Joseph Paranteau: “People see authenticity, and they love it”

People see authenticity, and they love it. If you believe in what you’re doing and what you’re selling, then you will never be salesy or pushy. I’ve been pushy in sales at times, but it’s because I have absolutely been convinced that what I was doing was the right thing for the customer at the […]

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People see authenticity, and they love it. If you believe in what you’re doing and what you’re selling, then you will never be salesy or pushy. I’ve been pushy in sales at times, but it’s because I have absolutely been convinced that what I was doing was the right thing for the customer at the time. When you mix passion and purpose, it equals results.

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 Joe Paranteau.

Joe Paranteau is a leading expert on sales, generating more than 1B dollars in just five years, an uncommon accomplishment. He has led nearly 30K sales meetings in his 28-year career with Fortune 500, SMBs, and startup businesses. In his first book, Billion Dollar Sales Secrets, he shares fifteen secrets to help inspire salespeople to rise to meet today’s challenges, ignite their dreams and success. Connect with him on LinkedIn @thejpar.

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’ve been selling since I was a kid. I discovered early on it was a great way to make money. In college, I worked for a stock brokerage cold calling and at a phone bank calling for charities to earn money. After college, I thought I wanted to go into working in public relations. Instead, I found on accident that my background in both communication and technology was in demand — primarily in sales positions. But, like many people, I didn’t have a positive impression of salespeople. Luckily, I was able to change my view and discovered I actually loved selling and connecting with people. At this point, I’ve spent my career doing what I absolutely love. My new book, Billion Dollar Sales Secrets, is in some ways, a love story — it’s about my love of selling and my desire to share it with others.

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?

Early in my sales career, while I was still single, I was the account executive for Playboy Entertainment in Beverly Hills. The very first time I went to visit, I was caught off guard. First of all, it was located above a Ferrari dealership. When I took the elevator up, I was surprised to see so much art in the building. It was a very nice office.

I entered the conference room, and everyone introduced themselves — in a typical fashion. A senior executive then introduced herself and followed her name and title with “Miss June 1972”.

I was now in uncharted waters of how I should respond. She sensed my unease and then laughed and said — just messing with you (except not in those exact words). My takeaway was that from then on, I always did extensive research on who I was meeting with to avoid any surprises. I recommended getting to know your meeting attendees in advance to everyone — it makes sense!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working on an exciting new project that I discovered while writing my book. I found some groundbreaking research into what happens in a person’s mind during the buying process. I decided to develop a system of selling to align with how people actually buy. It’s called the Sales Ladder System™, and it’s designed to help sellers discover and align value with the customer.

The Sales Ladder System™ leverages the latest in neuroscience and behavioral science to sell with your customer naturally and works the way the brain conceptualizes the selling process. Up until a few years ago, this was never well understood. Now we have evidence of how people are processing information during the sales process. I think this will help salespeople to have more impactful engagements with their customers.

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?

So many people have helped me along the way, countless coworkers, sales managers, family members, including my wife and daughters. I’m incredibly grateful for all of their influences. However, Lorraine was a VP of sales who helped set my mind right to think about the profession of sales. She told me it was a noble profession and would allow me to help people and businesses get what they want and need. She said to me that selling is about helping people get what they want and need. Looking in the mirror every morning is part of my starting ritual, where I ask myself how I will help people today. I’ve shared how helpful Lorraine’s simple advice has been in my career, and I don’t think she fully understands the magnitude of it all. I wouldn’t be as successful in sales if I didn’t get the right mindset from the start. Lorraine, thank you.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

Here are the main reasons I’m a leading expert in sales — my results, my education, and my experiences.

Let’s look at the results first. I’ve sold nearly 2 billion dollars in my career. After selling 1 billion in only five years, I discovered that not that many people can actually say that. It’s pretty rare. So I started to look at my experiences differently. I realized that I had to sell 2.5 million dollars a day to make my number. I learned to optimize all areas of the selling process. It’s a BIG number. To put it in context, Tableau had 1.16B dollars in revenue when acquired them.

Another result metric is that I’ve been on 30,000 sales calls during my career. I’ve sold to large global companies like Walmart, emerging startups, and every type of company in between. When I read a sales book, I wonder about the selling experiences that the author has had. Are they just pontificating, or do they have real in the trenches selling experiences that guide their advice? With me, readers don’t have to wonder.

The second reason is my education. I have a BA in speech communication, which is the study of human communication. I studied persuasion, interpersonal communication, group, and team communication. I learned negotiation at the Harvard Negotiation Project, I possess certifications in many popular selling methodologies, and I am graduating with my MBA in May 2021.

Finally, experiences are great teachers, but they also help you relate to people. I’ve lived all around the world and am actually the first generation in my family to grow up off an Indian reservation. I have worked as a first responder, in the military, and as a dishwasher, all jobs that were all helpful in connecting with others. They’ve given me diverse experiences that have helped me learn a lot about people.

