In this episode: Ilana Shulman, Director of Sales at THP, joins us to share how she transitioned from the fitness industry to a role in tech sales. How do you succeed and progress through the ranks without a traditional education background? How do you learn from what you go through to make you a better person? And how can you learn to make feedback your biggest gift? All that and more next!
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In this episode: Ilana Shulman, Director of Sales at THP, shares how she transitioned from the fitness industry to a role in tech sales, succeeds and progresses through the ranks without a traditional education background, etc.
Joseph Fung: Today, we’ll be speaking with an extremely well-regarded sales manager. She was introduced to us as someone who goes out of her way to coach and helps people find their opportunities. And today, we’re gonna learn a little bit more about some of the turns and twists that she has had in her journey, how she’s overcome rejection and found her rhythm as a Director of Sales. This is gonna be a fun journey. Join us shortly!
Ilana Shulman: Welcome to seller’s jury, the podcast where we speak to great sales reps and leaders and share their real stories from start to sales success.
Joseph Fung: Hi everyone, I’m Joseph Fung, and today we’re speaking with Ilana Shulman, Director of Sales at THP. How are you doing, Ilana?
Ilana Shulman: I’m doing well! How about you?
Joseph Fung: Really well! Thank you for joining us today. So you were introduced to us because of the opportunities that you’ve been able to open for your employees, your team members, the people at you coach and mentor. And I love speaking to people who aren’t just successes in their own rights but give people their opportunities to succeed. So I’d like to start off just by thanking you for being a really good example for how to coach and mentor because that’s awesome.
Ilana Shulman: Yeah, thank you.
Joseph Fung: So, to start off and help people get to know you. Can you share a little bit, where’d you grow up? Where’d you go to school?
Ilana Shulman: Yeah! So I was actually born in Montreal. And I’m raised in Ottawa. So most of my life has been in Ottawa. When I graduated from high school, I actually went to college first in Peterborough. Coming back, I decided to continue, and I went to Carleton in Ottawa. Yeah, so that’s more or less where I grew up and went to school.
Joseph Fung: Now, as we spoke about your journey, one of the things that you know jumped out was that you decided not to continue the time at Carleton, and you jumped into work right away. Can you help us understand? You know what sparked that decision? And where did you end up?
Ilana Shulman: Yeah, for sure! So after college, I came back, and I wanted you know to Ottawa, and I wanted to get some work. As covering, bills, and stuff was definitely my priority and my responsibility. So when I was finished in University, I came back to Ottawa. I decided to go to Carleton, but I was also working part-time at a gym. And it was enjoying it. I could talk more about how that gym definitely became my first intro into my sales career. But I just, I had the opportunity to continue full time with this gym and that sales opportunity. So I decided, you know, I’m like thought in the back of my head I was gonna go back and then just things kind of led to one another leading me a career at this gym for about 17 years.
Joseph Fung: Now, at the gym, you were working part-time as an instructor. Is that right?
Ilana Shulman: I was actually, I first started as a part-time sales rep.
Joseph Fung: Okay!
Ilana Shulman: I became very interested, and that’s like in different ways of fitness. So I started to get courses and certified to teach classes, become a personal trainer. And then slowly, I became into sales at a full-time level. So I was like teaching early mornings, working at the club, doing sales, and then also taking on personal training. So it was very busy for me while I was there.
Joseph Fung: You have a full mix there, a little bit of everything.
Ilana Shulman: Yeah!
Joseph Fung: So thinking about that very much kind of a consumer-facing sales experience, now that you’ve got more of a journey under your belt, as you reflect back on that early sales work. You know what was it like? How would you describe it? What stood out to you most in the hind side?
Ilana Shulman: Well, when I look back, you know working face to face is very different than being on the phone. It’s a, I would call it, a lot more of an emotional sale. Especially when you’re working at the fitness industry. You have to realize that like, people don’t just come into the gym because they’re just ready to get started. You know they probably walk by six or seven times, and this is a huge emotional change for them.
So I think it was just about understanding that, which is obviously really helped me in my sales career moving forward. But just having that empathy, understanding trying to do your best to relate to them, and just make them feel comfortable and that you’re on their side and then really just moving the sail forward in a natural way and the best thing is that if you make them feel like that, they want their friends there. So getting referrals is quite easy when you are successful. Yeah, but for me, it’s like really about that short time that you have with somebody, a stranger really to get to know them, ask them uncomfortable questions, build a relationship, and trust for them to say, “yeah, this is a huge life change I want to make.”
