A lot of the people are either ill-informed or irritated by selling because it’s the negative stereotype of the devious, dubious and the desparate that gets in the way of them truly embracing and taking on this concept.When you harness all the skills and capabilities that go with selling, you can actually do great things.
Dylis: Hi there this is Dylis Guyan and welcome to the Inspired Selling Podcast the place where business owners discover how to find, attract, convert and treasure fact more of their ideal clients. I’ve got a fabulous guest with us today Sue Barrett, Sue’s manifesto really is selling better. She’s going to talk to us about being proud to be called a salesperson even if you’re not employed as a sales person and you’re running your own business.
Let me tell you a little bit about Sue and then we can really get into it and I’m so excited to talk to Sue and take a deeper dive on this subject. Sue represents one of the world’s oldest professions and no it’s not the one you’re probably thinking about, it’s the other one that also has a much-maligned reputation. She represents the profession of selling and sadly it’s been hijacked by the bad behaviours of a few leaving a really negative perception of selling and sales people as a whole.
The reason I’m delighted to speak to Sue is because she really is one of the most authoritative thought leaders reporting on and working in the selling profession in Australia. She’s written more than six hundred blogs and twenty one e-books so a real master of her craft. She’s trained and coached over twenty five thousand salespeople and seven thousand business leaders about sales performance, strategy, culture sales and sales leadership.
As I mentioned at the beginning Sue’s manifesto is about selling better and what I hear and I’m sure Sue has too, is that many people will say ‘well I don’t really want to be seen as a sales person, I don’t want to be seen as being pushy’ and good selling is the exact opposite of that. Welcome Sue and I’d like really for us to take a deeper dive just on that to start with.
Sue: Thank you Dylis it’s an absolute pleasure to be here and yes, it is a thorny topic because unfortunately the brain is wired for risk and it’s always going to look…if it sees danger first it’s what it will react to. I’m afraid that there’s a few people who have hijacked the profession of selling and we only see what I call the devious, the dubious and the desperate types that often get portrayed out in the media, in movies, I mean they’re interesting stories, they’re fascinating and very dangerous but the vast majority of people are not like that when it comes to selling.
I am actually making a stand for the rest of us who have talents and capabilities, ideas, initiatives whether it’s internal inside an organisation or we want to take something to market. ‘Everybody lives by selling something’ and that’s an interesting quote in itself because it’s not a quote that I’ve coined it’s actually a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson who hails from your side of the world and lived in the latter part of the 1800s born in Scotland and we all know him best for his novels ‘Treasure Island’ ‘Kidnapped’ ‘Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’ those sorts of things but a lot of people don’t know that he actually travelled the world when it was really hard to do so.
He met all sorts of people and he was a really keen observer of the human condition, how people interact with each other, how they work with each other and one of his keen observations was that everybody lives by selling something. Whether it was exchanging an idea, training something or whatever, he just made that observation. He’s kind of like our patron saint at Barrett and I really like the way that he thinks about people and about humans and about how we interact.
It was really interesting when my eldest son Josh was eleven, he’s now nineteen and he said to me Mom I don’t believe everybody lives by selling something and I said well that’s really interesting why do you say that and then he tried to persuade and convince me why it wasn’t true and I said by the very nature of you trying to persuade and convince me you’re trying to sell me something, he went ‘aww yeah’.
Sue: Exactly, so I look at selling actually as a life skill. Whenever I talk to people in organisations who aren’t called sales people I ask them the question ‘have you ever try to get an idea across to someone else have you ever tried to bring a new initiative to your team’ or something like that and everyone puts their hand up, you know some more than others of course.
I said, ‘well how did it go for you, how did you engage these people, how did you stop them doing what they were doing to actually stop and pay attention to you and how did you present that information in such a way that was of interest to that person and made sense to that person?’ They all start scratching their heads and realising that actually you know I have…it went well sometimes and it didn’t go well other times. I go ‘well that’s good selling I mean this is what selling is all about.’
A lot of the people I meet who are either ill-informed or irritated by selling are often actually part of the sales process or themselves having to sell, it’s just that the negative stereotype of the devious, dubious and the disparate gets in the way of them truly embracing and taking on this concept and actually really having a great time with it. When you harness all the skills and capabilities that go with it, you can actually do great things.
I would like more of the good people out there, who can embrace these qualities to do great things because that’s how we change the world for the better and we take it away from those people who are after doing harm to others. That’s what I’m all about.
