In this episode: Sherri Griffin, Director of Sales at Axonify, joins to make us question our ability to give an elevator pitch (seriously, listen to hers). We dig into topics like how we can see more females in positions of leadership in sales, how you’re only as strong as those around you in sales, and how to stay true to your values while pushing through obstacles.
Sherri Griffin, Director of Sales at Axonify, on our ability to give an elevator pitch, how we can see more females in leadership in sales, how to stay true to your values while pushing through obstacles, etc.
Joseph Fung: Hi, everybody. I’m Joseph Fung, and today we’re speaking with Sherri Griffin. She’s a Sales Director at Axonify. Sherri, thank you for joining us.
Sherri Griffin: It’s great to be here, Joseph! Thanks for asking me!
Joseph Fung: I’m so looking forward to the conversation. I know we spend a bit of time talking about your journey through education, sales growth, and I think this is going to be a lot of fun, so thanks for being willing to share your story with us today.
Sherri Griffin: You bet!
Joseph Fung: So first off, I know we have spoken a bit about training and learning. I think that’s a great way to tee things up. Some of our audience may not be familiar with Axonify. Could you share an elevator pitch? What’s Axonify?
Sherri Griffin: Absolutely! Axonify is a learning platform that world-class companies use to ensure that their employee training has incredible ROI. It’s an analytics engine that clearly shows what’s working. It enables training that gets employees doing the right thing on demand, and people love it, yes, because it’s gamified. But, also because it really helps individuals succeed with just three to five minutes of training, three to five times a week.
Joseph Fung: That’s awesome! That sounds like a lot of fun!
Sherri Griffin: It is!
Joseph Fung: Now, you also mentioned that you’ve had a great global experience. Where are you calling in from today?
Sherri Griffin: So, I’m in beautiful Guelph Ontario, outside of the Tech Hub, where Waterloo and Kitchener CBRE are. And it is a little bit gray today, but it’s still a beautiful place I love to call home!
Joseph Fung: Oh, fantastic! Now, journeys always have a starting point and, you know, we don’t need to go all the way back to the beginning, but a good starting point is a school. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
Sherri Griffin: Okay, so, I love this question, and I’ll tell you, I grew up, I was really blessed to be growing up in a family full of love, and we were sort of a church-going family, and we were really involved in each other’s lives and involved in supporting each other. And when it came time to start selecting schools, I was very fortunate. I had a really bright academic run through the school. So I had wonderful schools who were pitching me to come to them. I had full of right Scholarship offers, and as I was trying to figure out who had the cutest boys on the best football teams at the schools that I wanted to go to. My dad interrupted…
Joseph Fung: Important criteria.
Sherri Griffin: Yeah, very important criteria. My dad interrupted, my thoughts came into my highly pink teenage girl bedroom and said to me and looking like, I don’t know Joseph like somebody had just run over his dog and he said to me, “Honey, I know you’re on track for med school. I know that’s really what you’re thinking and if that’s truly what you want, I am absolutely going to support you with that”. However, I feel like you might be a natural-born salesperson, and I wonder if you want to consider taking a gap year or doing a business degree. Well, you know…
Joseph Fung: Interesting.
Sherri Griffin: Yeah, my dad was my hero. So, I wrote my end caps. I wrote my LSats and used them as a backup, and took a gap year that allowed me to never look back and take my education on a daily basis in a very unconventional way.
Joseph Fung: I love it. I think that theme of education sounds like it has got a great part in your origin story there but also throughout your journey, that’s so fascinating!
Sherri Griffin: Cool! Yeah!
Joseph Fung: So, you mentioned a gap year. I’m super intrigued. Yeah, I know that you spent a lot of time selling business solutions. But, let’s take a look at that gap here. What kept you busy? What did you work on?
