Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 321: Q & A with Omi Bell @iamshellybell

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If you’re not already subscribed to Sales Pipeline Radio, or listening live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m Pacific on LinkedIn (also on demand) you can find the transcription and recording here on the blog every Monday morning.  The show is less than 30 minutes, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities. You can subscribe right at Sales Pipeline Radio and/or listen to full recordings of past shows everywhere you listen to podcasts! Spotify,  iTunesBlubrry, Google Play, iHeartRADIO, Stitcher and now on Amazon music.  You can even ask Siri, Alexa and Google!

This week’s show is entitled, “Closing the Funding Gap for Woman and Minority-Owned Start-Ups” and my guest is Omi Bell, Founder & CEO of Black Girl Ventures.

Keep reading to learn about:

  • The venture capital funding gap for woman and minority-owned start-ups
  • A framework for diverse hiring, marketing, and funding
  • Important skills and lessons from door-to-door sales

Listen in now for this and MORE, watch the video or read the transcript below:

Matt: All right. Welcome everyone to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. My name is Matt Heinz. I’m your host. We are here every week, Thursday at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. Thank you everyone for watching us.

If you’re watching this on demand, or if you’re listening to this through the podcast, thank you so much for listening, for watching, for subscribing. Every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio past, present, and future always available at salespipelineradio.com.

I’m very excited for our episode today. This is about six months in the making. I feel like we first started talking about this in February, which feels like not only was it a long time ago, but a whole economic period ago, potentially. Omi Bell, you’re the CEO of Black Girl Ventures. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Omi: Thank you for having me. I’m excited.

Matt: I am as well. So many things we can talk about. I’m going to start with the vacuum cleaners. Because I think, we talked about the work you are doing to help minorities, black and brown people, get better access to capital to grow their business. I want to talk about that and sort of where that came from and how people can get involved. But you mentioned that you got your start in sales and that helped you learn how to be a fundraiser, selling vacuum cleaners. Talk a little bit about how you got into that. And what’s it like to be a vacuum cleaner salesperson?

Omi: Well hello to the Sales Pipeline Radio audience. Thank you so much for having me, Matt. If you think about it, when you are selling vacuum cleaners, this is pre-COVID pre-monkeypox pre-world-gone-wild. You had to walk up to someone’s door. Get them to let you in their house to show them something that they already own. I don’t know any other layer of sales that deep. Where it’s like, “Hey, I got to get into your house and show you something that you already have and tell you why mine is better.”

And the person who trained me, what he would do is he would say, “Everybody’s coming through and showing you.” It was Electrolux, the ones that I was using, that I was selling. He would say, “You know what? Everybody’s coming through and showing you these vacuum cleaners. But the one thing that they’re trying to sell you on is the thing that isn’t what the vacuum cleaner does best, vacuum. They’re selling you on shampooing. They’re selling you on noise, all these different things, but they’re not selling you on this. Let me just show you how well it vacuums.” And it would hit the core of people. Where they’re like, “Actually, I do want to vacuum better.”

And I think that’s when you get that buy-in, that’s the key. But now when you’re outside the door, you only have a small window to get into the door. One, the door has been slammed in your face a bunch of times. So when I say it prepared me for fundraising, it was because it literally prepared me for what I like to call the rhythm of no’s.

Like no’s have a beat to them. And you have to figure out your dance and how you’re going to get over the next no. Because they will happen. No is a part of life. You just keep going. Because you know there’s a yes coming somewhere. And so, you start to get better at the spiel at the door.

Matt: So, a couple things I want to follow up on that then. I mean, you talk about sort of the rhythm of no’s, which I think a lot of salespeople can relate to. There’s a level of persistence and resilience that is required to work through that. How do you learn that? How do you get comfortable with that? What made you successful at getting to the next door and the next door and the next door?

Omi: It’s a workout. I wish I had a magical tip that was just like, “Oh yeah. And I went to therapy. I did that, but that wasn’t it.” So it’s like working a muscle. And you have to walk in and now you are a bodybuilder in a day. You actually run through a few of them and then you start. It’s interesting because what happens is at first it feels so personal. And then after you do it so many times you move into the space of, okay, is this about me? I want to walk you through the psychological like, oh, well that didn’t feel good. Was there something I could have done? And then after you run that rhythm of knocking on so many doors, you start to understand like, oh, how can I refine what I’m doing? And at the base of it, it’s the human spirit.

Matt: Yeah. Yeah.

Omi: You just start to appeal to the human spirit differently. And as genuinely as you possibly can. And then draw them into a question that they answer in their heads, that then you don’t have to answer for them. So the thing you have is the answer. And they just need to see it, but you got to get them to understand that psychologically. So honestly, it’s just, like I said, a rhythm. It is constantly doing it. Don’t give up. Run right back in there and try it again. And then what you end up finding out is it’s not personal. It’s not personal at all.

