I was on the weekly #livesaleslab hosted by Carole Mahoney and Rick Roberge of Unbound Growth. Have you joined yet? It’s essentially a mastermind group where salespeople can call in with scenarios that are stumping them, or they are just looking for a different perspective on how to handle, and you get coaching. Not just from Carole and Rick but from each other. If you are interested in joining us sometime, here’s more info.
Today, a Sales VP joined to listen in.
At the end, he had a question. He wanted to know why we cared so much about closing the one opportunity that each of us brought to the call. He said the answers that he got were ones he didn’t expect. His thought, was that salespeople care about individual opportunities because they have nothing else going on in their pipeline. A mindset like this means every opportunity is like life or death, figuratively speaking of course.
Don’t you think a potential customer knows when this is the case? Can’t they smell your desperation?
There’s something to be said for showing a bit of indifference. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how badly I think they have the problem if they don’t. It doesn’t matter how badly I think I can help them if they don’t have a problem worth fixing.
Money and authority are great, but business pain trumps both.
So if someone doesn’t think they have a problem and/or they don’t think that I can help or want my help, then I move on.
Don’t mistake that though for not caring. I care deeply.
But here’s why.
Has a problem that I can fix…
…and they know it…
…and they want it fixed….
…and they can tell me to fix it…
…and they want my help fixing it…
Then I have a responsibility to them, my company and myself to do everything in my power to help them do it.
Do you see the difference?
It’s not about you. You owe it to other people to care. And when you care like that, then everything else will fall into place.
And your VP might not be thinking what this VP was thinking about his team.
A Sales Lesson from Rakim and Mahan Khalsa
I’ve wanted to write this article for a while. I’ve had it in my head but have convinced myself it will be a flop. But I’ve decided it’s better out of my head and into the world. So here goes.
Sales and Hip Hop. Two of my favorite things to talk about. Not necessarily together, but there is a first for everything. Although, I would argue that many of the musicians in this genre are among the best salespeople on the planet. They sell stories. A lifestyle that in many cases, they have not actually lived, but they have perfected the art of telling a story. I digress…
I read a book, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, in 2008 that has had one of the biggest influences on my sales mindset, second only to The Greatest Salesman in the World. In particular, the concept that Intent Counts More than Technique has always stuck with me. How important is authenticity in sales? Oftentimes we get so hung up on our sales process or handling objections or missing closing cues we don’t stop and think, why are we here? Is your goal to help your customer find a solution that exactly meets their needs? If that is truly your intent, the person at the other end of the table will sense it and they will tell you what you need to know to help. But if your intent is only to sell something, whether or not it’s a good fit, they will sense that too. And you will fail.
Rakim is arguably the most important emcees of all time in hip hop, dead or alive. Maybe not the most popular, but most important. He made his mark during what most fans would say was the golden era of hip hop. His early success was as the frontman for hip hop super duo, Eric B & Rakim. Not exactly the most creative name, but nonetheless, critics in the know, have named them one of the most influential duos, not just in hip hop, but pop music period. Their fourth and final effort, Don’t Sweat the Technique, was released in 1992, almost 20 years before I read Mahan Khalsa’s book. This is where one of my favorite tracks, the title track, lives.
“I speak in discreet cause talk is cheap
Then I get deep in the beat then completes
Compose with physique never weak or obsolete
They never grow old technique’s become antique
Better then something brand new cause it’s original
In a while the style, I have much more value
Classical to intelligent to be radical
Masterful never irrelevant mathematical”
To read this doesn’t do it justice. To hear it, you can appreciate Rakim’s technical skill. He is credited with pioneering both multisyllabic rhymes (known colloquially as “multis”) and internal rhymes. Internal rhymes are rhymes that occur within a single line, while multis, as their name suggest require you to rhyme multiple syllables. See the last two lines above: classical/masterful, intelligent/irrelevant, radical/mathematical. I snicker when people say “that’s not music.” Sonnets, couplets, alliteration, literate imagery, text painting, syncopation–it’s all there. And it’s done to a beat and sometimes off beat, the latter has earned him comparisons to Thelonius Monk. Even the background music includes a saxophone and upright bass, an obvious nod to his proclaimed jazz influences.
Now you are googling like crazy if you haven’t heard of him.
