“Share Success Stories” With Mitch Russo & Barbara Rozgonyi

I would love to ignite a storytelling legacy movement. There’s so much to learn from different perspectives. Along the way, stories connect mentoring networks, generation gaps, branding bridges, marketing collages, and harmonious hearts. I’m working on an interview series now to weave stories, creativity, innovation, and people together. As a part of my series about […]

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I would love to ignite a storytelling legacy movement. There’s so much to learn from different perspectives. Along the way, stories connect mentoring networks, generation gaps, branding bridges, marketing collages, and harmonious hearts. I’m working on an interview series now to weave stories, creativity, innovation, and people together.

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 Barbara Rozgonyi.

A recognized digital future thought leader, Barbara Rozgonyi is the CEO of CoryWest Media, the founder of Social Media Club Chicago, a top 50 marketing PR blogger at, and a contributing author to two best-selling books. Whether they’re entrepreneurs, startups, small businesses, associations or Fortune 50 corporations, Barbara consults with her clients on ways to quickly achieve their goals to increase visibility, attract leads, grow sales, and click with crowds using social media, content marketing, and PR. Barbara loves sharing insights, crafting courses, and planning learning experiences for live and virtual events as an international keynote speaker and corporate trainer for CMOs, CX, sales, and marketing.

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?

Sure, follow me back to Danville, Illinois where I grew up in the same neighborhood as Dick Van Dyke, Gene Hackman, and Bobby Short. I got my start in sales going door-to-door selling boxes of chocolates for our high school marching band fundraisers.

As an introvert, it terrified me to think about ringing doorbells and talking to people I’d never met. As a Type A achiever, I couldn’t wait to compete for first prize for most sales.

When I saw how eager people were to buy chocolates, especially when several children inside the house assisted in closing, I looked forward to ringing the next doorbell.

After I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in marketing, I decided to pursue a career in sales — even though my business and technical writing professor found me a marketing communications job I could start right after graduation.

My sales career got off to a rocky start when I got fired from my first sales job selling eyewear. It was devastating, but also a huge relief.

Then, I went to work at Dun & Bradstreet as the company’s first regional inside sales rep. Our division provided leads to insurance agents who represented our company’s small business group insurance products. I learned a lot about how offices run, how leads work — or not, and how to close sales as I interacted with hundreds of sales agents in the Midwest.

Feeling brave, I left that job to step back into a sales rep position again. After six months and not one single sale, I attempted to resign before I got fired. When my manager offered me a chance to restart in a new territory, I agreed and hoped for the best. The third time was the charm.

Less than two years later I was leading the company in group sales. I qualified for the company’s trip to Hawaii where the sales rep who took over my former inactive, now thriving, territory also joined us.

Then, I moved from personal production into a national sales trainer role for a leading health care system. I traveled around the country and created customized team trainings that increased sales by as much as 400%.

Taking that knowledge, I transitioned from corporate life to entrepreneurship when I founded my company, CoryWest Media, which is named to honor the storytelling legacies of my mother and grandmother. Little did I know sales would become a central theme intertwined throughout every position, project, presentation, and client relationship.

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

What a fun question! Although I could choose from many, the one I’ll pick as most interesting is “How I Won a Trip to Represent the United States at Social Media Week Berlin.”

Even though I have the pictures, some days I still can’t believe I won. Here’s how it happened.

After speaking at a conference sponsored by Clemson University on how to use social media to sell event registrations in downtown Chicago, I hopped in a cab to go to Ogilvie Transportation Center.

On the way to the train station, I talked to the cabbie about business.

He said, “If you ever want to study how business is done right, you need to go to Germany.” As he pulled up to the Metra entrance, I thanked him and hopped on the escalator.

When I settled into my seat and checked my email, this subject line jumped out: Your Trip to Berlin.

Of course, I opened it immediately.

Nokia was sponsoring a contest to find two social media enthusiasts to represent the U.S. at Social Media Week Berlin. To enter, all you needed to do was write a 125-word blog post. On the ride home, I wrote out my entry. When I got to my office, I added a few links, including a video, and posted my entry on

And then I forgot about it. After all, my husband and I were planning a romantic trip to Portland, Oregon. A few days before our trip out west, I checked Twitter and found a tweet from Nokia asking if I’d read my email. I sent them a direct message asking them to resend.