Matt: What I can see and hear in you is a level of confidence that I’m sure is in part from just having done it a lot. Just getting back up and going to the next door. A confidence in yourself, confidence in your message, confidence in your product. Let’s talk about how that relates to fundraising. Because fundraising is a sales process. Fundraising also typically means a chorus of no’s on a regular basis. What lessons were you able to pull from your sales career into being a more successful fundraiser?

Omi: I mean, it’s just understanding the psychology of the funder. We both have something that we want and understanding that from their standpoint, there’s a couple things. I always tell people, “No just means not right now. It’s not the right person or it’s not the right alignment.” That’s it. It’s not a death sentence. It is not the right person, not the right time, not the right ask.

Sometimes you’re talking to people that don’t have power. Another thing, when you’re standing at that door, you may be talking to the husband who can’t do anything without the wife. You may be talking to the wife who can’t do anything without the husband. You may be talking to the grown adult child that really has no money and can’t do anything at all.

And the same thing happens in fundraising. Sometimes you think you’re talking to the right person and you’re talking to the marketing person, not the fund manager, or not the program manager that can help you. Sometimes interestingly enough, with the husband and wife example I just gave, sometimes you’re talking to the person that you think has the power. You’re like, “Oh, well you’re the head of DEI. You’re the head of marketing, don’t you?” And it’s like, oh no, I got to socialize this.

Matt: Yeah. Yeah. I remember years ago I was at Microsoft. We did some research around homeowners and home buyers. And we found that even traditionally, men in the household are only responsible and only have authority for buying three things: beer, batteries, and tires. Everything else was either a joint discussion or, “I got to go talk to my wife about that before I make a decision.”

Omi: Wow. I would love to run that data on other things too. I wonder how that works in philanthropy. Yeah, that’s so interesting. Because just like I said, sometimes you’re looking at these people, you’re thinking, but you’re the head of it. Sometimes they don’t have their own budgets. The heads don’t have their own budgets.

Matt: And sometimes we think about consumer decisions being sort of a singular thing. And B2B is like, you got this committee of people that have to reach decisions. But I mean, look, you got influence. Even if you’re saying, I own the budget or I own the money, influence. If I make this decision and someone doesn’t like it, I have to live with that later. It gets complicated quickly. I do want to make sure because we’re running around out of time here, I want to talk about Black Girl Ventures. The work you are doing to help black and brown female owners and entrepreneurs get access to capital. You’ve helped over 270 businesses create thousands of jobs. So first of all, thank you and congratulations for that. Talk a little bit about how you got started with this and why is it so important to you?

Omi: I would say it’s so directly related to sales, just because, like I said, when you run those reps, you gain that confidence. You then feel like, well, hey, let’s just try something. Let’s just throw something at the wall and see what happens. The news came out that black women are now starting businesses at six times the national average. This is pre pandemic. Black women starting businesses at six times a national average, yet receiving less than 1% of venture capital. And my thought was that I could do something about that. And through my experience of building community, I’ve lived many lives by the way. I worked for the Patent and Trademark Office, worked in K-12 education, worked in workforce development, and I was an artist doing performance poetry. So I learned building through that.

I put it up on meetup.com. 30 women showed up to a house in Southeast DC. Four people pitched and we voted with marbles and coffee mugs. I mean, it was a brunch. I took the money from the door and gave it to the person that we decided that won. If you like that person, you put your marble in their coffee mug. And honestly, at that point, that was it. I was just like, “Oh, this is cool. People like it.” And so I just kept doing it, finding other community spaces. I think naturally, as from a businesswoman’s standpoint, I started looking at, oh, how do I get the most people in front of the people who need the most help? And that is really what it’s been about. How do I get the most people that can help in the community in front of the people who have the most need. And that’s kind of how we work. So it’s capital capacity and community.

Matt: That’s such a great model. I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs and founders, and everyone has stories of resilience and having gotten no’s a lot of the time. I mean, I’m a white male, neurotypical, cis. I mean, I have a lot of privilege. And I think it’s hard for me sometimes to understand or to know sort of how hard it can be for people without some of that privilege. Talk about what you see in the market, someone with darker skin, who’s also female. What are some of the specific challenges they’re facing in terms of raising money and growing their business, that we need more people to know about?

Omi: Number one, belief in trust. And studies show this. Like this is not Matt and Omi making up just what we think. Studies show that if you are a darker skin, that you are number one just not trusted. Just on site. You haven’t even said anything yet. I also think there is then, because of underrepresented people in the country being in a vulnerable state, because of red lining, and lack of access to capital over time, this is not a new problem. This is a huge problem that’s been snowballing all the way through life in decades. And here we are now trying to figure out how we unravel it or how we just kind of like throw it to the side and do something new.