Dylis: That’s really a great synopsis of this attitude toward selling and I also would like to add to, that particularly business owners who are passionate about their subject or their product, service whatever, they really need to stop for a moment and think about the negative side of not selling and not giving people the opportunity to say yes to their product or service or no not right now and the true value that they bring. It’s not the product or the services is it, it’s the impact that that has, the problems that are solved or objectives that are achieved. I know that you have a big belief in exchange of value for both buyer and seller, could you just expand on that for us.
Sue: Absolutely, I always believe that healthy relationships are based on a fair exchange of value whatever the relationship is. Now, it doesn’t mean that the relationships are all sweet and lovely and friendly because sometimes you have to challenge an idea, all relationships are a form of compromise in some way.
The good relationships are designed to be stress tested, I find that too many people are anxious about getting in touch with people and think, oh you know they don’t really value what I do, well they don’t know how to value what you do until you get in front of them, number one. Secondly if you don’t know how to speak about what you do in a way that helps someone else, that they can see how they can benefit and or de-risk themselves or whatever by working with you then they’re just going to see you sort of dishing up sort of an array of objects that aren’t necessarily going to serve a purpose.
Ultimately at the end of the day, you have to stand up for what you do, you have to stand up for the value that you deliver and if you don’t do that, then who will? I think that most customers don’t try to dupe their suppliers, most people don’t want to be in an awkward sort of deceptive or exploitative relationship they actually like to be able to look you in the eye, I mean that’s how most relationships work. There are some of course who will take advantage of you but if you know how to stand up for yourself and you know how to assess a client’s situation you both work out; can we make this work together or not in part or in full.
If we can however it configures what’s the fair exchange of value there because you know I’d like to keep working with you and I hope you would like to keep working with me. If we can form that relationship on a basis of fairness, then I think we’re in a much better position to evolve and keep moving forward. Like I said the vast majority of people don’t like ripping people off. We’re actually born for fairness.
If you watch little children regardless that…we’re born for fairness, we’re born for curiosity and we’re born for helpfulness and when those contracts are breached or broken people don’t like it either way. Now there are the people who like to exploit those things but they’re not the norm, the rest of us actually want to know, ‘do I feel good about doing this?’ because you know if you’re ripping someone off, you know if you’re doing that and it doesn’t feel good you don’t look them in the eye.
Sue: I’m actually going for the human biology of this because all relationships as a community we want fairness for each other.
Dylis: So if we look at the business person, the business owner who is either doing their own selling or they may have a small sales team. Where do they start to identify their own value because what I see is that people in fact don’t stop to look at that and dig deeper on that. They are still at the surface of, this is what I sell, so they go straight into talking about the product. What would your advice be, practical advice in terms of being able to sit down and identify their value?
Sue: Okay, I look at whatever you have to offer…is how does it help someone else? So you must look at your business from your client’s perspective first. I’ve got this array of things I can do but what does it ultimately do for someone else? How are they better off? If you look at the world from that…I mean let’s put it this way Dylis, who are most companies’ brochures as in their website whatever they have who are they written for themselves or their clients? Dylis: Themselves.
Sue: Exactly and that is the main problem because they’ve basically created a shopping list of how gorgeous and wonderful they are and whatever they’ve got. That is not going to help anyone what they have to do is talk to the customer. So the simplest way I can describe what I do is I help people and businesses sell better. That’s the simplest way and it doesn’t talk about all the things that I do to do that, it talks about what the outcome is.
Can they sell more and better with less risk? Can they make more informed decisions about how to lead and manage a sales team and operation? Can they run a better business where they attract retain the clients and employees that they want? That’s what I do but that’s got nothing to do about my training program or strategy or it’s nothing…can you see how it’s written?
Sue: So this is how people must start to look at how they present their information so that the customer or prospective customer when they look at your website or whatever goes ‘oh my God that’s me’. Then they call you and then you can ask questions about where they’re at on that spectrum of capability or sophistication around what you do and that’s when once you’ve assessed that you can then pull out of your little Lego blocks of stuff how are you going to help them and you know patch together your resources. That’s how we help each other, is that practical enough?
Dylis: Yes, yes that’s brilliant and you know I talk about getting into your prospective clients’ shoes and that that’s really what you’re talking about there isn’t it?
Dylis: And thinking about; so where are they without my product or service.
Dylis: What problems are they experiencing without my product or service and what’s the impact of that? You’re absolutely right, you’ve hit the nail right on the head and I love that phrase where people read your marketing copy and go goodness me you must be able to read my mind because that’s exactly me’.
Dylis: It’s that emotional move isn’t it where somebody reads that and says that person, that provider, that seller understands me.