When the confirmation came that I did, indeed, win the contest I didn’t believe it.

Really, me??? You’ve got to be kidding.

I asked for a phone number — it was in London. I called to confirm and, yes yes yes!, I did win a trip to Berlin, a pass to Social Media Week Berlin, and the new Nokia phone that my daughter and I both wanted.

Off I went on one of the most exciting journeys of my career. You can read all about it on my blog.

When I speak about storytelling, I use a method I came up with: CPR or challenge, process, result.

Challenge: Get to Germany

Process: Enter contest

Result: Win and go to Germany

The moral, or lesson, of this story, is: When you see a chance, take it.

Was I seriously one of the top two social media enthusiasts in the USA?

It depends on who you ask. But I do know I was one of the top two to submit a winning entry.

Here’s where sales comes in . . . maybe you have a prospect that you think is too much of a long shot so you never even try to reach out.

Why bother? Why not?

You’ll never know how far you can go. By the way, Berlin is incredible!

And, yes you really should see how they do business in Germany.

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

Currently, I’m developing an online course for manufacturers sales reps that will cover personal branding, content marketing, social selling, and digital media management.

All of the content is customized for the company and will be available on-demand.

Resources, like model profiles and LinkedIn profile checklists, will save the reps time, give them confidence, nurture relationships and amplify the company’s messaging, branding, and education throughout the buyer’s journey and into the ongoing customer experience.

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?

My one person is a collage of many mentors who challenged me and cheered me on when I needed confidence to take the next step. What did they have in common? They believed in me and encouraged me to stretch and grow.

My first manager in Indiana fired me yet encouraged me to keep selling with a different product.

My first director in Chicago hired me to be the first regional telemarketer for Dun & Bradstreet and then promoted me to the Midwest office manager.

My next sales manager sent me back to Indiana and gave me a second chance in Chicago, cheering me along until I was the company sales leader.

The executive team who gave me free rein as a national sales trainer and challenged me to come up with creative sales trainings and compelling marketing campaigns.

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

What makes someone an authority? To me, it’s enthusiasm, experience, empathy, and vision.

Validation happens when an authority becomes relevant. Followers look to authorities to share ideas, forge new frontiers, and develop best practices to inspire creative solutions and ignite innovation.

My credentials include direct sales experience, sales management, sales training, and sales consulting. A few of the projects I’m most proud of include being an InsuranceWebX sales mentor, presenting LinkedIn and sales training to international audiences at MDRT’s annual conference, being selected as a keynote speaker and workshop presenter for sales conferences, and developing customized action-oriented social selling programs for companies and organizations.

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?

When COVID-19 hit, we all had to reorient the way we navigated the world, our lives, and even our neighborhoods.

Our world will be different — it already is. Looking back at how our culture evolved in new ways after a crisis in the past gives us hope for the future.

Staying positive helps, as does laughter. Even a few funny videos can make your day brighter.

Find what makes you happy. Look for the joy in small moments and take it in. For me, it can be as simple as going on a walk on the greenway and stopping to listen to water rushing and birds calling.

If your business is on pause, take this quiet time to explore what matters most to you and map out where you want to go next.

It’s important to look ahead and not back. While no one can clearly see the future horizon, you can tune into insights from industry analysts who research what’s next.

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 versalite topics, is totally ignored?

Sales is a complex subject. When you look at the various factors that go into sales: public speaking, persuasion, communication, listening, empathy, relationship management, and even your personal branding, you’ll find many essential components to success in life.

Perhaps if we changed sales skills to career life skills, we’d see more schools making this fascinating, and essential, topic a required course.

This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, 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?

No one wants to be sold. Everyone wants to buy. Yet, if you’re good at being salesy, you’re serving the buyer with the information they need to make the right decision.

How can you be good at being salesy?

Ask your customers what they want. Give them want they need. Be confident. Listen. Ask questions. Explain how the sales process works. Walk them through what happens and when. Communicate just enough. Thank them for buying. Then, stay in touch.

Delivering a fantastic and personalized customer experience is what sales, and business, is all about right now. When you’re a partner or advisor, you’re an advocate for helping your customers achieve their goals.

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?

Presentation is my favorite part of the sales process. I approach every presentation as a performance opportunity. Who you are and how you take the stage can make or break a sale.

