Mike Carleo of Elegant Music Group: “Be organized”

Be organized — having a sequential form of events in a sales meeting is a great way to close a sale “in the room.” Make sure each section has a start and end, and don’t forget to ask questions to make sure your potential clients are on the same page. At the end of my calls, 100% […]

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Be organized — having a sequential form of events in a sales meeting is a great way to close a sale “in the room.” Make sure each section has a start and end, and don’t forget to ask questions to make sure your potential clients are on the same page. At the end of my calls, 100% of them say how organized and well thought out the call was, and they appreciated it very much. This gives them a sense of security and comfort when investing in our services.


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 Mike Carleo.

Mike Carleo is a managing partner at Elegant Music Group and has been a professional musician and audio engineer for the past 17 years. He holds a B.A. in Music Business and has played as a multi-instrumentalist for regional theaters and venues and has studio album experience.


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?

It’s my pleasure, and thanks for having me! My name is Mike Carleo, and I am a fourth-generation professional musician and entrepreneur. My great grandmother made her Carnegie Hall debut at the age of twelve. Both my grandmother and mom were both professional organists with arranging, music directing, and composing backgrounds. Naturally, I fell right into this career. Growing up, my mom was my boss until she passed away from cancer in 2019. She taught me everything I know up until this point. She taught me so many things, but two crucial points still stick out today. One, always be the most prepared person in the room, no matter what you are doing. Two, approach everything that you do with tenacity. These two things have gotten me to where I am in my career today. I graduated from college with honors in Music Business, and throughout my time in college, I was networking with everyone I could. Later, I knew this to be one of the most significant assets when building my business at EMG. From playing on the Broadway circuits to R&B club dates in New York City, all of these gigs I played helped shape my music division at the company.

My main instruments are flute, alto flute, piccolo, guitar, mandolin, and banjo. I studied flute formally in college and guitar outside of college. I had so many great teachers who are heavyweights in the industry today. After meeting my first business partner, Mike Saulpaugh, in 2016, both he and I started our wedding band from the ground up, and our band, CityScape & The Park Avenue Horns, is one of the most sought after bands in the NYC Metro Area. That led us to partner up with our third business partner, Tom Gambuzza, a part of EMG, before buying the business. Since 2019, the company has tripled its revenue, and it all started with putting systems in place for our marketing and sales team.

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?

My wife and I love to go cruising with our friends Mike and ToniAnn. Before the pandemic, we would go once-a-year to travel to new places, and going on Norwegian Cruise Line was so much fun! Norwegian is known for their entertainment onboard, and they had such great bands and a fantastic Broadway show. At the time, the show was After Midnight, which was on Broadway for a short time. We ended up meeting and playing with some fantastic musicians from Saint Lucia on the ship, a part of the entertainment team. Their band was terrific, so naturally, Mike and I networked and ended up playing a few sets with them during the week. After we got back home, one of the band members ended up moving to New York, so he became a part of our music division. What is hilarious is that the person who was the head of the entire music division, Caleb Mason, was also on the ship at the time we were cruising. Fast forward two years, Caleb is now the bandleader of one of my most popular bands in the company, Hyde Park. We even ran into him a few times and saw After Midnight on the ship, which he music directed, not knowing we would work or meet him in the future. It’s so interesting how small the world is that Caleb lives in Harlem, and we ended up meeting him because of EMG eventually. The biggest takeaway is that there is such great talent globally, and you just don’t know whom you’ll meet and where they’ll be. Always network because you never know if or when you’ll work with that person.

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

Currently, we are working on a massive project internally to scale the business. We have invested a bunch of money into a new custom CRM platform that will completely change the game for us. What separates EMG from all other companies is our stylized, targeted marketing and our sales process. We couldn’t find an out-of-the-box program that fit our workflow and needs. So, we spent the last six months with designers and developers to build this custom platform that should launch in early 2021. This new platform will help our internal team very much by putting in custom automation to free up work from our sales, marketing, and logistics teams.

Additionally, this platform will improve our communication with our performers and event staff. There will be internal communications directly on the platform from the office to our performers and event staff. There will also be automated sequences to fulfill the jobs correctly while effectively communicating with our on-site people. On the client-facing side, they will have full access to an incredible process to release those important friction points between them and us. Our potential clients will have a smooth process when speaking with us, and we will be able to educate them more clearly on why over 700 couples a year celebrate with EMG.

