After traveling south of the border during her college years, soaking in salsa and street vendor tamales, Cristina Ysselstein faced cold-hard reality: she had to pay her parents back. So the University of California, Santa Cruz graduate took a temp job as a receptionist at a San Francisco-based distributor. It was supposed to be a tiny speed bump on the Latin American scholar’s path toward crisscrossing the globe in the nonprofit sector.
However, the short-term gig evolved into a 25-year career of creating innovative solutions in the promotional products industry. Having established trusted relationships with many distributor clients, from Top 40 corporations to local mom-and-pop shops, it’s easy to see why Ysselstein has been named this year’s SGR Supplier Sales Rep of the Year.
“My personality is really suited for the chaos and madness of this industry,” Ysselstein says. “I love the variety and diversity of my clients and the fact that no day is ever the same.”
For the past two decades, she has covered the Northern California territory, managing sales for Peerless Umbrella, Logomark and now, Top 40 supplier ETS Express in Oxnard, CA. Since joining ETS five years ago, Ysselstein has more than doubled her sales, fueling the territory’s consistent double-digit growth.
“I’ve worked with three great suppliers, but I feel like I’m home at ETS,” Ysselstein says. “I’m a very outspoken person. Wherever I am, I can’t help but wonder how the product, service or interaction might be better. I’m always sending ideas and feedback, which is not always welcome in certain companies, but the team at ETS really listens.”
It’s that attitude, says Brandon Bell, vice president of sales at ETS Express, that’s been the driving force behind her success. “Cristina has a passion and skill in being adaptive to how she supports her customers,” Bell says. “She understands that each customer has different needs, including the individual salesperson within each company. Countless hours are spent in preparing for these various needs so she can deliver a unique and catered conversation to each customer. Customers see this, and will proactively engage Cristina for her expertise, creative thinking and relentless support to help make their business better for their clients.”
Ysselstein’s early experience on the distributor side has strengthened her understanding of clients’ needs and expectations, making her a valued member on both sides of the supply chain.
“Everyone at Canary knows they can count on Cristina to be responsive, transparent and fair,” says Kat Magner, partner at Canary Marketing (asi/156455). “We constantly struggle with reps who don’t understand our style and demographic. Cristina is one of the few who understand our specific needs and shows us product lines relevant to our programs and clients. In addition to being spectacular at her job and a picture of true professionalism, she has a high likeability quotient and we always look forward to seeing her, catching up with her and enjoying a laugh. She carries a meeting with ease and comfort and can read a room better than most people in the industry.”
Paul Yeomans, owner of USA Marketing, agrees. “Cristina has always been a pro. She is polite, makes great presentations and really follows up. She is beyond honest and truly helps make things happen,” he says.
Of course, Ysselstein’s relationship with her clients isn’t a one-way street. As loyal as she has been to them over the past 20 years, they’ve responded in kind. When she was pregnant with her daughter, Ysselstein was put on bed rest for two months. Her clients actually offered to come over and clean her house.
“My sales were great that year, even after being off for months because my clients tried to help me maintain my numbers,” Ysselstein says. “It’s a wonderful community here and clients are like close friends to me. It’s like a feedback loop – my clients give me energy and ideas and these connections are very important to me.”
Far from a creature of habit, Ysselstein thrives on the unique challenges each day brings in this ever-evolving industry. She has seen new products, technological advancements, mergers and acquisitions and the influence of social media, all changing how business has traditionally been done. In order for her to remain relevant and successful, she’s had to adapt.
“There are so many ways to connect with clients these days – in-person meetings are effective, but more challenging with many working at home now,” Ysselstein says. “You have to be willing to try different approaches with accounts, and even within one account your approach has to be tailored to the individual. Blending these approaches takes time to put together and execute, but it’s exciting and keeps me learning.”
It’s not just her professional life that’s changed – that wide-eyed world traveler is now a wife and mother of a 12-year-old girl. Instead of stamping her passport, Ysselstein tends to her garden and takes music and dance classes. She prefers the stability of her schedule, allowing for time with her family and clients-turned-friends.
But her spirit of adventure hasn’t faded. “I’ve been in this territory for a long time and I never want to become complacent or have my approach feel like a routine,” Ysselstein says. “To be successful you must keep listening, learning and be willing to change your approach. I learn every day from my clients, my colleagues and my competitors. If I need more, I’ll do research and ask more questions.”