Let me tie this together for you. Why would one of the most technical, most influential and arguably most important emcees in hip hop write a song called, Don’t Sweat the Technique? The largely accepted meaning of the song is that he saw as his popularity rise that other emcees were copying his style. This was a warning to them. I will offer an alternative.
Rakim did an interview in 2016 by Howls and Echos.
Here’s an excerpt:
H&E: For nearly three decades your voice has not only set an incredible rhythmic and lyrical standard, but you have spread important message…
Rakim: The audience is the only thing…
So maybe we should keep this in mind? It’s not about your sales process. Isn’t it about understanding if someone has a problem you can solve? If they do and you can, then can you help them move through their buying process?
Don’t sweat the technique. Intent counts more than technique. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
I had a young buck reach out to me through LinkedIn a couple weeks ago. After a bit of back and forth we set up a call. He is considering a career move into tech sales, starting out as an SDR. He wanted some advice. He’s seen some of my posts and thought I might be a good person to speak with.
BTW, did you know that most people are willing to help, all you need to do is ask?
I won’t name him, but I’ll send him this post to help him remember what we talked about. These are the things I wish I was told when I first started out. No particular order.
- You should interview your boss as much as they interview you. This might be the best piece of advice I could give someone. A good boss can make or break a job. Now I am am not advocating that a good boss is to blame if you don’t do well, ultimately you need to take ownership. But a boss that is a coach and mentor and not just a manager will help you be invincible. (This of course assumes the boss knows how to coach and mentor). This is also probably more important early in your career.
- It’s easier to negotiate before you take the job than after. This should go without saying, but sometimes we think, “I’ll just prove myself in the first 90 days, then ask for higher salary, higher commission, bigger bonus, etc.” Make sure you understand the entire comp package, ie., insurance, 401K, on target earnings, etc. so you can make the best decision. Talk to the other reps. Is everyone hitting goal? What % does it increase each year? How exactly is variable pay structured? %? Are you paid on meetings alone? Are you incentivized to qualify or just get people on the phone? Know exactly what is expected of you.
- Protect your brand. If you go out into the world and sell professionally, you are your own brand. If you sell something to someone and then your company can’t execute, it’s on you. And it can follow you. How healthy is the company? Are they a startup? VC funded? Seed or Series A,B, etc? Profitable? Do they have a working product? Do you like that way it looks? Does the industry you will be selling in sound exciting? How do the reviews looks on Glassdoor, AngelList, Crunch base and Indeed?
- Go for the most upside. I’ve taken pay cuts for more upside. Always go for upside. If you believe in yourself and your goals are bigger than your company goals AND you have #1? Look out.
- If there is equity at play, get as much as you can and understand ahead of time the path to get more. (See #2)
- When you are young and don’t have a family, there is no such thing as risk. It’ll work out. So this particular gentleman is looking at two positions, one in the city he lives and the other in SF. He is a bit hesitant about the risk. When you get older, and have a family, then I think “risk” comes into play. But before then? What’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work out? Who cares?
So what do you think? Did I steer this guy in the wrong direction? If you think so, let me know and I’ll introduce you before he follows my advice…
Does it look like you or your team will miss quota this year? Do you want to know why?
Depending on which survey you read, somewhere between 40%-50% of sales reps miss their quota.
Here are some of the reasons given:
-Not enough leads or bad leads
-Not enough prospecting
-Lack of training
-Ineffective management and coaching
I have been thinking it was “lack of good qualifying skills.” Until two weeks ago.
Friends had my wife and I over for a little holiday gathering. The booze was flowing, along with good conversation and a couple games of Euchre and Cards Against Humanity.
There were a handful of sales reps from various companies at the Euchre table. “How’d everyone end up this year,” the dealer asked. “I usually try to keep at about 101%-102% of goal, you know, so I don’t get screwed the next year,” he elaborated. Everyone got a chuckle and everyone else shared similar sentiments.
Except me. I crushed quota.
I could point to any of the things above (except for maybe unrealistic goals and bad hiring) and say they have applied to me at some point in time in my career. Heck, I still struggle with prospecting enough, I still screw up qualification and I definitely don’t get enough qualified leads.
But my goals are bigger than my company goals.
