Rarely will you ever feel 100% ready, and that’s normal. When you’re on a new path in your career, you will often feel ill-prepared, but push on anyway and challenge yourself — this will frequently be the catalyst for a new breakthrough that you needed to take your career to the next level.
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 Austin McCulloh.
Austin McCulloh is a 23-year-old entrepreneur who, by the age of 20, had already begun his executive career. He is a Sales & Accountability Consultant at Austin McCulloh Advising, which is a human capital consulting firm that is on a mission to help sales professionals, such as financial advisors and entrepreneurs, grow their business.
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?
Up until I was 19 years old, I was completely lost in my career, and life in general.
To put this into perspective, at the time, I was pursuing a degree in finance, and I didn’t even know the difference between equity vs. debt. Fast forward about three and a half years, and I’m running my first profitable startup business, an online hiring agency, and before that, I was managing just under half a million dollars in Assets Under Management (AUM) as a 21-year-old financial advisor while in college.
Throughout this transition, I learned many core business teachings & principles that allowed me to “level-up” my career, and I felt a strong urge to teach these strategies to others. For years, I have been meeting for coffee with friends and associates, and I was often told that I provided helpful guidance, so I felt like this year was a great time to finally pull the trigger and start my own human capital consulting firm!
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?
Hmm… A few years ago, when I was doing financial advising, I parked outside a prospective clients’ home and was waiting for my manager and another advisor to show up to help conduct our meeting. To my surprise, my fellow advisor forgot about the meeting and my manager had to join in on another urgent call, so this meeting quickly went from three of us down to just one — me.
Honestly, I was ridiculously scared. I had never conducted a follow-up meeting to get a client commitment & move forward on my own before, and I thought I wasn’t prepared for this, so I genuinely contemplated calling the clients to reschedule. But, after a few minutes of debating with myself and realizing that the mature decision here was to move forward, I took a deep breath and walked up to their home.
Funny enough, the meeting went great, the prospective clients were pleased with everything I had to offer, and they ended up becoming one of my largest clients while in this role.
Lesson learned: Rarely will you ever feel 100% ready, and that’s normal. When you’re on a new path in your career, you will often feel ill-prepared, but push on anyway and challenge yourself — this will frequently be the catalyst for a new breakthrough that you needed to take your career to the next level.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, through helping individual clients grow their book of business and advising small startups, I’ve noticed one main, reoccurring theme and that is: Education.
I genuinely believe the United States is due up for a fundamental shift in the way we view education, and I’m excited to play a role in this — particularly in the field of finance. Many families in America do not understand how to manage their own finances, so it’s exciting to help enlighten them!
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?
Interestingly enough, it was a situation that, at the time, I wasn’t very happy about.
I was doing an accounting internship back in 2017 and, in short, I was told by multiple different managers that I should be in sales. This led to me not receiving an offer to come back to the company after graduation, and I was quite upset. My managers and everyone I worked with were great, but, in hindsight, I’m very glad that life played out this way.
Truly, I knew accounting wasn’t for me, but I didn’t yet have the confidence or awareness yet in order to act on this innate knowledge. Who knows, maybe if they hadn’t turned me away, I might’ve still been working there, so I’m very grateful that my managers were so honest and deliberate with me.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
Of course! I believe my success in sales is due to many factors, some of which are below.
- Effective Communication. To be a good communicator, you must be able to take something like language, which is logical, and turn it into communication, which has emotions involved. I tend to do well at thinking both logically & emotionally when needed.
- Deep Thinking. I understand why others do what they do because of much introspection over the years about my own thoughts. Understanding why I do what I do helps me understand why others do what they do.
- Ability to Read Others. I’ve always been able to “read” others. Meaning, I can tell when someone is confident vs. not, scared vs. not, etc. And since I am not shy, I often will dig into this further by asking the person why they feel the way they do, so we can find a solution.
- Past Experiences. When I was a financial advisor, I learned about many sales concepts, and these translated into how I ran my online hiring agency. Now, as a coach to help others in areas such as sales, I’m teaching clients daily about my experiences and what has worked for me vs. what hasn’t.
- Genuine Care for Others. I was extremely judgmental in my past, and now I’m quite very caring, so I’ve noticed how more people open up to me when I come from a place of wanting to help rather than judge.
- Grit. Oddly enough, I actually pride myself on my failures such as the fact that it took me over 2,500 prospecting contacts and 400+ calls to acquire my first 10 clients for Austin McCulloh Advising. Genuinely, although it may sound cliché, if you don’t give up, you will succeed.