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?

My parents are the two people who got me to be where I am. However, most recently, in the past five years, my business partner, Mike Saulpaugh, has completely changed my outlook on what hard work and execution is. Never in my life have I met someone as tenacious as me in the workspace. He has so many skills that contribute to his success, which can come off as very intimidating to people. From his creative talents to his knack for marketing, to his organizational skills, and his eloquence on how he speaks to people, Mike inspires me to be better. When Mike and I first started our wedding band back in 2017, we were at a crossroads on what to do – whether to start our own business or team up with an existing business. Mike and I sat in his basement, figuring out business plans, sales packages, marketing strategies, and partnerships to help get us off the ground. Starting our own business was something we did not want to do because of the amount of time and hard work it will take to get us where we needed to be. However, both Mike and I are the type of people that go out and take what is ours before leaning on someone else to help us. Yet, after that night, Mike had an idea to text a person whom he had worked with about a year prior, who was a part of a more prominent company called Elegant Music Group. His name was Tom Gambuzza. If it were not for Mike’s intuition to continually see all of the options available, even when time is spent and invested in another option, we would not be here where we are today. One text message changed the scope of what the next four and a half years would look like for us, and now we own the largest entertainment company in New Jersey…funny enough, with Tommy!

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

My background has been in music since I was a child. Being in the music business, you’re going to have to naturally always sell yourself, your band, or your musical works to people. Starting from a young age, I was able to find out what works and what does not work. As I got into my late teens, I started teaching private lessons on guitar and flute. From there, I learned how to communicate with parents and children in a practical way, so I can help educate and break down things that they could understand. Being a private teacher, I was responsible for organized workflows and curriculums for my students, and that is how I started writing my sales process when I got to EMG. I also spent a short while at Universal’s Island Def Jam Label, a great learning experience. It was eye-opening how I was the most qualified person in the room to sell music, more so than the executives there, yet they were the ones making the big decisions.

I had some very informative classes on sales throughout college, specifically in the music industry and business. From how to write a proposal to an engaging subject line in an email, I had the tools to be successful. After arriving at EMG, I started taking on sales just for my band, CityScape, when I was an employee. The original owner showed me their sales process that worked for over 30 years. I learned how to initiate conversations with clients and communicate through email and phone calls. Having a background in business writing and communication through my college learning, I saw many flaws in the written communication process. I shaped how to follow-up with potential clients in a much more organized and effective way. I later developed a more effective in-person and virtual sales meeting process and presentation. Since then, my sales process has helped grow the company from 750k dollars in gross revenue in 2018 to over 2.3 million dollars in 2020.

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?

In these times of uncertainty, they can cause anxiety and fear because we just don’t know what will happen or when they will end. It is vital to gravitate towards things you know that are certain: Your family, friends, hobbies, or exercise. Spend more time reaching out to people you have not spoken to and catch up! One great way is to pick one new person every week to reach out to and see how they are doing. That goes a long way for that person and can be very beneficial to you! Exercise and fitness are one of the most important things I incorporate into my life. It allows me to focus on myself to continue to get better and work on goals. Whether that is when I ride on my Peloton, lift weights, meditate, or go for a bike ride or run outside with my wife, any sort of activity that focuses on your body while eliminating all outside negative energy will help your overall mental health.

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 had the pleasure of having some formal training in sales while I was in college. However, I am in the minority when it comes to this. Sales is given a negative connotation across the board, and too many people are bad at sales. It’s very similar to the wedding industry. Many “cheesy” DJs take up most of the space, and it is tough to find those professionals. In school, people in sales commonly get compared to the door-to-door salesmen or the car salesmen. However, we know that sales is in every industry, so I was also confused about why schools do not focus. More and more, the formal education system is failing to give students the practical tools to be successful. Today, though, we have the opportunity to find those tools elsewhere. Places like YouTube or Facebook are some great free places. Other great avenues like paid places of Skillshare, SkillPath, and Masterclass have allowed people like me to continue to grow in this forum. I encourage people who have no “formal sales training” to go out and find it somewhere else. It is up to us to be more prepared, and we shouldn’t leave it up to others to get us there.