Sue: Well this is the thing you see, a lot of things…people who start their own business they come from an area of technical expertise whatever that is and they’ve studied it and studied it and they know it inside and out and back to front and most of the time when clients come to us is because they don’t have this expertise. So, if we put up what we know expertise wise it’s like gobbledygook to the uneducated.
Now admittedly with the Internet we can get more educated and things are becoming more transparent but still at the end of the day even if I do understand what you do better I’m actually ringing you because I don’t have the time to do it myself or I need you to facilitate something for me to get it over the line.
So I always think about clients when you write for them in terms of presenting yourself and then you engage with them, your questions uncover how sophisticated or not they are in your area of expertise and that acts as a guide as to how much education you need to give them or more facilitation you need to give them when it comes to working with them. Does that make sense?
Dylis: Yes, can you give us an example of that Sue because I know that my audience love an example.
Sue: Okay, so for example…let me think here, I’ll just think about a business that might come to me. Now I can deal with large, big businesses and I can meet sophisticated sales directors who understand the business and sales operating system I’m selling. When they’re looking to sell better however that is, I ask them questions and immediately I’ll know if they have the language and capability and background knowledge and expertise so that I don’t have to go into detailed explanation. We kind of already have a common ground of language we can speak on, whether its market segmentation, sales strategy or whatever it might be.
Then I can meet smaller businesses who haven’t been studying sales operating systems like I have. They just know they need to sell more or sell better or whatever it is. When I ask them questions they might speak in more simple terms about look my sales people just aren’t making enough sales and I might have to ask them questions to find out do they have a sales strategy, you know I have to ask them these questions and understand they might go ‘what does that look like and then I’ve got to be able to show them things. It kind of just helps you calibrate and understand because it would be patronising for me to go into that detailed explanation with a very sophisticated sales director.
Sue: Now it doesn’t mean they know everything, I’ve got to unearth some thing’s there, but it would be really mind boggling for the person down the other end of the spectrum of sophistication for me to speak as if they knew what I was talking about at that high level. Does that help?
Dylis: Yes and I’d really like to go back even further because I used to work with the sales with large international corporates and it’s really just in the last four or five years that I changed my business model to bringing my skills and knowledge to the S.M.E. market who were selling to the businesses. Really because I was traveling around the world and I was shattered, I can’t keep doing this.
They are, many not all, but many of them are still in the position of finding that just picking up the telephone is difficult, so they rely on word of mouth or they might go to some networking meetings. They don’t very often have a strategy it’s more tactics, so they do a little bit of this, little bit of that and a little bit of the other.
If I’ve identified the problems that they solve and the true value that they bring, how can we help them really harness this element of activity that they need to know who their ideal clients are for a start, and then the strategy that needs to be put in place and giving them the confidence to pick up that phone to start the…so there maybe sent an email or maybe met someone at a networking meeting live or online but to take it to that next step.
Sue: Okay, when smaller businesses are trying to target bigger businesses, strategy is the first place we have to start because being small you haven’t got the field force to just kind of go splash at a particular market. So, what you’ve got to do is what I call micro segmentation. You’ve got to start to think about, okay back to the strategy, what do we stand for, what do we deliver, how do we help people, where is my part in the bigger system?
Now this is where a lot of people make mistakes because they come along with a great idea and they kind of talk about it almost as a silver bullet and we all live in systems, so people have got to get their head to figure out my offering, if I’m going to sell to bigger business has to fit as part of the broader system. I have to understand that first and I’ve got to understand the impact of what I’m doing on that broader system of that business or else why would they pay attention to me, so there’s that.
Once you’ve understood that then you’ve got to think about okay, what are the types of clients that you want to work with because not all big clients are good clients, there’s many a small business that’s gone bankrupt because they think ‘oh I got a huge business’ but their procurement practices are crap, you’ve got to de-risk you know all of this stuff. You’ve got to look at do they hold the conditions that actually I can work with.
So back to this fair exchange of value because if their values as a business are exploitative, they race to the bottom mentality, they don’t want to work in partnership with you they may not be a good client to work with. Yeah so this is all this just determination of your strategy and the types of clients you want to work with.
Once you get that it actually starts to kind of flush out the types of businesses actually that you should be working with so then you can start to narrow it down to the type of business and then to names. Of course, databases like LinkedIn and stuff really start to help you find out who you should be in front of…so I say that people should start to make sure they know where they want to be, profile the types of businesses that are ideal for them, look them up and then you can start to make contact.