My “secret sauce” is a blend of ingredients, all designed to uncover the unexpected and present the future of success in a creative way. I like to design a PowerPoint presentation that converts to a .pdf proposal. Images add interest and talking points outline priorities.

A word document doesn’t have to be boring, but it usually is. If you need design inspiration, and you’re doing it yourself, check out free templates on Canva.

Presenting in person? Here’s where public speaking skills polish your delivery.

When you approach the presentation like a persuasive performance, you add an engaging and entertaining edge that your competition most likely won’t bring to the table. People are buying you as much as they are your product or service. Sometimes the sale is won, or lost, before you ever start presenting details.

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?

Start with your ideal buyer profile: who are they? what do they want/need? When are they most likely to buy? Where are they located? Why are they buying? How will their buyer’s journey align with your customer experience?

One of the best ways for my company to attract our target prospects is through my keynote event speaker or sales training workshop presentations, either live or virtually.

When people get to know you, they’ll trust you and refer you. If you’d like to hone your public speaking skills, check out Toastmasters. Your local National Speakers Association chapter may have a speaker training school, which a rich place to learn, grow, and practice.

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’?

Either you dread handling objections, or you look forward to reframing them.

Make a list of every objection you can think of and then go back and take a “yes, and” tip from Improv.

When you hear “Your price is too high.” You can say “Yes, and here’s why.” Now, you’re agreeing and pivoting the conversation in a positive direction.

If you want to study how to handle objections, watch an infomercial. Just when you’re thinking, “I bet that air fryer can’t bake bread,” the show host demonstrates not only how you can do that, but you can be slicing hot bread in under 15 minutes!

When I was a national sales trainer for a major healthcare organization, my job was to teach the reps how to sell an add-on life insurance product that no one wanted to sell — or buy. It. Was. Tough.

I decided to ask the best and the worst sales reps to tell me two things: their biggest obstacles and how they handled these objections.

At first the top sales reps didn’t want to spill their secrets. I started with the lowest performers and asked them “What reasons do people give for not wanting to do business with you?”

They came up with every possible objection.

I went back to the top performers and asked, “What do you say when you get this objection?”

They had a good comeback for every one of them.

Then, I took the two groups and had them role-play in sales training workshops. Understanding how to handle objections increased sales of both life — and health — insurance by up to 400% in some formerly inactive territories.

‘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.

Expect the Unexpected Sale

“Where do you think your next sale is coming from?” was my first sales manager’s favorite question. I always had an answer, but it wasn’t always right. Sometimes sales can come out of the blue.

“I was told you’re the only person in America who can help me,” was how a phone call started with someone I’d never met. A referral from a former co-worker, the call led to a consulting contract to rebrand a company, reorganize their marketing, and design a strategy to recharge their production with sales team training.

A blog post I wrote about a Disney movie led to two keynote speaker engagements. Thanks to search engine optimization [SEO] and a bit of fairy dust, the meeting planners were ready to book me before they made the call.

If you’re good at what you do, people will find you when they need you. Expect that, sometimes, the sale is already closed when the call comes in.

Be the Answer Person

Position yourself as someone with innovative answers about how to solve problems.

Offer solutions your buyer hasn’t thought of when you’re in the closing stages.

For example, when a client asked for a bid on a publicity campaign, we came back and offered PR services along with a strategic marketing consulting plan.

They didn’t ask for a marketing plan, but we took a long shot and they bought it. A much bigger solution, the marketing plan reframed their branding, sales process, marketing and distribution systems. In the process, they saved money, reinvented the industry, and opened new online markets ready to buy.

Show your clients solutions to bigger problems.

Share Success Stories

Remember the CPR method: Challenge, Process, Result.

Now, think about your best success stories as transformations.

What kinds of challenges or pain points were your clients experiencing when they found you? What process did you go through together to get to the result? Why were your customers so happy?

I use this method every time I present a proposal.

What’s the client’s biggest challenge? Let’s say they want more leads.

What’s the process? Our WIRED PR system in 4D consulting system maps out a plan.

What’s the result? Activating the strategic plan delivers qualified leads.

When you include success stories in your presentations, you present with credibility, experience, and validation.

Inspire Confidence and Trust

Buying can be scary and emotional. In the B2B space, buying can be especially risky and expensive. Why?

