ideally, should see each other as making each other better.
Marketing’s job is to find quality leads for salespeople to close the deal with them. Salespeople have valuable insight into the clients and what resonates with them. Salespeople should give feedback to marketing which the latter can use to better find quality leads.
The interaction between sales and marketing depends on the stage of the company and how their systems are set up. I work with start-ups a lot, where I see a “working hard and doing your own thing” mentality, and not enough collaboration and working smart. I would love to hear more questions like “Okay, how can we work together and improve the funnel in all parts of the user journey?”
Jamie: Have you seen what the consequences are if a business does not have marketing and sales working together closely?
Kristel: Yes, it could be that the sales department finds leads on their own, talks to them and closes the deal, and marketing tries to figure out acquisition channels on their own. That is simply a very inefficient way to grow a company.
Salespeople are not marketers, but they have very good ideas about what should change on the marketing side because they talk to the clients or the prospects all the time. That insight should be leveraged, and vice versa.
Marketing definitely has insights that will help salespeople better personalise their approach when talking to prospects too.
Jamie: You have mentioned the new technologies that are making a huge difference in digital marketing, are you talking about sort of the things that are available that would not have been a few years ago and how they are making a difference?
Kristel: Yes. I am a big fan of automation and for technology, helping us scale processes faster. When I had my own tech startup, what I did to ease up the workload is use platforms. One, for example, is called Reply.io, for outreach. You can upload all of your emails there and create a series of emails -called a drip campaign – and it will just start sending out the emails in the order and times you set up. The platform would only stop sending emails if the person replies, but you do not have to worry about automatic replies. It can also automatically connect and send a message on LinkedIn if you add the prospect’s LinkedIn profile URL. All of your LinkedIn and email outreach can be automated, and as a salesperson, you focus on the people who reply and are interested.
There is another extremely powerful platform called Clearbit. It has a lot of different features, but for example, it finds out, based on the IP address, which company and city someone s from while they’re website right now, and it can send an alert to the salesperson like, “Hey, someone from Apple is checking out your website,” so the salesperson can literally send an email to Apple, like, “Hey, how are you?” Not in a creepy way, not like “I saw you are looking at our website.”
I think the trick with sales is understanding when the client is ready to buy; and not too far over or under the buying curve. When they are looking at your website, their interest is likely really high. You want to know about those moments, so you can reach out then and hopefully close the sale.
Jamie: What should you avoid as a digital marketer?
Kristel: For marketing and sales it is the same – multitasking and stretching yourself too thin. In sales, ideally, every single step; finding the leads, approaching, closing the sale, customer success – they are four different areas and ideally, should be handled by four different people. It is the same with digital marketing; companies tend to focus on too many acquisition channels and activities in general. If you do a lot of things at the same time, you only move the needle a little bit; however, if you only focus on one or two channels, you can improve and grow enormously. Of course, it depends on your resources. The tricky part is figuring out what you key channels are, and that is why
I like to have a very systematic approach to my work, and always be tracking things to really know what is working and what is not. Every time you say ‘yes’ to something, you are saying ‘no’ to something else, so you have to be really mindful of your choices.
Jamie: So, if you are coming into a new business, the first thing you do is lots of testing of those various channels?
Kristel: I actually do an audit to really understand what has worked and what has not. I really want to talk to key personnel in sales, marketing and customer service. That helps me better understand who the target audience is. Then I use the ‘Bullseye Framework’, where you map out all the channels, and then you pick one or two ideas and channels that potentially would work the most. Obviously, if something has worked already, I want to evaluate that.
If it has worked then ideally 80% of your time should be put on channels and activities that work, and 20% of your time should go to experimenting with new channels and new ideas.
Jamie: You mentioned your own entrepreneurial journey. How did your background in sales influenced and helped with starting a business?
Kristel: So much. After the last summer of selling door-to-door, I met my two business partners. Before the next summer, we were in the top three accelerators in the world, called “500 Start-ups” in Silicon Valley. I was back in the US but in the tech world. I was like, “Whoa, okay,” because everything I had done before was door-to-door, and now everything was online. What helped were the interpersonal skills I learned – how to read and talk to people – also having discipline, perseverance and a growth mindset. I needed to learn really fast, so I reached out to mentors and asked, “How can I learn?”
I got all the help I needed because of my sales background and obviously, I A/B tested a lot. We had a pretty complex tech, so the first time, it took about twenty minutes to explain what we do. Then I continuously pitched our start-up idea to anyone who would listen, constantly iterating and adjusting the pitch until I just said two sentences and people were like, “Ah, okay.”
It took a month. I think it helped how I used to iterate my sales pitch before knocking on the next door. I used the same approach in my sales and marketing role in our start-up.
Jamie: Can you tell me the difference it makes having that elevator pitch tuned incredibly well to your pitching going forward?
Kristel: It’s huge. Based on insights from human psychology, people create a first impression in about five seconds; your pitch matters a lot in how they perceive your company moving forward.
At the beginning of building a company, you need to grow fast to survive. You want to make the company feel and be perceived as easy and understandably as possible because 95% of decisions are made subconsciously.
The more understandable everything is, the more likely people are to buy from you and to work with you in general. If they just have too many questions, they have to think consciously, their cognitive load increases and then they are like, “Oh, I do not know. This does not feel right. I have to think about it.” Then you have already lowered your closing percentage.
Jamie: Having gone through the journey, what advice would you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Kristel: They should really take time to think, and then have clarity, which creates certainty in the next steps you should take. Also, you should prioritise recovery as much as possible. Sleep and active recovery are important – managing your energy, not your time. That has helped me be successful because then you have much more clarity in making decisions.
