Back by popular demand, Dan Dobos and James Schramko take on on a topic that often gets a bad rap: Selling. Debunk the myths and misconceptions and discover the real beauty of sales.
In this episode:
01:44 – Why sales is an often misunderstood thing
04:11 – Attract, don’t pursue
04:55 – Getting customer commitment
06:06 – A positive definition of selling
07:38 – Some salespeople can’t grasp this concept
08:40 – Becoming a solution
12:57 – What James learned at 12
14:22 – A stint in debt collection
18:16 – Put the knife away
20:08 – An aptitude for sales
27:44 – It’s about having a process
40:00 – Some action strategies
42:02 – Emptying the cup
44:28 – Where to focus
47:01 – Let the customer state the solution
48:19 – Make the sale invisible
50:20 – S.P.I.N.
53:35 – The framework applied to coaching
55:22 – Road to a sale
57:44 – You’ve got to track
59:12 – A quick recap
59:53 – What Aristotle had to say
Hear Dan in person at the upcoming SuperFastBusiness live event
James: James Schramko here, welcome back to SuperFastBusiness.com. Today’s topic is an epic topic. You’re doing it everyday. I’m not sure if you know this or not, and when you master it, it’s going to get you better results in life. Brought back a featured guest, a very special, revered by audience guest, Dan Dobos. Welcome back mate.
Dan: Thank you mate. Holding back laughter.
James: Well, amongst all your many skills and talents, from juggling, being literally the smartest guy in the whole Australia, your incredible memory, running events, offline online marketing, productivity, you are pretty well known for high conversions. Selling is our topic today and you are a sales master. I’m really keen to discuss this topic with you.
Dan: Yeah, I’m pumped for this topic because I don’t hear it much at all. No one really talks about sales.
James: Well, isn’t selling dirty, you know?
Dan: That’s right.
James: It’s up there with prostitutes and it’s regarded in some circles as a sleazy profession that you hear bad stories about real estate salespeople, car salespeople, injury lawyers, lawyers ambulance chasing, etc. So there is potentially a bad connotation with sales and I think mostly because people don’t actually know what it is.
Selling is beautiful
Dan: Exactly. It’s like with everything. If you look at it at a surface level, it’s one thing. But once you actually get deep into it, you realize there’s actually something beautiful there.
James: Yes. It is beautiful. That’s a great word for it and not one that would have sprung to my mind. But having heard it, now it’s like, yes, that is exactly right. Let’s talk about the negative impression. Why do people think it’s so bad? From my perspective, I think, people think selling is something that you do to someone. It’s like trying to push, cajole, prod, poke, manipulate people into buying something. That seems to be the impression.
Dan: Exactly. And really what I think selling should be is the exact opposite. It should be an opportunity to serve. It should be an understanding; number 1, of who you’re dealing with, which I think is one of the big mistakes people make, which is as you say, they just push and prod and they haven’t spent the time really understanding the person. And that’s I think one of the big reasons why it has its reputation that’s often negative.
James: I like that. You’re sort of touching on this concept of disqualification almost where sometimes, your solution is not ideal for everyone. So therefore, you shouldn’t try and make people buy if they don’t need it. One of the examples is if you are selling shoes to an amputee who has no legs. That’s a terrible example! Could we maybe think of a different one?
Dan: I’ve actually got several examples here.
James: Give me a better one. That was a bad one and I apologize.
Dan: That was a terrible example. Of all examples you’ve given, that’s got to be the worst. But, let’s look at some good ones.
James: OK. Trying to sell snow chains to a guy who lives in a summer climate and never goes to the snow.
Should you attract or pursue?
Dan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think before we even get into the example, I think the point that needs to be made very strongly here is that it’s far more powerful to attract someone than to pursue someone. So the reason why you want to qualify who you’re talking to is so that you’re always attracting people. You’re never pushing and pursuing people.
So the examples that I’ve got; just one example from a business, which I’m still involved in but not actively, which was coaching students. We have something called a student commitment form. What that does is we go through a process of discovery of understanding the person’s needs. And then before we even present the product, we have something which we call a student commitment form.
We say, “Look, we have this program. We can help you. We’ve understood what you want to achieve and we can help you get into that course. But before we even look at what we can do, you’re going to have some expectations from us. But before we look at those, we have some expectations of you. So, we just want to make sure that we’re on the same page. We expect that you will produce the best work you possibly can. We expect that when you make mistake, you will review it. We expect that when you don’t understand something, you’ll ask questions.” So that’s one example.
James: I love that, a commitment form. I think we’ll come back to a couple of examples. Our version of that is a website check. We have people pay $20 for us to have a look at their website and to tell them if we think it’s the right sort of site for us to work on. And it’s a great chance for us to let someone know if we don’t think that it’s a good idea that we work on their site because we don’t want to sell something that can’t get a great result. So we’re only ever dealing with someone who we know that we can help. So it totally fits with this idea of having someone be better off.
Selling as a process
In fact, the way that I like to think of selling is as a process. I think it might have come from Neil Rackham, but it’s the process of change from one situation to a better alternative situation. That’s what I think a sale is. Simple example: We’re hungry, we go to a shop, we order food, so we’ve made a purchase and now we’re not hungry anymore. We buy because we think well, we’re better off. Now sometimes, at the end it’s not good. But there’s no real sales push needed by the food facilitator because it sort of happens.
The other way to think of it is this great example of if you had a big box full of wood chips and metal filings, and what we want to do as a salesperson is create a magnet that attracts the metal filings and it leaves the wood chips alone. We’re not messing with the wood chips, that’s not for us. We can’t help them. But the magnet is going to attract only the metal filings. And that’s what a good sales system does.
Dan: Exactly right. I think really what you’re getting at there is that there has to be a net. Whether it’s looking at the website or looking at the student, you can’t help everyone. I think that’s what a lot of people make a mistake. They haven’t really even identified who their customer is. And because they haven’t identified who exactly they want to serve, they’re just going for everyone. And it’s a self-defeating process.
No need, no sale
James: I love this. It reminds me of a presentation I made once at the Homebush Stadium. I was presenting to a bunch of Mercedes-Benz sales managers, I was a sales manager as well. And my presentation was about selling. I got to this slide and said, “No need, No sale.” And some of them could not understand that. They couldn’t grasp this idea that if we can’t establish a need for a prospect that there is not going to be a sale and nor should there be because we haven’t done the groundwork to establish a need.