And that’s why I think reps don’t hit their numbers. They take on the company goals as their own. That quota becomes their “why.” And they focus only on that. They do not have goals that are personally meaningful to them. They haven’t established their “why.” When you do that, when you establish the reason or reasons that you get up every morning and they mean something to you, then all the things above become irrelevant. If you fail to prospect, if you let yourself fail because you have a bad manager, then you are letting yourself down, not your company.
One could argue that coming up with meaningful goals comes with age and responsibility. In my mid 20’s, my “why” was a new pair of Allen Edmonds or a well tailored suit. But now, I think about finishing our basement, retiring to a beach somewhere, helping my wife get a masters, putting my kids through college so they don’t have to struggle and take out loans like I did. I think about material stuff too, the Maserati Ghibli haunts my dreams these days.
I assign dollar amounts to these goals and timelines of when I want to achieve. As my friend Anthony Iannarino will tell you, people forget how the Law of Attraction really works. You need action. You can’t just come up with great goals and then sit on the sidelines hoping for it all to happen. But on the flip side, if you are just pounding the pavement, dialing for dollars, and blasting out emails and your only goal is to make quota, I think you are in just as much trouble. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but eventually.
It’s personally meaningful goals that will give you the gut check you desperately need when all hope is lost.
I work my way backwards to determine how much I need to make, when I need to make it by. I use my average sale and close ratio as a barometer and reverse engineer the whole thing all the way to the number of prospecting calls and emails I should make. I use a prioritization methodology called the Project 200, shown to me by Carole Mahoney and Rick Roberge. But before you get started on individual goals and execution, I urge you to stop and think about your “why.” So many people just end up in sales or get pushed into because they work in a technical field and are “good with people.” They have never taken the time to think about the difference they want to make in other people’s lives or their own for that matter.
Hitting plan in many companies will put you in the top 13% of earners in the United States. Not bad. Hitting plan in some of the top sales roles will put you closer to the top 4%-5%. Would you believe me if I told there are sales reps out there, carrying a bag for someone else making $1M/yr or more? They exist. Do you think they sandbag deals or try to keep to 101-102% of plan?
Need help starting? Here is the same resource I use to create my personally meaningful goals and plan to get there. The worksheets can be a little overwhelming at first, so you may want to have a conversation with the team at Unbound Growth first.
I was sitting in a chair in his office, overlooking the Columbus skyline last Saturday. I had probably pestered him long enough and he agreed to meet me just so I would leave him alone. Maybe he didn’t think I would take him up on a Saturday morning meeting?
But for Anthony, his day was almost half over since he gets up at 5am every day. A decision he made over 10 years when he was about my age. He says this habit, to set the alarm clock at 5am was one of the single most important decisions he made to transition into who he is today. That 5am wake up call started the clock for Anthony to work on himself. That time, from 5am to when he went to the office of the staffing company he ran with his family, was when Anthony developed the habit of writing. The habit that would build him a massive following, a successful coaching and speaking business and a 2 book deal, of which the first, The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, sold 10,000 copies it’s first week. “If you sell 9,000 books total, they will say it’s a good book, “ he tells me.
“How did you do that?”
“Never underestimate the power of taking massive action.”
This would be the first of several nuggets of wisdom I would glean from Iannarino during our 90 minutes. Which by the way is 60 minutes more than I had on his calendar. But that’s one of the best things I learned about Anthony, he loves to give. He gives away probably 99% of everything he writes. He encourages me to do the same. “There really isn’t a lot that hasn’t already been written. Keep in mind even though there are a lot of people that know more than you, there are a lot of people that know less than you. That’s your audience.”
He’s right. There is no magic formula or hack that will work forever. Every sales book out there is just someone else’s spin on similar topics. But it’s that perspective that people will pay for.
I’ve started writing over the past year doing as Anthony has mentioned. I’m still waiting for the day that someone comes along and tells me I’m full of shit. “If that doesn’t happen, you aren’t doing your job.”
We talked about a lot of personal stuff; childhood, politics, religion.
“What are your politics?” He asked me. The question caught me off guard. “I lean libertarian”, I said. “What about religion?” I chuckle. “Non-practicing.”
“Ok, he says. You didn’t just come up with those beliefs. You were infected with them. Your parents, family, friends, coworkers all combined helped you develop that belief system.”
“If you take one thing away from this conversation, I want it to be this…figure out the beliefs that are going to make you more successful and get infected by those.”