As an entrepreneur, everything is a choice because you have limited resources. You want to feel and be at your best to make those decisions effectively. Recovery and sleep help you be at your best.
Also, delegate, simplify or reduce – be ruthless with your time and energy.
Jamie: How would you recommend picking your partners to go into business with?
Kristel: I think where we are heading towards using personality tests, but you also want to spend time with them and get to know them. I would not start a business right away, especially with friends. I would have really clear expectations in place. There is something we did in Southwestern called a ‘Personal Creed’, where you write down your promises and expectations to each other, and that is really important. It is a relationship, right? Just like you have your personal relationship; it is the same with business. Constant communication is important. You want to talk at least once a month and say, “Hey, are we connecting? Is everything okay?” Getting to know each other and using personality tests. I have used a test called ‘DISC Test’ a lot. For that test, you should use someone certified to help analyse the results. That really helps you see where both of your strengths are, where are you balancing each other out and where might be the potential problems.
Jamie: in addition to DISC, are there any others you are aware of that might be worthwhile exploring?
Kristel: ‘Human Design’. It was literally made for teams and collaboration. But you can use it to get clarity on your own life too.
Jamie: For an aspiring salesperson, what is the one biggest piece of advice you would give someone setting out on a sales career?
Kristel: Be a forever learner. I think the key is how fast you can learn.
Do not look at sales and your performance as a success or a failure, or that you are weak or strong. Look at it as an option: to learn or not to learn.
When I started my sales career, I was average. I remember my first two weeks I sold nothing. Fast forward, I was one of the few people that grew in sales every single year for 6 years, and I was in the top 5% of all salespeople three years in a row. I was not talented. I learned and got really good at it. I think that is why I did well in tech and marketing. That is my main piece of advice; to learn, and to have a growth mindset.
Jamie: How does a salesperson or a marketer become invaluable to their organisation?
Kristel: I think it is showing value. It is not just giving value and thinking that everyone understands what you do. It is totally fine that other departments do not fully understand sales, but it is really explaining and making sure your expectations are aligned in terms of what people expect of you. Then, explaining what you have done and explaining the value. Tracking is important, whether it is qualitatively or quantitatively tracking what you have done. Even if you do not do well at first, you can show what you have learned or improved in one way or another. I think that is what people would and should expect.
Jamie: If you had your career again, what would you do differently?
Kristel: I would value and appreciate recovery and sleep much more. I used to think up until I was 24 that sleep is a waste of time, and doing nothing is just pointless, and so I am a recovering workaholic. I got sick of the insanity loop of working super hard and pushing through nights of very little sleep. I was still successful, but it came through self-sacrifice. I felt that there has to be another way, a better road to success; one that promised me all the achievements but without me having to sacrifice my health and sanity. So that is what I really discovered; the strength and the enormous power that sleep and recovery have.
Jamie: Is there a time when something either went wrong in marketing, or you did not make a sale in sales, but you learned something really valuable?
Kristel: I think one of the hardest and biggest lessons I have learned was during my fifth summer selling books – this was when we were in Oklahoma, and I was an organisational leader, who was managing twelve people. A woman misunderstood one of the first-time sellers in my team and thought that this nineteen-year-old blond girl was actually stealing children instead of selling educational books. In Oklahoma, unfortunately, there are a lot of child abductions. What happened was that lady posted a warning about Southwestern salespeople on Facebook, and it spread all over the country in a day. It got over 2,000 shares in a few days, which meant that we had a PR nightmare. It was one of those things – the story was so ridiculous, and it was so uncontrollable because we all had permits, everything was legal, the company has been in business for over a hundred and fifty years.
Everyone was like, “We’re losing sales.” No prospects were talking to us, because they all thought we were doing something illegal and bad, to the point where we actually had to move states. We went to Oklahoma and then Arkansas, but we had to move states because it was unsafe for us there too. We finally ended up in Texas.
I remember it was the middle of the summer, and I was the organisational leader, and I was crying to my sales leader. I just broke down. But after that breakdown, the choice of how the second half of the summer would go became very clear to me. I thought to myself, “This is our summer,” because for a lot of us, summer is where we make our entire year’s salary and that helps to pay for college. I had a choice – I can let this situation define me, and my team and our summer or I can let go of the uncontrollable aspects and just control what I can control and have a mindset of, “Nope. I am going to find open-minded people and make this a summer that I can remember positively,” and we did.
After that mindset shift, two people hit record-breaking summers. My sales grew too, but it was more the personal growth that I value to this day. For example, I started doing A/B testing – what would work? How can we approach the people in a way that would make them trust us better? It became almost like a game. I started collecting stories that I sent to the company just for my own good; collecting positive thoughts. We had a wonderful summer. We did incredibly well, and no one quit.
Jamie: Can you tell me about a sales process or a marketing campaign that went really well, and shows off all of the skills and knowledge you have developed throughout your career?
Kristel: I have 2 marketing stories. One was when I worked with a climate action platform called CHOOOSE, and we got a partnership with Heathrow Airport, the 3rd biggest airport in the world. It was a team effort, but I led the landing page project for travellers to offset their unavoidable carbon footprint. It was really fun to work on such a big scale project. The second story is about a short-term loan company. We did email marketing for them with my business partner at the time, and it was really fascinating to see how clever personalisation and sending valuable messages using different channels and multiple touchpoints, we actually increased the new monthly customers by 23% and email open rates increased to 34%. The key there was, as always, A/B testing.