How do we get innovative around it? So, it feels like we’re stuck a bit. I would say that the challenge is just being believed as a person of color is number one. I know that sounds so crazy, but it’s just that simple in saying, taking the risk tolerance around, hey, a person like you has never done this before. From what I know in my position, therefore it feels risky to me, right? Versus a white male comes on a job, he’s automatically trusted until he fails. Versus you’re not trusted, and you need to prove yourself. So that narrative alone is breaking us down in humanity. Just even being able to look into some deeper innovations that black and brown people have. Get past that I think, and then we can now talk about the capital we have, how you have to get it. But that is a huge barrier.

Matt: We’re talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Omi Bell. She is the CEO of Black Girl Ventures. I’m sure you get this question a lot. If people say, “Listen, how do I help? What can I do to be a better advocate? What can I do to, I mean, I can give money, but what are the things that I can do that are accessible to me that I can be an active advocate and participant in sort of creating more opportunity?” How do you answer that question?

Omi: I think one thing you can do is to start. So, some things you can do with yourself is kind of starting to become more aware of the bias. Just become more aware. And you can do that through reading articles. You can do that through watching YouTube videos. You can do that through discovery on your own. It’s becoming more aware. So when you’re in these conversations with friends and there’s certain things that are flying by, you’re able to go, “Ooh, hey, wait a minute. Actually, why don’t we just think about it a little deeper? Or just unpack that.” So I think getting curious is number one. I think sharing, if it’s not money. Not, you don’t want to donate, but that seems like the easier thing to do. But sharing, “Hey, I have an opportunity that I can actually share with someone that would make sense to diversify what’s here.”

And I don’t like to use building bridges because I feel like you can build a bridge and have nobody cross it. We’ve been talking about bridge building for decades and we still haven’t solved the challenge. So I look at it like raise the average. If you’re in a room and you look around and you are like, this is a really white room right now. It would just raise the average number of black people to get to attend this thing. Or people of color to get to attend this thing. Look at your LinkedIn profile, go through a couple pages. Where are you on diversifying just who you’re connected to?

Matt: Yeah. I want to ask you about just hiring as well. We’ve had a few different sessions around increasing the level of diversity in marketing efforts. And one of the big headlines that’s come out of that for me is to be more diverse in your marketing, you need to be more diverse in your team. If your team creating that marketing is itself not diverse, it’s harder to come up with that. What are some recommendations you have for hiring managers to sort of increase the diversity of their teams, as well as maybe the consultants and others that are contributing to ideas to increase its diversity?

Omi: The example that my CFO uses is like the Avengers. And so in the moment where they need to defeat Thanos, everybody has to concentrate their power on Thanos. Now everybody can’t have the same power. Because then it’s not more powerful. So, if we’re just having the same power it’s not more powerful. We are more powerful when you have diverse, different angles that the power’s coming from and concentrated into where you want to win.

Now, if they were to not trust each other and turn to the left or right, they’d kill each other, in this scenario. So when you think about diverse thought, having more people at the table is going to give you more ideas. Right now, Netflix has a show called 100 humans. It’s super interesting to watch. And it’s got all people from different age groups. It’s got twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties. Well, they gave them an exercise where the twenties and the sixties actually are winning. And they’re like, why? And it’s like, what is happening? Why are the twenties and the sixties winning? It’s because in your twenties, you’re more carefree. In your sixties, you’re also more carefree. You’re settled on life in your sixties. And in your twenties, you’re new to life.

So, the approach that these two can take is different for what any other person can take. And that’s the way to look at it, is where people are in life. Diversity can mean multiple things. It could mean skin color, but it can also mean gender, background, degree, schooling, where you’re located. So age. So think about diversity very broadly and say, “What are the best personalities and things that are going to take us to win?”

Matt: Yeah. Thank you for that. I appreciate you talking about the diversity of diversity. You start to think about accessibility questions. You start to think about the way people learn. Neurotypical or other challenges or just super powers, quite frankly, that some people have that are different from others. That are quite frankly just part of defeating Thanos as well. Omi, I know you’re busy. We got to let you go. If people want to learn more about Black Girl Ventures, read more about your perspective and how they can help and just sort of becoming better aware and educating themselves, where can they go and learn?

Omi: Yeah. You go to www.blackgirlventures.org. You could also go to omisworld.com

Matt: Love it. Awesome. Well, Omi Bell, CEO of Black Girl Ventures. Thank you so much for all the great work you’re doing. Thank you. I know you’re crazy busy. Thank you for spending some time with us here on Sales Pipeline Radio today as well.

Omi: Thank you for having me.

Matt: Awesome. Thank you everyone for watching and listening. Appreciate you being here. We’ll be here next week. Every Thursday, 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. Until then, my name is Matt Heinz. We’ll see you next week.

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