And I think a great deal of selling really has to be in the upfront part. There’s this horrible schtick about selling. It’s all about closing, and 27 tricky closing techniques that you can reel out and solve any situation. It’s so wrong. It’s completely fluid. It’s all about the opening, and the investigation, and developing the problem, and making sure there’s a good fit before you come in with those solutions.
Take the time to understand
Dan: Yeah. And the funny thing is, if you actually do that, if you actually understand the person, there’s this one line, which actually was mentioned at the presentation last year, and I still can’t really attribute to the right person, which I do apologize. But it’s a brilliant one and what they said is, “If you can give someone more clarity about their problems than they’ve ever had before, you automatically become the solution and it just gets forgotten.” And the reason I think that’s such a great line, there are so many reasons and I’m sure you have some reasons of your own.
But for me, it’s that most people have never really been understood. And that’s why most people hate sales and that’s why sales has this terrible reputation. It’s because people are just pushing things on other people rather than actually trying to understand them. And then when someone feels understood, they go, “Wow, you actually understand the issue. If you understand my issues, well, you must have the solution.” You could be selling them almost anything. But because you’ve actually taken the time to understand the issues, off you go. It just flows from there.
People are selfish
James: I think the simple explanation is people are selfish. So the buyer is selfishly thinking, “How does this work for me?” “What about my budget?” “Is this a good solution for my problem?” The seller, big mistake, is being a selfish seller. They’re thinking, “Which one gets me the biggest commission?” “How can I sell more units this month?” “How can I jam this product into the next person that walks in the door?” “How can I pay my mortgage payment?”
Dan: And they’re looking at the short term at the expense of the long term.
James: That’s it. I want a new watch, new car, new suit, new shoes; I better make some sales today. And the sales managers perpetuate this. They like to hire salespeople who have big mortgages and large families because they know that person’s motivated to sell but it’s a personal motivation to make money. It’s not a motivation to serve and to help people, which you should have touched on before.
That’s the secret and that’s why I loved the definition of a change of situation from one situation to a better alternative situation. If you would have framed that in a different way, it means my sales job is to make sure that I go out there and I improve people’s situation all day long. I want to make people better off.
That’s my mission and that’s why even if you are the “car salesperson,” which I was for many years; my role was to make sure that I solve people’s motoring needs. If they had a car problem, I would fix it. And we actually had acronyms for this, it was called SPACED. Most people had a problem with one of these areas.
S was for safety, maybe they would drive an old bum that was going to crumple if it got run over by a big truck. P was for performance, maybe they just don’t have the herbs to take off at the lights fast enough or to overtake it high speed or it’s not impressive enough at the drag strip. A was for appearance, maybe they just want something that looks a little bit nicer, their car is poo brown metallic, it has started to fade a bit, it’s not that really good for picking up the chicks. C was for comfort, maybe they need a little bit more support in that seat, or a little bit more luxury, a leather steering wheel instead of this horrible plastic, etc. E was for economy, you got the miserly types who want to look at the fuel economy and long service intervals, maybe diesel because it’s cheaper to buy, etc. And then D was dependability. Is this thing going to last? “They don’t make them like they used to” type of buyer. The one that wants a utilitarian rugged beast.
Dan: So these are all problems. This is the key point.
James: These were the areas we would probe.
Dan: Yeah, exactly. And I think James, it’s really worth mentioning for everyone listening, just to mention the results that you got in the motor industry just so people realize that we’re not just saying these ideas but they actually do get results.
James: Oh this is the “we’re qualified to talk about this” section? [laughs]
Dan: [laughs]That’s right. I think you should mention that especially since I’ve been so tough on your last example.
James: Well, if we had a little timeline, it’s really quite an interesting background but I’ll give the snapshot, how about that?
Dan: Yup. Give the snapshot.
An early introduction to selling
James: Age 12, I’m in an airport at midnight catching a red eye special from Perth to Sydney. There’s a bookstore, there’s one book on the shelf and it’s “How to Master the Art of Selling” by Tom Hopkins. I had no idea what selling is. I was 12 years old, I bought the book, I read it on the plane on the way home.
Dan: Excellent. I didn’t know that!
James: That was my first sales induction. I must have absorbed some of it because I sort of incorporated tie downs and tag ons and porcupines into my language a little bit.
Dan: What’s a porcupine?
James: Porcupine is where you throw something back at someone straight away. Because you know, if someone throws you a porcupine, you throw it straight back.
Dan: So like, if someone says to you, “Do you have this car in red?”
James: I knew you were going to say red.
Dan: So the mistake people make there is they will either say yes or no, when what they should be saying is, “Would you like to buy it in red?” Is that what you mean?
James: Yeah. It could be something exactly like that. If you say, “Do you have this car in red?” You say, “I’m pretty sure we have something for you. Let’s make sure that we’ve got the right car here.” So we can move back into the process. So just push it straight back and move on.
A stint in debt collection
James: That was pretty subtle, wasn’t it? OK so then, nothing much happened then. I went to school and started some accounting studies, which wasn’t ideal for me. I got my first full-time job in an office in the recession of’91, and I was a debt collector, telephone debt collector. I mean that’s like a reverse sales role. It’s like they’ve already got the goods and service, now I’ve got to get the money.
James: It’s like a really tough sell; a) they’re on the phone, b) they’ve already got the product, and c) they invariably have no money. So it was kind of like where we wheel out the leverage devices like the statement of liquidated claim. We were sending off summons, doing court processes, and I was ringing people up and asking them to make up their payment. So we came up with terms like promise to pay, and then from there, I sort of moved into a debt collection team in a credit company, big company, General Motors Finance.
Just to give you some perspective, my first 3 months as a debt collector on the telephone, there was a bunch of people doing it, but I won the employee of the month because I had the best collections rate of all the people. And then I went to this credit company because it has a much bigger pay.
Dan: And what did you do? Why did you have the best collection rate?
