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Ep110 Transcript: Interview with Jill Konrath
Jill Konrath is a force of nature. In her fifties, she became an internationally recognized sales expert training all over the world. And now in her seventies, she is launching a new venture called What’s Really Possible listen in as we dive into her journey and how she’s really done it.
Andrea Vahl: Hello Dreamers. Welcome to the Late Starters Club, giving you the inspiration mindset and tools you need to start something midlife and beyond. Remember, it’s never too late to follow your dreams.
Hello everyone. It’s your host, Andrea Va, and I am here with the fantastic Jill Konrath. We met many, many, many years ago when she was doing her previous Iteration of all the changes in pivots that she’s made throughout her years. But I want to just talk to her today about her new launch of whatsreallypossible.com.
She’s doing this to engage people in creating a better future, but, prior to that, she was an internationally recognized sales expert, author and speaker, and that’s where I met her originally. We spoke at the same conference, and so I’m super excited to dive into all of your changes and what’s really possible. Jill, welcome.
Jill Konrath: Thanks Andrea. I’m glad to talk about it because there’s so much more possible than what we’re facing today.
Andrea Vahl: Yep. Exactly. I just felt such an alignment when I saw what you were doing and I was like, that’s exactly what the Late Starters podcast is about. And you are launching this, in, and you even launched your sales career later, a little bit later in life, right? So why don’t you give us a little bit about your background and, we were talking a little bit about all the different changes you’ve had throughout the years. Tell us the leading up to what’s really possible right now and how you’ve made some of these changes.
Jill Konrath: Yeah. Yeah. Let me, let, let me just start out with the typical thing, a person my age. And, and by the way, I’m 71 right now, will soon be 72. So I am really starting over on the next phase of my life. But growing up my age, women became teachers, and so I was a high school teacher for about four and a half years.
And I hated it. If you had to ask me a job that was like worst for, for me, just for me. It was that, and I, so I tried to get another job back then, but people wanted to hire me as a bank teller or something like that. And I was like, no, there’s more here than a bank teller, but ultimately they wouldn’t hire me because I was a high school teacher and I didn’t have any other qualifications.
I started to work with a couple other people to come up with an idea for a company. We found a really good one. Went to the service core of retired executives and they said, this is good. It’s timely. We see you three is being able to pull it off. And then he looked at the three of us and he said, now which one of you three is going to be doing the sales?
And I leaned forward with a nasty look on my face and I said, I thought you said it was a good idea, and he said, it is Jill, but somebody has to sell it. And it was like, it made me sick. I hated sales. So I essentially said, okay, I’ll do it. Went into sales. Discovered it was totally different from what I thought it was, that it was really about helping serve your client and, and helping them achieve their objectives did really, really wonderful.
Never went back to my other idea. Ultimately moved from my first company, Xerox, to selling computers and found it wonderful. Then had two babies and so had to do some adjustment and working, crazy busy, like all the time. So I took some time off, like a year off and I came back, I started my own consulting business working primarily with companies on their sales issues.
And I did that for a number of years. And then oh, I had a really good business. It was. A lot of good clients and up until now we’re talking about the year 2000. And what happened in 2000 was that there was some recession that was going on and both of my big clients who had booked me out for five months straight.
I had no spare time. I had the whole future booked out. Both of them came under pressure from Wall Street at the exact same time and cut me off. It’s just sorry, Jill. You’re an outsider. We cut our outsiders first. And so I had all this blank time in front of me and then I tried to get some work. I hung in there for a while and they never came back.
And then I tried to get some work and nobody answered the phone and all the calls were the voicemail and I’d email people and nobody emailed me back. And I thought, oh God, Jill, remember, I’m about 50 years old right now at that point. And I’m thinking, you’re over the hill. You’re over the hill. You haven’t been out there selling it for these last 15 years because you’ve been doing consulting.