And guess what? I’m still growing and learning. I read about 40 books a year.

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?

The news is famous for delivering jolts. It’s a popular saying that “if it bleeds, it leads.” COVID-19 is a brand-new disease that has never been seen on the planet, and to this day, there are conflicting reports about where exactly it came from. Scientists are catching up quickly, and it’s an absolutely amazing feat to have multiple immunization options in the market already.

It’s normal that many of us are experiencing anxiety right now. Here’s my advice:

If you feel anxious, turn off your tech screens and devices. Go outdoors and get fresh air. Go for a walk, hike, take a bike ride, run, or simply sit in the sun (or rain). Take deep breaths, meditate, and be grateful. I get that there may be painful things going on in people’s lives, but I believe that everyone can find at least one thing to be grateful for every single day.

For lonely people, immerse yourself into activities with others virtually. There are so many options to take classes and learn with others in virtual environments. Look at opportunities to give of your time volunteering.

It’s also a fantastic time to make a habit of checking in with others every day. We all need each other and just think about who you are helping just by being there to listen to and support people. Empathy is one of the most strategic emotions we can deploy today.

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?

One of the challenges is that great salespeople don’t teach. They retire. I think there is a huge gap when it comes to sales education and financial education. However, the times are changing. I’ve seen sales programs and degrees in the last few years. Also, college teams these days compete in sales contests. If you are in college today and want to distinguish yourself from other students, join a sales team and compete!

Sales is an essential skill. It can be taught and can be learned. When you compare it to other careers, there is no plateau. No matter who you are, you are always in a constant state of learning and growth.

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?

Unfortunately, we bring all our baggage into sales with us. This means that if we interpret sales to look like what we’ve seen in movies or TV, we may not be so successful. Too many people have not been exposed to excellent professional salespeople, so they imitate salespeople’s fictional portrayals.

Sales is a lot like dancing. Sometimes you lead, and sometimes you follow. It’s essential to be authentic. Trying to use someone else’s words, style or approach can render you useless.

People see authenticity, and they love it. If you believe in what you’re doing and what you’re selling, then you will never be salesy or pushy. I’ve been pushy in sales at times, but it’s because I have absolutely been convinced that what I was doing was the right thing for the customer at the time. When you mix passion and purpose, it equals results.

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?

I’m excellent at all of them. When you have big numbers, you have to look at the entire process as one, instead of the sum of its parts. When I think in stages, I lose fluidity. When I think in terms of streams that flow, it’s much more dynamic. I like to think of sales stages like the snowflakes in the movie, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Inside every stage is a microcosm of the entire sales process. When you are prospecting — you close, you present, handle objections, and have to follow up — all in that stage. It’s not a linear progression from stage to stage.

I feel most at home when I’m prospecting. I’ll call anyone, anytime. I’ve learned you’ve got to take headshots. People forget that executives are people too, and they will listen if you are compelling. Be unique. I set up memorable executive experiences to get on the calendar to connect with them about the value I could bring to their business. Sometimes getting an executive out of their comfort zone is necessary to deliver a breakthrough business idea.

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?

My best advice is to have a plan to prospect every day. Sellers often overestimate the time they think they spend prospecting. All you have to do is look at pipeline health over time to see the number of new deals being consistently added. If they dry up, sales will sputter. The relationship between pipeline and sales revenue is a direct one.

We have more ways to communicate today, yet it’s harder to get in touch with people. You have to use many more ways to break through to people. The latest version of cold calling is social media. Social is where the attention is going, so if you want to sell more, consider how you can attract attention here. Sellers today need to know more about digital marketing and engaging people.

Everyone is looking for the easy button, that’s universal. People will spend money on a leads service to get leads delivered to them. It may be a time-saver, but do you know where the data is coming from? If you originate your own leads, you know where the information is coming from and can sell them. I found my best leads were the ones where I did the hard work. I’ve spent time in courthouses to generate real estate leads. It’s not sexy, and no one wants to do it. But after I figured out the pattern, I was able to hire someone to do it for me.

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’?

I try not to think of those moments as “objections.” Instead, think of them as moments for clarity. When customers share objections, sellers can understand precisely what is happening inside their customer’s head. It enables you to exercise empathy to understand your customer. When you hear what sounds like an objection, restate it. It gives you time to reflect, and often when their objection boomerangs back to them, it may sound different.

For instance, “What I hear you saying is that our price is too high. Help me understand exactly what you mean?” You could also ask to “confirm your understanding”, ask for “clarity,” or “let me replay what I heard.” Remember, your job isn’t to answer back. You’re not Johnny on the spot. If you don’t have an answer, just say something like, “OK, I understand and hear you.” Realize that objections are natural and need to happen.