James: I worked out how to work the system better. They had this system of when you make a call, then you make a note on the system and it would push that record back behind the pile and the next pile would come up, the next record would come up. And I came up with the code that could register phone debtor left message. So I was actually recording more actions than anyone else, like by 10:1 because they’d just ring and nothing would happen and then they’d flick to the next one but I was making notes on everyone.
So that is the sort of value of having more granular detail, which is so ironic now with our email CRM systems. It’s all about segmenting. So I could look at this record and know, hey, I’ve left messages 5 times. So you know what I’m going to do now? If I’ve left a message late, I’m going to ring early. If I left a message on this phone, I’m going to ring the other one.
Dan: And this actually comes back also to understanding the problem because the more information you have about the person, the better understanding of the problem, and the better solution you can actually provide them.
Dan:And this actually comes back also to understanding the problem because the more information you have about the person, the better understanding of the problem, and the better solution you can actually provide them.
James: Oh exactly. And by the time I went to the next job, I got pretty advanced. There were 4 telephone collectors, we had 4,000 accounts each, and the average section (there was like section 1, 2, 3, 4) had like 400 or 500 accounts of 90 days past due. This was with car finance. And I got mine down to 36, which had never been happened, it never happened in like decades of General Motor’s history.
And I’m like, “What is going on?” But I was very, very crafty. I had 2 phones. One on my desk where you could have receiving calls and you could have sending. So I did my quick rotation thing, I did alternate call times. And then a lot of the time, people would skip out, which means that they disappear, we had to track them down. So I would get a little bit more inventive to locate them. I researched about skip tracing, I figured out what people respond to more than others.
For example, if you had a 1984 Holden Commodore and you were avoiding your car payments, and someone’s ringing you asking for payments, generally you don’t want the call. But if you happen to get a message from Robo’s Spare Parts letting you know that your new Holden Commodore bumper bar is in stock with a phone number, you might ring.
So I guess I just toyed with the grey line there on how to get someone to call. I learned a lot about human motivation. In my mind, I was justified because they’re still driving around the car, they just didn’t pay for it. So it was part of that sort of reconciliation.
Some harrowing field experiences
Anyway, I went on from there out into the field where I did actual face-to-face repossessions. So now I have to convince someone to give me their car or the money and not kill me at the same time. When someone’s got a knife or gun, or you’re out in the middle of nowhere at 3 in the morning with a tow truck and the guy’s got tattoos, a Harley Davidson, and a shotgun, you really have to start refining your human communication skills.
Dan: Yeah, I can imagine.
James: So you know, I’ve noticed, “Oh, is that a little pram I see there?” And they’re like “Yeah.” I say, “Oh. Wouldn’t it be great for your son, you know, when all of this is resolved and your reputation’s clear? You don’t want to be raising your kid from jail after you stab me. Why don’t you put the gun away? Put the knife away.” You really have to use everything in your favor.
Dan: [laughs] Was it real, like full-on knife?
James: Full. I had knives pulled on me. I had guns. I had this ex-bank robber who’d been in prison said to me, “I would effing kill you if I didn’t have a baby.”
James: And I’m out in the middle of Milperra, which is not the most luxurious suburb of Sydney, it’s a little bit further out, a little more remote, and it was kind of scary. Anyway, I thought for my own safety.
Dan: And all those experiences obviously built you to become the man you are today.
James: Yeah. I was like 21 years old doing this.
James: It was like the best job in the world in a way. I got to steal cars legally.
Dan: You’re like an action hero.
James: It was. I was earning $27,000 a year, I had a company car, I was 21, and I could actually legally steal this guy’s car if he didn’t give me the money because I’ve got paperwork, court orders and everything. I went from there, I thought you know for my own safety, I better come back into the office.
An aptitude for sales
Did a bit of credit, a bit boring, went into telecommunications and I was an administrator. But I got paired up with the most elite salespeople in Australia. They’d come from communications companies, they’d come from Xerox where they were selling $800,000 photocopies.
This Vodaphone arrived in Australia and said, “We’re going to get the best people.” So I was stationed with this sales team. The elite of the elite, they’re like the navy seals of selling with the best sales manager, the best general manager. And I was the administrator. I used to actually hand them stock and process balance sheets because I never thought I was a salesperson at this point.
And this HR manager profiled me and said, “You know, you have a pretty good sales disposition.” I did one of those profiles and it turned out that I had a really good selling profile. And when the salespeople were out, some of them were incredibly lazy. They had like a KPI to sell like 3 digital telephones a month because they were $1700, everyone had analog, digital ones hardly even worked.
And while they were out, I was taking the phone calls and I ended up starting to sell them over the phone just by accident almost. And I was selling at 15 to 20 phones a month over the phone and just crediting them to the salespeople who were supposedly out in the field on twice the salary as me. I was on $35,000, they were on $70,000 base plus commission and a car allowance.
Dan: And how many years ago was this?
James: It’s 1993 and 1994.
Dan: So it’s what, more than 20 years?
James: So it’s like 23 years old. Anyway, long story short, wife got pregnant, we’re going to have a baby. She’s on $35,000, I’m on $35,000 and the math doesn’t work out. We go from $70,000 for 2 people to $35,000 for 3. Uh-oh. I better get a sales job. In the meantime, one of these guys had sort of taken me under the wing. He’d seen that I’d been selling so much and he liked me crediting him for them. He gave me in exchange a cassette series of Brian Tracy, The Psychology of Selling.
Dan: Oh, wow. Classic.
James: And I listened to it in my cassette player every single day on the way to work and I scrolled it on my GMAC notepads, I still had plenty of those. And I wrote it all down. I listened to it, I listened to everything. I can hear Brian Tracy’s Canadian accent in my ears now if I focus enough. You know, “The Psychology of Aelling.” He’s talking about the winning edge formula and all this stuff that’s now becoming popular.
Dan: No, he’s good. I like Brian Tracy. I actually really like “The Psychology of Achievement” as much.
James: Well years later, I used that as fundamental training for a lot of my salespeople.
Dan: Yeah, yeah.
James’ first real sales job
James: But I got a job at BMW selling cars. So I was 23, about to have a baby, and I had a lot of pressure. And I had to convince. So it was like 27 applicants and I convinced this guy to give me the job. Even his boss said, “Listen, I don’t think it’s a good bet for us. This guy has never even sold, and you’re going to put him on a floor at 23. I don’t know about this.” I just said, let me do it. Let me take it on.