We talked about my career progression to date. How I started out selling books door to door, how I started making decent money in my late 20’s and then plateaued the past couple of years. And how I sought out and hired sales coaches to fill gaps and grew my income this year. “Not bad,” he said. “But you still don’t know what you are capable of yet. I can tell.”
At this point, I am convinced that he, Carole Mahoney and Rick Roberge all talked about me before this meeting.
This is why I think the way he writes his book is so important. Mindset comes before Skill set. It’s not an accident the way it’s arranged. In a future post I will be writing about my observations on this. I think its the real reason salespeople don’t hit the goals. I’ve gotten better at developing a growth mindset over the past year. Overcoming some key weaknesses in my Sales DNA has contributed greatly. Getting back to the fundamentals.
He starts setting up his cameras and mics. “I’m doing a podcast today. I always tape it for B-roll.”
“So you aren’t going to like this”, he says. “It’s probably going to ruin your life.”
“It sounds like you made good money this year. But you made your bosses rich. You need to stop making other people rich, make yourself rich instead.”
He continues, “You’ve figured out how to get to this point. Most people never get that far. It’s not a huge leap for you to get to the next level (this is a paraphrase, we actually talked dollar amounts).” “You can make a lot more out there (motions to the skyline).”
Are you rolling your eyes yet? Are you saying “Money isn’t everything” under your breath. Ok, it’s not. Until it is. The more I have talked with people who either make a lot of money or just have it, you start to see that they don’t idealize the idea of money. It’s more about the choices. The freedom. It’s a tool.
“It’s time to start thinking about what’s next. You don’t need to know, you don’t need to have it figured out, but just start thinking about it.”
He told me a great story. After writing for a while, he started getting people asking him if he would coach. He said no until he finally said yes. He had no idea what to charge, so he threw out a number that he thought was “audacious.” “$100/hr, he smiled. I went to Chicago and closed a $2M deal for them with a 20% profit margin. I got $1600.” Now to even get him to walk in the front door, you will need to pony up and order of magnitude greater. The point is, he didn’t have it figured out at first.
I’ve recently talked to a few people that have read something I’ve written and told me it resonated with them. Reps, my age, younger and older that have told me that something I put in the universe helped them. So while I don’t have this grand plan for my blog, it’s doing all I want it to do now, help people. It helps me too. I learn better by teaching others. I’ve created a reference library that I can go back to and remind myself how I handled a certain situation when it reappears. And, I’m creating a way to engage with prospective buyers that maybe want to understand how I think before they decide am I worth talking to? (Which by the way, is what social selling really is.)
We’ve all heard that you become the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with. But do we believe it? I’d like to think I boosted my average slightly during this 90 minutes. But did Anthony Iannarino ruin my life? Was it really his intention? Or did he just want to get me thinking? Maybe he looked at me and saw his 37 year old self again?
So what beliefs are you infecting yourself with? Are they making you better? Are they developing your mindset to enable your success? I asked Anthony for a couple books, to my surprise, neither were sales books. “That’s boring”, he said. Which at first I thought was odd for an author of bestselling sales book. Then he elaborated, “If you really want to unlock your mind you need to understand how the mind works.”
So add The Lucifer Principle and Kosmic Consciousness to your list. And while you are at it, add Passages. It was recommended to me by Rick Roberge about a year before I hired him and Carole for sales coaching.
This week I had a conference to attend in Champaign, IL. The thing about Champaign is it’s not a particularly convenient place to get to, especially from Columbus. The options are a flight to either Chicago or Indy and then about a 2.5 hr drive. Or, what I chose to do, a 4.5 hr each way road trip. But what to listen to….
Based on my recent listening, Apple Music recommended the bonus disk to In Rainbows from Radiohead, The National Jazz Museum in Harlem: Savory Collection or 12 Nights of Christmas by R. Kelly.
I decided on a podcast, but which one? The past couple of weeks I have been switching back and forth between reading The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need by Anthony Iannarino and The Sales Development Playbook by Trish Bertuzzi and devouring sales podcasts, tweets and LinkedIn articles. I chose to go on a diet.
Have you ever felt like this?
