…it’s important to note the distinction between being “salesy”, and pushy when it’s needed. Some people simply have a hard time making a decision, and without a skilled salesperson there, may just end up vacillating indefinitely. For instance, when you believe your client is making a terrible decision, it is up to you to remind them. Until they either accept it as a fact, or acknowledge your reasoning, but ultimately accept the responsibility for their decision. Sometimes a good salesperson is pushy because they honestly believe that their product or service will have a positive impact on the other person’s life or business, not because they simply want to make a sale. What I find disappointing in salespeople sometimes is that they’re too busy trying to close a deal to actually listen to what the client is saying, and that is the worst form of being “salesy”.
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 Christian Adams.
Christian Adams is CEO & Co-Founder at Repair Pricer, a company that developed a proprietary system using artificial intelligence and natural language processing, and has examined over 400,000 inspection reports, to build a unique service that can be used to turn any inspection report into an incredibly accurate home repair estimate.
Christian is a seasoned real estate broker who successfully grew a company of 3 agents with minimal sales into a brokerage spanning the state of Texas with 150MIL dollars+ in sales before the age of 30. He also holds a degree in Advertising, and has a strong background in Internet Marketing, SEO, PPC and innovative lead generation strategies.
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?
Before founding Repair Pricer, I had been working as a real estate agent in the Dallas market since 2004, and then in 2008, I was given the opportunity to take over as the sales director at a different brokerage. That’s when I fell into this new role of coaching agents and being their go to mentor for anything sales related. It’s also where the “aha” moment for Repair Pricer came from. Fast forward to 8pm on a Saturday in 2016, and one of my agents calls me needing help deciphering an inspection report. So I grab my phone, walk outside of a party at a friends house, and Rob Tye, now our COO but back then a builder, walks out to see what I’m doing. He basically grabs the phone from me, and rattles off a series of cost estimates over the phone to the very appreciative agent. Then we head back inside, and he just looks at me and says, “Do you think someone would pay for that service?”
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 that you took away from that story?
So this is probably one of the most embarrassing stories of my career, but I think there’s a valid point. I was showing a house in the M Streets area of Dallas which is this great urban neighborhood with a mix of historic and newer homes, and the property we were seeing basically needed a full restoration. No electricity on, landscaping is a mess, everything needed fixing — but it would be a beautiful home if someone was prepared to put the time in. Anyhow, I was showing this young couple around in the semi-darkness, and even by flashlight they were getting excited, “thinking this is the one,” when I walked into the master bedroom and suddenly disappeared through a hole in the floor. Someone had inadvertently left the access hatch to the crawlspace open and I ended up dropping about 3 feet down into the foundation. I was left staring up at the couple with just my head and shoulders showing above the floor (luckily unhurt) and I didn’t know what to do. So I just kept going with the tour and said: “As you can see it’s a pier and beam foundation which will make renovations a lot easier…”
They both lost it and fell about laughing. I think that’s when I learned not to take myself too seriously, and understood a little more that there’s a massive human element to what we all do. Beyond the phone, or the email, or even the face to face meeting, is another person, not just a sale.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We’re about to release an entirely new platform that will make our reports completely interactive, putting the agent and consumer back into the driver’s seat. A lot of what we do is AI-based, so it’s been a huge challenge for us logistically to create a solution that allows people to interact with our reports, while keeping them accurate. But our team has absolutely nailed it and we’re excited to be releasing that new platform this year.
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?