Because there’s so much riding on one decision. Let’s say the company is evaluating a new CRM [customer relationship management] system. Everyone hates change, but they know what they have is not working.

You want to help your buyer anticipate any obstacles to the sale and implementation so you can help them overcome them upfront. The more confident you are, the more confidence and trust you’ll inspire in your buyer. And, your buyer may be more than one person.

Getting a sale to fit just right can take a few back and forth meetings. Sometimes clients want to see a long menu of options, which can be confusing — or clarifying.

Given a list of possible consulting services, one client quickly set priorities to power up a trade conference, which was not what they wanted when the meeting started. A hotel pivoted from a strategy to grow meeting business to a content marketing plan to become a local influencer. Every decision moves in the right direction when it’s made with confidence and trust at the close.


“Imagine if . . .”

Imagine is a great word and it’s a wonderful way to begin to close a sale.

As soon as you say that word people start imagining what could be. Imagine the best possible outcome for your client and let them know how they can change to a better way, service, or solution with you as their advisor.

I love to use the power of imagine when I begin to close a sale.

When an association client wanted to present a digital marketing best sales practices program for higher ed, I asked them to imagine how they wanted their 500 members to feel when they walked out of the conference room. I took their answers and wove them into the sales proposal. They signed off. After I presented the program to close the conference, my client ran up to me and said, “That’s exactly what we wanted!”

Map Out Next Steps

This is where sales fall off and referrals never happen.

Sales is a series of small closes that add up to one big sale.

Think of your sales process path as a series of “small yes” stepping stones. Each one builds on the next. If your prospect strays off the path you can either gently lead them back or let them go.

It’s good to keep plans in motion. It’s even better to know how sales sail through at your prospect’s company. I always ask, “Who else do we need to talk to?”

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?

Ask an interested prospect when they’re planning to make a decision and then ask if it’s okay to set up a meeting to reconnect before you finish your presentation.

After a few weeks, I like to send out a quick follow up email like this.

Subject Line: Still need SUPER COOL SOFTWARE?

Hi Janna,

Hope you’re enjoying a wonderful week.

Checking in to say hello and to ask . . .

Do you still need super cool software?

If you’d like to keep the conversation going, click reply.



P.S. Did you see this article about how software keeps people happier?

Link to article

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?

If depends on your buyer’s preference. For example, a realtor may have clients who prefer texts and others who love getting phone calls.

But, phone calls can take time. In the B2B world, the sales process can be a long journey from interest to close with many checkpoints and people to talk to along the way. What’s the process to close the sale? Does signing a document online seal the deal?

No matter which method you choose, the way you communicate your message is key.

I’m a big fan of voice and video. Even though most phone calls go straight to voicemail, leaving a short, cheery message can perk up your prospect’s day.

Did you know you can leave voice messages on LinkedIn via the mobile app? You can also send gifs, images, and attachments via LinkedIn messages.

You may want to consider how you’ll support sales on social media. For example, Facebook Messenger is emerging as a high-value sales tool for some industries.

When you send an email, make it short and sweet. I like to post all relevant documents in a dedicated client Google Drive folder. This way, they can access the proposal and all accompanying documents easily without worrying about downloading attachments. It’s so much faster to click a link than search for multiple files.

If you want to give the prospect a gentle nudge, you can like or leave a comment on one of their social media posts. This tactic works well if you’ve already developed a social relationship. If you’ve never, ever interacted on anything and then you like 10 LinkedIn posts in 10 minutes, you’ll get the wrong kind of attention.

You can search for news, on Google or social media, and send a quick email saying “Hi there — congrats on the new VP. Great to see the team expanding. Looking forward to connecting again soon.”

Videos are a wonderful way to personalize your message and show your personality. Don’t worry about a high-production value. Record a quick message on your phone and send it over or post it as a private video on YouTube with a link you can send to them.

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. 🙂

I would love to ignite a storytelling legacy movement. There’s so much to learn from different perspectives. Along the way, stories connect mentoring networks, generation gaps, branding bridges, marketing collages, and harmonious hearts. I’m working on an interview series now to weave stories, creativity, innovation, and people together.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers may connect with me on LinkedIn , Instagram , Facebook, and Twitter, — and access over 1200 blog articles by visiting

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

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