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 agree with this sentiment completely. Far too often, I hear clients that sign with us that tell us why they didn’t pick another company based upon the actions from them, whether that was being way too aggressive on emails or calling them too much within a specific time. Sales is supposed to be a conversation. It’s important to relay to the potential clients that you are here to educate them on why they should sign with you. Be informative, but provide insight on how they can make a more informed decision by the end. It’s okay to speak confidently and eloquently but never speak “at” the potential clients. Control the conversations, but make sure you are allowing for the potential clients to communicate. They are the ones making the decision. You want to provide as much information as possible in the most succinct way. How you deliver your pitch is just as important as giving the right amount of information. All while doing so, keep it light and fun.

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 am the best at presentation. The presentation in a sales meeting is the most important thing you can do to close leads faster and give the potential client the confidence to sign with you over another company. We do not do phone calls anymore, and in a pandemic climate, we do strictly Zoom calls. We can share our screen and audio to give potential clients the most in-person experience possible. Additionally, we have professional-grade microphones and cameras to deliver our message more effectively. Ultimately, the presentation comes down to structure.

In an effort to be thorough, you can come across as extremely overwhelming to your potential clients. As a result, I started breaking down the call into sections for them to know what to expect for the next 45 minutes. I also use keywords and phrases that can help drive confidence and strengthen the potential client’s buying signals. Instead of using “price,” I use “investment,” and I define why we are an investment rather than an expense.

I start by asking specific questions about the clients’ needs that will tailor the meeting’s direction so that I can focus on their needs. Then, I explain some important aspects of our company that make us different from our competitors, which they may not be aware of.

Talk about the planning process! Don’t just tell your potential clients that things will be perfect day-of. Prove it, and show them why they should invest with you rather than one of your competitors. This demonstrates your value.

Next, go over the options available to them, and lay everything out clearly with as much supporting content as possible.

Lastly, I always like to introduce the idea of what the next steps could look like, and in my case, I try to send them a contract by the end of the call. While this may seem aggressive to some people, it is paramount never to lose the fact that the whole goal is to make the sale and as fast as possible. Speed is critical, so you don’t even allow potential clients to seek out other options.

Pace yourself and ask questions throughout each section. This will help separate your topics cohesively while keeping your pitch conversational.

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?

We, at EMG, use two overarching marketing strategies for lead generation and prospecting. First, we do intent-based marketing with Display Ads, Keyword Bids, Click to Call Ads on search engines. We have specific keywords we bid on to draw more traffic to our site with customized landing pages with contact forms for each one of our ads on the search engines. This is all SEM-based marketing that puts us ahead of our competitors.

Secondly, we do affinity-based marketing and re-marketing on Facebook and Instagram. We set up specific targeted ad campaigns that only reach people that meet our criteria: Age, relationship type (engaged), people who are friends with engaged people, median household income, and location. We always have three to four different creative ad sets for this. They target all various services for which people are looking. They all have a landing page they can go to, so they can fill out a contact form.

If anyone of these people from search engines or Facebook/Instagram interact with our site but do not fill out a contact form, they will be sent entirely different ad sets and campaigns, known as re-marketing. We use Re-marketing to entice them to fill out our contact form and speak with a salesperson. We have ad sets for people who interact with our web site within seven days, and then we have bigger ones for people who have interacted with our web site within 90 days.

These are all qualified leads because of the specifically targeted marketing we do.

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’?

When you are in sales, you are selling something that you believe in, hopefully. By definition, we are fully invested in what we are selling, so when we hear any objections towards our pitch or our products, we can get on the defensive. However, we need to know that this is a buying signal for potential clients, so you need to look at it positively. If you are well-read on your product, you can handle any objections that come your way.

You can also handle objections better if your presentation is sound, so your message is communicated clearly. By doing so, you will most likely anticipate any objections that may come your way. Additionally, when those objections are made, be sure to deliver your message in a non-defensive, informative matter.

Most objections are on price if you are a service-based business. Communicate your value on why you are at that price point, so potential clients can understand that what may look like the same service on paper may not always be the same. I always use the word “investment” instead of “price” so they know they are getting a great product.

‘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.