Sherri Griffin: So, I actually decided that I would go work in retail, and it was sort of to my parent’s horror that I was going to go take this entry-level, minimum wage job, you know, if I were to say that I was very blessed and had an abundant upbringing, I’d be painting a good picture here, but I thought, no, you know, what I want to do this from the ground up. So, literally, I walked into an organization. I think I don’t remember what minimum wage was then, but that’s what they gave me. I quickly, being a very bossy person, found myself in charge of different Shifts. Before you knew it, I became promoted to what they called a ham, which was the hourly assistant manager. And I think it’s illegal to call somebody hourly’s salary now, you know, eventually got promoted to the Sam, the salary assistant manager, and before you knew it I’d worked my way into the upper management positions and our record-breaking growth year, we opened 170 plus stores in that one year. So, it was not for the faint of heart, but it was a really exciting way to spend the year and to make sure that I was learning as I was growing.
Joseph Fung: Okay, so I want to rewind for a moment there, 170 plus stores in one year!
Sherri Griffin: No, not recommended!
Joseph Fung: Wow, okay, so, trial by a fire there, that’s amazing, now…
Sherri Griffin: oh yeah…
Joseph Fung: That’s one heck of a journey I have to ask. So your dad had come into your room said, maybe take a break, take a gap year. I imagine this is not at all what he envisioned. What was he thinking? And how did those conversations go?
Sherri Griffin: You know, what it was really a fascinating time in my life, because, as I launched into this, what I now refer to as the starting of my career. My father became terminally ill with cancer, and it was a very strange thing because my dad, who worked for the Royal Bank of Canada, was an Executive Leader there and had a phenomenal responsibility; he was a technology person himself. So, you know, to see him start to diminish as I was starting to flourish was a really fascinating time in my history, and as it came to closer to the end of his life, I actually had this experience where I went to my employer and said I’d like to take some type of leave so I can be with my dad and care for him in his dying days, not that he didn’t have lots of professional care around him, but that was my want. And in fact, my company said, “I’m sorry, Sherri, but you’re too valuable to us. We can’t lose you now, we’re growing too quickly”. And…
Joseph Fung: Oh, my goodness!
Sherri Griffin: I know like as short-sighted as you can be, and they are entirely out of business today. But, they were in their boom years then, and they thought that that wasn’t going to work. So, what was fascinating was as my dad was dying, he was able to connect me with some of his really powerful and well-meaning colleagues, friends, network peers who really became a sort of my shepherds and really became my mentors and sort of where I lost my dad, I sort of gained some of his mentees and his mentors that took me on and sort of let me step into this really formidable place and helped me grow and as my father finally passed away they were the ones that supported me on having just walked away from my first job, and you know what, I truly came from a family where you didn’t just quit jobs like that wasn’t something you did, but they encouraged me to just walk away from something that didn’t align with my values. And I’m so grateful that they taught me those lessons about staying aligned with your values early because it’s been a touchstone throughout my life.
Joseph Fung: I’m so impressed at how positive you take those lessons, and I’m so sorry that you had to deal with such a difficult scenario at such a formative time. I can only imagine the stresses. My heart goes out to you.
Sherri Griffin: Thank you!
Joseph Fung: You mentioned that some of those friends were shepherds, you know, were guides, and you spoke about leaving that organization, which sounds like an absolutely correct decision. Where did that take you next, though? You know, where did you head after that?
Sherri Griffin: So, I was able to spend my dad’s dying days with him, which was a really you know in the moment, it was really arduous and very difficult, and there were lots of you know crying out to like why is this happening to us and especially for a man who had I really felt not finished you know he was only 54 when he perished, and so it was a really difficult time, so I actually had a very dark period the first and only dark period in my life where I, you know understood depression was a real thing I wasn’t just sort of being sucky, it was actually something that was happening to me and so you know back then there wasn’t a lot of talks around, how depression mental health were actual real things and that you needed to be able to take care of yourself in that way but we sort of because we had these wonderful guides it was something that they just they didn’t let me suffer for all of the time and period they didn’t let me languish. And so, from there, I eventually was able to use that break, if you will, that I was in to move into my first b2b selling career and came into a great organization called Eagles Flight. They’re here in Guelph Ontario, headquartered here, but a global company. I loved them to the end of the world and back again and really spent my formative selling years under their wing and really learning from Phil Geldart and all the wonderful people that are still there and some of the wonderful people that have moved on to do other great things as well.
