Ottawa’s Colleen Francis redefines wealth by finding freedom in sales

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If you think sales is all about being a fast talker, you’d be wrong. Today’s sales techniques are about being an active listener, building relationships and listening to your intuition.

 “Sales is often misunderstood,” explains Colleen Francis, the owner of Engage Selling Solutions. “There still exists today a legacy that sales is a boiler room; high pressure, under handed, and so on … Women tend to be worried about the pressure associated with a career in sales. It’s important to note there is flexibility with a career in sales. You can create flexibility and freedom in your career: where you work, who you work for and so on. You can essentially create your own ticket."

Flexibility is something that Colleen and her husband, Chris – who is a partner at at Engage along with their dog – have taken full advantage of.

“We work remotely from Miami every winter,” she says. “It makes sense for us in many ways: 80 per cent of clients are U.S. based, my visa allows me to stay for extended periods, the weather in South Beach is beautiful and we enjoy an active and cultural lifestyle.”

Sales has typically been regarded as male dominated. Ms. Francis is one of a few highly accomplished, notable, reputable and successful women making a career as a sales trainer and consultant.

“I got into sales quite naturally; I grew up in a sales household. My dad was a salesman, then a sales manager. Once a year I would go to work with him and make sales calls, actual calls to his customers,” Ms. Francis says.

She participated in sports and the band at school. And with those activities came fundraising.

“My parents would never buy the chocolate bars or sell them for me,” she laughs. “I had to go door-to-door to sell them.”

In 2001, Ms. Francis started consulting. She realized companies in Ottawa needed sales help but couldn’t afford it, so she became a virtual vice-president of sales for many companies.

Then, those customers began asking her to train their sales teams. This morphed into training and consulting, which then morphed into industries outside out of the tech sector.

“Most companies will hire cross-industry in sales (i.e. tech to manufacturing), so it’s easier to move into other markets with this one skill set,” she says.

Ms. Francis says she helps clients address common sales mistakes, such as spending too much time trying to sell to someone who will never be a buyer.

“Prospecting solves all sales problems,” she says. “Lead qualification will eventually equal a natural number of customers that will buy from you. If you have a large pipeline, you are able to make good business decisions.”

Ms. Francis considers Alan Weiss of Summit Consulting a mentor who’s had great influence on her career.

“He focuses on helping small consulting companies like ours. His work is instrumental in my career,” she says.

Mr. Weiss has also influenced her approach to work-life balance, defining wealth as “discretionary time.”

“It’s not about how much money you make, it’s about how much money you keep and how much time you have to pursue your passions,” Ms. Francis says, adding it’s a philosophy she and her husband share.

“Go everywhere (and) eat anything is our life philosophy,” she says with a laugh. Her business allows her to be spontaneous and take off at a moment’s notice. And this suits her just fine.


Fenix Solutions Inc. CEO Jennifer MacKinnon writes a column, Ottawa Women of Wonder, to profile and celebrate local women in business.