Establish Trust. Nurses have been shown to be one of the most trustworthy professions. Even prior to entering the Nursing profession, I would notice that complete strangers would be comfortable opening up and talking to me. That is when I realized that this was something that I had to nurture and cultivate. Clients trust me to help them, and I would never do anything to break this trust.
As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Albert Ho.
Albert has condensed his two decades of experience into his first book Checkmate: How to Win the Sales Game in Healthcare. He is a highly sought-after keynote speaker and has delivered over 30 keynotes to audiences up to 1,500 attendees. He is best known for his consulting business Healthcare Heroes which works exclusively with healthcare marketing and sales professionals.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
I started my healthcare career as a Medical Secretary and Personal Support Worker. I then went on to become a Registered Nurse and then moved onto managing large-scale projects as a Project Manager. I have owned and operated a medical device clinic and had sales of over 1,000,000 dollars within 2 years. Currently, I coach Pharma and Medical Device Sales Reps and conduct keynote speaking on topics including sales motivation and training.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
When I was in grade 7, my school decided to have a fundraiser. One of the items that the school decided to sell was cheese. The idea was to sell cheese to family and friends. This seemed like a poor choice of product to sell, as anyone can simply buy cheese at the grocery store. I had the bright idea of going door to door in my neighborhood to see if there would be any potential customers. I didn’t have to go door to door, I wanted to try it to see if people would be willing to buy cheese from me. When people are home they are busy going about their lives watching TV, eating dinner and taking care of their kids. I developed a strong sense of persistence to keep interrupting people and pitching them to sell cheese so that I could fundraise for my school. In 4 weeks I had 700 dollars in gross sales. This was my first taste of being in sales, and I didn’t even keep a single doller. What you can take from this to develop a persistent and focused mindset, It takes courage to knowingly interrupt people’s dinner with no shame at all.
Since then I have done a variety of cold sales from telemarketing for newspaper subscriptions to planned large scale (1,000+) social events. I was doing guerilla marketing inviting random people on the street on a Friday night at 11pm, I still can’t believe the things that I’ve done.
What you can learn from this, is that the more doors that you knock on, the more opportunities you will get. If you firmly believe that your products and services are going to help the person on the other side of the door, you will do whatever it takes to succeed.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I was recently interviewed for LIMITLESS, a sales and marketing podcast. This podcast will help pharma sales reps that are looking for further insight into the pharma sales industry. This is mainly focused on the Canadian context, but would be useful for US based listeners as well.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/f41f5a59a12b2b09c2a3c297d6e90ab2
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In my 4th year of Nursing school at Ryerson University, there was a particular professor Jane Mosley that taught a course Leadership Development. She was also the Chief Nursing Executive at Women’s College hospital in Toronto. The core focus of this course was about leadership and facilitating change in both personal and professional contexts. The content of this course really resonated with me as Jane’s guidance has inspired me to continually seek leadership opportunities. We kept in touch over the years and she was able to support me as a reference for MBA school. Out of all the professors that I have learned from, I am grateful that Jane took the time to coach and mentor me. I would urge you to have several mentors to help guide and support you throughout your career.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I am an authority on the topic of healthcare sales. As an entrepreneur and business owner, I learned very quickly that my business relied on me to make sales. I still remember the first few weeks when I opened my medical device clinic, it was one of the riskiest and scariest times of my life. There were financial pressures with rent coming and even in my personal life I was worried “How am I going to make my mortgage payments?”. The fate of my business was in my hands, I had quickly learned to connect with sleep physicians.
Sleep physicians would then refer patients to my clinic, and this would lead to sales. Over the course of 6 months I did whatever needed to be done to connect with sleep physicians all over Toronto. As sleep physicians grew to know, like and trust me, they started to send referrals. Each sale was valued between 800 dollars to 1,200 dollars. I had the right combination of business and clinical experience to build a successful business. This was how I was able to build a six-figure business within one year. I am extremely lucky to have formed a driven and committed team. Some of the unique challenges I experienced in first year business challenges we faced included power failures, a small flood at the office and lost shipments with thousands of dollars of medical equipment.
Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Sales is a high-value skill that is always in demand. Even though sales may have slowed during COVID-19, rest assured that there is a large market out there. There will be employers and teams that are looking for someone with your skill set. Don’t give up on your passions and dreams.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?
I find that people that work in sales, didn’t end up choosing sales as a career. Sales people enjoy talking to people, I’ve never had any formal sales training. I started to get hints when friends that worked in sales kept saying “You would be great in sales!” “Do you work in sales?” It was only having the insight to look back at my experiences, that I realized that I had a unique gift.
Ryerson has recently launched a Sales Leadership Program a unique 2-year program that provides a solid foundation. This program provides specialized experiential learning activities for emerging sales leaders, aimed at developing professional sales skills to create candidates for dynamic job opportunities. Upon graduation from the program, students will hit the ground running with highly-developed sales skills, and the confidence to apply those skills towards a successful career in sales leadership.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?
Yes I would agree that being pushy is something to be avoided. People do not like being ‘sold, you want to be perceived as a solutions provider. If I haven’t made the customers live better than before I met them, I haven’t done my job yet. People that are strong in sales understand what it means to provide value. Ask the right questions, so that you can get customers to think differently.
Being great in sales is all about connecting with people, the best people in sales are constantly thinking about the customer’s point of view and finding ways to make their life easier.
The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?
The HERO sales method that I teach to clients and sales teams is a five step process.
- Prospect — Look for customers that might benefit from your solution.
- Establish Trust — Get the buyer to know, like and trust you.
- Listen — Listen to the buyers needs, desires and problems.