When we first launched Repair Pricer as a brand, I thought that I knew everything there was to know about residential real estate. I’d been a broker, agent, trainer and mentor for about 15 years, so I really thought I was going to be the most knowledgeable guy in the room. Then I went to my first home inspection conference and realized that I knew basically nothing about that side of the industry. That’s when I met Jack Huntress with HomeBinder. He seemed to know everyone, every facet of the industry, and was only too happy to share those with me while asking nothing in return. He personally introduced me to some very influential people and even invited us to private dinners with his important clients. I believe wholeheartedly that we wouldn’t have had the success we have had without his mentorship and guidance.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I’ve worked in sales in one form or another for the entirety of my career. My first job at the age of 14 was as a salesperson at a shoe store, followed by a stint as a waiter at the age of 16. Then I graduated as a bartender at the age of 18 and worked on and off in the service industry, until working briefly in ad sales, and then finally getting my real estate license at the age of 24. I’ve literally never known any other position, and I guess now at the tender age of 38, it means I’ve been working in sales for almost 25 years. It’s something that I’ve just naturally gravitated towards and I have always found myself working in leadership roles as a salesperson. When I was hired on at my first real estate brokerage with zero experience in real estate, it was actually to open a new branch and recruit and train other agents. Within 3 years of leaving that role, I was made a partner in the firm for spearheading new marketing and sales efforts, effectively tripling the company’s revenues within my first 18 months. Now as the CEO of Repair Pricer, although I have many responsibilities, I still find myself working primarily in my old role as a salesperson and mentor. In 2016, we created an entirely new service concept that had never been attempted before, and to date we have now estimated over 500 million dollars worth of repairs for US home buyers. And while I strongly believe we have an amazing product, I think I would be a little glib if I didn’t admit that a lot of that success is down to good old fashioned sales techniques that I’ve been teaching for years.
Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the wider 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?
This is something I’ve experienced personally, as I am originally from the UK and my wife grew up in Jamaica, so between us we have family all over the world, some of whom have never met our young daughter because of this terrible pandemic. A lot of our older relatives feel extremely isolated as they have no family close by. What I’ve said to them is: It may not be safe to go to the shops or the movies, but it’s still safe to go outside. There have been a number of studies, one most recently by a team at Cornell, that show that just ten minutes outside in nature can aid massively with stress relief. So encouraging people to get up, get dressed, put down their phone or turn off the TV, and go outside to spend some time walking, can give a mental and physical health boost.
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?
So I’ve never actually considered that before. My degree was in Advertising, which is a form of sales, but doesn’t specifically teach the sales process and techniques itself. I think what’s interesting is there’s a very common phrase we hear in business: “She’s a natural salesperson,” or something similar. But you never hear anyone say: “She’s a natural doctor,” that would be ludicrous. I think that’s the crux of it — perhaps people think that sales can’t be taught, but rather it’s an innate skill set which you have. While it’s true that certain personality types gravitate towards sales jobs, I don’t think that the best sales people are actually what we think of as a typical salesperson.
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?
I would say “yes”, I 100% agree with this assumption, but with the caveat that it’s important to note the distinction between being “salesy”, and pushy when it’s needed. Some people simply have a hard time making a decision, and without a skilled salesperson there, may just end up vacillating indefinitely. For instance, when you believe your client is making a terrible decision, it is up to you to remind them. Until they either accept it as a fact, or acknowledge your reasoning, but ultimately accept the responsibility for their decision. Sometimes a good salesperson is pushy because they honestly believe that their product or service will have a positive impact on the other person’s life or business, not because they simply want to make a sale. What I find disappointing in salespeople sometimes is that they’re too busy trying to close a deal to actually listen to what the client is saying, and that is the worst form of being “salesy”.
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, or your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain why or give a story?
Personally I feel most comfortable and confident when presenting. I’ve only ever actively sold anything that I believe in, and know well, so I’ve always found this to be the easiest stage in the sales cycle. This comes back to my previous point however, and is a technique that I’ve used for years. It all comes down to listening to the client before making your pitch. When I start a presentation, I don’t follow a script or start by reading from a PowerPoint. My starting point is simply asking the prospective client what it is that they want to talk about today. This lets me find out what they do and don’t know already, discover their motivations behind talking to me that day, and also find out if they have any misconceptions that we need to clear up immediately. I think a good example of this was with Repair Pricer recently, where I was talking to the owner of a home inspection company who was interested in adding our services. Rather than launching into a presentation I simply asked him: “How do you see Repair Pricer fitting into your business model?” He then proceeded to explain that his company specializes in 203K inspections. Unlike a normal home inspection process, the 203K program focuses on giving home buyers government-backed mortgages to actively renovate homes in need of repair. Often this includes upgrading things like tile, flooring, countertops cabinetry etc., which is great for the buyer but unfortunately is something that is outside of our scope at Repair Pricer, where we quote like-for-like replacement costs.