I’ve had fantastic success when I focus on hearing the customer’s objection, letting them know I heard it and then proceeding with a direction. For example, “I hear you when you tell me our price is too high. I get it and appreciate you sharing. However, getting this implemented will help you reach more customers, and it’s not worth waiting. When can we start?” The key here is framing it in their words, their value, and focus on these things.

Typically, you have two key levers, price and terms. Someone might say the price is too high, but you may win the business if you share a different way to buy. For instance, 1M dollars is a large sum, but how about quarterly payments of 275K dollars? If it’s easier to digest in bites, make sure you get paid for the privilege of spreading the costs.

In a closing stage, empathy means understanding the business value you bring and having confidence. Doing the hard work to understand all the angles that the sale could take and having a strategy for all of the possible outcomes means doing the hard work. When your customer says, “I think your price is too high,” agree with them if you’ve sold them on value, then move to commitment. The challenge I often see is, sellers move to close but fail to connect value.

‘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.

This is where I think a revolution in sales needs to happen. Too many salespeople today assume the close. They feel if you get a customer to the end of the sales cycle, the close will naturally happen. I contend that if you are building value and getting commitments (closes) in your process, the final closing will be more effortless. However, every adversarial or confrontational closing, is rooted in someone who cut corners in the sales process.

My #1 tip is to Plan for the Close. Consider the entire sales process to this point, and review what you have learned. Tell your customer a story that takes them to a place after the close where they can envision themselves in a new reality. “I think you are going to love how this car enables you to make your daily commute easier. It’s easier on your back, your wallet, and it’s easy on the eyes. Sign here, and we will get it ready for you.” (notice that the seller reintroduced value that was shared in the sales cycle).

It’s a trip down memory lane, and if you’ve created good memories, the odds are in your favor for a successful close. Don’t wing it though. Plan your approach to ask for the business and practice it. Maybe you are a small consulting company. If you are honest and genuine, you could say, “Your business would be important to me, and we’re ready and excited to start the work with you. When can we start?”

#2, Leverage their Words and their Frame of Reference. Reflect back on what your customer is telling you in the sales cycle. Learn to read them and test to make sure you validate your assumptions to them in your close. Say, “You shared this was important, so this is how I am delivering on that need.”

#3 — Use a model like a joint execution agreement, an evaluation plan. Joint execution agreements, evaluation plans, and a system I use called The Sales Ladder System™ are all ways to help get commitment and accountability established. I went beyond that with The Sales Ladder System™ to measure value alignment with your customers, resulting in greater predictability and forecasting. Stay tuned to hear more.

#4-Consider all angles, why would they say no? Once again, we are leveraging empathy to help us see what all the options the customer has in front of them are. If you were in their shoes, what would you decide and why? Be critical. At this stage, you have to be honest and explore the real options they have, including doing nothing. What is propelling them forward?

#5-Practice, practice, practice. Asking for commitment may not seem natural, but we do it all the time. When was the last time you suggested, let’s watch this, or let’s eat here? You were closing. When you’ve done it, it doesn’t seem contrived or weird. Instead, it’s natural. You can make your commitments seem this way as well. The most important thing from recent research in making buying decisions is to make sure the customer can envision the future after the close. If they can explain the value of the benefits in action, you will be on a good path.

They feel that if you have gotten through the process, why risk knowing the customer by asking for the business. If you are selling correctly, you set up the process and mutually agree with the customer on the timing and alignment of value as you go. Closing is getting their commitment and alignment to a mutual plan of action. It involves effort, and it’s the action that you want the customer to take.

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?

The fortune is in the follow-up. I wrote about a situation in my book where my competitor won the business instead of me. The competitor sales rep let their guard down, and I swooped in after they were awarded the business and stole it. While they were off celebrating the great win, they neglected to follow through. I was waiting in the wings and snuck in quietly to turn the sale. I don’t think that rep will ever forget that deal.

To bring things to a close without being pushy, just end every meeting with “Let’s recap and discuss next steps.” Pay attention to delivering on the expectations you set. If you can’t deliver, then don’t make promises you can’t keep.

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 mediated communication, there are two types, synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous is richer, delivers more information, and is accomplished in real-time. Asynchronous is not real-time. Text messaging, for example, is asynchronous. So much rich communication is left out of a text. I could say the sentence “I’ll be there” and deliver five different meanings. If I send it five times via an asynchronous process, people will tune out.

I see this all the time when I solicit bids for contractors. If a contractor sets up time to walk me through their value, I will almost always buy from them, even if their price is higher. Trust is conveyed more in real time.

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. 🙂

My movement is to help people ignite their dreams and success right now. I want people to be their best today. I’ve learned that action precedes motivation. It’s easier to course correct a moving object. If I get up and run, I will feel better about the 1-mile mark. Nike said “Just Do It”, but they left out the word NOW. Time is everything. Time is the one decaying resource we all share.

How can our readers follow you online?

Rather than have people spell my last name, you can find me on LinkedIn @thejpar and at

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

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