Joseph Fung: That’s fantastic. It sounds like you’ve had some amazing mentors and coaches, and friends along for that journey.
Sherri Griffin: For sure and you know what it taught me, that I always want to be mentoring somebody else, I always want to have a mentor you know, I think of my sales career as never having been done alone, you know I’ve never spent a day without somebody to turn to ask a question for or get support or even just maybe a bit in complaining about something so that you can get it done with and get it out of your system. But yeah, sales might look like it’s a solo sport but, the real champions and winners have a whole team around them.
Joseph Fung: I think it’s a great comment about you know what sales are actually like, and you had quite a journey getting into the business selling environment you know reflecting on that journey, what do you think has surprised you most?
Sherri Griffin: You know what? I continue to be surprised at the lack of women Executive Leaders in sales.
Joseph Fung: When you point to that, are you thinking about selling in general? Any specific segments? I mean you’re in tech right now, and a woman in tech is a prevalent theme, but I’d love to unbox that. You know, where do you see that most?
Sherri Griffin: You know what, it’s interesting. I do feel like the tides are shifting, and I do feel like we talk an awful lot more about it today than we did 20 years ago when I started my career. But, as I spent the majority of this last 20 years working with wonderful men who have been phenomenal to work with, I had few sisters in the hood and what’s fascinating about women and something I really stand against is that we tend to be mean to one another when it comes to competing you know men I think are taught competition through sport in a different kind of way you know, women are taught competition as a threat and to eliminate it. So, when I think about being, you know, a top 10 performer in my large sales organization, I was told that I would never get to that top ten because the ten guys that had been on that list basically just traded spots of which number they were in, but it was the same ten years after year. I hit that top ten, and my female peers, they didn’t celebrate it. They were threatened by it. So it took a lot of time for me in my career to continually look for positive female mentorship, and I found it outside of the sales venue. You know I’ve had some incredible female leaders. Axonify beautifully is owned and run by women. And I’ve had to search that out. So I do remain hopeful that the tides have changed and that somebody starting their career today won’t have the same experience that I did. But I do find it very surprising when I look back over 20 years and think, yeah, there need to be some more chicks in the upper office here for sale.
Joseph Fung: So let’s double down on this a little bit. You mentioned how you always want to be mentoring, and now you are in that role of leadership, your executive role. Have you had the opportunity to help mentor other women coming up in those selling ranks as well?
Sherri Griffin: I would say a very strange reality for me is that I tend to have mentees if you will people that I’m mentoring who come to me and ask me, I tend to have them be males, you know it’s not a science where I wouldn’t look for somebody, but I think that an important thing about being a mentor is you don’t go shopping around for somebody to mentor. They come to you at some certain time so, for me, for whatever reason for whatever lessons I need to learn, I’ve been able to mentor some fantastic young men, and I truly will not be surprised if somebody that I’ve had a little bit of time and mentorship with one day is running their own really growth-oriented organization.
Joseph Fung: So if we’re all lucky then, some of the women listening to this podcast will hear that you do mentor, that you’re responsive to requests and that you’re interested in seeing more women succeed in the environment. So hopefully, we can trigger some of those outreaches and introductions for you.
Sherri Griffin: I will take those calls!
Joseph Fung: Okay, you heard it. Sherri’s LinkedIn profile will be in the comments here, so feel free to reach out, but I’ve got a few more questions for you, so…
Sherri Griffin: Sure!
Joseph Fung: We’ll circle back on the mentorship item later but, as we think about that, you know that journey, you’ve accomplished a lot, you know I’d love to hear as you look back on you know your journey so far what are you most proud of? Do you know what accomplishment are you most proud of?