By asking that one simple question and listening, I was able to immediately establish that we simply weren’t a good fit for that customer and could end the presentation. Some people would call that a wasted sales opportunity, but I think of it as a massive time-saver for everyone involved.
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?
So there are two parts to this that I think are massively different. The first part is using a magnet system, whereby you make sure that if somebody is looking for your product or service, they find you no matter where they look. The second part is cold outreach. We employ both these strategies at Repair Pricer, but I will start with the magnet technique.
So we rely heavily on PPC and SEO, and those are the same strategies that I used when I was in charge of lead generation at my real estate brokerage. The trick is not to generate a TON of traffic, but to generate the right kind of traffic that will actually convert at a great rate to fill your sales funnel. Let’s use real estate brokerage as an example.
If you have done any work with SEO or PPC advertising, you will see that keyword phrases like “Dallas homes for sale” are extremely competitive to bid on and have lots of advertisers vying for their attention. Yet REALLY specific keywords like “2 bedroom condos in uptown Dallas” are often cheaper because they are less trafficked. This is what we call long-tail keyword strategy. Now who do you think is a more qualified lead — someone looking for “dallas homes for sale” or someone looking for “2 bedroom condos in uptown Dallas”?
I’m going to bet that the person looking for the 2 bedroom condo is a lot closer to picking a home and purchasing it than someone randomly searching for a house in the entire city of Dallas. So the point here is to be specific, know your customer, and build content targeted at their one individual need. Don’t waste your time and money with the shotgun effect, where you advertise everywhere and hope you hit something.
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’?
The aspect over which most people stall and have issues handling objections, is preparation. If you already know the answer to a question or objection, then it won’t throw you off course when it comes up. It’s why roleplaying is such a vital part of the sales training process. Just because you have not thought of an objection, doesn’t mean it’s not real or important to the person sitting on the other side of the table. It’s not enough to just say “That doesn’t matter,” because it clearly matters to that person. You need to explain to them WHY it isn’t as important as they perceive it to be, and list the solution to their objections. Practice makes perfect as they say, and roleplaying is the #1 way to overcome this issue if it’s a true stumbling block for a salesperson. And when I say role play, I mean practicing being on BOTH sides of the conversation. Stepping into the customer’s shoes for 5 minutes can be incredibly valuable to any salesperson, and can lead to a much deeper understanding of exactly what they need from you and your product or service.
‘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.
Your urgency is exactly that. Yours, not your client’s.
Just because you’re in a hurry to close a sale, doesn’t mean that your client is in a hurry to make a decision. Recently I secured a contract for Repair Pricer with one of the largest home inspection franchises in the US, but this wasn’t something that came quickly. We began discussions in late 2019, so there was almost a year in between before they decided to become a partner. After signing, I asked them why they decided to choose us over another provider and they told me: “It came down to you and one other competitor. And honestly, they just seemed like they wanted us to sign on the line every time we talked. You however, were always willing to talk, but never seemed like there was an urgency or pressure to make a decision. Simply, we like the way you do business.”
If they’ve already told you they want to buy, shut up and don’t keep trying to sell them.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people talk themselves out of sale after it’s already been made. If someone has made a decision, don’t keep trying to sell them — just move them onto the next stage of the closing process. If questions come up, of course answer them, but don’t give them fresh information that could sow seeds of doubt or buyer’s remorse.
Never ask someone if they’re ready to close — simply walk them through the next steps.
A good salesperson should be able to read a client well enough to know when they’ve made a decision. If you feel that you’ve reached that point, simply walk them through the next steps required to secure the product or service they need. Think of it as walking someone to the checkout in a clothing store after they’ve made their purchase choice.
Repeat what you have said and agreed to.