Joseph Fung: You speak about it so highly, and you mentioned how much he likes working there. You can hear the enthusiasm in your voice. What triggers the decision to move to Outrank? I mean that’s more of a business offering. So why the shift?
Ilana Shulman: Well, to be honest, all the things I just said to you, they’re something that I find very important like the relationship, the trust-building. Well, those I’m so passionate about because those continued with me in my sales career. Right? Those things never left for me to be successful. I felt like I really wanted to hone in on those qualities to be successful. You know, my 17 years at good life called for crazy hours, like I was working from 6:00 in the morning teaching classes working all day. It was actually when I was pregnant. You know 10 years ago now that I was like, I want to go back. Like, do I actually want to go back to that! Or do I see myself moving into an industry where I could be more successful. But have a bit better of a schedule. Where I could manage family and work? And that’s where a friend of mine recommended you know you should check out tech sales like it’s a thing it’s booming and I that was so new to me so I obviously decided to see what would happen and they, I put my resume out there, and that’s when I made the huge shift.
Joseph Fung: So just checking you’re off good life, for parental leave did you go back? Or did you go straight into tech sales from there?
Ilana Shulman: I went straight into tech sales, and once I found a balance in my schedule, I decided to go back just to teach classes before because that was a passion of mine. Exercise is still a passion of mine. So for me to be able to teach a couple of classes a week and then still have my full-time role, that that was a good balance.
Joseph Fung: One of the things that we here come up so frequently is how do people still balance their passions with their work, and I’d love the example you just gave because I think it speaks to it so highly. What was that like? We speak to a lot of people who are experiencing a life change. Maybe they’ve changed countries, their family situation has changed, that they’re making a decision to get into tech sales. You’ve been through it. What stuck out from you or for you from that situation? And you know what were some of your takeaways from that time?
Ilana Shulman: Yeah, I mean, it was not easy. Like to be honest with you, I feel like I was a timid person. I would you know, I was so in tune with the gym lifestyle. Like I was there for a very long time. Now to like change my beat and start to talk to people who are roofers or psychologists. Like these are the verticals I was calling, photography, you know it was very different. And you know, it really came down to amazing leadership. So you know I had tough bosses. But they definitely knew how to get me out of my comfort zone. And I think you know, having amazing coaching and being able to, you know, think about this new vertical that I was in and have that direction. I had a lot of failing moments. But you know what I learned there is by failing is the only way you’re gonna get better. You know, even picking up the phone was one of the scariest things I ever thought I had to do.
You know, from going face to face, not being over the phone, you start building some skills. That at one point, you think I’m never going to be able to do this. And then, all of a sudden, you know, a couple of months go by, and you’re like that’s like the easiest thing I can do. And then you start to realize as a successful salesperson, you have to figure out what works for you like you can have amazing managers who are going to guide you, but something is going to click. And from that click was organization. I needed to be in my CRM. I needed to know what my day looked like. Yeah, so for me, it was that.
But another thing was, you know, being a mom, I had to leave right on time. I had a schedule, I had to go pick up, but I also wanted to prove myself and show that I can do this role. So there were times where you know, at the end of the day, the end of the evening when my son was in bed. I would say you know I’m gonna go back to work for a couple of hours because I know I can have luck calling in the West Coast.
Joseph Fung: Wow!
Ilana Shulman: Sometimes it was really funny because the next day they did, “oh! Congratulations, Ilana, for closing you know two deals yesterday”, and people would look at me like, “you didn’t close anything yesterday, you left!” and I was like “No! No! I came back after!”
Joseph Fung: So I need to ask! You spoke about the coaching and the mentorship, and your time at Outrank was punctuated by these very quick advancements. And you’re now regarded as an excellent Leader and a Manager. So what stuck up to you? You know what was a key takeaway that you’ve tried to emulate in your own coaching and mentorship?
Ilana Shulman: Yeah, well, one of the biggest things has ever happened to me was while I was at Outrank. I applied for a promotion. And I didn’t get it at first. And I thought to myself, “like why? Like why didn’t I get it?” and I was very lucky to have a VP of Sales. That was honest with me, and he told me, “This is why you didn’t get it”. And he would list it out about three or four things. And I remember when the next promotion was available about maybe six months later, I walked into that interview, and I was like, “here’s a list of all the things that you told me that I needed to improve upon. And here’s what I did, and here’s why I think I deserve that role”.