A buddy of mine turned me on to the Joe Rogan Experience. Yes, THAT Joe Rogan. Fear Factor, UFC, Joe Rogan. What I didn’t realize is he’s also a really smart dude. And a funny comic. His new Netflix special, while hilarious, is not for the faint of heart, or those that are sensitive to language. I, personally, could give a shit….
I’ve listened to some lengthy podcasts, but nothing compared to what Rogan does. Most episodes are at least 2.5 hours. One, I listened to was almost 4 hours long. The guy has stamina for sure. Passion. So I listened to Joe Rogan and his guests for all 9 hours of my car ride. He wasn’t talking about prospecting, lead generation, selling or marketing. He was talking about comedy, politics (comedy), life, fighting, drugs, sex. It was crude. It was vulgar. To some, it would be offensive. To me, it was awesome. It was what I needed.
A day later, I am still thinking about some of the things he talked about, things I can relate to.
100% of kids right now are creative. They like to color, play with clay, paint, answer fake telephones. The other day, my 3 year old was putting together a 24 piece puzzle. He got stumped and said, “Oh no, I’m stuck. Maybe a Mouskatool can help?” If you have toddlers, you probably know what I am talking about. But somewhere along the way; between this age and adulthood, many of us, stop being as creative. It seems sometimes that creativity isn’t rewarded the way it is when we are kids, especially in a corporate setting. People are rewarded to keep their head down, do what they are told, do their job. This goes against everything we are. Across nearly 7 million years, the human brain has tripled in size. Most of that growth happened in the past 2 million years. Do you think we crawled out of the primordial soup and tripled our brain size so we can sit in cubicles for 50 years? It’s terrifying to Joe. While a sweeping generalization, Rogan sees the majority of professionals as khaki’d, tasseled loafer robots.
I’m seeing a shift though. The CEO where I work, ENFOS, has said many times that what makes us (ENFOS) different, is that we aren’t afraid to fail. That’s sort of the mantra in Silicon Valley. You’re really not cool if you aren’t failing (but hopefully learning from it).
I am also seeing in the companies that I work with. 200 year old chemical firms being run like startups. One of my customers, a multi-billion dollar paper company, has in the conference room a set of guiding principles. It is the responsibility of every employee to seek creative solutions to problems. To manage the business like it’s their business. That mentality created the opportunity for me to work with them.
Are you seeing the effects that creativity can have on your business?
A little over a year ago, I started writing. I’ve got some LinkedIn articles, guest posts on other blogs, this blog. I’ve helped developed content for my company. I’ve done things that have bombed. I’ve done things that have done well. It’s been extremely rewarding. I’m creating again. I still wear khakis and sport coats (no tassle loafers though) but I am creating and putting it out in the universe. Guess what? I am enjoying myself more, and I’m helping more people. I’m seeing the same from others in the field. I name a couple above. Two of my mentors, Rick Roberge and Carole Mahoney-creators. People that I’ve met online, Mark LaCour, Jordan Barta, Randy Friedlander, Larry Levine, Henry Johnson, Pete Caputa-creators. Here are some things to think about if you are struggling with creating your own content. Joe Rogan might approve of my paraphrasing?
- You can connect with people. You have so much more in common with people than you realize. Gravity, the Human Condition, the fact that we all have bodies that are breaking down over time, the fact that we will all bury a mother and father.
- Make it a habit. Doesn’t matter if it’s once a day, week, month…just write. Hustle.
- Write about what you know or find interesting. Chances are you have a perspective that someone is looking for or find something interesting that someone else finds interesting. An audience of one can turn into an audience of 1 million. There are still people that believe that Earth is flat. You can find people that will listen to what you say.
- Don’t overthink it. A blog post or whitepaper or webinar that is done is always better than one in the draft folder.
- Give to give not to get. If you are frustrated because you wrote one blog post and your inbox didn’t flood with leads, or you didn’t get invited to give a TED talk, you might want to adjust your expectations. People need to hear from you many times to really hear your true voice and decide if you are worth listening to. But people will listen.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. None of us are getting out of here alive. (I think Christopher Walken said that.)
- Anyone can create content. You don’t need to be a sales coach or a PHD or a comic. People that you don’t even know yet, want you to do it.
This wasn’t meant to be a plug for his podcast, but after spending 9 hours with Joe Rogan and his guests, I feel anew. Like I gained some perspective that I needed, like I have more focus. Like I need to create more.