No wonder nobody wants to hand you know, to do anything with you. And I, and I just, I walked through the Valley of death. For myself, because I just had lost everything. And then one day I realized I was out talking to people, I networking at that time. And I finally let my guard down a little bit.
And when I say let my guard down, people say, usually it’s say, how is business? And I go, fine. And I have this nice chipper look on my face and I finally said, I’m really struggling. Nobody’s answering the phone, blah, blah, blah. That whole thing again. And everybody said, oh, I’m having the same problem too.
I’m having the same problem too. And it was like, it was such, so such a wake up call for me that it wasn’t me who was over the hill. It was a problem that other people were facing and knowing that allowed me to detach from the. Scary feeling that I was having inside of me, like they had no future
allow me to detach and go, oh my God, it’s not me.
This is the problem that everyone is facing. It’s a challenge, and I’m going to dig in to see if I can figure out what it takes. And so I spent a lot of time researching and experimenting and experimenting and ultimately figure out how to get my own business back. And then I had to pull myself back from that and say, now that I’ve got this system for me, how can I de Jill it, so that it works for other people?
And did that and then wrote a book and my whole business changed and then wrote another book. I thought one book was all I had in me and now five books later four books of sales and one another topic.
That’s what happened from there. And, and that all started at the age of 50. And now I have completed that cycle of my life, and I know it’s complete because I lost interest.
It’s okay, now what? And what I’m doing today is something that’s been on my mind for a number of years, and I was always afraid to go ahead with it or trying to finish up my, the sales stuff. But then I went through some personal challenges with the loss of my husband, mother and father within a short period of time and had to, it, it’s like there’s no there, there, and, and I finally was getting my.
Mojo back, and I do live in the Minneapolis area. And then, COVID, and then we had George Floyd, the murder of George Floyd in our backyard. And it was like, ah. And I spun and spun and spun, and finally, finally I figured out what I wanted to do when I grow up.
Andrea Vahl: Perfect.
Perfect. And this will be for the next 20 or 30 years.
Jill Konrath: I’m giving a minimum of 10,
Andrea Vahl: yeah.
Jill Konrath: I going to know when I’m 82. I might want to try something new.
Andrea Vahl: Yeah. I love it. I love it. So great. So that’s amazing and I love that you like, didn’t even realize you were going to be writing books when you were in your fifties and now you wrote five. It’s just, and, and you were, you spoke all over the place that your speaking career started in, in your fifties.
Jill Konrath: I remember when I was first starting to write my book, my first book, selling to Big Companies. I remember thinking I, if I’m going to write this book, I want it to sell because it’s very, it’ll be helpful to people if it sells. So then I did research on what. Did do I need to do in order to sell the book.
And I wanted to get a publisher and then I wanted people to buy it. And I remember reading a book and it said you needed to be a speaker. And it was like, oh shit. I hate speaking. I hate speaking. I know this is what’s funny, isn’t it? So then I joined National Speakers Association and learned how to be a speaker.
And, and all this was happening. Oh, it’s just too much. It’s just too much. But I kept going and every time I’d find out something more, there was so many, oh my god moments. I can’t believe I’m doing this. And another big one at that point was I was so upset because I’m, I’m just this small consultant in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, which is the suburb of St. Paul. That’s what I was thinking at that time. And I was so tired of all the people who were out there in my field who were successful in this, the voice of sales, and they were all bald white men. And I kept thinking, why don’t the women step forward? Why don’t the women step forward?
And it’s there’s there, there’s a few other women that have written books and I hadn’t written it yet, but I was doing that and, and one day I woke up and went, oh my God.
It seems to me that I am the only one who is bothered by no women out there, and women absolutely need a role model. So I went, oh, shoot. Looks like it’s my job to be visible out there. And so then I had to learn all these new skills about being visible and, and doing what I have done since then. And writing a, writing a newsletter since 20, I think my first newsletter was 2001. And it’s evolved over time and it’s an old new field right now, but I was up to 145,000 subscribers on my newsletter and and I just kept writing and writing and became a highly visible woman in sales, a role model for young people.
