Lydia Vargo: “Leave every conversation with the other person feeling heard and respected”

My advice is to train your mind to focus on the little moments that empower, bring joy and stretch you as a person. When your mind wanders toward dread, immediately pull out a few inspirational quotes that you have prepared to snap you out of a potential downhill spiral. Look at photos of better days, […]

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My advice is to train your mind to focus on the little moments that empower, bring joy and stretch you as a person. When your mind wanders toward dread, immediately pull out a few inspirational quotes that you have prepared to snap you out of a potential downhill spiral. Look at photos of better days, people you look up to and those who depend on you. Above all — seek positivity.

As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lydia Vargo.

Lydia Vargo is the VP of Global Strategic Accounts at ChicExecs PR & Retail Strategy Firm. Lydia spent many years studying Science & Psychology before joining a top Canadian Mutual Fund company in Sales & Marketing. Following a very successful 6 year career where she supported her territory through consultation and public speaking, Lydia quickly learned how to prosper in a fast-paced and competitive environment.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?

Thank you so much for the opportunity!

My path has certainly had its twists and turns however, I strongly feel that every portion of my journey has made me the successful salesperson that I am today. My university studies had nothing to do with sales, however my Psychology degree had an impact on my ability to relate and understand others which in my mind is a key component of sales. My time in finance prepared me for public speaking and financial planning, while a year of backpacking and 4 years in Australia, expanded my horizons and made me more relatable to others and vice versa.

I found ChicExecs soon after I moved to the U.S. and fell in love with the founders and company culture. Nikki and Kailynn quickly identified my gifts and empowered me to pursue roles that not only utilized them but helped me discover new ones as well. I have grown with the company over the past 8 years and have moved from Marketing to Retail Strategy to sales and now international strategic growth.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

My father refers to me as a raging extravert, and although I don’t believe this to be a prerequisite to becoming a great salesperson, it certainly helps. I am lucky enough to meet many people in my role, and over the years have had numerous unexpected encounters with old classmates, childhood & family friends, past co-workers and more. When it comes to sales you never know who from your past will resurface years later or who you will meet today. For that reason, it is extremely important that you always remain professional, respectful and see every conversation as something bigger than it may seem at the time. Treat everyone as though they are the Founder of a major corporation, and you will be surprised how your business will grow. A couple of years ago I spent some quality time at a tiny booth at a tradeshow and I genuinely appreciated their brand and connected with their team. A year later it was revealed that they were part of a MUCH bigger corporation, and due to that first encounter we are now a trusted partner and go-to for their PR & Social Media needs.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At ChicExecs we are incredibly lucky to be working on numerous exciting projects at any given time. One of the biggest draws for a potential client is that we have 55+ creative minds ready to advocate for their business. Last year alone our team planted thousands of trees, built an orphanage in Haiti, donated our time and expertise to some amazing charities, saw extraordinary growth for our brand partners and have inspired thousands of entrepreneurs through our Hustle Humble Box.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have had many professional “angels” throughout my career; however, I would have to say that there are 3 key women who are responsible for inspiring my work ethic and current success. The first was my boss at Mackenzie Financial in the final years I was there. Melissa Koehn had unwavering belief in my abilities as a salesperson, empowered me to try new things, stretched me to do things outside of my comfort zone and finally encouraged me to spread my wings and fly into the unknown. A mentor like that is extraordinarily precious, and I will be forever grateful for her.

The other two are the founders of ChicExecs. I approached Nikki and Kailynn after 5 years off the market to focus on my daughters, and after having read an article about their entrepreneurial success. They hired me on the spot and in the past 8 years have given me every tool at their disposal to build the career I am so proud of today. I have never once needed to ask for recognition, have always felt trusted, and in turn trust them to make adjustments to my role to bring further success for all. Whenever I present a “big picture” idea it is always listened to, considered and the majority of the time given a green light to move forward. They are quick to show grace when projects fail, and the first to celebrate loudly when they are successful.