Before you actually have the client sign on the dotted line, make sure you have been explicitly clear about what they are getting, and any special terms that may apply that weren’t previously discussed. Just because a client has signed, doesn’t mean they can’t back out of a deal if it’s pretty clear you weren’t upfront about something. This is probably the most important part of the closing process, as you don’t want any confusion to occur that could cause a client to end up feeling “tricked” into making a decision. This will only lead to a bad start to a vendor/client relationship and could cost you dearly in terms of future referrals and brand reputation.
Under promise and over deliver.
Set expectations for the next steps, and if possible, go above and beyond on each and every step. This will set the mood for your entire relationship moving forward, and you want a client to be excited and impressed from day one, so they never doubt their purchase decision. If possible provide the client with a detailed roadmap of the onboarding process moving forward, pre-schedule dates and be implicit about any deadlines they need to hit. I think for us at Repair Pricer this has been one of the biggest challenges as we’re such a new concept that a lot of clients simply don’t know what to expect. To combat this, we have a very detailed automated onboarding process that carefully tracks a clients’ actions both on our site and in our platform. Each step they take triggers a new action for either an automated workflow or individual salesperson to follow up on. This has taken our free trial conversion rate from 50% to over 80% in just three months, and reduced our attrition rate to just 5% after month 3.
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?
This is something I hammered into my agents when doing training on followup — “have a reason for calling.”. Don’t call because you “were just following up”, call because you have something to share with them, something exciting to tell them, or a new opportunity you haven’t previously discussed. At the real estate brokerage it was either a new home that went on the market, a home they liked that unfortunately sold, or maybe a new loan program we found that would be perfect for them. We tried to instil in our agents this sense that you had to drive value to your customers if you wanted to earn their business.
Another tactic we found incredibly useful was pre-scheduling followup calls. For instance if we spoke to somebody on a Friday, we wouldn’t say “I’ll call you next week”. We would set a follow up call for the following Tuesday, schedule it on a calendar, send an invite, and remind them about the upcoming meeting 48, 24 and 1 hour before the appointment.
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?
So from someone who has effectively switched industries halfway through his career, I can say this is entirely dependent on the business that you’re in. For instance throughout the US on a daily basis, millions of realtors are routinely closing deals and negotiating terms entirely through text messaging alone. Then once a deal is set, they switch to more professional tools like Docusign and email to solidify the actual contracts. This is out of necessity as the real estate market is fast-paced, personal and requires communication almost 24 hours a day. That being said, with the current Covid-19 pandemic a lot of homes are now also being sold entirely over video calls and FaceTime, with agents closing multi-million dollar deals without ever having face-to-face contact with their clients. Before Covid-19, this was almost unheard of, and was something that was actively discouraged by brokerages, but is now becoming more and more common.
At Repair Pricer, where we are often dealing with large corporate departments at the national level, I would never think of negotiating terms over text message. Yes, we use video tools like Zoom to run product demos, discuss terms, and hash out specifics, but the actual closing is done through legal teams who prepare the contracts and make sure they are executed correctly.
I would advise any sales person to firstly look at what is standard in their industry, and also to think of the kind of image you would like to project. While the tools you use may not immediately spring to mind as part of your branding, it’s important to understand that your clients and customers are actively judging you by not only your communication style but also the platforms you are using.
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. 🙂
This is something I try and epitomize from the moment I wake up, and that is: “Do at least one good thing every day.” I strongly believe that you can have a massive impact on the world as a whole by simply taking a few seconds out of your day whenever possible to make someone else’s life better. This could be as simple as holding a door for someone, letting someone out in front of you in traffic, giving someone an unexpected compliment or as deep as making anonymous donations of time or money to small charities.
Not only are you potentially giving someone else a much needed lift in what could otherwise be a trying day, but it’s also been shown that altruistic behaviour can have a significant positive impact on your own mental health. In these trying times and stressful modern societies we inhabit, I believe it’s important to do whatever we can to make our own and other people’s lives better whenever possible, even if it’s just for a few brief moments.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/christianradams. Please feel free to reach out and connect with me!
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!