- Suggestion Solutions — Offer to solve their problem.
- Close the Sales — Ask for the sales.
Of the five steps, I feel that my “secret sauce” is step 2 Establish Trust. Nurses have been shown to be one of the most trustworthy professions. Even prior to entering the Nursing profession, I would notice that complete strangers would be comfortable opening up and talking to me. That is when I realized that this was something that I had to nurture and cultivate. Clients trust me to help them, and I would never do anything to break this trust.
Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
A fundamental strategy is to qualify leads before contacting them.
Every lead must be qualified. Know their name, title and how your product or service is going to solve their problem. Ways to obtain this information are to search for the prospect online to ensure that you have enough information to know that this is a potential customer. If you’re sending unsolicited email, always provide links to websites so that the customer can research more about your company and services. This helps to increase trust and credibility.
In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
My recommendation is to treat each objection as a question.
If Mr. Prospect says, “This product is out of my budget,” you should treat this as a request for more information. Say, “That’s a great question. Why is this product valued at more than you are willing to pay?” You can then proceed to answer your own question and retake control of the conversation. “This product is expensive because it is the best product on the market, and you get what you pay for.”
Another tip is to use every opportunity to keep talking to customers and potential customers.
A true customer is not a friend or family, this needs to be a random person that is in your target population. The more you talk to real customers, you’ll understand their needs, desires and problems. Only then will you understand if your product can solve their problem.
‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.
- Using stories. As they say “facts tell and stories sell”. Use a personal story to share the impact of a product or service. For example, I often share the story of my friend Ming who was a heavy smoker who was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 28. Imagine if Ming had known about a smoking cessation drug like Chantix which is manufactured by Pfizer. Personal stories connect you and the customer. The story must be authentic, powerful and relevant to the customer.
- Try before you buy. This technique is great for products where the customer needs to see and touch the product, particularly if the product is new. Offering a 10-day trial gives customers a chance to enjoy the product and gives them peace of mind when they see that the product meets their expectations and performs as expected. I used this method in my medical device business and I was one of the first CPAP clinics to offer trials. A no-cost, no-obligation trial gives time for customers to experience the benefits of the product.
3. Relationship-based sales. This method is a way to emotionally connect with the prospect. If you care about solving their problems, they will start to care about you. They will also care about the product you are offering.
Sales professionals are highly attuned to how customers feel about the product or service. If you can show how other customers love the product through testimonials, it will make it much easier to sell. For example, if the customer is hesitant because of the price, show how other customers felt the same as they do and they still ended up purchasing the product. This reassures the buyer that it’s natural to fear making that financial investment.
4. Say yes to the dress. Keep leading the prospect through “yes” or “no” answers. Putting together at least five “yes” answers gets the prospect into “Yes” mode. For example, “Are you the best person to talk to about this product?” If the prospect has to say “No”, it brings their mindset closer to “No.” So if you lead the prospect through a series of “yes” answers, when you’re ready to ask, “Are you ready to buy today?” They are already primed to say “Yes!”
5. Loss. Create a sense of urgency by limiting the supply of the product, or by providing an offer that is only available today. An example is Black Friday sales that occur every year, people wake up early, wait in line and literally fight for televisions. You want to create this same type of eager ravenous customer. Another example is if tickets for an event are normally 100 dollars, today you are selling them for 80 dollars since you are meeting the customer in person. After you leave, this discounted price will not be available.
Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?
A great tip is to use the baseball analogy “3 strikes and you’re out” rule
After making 3 contacts with no response from the customer, it’s time to move onto the next prospect. Each contact should be brief and succinct. At minimum the frequency of follow up should be every 6 months.
As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?
In my personal experience, sales is typically the most successful after a face to face meeting has occurred. If I had to choose a method to avoid it, text messaging is not a great way to pitch and is typically used to communicate amongst friends.
Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I used to joke that my special talent was falling asleep, anytime anywhere. I became known as THAT student that always fell asleep in class. Throughout high school and university, no matter the time of day, within 15 minutes I would be fast asleep.
When I was 17, I took what is known as a sleep test. This where I slept overnight in a lab, with a bunch of electrodes attached to my head, monitoring my sleep. That test came back negative, the doctors didn’t find anything wrong with my sleep. Fast forward a decade when I was 28, I repeated the same sleep test. It came back negative.
In 2014 I was driving to Waterloo, which is about 1.5 hours away from Toronto. I was heading there to visit some friends. It was 8pm and it was already dark. At the 30 minute mark I was slowly drifting across the median. Some of the roads to Waterloo are dark, and there is no median to separate oncoming traffic. “Hoooooooonk” I was suddenly wide awake all i could hear was the blaring sound and the blinding headlights as I had veered into oncoming traffic.
I pulled over to the side of the road, catching my breath. Blessed that this wasn’t my last day on earth. That night is when I knew that something was wrong as I was falling asleep every time I drove. A few weeks later, I took a daytime sleep test. After an overnight sleep test, the technician would turn off the lights and see if I would fall asleep. This was repeated every hour at 8am, 9am and 10am. Guess what happened each time? I was able to fall asleep, and normally this shouldn’t happen. That was when I was diagnosed with hypersomnolence, which means that I fall asleep too easily. This is very similar to narcolepsy.
One of the reasons why I’m so passionate about healthcare is because of the impact of one test has had on my life. I now take a medication that keeps me awake, I have much better focus and don’t fall asleep when I’m driving anymore. I believe that your product or service has the power to change people’s lives for the better.
How can our readers follow you online?
Your readers can get a complimentary downloadable copy of my book Checkmate: How to Win the Sales Game in Healthcare at http://www.checkmatebook.ca
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Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!