  1. Be organized — having a sequential form of events in a sales meeting is a great way to close a sale “in the room.” Make sure each section has a start and end, and don’t forget to ask questions to make sure your potential clients are on the same page. At the end of my calls, 100% of them say how organized and well thought out the call was, and they appreciated it very much. This gives them a sense of security and comfort when investing in our services.
  2. Deliver your message in a proper “tone” — When you can speak eloquently and decisively, it shows the potential client you are adept in the subject at hand. It’s imperative to mirror their tone and body language. I always take notes as I listen to key points they say, so I can remember to touch upon and quote those points later in the call. It’s essential to deliver the value of your services with conviction while making potential clients comfortable.
  3. Ask for feedback on the call. Showing vulnerability in the call will genuinely connect to your potential client while continuing to get better in your future sales meetings. If you are not closing sales, you’ll find why by asking this to your clients, and you can tweak those specific things to be more effective. If they have positive feedback, you can use this as a leverage point when closing.
  4. Step Up Your Presentation — There are so many times I receive compliments on how professional sounding my audio and video were on the call. You can invest in better sounding microphones and cameras for not too much money, which will set you apart from the competition. Additionally, make sure your background reflects the type of company you are as well. Don’t use virtual backgrounds — that is cheesy. Ensure the room you are in has a vibe that reflects you and your business in a positive light.
  5. Ask to send a contract — While this may seem to come off as aggressive or pushy, it’s not when you correctly deliver this. Don’t be afraid to call out the elephant in the room. The clients are aware that this is a sales call, so it’s not taboo to see what the client would like to do, and asking if they would like a contract includes that. If you do number two and three above, then you’ll have a better shot of getting positive feedback when asking that question. Don’t be afraid of requesting it, as long as you can deliver the message effectively without seeming too pushy and aggressive.

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?

Having a follow-up system is key to closing sales. I developed a system here at EMG that is effective in reaching potential clients. There are two things to incorporate.

  1. Have an “email timeline” that is appropriate. Sending emails every day comes off as pushy and overeager. At the beginning of the process, when potential clients inquire, we find that answering that inquiry within 24 hours is optimal. If they do not respond, following up within a few days is normal. After that, extend the time between emails again and then again. After about 6–7 emails in your “email timeline,” then you can mark them as stale or cold.
  2. Despite having a concrete timeline, what you are saying in those emails is even more critical. Make sure each one of your emails is informative and providing engaging content, so it prompts a response from potential clients. As we get into SMS marketing and mobile marketing in general, keeping your message as succinct as possible is paramount. Having enough “white space” in an email or text is important so the reader does not get overwhelmed by the amount of text on a page, especially when reading it on their phones.

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?

Depending on your industry, avoid phone calls at all costs. Embrace the times! The days of calling into QVC are over, and our specific clientele, mostly young couples, are expecting more from their entertainment. This critical conclusion prompted us to turn to video conferencing calls. Before the pandemic, we always push in-person meetings, but times have changed. As one of the largest entertainment companies in the NY-Metro Area, we have an abundance of video and audio content we show our potential clients. Additionally, we wanted to take our video calls to the next level by stepping up the production by adding in professional condenser microphones, audio interfaces, and better cameras. Why not start giving the potential client an entertaining experience right from the get-go?

Many competitors are still not doing this, giving us an edge in the sales process. Many people like to put a face to a name when buying something from you. In my opinion, there is no better way to sell to someone than in-person, so it’s paramount to give your potential clients the best “in-person” experience in this pandemic world in which we are living. This steps up our presentation, which overall helps us close our sales faster. Our close-rate with potential clients from the first contact to the contract has improved to an average of three days, compared to seven days before taking over the company.

To get to these virtual calls, you need to have sound email or text message prospecting sequences. You won’t even get to a virtual call if you do not have excellent writing and messaging in your emails or text messages, whichever way you communicate with your clientele at first contact.

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. 🙂

In this pandemic, one of the great silver linings that have happened was eating dinner with my family every day. Growing up in an Italian household, this was the norm for me, and having “Sunday Dinners,” which wasn’t dinner time — it was more like 3 pm — is a prominent Italian tradition. I find it so great to have that quality time back with my family, so I’d love to start a movement that incorporates at least one family dinner a week, and it doesn’t need to be on Sundays. Pick any day of the week and have a sit-down dinner with your family and your extended family. This has brought great memories through this tough time, and I know how important it was to me as a child growing up, and it would bring much joy to people who have not experienced that on a routine basis.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow my company on Instagram, Twitter, Linked-In @ElegantMusicGroup, and you can follow me on Instagram @emg_carleo.

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!Mike Carleo of Elegant Music Group: How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy

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