Dan: I think, if I can interrupt you, there’s a lesson. Also what I’ve noticed in, we’ve employed lots of salespeople and one of the things that we’ve found is that, sure, experience is good, but you will often find like a gem, a diamond, who is brilliant and just hasn’t had that much sales experience.
James: I concur. I’ve had hundreds of people later on in my career and I never hired salespeople. I hired people from Hilton who were concierges, I’ve hired airline pilots, I very rarely hire a salesperson.
Dan: That’s interesting as well.
James: Yes so I’m on the same page. Well, I’ll tell you how that’s possible.
James: First 38 days I worked straight. At day 32 or something, he says, “Have you had a day off?” I said, “No.” He goes, “Well you can have one next week.” My baby comes along, he wouldn’t give me the day off for the birth of my first child.
James: And he wouldn’t give me a car that actually fitted a baby seat for me to take it home from the hospital. It was a very harsh environment. My boss was an ex-boxer. He was Dutch. He was the number 1 BMW sales person and number 1 sales manager in the years prior and he’s a task master. And the other boss, the used car manager, was also an extremely well pedigreed but tough as nails as well. They wouldn’t let me give a dollar off discount. You’ll find it hard to believe.
But I didn’t realize that other dealers were given discounts because my boss wouldn’t give me a dollar off. They’d scream at me if I conceded plate frames or car mats. And when I said, “But the customer says that they’re getting a discount at other places.” They said, “No, that’s all bull****.” I was making the biggest grosses.
Dan: No, no. But remember what you’ve said, you actually have all the definitions of discounts. You actually have said my favorite definition, which is I don’t know if it’s exactly yours, but I’ve heard you say that, “What’s a discount? It’s a financial apology.” I thought that was brilliant. It’s exactly right. It’s like why would you give a discount?
James: That’s exactly right. That’s how we were trained. Especially at Mercedes-Benz, that was like, there were no discounts. I spent a decade selling without discounts and I think the whole market these days is just rife with price selling. It’s so the wrong way to sell. And hopefully we’ll get into that. Within 12 months, I was the number 1 BMW salesperson in the whole Australia.
And then within 2 years, I rose to top of that. For one reason, mainly because I get Sundays off and get a much better car to drive and much higher pay, I switched to Mercedes-Benz. Even I wasn’t that keen on the product.
But I put aside my own personal feelings about the product because I realized it’s not about me. It’s about my customer. If a 60-year-old guy wants to come and buy a Mercedes-Benz and he thinks it’s great and it’s safe for him and he loves it, who am I to say, “That’s not the right car.” If I’m 25 or 26 and I’m more of a BMW M3 guy, it’s not about me. I’ve got to step aside from it.
So I went to Mercedes-Benz. Within a year, I was the number 1 Mercedes Benz salesperson in the whole country. Within 4 years, I was promoted to sales manager. A little tiny team, I got like one and a half people in my team. One was an apprentice, he’d just been hired like a week before, and that was the beginning of my sales induction and training program.
I’ve got this guy to go around and say, “We’ve got to figure out what you need to learn to be able to sell. We’ve got to figure out what your gap is.” And I got him to write 2 checklists; one was theory, and one was practical. And I got him to interview the best salespeople, and then I had a bit of input, and we created a sales training manual. I trained him up. He went on to be the number 1 sales person. We hired 4 more, and our little team of 5 or 6 was beating entire dealerships with 13 and 15 salespeople.
Dan: And what did you guys do, do you think, that the other people didn’t do?
James: Ha-ha. Everything.
Dan: Everything. [laughs]
James: We had a write-up sheet, which we worked out had the important questions that we need to ask every single person who’s going to be able to buy a car. If we don’t know the answers, that’s not going to happen. It’s scientific.
Dan: So having a script?
James: Yeah. On the back of my calculator was a telephone script. Everytime the phone ring, I’d flip the calculator over, and it’d be, “Who’s it for?” “When do you need it?” “Have you test driven already?” If it’s yes, “Where and when?” If no, I’d book an appointment. “When’s a good time?” “Would you like me to come see you or would you rather come here?” Those sort of things.
Selling is all about having a process
Dan: And I’ve done the same thing. Both with the seminar company with Mental Blank and now with LeadMachine. There’s a script, there’s a process, particularly with challenges. There’s a number of questions which you ask people. I think it’s important for everyone to realize that it’s not luck when you get a sale. There is a very specific process.
James: No. And how many salespeople try and wing it? They think it’s about wah-wah and talking the talk and being charming, charismatic. It’s so much more scientific than that.
Dan: Exactly. It’s not that. It’s about having the process and modifying the process and saying, “How can we improve that?” So I think that’s one of the big things a lot of people miss. They think, “Oh, selling.” It’s about as you said, charming and trying to use clever little clauses. When really, it’s not. It’s about understanding the problem. It’s about having a process which you follow. It’s about refining that process and following that process. And if you’re doing just those things alone, you’re so far ahead of most people.
James: So evidence in hand, you and I, we’re not like over-the-top charismatic guys. And don’t be offended Dan.
Dan: No. [laughs]
James: I would class you more as sort of a thinker or a little more analytical. Analytical people are much better salespeople than expressive, emotional types because they can stick to the script. And they can touch the checkpoints and move the pieces across the chessboard. You know, tik tik tik tik tik, done.
That’s what selling actually is helping someone move from where they are to where they should be through a process of investigation and diagnosis and genuine recommendations. And if you have a fantastic brain for recommending, if you know all of the stock items that you have, that you can provide for them, it’s just process of elimination.
As you go through the checklists, you’re whittling down the solutions until there’s just one, and it’s so obvious to everyone in the room that the sale takes care of itself, there’s no close required when the customer’s saying, “When can I have it?” or “Can I have it in blue?” or “Can I have more than one?” That sort of stuff is where you want to get to.
The next thing I was going to say is, I got asked to go and help a dealership that was really struggling, and I went there as a general sales manager initially to start from scratch, and there was like seven people. Built it up to a team of 23. We actually sold the most of any dealership, several months, even though it was much smaller when I started. We had huge results, and then from there I went to be the general manager at the last place that I worked. That whole time I was hiring, training, recruiting salespeople and sales managers and developing and refining the process.
