Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Shari Levitin, CEO of Shari Levitin Group, located in Park City, UT, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Mid-sized to Fortune 500 companies hire us to help solve the sales problems of today's changing consumers: navigating virtual selling strategies, creating personalized value in a world of sales automation, and teaching that the "heart sale" is always more profitable than the "hard sale."
Tell us about yourself
Like most sellers, I didn't dream of becoming a salesperson when I grew up. In the summer after my senior year, I answered an ad in the paper for a sales position at Marriott. I was hooked! Then, I met the man who would become my mentor. Under his tutelage, I became the top salesperson in the company and was asked to train sellers in other locations. A few years later, one of the sales leaders asked a group of sellers a hypothetical question: What would you do if you won the $35M lottery jackpot?
One guy said he’d form an outdoor adventure company, and another would buy a home in Paris. When it was my turn, I said, “I'd start a training company to help people transform to find their true passion in life.” I looked around the circle at puzzled faces.
It was then that I realized my life purpose. I didn’t need to win the lottery. I simply needed to formulate a plan. I started Levitin group in 1997, and we became an International training company within three years. Today we work in over 40 countries on five continents, helping sales leaders "make the rest as good as the best” through our proprietary tools and live and online workshops. I feel like I won the lottery!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Within the first weeks of the pandemic, a year’s worth of my live keynote speeches and seminars were suddenly canceled. I called our team together and asked ourselves, “How will we replace this revenue?”. With so much uncertainty, we were stymied. Then, we revisited our five core values: Consumer centricity, empathy, creativity, positivity, and curiosity. We realized that we were asking the wrong question. The last thing our clients were thinking about was, “How can I spend more money?” This wasn’t the time for an “ask." After all, money follows value. There are no shortcuts. So, we pivoted and asked, “How do we give our customers more value?
We contacted all of our customers over the next few days and offered our help. We facilitated free sessions and invited our customers to share new insights and best practices. We offered lunch and learned with timely content. Within a few short weeks, we realized what they really needed was virtual workshops targeted at virtual selling skills. We hired experts, took courses, and performed beta tests with our best clients. We created virtual rock shows with themes, contests, breakout rooms, collaboration, and real life case studies. The result? 2020, 2021, and 2022 resulted in a fifty percent increase in revenue and new product offerings that helped our clients through the pandemic and generated a new revenue stream for them that they will continue after the pandemic. Although the tools have changed, the customer’s need for insights and connection remains the same.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I'll never forget when my mentor taught me my most valuable leadership lesson. One year I decided I would be the top salesperson in the entire company. Everybody said you'll never be able to do it. You won't be able to beat Bill. Bill is the top salesperson every year. My boss, my mentor, stood up, and he said, "You watch her, she'll do it. She has a rare talent." Well, sure enough, I worked harder than I'd ever worked. I trained harder than ever, and at the end of that year, I became the top sales person in the whole company, in all of Marriott. I'll never forget it because my boss sent me a bouquet of flowers so big I could hardly get through my office door and a card that said, "You have a rare talent."
I did so well that I got a promotion, they made me a manager so that I could work longer hours and make less money. Pretty soon, half my team hated my guts. I didn't know what to do. I had no training on how to be a manager. So I went down to my boss's office. I said: "You know what? Maybe I'm going to go back into sales. I don't think I'm cut out for this management thing." I'll never forget what he said, "Do you want me to teach you to be the world's greatest sales manager, or are you going to quit?" I said, "No, no. Tell me. Tell me."
He says, "All right, you're going to have hundreds, maybe thousands of salespeople work for you throughout your career. When you find one, even if they're not that good, but they look like they want to learn, I want you to pull them into your office, close the door, look them in the eye and tell them they have a rare talent." I said, "Are you telling me that all this time you've been telling me I have a rare talent, and you didn't mean it?" He said, "What difference does it make? Look at you."
Now, 25 years later, to this day, I still don't know if I had or have a rare talent, but I do know that I had a boss, a mentor, and a manager who believed in me more than I believed in myself. You see, he had this rare ability to find the rare talent in everybody. I have to pay this forward as a business owner and find the rare talent in each of my employees and help them see it will not only serve to dictate their success it just might change their lives.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Create a culture of learning and development. While It’s difficult today to attract and retain top talent, you can transform your business into one that has top talent beating down your door! Employees today cite the ability to learn and grow as the key driver of where they work and how much effort they exert.
- Get a mentor. Your brain needs to know what’s working and what isn’t so it can improve. I recommend finding a mentor, as I did, who is competent, dependable, and driven to help facilitate your growth and provide real-time feedback.
- Be customer-centric in all you do. In today's environment, 73% of people purchase based upon how they feel they have been treated during the process, and 59% of consumers will switch brands (even that they are happy with) if they believe they will have a better customer experience elsewhere, and 86% will pay more for a product or service for a better customer experience.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.