And he was very taken back and very impressed that you know I worked on that feedback. When I find today, even people that I manage in many different scenarios, they don’t take feedback well. Or they take it more personal. So I feel like you know if somebody from experience is gonna give you feedback on how to improve. You got to just absorb that. You got to work with it. You know if you don’t understand, you have to ask questions.
Joseph Fung: So I love the idea of taking that feedback. Here’s the to-do list, as a set of action items. I’d like to think a little bit about kind of going forward, or some of the feedback of the lessons that you’ve learned as you’ve advanced. Skipping over, you know, a few roles because you’ve worked at some incredible tech companies. You shared a little bit about a situation earlier where you had some feedback that your role was stuck between two different positions. Can you share a little bit about kind of that challenge? And how you, what you took away from that scenario?
Ilana Shulman: Yeah! And you know, exactly like a miscommunication. It not fun, and to be able to, you know, be very clear on expectations is so crucial to any party involved. So I guess with the role, it was, you know, I thought of it as being one way to kind of come in and really work on building up that process and being able to coach that process and rewrite it if necessary. And you know, create that hiring profile, and you know, really just building this teamwork. Like I like the foundation. And then once we had that foundation, it was like, okay, now I really got to focus on the revenue, and I mean everything kind of comes in together.
But it was really difficult when finding out that the impression I had of the role was going to be a bit different. That it was like, “you’re right! you got to be a player-coach, and you got to be on the phones, and that’s great!” but I’m a little bit different where I like to be on the outside looking in to then see where do I need to make changes. And if the team is growing to the point of like 10, 13 people, it’s a big ask. Right? So I believe yeah, there are certain points where you know you could have a team lead to help assist with these types of things. But the communication and expectation of someone’s role, it should be clear. Or you know and reviewed within some time as well.
Joseph Fung: Now, I think the really interesting thing and when we’re speaking about your journey earlier. You know, one of the things that stuck out to me is that that situation is such a real. And you know the frequent situation that happens at all levels. And I mean you’ve encountered it at a director level. And you know when we think about how true that is. I’d love to hear it. What are some of the things that you did to kind of recover, find your rhythm, coming out of that kind of setback?
Ilana Shulman: Yeah, and you know I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. And you need to be transparent being let go. It could be it could go two ways, you can think to yourself my gosh! Right, this is terrible like, what am I gonna do. Or you could just pick yourself up and be like, “well! I got a real figure out, what I’m good at?” and I gotta figure out my non-negotiables in terms of what I’m looking for my next role. And have a take away of what didn’t go well, like what led to this. So I really did a lot of searching, and you know it was tough like I felt down, I got rejected, oh! Probably 50 times! And I really had to sit down, and you know we’re, I didn’t want to get desperate.
I wanted to make sure that my next choice was going to be something that I was passionate about. And that it was going to be an ongoing role. Right? I mean having a role here in a role here for like, you know a year, it doesn’t look good, even if you’re you know amazing, you are what you are on paper. So it was really important to me that not only was I gonna find a role where I’m able to, I mean work as that Director Of Sale and bring revenue to the bottom line, but also have the ability to coach and train and build amazing relationships with my team. Like that was very important to me. And it kind of can create negativity when you’re explaining yourself like that because they don’t see you always as a director.
They’re gonna see you as someone who’s passionate about sales, but you belong in an enablement role, not a director role. But this was just something that I found was unique about me as a director. Like you know, and I knew I loved the training aspect and the coaching aspect way early in my career. You know, building those relationships and watching your reps not only grow as a salesperson but grow into their new and next role, and that was my priority if it was either in the company we worked at or if it was helping them externally if we didn’t have that space. Yeah!
Joseph Fung: I like how you spoke about when you moved into your first tech role at Outrank, about how you could still carry forward those things you liked that client engagement, those interactions. And even now, when you’re speaking about your latest director role, you’re again speaking about carrying over those things that are important to you. I love the phrase you use, “my non-negotiables”, it sounds like keeping those core to yourself. Isn’t just, you know, possible but required for success. Am I reading too much into that? Or is that a fair comment?
Ilana Shulman: You’re right! And you know you couldn’t sit there, and you couldn’t write out your vision board of what you’re looking for with your next role. And those are like if I was to make a sales word cloud of who I was, those words would stand out in terms of you know coaching and caring and empathy, relationship building, trust, promotion. Yeah, definitely, you’re on the right path!