So that’s what qualifies me to talk about selling, and from there I built my own business.
Dan: It was a very long answer to that question half an hour ago.
James: It was a very long answer, I apologize if that’s too long, but…
Dan: Oh, it was a great story.
James: Every time I open up a little bit like this, I know that some people who’ve heard a lot of my material say, “Wow, I heard something I’ve never heard before,” and hopefully there’s a story in that. But if you take a timeline, we’re talking from when I was 21 to now, 43. It’s just like two decades of selling awareness and refinement and literally, in some cases, talking to people all day long. When I was a telephone debt collector, I could speak to a hundred and eighty people in a day, in a shift, on a telephone. So it’s a lot of talking about selling.
James: Now what about you, Dan?
Dan’s selling background
Dan: My background, well, let’s see. It’s going to be a lot quicker story, but…
James: We’re all breathing a sigh of relief.
Dan: No, but yours was an epic story, and there was a lot to be learned, so I think it was very valuable that we went through that.
So, look, if we go back, I don’t think there was anything that happened when I was 12, I’m sorry to say. But certainly when I finished school, I would have been, what, 18? Joined a company called Merchant Sampler Advertising, and what they did was, I actually still think it’s a good product, funnily enough, that’s how passionate and excited I was.
And what it was was they went around to a local area, and they said to everyone, to the shops, look, actually offer something for free. And they then got this call center to call, basically cold-calling the white pages, saying, look, we’ve got, something to the effect of $5,000 worth of free food services and gifts, something to that effect, and it only costs $49.
And it was something which , from nowhere…
James: Sounds like a showbag.
Dan: Yeah. It was all sorts of things, like you go to the butcher, you can get two free steaks. And it was just me out of school, didn’t really know anything, adults, I’m this 18-year-old punk coming in. And what I did is very much consistent with this call, which was about understanding the person, getting them to not hang up on you, and knowing what they wanted. Like for example, if it was a mother, they were the person that would go to the butcher, and so you’d mention those type of things.
And I was there within, I think it was two or three weeks, it would have been, goodness knows how many people, 30 or 40 people, and I think within two or three weeks I was number two or number three in the call center.
Dan: At 18. So that was exciting.
James: How do you stop someone hanging up on you?
Dan: Well, it all came down to making it local. It came down to saying a name of a shop that they heard, and that they knew. And so that sort of got you some credibility, because it wasn’t as if you were some faceless person. The other thing was, these were the days where there was no one in the Philippines.
Dan: So it actually wasn’t that big an issue. Like, people did speak to you. In fact, some people spoke to you for too long.
James: Yeah, I’ve had the customer that just wants to have someone to talk to because they’re lonely.
Dan: Yeah, exactly.
James: The dollar per hour rate starts to fade dramatically. Some people buy a Mercedes for $150,000, and they’re going to come in for coffee every week, and it’s just like, you see them and you run, like you hide, get in a car quick, get out of there, because they’re just going to bog you down and cost you sales.
Dan: Yeah. And it’s interesting, also another interesting lesson from that was, I remember if we got a credit card on the phone, we actually got a slightly higher commission than if someone went to their house and sort of had to get them to pay cash for the thing. Because the person sort of had to resell the whole thing all over again, whereas you got the credit card, you processed the card and you got this extra commission.
One of the frustrating things that happened was I had several people that wanted to pay by Amex, and they didn’t accept Amex.
James: Yeah. A lot of businesses don’t.
Dan: Yeah, and I just lost sales.
James: How did you deal with that as a salesperson?
Dan: Yeah, it was really annoying. I had said it to them a few times, and maybe it was just me, but they never went to Amex. But look, it was a really interesting experience, and it taught me a lot. From there, I, what did I do? I finished school and university and I started a business. Well, while I was at university I did a number of other telemarketing roles. I don’t know why, I just enjoyed talking to people over the phone and was very good at it. So I did that for a bit of fun.
I had a job, I remember, with Things That Go. It was like a newspaper where you could advertise your car, and I had all these people who’d already advertised their car, and I had to upgrade them to a photo, and sell them the benefits of selling a photo. So that was a bit of fun. So all sorts of interesting, different roles.
What Dan learned from visiting people
Dan: And then I finished university, I worked very briefly in the corporate world, and then I started the seminar business when I was 25. And in that, I had to do everything. I had to do, at the start, had to call people, I did selling from stage, I later on did in-person visits, before we had a sales team.
And you know, there was just so many… The most that I learned from all of that was, strangely enough, in the in-person visits. Like I would have done, goodness knows, a lot, hundreds of those in between getting a sales team and having people not there and… It was something where you just learned a phenomenal amount about how people live. It was just totally fascinating to actually go inside people’s homes.
And these are all people who’ve been to a seminar, so they weren’t cold people, they were people who had been, had a positive experience, it was actually very easy, if there wasn’t a need to actually get people onto the next stage and help them on a weekly basis to improve their results. And we had a really good track record. We could say things, like 63% of our students are getting results in the top 10% of Australia. You know, those things helped a lot.
But you know, the thing that really stuck from the in-home appointments, the thing that was most important was, that it was just about understanding the student. And there’s often like an argument that’s happening between the parent and the student and you’re like the mediator. You have to be the person that sort of somehow makes them feel good about themselves.
And it was just a crazy, whacky world. There was beauty, and there was, sometimes you had kids crying, and you had parents and you had arguments, it was crazy. And it was insane and beautiful all at the same time.
So look, that’s a bit of background. I’ve also done a lot of selling from stage, and look, now with LeadMachine it’s more about marketing than sales. But look, let’s go into maybe some specific tactics that people can do.
James: Yeah. I think we’ve framed up… We’ve talked about what selling is, we’ve talked about what it’s not, we’ve talked about why it’s not a bad thing, why it’s a really good thing, and also why it’s important to get a handle on this and we’ve seen some of the power of nailing this. Like, you know, from my own life, I’m super grateful that I somehow got into a role that had an uncapped income and allowed me to build up confidence and really, you can write your own check when you understand how to sell.