Andrea Vahl: That’s awesome. That’s so great. And I love that, you became that role model, not only as a woman, but a woman in her fifties who, like you said, like so many, it can be very challenging time thinking with lots of people thinking I’m over the hill, and you were the example saying, no, we can get out there.
Jill Konrath: Yeah. But I, but I felt like I was over the hill and then like I had to claw my way back and, and a whole new thing started,
Andrea Vahl: yeah. Yeah. So tell us how did what’s really possible come about in terms of the mission and what your vision is for this? What are you planning for this cycle and this product or whatever, you know, new thing,
Jill Konrath: I prefer to think of myself as an evolutionary person, and I don’t have. The end goal, the end. I don’t have everything in place. Okay. This is not something that I know where exactly it’s going. I am in the process of discovering where it’s going to lead me, which I, I could never have imagined what would’ve happened with, the sales consultant who lost all her business either.
So I’m okay with just starting. The genesis of it, I think is, is interesting because it happened probably 15 years ago, maybe more. I was at, there were a couple incidents. I went a football game with my husband. We were playing in a different part of the country. We, when I say we, not, my husband and I, my son was playing in another part of the country and, and we, my husband and I at the time went down to visit.
Watch the game and we’re standing at a bar outside after the game and, and a young man comes up to us and, said, where, where are you from? And I said we’re from, Minnesota. Oh, he says, red State or Blue State, first question. It’s whoa. Nobody’s ever asked me that before.
I said Minnesota’s an interesting state because half of our, our. Representatives are Democrat, half of them are Republican. We have two senators who are both Democrats, but our governor is Republican. And our previous governor was Jesse Ventura. The pro wrestler was an independent. Oh, and they’ve then the young man.
Oh, oh. So what news channels do you listen to? That’s the next question
Andrea Vahl: Wow.
Jill Konrath: I know, and I said I really try to. See multiple news channels. Like I’ll watch cnn, Fox, MSNBC nbc, I try to get my news from a lot of sources to see what’s really going on because they, some of them have their own point of view.
And then he turned away and never spoke to me again. Because I don’t think he could put me in a box and without me being in a box, he didn’t know if he could talk to me. And, and that really bothered me that the division was So strong that a young man couldn’t carry on a conversation with me. It really, really got to me.
And then a little while later, I was talking to a neighbor and she had different positions on what was going on in the world than I did. And, and I was talking about an issue and I remember saying I was one of those, I’m, I’m just one of those millions in the middle who believe whatever the topic was, and she said, I am too.
And I went out and bought a domain back then called millions in the Middle, knowing that somehow I was going to use it at some point, and now is the time when I was ready to use it.
I finally decided to accept that mission in my life, to focus on that. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it because it felt too like I had to be too much of a smart person and about political issues and I needed to have real ideas, but I’m not that kind of person. I’m just, I’m not, that that’s somebody else’s job to do the deep dive into the issues and to present what works and what doesn’t work. But, so I had to step back and say what am I really good at? Not what do I suck at?
because it took me, I was trying to start millions in the middle for two or three years and I could not get it off the ground. But then at that point, I realized that I also had another domain name that I bought. About the same time called what’s really possible, and I, oh, I could talk about what’s possible and I could get people engaged and working toward what’s possible.
So once I made that mental shift to do that was like, oh, my job is to inspire people to take action. Everybody out there, if we’re part of this country, we have a role to play. And if you’re mad at something and, and not talking to people because they’re different from you, we can’t do anything.
We have to learn to have conversations together so we can work together. We need to trust people. We all need to take a project that is something that we care about and use our volunteer time or our regular time to tackle some of these issues facing our local communities first and then certainly our, our country and, and global issues as well.
But we need everybody. We can’t just keep pointing fingers.
So that’s what I’m doing. I don’t know where it’s going.