Joseph Fung: OkayOkay this is great! So we’ve kind of followed your journey. You’ve had this setback; you found this new exciting role. Tell us, who is THP? What’s the value prop? What’s the elevator pitch?
Ilana Shulman: Yeah, okay so THP, was the leading provider of content, social media services. So we really work with Brand Managers and Marketers. We are a hundred percent an on-demand model. So we, you know, by creating high-quality content, social media strategies, it’s really easy, and it’s affordable, which is great! So I don’t know, but if you need other videos, photos, copyright, social media strategy, community management, that’s where you would come to for us. So…
Joseph Fung: Awesome that’s great! I could get as well. I should say congrats on finding that role that speaks to your non-negotiables into that direction that’s awesome. And I can hear the enthusiasm and excitement in your voice. So I’m really excited for you as well.
Ilana Shulman: Thank you!
Joseph Fung: I’m thinking a little bit about you know your journey we’ve talked a lot about where you’ve come from? I like to think about where you’re headed? Whether you want to think about it as what’s on your bucket list? Or what are you just still aspired to do? If we’re talking to you know Ilana Shulman in 10-20 years. What will you be proud of having accomplished that?
Ilana Shulman: Yeah, you know I put a lot of thought into this, and I do on a regular basis. And you know it’s not about moving into that next role into the next role. I think you know it’s even how you introduced me as saying like, you know, there are people who you know thank you for their career. I think that’s it! You know, like if in 10 years and 20 years I still have people saying, “Hey! You know, “oh! I know, Ilana! She definitely helped me in my career. She helped train me,” you know, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If I didn’t have some of her feedback or her coaching”, uh that would just be amazing to me in those 10 years. I guess it’s just being able to help other people like you know this sale, it could be a scary job entry. But it really doesn’t have to be.
Joseph Fung: Yeah, I don’t think so at all. Because you’re, sorry, I agree, it doesn’t have to be scary, and I think your story illustrates that perfectly! Alright! I’ve enjoyed this so much. I’ve got a couple of rapid-fire questions for you before we let you go! You’re going for it!
Ilana Shulman: Yeah go for it!
Joseph Fung: Awesome! Okay, you’ve worked at some of the best tech companies here. I’m super intrigued in your answer to this first one. What has been your favorite sales tool?
Ilana Shulman: Okay, and I have to admit, I have two. I’m sorry!
Joseph Fung: Total cheat answer! But let’s go for it!
Ilana Shulman: I know! Well, it depends on where you are and depends upon, and I’m still really early on in this very small sales team right now! So for me, working from home, I love that we are going to be with ring DNA. So for me, to be able to coach the calls live from home is amazing and being able to give live feedback and create a library is super essential for a new sales team. Number two, you know once you’re hiring people and you have new reps, onboarding is crucial. So I’ve always been a huge advocate for lesson lead. Being able to create those onboarding tools where everything is consistent, you’re working with, you know, being able to measure the onboarding success of your team.
Joseph Fung: That’s fantastic, so those are great antidotes for work. So, outside of the workplace or personally, what about movies, film? What’s your favorite movie?
Ilana Shulman: Oh, I’ve always said that I’m a huge fan of the movie “Casino”. I love it. I’ve seen it probably too many times for how long it is, it’s many hours of my life. But I’m a Dirty Dancing fan, I just I can’t get away from it. I love it, the music, everything about it.
Joseph Fung: That is so good! Yeah! You can’t go wrong at Dirty Dancing! That’s a great choice! Last one! When you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
Ilana Shulman: I mean I’d love to say something amazing like a doctor. But literally, I was obsessed with camping, canoeing and I thought for sure I was gonna grow up to be someone who just like taught people how to canoe. I was young, I was like, I’m gonna be one of those wilderness people and teaching people how to be out here! Didn’t guess I would follow the theme of fitness. But, yeah!
Joseph Fung: That’s so good! I love it! Ilana, thank you so much for sharing your story, your thoughts. This was such a great conversation! I really appreciate it!
Ilana Shulman: Well, thank you! It was a lot of fun!
Joseph Fung: I’ve had a blast! I’m looking forward to our next conversation, and I hope that you have all the success in your new role in coaching the remote team! This is great!
Ilana Shulman: Thank you!
Joseph Fung: Awesome! Will see you soon! \
Ilana Shulman: Yes.