Sherri Griffin: Oh, I love this question, and you know what here’s the thing, I love that I have been able to do things that people told me no you can’t do that, or that’s a nice thought but let’s make it a little bit smaller like don’t let anybody take your dreams and downsize them I am like larger than life in every way that I possibly can be so you know Christine who’s one of the co-founders of Axonify is continually saying things I do have that Sherri special to it and I love having that signature for me. But some of the stuff that I am most proud of is actually not the stuff I’ve done but the stuff I’m going to do. I think salespeople have to have a future focus, and I think we’re healthiest when we’re thinking about what have you done for me lately or what are you doing for me next. So I am equally proud of spending time shaping and sharing with my BDR team as I am with seeing somebody who’s being promoted above and beyond and moving on to other organizations to take on their VP roles, their SVP roles and come into the c-suite as well. So I really do love my career. I really do love building successes. I would not want to see the end of the year where I didn’t hit my target and smash it at the ballpark. But really, the stuff I’m most proud of is helping to grow other people, which in turn always have grown myself.
Joseph Fung: Well, you’ve teed up this next one then. You already said you loved mentoring, and you spoke again about how you’d love to help people grow and flourish if you were speaking to you from 10 years ago or more and you’re coaching yourself. What advice would you give past Sherri?
Sherri Griffin: So okay, so you asked for ten years ago, but I’m going to go just a tiny bit deeper than that, just a few more years than that. And if I could whisper to myself 14 years ago, I would say that you’re about to do the smartest thing by loving your husband with all your might. And while that might not sound like sales advice, I’m whispering to my past self. I’ll tell you this. I was at a point in my career a few years back, you know, hitting the top ten listings, the top three lists, hitting the top number one position, wonderful, I had trips, I had gifts, I had huge amounts of income, wonderful things that I could enjoy and I also lived a very fast life you know I had a territory in New York so I was continually traveling you know I would go Japan in a weekend, all kinds of great stuff and I actually came to my husband and decided that I wanted to tell him, I wanted a different path and that I was going to leave him. And he very gently but very deliberately and consistently spent time inviting me to consider how my best life would be with him. And we’ve been together 24 years this year, and he was more right than I could ever know. And it was his, he is the last person you would call a salesperson, but it was his sales job of inviting me into our better life together than our decent life apart that really would be something I would say this is what’s going to help you succeed in your sales career. This is what’s going to help you keep your values-centered, this is what’s going to ensure you don’t face corruption because as I look back over my shoulder to the life that some of my colleagues have lived, I see the carnage, you know relationships that are totally lost divorces that happen, parents that don’t have relationships with their kids, you know I have a horror story of a colleague who was one of the best salespeople I’d ever worked within my life, who dropped out of a heart attack in the airport on the way to a massive pitch, people who’ve suffered through cancer and not had their own kids come and see them before they die like, just terrible carnage stuff you know affairs can happen when you live a fast and loose life for sure so by being able to choose that my life was going to center around loving my husband with all my might I didn’t know it was the best decision of my life, but it certainly was. And in more ways, than I can ever measure.
Joseph Fung: Sherri, thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself in today’s conversation. This has been wonderful. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
Sherri Griffin: Me too!
Joseph Fung: I know I promised that I wouldn’t keep you too long, but can I ask a couple of quick rapid-fire questions before we wrap up?
Sherri Griffin: Make it fast.
Joseph Fung: Okay, what’s your favorite sales tool?
Sherri Griffin: Wilson Learning’s The Counselor Salesperson Three P’s.
Joseph Fung: What’s your favorite movie?
Sherri Griffin: Forrest Gump.
Joseph Fung: Oh, that’s wonderful. I love that. It’s like, how is it best described to me like so many five different movies in one. I love that choice!
Sherri Griffin: I like it.
Joseph Fung: And, when you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
Sherri Griffin: A neurosurgeon, the only one in my block.
Joseph Fung: That’s the med school thing. But now, yeah, a born salesperson, this is wonderful. Sherri, this has been such a great conversation. Thank you again for sharing of your time and of your story, it’s very much appreciated!
Sherri Griffin: I love being here, Joseph. Thank you for inviting me!
Joseph Fung: I hope we speak again very soon and I hope you have a wonderful day in beautiful Guelph.
Sherri Griffin: Right back at you brother.
Joseph Fung: Talk Soon!