Some things to implement
So some action steps that people could implement, some frameworks. So we really have touched on a couple if we recap. One thing is, you want to work out who your iron filing is. Who are you trying to attract? And then you want to create the magnet. So that will mean a filtering system to find just the right people, and once you have the right people you’ll definitely want to be asking some questions. And the bigger the sale, the more complex the sale, the more this part of the process is important.
If it’s a small sale, if you’re trying to sell a Mars bar or a Gatorade at a fuel stop, the sale doesn’t need much push. It might require some point of sale sign saying, you know, “Cold Mars bars in the fridge.” We’re not talking about that, and we can assume that most people have got something to sell that requires just a little bit more of a nudge than a basic promotional campaign. Whether you’re selling a course, whether you’re selling consulting, whether you’re selling business services, this podcast should be for you.
What a sale is is helping someone move from where they’re at to somewhere better. You might do that through some questions. Should we talk about maybe the SPIN platform and see what that’s all about?
Give people a list
Dan: Yeah, I think we should. Just one action and one strategy I’d love to give people in relation to the whole process of discovering and getting to the need. Actually two things. Number one is what we did that would work really well was, in addition to asking people what their top three challenges were and having a number of specific questions such as, you know, “Do you have trouble memorizing things?“ and understanding what they tell about that, what we also did is we also had a list of maybe 30 or 40 or maybe even 50 different challenges which we knew people had. And we just got people to tick “Does this apply to you?” So that can be a really useful way of actually uncovering more challenges.
Dan: So that’s one thing. The other thing that I wanted to mention which I think is really important, and this is important not just in a selling scenario, but I find this really useful for presentation scenarios, of any presentation in fact, not even necessarily a sales presentation. And that’s this concept of emptying the cup.
And essentially what the whole idea here is, is that people have their attention on a million different things. And what you want to do is like, when they come and see you, they’re thinking about what am I going to do tomorrow, all the different problems they have. You need to find a way to really get their attention and not just get their attention but get them really focused on the problem. So one of the ways that I do that, and this is actually something which a mentor of mine taught me, is that… I’ll give you an example, say with LeadMachine.
When to follow up
So one of the things that we do is we’ll speak to businesses who send out proposals. And so what I’ll say is, “OK, you send out proposals.” Well, what a lot of people do is they’ll send out a proposal and then two days later they’ll call the person to follow up the proposal.” They usually will go, “Oh, yeah, that’s sort of what we do. “ I’ll go, “Well, actually that’s a big mistake.”
And that idea of saying, “Well this is what most people do, but that’s a big mistake,” people just stop. And they go, “Well, what do you mean, it’s a big mistake? Why is it a big mistake?” Well, the reason it’s a big mistake, is because if you send it, and the person clicks on the proposal the same day you send it, you don’t want to wait two days, you’re losing your chance, the person’s going to go cold. Whereas if you send it and they haven’t clicked on it for two days, and you just call two days later, that’s going to be a bit annoying.
So the whole point is, you want to follow up when the person’s actually clicked the link and they’ve actually looked at the proposal, and that’s when you want to call. So it’s not about putting something in the diary, it’s about understanding when they click the link, being notified, getting a task automatically created.
So what we’ve done here is we’ve done a number of things. We’ve woken them up to the fact that they weren’t aware of a problem, and we’ve actually also given them value. We’ve said, “Look, here’s a much better way of doing your sales.” And even if you don’t work with LeadMachine, that’s cool. Use whatever you want to use, but this is a better process.
So it comes back to what we talked about before, about service, and really adding value in the process.
A newbie mistake
James: Yeah, I’ve seen this twice in the last few days. One was, a shopping cart has a comparison table and they have a really good PDF document that talks about best ways to maximise profit with things like banning bad affiliates, checking who your top 10 affiliates are, upsells in cart, increasing frequency. It just happens that this software happens to be able to do all those things, but they’re not saying, “Hey, check out our software,” and they’re doing what we call a product dump.
James: Which is what all new salespeople do.
Dan: Yeah, exactly. I made this mistake as well.
James: They go, “Oh, yeah, it’s got this, that, da da da da da da da…” The customers like, paralyzed.
Dan: Yeah, exactly.
Preframing the discussion
James: I don’t even care. We had this idea, when I was teaching selling. It’s, any time you’re talking about something that the customer doesn’t care about, you’re just walking away from that sale. So it’s important that you only focus on stuff that the customer’s interested in.
So we come up with a great way to preframe the conversation, which was, “Hi Dan, so that we only focus on things that are important to you today, do you mind if I ask you a few quick questions?”
I mean, who’s going to say no to that? “No, I want you to d*ck me around a bit. Ask me some stuff that I don’t want to know about.” Everyone says “Yes,” and then we lead straight to the… The next thing is, “Do you mind if I just make a couple of notes?”
James: This is the write-up sheet. And we go through it, “Oh, OK, so tell me …” and this is what we like, “…tell me what you’ve got now.” And basically from that, we’re like, “What do you like about that, and what is it that you’d like to change?” And that’s where we start sneakily probing for problems.
Dan: Yeah, exactly.
James: Like, “I love my convertible, but it just doesn’t fit my new baby, because it’s a two-seater and there’s three of us.”
James: Aha. And then the temptation is to rush in with a solution. “Oh, you need a station wagon and a four-wheel drive.” Not so fast there, screamer. What we want to do is have them tell us why that’s a problem. Or just confirm that. Sort of like, “Uh-huh, I see. Yeah, that doesn’t seem very practical when you want to go out for a family trip down to the summer cabin. Let me see, you get in, your wife gets in, and then uh-oh, what’s going to happen now?”
He’s like, “Yeah, exactly, there’s nowhere to put the baby, our life’s ruined, we’re just going to turn into destruction and I just want to give up. It’s too hard.”
Let it come from the customer
So let them tell you, “What we really need is a station wagon.” If they’re saying it, it’s true. If you say it, it’s still up for debate.
Dan: And I’ll also just point out here, this goes back to our very first point, which is it’s about understanding the problems rather than pushing things onto them. So that’s why people are so ineffective when they push things onto them. They’re saying, “Oh, you need a station wagon, you need to do this, you need to do this.”