It is much easier to be self motivated, find fulfillment and inspire others when you feel that those who have power over your career are genuinely fighting for your success.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

I believe that true salespeople have three common traits: the ability to relate easily to others, quickly identify a need and instill trust in the solution you can provide. My gift is less about sales and more a passion for understanding people, their core values and how I can help. When I started at ChicExecs we were a tiny team, and PR & Retail Strategy were new concepts for me. My first step was to do a deep dive into our services in order to truly understand how they could contribute to a brand’s success. Once I had dissected each one, I was able to rebuild them in such a way that was less intimidating for others to embrace. Today we have a team of close to 60 women and have continued to hire amazing talent through COVID-19, which is something we are extraordinarily grateful for. We must be doing something right!

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Uncertainty and loneliness are extremely powerful emotions, and if we are not careful they can overpower their counterparts- confidence and the sense of feeling loved. It doesn’t matter who you are, we all have days, and sometimes weeks/months and even years of feeling down and questioning our circumstances. In these times we naturally begin to look outward and compare our lives to those around us. At this point one of two things happen: 1) We decide that we are less worthy and our sense of dread grows. 2) We see another reality and find hope that “this too will pass”. With COVID-19 the world is facing an unprecedented situation and there is a clear divide when it comes to how to handle it. Any peace that we would normally attain from knowing it is only our personal world that is affected disappears when we look outward, and see the global impact of this pandemic. With that said there is also something incredible in that exact thought. The world is in this together. We are unified. Major issues are being unearthed and the world is acknowledging them together. Countries are looking to each other to learn and find solutions. It does not matter where you are located, what ethnicity, what political party you follow, religious belief or socioeconomic status; the virus affects us all without bias. Although that thought is upsetting, it can also facilitate growth and positive change if we let it. Humans were built to connect and commune together. COVID-19 is forcing us to separate which goes against our nature, and yet you see ongoing stories of how the world is finding ways to support each other, build bridges and grow for the better. Families are forced to “stay put” and just “be”. New couples are having to connect emotionally and mentally before they are able to do so physically. Children are home and confronted with the idea of boredom, a rite of passage for kiddos and one that drives creativity and empowers gratitude and exploration.

My advice is to train your mind to focus on the little moments that empower, bring joy and stretch you as a person. When your mind wanders toward dread, immediately pull out a few inspirational quotes that you have prepared to snap you out of a potential downhill spiral. Look at photos of better days, people you look up to and those who depend on you. Above all — seek positivity. Be deliberate in your surroundings, who you connect with, and what you listen to and watch on a daily basis. There is no telling the damage that can be done to your emotional state if you allow yourself to become fixated on current events. Restrict access to the negative, and protect yourself from triggers that may set you off in moments of vulnerability. If you are intentional in your surroundings and train your mind to focus on what is positive it becomes much easier to halt and snap out of any downhill spiral.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?

Amazing question. I agree that the concept of sales is tied into almost any position. A financial planner needs to sell the client on their ability to grow their bank account. A bartender needs to sell their ability to create the perfect beverage. A doctor needs to instill trust and security in the fact that they can bring health and healing for a patient. No matter what your “job” entails, there is always an element of sales that goes along with it. I believe that what makes a good “salesperson” is the ability to relate to others and build trust and comfort in their pending decisions. The best salespeople do not seek a simple transaction, but rather have a goal of building a long term partnership that leaves everyone feeling safe and supported from start to finish!

A good salesperson creates advocates…not a sale. Advocates are those who feel safe in what you provide and can’t help but introduce others in the future.

This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?

There is a lot of negative connotation when it comes to the word “sales”. Often people associate sales with the goal of pushing something that is not needed, onto another person. To be salesy simply means that you aren’t able to convince your lead of the value in what you are offering. I head up our sales and marketing teams, and yet if someone asked me if I was good at sales, I would likely respond with the fact that I don’t identify myself as a “salesperson” at all. I was given the gift of being a good listener, recognizing a need and providing a solution that fills that need. Full stop.

I do believe that there are varying tactics when it comes to sales, however if the end goal is to offer a solution to an acknowledged need, and you are bringing value, then whatever tactic you use to attain that goal is considered a success. Some people need someone more assertive to feel safe in the decision, others shut down if you are too pushy. A great salesperson can identify the best way to acquire a YES from that particular person…but with the knowledge that what they are “selling” something that will bring positive growth to their business.