As much as I resisted it in my past, the field of sales has always been in my blood, and it’s fascinating to see all of these signs from my youth finally starting to manifest.
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?
Genuinely, in regard to work, I believe these challenging times for many can actually be a blessing in disguise.
One of the topics I’m most passionate about is self-awareness, and I think periods of isolation are where we are able to take quality time to enter “deep states” of thought and truly reflect on what we want in life. Below are some questions to ponder.
Do you enjoy your current job?
Do you want to stay in the same career field?
Are you satisfied with your managers?
Do your values align with the company you work for?
Do you want your pay to be all salary, all commission, or a hybrid of both?
Overall, are you happy with your life? If yes, why? If no, why not?
Personally, I’m a firm believe that everything happens for a reason. So, I urge everyone reading this to sit and think about their current struggles. Try to find the lesson in what is happening to you.
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?
Truly, this issue perplexes me. If I were to take an educated guess, I would say that school is very scientific based, whereas a field like sales is an art form.
From what I’ve experienced in formal education, they like to train based off studies, rather than real-world examples, and the best way to learn about improving in sales is to go out in the field, get your hands dirty, and jump in on some sales calls/meetings. So, it seems that the current education system and the sales field in general contradict one another.
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?
Honestly, I agree with this entirely. The reason being, technology has allowed our world to become more transparent, as well as information is more accessible, so people aren’t as likely to be “tricked” into buying. Besides, no one actually likes to be sold, so try your best not to sell — instead, focus on build relationships and providing value before asking for anything in return.
Think of sales like dating. If someone asked you to marry them right away, wouldn’t that seem odd? Yes. Instead, you’d ask the other person for their number, get to know them perhaps over coffee/lunch/dinner, and then you two would gauge the situation to see if you’re both interested enough in moving forward.
To translate that into business lingo, set up an introduction call with someone first and learn about them. Ask questions to figure out if they would even be an ideal client. Then, once you learn that they’re a good fit, take the time to figure out their pain points, and finally, if they are a good fit, begin to discuss potentially working together.
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?
This is a tough one, but I’m going to go with Presentation. For me, my process for an introduction presentation at a high-level is below.
- Small Talk. Get to know each other and increase the energy within the conversation by focusing on the positives and not the negatives.
- Learn About Prospect. What’s their story and past? What are they passionate about? Where do they want to be within the next few years?
- Explain Four-Year Transformation. Here, I explain how I went from being quite unintelligent and lose as a 19-year-old to where I’m at now — this helps build credibility from clearly explaining my transition and recent successes.
- Dig Deeper into Prospects’ Pain Points. Dig deeper into what is holding them back from achieving their goals.
- Set up a FREE Consultation. I make it clear how I like to provide value before asking for any payment in return, so I do a complimentary meeting to better understand their situation. Also, this allows the prospect to see some of my skills at work, and we get to know each other better.
Additionally, as a general rule of thumb, try your best to never be transactional when meeting someone. We get it, many people in business are here to make more money, but there’s a proper way to do so. Come from a place of giving without expectations of receiving, and this will lead to receiving plenty.
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?
As cliché as it is to say, know your target market. If I tried selling ice to an eskimo, do you think I’d come home with a sale? Nope. My point is, know who you’re targeting, figure out where to find them, and frequently talk with that audience & ask them questions to discover their most common struggles, then fill that gap.
Personally, I use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to filter my searches. For example, if I’m looking for a financial advisor at a specifically company, I filter down for English speakers in the United States who work in Financial Services, and work at “x” company.
Also, as typical as it is to say, referrals are key to any business. So, focus on servicing your clients at an optimum level, as well as incentivize them to share your business with others (cash, discounts, etc.), and you’ll keep a strong pipeline of leads coming in.
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’?
Below are three tips that have helped me.
- Build Credibility. Do this by talking about your past experiences and how those can play into being of value to your prospect.
- Handle Objections Before They Arise. There’s a strange power dynamic in being able to handle an objection before the prospect even verbally mentions their objection(s).
- Use Logic. If you’re a financial advisor and they want to “do their research”, ask what sites they plan to use. If you passed the licensing exams to become the professional, you’re probably more credible and reliable than a random Google search where any John Doe can post their thoughts on any topic.
Additionally, I ask prospective clients upfront if they believe in what they sell. Because, if they don’t, they’re going to have a very tough time. You send out the wrong energy when you try and sell a product/service to someone when you don’t believe in it, so I make sure that my clients believe in what they’re offering. And, in regard to the original question, when you genuinely believe you’re providing more value than what someone is paying for, you have no problem pushing a bit. If I can help someone go from making $1,000 to now making $5,000, why would I feel bad about charging them $1,000, especially when they can deduct that expense if they’re self-employed?