That’s not going to work, compared to someone like what you’ve just described, where they’ve actually said, “No, this is my problem.” And it comes back to another idea, almost exactly the same point, but never give the person the thought you want them to think. It’s infinitely more powerful if they think of that idea…
James: All by themselves.It’s their idea.
Dan: Exactly. And they have ownership on it, they own the problem and off you go from there.
James: Exactly. So as soon as you can get the customer suggesting, “Hey, I need this,” or “What I need is such and such, “ then you’re starting to get to the chase, because you’re not telling them anymore. Now they’re telling you. It’s very powerful.
James: There’s this thing where you imagine a big spotlight, and the spotlight’s shifting from you to the customer. You want that spotlight on the customer. If they’re doing the talking, they’re really getting into the process.
The invisible sale
Dan: And I think really the concept behind this is that we really want the sale to be invisible.
Dan: And it’s interesting when you look at job titles. You know, people who sell companies, they’re not called company sellers, they’re called investment bankers. People who sell advertising are called account executives. So I really cringe when they say, “Press 1 for Sales.”
James: Oh, it’s the same as when you have a salesperson and the salesperson’s like, “OK, well let’s negotiate.” Oh, goodness’ sake, don’t Dyno-tape label this conversation as a negotiation.
Dan: Yeah, exactly.
James: Because now you just said “OK, there’s a winner and a loser here, and it’s not going to be me.”
Dan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
James: Invisible selling.
Dan: Yeah, exactly. And related very much, one great strategy people can use to get that selling to be invisible is number one, just care about your customer and add value. We’ve talked about that, we’ve given examples. And the other thing is, actually argue against yourself. Actually point out that, look, this is a product, these are the good things, but you know what? There are negative things as well. You know what? Like…
James: Yeah, and that’s called the damaging admission.
Dan: Exactly. Yeah.
James: When you’re selling a car, “This car’s great, the owners really looked after it, but I want you to come down here and I want you to have a look at this scratch here next to the petrol cap, because you know, we could spray this over, but if we do, you might think, ‘Well, the whole quarter panel’s been damaged,’ but it’s just this tiny little scratch and we thought we’d rather just leave it there and say hey, buyer beware, you know that it comes with this scratch.”
And they’ll go, “Do you mean this little two-millimeter scratch?” “Yeah, that one. I just felt compelled to point that out to you.”
James: It builds so much trust.
Dan: Yeah, it’s all about authenticity. And you need to be doing this. You can’t take these tactics and use them as a tactic. Like it needs to be authentic. If it’s not authentic, people will see straight through it.
James: Exactly. So be sincere.
So just the framework then.
Dan: Framework, yeah. Let’s get on to SPIN, because I know you’re a big fan of SPIN.
James: I’m a big fan of SPIN, because it really did things for me. Just because of the way that it’s simple.
James: And it’s not that far from other frameworks. S in SPIN stands for Situation, and that’s just find out where someone’s at. It’s like, “Dan, tell me a little bit about your situation now.” So like if we were talking about a prospect for, say, your software LeadMachine. They might say, “Well, currently I just use Outlook to send emails to my customers.” Right?
P stands for Problem. So that’s like, “How’s that going for you?”
James: “Oh, well, it takes me a long time to send a broadcast because I got 1,200 customers and I have to do it one by one.“
James: I is Implications. So that’s like, making this problem even bigger. OK, so, “How long does that take?”
“Oh, it takes me around 3 hours.”
“Really, that must be annoying.”
“Yeah, it’s very annoying.”
Dan: And how many hours are you working each day?
James: “Isn’t there other things you’d rather be doing?”
“Is it costing you money, not doing those things?”
“How much? What would you say it’s costing you, thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Have you ever had a time when you were doing it and you felt so irritated that you just wanted to throw the whole towel in and forget the business?”
“OK. Well, there is actually a different way you could do this.” And this is where we go into N, and N is kind of a weird one, where it’s just like Needs.
Dan: Or Next step.
James: It doesn’t sound that good. Yeah, “Next step.”
Dan: I think people just change it because next step sounds better.
James: Next step is better. We should get on to Neil Rackham. And next step’s a great one because a lot of times, you can’t close the deal then, because the decision maker might not be there or there might be a process. You might have to take it to a review board within a company. It’s not practical to start turning on the thumbscrews, you know?
The words you should never say
This is where I start to get really, a little bit of vomit comes into my mouth when you hear words like, “If I could, would you?”
Dan: Yeah. If I could double your money, would you be interested?
James: “If I could show you a system that could blah blah, and make you a cappuccino and drive you to the VIP movies with popcorn in your lap, would you sign up today?” I just want to punch them in the face, because that’s very manipulative talk.
Dan: Like the thing is, I just wonder who their audience is. I just never even understood why.
James: It’s very common language, and it’s taught, and that’s why we’re here to deconstruct…
Dan: I think it’s a very…
James: Don’t do it.
James: Don’t do “If I could, would you?” and don’t do ultimatums.
James: Ultimatums don’t work. So this is where you propose the next logical step. Say, “We do have this software, and what it can do is actually, say where at the moment you’re doing…” you go through all the problem again. “You’re sitting there for three hours, you’re learning it all up, you’re missing all this business.”
So you really just remind them all this stuff again. “If you could just put it in there once, that would actually save as a template, and from then on you could actually automatically send. Perhaps that’s a better way of doing things.”
And they might say, “Well, it does sound pretty good,” and you say, “Well let me show you how it works,” and you might lead into a demonstration. And that sort of leads to another framework.
Get them to face reality
Dan: Just one thing, I’ll interrupt you on that, just because it’s so closely related. The way that we’ve used that with a coaching-type situation, which I’m sure there are lots of coaches listening, is we’ll talk about the solution that people want. So it might be they want money, or they want to get a better mark, they want to get into a certain university, and we’ll get people really attached to that idea, “How would you feel when you have that?” in an authentic way, obviously. You’ve got to do it authentically.
Then what we’ll do, because we’ve done discovery so well, we’ll say to them, say if we take this student and we understand they’re not good at writing essays in English, and they’re not good at managing their time, and they’re not motivated, then we’d say, “So if you keep struggling to structure your essays in English…” So, very specific challenges. “…and you keep spending 2 hours every night just being distracted with other things and you keep doing this and you keep doing that, is it realistic that you’re actually going to get into that engineering degree you want to get into at Melbourne University?”