Now, you can do all that research and still not know how to pick a phone up and call people so the key to that is then, that’s practice. You and I both know about how many prospecting calls we have made in our lives, I mean it would be thousands, hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands at least and the only way you get good at prospecting is doing it, but you must make sure that you are very clear when you’re calling someone.
So if you’ve targeted them on LinkedIn and you’ve identified them you know this, you can phone them, you could send an email if you have an email address. I do all three I actually do it all at once and if I want to call you, I might send you an email first. If I can get access to your mobile number I’ll call you, I leave the text message if you’re not there. All of it is around that central tenant of why I want to engage you and stop what you were doing now so you pay attention to me. So, our valid business reason for connecting with each other or with me to you must be from your perspective again.
So back to our original conversation that we had around who is your brochure for, who is your message written for. How’s it going to help Dylis, how’s it going to help her, why should she want to call me back or take my call? Quite frankly you’ve got twenty seconds, if you get through, ‘Hi I’m Sue Barrett calling from Barrett Consulting Group. We specialize in having businesses sell better. The purpose of my call is…’ Even if they say no, as in it’s not time to speak now you still got to say what the purpose of your call is but stop them doing what they’re doing now pay attention to you. The only way you can do it is by doing it.
We know the research shows, there’s 50 years of empirical research that shows that people who prospect and generate opportunity are five times more productive than their hesitant colleagues, five times. Now what’s the worst thing that could happen when you ring them?
Dylis: That’s it.
Sue: They say no go away.
Sue: Okay, and you learn from that and you do it again and you do it again and you do it again. Now you’ve got to hopefully learn how you’re doing it. Particularly we’re in a state of flux at the moment and it’s very distracting out there and so prospecting, people get kind of confused they think well you know LinkedIn and social selling and rah rah and all of that, I’m here to tell you right now that the phone is actually quite a novel experience and that I would still pick up the phone and call people’s as my first option. I’ll absolutely get in front of them that way if I can.
Dylis: Completely, honestly I’m with you Sue. I’m like an evangelist, banging the drum and a couple of things you said there one is that it is about practice. I remember when I first started many years ago as a financial advisor. I mean this will blow your mind because we wouldn’t even be allowed to do this now, but I work for a bank assurer as a financial advisor and I had to put together a list of five hundred names from the telephone directory and addresses and telephone numbers and submit it to the company before I started.
Every week they sent out sixty letters to these people from the telephone directory who had no idea who I was, certainly didn’t want to talk to me about life assurance or pensions or whatever it was at seven o’clock at night because I used to make twelve phone calls every single night without fail. If I didn’t do twelve if I did eight I carried those four forward to the next night and have sixteen the following night.
Actually, it was in those very early days that I realised that no one was interested in buying a life assurance policy or pension or income protection policy. What they wanted was the outcome, what they wanted a financial safety net in place that would replace their income if it stopped for whatever reason.
Sue: What a great V.B.R. what a great ‘valid business reason’ to ring. You say what you’ve just said and you turn it into ‘I’m ringing to talk about these things…’ rather than an insurance policy. Yeah that’s exactly what you do exactly. I mean I actually…one of my jobs prior to starting my business twenty three years ago I actually worked in sales recruitment. I’m like you, I’m old enough to have a recyclable wardrobe I say and I’m old enough to have to use a telephone book. We had no online resources in those days.
Dylis: That’s right yes.
Sue: We just had the phone and a telephone book. So, I was recruiting salespeople for businesses and you know it was a really interesting job, but I absolutely did my apprenticeship when I was working at this business, we had numbers we had to do and the more you did it the better you got at it and all that kind of stuff. So I’m with you, it’s about how you go out there and actually generate opportunity by being proactive.
That’s why we’ve got to be careful for a lot of the people with that are listening, not to fall prey to thinking I only have to do an in mail or an email or rely on inbound stuff because unless you’ve got the best inbound marketing strategy which you’ve got to have a mixture of by both but the telephone and prospecting is still king when it comes to generating opportunity.
As you said the more we do it, the better we get and it just becomes second nature to us like anything. Like anything you start to learn that and like I said the worst thing that they can say to you is no bugger off, leave us alone, go away. You can go okay why did that not work, how could I do it better and just keep pressing forward.
Dylis: Yes indeed, and my three things and I do this with absolutely everything that I do even today I do it, what went well, what didn’t go so well, how can I do it better next time?
Dylis: Practice, practice, practice, practice.