The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?

I actually think that each of these stages are critical, and no sale can be done without them. You cannot go into a conversation without preparation or you will be flatly rejected and potentially offend them. If you are too aggressive in your approach (or lack confidence) then it will be a turnoff. If your presentation is weak, everything stops. And if you cannot handle objections, be confident in a close, or nurture the partnership once they are onboard, then the entire opportunity is lost. Each of these areas require a unique skill set and are key to your overall success. With that said, I would emphasize preparation, handling objections and closing as ranked most important when it comes to a strong sales career.

Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

At ChicExecs we have many ways of bringing in new partnerships. My number one focus is referral based. I take care of you…and as a result you feel safe in recommending us to others. Referrals are the best possible lead generator given someone outside of your company is endorsing your services. Other areas for lead acquisition are social media (LinkedIn and Instagram particularly). On these platforms you can get a true sense of the community and brand story- with a focus on building a connection.

In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?

Handling objections is not only to be expected but can make or break a sale. Being defensive is public enemy #1! Assuming you are selling something you believe in (which will always promote passion and instill security), assertiveness can at times come off as aggressive and defensive. The strongest salespeople spend more time listening than talking. There is much to be learned from an objection, and if you are listening carefully then you can quickly identify and soothe any concern. My personal discipline is to: Listen, repeat the message (from your perspective), acknowledge feedback WITHOUT being defensive and craft a genuine and honest reply.

Often a simple “in my experience” or “What we have seen” or “I have never thought of it that way before” etc. vs. “You are wrong”, or “I disagree”, can build a bridge of trust and potentially lead to a sale and long term partnership.

Leave every conversation with the other person feeling heard and respected. If you don’t know what to say, say nothing at all. Let them know you will ponder their point and get back to them ASAP. People who are leading with objections are ready for battle. Do not fan the fire. Acknowledge and respect their viewpoint, and if you are at a complete loss…then simply say that you will spend some time contemplating the discussion and reply promptly. This response not only makes them feel heard, but also buys you some time to craft the best possible response.

‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.

1- Closing has everything to do with the opening. Do they trust you? Have you done your homework? Do you see THEM and their business clearly, rather than the opportunity? Capture their attention and trust and you have yourself a sale.


3- Set a follow up touch point while still in the initial meeting.

4- Send a proposal within 24 hours if possible. Strike while the iron is hot.

5- Follow up if no response is given within 48 hours.

6- Sense of urgency: Is there a freebie you can include that is time sensitive to entice them to close?

7- Give feedback about their product service from another team member so they know you are thinking of them.

8- Send the set-up information early so that they can activate it when ready.

Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?

· Check in casually to ensure they have everything they need to make the decision

· Offer a call with another team member

· Send over a current event that made you think of their team. Did you see that news article today about….? You are a great solution to this problem, etc.

· Send a new opportunity that they are a fit for, and ask if you should hold their spot

· Invest in their brand and product line. Order their product. Be authentic. True advocacy is the best seller of all.

As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

This is a tough one, communication style is so personal to the individual. I have some clients who LOVE to text me their questions, while others believe texting to be unprofessional and “pushy”. My rule of thumb is to simply ask what they prefer when it comes to communication. I often give them the option to do audio vs video meetings, or stick with email exchanges. Everyone is busy and I often hear that bullet points are preferred which saves my team and I hours of work.

Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Wow…meaty one indeed 🙂 I believe that there is a general need for more listening in the world. People might “hear” each other, but they are not truly listening to the underlying message. Perhaps if the world embraced a communication style where every exchange encompassed active listening, practiced the art of repeating back the message to ensure understanding, and made an attempt to relate in some way without defense, then communication breakdowns, defensive behaviors and toxic encounters would be lessened. Not to mention an increase in empathy and grace.

I know that is a big ask but the world as we know it is certainly changing, so why not refine the things we can…starting with how we talk to one another.

How can our readers follow you online?, Forbes, LinkedIn

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

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