Andrea Vahl: What I think that’s great to just get started and sometimes it goes in a whole different direction than you expect. And I love how you saw that there was resistance around the one idea, because it was just maybe needed a little bit of a reframe, and then once you got the different mission, the different perspective on that. Then you were able to get in the flow and get it launched. So that’s, that’s really cool.
Jill Konrath: Yeah.
And And I’m real excited because once I knew that I could go under the, what’s really possible Idea concept, it just flowed, it was just like, whoa, let’s get going. I hired a website company to work with me and help me create what I wanted to create and then started to be fun.
And now now it’s, it’s going, I’ve, I’ve put out three or four newsletters so far, I’m bringing my people with me that have read me over the, over the years and hopefully be expanding the number of people who are focused on what’s really possible, not what we can’t do, because most of us agree on so many things.
Nothings happen. Yeah.
Andrea Vahl: So true. Yeah. That’s so great. And I love that you got that launched and everything like that. And one of the things you had talked about, and one of the questions I ask people as you’re launching something new, and you mentioned this in our discussion a little bit about the importance of having the funding to launch something new. And so where does that come into play? How did you figure out, you had you paid for someone to do design the website, and what’s your process for figuring out that funding and making sure that you’ve got the means to keep this going and things like that?
Jill Konrath: It’s a dual edge question because I’m in a position right now where I’ve had, a good run and so I’m financing and I’m doing it, on my own. Right now I’m pulling it out of my own bank account to get this thing started because I just need to own it right now.
I need to own it from every, every ounce of my body needs to be putting herself into that role. In the past, like when I launched Jill Konrath and some of the initiatives I worked with people and I would barter, to do different things. I can help this you with this and you can help, with that.
The other thing I’ve done consistently is, if I look through all my last 20 years of my life, starting JillKonrath.com and then starting where I am right now, I do get groups of people together that become support groups and can help me with different things and vice versa, and I can help them.
I’ve formed a number of groups, which helps people spread the word and has created revenue opportunities for other people too. So there’s many things that I’ve done and I’ve learned how to get sponsors. I know how to get sponsors because I got sponsors with my sales website and I got repeated sponsors and it was a very profitable business. Plus I was speaking and doing some training and product launch and consulting and stuff like that, but now I’ll be doing something in the future because usually I can’t not do it. But again, I’m self-funding this project because it means a lot to me and I don’t want it to be corrupted by a sponsor’s perspective right now of what I’m doing.
And I ‘m not trying to make money doing this right now. This is more my pro bono part of my life. To do something that I really feel important about.
Andrea Vahl: Oh, that’s great. That’s great. Yeah. I love that because I think that’s another advantage I think we have as late starters is we’re a little more liquid than we were when we were 20,
Jill Konrath: A little??? Come on. I was making $8,000 a year at that point in my career..
Andrea Vahl: Yeah. Yeah. So it makes it fun that you can, because I remember I designed my own first website and it was terrible and there was many late nights of me crying, wondering how to work WordPress, and
Jill Konrath: Yeah.
Andrea Vahl: So it’s nice that you get to hire things and hire people.
Jill Konrath: I have I’ve had people because, they believe in my cause. Because this is a cause that I’m going after. In a sense they’ve been sponsors because they haven’t been charging me their full rate. And I appreciate that because this is my passion project and I’m hoping to make a dent in this world to solve some of these problems.
Andrea Vahl: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And one of the things that you had also mentioned that I think is really important, you talked about gathering those groups of people and connecting with those relationships. So talk a little bit about how relationships have helped you’ve launched multiple businesses at this point.
Jill Konrath: Oh, I can tell you. Yeah. Let me take you back to when I had just started out with Jill Konrath being me. And my own website and everything. I had come from a background of consulting on product launch and I was on a board for a library and I got the idea because it was a business library.
I got the idea that we could put on a, we meaning me and some other people I would pull together, could put on a new product launch session. And promote it in the Twin Cities area, Minneapolis, St. Paul area. And so I pulled together about five or seven people. One of them was a website developer, one of them was a marketing specialist, and another one was he had a company that helped people get appointments.