Sue: When I started this business that I’ve been running now for 23 and a bit year I remember the first week, I mean I had nothing else to do but make prospecting phone calls. So, I made out I think it must have been one hundred or so prospecting phone calls and I started to get my first visits towards the end of the week. At the end of the week I got to a meeting it must have been two o’clock in the afternoon and it was a guy that knew of me but had never worked with me.
So I sat down and understood his requirements and he wanted to run a sales conference and I said I can do that, I can help you with that and so I actually got my very first sale at the end of the first week of being in business. Now I’ve made as I said at least a couple or probably one hundred prospecting phone calls up until that point and this is going to take a bit of time and planning and I was going to devote some resources to it which meant I was going to actually, obviously put a bit of a hold on some of the prospecting efforts the following week.
So I knew I needed to kind of balance the two. So I actually asked him, he’s a lovely man I remember I remember his name is Mark. I said ‘Mark thank very much for this opportunity, you’re my very first customer congratulations’ and I shook his hand. He said, ‘great fantastic’. I said ‘I’m going to ask you a question and you have every right to say no but given I’m going to start this project for you and you’re my very first customer and I’ve got to kind of keep the wheels turning, do you mind paying me upfront?’
‘Now you know of me but do you mind paying me up front so I can devote time to this project as well as kind of keep the other wheels turning as I get my business underway?’ It was ten thousand dollars and he said sure and he wrote me a cheque, he wrote me a cheque right there and then I went Yay!! I got to the bank in time and I got to put it in my very first week but you know what if you never ask the answer is always no.
Dylis: Oh Sue absolutely right.
Sue: I can’t thank that guy Mark enough because I just knew I’d be okay, but I had the courage and bravery to ask. I gave him the option to say no, he could have said no but he went ‘oh sure I understand that here’s ten thousand bucks’ it was paper cheque. You know back in the olden days; wrote me a paper cheque, took it to the bank and I was off. I still…next week even though I was working on his project I still made time every day for prospecting calls. By that kind of the second and third week I already had sixteen meetings booked to go and meet new prospects and I could work his project alongside of that etc.
So I’ve learned that the discipline of making sure not a week goes by that you don’t prospect, not a week goes by you don’t have client meetings, not a week goes by that you don’t have some sort of….because in the beginning you’ve got to kind of…you know that beginners activity mix which is basically selling and then if you’re in project work like I am you’ve then got to balance the project work with your selling and your prospecting. I have a team here but I still sell and I still make sure every week I’m doing some form of prospecting and depending on the week I’m doing client meetings but my business and my team we’re all every week, there’s got to be…that diary has got to be filled with our collective sales activity.
Dylis: Sue that is perfect because that’s the message that I’m trying to get over, is that you have to be prospecting. You have to give people, the opportunity to say yes or no not right now and that wheel has to keep turning. To avoid peaks and troughs of cash flow you’ve got to keep that wheel turning every week. You’ve got to be prospecting and having client meetings, making sales, delivering but at the same time having that balance.
Sue: Actually, what’s important I think for people to also work out is what their sales cycle timeline is because in my business probably like yours it can look…it can be anywhere from immediate to 3-6months down the track depending on the project. So they’ve got to work out what the general cycle is because I talk about an activity year verses a financial year so if your financial year, I think is yours April to March?
Sue: Okay so your financial year starts in April so that’s when you want dollars at the beginning of April but if your sales cycle is three months from hello Dylis to Kerching you’ve got to start prospecting for that April opportunity back in January, February. Does that make sense?
Dylis: It absolutely does.
Sue: So the beginning when you start you’ve got to kind of really run really fast you know to get that kind of momentum going. Then I understand that cycle so that you…so I’m always thinking three months in advance if that’s the cycle. I’m always thinking what’s in the pipeline three four months in advance.
Sue: Whilst I’m doing what I’m doing now. So the prospecting calls I’m making today are for business that’s potentially three months in the future.
Dylis: This kind of impacts also on tracking your business, tracking and measuring and a lot of people don’t have a tracking and measuring system in place. Sue this has just been fabulous and I’d like us to talk again at some other date/time and talk about the actual face to face meeting and the key elements of that. So, if anyone wants to get in touch with you Sue how might they do that?
Sue: Well I’m in Australia so the web is probably the easiest and I would encourage you to go to www.barrett.com.au and if you want to look at the “Selling Better” manifesto go to www.sellingbetter.com and I’m at @suebarrett on twitter if you want to find me there.
Dylis: Brilliant, Sue thank you so much this has been really helpful I’ve enjoyed every moment.
Sue: Oh my pleasure Dylis thank you so much the opportunity.
Dylis: Thank you bye for now.
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