‘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.
Definitely! Rather than list 5 steps, I’ve actually included a process, and multiple steps in this process come from this Reddit sales article.
Ask if part of their hesitation is about price. If they agree that it is, dig in a bit further and ask what they expected the price to be and where they got that expectation. Once they explain to you their rationale, you can then explain why what you charge is worth it to them.
For example, if you charge $1,000, that might sound like a lot, right? But, if you charge $1,000 and can assure someone (if it’s the truth) that you can make them $4,000, it sounds like a great return on investment (ROI). Here, you can begin speaking logic into their emotional thinking. If they have the cash in their funds and know that what you have to offer will help them, then all you need to do is work on calming the emotions by lessening the perceived risk.
For me, when I have a self-employed prospect, I love to add on “Besides, you know you can deduct working with me, right?” and most, partially in shock, respond with, “Actually, no, I didn’t know that.” You see, when you know the rules, it makes the game a bit less risky, and allows you to make well-informed decisions.
This flows in line with one of my core “sales success” philosophies which is, ask questions. Stop talking about yourself and realize that people want to know what’s in it for them. And if you do need to talk about yourself, use that time to build credibility for why what you have/offer is the right fit for them. Sales is all about the other person, not you.
To recap, 1. Discover pain points, 2. Make it clear why you’re the right person to fill their need, 3. Ask, “If I can get you from A to B, does it make sense to work together?”, and 4. Sit and wait for a response. Just make sure you’re not bluffing — make sure you’re able to follow-through and put results behind those promises.
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?
Personally, I deliberately ask what got them interested in the first place and then proceed to ask what they’re uncertain about now. The key aspect here, though, is that you must be non-judgmental when trying to get to the core. If people can sense that you’re trying to push and don’t have their best interest in mind, they will close off completely.
Below is a detailed look at how one of these conversations might go when trying to close a deal:
Prospect: Now is just not the right time. I might be ready in a few months!
Austin: There is never a “right” time to invest in yourself. Have you ever worked out before?
Prospect: Yes, when I played sports growing up.
Austin: And it wasn’t exactly comfortable when you were working through a tough workout, was it?
Prospect: Haha, nope, not one bit.
Austin: Exactly, growth often isn’t comfortable, but it’s necessary to live a fulfilling life. Trust me, I’ve made my fair share of calculated risks along the way, and I’m here to help you avoid the mistakes I’ve made. So, how about we begin working together and if you aren’t pleased with your results after a few months, we can discontinue working together? Quite honestly, I don’t want to take money from anyone unless I’m creating results for them! So, how about we give it a shot?
Prospect: Okay, deal.
Honestly, this starts with your own self-awareness. If you’re self-aware, you begin to pick up on if people are interested or not. If people are constantly giving short replies for multiple questions in a row, and they aren’t asking you questions back, it’s probably time to quit pushing it.
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?
Oh, this is easy one!
Which should be avoided the most? Text messages. Which is the best method? In-person. But, ironically enough, I truly have no issues making sales over video calls and/or phone calls.
As a rule of thumb, the more “connected” you are with the prospect, the more likely you are to close. Meaning, the more you can bring in the “human” element, the easier it is for others to trust you, develop confidence in you & your offering, and, ultimately, buy from you. People work hard for their money, so you must earn their approval before they’re going to give you their hard-earned dollars.
Think about it, what does your warm market look like? Someone you’ve met before? A family member/friend? A current or previous work colleague? Now, what do these all have in common? A stronger human connection that most likely has been built through in-person meetings and events, phone calls, Zoom calls, etc., and not just text messages & emails.
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. 🙂
Start getting curious and be ready to learn.
What I mean by this is that the people who ask “Why?” the most, learn the most. And, typically, those who learn the most, earn the most. So, whether you’re attempting to be the next top salesperson for a Fortune 500 company, the best CEO in the United States, or the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the NFL, begin asking yourself why everything is the way it is.
As I often tell others, I’m not naturally gifted, and I do not have above-average intelligence. But I do have an intense drive, high self-awareness, and an immense desire to fill my constant curiosity, and this has led me to have some pretty awesome opportunities as 23-year-old.
Also, make sure to realize that you do NOT know everything. As I’m realizing more and more, the most intelligent people in the world accept the fact that they do not know everything. As a matter of fact, they know barely anything in the grand scheme of things, but that’s okay — it keeps life interesting!
How can our readers follow you online?
Please check out the following links, and to whoever would like to meet with me, please shoot me an email at the address below!
Email: [email protected]
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!