And there were a bunch of us that came together and we put on an event and each one of us shared it with our own databases and we publicized it in whatever way we want. We had 150, 200 people there. At this local event with all these experts speaking and talking about launching a new product from this perspective and this perspective.
And every one of us got business out of it from somebody else.
And then I started another group with, again, I’m in sales at this point with other people who were in sales. And this was a group of women. One woman was in, marketing and helped people get ready. Another one did pr, another one worked with sales leaders. Another one worked with small company CEOs. And we had these group, and we’d get together once a month and we would brainstorm what we were doing, and we would share clients, because we were in related businesses. And so it made sense for all of us.
Andrea Vahl: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, That’s so smart, because then you’re doing it together and you’re accountable to each other and I love that. That’s always great. Do things in a group and things happen.
Jill Konrath: Things happen. Yeah. And the other thing I did in probably 2008, 2009, is I started again, because I was on this, women in sales need other role models. I decided to put on an event for four women in sales featuring only women’s sales experts. Who I’d be known around the country, put it on in Minneapolis.
We had about 150 people there, and I had other women sales experts in talking about their area of expertise and the group is still together, by the way, it’s now called Women’s Sales Pros. I’m no longer the leader of it because I’m better at starting things than keeping things going. And Lori Richards is wonderful at keeping groups together, but we’ve got women’s sales experts from all around the world that are now part of this group, and we share business.
Somebody’ll say, to me, we’d love to have you talk. We’re looking for negotiation expertise, can you do talk on negotiation? I suck at negotiation, so I said you should be talking to this person and I would constantly refer people to others in my group.
So it’s the forming of a group of colleagues in related industries that can really make a difference.
Andrea Vahl: Yeah. And that’s so important as an entrepreneur, when you’re running your own thing and not part of a office or a big….
Jill Konrath: Yes. You’re so alone there. You’re so alone if you’re an entrepreneur so often, and it’s just so important to have somebody you can call up at 10 o’clock in the morning, have coffee with.
Andrea Vahl: Yeah, yeah, yeah,
Jill Konrath: Or have a Zoom meeting, but just have a human being to touch and talk to.
Andrea Vahl: Tell us a little bit about where fear and overwhelm have shown up for you in some of the ventures that you’ve done. I know you were telling a great story before we started, but I want to just talk about that even in general and how that has played a part in how you’ve gotten through it and gotten past it.
Jill Konrath: Okay, I’ll start out with a career ending opportunity going into sales. And when I first went into sales, I really studied sales hard and I remember reading a book one weekend and it said that if you’re dealing with the administrative assistant, you’re at the wrong level. You should be calling on the boss.
And I had just been on a call earlier that week, it was a weekend, the week before I’d been on a call where I was dealing with the administrative assistant and I remember saying to myself, oh my God, I really screwed up. I’m working with the wrong person. So on Monday I got on the phone and I contacted the president of this smaller company and told him, I understand you’re making a copier decision. I’d love to come in and talk with you about it. And he said, okay.
And so I went back the following, Wednesday or something to meet with the president of the company. Of course, the person who came down to bring me to his office was the administrative assistant that I had just, made a loop around and she said to me, Jill, what are you doing here?
I said I’m here to see your boss, the president, and she said, and she leans into me literally, points her finger in my face and said, I told you I was making the decision. And then she starts swearing at me and I’m in the lobby and I faint dead away on the floor. Now I’ve only been in sales for a few months at this point, okay?
And I’m on the floor and I come to, and all these people are around me, and she’s kneeling down and she’s saying, are you okay? And I said, yeah, yeah, I’m okay. As I get up to my knees and sit down there and she said, don’t you ever come back to this office again. And so I sat there for a little while and finally left in tears.
And I got to my car and I started sobbing. I had just left a cushy teaching job, which I hated. And gone into sales, which I never wanted to be in sales.