And you just get them to face the fact that, let’s be real. And I think that’s a big part of sales, and that’s why it’s service, because you’re actually getting to the point, which is, “Look, let’s not mess around. Are you going to get in or not?”
James: That’s it. You’re not serving someone if you leave them in a sort of paralyzed mode or in a thinking holding pattern. You’re not helping anyone if you’re not actually letting them consume the product or service that’s going to make them better off.
James: You have done them a disservice.
Dan: Yeah, and even if they don’t buy the product, just giving them that clarity, “Hey, look, this is the situation you’re in, you’re not going to get the result you want if you keep doing it.” So that comes back to the service idea. But let’s keep going with, you had another structure-related to say….
The road to a sale
James: Just saying, in our industry there was this template called Road To A Sale, and the point here is a series of checkpoints that you can actually measure on a spreadsheet. We actually got some input from John Buchanan, who’s an Australian cricket coach, and at the time he was doing this thing called a 300 dot matrix.
It was teaching cricketers to bowl and bat left and right handed and to be able to bowl long and short, left and right. So they could actually scientifically work out the weakness of the opposition and then plot the exact right steps that need to happen to win. And I suspect now that he got this from Moneyball, which is a great movie.
Dan: It is a great movie.
James: Everyone should watch it.
Dan: Love it.
James: So I suspect it came from Moneyball, it worked really well for Australia in the early 2000’s, and it worked well for us in the car dealership. So we were statistically tracking, we had a tracker, it used to be called a tracker, everything from meet and greet, offered tea or coffee, filled out a write-up sheet, done a demonstration on the vehicle, done a presentation of the vehicle, done a trade evaluation, asked for the order, and introduced to a manager. They were the steps, from memory, that we would track for every single person that walked in the door.
And we would analyze the statistics, and we could work out and benchmark salespeople against each other. We knew if they were skipping steps.
Dan: Who tracked it?
James: Well, the receptionist would start the process, when someone walks in, she’d say, OK, Fred, the salesperson speaking to man in pink jumper. And it would be filled on an online, like a H-drive server at the time, spreadsheet. And every day it would be printed out and the sales manager would go through it.
And in briefing, which we did daily with salespeople, it would say, OK, “Fred, yesterday you spoke with seven people. Show me your write-up sheets. There’s the man in the pink jumper, there’s the guy in the red. You did four test drives, you had three evaluations, and you got one order. Let’s have a look at what happened. What happened to this guy?”
And he’ll say, “Oh, he’s got to check with his accountant.”
“What about this one?”
“Oh, he’s shopping between three dealers and he’s gone off to get a better price. “
“Now why didn’t you introduce a manager here?”
“Oh, he said he was in a hurry.” Etc.
So you can start working out where the big gaps are, and you can start fixing them.
Dan: Yup, and that constant feedback is critical.
James: Basically, tracking. You’ve got to track. So in online, it’s just the done thing. We get how many visits we get, how many opt-ins, how many sales, we can measure all these conversions. Offline, it requires a little bit more effort, but most businesses are doing zero tracking.
James: Some ask for a postcode, others might have a competition at the desk to win something or win a free coffee grinder if you’re in a coffee shop. They might have a loyalty card, where you get your details, they might have flybys, where you scan every time you buy. Some people track, some people don’t. But the people who are tracking, I’m going to bet they’re going to make more sales because they’re analyzing their data, and looking for where they’re losing the money.
Dan: Definitely. Definitely. We do that to this day, since we’ve started doing, you know how we have appointments, we do that like on the night. We have a de-brief on the night, the sales manager needs to speak to the reps, and you know, understand, if you didn’t get a sale what happened, what can we learn? Very important.
James: Exactly. And I bet you only do in-home appointments when all the decision makers are there.
Dan: Yeah, exactly right.
James: Yep, that’s the little checklist. You know? “Will Mr. and Mrs Jones be there?”
“Mr. Jones is away.”
“Perhaps we should reschedule when everyone’s there.”
James: I know that Roll-A-Door sales people will not go to a house unless a decision maker’s there.
Dan: Absolutely. It’s just a waste of time.
A brief summary
James: All right, so recap, big topic. We’ve had some fun, we’ve shared some stories, we’ve probably got some controversial ideas about selling that maybe has not been widely talked about. We’ve even mentioned some things that are just terrible and that you should avoid at all costs.
Selling is not about closing, selling is not about tricky-dicky weasel words at the end of the sale. It’s not about pressure or force. It’s about a nice way of helping people, about being more scientific about it and following the system and absolutely, with my field tests and time in and with your data, it’s been working for us, that’s what we can say, hand on heart.
Dan: Absolutely. And just one other sort of framework, I think it’s useful to give people, is that Aristotle, which is obviously a very old idea, it applies as much as it did then as it does today. And what he said, is he says if you look at what makes something persuasive, and he says if you just look at the person, he says there are three things. He says there’s ethos, pathos and logos.
So ethos is the character, pathos refers to the emotion, and logos refers to the logic. And what he found that was the most important was actually the character of the person – who they were. And I think that that’s so, so important, because what we’re talking about here is about being authentic. We’re saying, forget all the nonsense and the manipulation. Just be authentic, just be real. Use the right process, and things will flow naturally from there.
James: That sounds great.
Dan: Mate, it’s been a pleasure.
James: Yeah, I think we’ve tackled this tiger. What do you think?
Dan: It’s been a joy.
James: OK. Well, I do hope you’ll come back and try another topic on. Got a bit of a fan club there, now.
Dan: I think we briefly talked about presenting, so maybe that’s one for the future.
James: Yeah, I’ve got an Evernote stuffed full of notes that have never been revealed before. Yeah.
Dan: Excellent. I’m sure people are dying to find them out.
James: Well, we’ll find out in the comments section.
Dan: And I’m sure you’ll mention some at SuperFast Live, won’t you?
James: Well, I will share, I mean it’s a great forum there where, we’ll both be there for a few days where we can share as much stuff as we possibly can, so I’m looking forward to that. That’s only one month or so away now.
Dan: Excellent. Fantastic.
Dan: Catch you soon.
James: See you.
Please comment below: What was the strangest sales moment you can recall?