There I am, and I’m thinking Xerox is going to fire me, for this thing. And I find, and I remember being there and just literally stopping to think and say, okay, Jill, you really, really screwed up here.
You really screwed up. You failed. And then at some level something happened and I switched what I was doing, and I went, no, no, no. Something screamed in my brain. No, no, no. You’ve just had a valuable learning experience. Yes. You goofed. You had a valuable learning experience. What did you learn?
And I thought about it and I said, I went around her, I could have invited her to bring me in, but it took me a while to get it. All I knew was what I did was wrong and I wouldn’t repeat it.
And it was a valuable learning experience and, I have to tell you for the rest of my career, that one incident saved me a gazillion times. because I have made a lot of mistakes. I really have. And I think all of us do. Some of them are costly and some of them are just stupid, but I’m really good at reframing things and to take a look at this and here’s what happened and I’m a failure, I’m over the hill.
No, no. I’m not a failure. I just had a valuable learning experience and what really matters is that I take the learning out of it so that I can apply it going forward. So that’s situations just one.
Andrea Vahl: I love that. That’s just such a great lesson, the reframe, because it is this voice in your head. But that is just an amazing story. You fainted right?
Jill Konrath: Oh yeah. Dead away. And I had a short skirt on and I laid on the floor in a very inappropriate position until I came to, yeah. One of my memories. Mm-hmm.
Andrea Vahl: Oh my goodness. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. I love it. And yeah, it’s so important to be able to try and keep remembering that reframe skill because it is just all stories we tell ourselves and it’s all about what lesson that we’re going to learn from it.
So that is awesome. That is awesome. I enjoyed talking to you so much but our times come to a close and what I love to always ask my guests is a favorite quote or inspirational saying that inspires you and keeps you going.
Jill Konrath: Okay. The first one I had up, I got it up. I’m going to tell you two. I have to,
Andrea Vahl: Okay. That’s great!
Jill Konrath: When I say had it up, I had it pinned to my wall for years.
Never say never. Never say never. It’s not, I can never do that. No, never say never. I just haven’t figured it out yet. That was the big thing.
And then the one I have up on my wall today, and I have it here, but you can’t read it says, speak your mind even if your voice shakes. Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes by Maggie Kuhn.
I don’t even know who she is, but as I go forward today with what I’m doing, dealing with political issues and left and right and red and green and blue, when all these colors that are out there, it’s like. I’m going to speak my mind. Even if my voice shakes I’m going to be the reason.
I’m going to be the voice of calm, come on you guys. We can do this. We have to use common sense. We can come together, but I have to speak, and it’s scares the living daylights out of me to do that. It really does.
And people don’t think that, but it does scare me.
Andrea Vahl: Yeah. Well that’s amazing. I think the best things are scary things and it just is good to push past that. And when you’re not seeing the person who’s leading that, you’ve taken charge in both. Women in sales and now, getting into what’s really possible with bringing community together.
So I love that.
Jill Konrath: Thank you.
Andrea Vahl: We’ll have all the links in the show notes here, whatsreallypossible.com. Where else can people connect with you and find you?
Jill Konrath: LinkedIn. You can follow me on LinkedIn. That’s why I’ve got a lot of followers on LinkedIn. And I’ll be starting to publish more on LinkedIn too, but I would like to say that if they visit my website, it says, join me. This is, join me. When you join me, you get my newsletter, and you join me on this mission to make a world, come together and get some stuff done that the majority of us agree on.
So I’m asking people to join me on this adventure.
Andrea Vahl: That’s great. Love it. Jill, thank you so much for your time and sharing your, your inspiration with my listeners here. And I just wish you well on this new venture of yours.
Jill Konrath: Thank you so much.
Andrea Vahl: Hope that was helpful, and make sure you grab the free guide Top Tools for Late Starters on the website at latestartersclub.com and let’s turn dreaming into doing
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